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SU Drama’s ‘Spring Awakening’ a provocative reminder of the scarring experiences of adolescent sexuality

The rock musical, winner of eight Tony Awards, tackles difficult issues far too dangerous to ignore

By Michael O’Connor

Who would have thought that 1890’s Germany would offer so much insight into 2014 America?

Frank Wedekind’s 1890’s expressionistic drama, Spring Awakening, displays a world in which sex is a taboo subject that is either ignored or treated with shame and fear — a culture in which crippling sexual ignorance and misunderstanding imperils the health and safety of our adolescents.  Perhaps the most striking part of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Tony Award winning adaptation of the Wederkind story, which opened Friday at SU Drama, is that we do not have to imagine this world at all: We are living it. 

The last 15 years of American history have been rife with cultural and political battles over homosexuality, abortion, sex education, birth control and teen sexuality.  These have become so commonplace that it is easy to forget the impact on our culture and the experience of emerging sexuality.  By reinterpreting Wedekind’s 1890’s expressionistic drama, Spring Awakening (the musical) rekindles the debates and casts them in a new light.  And the musical version of the story shines in its ability to express the inner experiences of the characters.

Unlike many types of musical theater, Spring Awakening does not use music to drive the plot. Indeed, the songs here seem to take place outside of the plot.  The play has some of its characters remain within the action of the plot while others slide into an alternative scene seemingly unattached to the storyline.  This additional musical dimension projects the characters’ interior experiences — providing access to their unspoken hopes, desires, fears, inhibitions, anger and confusion.  Moreover, the music forces the audience to come to grips with the effect that a repressive and oppressive culture has on the children growing up within it.

The play follows a group of young classmates over the course a few tumultuous months, focusing largely on the characters Melchior (Brady Richards), Moritz (Ethan Butler) and Wendla (Delphi Borich).  The play opens with the musical number Mama Who Bore Me, a song delivered by Wendla that through its choreography expresses simultaneously her emerging adult sexuality and her desire to return to childhood. Borich’s singing has an ethereal quality that conveys an unforced innocence, while her body movement in the dance suggests a girl on the threshold of a sexual awakening.  

When Wendla finishes the song she asks her mother about her older sister’s pregnancy, but receives only euphemisms about love and marriage in return.  For this young woman, the resulting confusion and ignorance will have devastating effects.  

Separately, Moritz and Melchior are in class learning Latin from an authoritarian teacher (through forced memorization of Virgil’s Aeneid).  Moritz, convincingly portrayed by Butler, is laden with a nervous drone of intensity born from years of repression and violence. He fumbles with the Latin and is mocked by the teacher. 

Richards’s Melchior exudes the confidence born of intellectual precocity as he tries to protect Moritz through an argument about an alternate interpretation of the line in the epic poem. When the teacher strikes Melchior for his insolence, Richards launches into the song All That’s Known, which lays out Melchior’s desire to build a new world not built upon the oppressive control of its youth. Richards, who appeared to somewhat nervous in this number, quickly gained confidence and strength.  By the end of the production Richards unleashed his voice’s full power and glory.

Melchior assures a guilt-ridden Moritz that the latter's erotic dreams are perfectly normal and offers to explain everything he has learned through his study of human sexuality.  Moritz cajoles him into putting his thoughts into an essay in order to avoid the shame of having to verbalize the discomforting topic.  

Butler's character launches into the first rollicking number of the play, The Bitch of Living, and the rest of the class quickly joins in. This song nearly perfectly displays the purpose of these musical numbers: Each boy acts out the uncomfortable and uncontrollable eruptions of erotic desire in his daily life.  The boys and girls then collaborate on the songs My Junk and Touch Me, which continue to explore the inner turmoil they must live through as they begin to evolve into sexual maturity.  Their turmoil is especially troubling because their world offers precious little information on sex and provides them no advice on where to turn for support. Even Melchior’s information is inadequate: Its intellectual focus is void of any real understanding of the emotional aspects of love and sex.  

The troupe of actors in this SU Drama production deserves to be commended for its fearless presentation in portraying the unfiltered inner thoughts and desires of adolescence. They portray the sexual desires of young men and women through simulated masturbation, simulated sex, and highly sexualized and eroticized dance.  And they do this without caricature, sophomoric deflection, or any of the other ways we often “protect” ourselves while portraying uncomfortable truths about individual sexual experiences.   

While the beginning of the play sets up the issue of repression and its effects, there is another significant theme that gets developed in the next sequence.  During a conversation between the girls, Martha (Jodi Snyder) inadvertently reveals that her father physically abuses her and shows the welts to prove it. Martha swears her friend to secrecy, lest she end up like Ilse (Ana Marcu), a childhood playmate who was kicked out of her home and in to the street for revealing abuse from her parents. The somber The Dark I Know Well explores the epidemic of unspoken and unacknowledged violence that undergirds the society through flashbacks to abuses such as Ilse’s incestuous sexual abuse at the hands of her father.  This sequence highlights the devastating effects of the culture of silence and shame.

The remainder of the play unpacks the interpenetration of the themes of violence, sexual repression, shame and fear, aided by songs that provide insight into the personal experiences of the characters.  

One of the great strengths of this production is the set design (by Jen Donsky) that allows Director Michael Barakiva to use multiple levels that juxtapose separate actions.  The set is the dilapidated shadow of a house or barn with multiple levels that project the decayed core of bourgeois society in Wedekind’s fin de siècle Germany.  On an upper level Wendla and Melchior talk and end up having sex — a sexual relationship both appear to desire, yet is portrayed in such a way as to raise the issue of consent.  While they are having sex a piece of the set breaks to reveal a hanging cross, which then turns the front of the stage into a church during worship.  The juxtaposition of these two scenes highlights the confusion and danger of sexual exploration in a society under a sexually repressive, religious ideology.

Because of Wendla’s ignorance about sex and conception, their sexual relationship leads to pregnancy — and ultimately Wendla’s death from a botched abortion.  Meanwhile, Moritz has failed out of school, unfairly, due to the school’s manipulation of his grade.  After being beaten by his father and refused the money to emigrate, Moritz then takes his own life.  The resulting investigation turns up Melchior’s essay, and he becomes the scapegoat for Moritz’s suicide.  

A show-stopping rendition of Totally Fucked expresses Melchior’s realization that he is going to be unfairly blamed for Moritz’s death.  This song, aided by Andrea Leigh-Smith’s choreography, illustrates the helplessness felt by young people when they realize that they are beholden to the capricious whims of society, with no way of escaping its strict levels of discipline. Leigh-Smith has the actors express their rage through stomping and acrobatic jumping and kicking.  The music mirrors this aggression, driving forward in-step with intense and energetic choreography.  When the song finished, the audience rose to their feet in applause.

This upbeat moment ends quickly, though, as Melchior is confined to reform school and soon experiences the sexualized violence of penal institutions. Wendla’s pregnancy and death occur while Melchior is in reform school and are revealed to him through a concluding scene in a graveyard.  

After escaping confinement, Melchior seeks a rendezvous with Wendla but finds only her gravestone.  He prepares to commit suicide but is dissuaded from doing so (by the ghosts of Moritz and Wendla) in the song Those You’ve known — which provides the first real glimpse of Butler’s vocal talents.  In many of his earlier songs, Moritz pushed for intensity and as a result his singing appeared forced and rushed.  But in Those You’ve Known he allowed his talents to shine through with confidence and strength. Coupled with Borich’s angelic delivery, this song provided the emotional release that was needed after the intensity of the play up to this point.

Spring Awakening ends with the full cast performing The Song of Purple Summer, sung after changing from their period costumes to contemporary clothing.  This completed a “bookend” of sorts for the play in that it begins with the actors changing into period costumes on stage as the audience arrives.  (The actors even joke with each other and use their cell phones to take pictures of the audience before the play begins.) 

The final bookend slides the play back into our contemporary time and place which now seems strikingly similar to the German society critiqued in the play.  The audience is forced to ask if that much has changed.  Our world still deals with the legacy of shame that leads to bullying and the suicide of gay teens as well as that of young women tarred as promiscuous. Rape and sexual violence continue to occur at epidemic rates, yet society refuses to acknowledge it in a meaningful way and victims are often silenced by a culture of shame.  Ignorance of sexuality is rampant among teenagers despite the proliferation of sexual material.  This ignorance can lead not only to pregnancy but also sexual assault, manipulation, and sexually transmitted infections.  

These are important questions to explore, and I applaud Syracuse Drama for opening up this conversation.  The company’s provocative season-closer is an important theatrical work that deserves to be seen everyone 16 years and older.  

Details Box:
What: Spring Awakening, book and lyrics Steven Sater, music by Duncan Sheik, adapted from the play by Frank Wedekind
Who: Syracuse Drama Department
Where: Storch Theater/SU Drama Theater Complex, 820 E. Genesee Street, Syracuse??
Performance reviewed: 8 p.m. Friday, April 25, 2014 (opening night)
Remaining performances: Plays through May 10
Length: About 2 hours and 25 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission
Tickets: $19 general admission ($17 Students)
Call: 315-443-3275 or
Family guide: Adult language, adult situations, adult themes, sexual content, nudity

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
3 years ago |
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CNY Playhouse’s ‘Laughter on the 23rd floor’ a ‘skyscraper’ of a comedy

Okay, they don’t look Jewish — but the actors in this amusing retrospect on the mid-1950s Sid Caesar TV comedy series stack up as tall as a NY-sized pastrami sandwich

By David Abrams

It’s hard to imagine a baby boomer who has not seen, or at least heard of, Sid Caesar’s side-splitting television comedy-variety show that aired live from 1950-54, Your Show of Shows.  Television had all of three channels back then — and a good many of the sets were tuned to NBC each Saturday evening for Caesar and Imogene Coca.  

