“Look at that moon. Potato weather for sure,” says one of the characters in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” and the magical thing about seeing it under the Tent at PS/21 in Chatham is that, if you look up and to your right, there’s the moon in the sky. I don’t know what a potato moon looks like, but it should look like what the audience saw the other night during Walking the dog Theater’s exquisite production of the venerable play.
As the Stage Manager, David Anderson is our amiable guide through the lives, loves and deaths of the people of Grover’s Corners; part Greek chorus, part Godlike figure, he wanders about the stage commenting on the action, interviewing the characters, imparting words of wisdom. With minimal sets and virtually no props, the characters go about their daily lives in what may seem to us now to be an idealized version of a small American town at the turn of the 20th century. But there is a reason this play has endured through the generations; it speaks to universal truths in a folksy, accessible way while maintaining the pure poetry of its language. Read more…
THE HUMMING ALLITERATION of “Mengelberg and Mahler” is pleasant, but the title is not going to send mobs of theater-goers racing to the box office. Pity, because the play is 90 minutes of absorbing, amusing, life-examining theater, and the playcraft is well-honed, having been through a film iteration before coming to the stage. Read more…
WHEN MOST CONTEMPORARY OPERA composers are a mere cyber-blip, there will be Sondheim. Unless we bump ourselves off the planet, centuries from now our great great great grandchildren will have “Sweeney Todd.”
“Sweeney” is an opera for people who avoid opera. It’s musical theater for people who disdain “Hairspray” and “Beauty and the Beast” and song recitations disguised as musicals. Read more…
FROM THE OPENING gun blasts it is clear that this production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not going to be set in medieval Scotland. Or if it’s not clear then, by the time the punk-rockers and a flashlight appear on stage, you have received the message. But, thank goodness this is not one of those trendy re-settings of classic plays that struggle to be different just for the sake of being different.
If you haven’t visited Macbeth since high school, get thee to Lou Trapani’s production at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. His adaptation honors the bones of the story, retains its most cherished and familiar lines and shuns most examples of obscure Elizabethan vocabulary.
Best of all, however, is Trapani’s direction. The stage is intensely alive from first moment to last with hundreds of telling details, movements and behaviors that add color, humanity and mood to the bard’s words without ever violating them.
The costumes speak relentlessly throughout (created by each actor for himself, we are told). Although Trapani says that the setting is a post-apocalyptic world, to this viewer the costumes kept saying that the lust for power is always with us-everywhere-in the Middle Ages, in World War II, in Vietnam, in contemporary rock-star egomania, in Dickens’ London, in prehistoric savagery in the whole violent panoply from the birth of the planet to a possible future: an earth-raped dystopia. All that in costumes? (Among my favorites are a gun-toting Patty Hearst ready to rob the bank and a servant who is a booted, belted, beaded and bare-chested frenzy of self-adoration.)
There must have been some rollicking, free-association orgies when Irina Brook and Anna Brownsted and their actors were creating Cindy Bella. This play with music istheir reworking of the Cinderella story by way of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Max Sennett, Puccini, basic story–telling, Disneyland, Grimm Brothers, ’50s juke box, pop-star Prince, and a philosopher with fairy dust, finger cymbals, and a magician’s hat.
It’s for adults and precocious children. I think.
Most of its fun arrives when time periods, cultures, traditions go careening up against each other like some sort of molecular process that makes a little chemical bump and a little audience frisson, if not an altogether new substance. Sometimes it’s a gas, à la Frank Sinatra as well as the stuff that propels your automobile.
Occasionally (when the cast members start wading through the audience, for instance) you may think you have wandered into a Saturday morning performance of the 5th grade at Lincoln Elementary School. Then they hit you with some especially witty dialogue or one of Brook’s sparkling gems of visual humor.
The role of Cindy is rather thankless, but they do give her a nice bump at the end, when, after a typical scene of self-effacing “ingénuism,” she grabs her accordion and exits with the prince shouting, “Bye guys!”
There are lots of moments like that. I especially enjoyed the one in which the storybook prince returns to the palace to tell palace security they must focus all monitors on the grounds in search of a fleeing girl with a missing shoe.
A couple of gorgeous babes play the “ugly” sisters. They screech a lot. You know how directors sometimes tell actors, “Go ahead. Take it over the top. I’ll bring you back, if it’s too much.” Brook forgot to bring them back. A relentless forte soon delivers small return.
In contrast is the Alidora of Renée Margaret Speltz. With giant eyes, doughy cheeks, and delicate word clarity, she creates the philosopher-fairy-godmother-eastern mystic-moralizer-fake beggar woman in a sweet mezzo piano. Too bad she was stuck up on the underused catwalk for such a long time conducting actors changing the set.
Though Benjamin Luxon is well-cast as Don Magnifico (father of the babes), his second act is too breathless and his aria too long for this production.
Best of all were a couple of leading men, both of whom grasp the art of full-blown and understated comedy, along with the necessity for thoroughly grounding it in reality. As the prince’s chauffeur (who switches place with his boss, the real prince) David Joseph is yummy. He was probably meant to reference the “Prince” of pop fame, but that Prince, on his best day, was never as smooth-moving, sexy, and subtle as David Joseph. The story’s real prince was played by Scott Renzoni, and by the time he was through with us, we all wanted to marry him.
The set, with a row of costumes on hangers strewn across the back, is disappointing; but the costumer (wardrobe mistress Kara D. Midlam?) really gets it, often providing witty, incongruous ensembles. One nice costume moment occurs when the philosopher-fairy-godmother-eastern mystic-moralizer-fake beggar woman places her magician’s hat on Cindy (an unlikely complement to her ball gown), giving her wisdom and magic. Or does she give her neat tricks and Masonic secrets?
The music (a little Rossini, Puccini, and Irving Berlin, and lots of deliberately bad pop) pops up like breakfast tarts or ads on your computer, often with canned accompaniments and unceremonious dramatic preparation.
Take your precocious child to see it through December 20. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or go online: