Theatre, Film, Music, Art
Midsummer Night’s Magic
Still trying to figure out why Ben Brantley seemed to be reviewing Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark when the assignment was actually Midsummer Night’s Dream. And, if the initial impulse was to open with remembrance of things past, why not focus on Julie Taymor’s history with Theatre for a New Audience? Dream is, in fact, her fifth collaboration with the company (not counting a 60-minute version of the play she did for TFANA in 1984). Or, another option: TFANA’s stunning new home of its own, a stone’s throw from BAM, all glass and steel, designed by H3 Hardy Collaboration, adding style and substance to Brooklyn’s new Downtown Cultural District. It’s got a park, a lobby café, and a book kiosk, and nine (count ’em) subway lines within a block or two of the building. And there are neighborhood blocks and restaurants to discover….
But I digress. This Midsummer Night’s Dream is magic, full of Taymor’s tricks and talents that reimagine Shakespeare’s potion-crazed quartet of lovers, his Shadow King and Fairy Queen, his rude mechanicals, and especially that saucy jester Puck, into creatures who exist comfortably at the turn of the 17th century but also in our own, awash with potent subtext. Hint: it’s not just about those three weddings.
Let’s take another look at Puck. When first encountered, he (don’t be too sure) appears in whiteface and bowler hat, the 19th-century attire of a London busker. He bows and smiles ingratiatingly, but soon sprawls on a bed to sleep as a vast sheet extends from the mattress, carrying it and Puck to the ceiling, where bed and busker disappear into thin air. So it’s Puck’s dream that we will share.
Dressed in costumes that reference Elizabethan England (as well as Punk America), and often flying, tumbling, and leaping, the entire cast has mastered Taymor’s theatrical language as well as the playwright’s. It’s a heady combination. In particular, David Harewood’s brooding Oberon and Tina Benko’s sultry Titania are well and truly matched. Max Casella is irresistible as Nick Bottom (both with, and without his donkey’s head), and a cadre of faerie children will steal your heart—especially when they enter playing didjeridus as big as they are. There is a fair amount of airborne action, and that sheet (used in cunning and constantly imaginative ways) deserves a Tony of its own. There are also stunning projections of the natural world, including huge hi-def flowers that open and bloom in brilliant colors Mother Nature can only hope to imitate. But always, whether front and center, dangling from a cable, or whisking about the stage in an invented body language all her own, Kathryn Hunter’s Puck is an original creation that only she, and Taymor, could conjure up.
TFANA has chosen the perfect work and production to inaugurate its new home. So get thee to Brooklyn for the play and the playhouse! Dream will run until January 12; for tickets and information on the season: go to.
There are those who feel strongly that to fictionalize the Holocaust is to drain it of its real and terrible meaning; only documents (and documentaries) can reveal the truth. And there are those who feel equally strongly that shaping its history with the knife of artifice will reveal a more powerful truth, likely to summon emotions that will remain indelible memories.
Aftermath is a combination of both, in that its essential story of two brothers and a forgotten Polish village is actually a weaving together of several true stories shaped into a single semi-fictional narrative. Whatever your convictions on the subject, Aftermath cannot be forgotten; not for its story, not for its direction or camerawork, not for its cast, and especially not for the its lean,wrenchingly gritty (but beautifully filmed) production.
Constructed like a thriller, the film slowly reveals the long-kept secret of what happened to the Jews of the town during World War II and (with clues that challenge the audience to solve the puzzle as evidence is painstakingly uncovered by the two brothers), who was responsible for the crime. The cast is small and brilliant; the focus is tight and tighter as tension mounts. The brothers Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) and Franek (Ireneusz Cop) circle one another as they confront the villagers, who increasingly oppose their efforts, and their own family history.
In case you feel that there’s little reason to dredge it all up again, or that you’ve seen it all before, there is, and you haven’t. To discover just how truthful Aftermath is, you have only to go on line and read some of the comments from outraged viewers (I did, out of curiosity). They are both deeply shocking and depressing, proving only that the issues are very much alive, and still—after almost seven decades—able to generate venom. Trailer: here The film is currently in limited release. To locate theaters: see
The City Opera may be gone, but the Gotham Chamber Opera is now in its 12th season of presenting challenging new and (sometimes very) old works, pushng the temporal envelope in both directions. This year, promising to “reimagine and reinterpret this historic performance,” it opened with a revival—a legendary event from long ago and far away: July 17, 1927, in Baden-Baden.
