Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Doubt Closes The Hope

Doubt: A Parable
By John Patrick Shanley
Harry Hope Theatre
Halloween 2015
Directed by Alycia Bright Holland
 The play witch premiered in 2004 takes place in a catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, less than a year after the assassination of John Kennedy, and 5 years after the Second Vatican Council that attempted to make the ritual of the church more accessible to the congregants.  Shanley’s play about a nun in a Catholic school who confronts a priest whom she believes is molesting a child in the school brings together all the elements of theatre.  The script has already proven itself to be worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award for best play, and a movie staring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This production takes the script and adds all of the other elements that are necessary to create a satisfying evening of theatre.

It is a testament to the skill of the director that all of the actors are on the same tonal page while expressing a wide range of emotions. The blocking is both natural and unobtrusive but audience members who take the time to notice will see that Alycia Bright Holland’s experience as a dancer and choreographer helped her give the actors blocking that reveals character and advances the plot. The whole show is understated, subtle, and insightful.  It has a wide range of emotions.

Maureen McDonnell who plays the lead character, Sister Aloysius, uses her voice to great effect.  All of the actors, but especially McDonald, manage to reach the last row without shouting, and express great emotion without sounding shrill or out of control.   McDonald’s face, set off by her nun’s habit, is a kaleidoscope of restrained emotion.

Corey Lorraine as Father Flynn changes his attitude as the scenes progress and leaves it open to us to decide if he is innocent or guilty of the sins that he is accused of by Sister Aloysius.

Stephanie Madden, as the younger more innocent Sister James, is torn apart by her wish to avoid evil, and her responsibility to fight against it. Her emotions often ripple across her body before she speaks.

Charliece Salters, as Mrs. Muller, brings the quiet intensity and desperate dignity to the role of Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy who either was, or was not, molested by the priest.

The sound design is simple and well executed, with just enough reverb in the microphone to give us a sense of being in church during a homily.  

Scenic Designer Kristen Morgan, with the help of Technical Director & Production Manager F. Chase Rozelle III, give us a multilevel set with doors, window, and scrims that carry us to several locations and times.

The lights, by Jeffrey E. Salzberg, set the mood and keep everyone in the light.  In the church scenes downlights over the audience bring us in as part of the congregation. He also places a soft special on the Crucifix in Sister Aloysius’s office that helps remind us of the authority under whom all of these negotiations are taking place.

It should also be noted that Black Op Ninja, Aspasia Daniolos, operating away from the stage, was so subtle as to be absolutely invisible.

Everything comes together in an organic whole that results in a satisfying and insightful, and emotionally troubling, night at the theatre.

The Harry Hope Theatre closes forever at the end of the run of the Alycia Bright Holland production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.
As Hickey, in Harry Hope’s Saloon, in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh says,
             “You’ll be in a today where there is no yesterday or tomorrow to worry you.”

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Puppetry Slam at the Ballard Institute

Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
1 Royce Circle, Mansfield, CT

The level of preparation for performance in a particular space is often a reflection of the level of respect a performer has for the venue.   There are no small venues only small performances.

The puppeteer is part of the performance.   

      I would even go so far as to say that the puppeteer is part of the puppet.  The physical and emotional disposition of the performer is as important as that of the puppet. Placement of feet and angle of head are as significant as the placement of the hands.  To ignore this is to invite disaster.

      If you are manipulating a marionette you must, of course, think about how the sweep of the arms will affect the movement and expression of the marionette.  But how one is centered, how one is balanced on the feet (maybe the balls of the feet) and the epaulement of the shoulders, all play into the final stage picture.

     This is all the more important if the puppeteers are visible to the audience.
Sometimes a puppeteer is inside the puppet and the center of gravity of the puppet is not the same as the puppet itself.  And certainly if the puppet is not warn by the puppeteer then the there are 3 centers of gravity to consider.
They are the center of gravity of:
·                                                             the puppet
·                                                             the puppeteer
·                                                             the combined figure of the puppeteer and the puppet when considered as a unit.  