One of the writers for the show was the young and up-and-coming Neil Simon, who pays homage in this semi-autobiographical play to Caesar and his crew of misfit comedic writers from the early days of television.  Laughter on the 23rd floor chronicles the chaos and frenzy of the writers’ collaborative process in Your Show of Shows, transporting the audience back in time to the room where these quick-witted but argumentative writers duked it out competing for the attention of The King of Comedy himself, Sid Caesar.

CNY Playhouse takes the audience on a hilarious romp through this virtual “war room” of words, set during the height of the McCarthy era when sponsor-driven shows were broadcast live.  And it does so with a magnificent set that captures almost every detail and nuance of the mid-50s.  And although the chain of exceptional actors in this character-driven production had a weak link or two, the troupe — directed by Dustin Czarny (who also plays one of the writers on the show) — forges an affable ensemble that weaves its way into the audience’s hearts and ultimately leaves them in stitches.  

Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd floor, which opened on Broadway in 1993 (with Nathan Lane as Sid Caesar’s alter ego, Max Prince), is a Roman à clef: The fictitious characters in the show represent actual comedic writers from the original series.  Your Show of Shows is now The Max Prince Show, and writers Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Mel Tolkin are the characters Ira Stone, Kenny Franks and Val Slotsky, respectively.  Lucas Brickman, the new writer on the show who serves as the story’s narrator, represents Neil Simon.  

The office where these characters write, masterfully recreated here by Navroz Dabu, serves as the backdrop upon which insults and invectives intertwine like contrapuntal lines in a Bach fugue.  Only instead of melodic lines, this fugue comprises humor.  Jewish humor.  And despite the bickering from the dysfunctional staff, the 90-minute show managed to go on week after week.  “All humor is based on hostility,” explains head-writer Val — prompting Kenny to add, “That’s why World War II was so funny.”

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Max Prince and his battle with NBC moguls over the show’s declining ratings.  The Max Prince Show, which continues to perform well in the East, is slowly giving ground to The Lawrence Welk Show in the less-urbane Midwestern markets.  Now the broadcasting company is demanding that Max dumb down the humor. 

Max, understandably, doesn’t take these suggestions well.  He has less-than-kind words for Mr. Welk and declares war on the network, sounding his battle call not with a trumpet but with a mixture of tranquilizers and scotch.  It is well to remember, however, that Laughter on the 23rd floor is not so much story-driven as it is punch-line driven: The humor comes at you non-stop until you’re completely surrounded.  Just like Lawrence Welk’s bubbles.  

Veteran actor Ed Mastin is a remarkably good Max Prince.  Much like his portrayal of the sarcastic newspaper reporter E.K. Hornbeck in the company’s memorable production of Inherit the Wind, Mastin forges a dour, cynical character who scorns the establishment (here the bottom-line obsessed execs at NBC Studios), with no interest whatsoever in reaching a common middle-ground.

Mastin looks the part, as well.  Sporting a 1940s-vintage mustache and carrying a cigar in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other, Mastin appears on the verge of a mental breakdown.  We see him in a white shirt unbuttoned at the collar to accommodate a disheveled-looking tie, with suspenders tugging at his pants (when he wears them) as if in a losing battle with the forces of gravity.  He moves across the stage like a prizefighter who has been knocked to the canvass repeatedly yet refuses to throw in the towel.  And Mastin makes it abundantly clear that his character is, indeed, a fighter. 

Jim Magnarelli as the Russian émigré head-writer Val Slotsky (representing real-life Mel Tolkin) played his part to perfection, and it was a pleasure to watch this confident and well-seasoned actor at work.  With his sturdy physical appearance, well-coiffed silver hair and thick Russian accent (which never missed an inflection), Magnarelli looked like he could have landed a part in the James Bond film From Russia With Love.  Indeed, his Slavic accent was so consistent and persuasive I began to wonder whether English is this man’s second language.

It takes about 45-minutes for Jim Uva, as Ira Stone, to make his initial appearance onstage.  But once he does he dominates the stage and the action, and comes near to stealing the show.  Uva, who I felt was miscast as the ultra-cool Mr. White in the company’s earlier production of Reservoir Dogs, was a perfect fit for the hypochondriac writer (based upon the real-life persona of Mel Brooks).  To this I’ll add that Uva is the only character in the show who looks even remotely Jewish. 

Uva has a powerful speaking voice and uses it to forge a loud and brash character who cries out for attention at every turn.  Ira’s imaginary ailments may fuel the laughter in this story, but it’s Uva’s histrionics and facial expressions that turn this laughter into sidesplitting hilarity.  Judging from his impromptu performance of Roma, how I love ya, how I love ya (sung to the tune of Swanee), I’d say Uva’s got a nice voice, to boot.

Dan Rowlands crafted Neil Simon’s alter ego, Lucas Brickman, with the proper combination of sobriety, wonder and awe befitting an aspiring young writer in the company of comic titans.  Rowlands’s acting and body movements are natural and convincing as the straight man in this story, and he delivers his lines with crisply articulated diction.

CNY Playhouse Artistic Director Dustin Czarny does double-duty in this production, directing and playing the role of the hard-smoking, hacking-coughing Irishman, Brian Doyle.  

Czarny is quick to remind us that he has not acted in seven years.  But acting, like riding a bicycle, is a lifelong skill one hardly forgets.  Czarny, whose character chain smokes his way through the play (Czarny uses herbal cigarettes), inherited the role after the original actor had left the show early on (perhaps he did not care for cigarettes).  Except for some diction problems due to his somewhat raspy speaking voice, Czarny forged a credible character as the nicotine-addicted comic.  And like the seasoned director he is, Czarny knows to face the audience when delivering his lines.  He knows how to turn up the volume, too.  His shouting matches with Uva could be heard clear across Shoppingtown Mall and well into the parking lot.   

As the flamboyant gagman Milt Fields, Lanny Freshman cuts a cheerful character who in many ways resembles the wisecracking Morey Amsterdam from the 1960s sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Fields nevertheless has a tendency to turn his back to the audience while speaking, rendering many of his words virtually inaudible.  That’s a real shame, because Simon gives Milt some of the funniest one-liners in the play.  In this play, when even a single word is garbled the snap, crackle and pop of the rapid banter between comedians quickly loses its fizz.  

This having been said, Fields crafts a lovable character in this production and injects his part with energy and gusto.  I hope to see him in other roles, but this one is a bit of a challenge due to his age, which makes it difficult for the audience to identify him with a philandering comic supposedly in his mid-40s.  It simply doesn’t work when he makes a pass at the attractive twenty-something Helen at the Christmas party.

Gina Fortino, as the only female comedy writer on the staff, champions her feminist views and anti-McCarthy tirades with resolve and passion, and ultimately succeeds in becoming “one of the boys.”  Due to an unfortunate staging problem in the first act, every third or fourth word out of her mouth was smothered by the clomping of her hard-heeled shoes when she walked across the wooden floor — a distracting annoyance, to be sure.

David Vickers, as the brightest and most sophisticated comic of the bunch, Kenny Franks, cuts a tall and handsome figure onstage and carries himself well when moving about the office.  Vickers does not, however, exude the same level of comfort and confidence in his manner of acting as the others, and some of his lines sound contrived at least at this early stage of the production run.    

As Max’s attractive secretary (and show biz wannabe) Helen, Crystal Rowlands makes the most of her small role and seems comfortable whenever she takes the stage.  Rowlands, dressed in muted fashion throughout much of the show, came to the party at the end of the show looking like a cover girl on a women’s magazine.  This adds power to Milt’s punch-line when she tells him “I’d give anything to live in Hollywood.”  

“Well,” says Milt, “that’s all it takes, honey.”

Details Box:?
WhatLaughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon, directed by Dustin Czarny ?
Who: Central New York Playhouse ??? ?
Where: Shoppingtown Mall, Dewitt NY (2nd floor, next to Macy’s)??
Performance reviewed: Friday, April 18, 2014 (opening night) 
Remaining performances: Plays through May 3?
Ticket information: Call 315-885-8960 or  ?
Length:  About two hours and 15 minutes, including intermission
Ticket prices:  $15 to $20; dinner and show $34.95 (Saturdays only)
Family guide: Frequent profanity (including the F-bomb), and smoking onstage

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
4 years ago |
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Syracuse Opera’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece 

By David Abrams

Syracuse Opera returned to the grandeur of the 2,117-seat Crouse Hinds Theater Sunday for its 2013-14 season-closing production of an adaptation of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece, Porgy and Bess.  (The company’s two earlier chamber-sized productions, The Tragedy of Carmen and Maria de Buenos Aires, were housed at the more intimate Carrier Theater.)  

Proponents of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess champion the truncated version as a vehicle better suited to live theater, which may be true — although purists are likely to disagree.  But judging from the over-the-top ovation by the near-capacity crowd at curtain call, I’d say this version appears to be perfectly sufficient.  Moreover, Sunday’s performance was, by any measure, an artistic success.

