The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Sunday, October 30, 2016

“Sense & Sensibility” a funny hokey caricature of Jane Austin’s genteel 19th-century England

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 4:57 pm

by Lucy Komisar

The protagonists sometimes scowl, smirk, sneer, scream, run with branches to represent a forest, are pushed around on roller chairs, pass through moving doorways that reflect entrances and exits, and occasionally face inches away from first-row audiences to pull them into the plot. Not quite Bedlam but you get the very idea from this troupe that believes in “the immediacy of the relationship between the actor and the audience…collapsing aesthetic distance…[in] a kinetic experience of shared empathy.”

Jason O'Connell as Edward Ferrars.

Jason O’Connell as Edward Ferrars.

The Bedlam theater company takes an early 19th-century soap opera and turn it into serious sociology as comic slapstick with great success in this adaptation by Kate Hamill and direction by Eric Tucker.

Jane Austin’s novel was published anonymously “By A Lady” in 1811. Set in the late 1790s, it tells of the trials, loves, sorrows of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, both of an age to marry. And also of the young men of a certain class who were supposed to succeed in life without a particular job, as long as they pleased whoever would leave them an inheritance.

Pulling the present into the past, it starts with rock dancing and moves to the circle dances of the 1800s, when women’s dresses become empire gowns and the men get cutaway coats. It was a time when the task of a young women of a certain class was to marry well and of young men to pick a wife of wealth. The point is that the system, all about money, strangled people of both sexes who wanted anything other than cash.

John Russell As John Willoughby and Kate Hamill as Miarianne Dashwood.

John Russell As John Willoughby and Kate Hamill as Marianne Dashwood.

In this serious caricature, the problem is that when Mr. Dashwood dies, the property, via primogeniture, goes to the son John (John Russell) by a previous marriage, cutting out his widow and three daughters. And when the son wants to adhere to his father’s wishes and settle some money on them, his permanently purse-lipped nasty wife Fanny (Laura Baranik) quashes that.

So the sisters have man problems. Because they have no money. And John’s brother Edward (Jason O’Connell), a somewhat good-natured but ineffectual fellow, might be a suitor but is practicing Shakespeare. His ambition is to be happy, not wealthy or famous, but he has little chance of either, since he is not allowed to have a profession.

Jason O'Connell as Edward pulling his "horse."

Jason O’Connell as Edward leading his “horse.”

This is a very physical, absurd, clownish production, including invisible barking dogs. And a hokey encounter between the charming John Willoughby (Russell) and daughter Marianne Dashwood (Kate Hamill), who talk poetry at each other with exaggerated grimaces. Fanny is also adept at screeching and howling like an animal, betraying some repressed instincts.

There are lovely gossipy choreographed numbers, including a dinner with diners pushed on chairs directly to the audience to talk to them, knives and forks in hand. When two carriages arrive, the passengers are sitting on the upturned legs of two other performers. In another scene, Edward Farrars arrives holding the reins of “a horse,” a snorting actor. Characters brandish branches of trees. Scenery moves. Gossips are caricatures. Lit chandeliers sway wildly over the stage. Someone who is supposed to sing an aria sings “Aria, aria, aria, aria!

The gossips eves-dropping on Marianne and a prospective beau.

The gossips eves-dropping on Marianne and a prospective beau.

My favorite character is Mrs. Jennings (Nicole Lewis), the grinning, jokey, white-capped mother of the Middletons, who give the Dashwoods a place to live. She takes a good-natured match-making interest in the proceedings. Though it turns out, alas, that the matches seem derailed because the eligible men have other women. (It will be fixed.) In the meantime, there are many gossips eves-dropping on lovers.

Carman Lacivita is excellent as the somewhat anguished Colonel Brandon who likes Marianne but is initially discounted for his advanced 35 years. Jason O’Connell, who plays both Ferrars brothers, is terrific as Robert, the funny obnoxious drunk. Kelley Curran is a super smooth Elinor Dashwood, with choreographed elegance.