       It doesn’t matter if the puppeteer is wearing traditional black, or baggy overalls and mismatched socks.  What matters is that once the performance begins the performer must be aware that everything counts, there are no time outs, and that everything is part of the performance. 
Whatever you choose to do or say is okay, but everything you do is saying something.

The Ballard Puppet Institute was busy on 11 July 2015. 

 There was an opening of a new exhibit curated by Anna Fitzgerald:
"The Work That Follows: 50 Years of UConn Puppeteers"
As part of the Saturday Afternoon Puppet Show series there were two performances of "The Nature of Nature" by Anna Fitzgerald and Gavin Cummins.  In the evening there was a more adult oriented UConn Alumni Puppet Slam.

At the Slam:
            Anna Fitzgerald presented a humorous meditation on the game of rock paper scissors.  She used those items as performing objects and provided the voices.  She is also curator of the performances at the slam, of the large retrospective exhibit, and was the creator of the longer performance that was presented twice earlier in the day.  WOW ! Anna Fitzgerald has stamina, creativity, and knowledge of both the history and current trends in her field.  I bet she was tired at the end of the night.

           Karen Huizingh manipulated her creature with humor and skill in a “Now you see monkey now you don’t” marionette show.  The small stuffed animal up stage left was difficult to see for those who were not in the front row.  The piece has great potential.
           Sarah Nolen presented a video that she created at the O’Neill Center reminiscent of a Busby Bekeley dance number.    It was beautifully lit and staged for the camera.
            Hua Hua Zhang offered us a view of  “Mothers Love” that was gently humorous and touching.  She worked her body as much as her puppet.  She was dressed in black and every movement of her body and every part  of her body was interacting with the hand puppets in her piece.  Hua Hua Zhang gave us an object-lesson in how a performer must pay attention to the most minute detail.  She is aware of and every part of her body from the tip of her toe to the top of her head.

            Amy Rush’s Wondertoast wore a cape made of a Wonderbread wrapper with red and blue dots.  Her script was well written and was exactly right for the piece.  With assistance from Sarah Nolen (who has a liltingly ironic Texas drawl) she kept us attentive to the plot and the movements of her performing objects.
            Jean Marie Keevins video of a girl with a problem of liverwurst in grade school had a not-for-school-kids flavor to her piece.  
            Jim Napolitano closed the show with some very nice cut outs and shadows and language that would have parents pulling their children from the room if it were done in a different venue.

This was the first puppet slam in the new space and is an auspicious beginning of a long line of slams to come. Funding for this event is made possible in part by the Puppet Slam Network.  The exhibit in the museum will be open through November first 2015.                       

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Friday, June 05, 2015

Eleven Ukrainian Questions About the Art of Performance

1) What is the state of theatre in Ukraine in the second decade of the 21st Century? 

2) Will it remain an independent country?

3) Will theatre remain independent?

4) Does theatre respond to the important political issues of these years, issues that are pivotal for not only the art, politics, and health of the Ukraine, but also for the whole region?

5) In 1821 the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley said that, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”  In what way will the, poets, playwrights, and filmmakers set the standard for the Ukrainian future?

6) I wonder about Theatre in Ukraine.  My grand parents came to USA from Belarus, Poland, Russia, France in 1907.  What would I be if they had remained in Europe?

7) Is the Les Kurbas in the avant garde of the cultural transformation of Ukraine?

8) In what way can Ukraine be said to be “setting the stage” for performance studies in the 21st Century?

9) What is the relationship between food and literature?

10) My performance writing has been influenced by the food at Kiev.  Kiev was a restaurant in the Lower East Side of New York where we would go late at night for hearty food.  It is closed now. Where will playwrights go now for inspirational food?

