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

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

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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3 Puppet Pieces -1

actor puppeteer: Gavin Cummings
music Gwendolyn Rooker
Studio Theatre UCONN
24 March 2016

The initial entrance by Gavin Cummins, carrying a bright light on a piece of wood, brings us immediately into the piece. He enters through the back of the house muttering to himself, the character seems insane, homeless, ragged  and we feel we are in a dangerous place. The character, Cummins, then mounts the stage and begins the body of the work. He uses shadows well and creates a stage on his chest against which is another shadow puppet.
The voice and intonation of Cummings leave us with a sense of emptiness and loss. It is a false cheer that we sometimes adopt in the face of tragedy that opens the heart of the audience to what is about to take place. There are several astounding images. The work would have been more dense if the spoken words had been a bit richer, although the repetition of the title phrase took on layers of tragic, and forlorn meaning as they were spoken over and over again. 
This performance was a preview and one expects that on opening night the elements of the piece were more tightly woven together.

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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 which 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 focus.  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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