Violin music backdrops the free-for-all melees. Only suggestion I would have is to cut the 2 ½ hours by at least 30 minutes. A great Bedlam event.

“Sense & Sensibility.” Based on Jane Austin’s novel, adapted by Kate Hamill, directed by Eric Tucker. Bedlam at The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street, corner Washington Square South, New York City. 212-477-0351. First opened Feb 14, 2016, closed March 6; reopened Aug 23; closes Nov 20, 2016. 10/27/16.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Best of New York’s cabaret singers, new talents and veteran stars, featured at festival

Filed under: Cabaret & Jazz — Lucy Komisar @ 8:24 pm

By Lucy Komisar

There were 70 singers telling stories to music, swinging to jazz beats, crooning emotion and trilling high notes at the annual Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention. In four days at the Rose Theatre, dedicated by Lincoln Center to jazz, you could hear performers as young as 15 and as old as 88 present stunning new and veteran talents – in fact, the special thing about cabaret is that it has no age limits.

Carole J. Bufford

Carole J. Bufford

Here are some of the best I heard over the week, at separate programs that were tributes to jazz singer Sylvia Sims and the great musical theater writers, composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Charles Strouse.

Making it a story. That’s the best, the special feature of good cabaret. It’s not just carrying the tune, it’s creating drama and emotion. Among the new soon-to-be-greats are two young women.

Carole J. Bufford, already headlining at New York jazz clubs, is a name you are going to know if you don’t already. She doesn’t just sing she performs, she moves and twists as if she’s a dancer. In a rendition of “St. James Infirmary,” her voice cries out and competes with the trumpet.

Lauren Stanford

Lauren Stanford

She is a major jazz singer and is poised to join the greats.

Lauren Stanford, a younger “to be great,” received a Julie Wilson Award, and I could see why as she sang/acted Eve from Strouse’s “Applause,” based on “All About Eve.” Her soprano has resonance and emotional sincerity as she pulls off the mask of Eve the manipulator, that twitchy, bitchy, manic character she makes alive.

Karen Akers

Karen Akers

The experienced Karen Akers, in black gown and red hair, is a perfect cabaret singer and terrific Sondheim interpreter as her slightly jazzy round voice tells his dramatic “Follies” story.

Donna McKechnie, again in “Follies,” the perfect place for dramatic cabaret singers, provides sad elegance, a clear rich dramatic voice as Sally singing “Buddy’s there.”

Donna McKechnie

Donna McKechnie

Corinna Sowers Adler did one of my favorites, “Dear Friend,” the vanilla ice cream song from Harnick’s “She Loves Me.” With a lovely soprano, she could be on stage, acting a charming coloratura. She got cheers.

Penny Fuller, “Welcome to the theater, where treachery is sweetly done.” Acting Eve Harrington, she is the toughness, the nastiness, of this infamous actress. Her voice rings out. “Welcome to the theater, you fools, you love it so.”

Penny Fuller

Penny Fuller

Not that things were so wonderful for women in the past. Raissa Katona Bennett and Maureen Taylor and Julie Reyburn did a stunning rendition of “Pretty Lady” from “Pacific Overtures,” Sondheim’s musical about American sailors on the voyage that invaded 1853 century Japan. (American history calls it “opening up Japan.” It was an invasive assault by an imperial power.) And the song tells of sailors coming on to young geishas, actually forced prostitutes. It moves and catches you, as you realize how American history whitewashed sexual assault.

Eric Yves Garcia

Eric Yves Garcia

I love the jazzy bluesy inflection. Joanne Tatham does a swing version of Strouse’s “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s superman.” Speaking to Clark Kent, her panache, her inflection, her vivid interpretation, every change of intonation pulls you in to the life on the stage.

Eric Yves Garcia’s rich baritone soars in a jazzy rendition of “Summer Wind.”