Syracuse Opera had been publicizing this one-time only event (there was no repeat performance) as a “semi-staged” production.  Come curtain time, however, the audience discovered that it ain’t necessarily so.  This performance had the look and feel of a full-blown staged production, complete with costumes and stage action.  If it didn’t capture the substance of Catfish Row, at least it captured its essence — and soul.  Except for the placement of the orchestra at the back half of the stage (instead of in the pit) and a static set that did not change, this was a complete operatic experience.  And a handsome one, at that.

One reason for the success of this production was Syracuse Opera’s decision to engage Hope Clarke, the first African-American to direct and choreograph Porgy and Bess both here and abroad.  Clarke’s directorial touches included enlisting the 44-member Syracuse Opera Chorus as active participants in the musical numbers.  The chorus, well prepared under the direction of Chorus Master Joseph Downing, swayed, danced and waived their arms high into the air during numbers such as Oh, I can’t sit down — at times resembling a revivalist church gathering.   Clarke’s ensemble spirituals and laments were handsomely composed on the stage, and her poignant staging of Robbins’s wake was truly touching.

Another reason for the company’s success was the direction of the singers and instrumentalists by Douglas Kinney Frost.  Conducting the orchestra with his back to the singers, Frost — aided by display screens strategically placed at various parts of the stage — managed to juggle competing forces with no major mishaps.  (It customarily takes a performance or two to work out the kinks.)  Frost had just one shot to get it right — and he did.  

Perhaps the single greatest reason for the production’s success was the quality of the acting and singing.  Ironically, it was the supporting roles that impressed me the most — particularly Michael Redding (Crown), Aundi Marie Moore (Serena), Brittany Walker (Clara) and Jorell Williams (Jake).  The performances by the principals were strong, but uneven.
Laquita Mitchell is no stranger to the role of Bess, having sung (with Eric Owens as Porgy) in the 2009 Francesca Zambello production at San Francisco Opera.  Mitchell looked the part from the moment she took stage — drugged out and slinking across the floor much like the way Maria describes her: a “liquor guzzlin’ slut.

Mitchell was in excellent voice throughout the afternoon, using her darkly tinged soprano to great effect in What you want wid Bess, sung while trying to get out of the clutches of the abusive Crown.  Mitchell’s acting, however, was less persuasive.  She could not project her character’s agonizing ambivalence in choosing between the man who accepts and loves her and Sportin’ Life’s happy dust.

As the proud cripple, Porgy, Gordon Hawkins sang with a hefty baritone that easily projected throughout the large hall.  Like Mitchell, Hawkins had performed the role in a Zambello production (Chicago Lyric Opera, 2008).  He forged a commanding stage presence from his very first entrance and his acting skills were thoroughly convincing.  But Hawkins’s vibrato Sunday was uncomfortably wide — especially when singing in full voice or at the top of his range.  This in turn muddied his words and rendered his diction virtually unintelligible, as was evident in his third act lament, Bess, o where's my Bess.

Victor Ryan Robertson fashioned a suitably flamboyant Sportin’ Life, Catfish Row’s friendly neighborhood drug pusher who presses Bess to come with him to Harlem and live the high life.  Looking especially unctuous in Costume Designer Jodi Luce’s colorful three-piece brown suit (with ample pockets to hold his stash of happy dust), Robertson tickled the crowd with his cunningly innocent revision of Biblical history in It Ain’t Necessarily So.  Robertsons pleasant tenor, though not strong, was always enjoyable.  He was the only singer whose diction remained crystal clear throughout the performance.

Baritone Michael Redding as the villainous Crown gave a standout performance in this production.  The Atlanta native used his entire body to craft a believable character who was both fearless and frightening.  (His menacingly diabolical laugh alone was enough to terrorize the God-fearing denizens of Catfish Row — and the listener.)  Redding’s voice is strong, richly hued and attractive to the ear — as was clear from his cocky number, A red-headed woman and his duet with Mitchell at the conclusion of What you want wid Bess (which for me was the highpoint of this production).  At curtain call, Redding seemed surprised when the resounding applause at his entrance soon turned to boos (the ultimate compliment for a villainous role such as Crown).

Soprano Aundi Marie Moore delivered a strong and commanding vocal effort as Serena.  This is a role Moore knows well, having sung the part at the Virginia Opera and Atlanta Opera, and it showed.  Her superb delivery of the lament My man’s gone now — sung with great depth of feeling at the wake of her character’s husband, Robbins (killed at the hands of Crown during a craps game) — engaged the listener in a true “lump-in-the-throat” moment.

Among the minor roles, Brittany Walker’s Clara delivered the spiritual Summertime in a clean lyric soprano darkened with some pronounced mezzo timbres, although she tended to end her phrases somewhat abruptly.  As the fisherman, Jake, Jorell Williams sang with a strongly defined baritone in the rowing song It take a long pull to get there.  Larry D Hylton, who did double-duty as Serena’s husband Robbins and the Crabman, hammed it up to perfection in the comedic “Vendors Trio.”

As a conductor, Frost found tempos that were mostly on the mark and well-suited to the abilities of the singers.  The effervescent Overture bubbled with joy, and the opera’s signature duet Bess, You Is My Woman came off splendidly.   I was disappointed, however, with his lethargic tempo in the otherwise snappy There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York, which all but drained the pizazz out of Sportin’ Life’s splashiest number.

The instrumentalists from Symphoria navigated Gershwin’s demanding musical score with precision and maintained an excellent balance with the singers and chorus at all times. The pernicious xylophone solo at the beginning of the Overture (and several places later on) was played in dazzling fashion by percussionist Ernest Muzquiz.  

Those listeners who entered the theater wondering why an opera in English required projected supertitles soon got their answer.  In DuBose Heyward’s novel, Porgy, from which the libretto is taken, the characters in Catfish Row speak the Gullah dialect (English, with Western and Central Africa inflections) common in South Carolina and other parts of the South.  It’s difficult to follow this dialogue intelligibly without the supertitles, especially when diction is muffled as was the case here.

I’ve long wondered why a work with such a parade of catchy tunes and colorfully orchestrated accompaniments would not have been a hit during the composer’s lifetime.  It wasn’t until 1976 that the full-score version of Porgy and Bess was mounted (by Houston Grand Opera Company), and the work never made it to the Metropolitan Opera stage until 1985 — some 50 years after the opera’s premiere (on Broadway).  

I attended the uncut Houston Grand Opera version on Broadway in 1976, and I can tell you that next to Le Nozze di Figaro, it was the best four hours of musical theater I can remember.  But I don’t mind admitting that I enjoyed this shortened version of Porgy.  Regardless of the size of the hourglass, Gershwin’s tunes still reach the ears from top to bottom.

Details Box:
What: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, directed by Hope Clarke
Who: Syracuse Opera
Language: sung in English with projected titles
Manner of performance: Semi-staged (staged action, costumes light scenery)
Where: Crouse Hinds Theater, John H. Mulroy Civic Center, 411 Montgomery St., Syracuse
Performance reviewed: 2 p.m. Sunday, April 6, 2014 (no repeat performances)
Length: About 3 hours and 10 minutes, including intermission

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
4 years ago |
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Syracuse Stage’s ‘The Glass Menagerie’ returns to the roots, and vision, of the Tennessee Williams classic

But it takes an open mind to reap the rewards of this engaging ‘memory play’

By Malkiel Choseed

Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie opens to a dimly lit stage.  Windows and fire escapes hang suspended in air, creating an illusion that we are peering into the side of an apartment building in 1930s St. Louis.  With the rest of the stage dark, the character of Tom — dressed in the distinct navy blue of a merchant marine — proceeds to address the audience.  

“The play is memory, he tells the audience.  Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.”  

Williams broke from convention with the introduction of this new genre, called “memory play.”  By breaking the fourth wall (the imaginary wall at the front of the stage separating the actors from the audience) and instructing the audience to set aside its expectations, Williams put viewers on notice that this play was unlike others.  Timothy Bond and the Syracuse Stage cast and production team have embraced this unconventionality in The Glass Menagerie, giving a contemporary audience a taste of what Williams had wanted in the play’s original 1944 run.  

To be sure, the “taste” offered by Bond and company might not suit everyone’s palate: Audience members must enter Williams’s world with an open mind if they expect to be rewarded with an engaging and moving theatrical experience.  But if you like Tennessee Williams, you’ll no doubt love this production.

The plot of this American classic is relatively simple.  Amanda Wingfield (Elizabeth Hess) is a domineering, aging southern belle who — like the flowers on her dress — is fading.  Inextricably stuck in the past, Amanda constantly worries about the future of Laura (Adriana Gaviria), her painfully shy and partially disabled daughter who walks with a limp and is described as “crippled.”  Afraid of the outside world, Laura retreats ever further into fantasy, armed with her Victrola and collection of miniature glass figurines in the shape of animals.  Laura’s brother Tom (Joseph Midyett) works to support the family in a warehouse but is a frustrated poet, chaffing at his familial responsibilities.  In an effort to appease his mother and provide a gentleman caller and potential suitor for Laura, Tom invites co-worker and former schoolmate Jim O’Connor (Michael Kirby) to dinner.  