11) There is a restaurant called Kiev in Brooklyn, does it inspire writers with good food?
                                             (I would like to hear from people in Ukraine about any  or all of this. EC)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Don't Yell FIRE In A Crowded War

Speak Up. Speak Out. Bread & Puppet Theatre
Benton Museum  CT
May 28, 2015 to Oct.11 2015
reviewed by
Edmond Chibeau

Large Puppets, posters, and prints take up your personal space and crowd your intuition when you first walk into the show that opened tonight at the Benton.

Executive director Nancy Stula has a reputation for bringing in smart shows and collaborating with smart people.  She worked with John Bell, the creative and knowledgeable Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry to arrange a great “Bread & Puppet” exhibit at the museum on the UConn campus. 

Peter and Elka Schumann along with several Bread and Puppet regulars were present at the opening of the show at the Benton. 

Peter gave a moving talk.  By that I mean he moved around the room while he was speaking.  He walked with his fiddle and gave an impromptu free screech about each of the elements of the show.

Many of the pieces recalled important moments of oppression and social insurrection.  As well as Bread & Puppet stock characters such as the Washer Woman and her consort, and the Garbage Man, the works remembered:  Chico Mendez, a rubber tapper and union organizer, who was murdered in Brazil in 1988; Bishop Oscar Romero who was murdered in El Salvador in 1980; Attica Prison in 1971; MOVE, the Philadelphia based black liberation community founded by John Africa that was firebombed by the police in 1972.  There was also a piece from perhaps the most beautiful and compelling work by the collective, FIRE, about the self-immolation of three Americans to protest the war in Vietnam.  Buddhist monks in Vietnam had been setting themselves on fire as a form of protest and these three Quakers took up the cause.

In the gallery next to the Bread & Puppet exhibit is a show of posters and other material recalling the Vietnam conflict. 

Iraqi Women

An art lover who had recently seen the premiere exhibit at the new Whitney Museum (designed by Renzo Piano) in the meat packing district of NY could not help but notice the difference between the “love-me-I’m-liberal” political pieces at the Whitney, and the ongoing commitment to engaging the military-industrial complex at its root, that has long been the project of the Bread & Circus Theatre.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Boston Theatre Marathon Wows 'Em

Boston Theatre Marathon
9-10 May 2015
Boston Center for the Arts

Two days of great writing, great acting, inspired direction at Boston Theatre Marathon XVII. A veritable Greek orgy of great theatre produced by Huntington Theatre Company, Boston Center for the Art, SpeakEasy Stage Company and Company One and The Dramatists Guild of America, and others.  

Saturday, Sprinters were one minute plays.  There were 16 of them. Warm up laps were full-length readings, 3 were presented. 

On Sunday there were 50 plays presented by various companies.  Wow !

Kate Snodgrass, Artistic Director of the Boston Theatre Marathon managed to look cool, comfortable, and composed as she got theatre doors open and casts situated and audience in the seats. 

Things began on Saturday just before noon with a series of one-minute “sprints.” 

Hortense Gerardo’s To Have and to Hold is a dentist office comic nightmare that ends with a kiss.

Brandon M. Crose’s A Quick Meeting is a one-minute musical comedy.

Susan Buttrick’s Blind Sticking, brings out the anxiety we all feel when the phlebotomist draws blood.

Martha Patterson’s Harry is a monologue that is both human and humorous.

This writer manages to have the longest title (and the shortest play) of the day and is proud to have been presented in such talented company.  Impoverished Scholar Sitting by the Side of the Road Meditating on the Transience of All Things Physical.

The sprints were followed by the full length, Hair of the Dog, by Constance Congdon.  Congdon shows us that rhymed couplets and iambic pentameter can contribute to compelling theatre.  She has her poetry chops totally under control.  Don’t try this at home kids.  She is a master of her craft. 

The Boston Theatre Marathon is a glory to behold.  Catch it next year.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Boston Bomber is not Lemony Snicket

We Are Pirates
Daniel Handler
Bloomsbury, NY 2015

This book is not part of the Lemony Snicket series but the new adult novel by the author of those books. It is a great read.

