Category Archives: theater

Farinelli and the King

Farinelli and The King
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jan 8, 2018
Mark Rylance in "Farinelli and the King."

Mark Rylance in “Farinelli and the King.”  
Often what passes for holiday fare has a lackluster quality as if the mothballs were shaken off and some bits of tinsel applied to give it the luster of newly fallen snow, however “Farinelli and the King” is truly a wonderful show full of magic and dashes of wisdom.

 

The beyond marvelous Mark Rylance, who is a three-time Tony winner and an Olivier and Oscar winner, leads the cast in a work that began in London in 2015 at Shakespeare’s Globe. The work was written by Claire van Kampen, who should well be able to pen work that exhorts Mr. Rylance to his very best, as the two are married.

The very beautiful production, designed by Jonathan Fensom and transformed by the light of hundreds of candles, evokes the spirit of Baroque times. As the work opens Rylance, as King Philippe V of Spain, is plagued by insomnia and lies awake in his chamber fishing in a goldfish bowl and talking to the fish about the philosophy of going round and round and getting nowhere. Anything to divert himself from his fear that he is not up to the task of being King and that the world is whirling dangerously close to war around him. The Queen, played charmingly by Melody Grove, is desperate for a cure. She hears of Farinelli, who is a castrato with a voice so divine it has the power to ensorcelled all who hear it. In a great twist, Farinelli is double cast. He is well acted by Sam Crane and given voice by the glorious the countertenor Iestyn Davies, most recently seen at the Met in ” The Exterminating Angel.”

Philippe is astonished when Farinelli sings and begs him to stay. Here the plot thickens with agonies and ecstasies sung and acted as we watch Farinelli, one of the greatest celebrities of his time, decide between a life of solitude over fame and fortune in the opera houses of Europe.

The work is directed by John Dove and it seamlessly incorporates a Baroque orchestra on stage, dripping candles, Mark Rylance’s flights of fancy and humor and the interchange of actors who alternate between a sung or acted persona. The music is authentic Handel arias performed by Farinelli in the 1730’s, played live on Baroque instruments.

All of this misty beauty and glorious tones transport us for a time from our own very fractious “king,” who questions everyone as we question his sanity and hope that he can keep us from war.

“Farinelli And The King” continues through Sunday, March 25 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. For more information, visit the show’s website.

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“The Mother Of Us All” in marvelous Hudson New York

The Mother of Us All
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Nov 14, 2017

“The Mother of Us All”

The Mother of Us All
“The Mother of Us All,” is composer Virgil Thomson’s second operatic collaboration with the avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein. It bowed at Columbia University in 1947, close after Stein’s death, and has often been performed in many smaller venues worldwide. Now it is gracing the newly renovated Hudson Opera House built in 1855, renamed Hudson Hall in upstate New York.

The simple, often melodic piece, embodying folk music and Protestant hymns as paeans to composer Thomson’s rural Missouri childhood, is a tribute to Susan B. Anthony who pioneered the American suffrage movement along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Susan B. Anthony lectured at the Hudson Opera House in 1860 and 1898 as she stomped her way across America. Although she was a staunch abolitionist, she still eschewed tying the vote to full manumission for African Americans. Anthony believed in freedom from slavery, but not the right to vote. This is referenced in the opera in a rather oblique Steinesque approach, but still the point comes across. New York State celebrates the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, and it is a tribute to mount this ambitious production.

The entirety of Hudson Hall is given over to the work. Campaign signs abound, the downstairs gallery space honors the work and the times, and there are many conversations and lectures scheduled to enhance eager audiences. This is a very exciting addition to the ever more artsy town of Hudson.

The production is directed and conceived by the young, much lauded and obviously not reticent to praise himself, director R. B. Schlather. Schlather is a Hudson resident, and he has culled and unearthed a trove of talent along the shores of the Hudson. The cast, crew, and musicianship in this work are top notch, which for this viewer made the over-active, nearly frantic direction and costuming seem like a distraction rather than an adornment for this jewel-like work.

Schlather utilizes the entire second floor including the half floor galleries and the proscenium stage, as well as, platforms within the thrust set up. The cast parades, wanders, marches forward and backward, as they sing the glorious music. Often the overly active motion obscures the melody and certainly the words. True, it is not a linear work, but words and music are meant to be heard and savored.