The drama that ensues focuses less on whether Laura can charm Jim and more on the ways in which these characters will or will not come to grips with reality — accepting it, or fleeing even further into fantasy.  This central conflict is complicated by the fact that The Glass Menagerie is explicitly a “memory play.”  As Director Timothy Bond explained in a press release:

With The Glass Menagerie especially, Williams pushed the American theatre in a new and less realistic direction … His [Williams’] original vision for the play called for projections of words and images, elements rarely if ever used in productions of the play, and for the use of music.  For this production, I’ve embraced and have been inspired by Williams’ original vision.
All the production elements — from costumes to lighting to the musical score — work together seamlessly to help Bond achieve this vision.  Scenic Designer William Bloodgood’s highly stylized and starkly beautiful set underscores the premise that the scenes presented are viewed through the lens of memory.  Kate Freer’s attractive projection design also deserves special mention.  At one point, the entire stage (actors included) is washed in images of blue roses — which is visually breathtaking and highlights the poetry, and the symbolism, of Williams’s dialogue.     

The acting is purposefully hyperbolic.  The action is, after all, taking place in the realm of the memory.  To audience members expecting something more concrete, it can be somewhat disconcerting to see characters as exaggerated as this.  To their credit, the actors bring both life and truth to what could easily be reduced to simple caricatures.  Gaviria, Hess, Kirby, and Midyett use their voices in convincing fashion (Midyett’s closing monologue is especially appealing) and use body language in ways that further their characters and the plot.  

The Glass Menagerie is required reading in many high schools and college literature classes, but to see it acted so well adds an important dimension to one’s appreciation of Williams’s classic.  For example, Midyett’s body language, shrinking and growing depending on his proximity to his mother, illustrates his character’s conflicted relationship.  Casting Kirby (who stands almost a full head taller than the other actors) as the gentleman caller also illustrates his “outsized” expectations, both with respect to himself and Amanda Wingfield’s overblown hopes for a man capable of saving Laura.  

Tom and Amanda dominate the first act, and Jim and Laura are given center stage in the second.  Generally speaking, all the actors in this production are excellent.  But Elizabeth Hess steals the show as the over-the-top, borderline histrionic Amanda Wingfield.  Hess’s sweeping graceful gestures, as she figuratively (and sometimes literally) dances across the stage, grab the attention of audience at every turn.   

The strength of the present Syracuse Stage production is that it returns to the roots Tennessee Williams’s original vision.  Bond and his cast and crew combine to make this 70-year-old play as relevant, and moving, as it was in 1944.    

Details Box:?
What: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams ?
Who: Syracuse Stage?
Where: Archbold Theatre, Syracuse Stage Complex, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse?, NY?
Performance reviewed: 8 p.m. Friday, April 4, 2014 (opening night)?
Remaining performances: Plays through April 27?
Length: About 2 hours and 30 minutes, including 15 minute intermission ?
Tickets: $30-$52; $18 children under 18 and SU students; $35 under 40?
Call: 315-443-3275 or
Family guide: Appropriate for all ages

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
4 years ago |
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‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’ a serious exploration of serious issues that never takes itself too seriously

SU Drama’s production provides a rollicking good time — and remains true to Bertolt Brecht’s theatrical vision

By Michael O’Connor

Upon entry into the cozy confines of the Loft Theater on the second floor of the Syracuse Stage/Drama Complex, I was immediately struck by the music being lightly played over the loudspeaker as audience members took their seats.  After a few moments I was pretty sure I was listening to Yat-Kha — a band that mixes heavy metal and hard rock with traditional Tuvan-style “throat singing.”  

The sound was other-worldly and provided a perfect segue to Director Felix Ivanov’s vision of The Good Woman of Setzuan as relevant and up-to-date with contemporary cultural forms — using musical instruments and props to advance Brecht’s ideas about alienation and Epic Theater to the sensibilities of a 21st-century audience.

To Brecht, theater was not an art form to be enjoyed passively.  His goal was to create an explicitly political theatrical form that forced the audience to do the intellectual work required to recognize problems inherent in the structure of the modern world — which to Brecht meant the inequalities and injustices of capitalism.  Yet despite his trenchant political goals and avant-garde theatrical structure, Brecht produced plays that are wonderfully enjoyable as well intellectually challenging.  I was impressed and pleased that the Syracuse Drama’s current production was successful on both counts.   

For Brecht, setting was one of the first steps in this process. These should appear strange and unfamiliar to the audience, which he often accomplishes through settings foreign to his native Germany.  The China presented in his play is not a realistic rendering of any actual place, but rather a foreign space that allows the audience to the see the action and society being presented in a new light.  The current production, which runs through April 13, accomplishes this goal through a mix of set design, costuming and sound design.  

Leanna Barlow’s set was an enigmatic mixture of urban detritus and recognizably far-Eastern iconography.  So too was Kevin O’Connor’s sound, which like the music played at the start of the play captured a mixture of far-eastern gongs, world music styled percussion, Casio keyboard, religious sounding ethereal singing — and rap.  The striking costumes designed by Jess Feder were also a mélange, comprising Chinese silken jackets, Western business suits, theatrical masks and rags.  Taken together, the space created for the play was largely unrecognizable and destabilizing to the audience.  

Brecht felt strongly that actors should remain recognizably separate from the roles they played.  Actors should narrate rather than inhabit their roles.  He did not want the audience to suspend their disbelief and passively consume the play.  Brecht, rather than creating distance between the character and the actor, hoped to keep viewers aware that they were watching a play purposefully constructed for them.  With this goal in mind, the acting was, by and large, marvelous.  

The exaggeratedly athletic acting of Craig Kober (Wong), Seth Landau (Shu Fu), Thomas Countz (the Carpenter) and Melissa Beaird (Nephew and Old Lady) struck a near-perfect pitch.  Their overly expressive body positions, movements and stances struck a balance whereby the audience became hyper-aware of their acting and movements, but never quite able to connect them seamless with their roles.  I was forced to constantly think about how they were representing their characters and what each role might suggest about the world being presented.  Indeed, their gestures provided the audience with insights that would have been inexpressible through words alone.

The lion’s share of praise for this performance belongs to Jesse Roth, who plays the roles of Shen Te and Shui Ta.  As Shen Te, Roth plays the eponymous good woman: a young prostitute that is the only person in Setzuan willing to extend hospitality to a trio of roaming gods.  The gods reward her for this goodness by providing her money to start a tobacco shop.  

Once the shop opens, though, Shen Te’s goodness gets in the way of her success.  She is repeatedly taken advantage of by impoverished locals, her landlord, the man she falls in love with and others.  To protect herself and survive, Shen Te impersonates a fictional cousin: the ruthless businessman, Shui Ta.  Herein lies the core of Brecht’s critique of modern society.  To Brecht, the very structure of society under capitalism makes it impossible to be a good person (or even a complete person in touch with her or his humanity).  

The only way that Shen Te can survive is to split into two separate people — and this requires deft acting.  As Shen Te, Roth presents a sweet and caring character whose capacity to love is virtually boundless.  She knows that her lover Yang Sun (Andrew Garret) is a scoundrel, yet she also realizes it is only through her love for him that she can grab a snippet of joy and human connection.  Roth manages to convey without allowing the audience to fully identify her with her character.  She is able to portray the image of an individual exploited by the cruel systems of the surrounding world (be it the misogyny of Yan Sun, the empty religiosity of the gods or the cruel practices of the business world).  

Once Roth’s character puts on the mask of Shui Ta (her transformation is marked by donning a literal mask), she is transformed into a marker of ruthless and uncaring business.  The body language of her stance becomes domineering, the inflection of her voice becomes powerful and manipulative, and her movements become authoritative and controlling.  Roth seamlessly transitions between these seemingly incompatible roles with aplomb.  

As the action of play pushes toward its conclusion (a trial to decide the fate of Shui Ta), it is punctuated regularly by song, dance and comedic moments.  In typical Brecht-ian fashion, the song breaks give the viewer pause to contemplate the issues presented in the play.  The women’s song (a song about the dangers of love sung by all the female cast members) clearly notes the particular ways in which women are disproportionately disempowered by the structure of the modern world.  This song comes right after Shen Te and Yang Sun have begun their relationship, and provides a still-relevant critique of gender relations in the modern world.  

Near the end of the play the three gods (Adam Segrave, Brian Sandstrom and Sam Odell) perform a song full of empty platitudes.  This provides a vicious critique of the self-serving and clueless religiosity represented by the gods.  This song is especially notable because of the powerful singing voice of Adam Segrave, whose ethereal voice would be welcome in any church choir. The style of the song, coupled with Segrave’s voice, give the critique it renders an even stronger impact.  

It would be easy to assume that this production — with its political critiques, experimental acting and avant-garde staging — would be inaccessible to many, or at the very least, a purely cerebral theatrical experience.  It is, however, anything but that.  

The performance is punctuated by numerous (and uproarious) outbursts of laughter from the audience.  As narrator, Ben Odom delights the audience at the beginning of the play delivering a comical rap version of the typical theater instructions (turn off your electronic devices and note the exits).  After opening the curtain, we see the characters in freeze frame, and — in a brilliant updating of Brecht’s use of multiple forms of media — uses his remote control to “start” the play.  (The remote control will be a repeating gag that is used to great effect throughout the play.)  Odom ends the action of the play by “pausing” it in the middle of a tense crowd scene in the courtroom, thereby forcing the audience to draw their own conclusions.  