Handler has human compassion, a sense of word play, and the ability to keep us on the edge of our seats about the outcome of the narrative.   We Are Pirates is an adventure that goes wrong.  The girls in their early teens who decide to become pirates in San Francisco Bay are a wonderful invention.  I read the book as the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, comes to a close and he is found guilty.  We now await the penalty phase.  The girls in this book are lost in a world of their own romantic imagination.  Unfortunately it costs others their lives.  The argument Daniel Handler makes in the book is emotionally congruent with the argument the defense lawyers of the Tsarnaev case are making for their client.  Handler should have been a defense lawyer.  

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Studio 360 Kurt Anderson on Mel Brooks

   On today’s Studio 360 radio program 4/18/15 Spring Special Kurt Andersen started a question of Mel Brooks with the phrase,
“So you’re in the writer’s room of Your Show of Shows and…” then he asked how The 2000 Year Old Man comic routine got started. An excellent question at the start of an excellent interview.
   But… He missed a trick when he did not ask how Brooks got to be a writer on Your Show of Shows.
   Sid Caesar’s “Show” was the most popular program on TV (at a time when TV was just getting started).   

The 2000 Year Old Man was a groundbreaking moment in mid-century comedy, but the aim of that part of the Andersen's interview was to discover how Brooks got started. What were things like in the salad days?
The atomic moment, the big break, was not The 2000 Year Old Man but it was getting the start with Sid Caesar. The first question should have been, “How did you get to be a writer on Your Show of Shows? How did you get into the writers room?

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Friday, March 06, 2015

Athenian Women on Sex Strike

Aristophanes by way of Jen Wineman
Nafe Katter Theatre
February 26 - March 8, 2015

When we decide to produce Athenian comedy from the 5th Century BCE we must decide what to keep and what to throw out.  Vulgar language, reference to contemporary social and political events, double entendre, poetic meter, giant artificial phalloi, pratfalls, and sexual allure are all possibilities that would be in keeping with the production paradigm of ancient Athens.
For this show the director decided to cut anything that isn’t funny and keep everything that is comedically compelling.   The rhyme scheme and the rugged scansion of the poetic meter are an important part of the comedy of Aristophanes.  Alas those did not make the final cut in the adaption-translation of director-choreographer, Jen Wineman.  But everything else that might make us laugh or hold our attention is woven into the fabric of this presentation.  The show is 90 minutes without an intermission, and I guarantee, you won’t be bored. 
Blake Segal as Commissioner Gordon is a slapstick whirlwind.   He slides down the banister, rolls on the floor, screams, mutters and foams at the mouth.  He reminds us of Zero Mostel at his most manic. 
Lisa  Birnbaum as Lysistrata is a both bawdy and refined.  She has a good sense of timing and articulates her lines with precision.  I would like to see her in a more sophisticated role.

Lysistrata is a play ripe for reinterpretation.
It is the ultimate High Concept script.  Once we hear that it is about women going on a sex strike until their husbands end the war we have a pretty good idea of what we are in for. Jen Wineman adapts the script from various translations and adds lots of topical references and one-liners of her own.  “I woke up like this,” is not a direct translation of Aristophanes but it is directly in line with his method of including popular references to contemporary Athenian culture.

The costumes, set, and music, place the action in the USA in the 1940s but the war that took place in the 1940s is not particularly mentioned or critiqued, nor for that matter is the Peloponnesian war that devastated both Athens and Sparta.  The scenic design by Geoff Ehrendreich is a wonderful contribution to the meaning and the mood of the play.
This production of Lysistrata is true to the spirit of Attic comedy and of 21st Century television farce.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Journey to Become Conscious

IT’S SIMPLE! Ordinary common-sense explanations for everything you haven't figured out yet. 
by:  Dean Hanotte & Rachel Bartlett
Publisher: The Paul Rosenfels Community

IT’S SIMPLE! is a collection of essays written by Dean Hannotte and edited by Rachel Bartlett.  To say that Bartlett edited and wrote an introduction to the book is not enough.  To this reader her creative influence can be felt throughout the book.  I believe that is why both names are under the title on the cover of the work.

