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

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Saturday, July 08, 2017

NEWSIES - Extra! Extra! Get it while you can!

CRT Cast of Newsies
Jorgensen Auditorium
Connecticut Repertory Theatre
July 7, 2017
Music- Alan Menken
Lyrics- Jack Feldman
Adapted from the Disney film by-
Harvey Fierstein
Director Choreographer-
Christopher d'Amboise

 “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” 

Joseph Pulitzer was talking about newspapers when he said this, but Christopher d'Amboise puts that advice into action on the stage of the Jorgensen.

     Joseph Pulitzer founder of the New York World and the St. Louis Post Dispatch was a Hungarian immigrant, who dedicated his life to the principles of independent journalism and sometimes to crushing union activity.

     In a time when journalism is under attack, and "fake news" receives more attention than well researched reporting, this production puts into stark relief the principles laid out by the ideals of the Pulitzer Prize and his own abandonment of those ideals when it affected his bottom line.

     Set in New York City at the turn of the century, when child labor was relatively unregulated; we are given a stylized story of the “Newsboy Strike of 1899”. This was a time, not unlike our own, when unions were under attack, workers were exploited, and Journalism was struggling to find its social conscience.

     Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst ruled the world of newspaper publishing with an iron fist and tried to raise the price newsboys had to pay of a bundle of papers.  

     Underlying the feel good story, catchy music and inspired choreography is an investigation of social injustice and exploitive labor. 

     Lyrics, dialog and situations that may have seemed innocuous when the movie and musical were first produced carry an extra layer of meaning in 2017. It is interesting that this year CRT at UConn produced both Waiting For Lefty (about a taxi strike) and Newsies (about a newsboy strike).

Newsboy Legion in Superman

     The newsboys became superheros in DC comics in the 1940s and again in the 80s and 90s. Then they were movie stars in1992, and Broadway gypsies in 2012. There was also "out of town" work at the paper Mill Playhouse in NJ in 2011. Now they have arrived in Storrs and they are tearing down the house.

     The trick to directing a musical is to get the different aspects of theatre, as well as the different actors, to perform as a unit.

     A communication round-robin reveals itself at the Jorgensen under the direction of Christopher d'Amboise. The music, the dance, the words, and the mise en scene, create a manege wherein meaning is performed. The forward energy of the story is at one moment carried by one of those elements and then passed on to another. The different parts of the musical are not a series of solos that happen at the same time but are an integrated whole. 

     Dance videographer Amy Reusch first introduced me to Christopher d’Amboise’s work with his New York company Off Center Ballet in the late 1980s. He has an innate sense of theatrical presentation that is manifest in his choreography and directing of this production.  Both the choreography and the dancing are charged with energy, and that energy comes across to the audience and draws us into the action. 

The cast stars Jim Schubin  as Jack Kelly, the leader of the newsies. As well as being an excellent singer Schubin has a great physical presence. 

Paige Smith, as Katherine Plumber, the female lead, gets stronger as the night goes on. 

Tina Fabrique has only one number as Medda Larkin but she slays it.

Richard R. Henry (Joseph Pulitzer) has a wonderful voice and an ability to hold the stage.

Tyler Jones as Crutchie has a key role. It is interesting that boy on a crutch instigates the first dance.

 Kalob Martinez brings a puppeteer’s focus to the part of Snyder. He is concentrated and intense.

Atticus L. Burello, who will be entering the 8th grade in the Fall, has a stage presence that draws our attention, and a sense of timing that will serve him in good stead for what I believe will be a long and successful career. This is someone to watch in the very near future. 

The Savings Institute Bank can be proud of their season sponsorship of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

Terrence Mann, who we know most recently as Mr. Whispers in the Netflix original series Sense8, has given had a highly successful first season as Artistic Director of the CRT.           You’d better watch out, because next year…HE’LL BE BACK.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anne Frank at Suffield Academy

The Diary of Anne Frank
By Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett
newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Director: Thomas Dugan
Suffield Academy: Jeanice Seaverns Performing Arts Center
May 18, 2017

One of the most important, and most difficult, tasks a director must face is getting an integrated performance from the actors. Setting a tone that works across all elements of the show, from actor to actor and from set to lighting, requires both subtlety of interpretation and clearness of communication. 

This must happen, first between the director and the interpreters of the work, and then (most importantly) between the actors and the audience. It helps tremendously if the performers are intelligent and cooperative. But even the most sensitive actors can lose their focus if the director is not clear.

 The production of Diary of Anne Frank at Suffield Academy has the advantage of both intelligent performers and a sensitive director who has managed to clearly communicate his vision.

The actors are all teenagers, but only two of the characters are teenagers. We are able to suspend our disbelief because the performance style is mature and understated. No one chews the scenery. The actors find dramatic value in the emotional intensity of the compressed physical situation; they do not lose control of their emotions.

