The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Monday, May 18, 2015

In “Forever” a brutal growing up is turned around by the arts

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 4:23 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Dael Orlandersmith, photo Joan Marcus. Production Credits: Neel Keller (Director)

Dael Orlandersmith, photo Joan Marcus.

Dael Orlandersmith’s “Forever” is a powerful blend of fact and fiction about this talented writer/performer’s growing up as the daughter of an abusive, alcoholic mother in Harlem. And her discovery of the roots she chooses to adopt after a visit to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris where great artists, writers, musicians, are buried.

Orlandersmith has done fine autobiographical works in the past, among them “Yellowman,” about a dark, over-weight black woman falling in love with a light-skinned black man. So one knew that this production would be dark in the psychological sense. But the story takes one by surprise.

With long reddish-brown cornrow braids and a billowy black sack dress with a heavy silver pendant, at a set which has only a folding table and two spindle-back chairs, she relates the story of her life.

Dael Orlandersmith, photo Joan Marcus. Production Credits: Neel Keller (Director)

Dael Orlandersmith, photo Joan Marcus.

She is as good an actor as writer, pulling one into her story. She is compelling. And director Neel Keller keeps this story honest instead of melodramatic.

The main reality is that her mother was a drunk. Orlandersmith was born by Caesarian section and thinks that after that her mother hated her. Subtly, she suggests that she was disliked for being fat. The billowy dress shows that she still is. It’s a part of her life she only alludes to, but one thinks it underlies her sense of self. At least till that “self” became a successful playwright.

Orlandersmith had seen a documentary where a character views the Père Lachaise cemetery, the people buried there, the visitors. So she imagines her visit to the cemetery, paying homage to Balzac, Richard Wright, Modigliani, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison.

That is fiction, which replaces the truth, because the story of her growing up is pretty awful. The people in the cemetery will stand in for her mother, will be her ancestors. On a turntable, she plays “The Doors,” her cultural connection, especially to singer Jim Morrison.

Dael Orlandersmith, photo Joan Marcus. Production Credits: Neel Keller (Director)

Dael Orlandersmith, photo Joan Marcus.

The young woman lived in a dangerous neighborhood. Her best friend also had a mother who drank and was violent. In a horrific scene, Orlandersmith is a teenager raped by her mother’s friend. The only kind person she recalls of that incident is the Irish cop who took her testimony. No one was arrested. That is rather curious, since it appears that the attacker was in the apartment at a party given by her mother.

She gets over it, goes to Greenwich Village clubs, to alternative music places, and to theater at the University of the Streets in the East Village. She moves to that free neighborhood. She goes to college to graduate in 1976. She’d now be 55. It’s taken decades to open up to this past.

Orlandersmith speaks the story sorrowfully. When he mother dies, she curses her dead body, but then, surprisingly, learns her mother had been a dancer. She wonders about her mother’s own sorrows, her connection to art, music and poetry. Her mother once said if she’d only gone to Paris. Did her mother feel blocked by regrets? Does her daughter now forgive her? Now the billowing dress seems to cover a lot of the past.

“Forever.” Written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, New York City. (212) 279–4200. Opened May 4, 2015; closes May 31, 2015. 5/18/15.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

“Street Singer” is dramatic story of French icon Edith Piaf in song and modern dance

Filed under: Cabaret & Jazz,Dance,French — Lucy Komisar @ 6:38 pm

By Lucy Komisar

The very fine Broadway and cabaret singer Christine Andreas channels Edith Piaf in an elegant, sharp, charming dance production choreographed by Pascal Rioult, a former Martha Graham Dance Company principal dancer.

The space is a cabaret/dinner theater space at the 42West Nightclub. Tables are set around a center runway and look at a proscenium stage.

Christine Andreas, photo Paul B. Goode.

Christine Andreas, photo Paul B. Goode.

Andreas in gamine hairdo, black glittery silk dress, looks (a bit) and sounds like Piaf, her trills and tremors.

Drew Scott Harris wrote the story that takes Piaf from the dance halls of Pigalle, the seedy neighborhood in Montmartre in the north of Paris, to her triumph as a French icon.

It opens with her signature “Je ne regrette rien.”

 Non, Rien de rien
(No, nothing of nothing)
Non, Je ne regrette rien
(No, I regret nothing)

 Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait
(Not the good things that have been done to me)
Ni le mal tout ça m’est bien égal
(Nor the bad things, it’s all the same to me)

Andreas pulls you into the dark story. Piaf’s character is a fille de joie, a prostitute. The famous Milord, which she sang on the Ed Sullivan show (did they really understand the text?), says:

Allez, venez, Milord
Vous asseoir à ma table
Il fait si froid, dehors
Ici c’est confortable
……Je vous connais, Milord
Vous n’m’avez jamais vue
Je ne suis qu’une fille du port
Qu’une ombre de la rue.

“Come on M’lord, sit down at my table,
It’s cold outside. It’s comfortable here….
I know you very well, but you never saw me……
I’m just a girl in the harbor, a shadow in the street.”

Dance hall dancers, photo Paul B. Goode.

Dance hall dancers, photo Paul B. Goode.

The dancers fill out the story. Cartoonish wiggles and turns represent the Can Can. We learn that performing at a Nazi camp, Piaf helped some prisoners escape; she dressed and smuggled them out as troop members.

The drama of couples separated by war is expressed by “La vie en rose.” And a stunning pas de deux of a man physically abusing his lover is realistic, not sexist. In one piece, dancers are dressed in white to represent the pills Piaf took.

Rioult has built his vivid fluid ballet theater on elegant Martha Graham inspired dance. Rioult makes an appearance with Andreas as an anonymous guy, maybe Piaf’s lover.

But our views are caught by the elegant movements on stage, the story dances that makes us feel Piaf’s life.

The central catwalk should be higher for the sake of people at the back tables who, blocked by those seated in front of them, miss the full aspect of the dancers. The mediocre sound system doesn’t do justice.

Still, I was very glad to have the chance to see the Rioult troop, which has performed in New York City for about twenty years. This production should have run longer.

“Street Singer.” Concept and choreography by Pascal Rioult. Written and directed by Drew Scott Harris. Musical Director Don Rebic. Featuring Christine Andreas. Rioult Dance New York at 42West Nightclub, 514 W. 42nd Street, New York City. May 13-16, 2015. Drinks at the club bar and small plates and snacks provided via the Ktchn restaurant at the Out NYC Hotel next door. 5/17/15.


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