IT’S SIMPLE! cuts through the clutter that chatters away in our head as we try to figure out the myriad conundrums that life throws in our path.  It offers guideposts in our “journey to become conscious.”

The introduction by Bartlett is an important part of the book and is an essay in its own right.  She tells us that, “More people should write autobiographies, or at least essays, so their children and grandchildren would inherit more than money and fuzzy ideas of love and responsibility.”  But responsibility is a through-line of these essays.  The book asks us to look for, and helps us to find, fruitful and conscious responsibility, not a soft-edge, vague, shifting of our responsibility to the shoulders of others.

Hannotte warns us that, “Language conventions can embody philosophical errors and trick us into deluding ourselves.”  What he wants us to do with the book, is use it to see past the grammatical structure into the larger questions that are, imperfectly, and sometimes wrongly, embedded in those grammatical structures.  The authors want us to see through the cloud of idiopathic confusion, and to simply confront ourselves as we are, here, in the reality of this moment.

For Hannotte the “unconscious mind” hypothesis is crutch that allows us to pass off the “hard work of introspection and consciousness–raising.”  The collaborative writers of this book, Hannotte and Bartlett want us to use our intelligent memory (yes for them memory has intelligence) and re-memorize raw information so that we may re-interpret it as we discover changes in our environment, and ourselves.  “Objective insight into the human condition is almost the most important kind of knowledge there is.”

The influence of the psychologist Paul Rosenfels can be felt throughout the essays.  The book is not a mere restatement of Rosenfels ideas but stands on its own, while recognizing the influence of earlier thinkers.  Rablais, Leibniz, Niels Bohr and Mark Van Doren are also woven into the fabric of the work, although it is not necessary to have read any of them to appreciate and understand IT’S SIMPLE!.

Is romance important?  Why is it so hard to write an autobiography?  What is correct, politically? Why are people like computers?  What is our species ultimately capable of?  These are some of the questions that are negotiated in IT’S SIMPLE!.  You won’t agree with all of it, but you won’t regret reading it.  And you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

12 Bars For Ramblin' Burt

Ramblin’ Bert Will Never Die.
One of my proudest moments was when I won a CD from Ramblin’ Bert.  I was listening to his blues show on WECS, the radio Station of Eastern Connecticut State University, and he had a contest.  First caller to identify the song wins the CD.  I called and won.  WOW!  He signed it for me and it sits proudly in my music collection. Ramblin’ Burt Cournoyer was a Blues connoisseur.  He could feel the sound, and he could share that feeling with us.  Now he’s sharing a mighty bass line with the heavenly choir.  
Born Alfred Bertram Cournoyer, in Webster, Massachusetts on December 29, 1938 he used a shortened form of his middle name as part of his radio handle.  We lost him on October 25, 2014.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Blues, from early roots music to contemporary, up and coming acts.  He was active in the Connecticut music scene and the Connecticut radio world.  It helps to understand the Blues if you live near a river.  
He started spinning sounds on WECS in the late 1980s.  Ramblin’ Burt would listen to blues anywhere and he’d talk about them anywhere:  bars, festivals, concerts, and even Elks Club talent nights.   
He was a stop on the blues circuit and everyone wanted to be interviewed by Ramblin’ Burt.  He had a gravelly voice and a Northern Connecticut Border accent that just went perfectly with the music he played.
J. Z. Zatowski of WECS tells us that he was instrumental in developing the blues library at the station.  “The Blues will be a little bit bluer without Ramblin’ Burt,” said Zatowski.  The Connecticut Blues community shares the sense of loss that must be felt by his family. His life enriched us all.  
There’s something about the Blues, something about rivers, and something about Ramblin’ Bert;  they just keep on rollin’.

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