The set, and especially the lighting, are exceptional. The several rooms in the hidden annex of the house in Amsterdam require different playing areas and different levels. This gives Jack Pumpret, the set designer, an opportunity to develop a complex and evocative stage picture.

 I was amazed to discover that the lighting was designed by a high school student (Oak Chaisathaporn).    While watching the performance I had assumed that it was the work of a very talented faculty member. I had expected the lighting to be serviceable, but did not think that there would be much opportunity for creativity. I was wrong. The many different types of light are motivated by fires, flashlights, searchlights,  and different hours of the day.  This inspired Chaisathaporn, the lighting designer, to give us a parade of different lighting effects.

This is not a happy play, the situation is dismal and the ending is tragic. And yet we are uplifted at the end. The story of Anne Frank is a testament to the joy of living and the power of the human spirit to face the most dehumanizing circumstances. Why we feel uplifted at the end of this story is a mystery, but it has something to do with the spirit of the young girl who tells it, and the power of art to transform tragedy to inspiration.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Sarah Ruhl
Studio Theatre UCONN
23 March 2017
Review Edmond Chibeau

Helene Kvale (Director), Katherine Paik (Scenic Design), Danielle Verkennes (Lighting Design), Jelena Antanasijevic (Costume Design), Pornchanok Kanchanabanca (Original Music and Sound Design), and Jason Swift (Stage Manager).

Eurydice is a reboot of the Orpheus myth.  Sarah Ruhl tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice that has been told and retold since Virgil’s Georgics and Ovid’s Metamorphosis, but she focuses on Eurydice rather than on than her musician husband Orpheus.

Sarah Jensen as Eurydice in “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl
Photo: Gerry Goldstein

Near the beginning of the play Orpheus says, “Maybe you should make up your own thoughts.  Instead of reading them in a book”

Shortly after she arrives in hell, Eurydice faces a hermeneutic crisis. What is she to do with a handwritten piece of paper that may be a letter from her father? And later, how should she deal with a large codex that may contain the complete works of Shakespeare, dropped from the land of the living by her husband? One good technique for extracting meaning from a text might be to wear it on one’s head. Or perhaps standing barefooted on top of it might be the right approach. That crisis of interpretation must be faced by the writer, the character, the actor, and the director, as well as the whole production team that tries to examine the story of Eurydice and Orpheus.

Director Helene Kvale is to be commended for taking on a difficult script that is alternative, oppositional and outside the mainstream. I look forward to seeing more of her productions in the future. American theatre needs more work that is willing to be complex and abstract.

There are places in the dialog where Ruhl's naturalistic speech changes rather abruptly to a more poetic and contextual language. The meaning is not literal, not in the dictionary definition of the words, but is meant to be palpable in its manifestation as speech on the body of the performers.

One might have wished to see a bigger change in the style of acting to accompany those shifts in dialogic style; say from a more representational to a more presentational mode.

As Eurydice, Sarah Elizabeth Jensen has a warm and calming stage presence that makes it difficult to take our eyes off her. She is articulate and clear in her interpretation.

Kent Coleman, who plays her father cuts a sharp figure on stage. He has a face that comes across the footlights and that a film camera would love.  He plays every line and every transition with galvanizing perfection. Coleman has a jaw like a young James Joyce; he should put together a one-man show of excerpts from Joyce's poetry, stories, novels, and the play "Exiles."

  On Thursday, Zack Dictakis got stronger as the evening went on. His newly-wed joy turns into a serious understanding of longing, and hope against despair, as his character descends to Hades to attempt to rescue his wife.

Coleman Churchill cuts a sharp figure as both the Nasty Interesting Man and as the Lord of the Underworld.

The chorus of Vivienne James, Kristen Wolfe, and Jennifer Sapozhnikov are just about perfect in both their pitch and timing.

The production team creates an environment that is perfect for the piece and is an important part to the experience.

Lighting designer Danielle Verkennes uses many different instruments and techniques, but does not overuse any of them. The fog machine is just enough to lend mystery to the lighting. And the one or two times when the lighting is very powerful are times when it makes perfect sense within the meaning of the play and tempo of this particular production. Near the end of the evening a powerful HMI light shines through holes in the set to send beams of light across the stage and into the audience. This lighting design shines.

The set, by Katherine Paik, is both spare and ever-changing. A series of lines coming down from above create a changing mood according to what light is cast upon them. A very important part of this play is the elevator with a rainstorm inside it. The rainstorm-elevator is both well designed and well executed…and very wet.

Costume Designer, Jelena Antanasijevic, brings color and excitement to the play with a range of textures and styles that are drawn from several epochs and places, but blend together to create an integrated whole.