SU Drama’s The Good Woman of Setzuan is not without its flaws.  There were several dropped lines and not all the actors appeared comfortable with Brecht’s notion of distancing and estrangement with respect to the acting.  I found myself occasionally thinking that a few of the actors were too seamlessly into their roles.  But these are small quibbles that only briefly detracted from a wonderful theatrical experience.  

For those looking to appreciate this play to the fullest, and better understand Brecht’s ideas about theater, I suggest arriving a few minutes early to read John Whalen’s informative article (“It’s Nor Easy Being Good”) in the printed program.

The Good Woman of Setzuan provides a serious exploration of serious issues that never takes itself too seriously, and I greatly enjoyed watching this play performed so vibrantly in the intimate setting of The Loft.  

It is an experience not to be missed.

Details Box:
What: The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht
Who: Syracuse University Drama Department
Where: The Loft Theatre, SU Drama Theater Complex, 820 E. Genesee Street, Syracuse??
Performance reviewed: 8 p.m. Friday, Mar. 28, 2014 (opening night)
Remaining performances: Plays through April 13
Length: About 2 hours and 30 minutes, including 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $19, $17 Students; call 315-443-3275 or
Family guide: Adult humor, adult situations, adult themes

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
4 years ago |
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Redhouse’s ‘Hamlet,’ set in the 1980s, is relevant, engaging — and fun

But the humor in the company’s unusual setting of Shakespeare’s celebrated tragedy comes at a cost to the play’s raw emotion and pathos

By Malkiel Choseed

What is the difference between tragedy and comedy?  The differences, while meaningful, are not as pronounced as one might think.  In both types of play, a conflict threatens to disrupt the extant social order or status quo.  

In a comedy the conflict is resolved, and the characters and their social bonds, threatened but ultimately safe, are left whole.  (Mr. Roper threatens to kick Jack out of the apartment, but Chrissy and Janet find a way to change his mind before it is too late.)  With Shakespearean comedy, this is often symbolized in a marriage.  In a tragedy the conflict is unresolved, and the individual, family, or society is torn asunder — usually represented by the death of one or more of the main characters.  (Jack sacrifices himself to save Rose as the Titanic sinks.)  

Hamlet is, of course, a tragedy, and as the final curtain falls, four main characters lie dead on the stage with a host of others having been killed onstage and off in earlier scenes.  What happens leading up to the ending, though, is not strictly defined.  Can a comedy have tragic elements?  Can a tragedy have comic elements?  This raises the question: If Hamlet is a tragedy, can it still be funny?  This is the challenge that Director Stephen Svoboda and his cast and crew have taken up in the present Redhouse production.

Even though this version of Hamlet is set in America sometime in the 1980’s (in what is assumed to be the royal palace under construction), it is essentially a faithful version of the celebrated Shakespearean tragedy.  

The dialogue, though the source of the power of the Bard’s plays, can also be a barrier for an audience.  It is up to the actors and director to interpret and make meaningful what could otherwise be a mass of iambic pentameter lines and affected, English accents.  To their credit, the troupe of professional, semi-professional, and community actors in this production has done a good job in this regard.  

While there were a few rough spots which will undoubtedly work themselves out, each of the 22 different actors in the 33 different roles delivered their lines not only in a rhythm and pacing that respected the beauty of the language but — through body language and eye contact — made it intelligible to an audience, as well.

Historically, Hamlet presents several difficulties for a director and company.  How old is Hamlet?  How should one depict Ophelia’s madness?  What is the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude?   Director Stephen Svoboda has made some interesting choices — some conventional and some not.  For example, Rosencrantz (Marguerite Mitchell) and Guildenstern (Leila Dean), Hamlet’s childhood friends employed by the Claudius to spy on Hamlet, are women.  The women, dressed provocatively, introduce an element of sexuality to Hamlet that is not suggested in the text of the play itself.    

The six principal actors, Adam Perabo as Hamlet, Steve Hayes as Polonius, Rachel Torba-Grage as Gertrude, Nathan Faudree as Claudius, Katie Gibson as Ophelia and Michael Raver as Laertes, are solid in their performances.  Each of them brings intensity, emotion, and humor when it is called for.  Steve Hayes risks stealing the show with his over-the-top portrayal of Polonius, getting laughs from the audience with just a well-timed glance.  In addition to reliable acting, Katie Gibson distinguishes herself with a beautiful singing voice.  

The stage design is interesting in that there is one set throughout the entire play, with small props brought in as necessary to indicate scene changes.  A construction scaffold dominates the stage, providing for a multi-layered scene.  This simple backdrop allows the audience to focus on the actors and their words rather than a set.  The costumes and soundtrack work well and places this production squarely in the 1980s.  From King Claudius’ Miami Vice style clothes to Hamlet’s singing of U2’s With Or Without You to the explicit invocation of John Cusack’s character of Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 Say Anything, this production practically screams the ‘80s.

All of this begs the question, though, as to why set this in the 1980s?  What does it bring to the play?  In the “Director’s Note,” Svoboda writes that he wanted to invoke the angst ridden, alienated teen characters of 1980s films to highlight the maturation process of Hamlet, who is, according to Svoboda, an alienated teen himself — seeking meaning and self-determination in the face of an uncaring system.  

In this he is successful, but there is another, unspoken, element at work here.  While many modern productions ignore the comic elements of Hamlet, Svoboda and his actors succeed in making Hamlet fun.  And in doing so, they also make it relevant and engaging.  

Historically, this is appropriate and true to Shakespeare’s time and intention. We do Shakespeare’s work a disservice by approaching it too seriously, by putting it on a pedestal.  This version certainly does not do that.  The costumes, the soundtrack, the knowing glances and comic pauses, all contribute to this.  This is the first production of Hamlet I have seen that regularly brought out belly laughs and guffaws.  For this, they should be applauded.  

The difficulty with “fun” Hamlet, though, is that when you emphasize the humor and silliness it is hard to swing the pendulum back the other way, and fully engage with the pathos and raw emotion in the play.  It was hard to know when we were being set up for a joke and when we are supposed to take it seriously, or whether Hamlet or Claudius was being sincere or snarky.  True, both these characters consciously assume masks and false personas.  But if drama’s job is to reveal human truth and show the character in some real way, this production falls short.  

Even with this weakness, however, the play is still fun and it works.  The small size of the theatre (just under a 100 seats) helps ensure that an audience member is in for a unique experience.  Even those in the last row are only 5 rows away from the stage.  When Perabo delivers his many monologues, interrogating his own motives and hesitancies, he moves about the stage locking eyes with every audience member for at least a moment or two.  The duel between Hamlet and Laertes in the final scene is done with full-size rapiers and large, athletic movements.  Imagine being in the front row, eye-level, five feet from the action.
Any theatre company that takes on Hamlet has its work cut out for it.  This is an extremely challenging and ambitious play in its own right, and is made more so because of its long history, varied past productions both on stage and screen, and the various cultural associations (both good and bad) it carries with it.  The Redhouse’s most recent staging is an enjoyable and engaging, but ultimately limited, Hamlet.  You’ll leave smiling — which is in itself, perhaps, a reason to go.
Details Box:
What: Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Red House Arts Center?
Who: The Red House Arts Center, 201 S. West St., Syracuse ?
Performance reviewed: 8 p.m. Friday, Mar. 21, 2014 (opening night)
Remaining performances: Plays through April 5
Length of performance: About 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission
Tickets: $30 general admission, $20 Red House members, call (315) 362-2785 or
Family guide: Adult themes, violence

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
4 years ago |
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The Met’s ‘Werther’ a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

By David Rubin

Massenet’s Werther is a soufflé.  If all the ingredients — sets, direction, singing, conducting — are perfectly blended, it will stand up just fine.  But if anything is amiss, it will collapse.

Fortunately all the ingredients were tastily in place in the Met’s new production that featured the overdue house debut of mezzo Sophie Koch as Charlotte and tenor-du-jour Jonas Kaufmann as Werther, all blended by British director Richard Eyre and conductor Alain Altinoglu.

Based on Goethe’s 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, this is, at heart, a two-character opera.  The melancholy (or simply depressed) poet Werther is besotted by the virtuous Charlotte, who is betrothed to the dull Albert.  Charlotte is quietly passionate about Werther, but she won’t yield to him or to her own desires because she promised her dying mother she would marry Albert.  

Despairing, Werther leaves her, then returns on Christmas Eve, is rejected (after a single passionate kiss), borrows Albert’s pistols, retreats to his garret, and commits suicide.  The distraught Charlotte runs to the garret, arrives too late to save him and, in this production, contemplates using the pistol on herself as the stage lights dim.

All the important action is between these two.  Charlotte’s teenage sister Sophie flits in and out of the opera exhibiting her own crush on Werther and adding some light-hearted relief.  Charlotte’s father, siblings, husband and some townspeople make appearances, but they provide little more than dramatic and musical padding.

It is hard to imagine two performers more persuasive in these roles than Koch and Kaufmann.  Eyre has directed them to accentuate their differences.  She is cool, distant, and manipulative.  He is manic, ardent, and menacing. She is costumed elegantly in late 19th century fashions.  He is, at first, quite proper in a floor-length dark formal coat with a white waistcoat, tie or scarf.  But as his mental state deteriorates, so does the outfit.