Once a Roman spa, repeatedly forgotten and rediscovered, Baden-Baden became the site of the Festival of New Music (overflowing with a contemporary Who’s-Who of the cutting edge) that year and presented four one-act operas in one evening: Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel; Hindemith’s Hin und zurück; Milhaud’s L‘enlèvement d’Europe; and Toch’s Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse.
In selecting these composers and works, Gotham has continued its commitment to eclectic programming that can shock, compel, and seduce, but always provoke thought. Although Mahagonny is still familiar, the other three works are seldom performed. In particular, Toch’s Princessin (better-known as The Princess and the Pea) was a real delight; Scandinavian folk-tale as reality TV. Enjoying this historic quartet reimagined (like Midsummer Night’s Dream) and freshly directed, played, and sung by a cast whose sparkle matches the paintings of Georg Baselitz and the sets and costumes of Court Watson, allows audiences to imagine 1927, and to take away some of the surprise and delight of its original impact.
Gotham has compiled a strong track record in recent years (especially for its premiere of Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters; its revival of Mozart’s Il sogno di Scipione; and Catán’s Rappaccini’s Daughter). It has been building partnerships with venues around the city—often at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, but also at the New Victory Theatre, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The challenge of creating opera in these diverse settings is exactly what defines Gotham. But perhaps it might be time to consider settling down? If there is an heir apparent to NYCO, Gotham has earned its place at the top of the list. Let’s think about it… For now, to enjoy the remainder of the season, explore www.gothamchamberopera.org.
Mahout to the Elephant in the Room
You can hear the Refusal of Time before you can see it in its quarters at the Metropolitan Museum; the huge ticking metronomes, layered sound track, and Philip Miller’s chorus and brass band promise a new William Kentridge experience. Like most of them, it does not disappoint. Instead, as you take a seat near the back of the room, you are mesmerized twice: once by the huge breathing machine (a.k.a. The Elephant) that remains in perpetual motion, and once by the collage of images, still and filmed, current and archival, that march across five adjacent screens to the different drummer who is their ringmaster nonpareil.
In 2010, Kentridge’s took New York by storm. A retrospective of his work was mounted by MoMA; the Metropolitan Opera offered his production of Shostakovich’s The Nose (direction and design of sets and videos—it’s currently on-stage and in HD this season); and NYPL Live featured 90 minutes of the artist talking. It left you desperately wanting more. https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/apollos-girls-10/
Kentridge’s fertile imagination is driven as much by his mind and its concerns as by his exceptional technical skills, enriched by his gift for language and the pleasure he takes in explaining his work to all who will listen. For a real treat, browse YouTube for the dozens of videos that reveal his work and his persona. He’s a consummate showman, physically agile and emotionally direct, articulate and often unabashedly funny. Yet his work is anchored by serious political and social ideas. He is to multi-media what Einstein is to simple math, towering over the narcissism that pervades so much of it and, instead, running away with a potent mixture of humanism, history, theory, and craft that delivers his message without dumbing it down.
The Met has mounted a complementary exhibition nearby—In Praise of Shadows—of Kentridge’s works on paper (reminding you of his extraordinary draftsmanship). Many artists can draw; few can give their drawings essential life in a new medium. Best viewed as a prelude to Refusal of Time, Shadows clarifies Kentridge’s process, making tangible the transformation of the drawings into elements of his multi-media, and offering clues as to the logic of their placement. On view until February 2, 2014 (Gallery 914). This is one double bill that is not only worth the trip, but repeated viewings, too.
The Refusal of Time can be enjoyed at the Met until May 11 (Gallery 919). After that, it will go west; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the exhibition’s co-commissionerand has planned a long run to coincide with completion of the museum’s expansion project in 2016. After that, the joint stewardship of the Met and SFMOMA will ensure Refusal the unique bi-coastal immortality it deserves; its own refusal of time.