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

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

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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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cream of the Crop

Jack Bruce made theatre of rock.  Jazz, Blues, Rock, but with Cream, he helped bring PERFORMANCE with a capital "P" to the fast evolving form of Rock and Roll, Power Rock, Psychedelic Rock. Rest in peace  in the Sunshine of Your Love. You made a difference Jack Bruce.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Michael Bradford Writes Lorca

Olives and Blood
By Michael Bradford
Directed by Gary M. English
Lighting Michael Chybowski
Costume Design Thamiris Esteves
Sound Design Lexi Macchiaroli
Nafe Katter Theatre
Oct. 2 – 12 2014

When a poet writes about another poet it can be a dangerous thing.  We love our sisters and brothers and want to support them; sometimes that sweeps us up into an elegiac frenzy and interferes with the telling of the story.  On the other hand we sometimes over-correct and become so rigorous in our critique or analysis of another poet that find only fault where there is much good to be seen.
In writing about Federico Garcia Lorca, Michael Bradford manages to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of uncritical applause on the one hand and ungenerous fault finding on the other.  His script for Olives and Blood reflects one poet/playwright’s appreciation for the soul and work of another.

In another context, referring to his poetry, I said that
Michael Bradford is a writer who has found and is comfortable with his own voice.  We see in this script that he is comfortable as a playwright as well as a poet. 

Along with Ruben Dario, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Pablo Neruda, Lorca brought modernism to Spanish language poetry and drama, but he didn’t lose the sense of tremendum.

Duende is a spirit who takes over the performer, a magic spell that sometimes happens when everything is just right.  The word is a foreshortening of the Spanish, “duende de la casa,” when flamenco dancers say the master of the house has entered and the music is taken over by spirit.  Lorca made much of it in his lectures in Buenos Aires in 1933.

The most compelling scene of the evening, the scene where everything comes together, starts with Lorca directing The Actress.  He wants her to create the moment of duende.  She cannot find the truth of the scene and overplays her part.  The Actor joins them and they rerun the scene from Lorca’s play Yerma.   As they continue The Actor breaks character and starts to argue about her bringing their off-stage relationship into her acting of Lorca’s play.  This time everything has meaning, Lorca is mesmerized by their performance, and duende becomes manifest.

The scene at the Nafe Kater theatre works like a charm.  Bradford has written an important and magical scene but it is a difficult scene to make happen.  Gary English does a great job directing, and the three actors are pitch perfect, but the secret ingredient is the lighting.  Michael Chybowski changes the mood as he imperceptibly softens the lighting while the actress is talking.  I am sure the majority of audience members didn’t notice the lights change but they felt the change in their body.  The lighting was not merely illumination but was integral to the meaning of the scene.
Somatic lighting creates duende in response to the requirements of the script.  Wow!
The playwright should be highly satisfied.
Michael Bradford got an intelligent and sensitive production of his play from the team at UConn’s Nafe Kater Theatre.

Outstanding in the cast are Anita Petry as Actress/Margarite, Martin Solá as Trescante, Nicholas Urda as Lorca, and Gabriel Aprea as Antonio.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Mastodon Tracks In New Britain

The Impracticality of Modern-Day Mastodons

by Rachel Teagle
directed by Jake Williams
produced by Johnny Peifer
Hole in the Wall Theatre, New Britain
Aug 2, 2014  (closes Aug. 23)

The Impracticality of Modern Day Mastodons is one of the best pieces of theatre available in Connecticut this Summer, catch it if you can.
Two keys to making a puppet work with actors in a live production are the small movements of the puppet and how well the human actors respond to and react with the puppet.  The current play at the Hole In The Wall Theatre, directed by Jake Williams, manages to fulfill both of those requirements.  Lisa DelCegno as the voice of the beast is wonderfully sympathetic and brings the giant puppet to life

The Mastodon was made by master puppet maker and Kinetic Sculpture Artist, Ann Cubberly.  The shimmering “skin” of the mastodon, and the many small movements made by the three puppeteers imbued the beast with both personality and emotional responsiveness.  I found myself comparing the piece to War Horse, that I was lucky enough to see during its run at Lincoln Center.

The premise of Mastodon: “what if our childhood dreams came true?” opens up endless possibilities for development.  Director, Jake Williams and his cast explore the possibilities of Teagle’s script with insight and ingenuity. 
Williams has DelCegno, the mastodon, who is the most fantastic character, play it most closely to realism.  While the other actors’ performances are more wild and surrealist.  
The individual performances run a spectrum of acting styles.  Vickie Blake, as the headhunter, Delores, turns in an-over-the top performance reminiscent of Phyllis Diller at her most manic.  Abby Auden, has a great sense of character and is unflappable on stage.  At 11 years old, she is a star in the making.  Brett Aiello, as the boyfriend, has a prosecutorial glare in his portrayal of the James Bond dreamer.  Jill Ann Dvorsky doubles as a news reporter and a temptress; she is a laugh a minute.  Joshua Ives also doubles as Pat St. John and Paleontologist 1.  He makes a strong contribution to the cast.  Reading from front to back, puppeteers Rob Ecker and Nicki LaPorte are sensitive and understated in their manipulation of the giant Mastodon.
The Jake Williams production of the Rachel Teagle play is a mad mix of acting styles and somehow it works, as a matter of fact, it flies.