Eyre has provided a wealth of directorial touches to keep this melodrama afloat.  Although only married to Albert for three months, Charlotte, in her body language, makes it clear that the relationship is joyless for her.  She sits rigidly near him on a bench, just far enough to signal her emotional distance.  Sophie exhibits her attraction to Werther by rubbing up against him on that same bench, only to see Werther jump away as if stuck by a hatpin.  When Werther shoots himself, great globs of blood not only cover his white blouse, but also splatter the wall behind him and stain the bed coverings.

Special praise goes to Video Designer Wendall K. Harrington for projections that were constantly imaginative.  Flocks of ravens roosted in trees when Charlotte’s mother was buried in a pantomime during the overture.  The snow at the winter burial scene visually melted into a verdant spring filled with images of leafy trees.  When Charlotte and Werther were dancing at a ball between Acts One and Two (which is when they fall in love), projections created the illusion they were whirling around the dance floor.  Charlotte ran through a video of city streets and a snowstorm to reach Werther’s garret.

Equally impressive were the set designs of Rob Howell.  Act One opens outside Charlotte’s house in a lush, pastoral setting complete with little walking bridges and gentle hills.  Act Two is a quaint town square with benches and a shaded table.  Act Three is a dramatic library and music room in Albert’s house, where Charlotte reads Werther’s crazed love letters, and where he confronts her and threatens suicide.  Act Four, Werther’s garret, first appears at the back of the Act Three set as a distant box within the stage picture.  Imperceptibly the garret moves forward and replaces the Act Three set, concentrating the audience’s attention on his suicide in this small space, which is now at the center of the stage.

These visual elements are essential to the audience’s appreciation of this opera because Massenet is no tunesmith.  Just when the action begs for a melody from an Offenbach or Gounod, Massenet fails to deliver.  Yes, there are some celebrated arias — Werther’s Invocation to nature in Act One, his Lied to Ossian in Act Three, Charlotte’s letter scene in Act Three — but even these, to my ears, lack a distinctive melodic profile.  

As critic and musicologist Rodney Milnes writes in The New Grove, Werther is a “through composed conversation piece.”  Massenet is a colorist with the ability to match any mood or action in the orchestral writing.  He provides a river of perfumed music that is always beguiling but hard to remember.  His writing for woodwinds is magical.  The overall tint of the orchestral writing is dark, as befits the subject.  It’s masterful in its way, but faceless.

Without choruses or familiar arias, the opera will only work if the audience is totally invested in the fates of the two main characters — and this the Met production achieved.

Koch and Kaufmann have sung these roles in major houses all over the world.  The music is clearly in their bones, and throats.  

In this run of performances, Koch joined the group of golden age mezzos currently at the Met: Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Stephanie Blythe and others.  She has a voice that easily carries throughout the large auditorium.  She is always on pitch.  The sound is pleasing in all its registers.  She demonstrated enormous volume in her farewell cry to her sister in Act Three, and tenderness in ministering to her younger siblings in Act One.  She was thoroughly convincing in the Act Three letter scene as she re-reads Werther’s desperate pleas and realizes he has settled on suicide.  Emotionally she held herself in reserve (no doubt at Eyre’s urging) until she cradled the dying Werther in Act Four.  She is a tall and handsome woman who acts in a modern style.  No diva antics for her.  She is more an Eboli than a Carmen in temperament.  Her voice may lack the sort of immediately identifiable characteristics of the stentorian Blythe, but Koch is a true artist nonetheless.

At first I thought Kaufmann was too much the heldentenor for the tormented poet, more a Tannhäuser than Werther.  But the Met’s program note makes clear that the role was created in 1892 by Ernest Van Dyck, who also sang Lohengrin and Parsifal.  So Kaufmann’s often ringing and aggressive tone must have been what Massenet wanted.  Kaufmann has a well-controlled head voice to complement his golden top notes.  At times I thought I was listening to a voice that would be more congenial as Samson (in the Saint-Saëns opera) but it worked, particularly in his lengthy demise in Act Four.

(According to both The New York Times and my friends in Syracuse, New York and Portland, Maine who were watching the live HD relay in movie theaters, the audio cut out for seven minutes of Werther’s death scene, causing much annoyance and yielding refunds.  The Met blamed satellite problems.)

Baritone David Bizic was convincing as both a hearty Albert and then an aggrieved Albert, once he suspects his wife still loves Werther.  He managed the transition from one to the other in just a few notes with a hardening of his voice as he willingly gave his pistols to Werther.        

Soprano Lisette Oropesa was a sparkling Sophie, at her best when trying to cheer up her sister with an aria about birds.  Jonathan Summers was a bit underpowered as Charlotte’s widowed father.

Conductor Alain Altinoglu seems to be a natural Massenet conductor.   He kept the perfumed waters rolling, building tension along the way, relaxing where possible, and delivering an emotional conclusion.  The Met Orchestra responded well to his leadership.  He should have a bright future in the house.

This was the last performance of the season for Werther.  Surely the Met will bring it back, and I urge you to see it, even if Kaufmann and Koch do not repeat their roles.  Eyre’s overall conception, Harrington’s projections, and the Met Orchestra’s playing are worth the hefty price of admission.  

Details Box:
What: Werther by Jules Massenet
Who: Metropolitan Opera?
When: Saturday matinee, March 15, 2014? ?? ?
Where: Metropolitan Opera House, New York?
Time of performance:  About 3 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
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CNY Playhouse’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ rings up an impressive sale

A handful of gripping performances drill to the core of Arthur Miller’s emotionally draining classic

By David Abrams

It’s getting increasingly difficult to justify the term “community theater” when describing CNY Playhouse productions. 

The area’s newest community theater troupe, which during its modest two-year history has already produced such gritty warhorses as the Jerome Lawrence/Robert Edwin Lee collaboration of Inherit the Wind and the stage version of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody Reservoir Dogs, has now tackled Arthur Miller’s masterpiece of American theater, Death of a Salesman

CNY Playhouse pulled off an artistic coup at Friday’s opening night performance, such as one might have expected from a troupe twice its size and perhaps quadruple its budget.  When this Death of a Salesman ended, the phrase on people
’s lips was not “What happened in Boston, Willy,” but rather “What’s happening at Shoppingtown, Dustin?”

Miller’s play, whose accolades include a Pulitzer Prize and five Tony Awards, chronicles the last 24 hours in the life of Brooklyn-based aging salesman Willy Loman.  Miller takes the audience on a disturbing journey into this troubled man’s life and his disturbed psyche, and then has them watch helplessly as Loman’s dysfunctional household implodes under the weight of the sum total of its failed dreams, busted expectations and unfulfilled promises.  In short, it’s a typical day in Brooklyn.  (I should know, I was born and raised there.)

Although the center of attention rests squarely on Willy Loman and his rollercoaster relationship with his favorite son Biff, Director Kasey McHale shifts a good deal of the weight of this drama upon the shoulders of Willy’s wife, Linda — played in masterful (if not virtuosic) fashion by Kate Huddleston.  Her gripping portrayal as the caring and excessively devoted wife to her loser husband is one of the highlights of this production. 

The role of Linda is largely subordinate to the men in this play.  She serves as the Loman family’s moral compass, yet her purpose here seems more akin to a Greek Chorus from a classical tragedy — explaining her husband’s predicament, recounting his personal odyssey and describing his pain and suffering.  “He's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him,” Linda reminds her two sons and the audience.  “So attention must be paid.”  

Attention was paid by Friday night’s audience, all right — much of it over Huddleston’s performance. Her transition from the quiet and submissive mother of two to the angry and fiercely protective guardian of her husband’s reputation and dignity was well paced and convincing.

Expectations run high for those brave enough to step into the iconic role of Willy Loman, and Keith Arlington has big shoes to fill including those of Lee J. Cobb (original 1949 Broadway production), George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, Rod Steiger, Brian Dennehy and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  To his credit, Arlington crafted a believable and largely convincing character that can stand tall alongside the good ones.

Loman, a 60-year-old sad-sack salesman looking to get a piece of the elusive “American Dream,” personifies those who preach that the journey to riches and success is a lot quicker on the express train than the local.  It’s the familiar Dollar and a Dream pitch, only Loman, perennially high on dreams but low on dollars, stubbornly waits at the platform for a train that has never stopped at his station and never will.  (His train runs not on electric power or coal, but hot air.) 

In Loman’s myopic vision of success, what it takes to get ahead in the world is good looks, likeability and charm.  Talent and ability are much further down the list.  If this seems like a failed model, Loman has yet to learn this.  Nor does he learn from his never-ending loop of repeated mistakes.  Loman stays the course and sticks to the dream even after his company eliminates his salary, leaving the aging salesman helplessly dependent on commissions only.  Worse still, he doubles-down and bets that the same strategy that has failed him miserably will somehow work for his elder son, Biff.  

Using stage mannerisms and vocal inflections that oftentimes reminded me of the grouchy but feisty Lionel Barrymore, Arlington crafted a sympathetic but captivating character whose mere presence on stage — aided by a double-breasted suit that seemed to grow shabbier with each passing minute — made it difficult to take my eyes off him.  And although Arlington occasionally overdid the vocal interjections and word-sighs suggested by Miller (“Oh boy, oh boy”), he conjured up a range of body language and stage deportment that at all times kept his Willy Loman thoroughly in-character.