In an unusual turn, the program generously credits everyone including the carpet layer and the pop-up canteen, however, it leaves the Composer and Librettist off the list. Listed is the director, who credits himself as “brunch chef” and many great collaborators, from video to wardrobe, hair, and make-up.

Also in the program, Schlather admonishes the audience to experience theater where “There are no borders. We are free. Get up, move around, slow down, go get a snack, come back, create your own experience.” This was one of the busiest audiences I have ever seen. They took the exaltation to heart and marched freely in and out, between performers and back to their seats, stood up in the aisles or sat on the floor.

I am not uninitiated to immersive theater, environmental productions, or major international works where the audience is folded fully into the evening. I have been a longtime producer and audience member for this beloved genre. However, “The Mother Of Us All” I believe, is not one of those works.

This production has a vast and diverse cast of nearly 40, all of whom live or are associated with the Hudson Valley. This is remarkable and marvelous. Many must be singled out, including the extraordinary Michaela Martens, recently in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” who sings a full-throated Susan B. Anthony, Nancy Allen Lundy as Gertrude Stein, Teresa Buchholz as Anne (a constant companion and supporter of Susan B.) Dominic Armstrong, as Jo the Loiterer, whose diction and clarity were a gift, and the ever-alluring Robert Osborne as Daniel Webster. These all dazzle and fill the hall with glory.

Stay tuned when new executive director Tambra Dillon, recently of Bard and BAM takes over fully in January. Then I think we will see more productions that strive, in her words to “envelop and embrace our goal of bringing our city’s town hall back to life as a gathering place reflective of its unique and vibrant community.”

“The Mother Of Us All” runs through November 19 at Hudson Hall, 327 Warren Street Hudson, New York 12534
For information or tickets, call 518-822-1438 or visit http://www.hudsonhall.org

Hudson Valley Professional Theater Rocks Tivoli

Constellations
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 10, 2017

Constellations
“Constellations,” written by Nick Payne, bowed at the Royal Court Theater in London in 2012. It then had its American premiere at the Manhattan Theater Club in 2015 staring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson. It is roaring back to an upstate stage produced by the small, plucky Tangent Theater.

Tangent, a company founded in 2000, occupies a former Carpentry shop on a back alley in sleepy Tivoli, New York, but their production is anything but somnambulant. You enter the small space with seating for perhaps 50 and discover that for this production there is seating in the round, surrounding a floor painted with a swirling cosmos designed by Caitlynn Barett so skillfully realized by painter and artist Joel Griffith (and who happens to be Tivoli’s mayor). This is where the two-person play unfolds.

We find Roland, played masterfully by artistic director Michael Rhodes, and Marianne who, as embodied by Molly Parker Myers, spits great dialogue and provides an anchor for the sometimes-complicated work. This is a boy meets girl, sometimes falls in love, sometimes marries, sometimes health overwhelms them, but they keep moving forward.

He is a beekeeper; she is a cosmologist a purveyor of the principles of string theory, relativity, and quantum mechanics. They are perhaps an unlikely pair in a play written in an unusual, Groundhog Day style. This means that many scenes are played repetitively with twists and quirks, little differences designed to show that at any, and every moment in our lives situations could go this way or that.

If I knew more about the scientific theories pursued by Marianne I might be able to discourse on how the paths of stars, or the vibration of the spheres influences and changes the course in our lives, spinning new webs or universe. Or as they refer to in this play “the multi-verse.”

What we all can relate to, and this production does much to illuminate this, is that our lives are fragile and going left rather than right, being late for a train, or taking one course of action over another, eventually all strings together to create our lives. If we looked back, regarding our choices, and adjusting them, we might have envisioned or created a different us.

In this 70-minute work, which at times feels like a musical fugue where one trope overlaps another and then reappears slightly morphed, we begin to let go of a linear expectation for a theatrical encounter. This is tough stuff, the lines have to flow and lap like water kissing the shore and this little company has done a great job of presenting an evening that will shake audience members to reevaluate how their lives have come together in lesser and greater ways.

