Sunday, October 16, 2005

The last several days have been something of a blur. I'm working extra hard at MIT on the current show as it's a big one and I'm letting the Technical Director have all the available student help in the shop. We're putting the set into the theater on October 29 and it's vital all the big pieces get built by the end of this week so I can finish painting them before they go into the truck. Next week I can afford to have some of the kids work with me but I paint fast anyway, so it's not so bad, actually.

Well, the director DID ask for another chair in the first scene which means I have to upholster a third piece of furniture to match the other two. But I'll manage. I spent Thursday sewing curtains, tablecloths and napkins.

Thursday evening, Fritz came down to Boston for the first performance on our subscription to the Speakeasy Stage. Speakeasy is one of the medium-sized theater companies here in Boston, its repertory devoted generally to gay written and/or gay-themed material. This season, including the Kander & Ebb musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Caroline, or Change" with script by Tony Kushner, and a collection of five of the newly rediscovered Tennessee Williams late career one acts, looked very interesting, so we subscribed.

Bill Brochtrup live on stage for a change

The first play was "Theater District" by Richard Kramer, a noted television writer/producer/director who's been involved with the series "thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life," "Once and Again" (a favorite of Fritz's for Billy Campbell if nothing else), and the first round of "Tales of the City." The star was Bill Brochtrup of "N.Y.P. D. Blue."

The talent pool of Boston actors now has such breadth and depth that it wasn't a case of Brochtrup and the Seven Dwarfs. The play deals with the relationship between a lawyer and a former actor who runs his own restaurant in New York City. The lawyer's 15 year-old son has left his career-driven mother and her new husband in favor of his newly out father, who's also too career-oriented to parent effectively, and his charmingly bohemian boyfriend who makes a sensational parent and becomes the boy's real mentor in life. "Theater District" runs 80 minutes without intermission and is excellently written and acted.

Friday after work, I took in a fascinating production of Henry Purcell's classic English baroque opera "Dido and Aeneas" directed by currently very hot director Chen Shi-Zheng and featuring Panamanian-American baritone
Nmon Ford in sheer green irridescent harem pants and an elaborate black leather harness as Aeneas. The moment he arrived on stage, the temperature of an otherwise very effective performance rose noticably.

Nmon Ford rather more dressed than he was on stage

Chen and his designer Walt Spangler set the opera in ankle-deep water in a pool that covered the entire stage. Dido, legendary Queen of Carthage, confined herself mostly to the top of an abstract mass composed of translucent white plastic discs while her people froliced in the water with beach balls. A sailor from Aeneas's ship, the trim and well-muscled Ryan Turner, led them in some air surfboard during an interlude in the rocky relationship between the royal lovers. After Aeneas departed to fulfill his destiny to found Rome Dido, the statuesque and honey-voiced Paula Murrihy, died atop the abstract mass, transformed by some superb projections into a blazing funeral pyre.

The curtain calls were delightful. The barefoot chorus and soloists lined up in the water while conductor Grant Llewellyn and the set, costume and lighting designers, all with their suit trousers rolled up over bare calves, made their way gingerly into place trying not to get themselves too wet.

After the final curtain I drove up to Fritz's in lashing heavy rain and slipped into bed with him, happy to be out of the wet myself. Saturday was devoted to shopping (two belts and a shirt) and to helping him with a creative drama class in the afternoon.

Sunday I left just after 7 am and drove to New York for "Ariane et Barbe-bleu" by Paul Dukas, otherwise known chiefly for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" as visualized in Disney's "Fantasia." "Ariane" is a concise three act symbolist opera in which the legendary wife-slayer Bluebeard marrys for the sixth time, only to have this new wife revive the first five and confront him for his crimes. Convinced she's radicalized the women, Ariane gets a shock when they prefer to remain with their tormentor rather than face the unknown and disturbing prospect of freedom and having to make it on their own in an uncertain world.

The New York City Opera performs in the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center, a great example of 1960s industrial style. Most surfaces are hard and metallic, the ceiling is made of bronzed hardware mesh, and the acoustics are questionable. The stage really is inadequate in size for major opera, but the theater was actually built for ballet and thereby hangs the tale of the bad sound.

Choreographer George Balanchine's New York City Ballet was supposed to be the main tenant of the theater and he decreed that the clack of wooden toe shoes on the female dancers should not be audible in the auditorium. So the place was designed specifically to NOT let sound project from the stage. In reality, the City Opera became the dominant tenant and found that it was a bad hall for singing.

Over the years, all kinds of quick fixes have been attempted, including folding screens (which you can see stacked on the arms of the five balconies) that were supposed to break up and bounce the sound into the auditorium. Their success was limited and electronic "sound enhancement," which most of us in the audience hate, has been introduced.

At any rate, Araine bid her sister wives a fond adieu and walked out of Bluebeard's chateau at 4:08pm today. I drove back to Boston in an impressive 3 hours and 18 minutes; I made no stops and discovered that the roads were being driven very fast by everyone today, so I simply went with the flow.

"Lips are waiting, pain will cease/Calm your anguish/I can bring you peace...I'm the Spider Woman!"

Ah, I love me some Kander & Ebb.
Hi. I just found your blog and I love it! Keep up the good work and I'll keep coming back.
You may be busy, but it sounds like much of it is the impressive array of performances you attend. I enjoy your reviews, especially since I hardly ever see live shows, let alone good ones, here in Columbus, OH. Most of the time, I am the show, since our orchestra performs most weekends in our beautiful, but accoustically crippled, Ohio Theater.
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