The real tension in Death of a Salesman centers on the troubled relationship between Willy and Biff — and the denouement of their mighty struggle late in Act Two reached a level of artistic success far beyond expectations.

A good deal of the credit goes to J. Allan Orton, as Biff.  Orton’s character, once a promising high school student athlete on his way to the University of Virginia on a football scholarship, represents the sum of Willy’s hopes, dreams and expectations.  But Biff, though handsome and charismatic, is neither smart nor especially gifted.  When he fails to graduate after flunking math class, he loses his scholarship — and with it, Willy’s dream for his son’s success.  Biff spends his life aimlessly living in the shadows of his father’s unreasonable expectations, leading to bouts of kleptomania.   

The challenge in this role is transitioning from a smothered life full of inadequacy and failure into an awakening that in Act Two will signal acceptance of his own limitations.  Biff’s emancipation begins midway through Act Two (Scene 8), where with great shame and humiliation he recounts to his brother the disastrous job interview and how he stole a pricey fountain pen from his interviewer (a subliminal grasping of a symbol of wealth).  But now, having reached rock bottom, Biff emerges a new man.  He abandons altogether the fantasy of a life built around father’s expectations, and at last accepts himself for who he is.

 “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been,” he tells his brother Happy prior to his father’s arrival at the restaurant for a dinner intended to celebrate Biff’s successful interview. Now empowered to stand up to Willy, yet torn to pieces by the prospect of extinguishing his father’s last hope for vindication from a failed existence, Orton’s performance crescendos to a tour de force that culminates in the cathartic confrontation with his father in Scene 13.  The floodgates are open at last — Biff denounces Willy as a hypocrite and announces that he will make a clean break from the family. 

When he breaks down and cries, the weight of the world now removed from his shoulders, we cry along with him.   

Another strong performance comes from Bill Lee, as Charley — the Lomans’ next-door neighbor who makes sense as often as Willy makes non-sense.  Though Willy is jealous of Charley (for daring to succeed as a self-employed businessman), Charley is, next to Linda, the only friend Willy has in this world.

Lee fashions a character that is at once credible and genuine.  I especially enjoyed his gripping scene with Arlington in Act 2 (Scene 6), where Charley gives an ungrateful Willy money to pay his overdue insurance payment and offers his now-unemployed friend a job that would not involve travel.  It’s clear that this is Willy’s last chance to save himself, but Willy cannot overcome his jealousy and turns down the offer — and in doing so places the final nail in his coffin.

“…For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life,” Charley tells the Loman family at the gravesite during the final Requiem scene.  “He’s a man… riding on a smile and a shoeshine… And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished.”   

As Biff’s younger brother Happy (short for Harold) Loman, Patrick Kelly forged a believable character as the shallow and aimless womanizer who continues to believe his father’s pipe dreams, to the point where he vows to continue the “fight” after Willy has departed this life.  Kelly, who maintained a suave and self-assured manner around the women, projected a look of comfort in this role that never wavered.

The ghostly image of Willy’s well-to-do brother, Ben — who appears as flashbacks in Willy’s memory and vivid imagination — worked beautifully in William Edward White’s all-white three-piece suit illuminated by a white spotlight.  Curiously, White is dressed as a gentleman from New Orleans, and even speaks with a Southern accent (unusual for a character who lived in Alaska and South Africa).  

The smaller roles in this production also clicked, led by Austin Arlington (Keith’s son in real life) as Charley’s son, Bernard; and John Krenrich as Loman’s ungrateful boss, Howard.  Navroz Dabu’s colorful set, comprising images of tall apartment buildings on all sides of the Loman house, is faithful to Miller’s description of the “towering, angular shapes” and adds credence to Willy’s constant complaining that their Brooklyn house is being swallowed by the expanding urban surroundings.

CNY Playhouse’s impressive production of Death of a Salesman will put you through the emotional wringer, just as Arthur Miller had intended when he penned this masterpiece some 65 years ago.  I’d gladly return to Shoppingtown Mall to catch another performance — only it reminds me just a bit too much of Brooklyn…

Details Box:?
WhatDeath of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, directed by Kasey McHale ?
Who: Central New York Playhouse ??? ?
Where: Shoppingtown Mall, Dewitt NY (2nd floor, next to Macy’s)??
Performance reviewed: Friday, March 7, 2014 (opening night) 
?Remaining performances: Plays through March 22 ?
Ticket information: Call 315-885-8960 or  ?
Length:  About 3 hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission? ?
Tickets:  $15 to $20; dinner and show $34.95 (Saturdays only)
Family guide: Adult themes, but suitable for all ages

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
4 years ago |
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Borodin’s music triumphs over dramaturgical problems in the Met’s newfangled ‘Prince Igor’

12,500 red poppies can’t be wrong

By David Rubin

The eminent musicologist Richard Taruskin has called Alexander Borodin’s opera Prince Igor a “magnificent farrago.”  The magnificence is in the music: mighty Russian choruses, passionate arias and perfumed orientalism.  The farrago is the story.  Prince Igor is crippled by a libretto as lame as one can imagine.

The Met’s new production of this opera — which had not been seen in this house since December of 1917 — rides on the shoulders of director Dmitri Tcherniakov and conductor Gianandrea Noseda.  They produced a new performing edition of Prince Igor, culling from what Borodin left incomplete at his death as well as from all the editing, arranging and composing undertaken by his colleagues Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov.  They finally brought the work to the stage of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in 1890.  

Tcherniakov and Noseda deserve great credit for allowing Met audiences to hear this absorbing and highly entertaining music.  But if this is the best they could do to fashion a workable dramatic vehicle, then Prince Igor, sadly, will never join the three other Russian operas that have a strong hold on the standard operatic repertoire in the West: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.

A short recounting of the “plot” of the Tcherniakov-Noseda Prince Igor will make its many shortcomings clear.

Act One, Scene One: Prince Igor, despite the bad omen of a solar eclipse, sets out from his hometown of Putivl in Russia to whip the Polovtsi, who are harassing Russian trade routes.  (I saw this performance when Prince Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea to keep his hold on Ukraine and its gas pipelines.  Some things never change.)

Act One, Scene Two:  Igor has been soundly defeated by Khan Konchak and the Polovtsi.  We see his slaughtered army only in projected videos.  Now a captive of the Khan, Igor wanders bloodied and in confusion through a field of red poppies (12,500 of them), as a modern dance troupe of Polovtsi maidens and young gentlemen frolic among the flowers.  His son Vladimir and the Khan’s daughter fall in love.  Igor refuses to align with the Khan and rejects his offer of mercy.

Act Two, Scene One.  Igor’s wife Yaroslavna waits Penelope-like for his return.  She meets with local women who report that her brother, Prince Galitsky, has abducted a maiden and is behaving very badly in the absence of Igor.

Act Two, Scene Two.  Galitsky and his men, quite drunk, plot to seize power in Igor’s absence.

Act Two, Scene Three.  Bombs lobbed by the invading Polovsti land on the roof of the public building in which Galitsky and his men are carrying on.  The roof collapses in a magical Met stage moment.  Galitsky ends up dead, as do many of the other Russians.  The Russian defeat is complete.

Act Three, Scene One.  Igor makes it back to Putivl without his son, who has married the Khan’s daughter, although the pair does appear in flashback for a splendid trio with Igor.  Igor’s beaten people, rather than turn on him for the failed military leader he is, welcome him back and begin to rebuild their society, board by board (literally).

The dramaturgical problems here are many.  

Tcherniakov has moved the story from 1185 and the mists of the Russian past to the 20th century.  This renders the clash with the Khan and the famous come-hither dancing of the Polovtsi absurd.  

Igor disappears entirely from Act Two.  Throughout the opera he is a cipher, a weak fool, a character impossible for an audience to like.  The Khan himself appears only in the poppy field scene, in which he has one great aria with a low note that puts Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte) to shame.  

Galitsky and Igor’s wife Yaroslavna have little to do in Act One; then they dominate Act Two.  Igor never reconciles with the long-suffering Yaroslavna in Act Three.  Igor’s son and the Khan’s daughter have small parts and barely register as characters. 

The villain Galitsky is the focus in much of Act Two, picking his teeth and strutting about the stage.  But he has only a cameo in Act One and is dead before Act Three.  Why the battered citizens of Putivl would welcome back the disgraced Igor is unclear. 

And so it goes.

Beyond this, the music of Prince Igor — a mix of Russian and Oriental sounds — is well worth experiencing.  (Imagine the choruses and the tint of Boris Godunov, the orientalism of the Polovtsian Dances, Borodin’s Second String Quartet and Second Symphony all mashed together and you will have some idea of the musical riches.)  Noseda chose not to use the famous overture, which may have been written by Glazunov (according to the musicologist Levashov).  But its themes show up often in various arias, duets and trios.  Thus the music is more familiar than one would think.  

These themes from the overture show up in Igor’s aria in the poppy field as he despairs about the catastrophic defeat he has brought on his people.  They also appear in Yaroslavna’s aria at the beginning of Act Three when she believes Igor is dead.  The trio in that act for Igor, his son and his daughter-in-law also contains themes from the overture.

The writing for male chorus is glorious — if you like that sort of thing, which I do.  The Met chorus performed at its usual stellar level.  Chorus Master Donald Palumbo told the HD audience that it was the hardest score his chorus had to master because it includes so much unrepeated text, in Russian.  They had been working on it since the summer.