“Constellations” runs through October 22 at Tangent Carpenter Shop Theater, 60 Broadway, Tivoli, New York.
For information or tickets, call 845-230-7020 or visit tangent-arts.org

The Principles of Uncertainty at BAM

Entertainment » Theatre
The Principles of Uncertainty
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Sep 29, 2017

The Principles of Uncertainty
What is the dance/theater work called “The Principles of Uncertainty” by John Heginbotham and Maira Kalman?

The Principles of Uncertainty

It is a calm, funny, hour-long evening filled with words, wonderful and quirky line drawings, a fake cake tossed stage left, soaring or soothing live music, and a lovely coterie of seven dancers all moving across the stage like the autumn leaves we wish were outside, rather than the soggy, sodden late summer that took our city hostage.

Maybe this still needs unpacking. Over the course of a year, the beloved author and illustrator Maira Kalman kept an online journal filled with words and her inimitable drawings for the New York Times. She called it “The Principles of Uncertainty.” The entries range from musings about the weather, the passing of time, useful objects, and the quotidian that enriches our lives.

John Heginbotham is a former Mark Morris dancer who began creating his own works shortly before retiring from the company in 2012. They met when Kalman designed the set for Morris’ “Four Saints in Three Acts” at the turn of the millennium. Together Kalman and Heginbotham set out to capture the shards of events, thoughts, and movements that knit together and make our lives.

Kalman and Heginbotham describe their work as “a basket of things we’ve fallen in love with,” and the evening is certainly that. There is a musical ensemble, which provides an original score composed, arranged, and curated by Brooklyn Rider and Colin Jacobsen of the Silk Road Ensemble. The music punctuates the dance as the four women and three men, all members of Dance Heginbotham, navigate across the floor and into boxes or hold an aquarium aloft so that a projected whale can swim inside.

The ensemble is costumed perfectly by Kalman, who also provides projected illustrations, other scenic pieces, and has even covered each seat with a muslin cover proffering kicky phrases like “a platter of frogs,” all rendered in her recognizable hand. In each program is a pretty pink painting of a potato and a reading list from both Kalman and Heginbotham. There is no detail ignored, and yet nothing is earthshaking.

The choreography is languid and lush and often humorous, as is the text, read by Kalman, who also does a tiny dance or two. All the elements unite to bring an evening to pitch perfect.

“The Principles of Uncertainty,” part of the BAM 2017 Next Wave Festival, runs through September 30 at BAM Fisher Space, 321 Ashland Place in Brooklyn. For tickets or information, call 718-636-4100 or visit http://www.BAM.org

Peter Pan Still Flying High at 70

For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 11, 2017

For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday
“For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” is Sarah Ruhl’s third New York premiere at Playwrights Horizon, following “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” in 2008 and “Stage Kiss” in 2014. Ruhl, a two-time Pulitzer finalist and Tony-nominated writer, is a bit of a darling among the young thespian circle, and her plays rarely disappoint. Her newest is no exception.

The work opens with the ever-radiant and talented Kathleen Chalfant standing in front of the curtain speaking to the audience about her childhood playing Peter Pan in her hometown theater in America’s heartland. Honestly, for a few beats I didn’t know if this was a vamp-until-ready moment where the star comes out in a heartfelt way and connects to the audience.

Chalfant’s demeanor and her delivery is so easy, natural and warm that it was as if she was telling each of us, in a packed house, her personal tale. She was transported back to a girlhood where she flew across a stage, met Mary Martin, and was handed flowers by her usually taciturn father. We are charmed.

And then the curtain opens to reveal Chalfant as Ann, the eldest in a gaggle of five adult children, all nervously surrounding their father, as he lies dying in a hospital bed. The children are John, a wonderful Daniel Jenkins, Michael played strongly by Keith Reddin, and Wendy, the always luminous Lisa Emery (following the names as the Darling children in J.M. Barrie’s tale.) There is also another brother, Jim, who didn’t become a doctor but stayed home and took care of their father as he aged. He is wonderfully poignant as embodied by David Chandler.

The siblings take turns hovering. Wendy rubs and anoints her father’s feet; Michael and John both medical doctors read charts and kibitz about care and Ann tells stories and worries about every errant sound emanating from Ron Crawford, who plays the dying dad.