Pornchanok Kanchanabanca delivers a sound bed that serves the production without overpowering it. Nok’s work is both understated and effective. 

The management team of Artistic Director, Michael Bradford, and Managing Director, Matthew J. Pugliese, present a smooth theatre organization that is not afraid to take a chance on producing important, meaningful work.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Althea Bock-Hughes live stream from Oberlin

Just watched a live stream of Althea Bock-Hughes, mezzo-soprano concert at Oberlin. It was wonderful. Just amazing voice, rich and warm. Great expression, great phrasing. The selection of pieces had a shape of its own and allowed Althea Bock-Hughes to show her skills to best advantage.  I really liked the Jake Heggie composition. "Of gods and Cats" from a poem by Gavin Geoffrey Dillar. The piano accompanist Jie Song was sensitive to both the composition on the page and the performer she was accompanying.

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Sunday, April 03, 2016

3 Puppet Pieces -3

Creator Performer: Ana Craciun-Lambru
Studio Theatre UCONN
24 March 2016

DUST is cubist theatre.
Elements of the work are looked at from several view-points. 
Those view-points sometimes come from different places or different times.

We often see the same moment in time from the perspective of different people.

Dust is cubist in many ways.
The story is passed from medium to medium as the play continues.  Sometimes the primary narrative line is passed from the actor, to the puppet, to the performing object, to the shadows that are being projected.
With all of this abstraction, metaphor and implication the story might be in danger of becoming diffused, but it does not.
One of the most important lessons in the performing arts is to “respect your audience.” Ana Cracuin-Lambru respects her audience and is not afraid to share her emotions, her history and her theatrical method. This is what we hope for, not just from puppet theatre but from all theatrical productions.

This work can be fully appreciated by both adults and school age children. It is also informative because it shows us that puppet theatre can be much more than a silly Punch and Judy show.

The opening trope of the work turns a sewing machine into a cow using high heel shoes as the horns then adding a cowbell and a milk pail.  The cow Craciun-Lambru builds on stage looks like a sculpture by Picasso.

Although the work is abstract it is full of emotion.  We feel anxiety for what
we know is going to happen next, hoping against hope that she escapes from the burning Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building.
Craciun-Lambru changes from a shy child, to an old father, to a young woman setting out to explore the world. She is a girl on an adventure.
The sewing machine becomes, among other things, a fire truck, a cow, and the Triangle Shirt waist building on Washington Square.

The earth-color tonalities that run throughout the stage picture help set the mood and attune our senses to the story being told. We see umber, burnt sienna, brown madder, and grayish blue. The combination of the lighting and the color palate helps draw us into the story and the mood of the piece

Dust is a work of American history and Romanian history and an essay on cubist historiography.

Lighting a stage for three different shows that allow very little time between pieces, in a theatre that has limited space for placement of instruments, is not an easy task.  It is one that lighting designer Daniele Vekennes manages with both creativity and professionalism. Sometimes frontlight was used to give a bright presence to the actors, puppets, performing objects, and set pieces, but when she wants a more sculpted look she comes in from the wings at a sharper angle. The angularity works particularly well in setting off the stark reality of tragical-history in Dust by Craciun-Lambru. The photos in my essays on this evening of puppet performances are all by Gerry Goodstein.

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3 Puppet Pieces -2

Kalob Martinez 
El Beto
writer, director: Kalob Martinez
performers: Martinez and Natalia Cuevas
composer: Lucas Gorham
3D modeler: Leslie Prunier
projections: Joseph Rosen
El Beto is a word with many meanings and implications. It can be a nick name. It might mean a large sexual organ, or a lucky person, or a crazy person. Either a king of Scotland or a drug lord in Mexico might acquire that nickname if they were big enough, crazy enough, and/or lucky enough. Martinez uses the story of Macbeth and images of Mexico to draw parallels between those two types of overwhelming ambition. He uses famous monologues from the Scottish play as the script of his drama. But sometimes he speaks in English and sometimes in Spanish. Often code switching in mid soliloquy. The effect is compelling; we hear the well known speeches in a different timbre.  Kalob Martinez brings the speeches from Shakespeare to life. He knows what the phrases mean and speaks them so as to help us understand how those words come together as a story. The puppets and projections hold our attention. This show would be a great introduction to Macbeth for a younger audience.
In the course of the three-play evening there were only four performers, two women and two men, both women moved with an awareness of their body that bespoke training in dance and consciousness of the fact that every part of the mise en scene is important, and that the puppeteer is part of the mise en scene. 

Although Natalia Cuevas did not operate a puppet but acted in El Beto, she was able to fit her body and her emotions into the production at hand. She moves like a dancer and has an awareness of her body and her character's orientation in the stage space. She seems to be completely fluent in both English and Spanish. Cuevas is capable of carrying a much larger role.

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