Galitsky is given a rousing aria similar in rhythm and spirit to Varlaam’s ballad from Boris about Czar Ivan attacking Kazan.  Igor’s wife, Yaroslavna, has a melting lament about her absent husband.  The young lovers in the poppy field have an effective duet.  In Act Three they join in a memorable trio with Igor after which they decide to abandon him and remain with the Polovtsi.

Musically, there is never a really dull moment — although the inspiration is uneven.  How could it not be, given that Borodin worked on the opera between 1869 and 1887 and never had the chance to organize it into a whole by cutting and pruning?

That field of red poppies in Act One was indeed a visual treat, if somewhat problematic as a stage for the Polovtsian dancers.  The rest of the opera, however, was drably set in some sort of public building in Putivl, with benches or food or chairs brought on and off to adapt to the action.  It was as visually dreary as the poppies were vivid.  

Tcherniakov might have spent more time directing his characters.  The grieving Yaroslavna largely poses, arm outstretched, her face a mask.  Igor wanders around in a daze, his face bloody.  Galitsky, as noted, is a stock villain.  While Igor prepares to depart for war, he fusses endlessly with the uniforms and hats of his troops — a tired gesture.

As Igor, Ildar Abdrazakov offered a honeyed baritone without much individual profile.  The Galitsky from high baritone Mikhail Petrenko was on the light side, more vinegar than honey, but he managed to snarl and sing at the same time.  The most impressive male singing came from Stefan Kocan as the Khan.  He has a Fafner-type black bass voice, perfectly suited to the role.  The veteran bass Vladimir Ognovenko (who has a resemblance to Nikita Khrushchev) was a powerful Skula, a traitor to Igor who plots with Galitsky to overthrow the prince.

On the female side, Oksana Dyka was a stoic Yaroslavna, with a rock-solid technique, appealing high notes, and an impressive range.  Anita Rachvelishvili was a beguiling daughter of the Khan, with blue eyes and wild black hair.  She will make a good Carmen — a part for which she has already received acclaim.

All of the smaller parts were delivered with skill by this almost entirely Slavic cast.  

When I read that Met General Manager Peter Gelb was going to ask the company’s unions for cuts in the next contract negotiations because of financial woes, I thought of the 12,500 red poppies and what they must have cost.  I’ll bet the unions took note, too.  

Still, I was glad to have seen them, and even more glad to have heard Borodin’s music.  I would gladly sit through it again, if the Met ever brings it back.

Details Box:?
What: Borodin’s Prince Igor, Simulcast Live in HD ?
When: Saturday, Mar. 1, 2014? ?? ?
Who: Metropolitan Opera? ? ?
Time: Approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission?
Where: Metropolitan Opera House, New York? ??
Next HD Simulcast: Massenet’s Werther, Mar. 15, 2014 at 1 p.m. EST

Copyright 2014, CNY Cafe Momus
4 years ago |
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‘Chinglish’ parlays cultural misunderstandings into a hilarious theatrical experience

But David Henry Hwang’s cross-cultural comedy, smartly set in this Syracuse Stage production, could have been so much more...

By Michael O’Connor

The difficulty in crafting translations extends far beyond merely substituting a word from one language with a corresponding word from another.  Translations require knowledge of the entire context: communicative, textual, as well as cultural and historical.  While this is complex and difficult enough when one is merely translating street signs, it becomes significantly more challenging when one is trying to translate ideas, intentions, emotions, actions and practices.  

It is this difficulty of communicating across differences that stands at the center of David Henry Hwang’s bi-lingual play, ChinglishThe current Syracuse Stage production yields a highly enjoyable comedy with wonderful humor that never quite manages to fully translate the experiences it explores.  

In the play’s primary plot, American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh (Peter O’Connor) is in China trying to revive his family business (and his own disgraced career) by selling his services to not only produce Chinese signs but also properly translate them into English.

Cavanaugh engages the services of self-proclaimed business consultant and translator Peter Timms (Jeff Locker), a man who has exaggerated the scope of his experience.  Together, the two attempt to navigate the serpentine path of conducting business in China — a place that not only has few formal rules and significant corruption, but also relies upon numerous unwritten codes of behavior.  While Peter’s knowledge of convention and the language is impeccable, we quickly learn that he lacks any real business sense.  Moreover, what limited expertise he does posses is seriously outdated now that China has transformed herself into a global market player.  

Chinglish gets going in earnest when Cavanaugh and Timms meet with local government officials Cai Guoliang (Jian Xin) and Xi Yan (Tina Chillip).  The events from this meeting culminate in an extramarital affair between Cavanaugh and Yan, Guoliang’s complete loss of status, and Cavanaugh’s revelation of his own insignificance.  

These events occur at a breakneck pace throughout the play.  One of the most impressive aspects of the present production is Stage Manager Laura Jane Collins’s orchestration of the many complex set arrangements that accompany the 17 scene changes over the course of the play.  This is accomplished by a fairly simple set wherein a sense of place is created through the use of a few key pieces of furniture that could quickly be carried on and off a relatively bare stage. Credit Scenic Designer Timothy Mackabee with constructing the set that allows for these quick changes without disrupting the play’s flow.  

The set’s most remarkable feature is the use of a blank section of the wall above the stage for English translation projections of the lines spoken in Mandarin Chinese. (This feature allows English-speaking audiences to follow along a play whose dialogue is half English and half Mandarin.)  The projected text provides the vast majority of humor in this play, as the audience hears the lines spoken in English while seeing English translations of the Mandarin mistranslations provided by governmental translators.  The results are often hilarious.  

These misunderstandings also raise larger questions about human relationships.  During the love scenes with Cavanaugh, Yan’s inner thoughts (spoken in Mandarin so her lover will not understand them) are projected for the benefit of the audience.  The result here is not hilarity, but recognition that despite their physical attraction and real affection Yan and Cavanaugh are unable to connect and understand one-another. 

The poignancy of this barrier to communication and connection is further developed as O’Connor and Chillip display believable chemistry and intimacy as their characters develop into lovers battling the inevitable language and cultural barriers.  The pair’s thoughts, as revealed to the audience through projected translations, belie any appearance of a transcendent human connection.  It is hardly surprising, then, that their conflicting cultural assumptions soon bring the affair to a screeching halt.  

While O’Connor and Chillip connected well during their scenes together, there were a few moments that were not entirely satisfying.  Chillip’s role is especially challenging, as it requires her to speak in a heavily accented English replete with atypical sentence construction and word choices.  This she managed admirably, conveying the intelligence and wit of her character in spite of the language barrier.  Her accent however occasionally morphed into a more typically American accent and inflections. While it did not occur enough to detract significantly from the performance, it was nevertheless noticeable and a bit distracting.

O’Connor never really exuded the business acumen and interpersonal skills one might reasonably expect from a businessman of his character's considerable experience. When we learn Cavanaugh’s backstory as a part of the infamous Enron scandal, the thought of a small town businessman overwhelmed by the situation in which he finds himself rings a bit false.  

I had the exact opposite experience upon learning the backstory of Jeff Locker’s character, Peter Timms.  Locker was immediately more believable, and his portrayal had a greater sense of nuance.

Near the end of the play, Locker has a brilliant scene with Guoliang.  While the two bemoan the loss of their China (in pre-market reform), Locker’s portrayal clearly shows his character’s anger with Guoliang beginning to shift into a desire for acceptance within China.  The audience can now see the similarity between the positions of Timms and Guoliang: Both love China, but China has no longer has any need for them — a point driven home by Guoliang’s suggestion that they are each like the workers whose bodies became incorporated in the great wall when they died building it.  

In spite of their growing camaraderie, Guoliang and Timms remain somewhat stilted in their interactions when they recognize that they are becoming obsolete. While this is no happy ending for either of these men, they are nevertheless able to salvage some sense of dignity through their human connection with one-another.

As the play came to an end I found myself wishing there had been more scenes like the one between Timms and Guoliang.  The strength of their connection provided the viewer a window into the complex issue of human relationships that cross barriers, either linguistic or cultural. Their final scene lingered on the human experience of that disconnect, and did not shy away from the pain and heartache of that experience.

The problem with Chinglish is that the pervasive feeling of dislocation and cultural misunderstanding too often culminates in a punch line.  The play opens up important and interesting questions about the experience of cultural differences in a globalized world, yet it seems to actively discourage any attempt for a nuanced connection with that experience. 

The break-up of Yan and Cavanaugh due to the inevitable cultural misunderstandings is never really explored.  Instead, the play concludes with a three-year jump into the future, where we learn that Cavanaugh and his wife have reconciled and visit China regularly even staying with Chillip and her husband. As such, the issues explored by the play are given a hollow resolution (and a trite, happy ending) without any real exploration of how such a conclusion is possible.

That leaves the viewer to enjoy the play only as escape and spectacle — a shame, because Chinglish could have been so much more.

WhatChinglish, by David Henry Hwang, directed by May Adrales??
Who: Syracuse Stage
Where:  Archbold Theatre, Syracuse Stage Complex, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse?, NY
Performance reviewed: Thursday, February 27 (final dress rehearsal)
Performance run:  Plays through March 16
Length:  About 1 hour and 50 minutes, with one intermission?
Tickets:  $30-$52; $18 children under 18 and SU students; $35 under 40
Call: 315-443-3275 or ??
Family guide:  adult situations, profanity

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