The kids discuss augmenting morphine to ease pain and also hasten death. They tell some stories about their youth and their parents. They miss their mom and the family dog. They sit in hospital chairs, or sleep fitfully on the floor. Behind them is a set that resembles what must be their childhood home.

When the father finally does pass, Ron Crawford rises from the bed and continues to act out some of the things being discussed, including playing with the long gone dog, the sparky and winsome Macy, a rescue dog from Oklahoma City.

This work unfolds in ninety minutes with no intermission, but there are breaks in the action where artfully the hospital furniture is wheeled to the side and the backdrop of the house becomes the home where after the wake the siblings sit and drink, except the youngest Wendy, who seems to be more sober in many facets of her life.

The range runs wildly from humorous recollections, to long held resentments, to confusions about their parents. This is the stuff of every family, but it is done well and we believe every speech and the actors are so suited to their characters, that it is as if we are eavesdropping on an actual family.

In and out of every recollection are specks of memory about Ann’s big role, which seemed to recur often, playing Peter Pan. As the third act opens the house has resolved itself, in a genius set by David Zinn and has become the Darling home in London and the adults we met earlier are in nighties and top hats, all the trappings of the beloved Darling children. Even Macy the dog returns as Nana for a glimpse into the reverie.

Ann has found an old trunk, and again in front of the curtain, she changes into her old Pan costume, allowing for time for the set to morph and for us to once again feel that intimate rush. It is this portion of the play that for this reviewer holds the meat and the emotional payoff. Again the siblings taunt and tease each other, but the gist is about how to fly, how to be buoyantly happy so that you rise into the air and also age.

We all struggle with the unresolved issues from childhood, last week, decades ago, or what we might do wrong tomorrow, so letting go, filling our hearts and minds with lovely and lovelier thoughts is a tall order. And yet on the stage of Playwrights Horizon in the middle of 42nd Street, we watch adults born aloft, swinging, flying across the stage because they could finally find their “lovely thoughts.” This play is well imagined and helmed by director Les Water’s, who also steers the artistry of the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.

As the siblings argue in the Peter Pan dreamscape, including a masterful appearance by Peter Pan played by David Chandler, about who has grown up, who hasn’t and why not, we all confront and imagine the places where we have missed being an adult, or might relish a tad more childishness. In the end we are all inching toward a certain ending, the alarm clock is ticking, and that either prompts buckling down or cutting loose. For some it is a mixture of flight, fancy and seriousness. Sarah Ruhl mixes an excellent concoction.

“For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” runs through October 1 at Playwrights Horizons’ Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street in New York City. For information or tickets, call 212-564-1235 or visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org

New York Theater Reviews
This story is part of our special report titled “New York Theater Reviews.” Want to read more? Here’s the full list.

Charles Busch and Tom Judson, My Kinda SIxties

Charles Busch: My Kinda ’60s
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Sep 6, 2017

Charles Busch

Charles Busch teamed up with Tom Judson to heat up the stage at Helsinki in the Hudson Valley with “Charles Busch: My Kinda ’60s.” Busch, whether in drag or not, with Tom Judson at the piano occasionally crooning along or taking a song himself, make an astonishingly charming, heartwarming evening. And we certainly all could use that right now.

Judson makes a piano trill and vibrate with his individual arrangements, crafted to both suit Busch’s song styling and his ability to pluck at our heartstrings while tickling our fancy. This evening was designed as a look at the songs of the sixties, and even though as Busch expounded often, “We have never performed this song!,” the duo was marvelous. It was a triumph of an evening.

Busch enters in an emerald green brocade suit with rhinestone buttons all aglitter, then asked the crowd, “Too butch?” We all adore Busch whether in drag or as in this case, “with a little mascara, maybe a false eyelash and this new suit.” He kicked the evening off with a mélange of “Your Zowie Face” and “Look at that Face, ” and it made for a raucous, happy start.

Club Helsinki is located in the now bustling and chic Hudson, New York, a two-hour train ride up the Hudson, which seems to have become the darling of New Yorkers and international visitors. The club is in a wonderfully remodeled industrial building that has great acoustics and features table service of Cajun-inspired dining or a large bar serving good drinks and snacks.

From the perch at a table center stage, the view was perfect and the evening exploded with Burt Bacharach’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” which Busch rendered in heart wrenching sadness. He then segued to The Beatles because, as Busch’s banter suggested, there is nothing more ’60s for him and many of us, than the Beatles. Again, Judson’s arrangement of “Here There and Everywhere” was pitch-perfect.

The evening rolled along with songs by Alan Jay Lerner, Leslie Bricusse, Sondheim, Peggy Lee, and a stunning version of “Surabaya Johnny” by Brecht and Weill. A highlight was a duet that had a rocky start, as Judson’s mike clicked in and out and so the solution was for Busch to move over to the piano bench and they shared a mike for Mancini’s “Two for the Road.” Squished together at the piano, they unleashed a joyful rendition that brought down the house and finally gave the techie a chance to figure out the sound situation.

The evening consisted of 15 numbers, a full album of songs that ended with an arrangement of Bob Dylan’s, “The Times They Are a Changin.” In this version, Judson explained that he morphed each stanza to modulate the monotony of Dylan’s original release where it was exactly the same for the many stanzas of what we now know are Dylan’s Nobel Prize-winning poems. The way the song was presented, in song styling and musically, allowed the poignancy of the music and lyrics to shine through. And although bittersweet for those of us who heard the anthem in the ’60s and thought we were changing the world, it is still a rallying call never to forget that we must continue to be vigilant and believe.

There was as, Busch called it, a fake encore, as they didn’t leave the stage and we all would have called them back for as much as they would offer. That encore was Raskin’s “Those Were the Days,” where the audience can be rallied to clap and cheer.

Busch and Judson are off to Spain for their next tour; for more information, visit charlesbusch.com.

“Charles Busch: My Kinda ’60s” was held on September 2 at Club Helsinki, 405 Columbia St., Hudson, NY, 12534. For information on upcoming shows, call 518.828.4800 or visit https://helsinkihudson.com/

The Lion ROARS: what a great piece of theater.

The Lion
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Wednesday Feb 11, 2015

Ben Scheuer (Source:www.broadwayworld.com)
A 5 p.m. matinee on a snowy Saturday seemed like a punishment, when all I wanted was tea and comfort, but two minutes into Ben Scheuer’s “The Lion” at the Culture Project, was the only place I could imagine being. What a joy, a wild unexpected ride and a heart-opening experience.

Benjamin Scheuer is tall and fit and so handsome with a shock of messy brown hair and fingers so fast on any of the seven guitars arrayed on stage that for the music and the visage alone you may be willing to surrender to his one-man show. His voice is never perfect, but so alluring, and even better than perfection is the story he has to tell. Scheuer is sharing with us, ever so generously, the tale of his coming to manhood. And we all know that voyage is full of trips, cracking voices, explosions, challenges, sadness and joys, but his is a gripping one.

Scheuer had a stern mathematician father who also harbored a desire and talent for music. He taught young Ben to play on a banjo constructed out of a pie pan with rubber bands and Ben and his dad played music on and off with his two younger brothers. The three boys comprised the lion pack inside the family’s pride. Scheuer’s father was mercurial, one day sweet and funny the next screaming and abusive. Ben caught his full wrath in the weeks leading up to his 14th birthday and then tragically his father died before there could be a denouement.

His British mother took young Ben and the other lion cubs back to England for boarding school and more strictness. Finally Ben headed back to America to be an erstwhile musician; along the way he falls in love, plays hard rock, falls ill and recovers. Well, we knew he would get better otherwise someone else would be telling the story, but knowing he ascends doesn’t in any way diminish this glorious, uplifting piece.

The stories are heartfelt and never maudlin, the music is sweet, or tangy or sad and sings and twangs to tug on our heartstrings. The piece moves with the well-paced direction of Sean Daniels and combines so seamlessly that at the end the tired, cold audience rose to its feet cheering.

The Lynn Redgrave Theater, one of the many spaces at Culture Project, is a clean theater, one that seems to accommodate many different kinds of work at varying levels of wonder and resonance. But the technical elements, the design, the sound, the lights are always so well wrought. In this instance the spare but alluring set design was by Neil Patel, light by Ben Stanton and sound, which worked so well by Leon Rosenberg. This is a great winter interlude.

“The Lion” runs through March 29 at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street in New York City. For information or tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://cultureproject.org/current/lion/