Vivian Reed

Vivian Reed

And Vivian Reed takes the A-Train in swinging high notes that sound like a train’s whistle, jazzed up, syncopated to foot taping and head nodding. Her “Sweet Georgia Brown” is a show stopper. And four guys join her for high-kicking dances. The dénouement is a gospel scat!

Another jazzy performer was T. Oliver Reed, doing distingué songs of a saloon singer. Very dancy, “I’m throwing a ball tonight,” and then mellow Harlem stuff with the strong melodic sound he did at a “Cotton Club” show.

Maureen McGovern

Maureen McGovern

When Maureen McGovern sings, it all sounds like a story, her elegant voice takes us “over the rainbow” and moves to the flippant blues torch idiom. She was presented with the Mabel Mercer Award.

Jazz singer Nicholas King has a smooth swinging baritone. His “Looking at you” with snapping fingers channels Sinatra.

I liked Carol Woods singing “Pick yourself, up start all over again” (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields) with a jazzy, R&B inflection.

Joshua Lance Dixon

Joshua Lance Dixon

Joshua Lance Dixon’s warm, deep multilevel voice soars, as he moves though swing and a bit of scat in “I’ve got a lot of livin’ to do” from Strouse’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” He takes you along on that trip.

Then there’s the Broadway style. Jennifer Sheehan in a red strapless gown and a lovely charming soprano pulls the audience along with a smashing performance of Sondheim’s “I’m just a Broadway baby.”

And the clear sopranos and crooners. Ann Hampton Calloway does a syrupy “Honeysuckle Rose” and then a jazzy “Ain’t Misbehavin,” her voice hitting deep and high notes like a horn riffing. I loved her “Skylark,” with full rich sound swirling around her, her sultry, honeyed voice waving though space.

Todd Murray

Todd Murray

Todd Murray, who got the Margaret Whiting award for his honest expressive sound, is a crooner with a deep baritone who sounds like classical radio or old movies of the 40s. In a voice with great timber, his “Sunrise, Sunset” from Harnick’s “Fiddler” subtly evokes the scene of the play; in your mind, you see the stage set.

Liam Forde has depth of voice, elegance, and charm and his emotions fly through the moods as he sings “here’s my girl and me, you can’t hurt us now,” from Strouse’s “Golden Boy,” a show written for Sammy Davis Jr.

Iris Williams’s colorful soulful voice, sense of artistry, and low soprano, make you think almost of church music as she intones, “Careful the things you say, children will listen” from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”

Stearns Matthews

Stearns Matthews

Tenor Stearns Matthews offers up great emotion in his expressive words, “God has given you to me,” the “Miracle of Miracles” song from “Fiddler.”

Josephine Sanchez shimmers like her gown, her soprano bright and sparkling with dramatic emotion. Her sorrow shines through her “Not a day goes by” from Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Josephine Bianco, young, new, sweet, is only 15, and everyone was astonished at her strong bell clear voice belting out “People who need people.” Watch out Streisand.

Eric Michael Gillett

Eric Michael Gillett

And there’s comedy. Valerie Lemon is a comic charmer and terrific soprano promising, “I’m going to marry the next man who asks me” because, “waiting for ships that don’t come in, a girl is liable to miss the boat.” Yes!

Eric Michael Gillett does a brilliant show-stopping “Everybody dumps on Hades,” from Sondheim’s “Frogs.” With zing and panache, he delivers the funny clever satire: “Hell is cool… an endless party…everybody’s invited. It’s party till you drop.”

Karen Oberlin

Karen Oberlin

Karen Oberlin in red satin does another smashing comic ditty, Randy Newman’s super nationalist satire, “Let’s drop the big one and see what happens.” She is saucy and sassy as she belts out, “We give them money but are they grateful…drop the big one, pulverize them. Oberlin can sing anything.

Christina Bianco

Christina Bianco

And speaking of comic, everyone loved Christina Bianco imitating the great divas, Streisand brilliant with her round tones; Bernadette Peters, think prunes; Garland powerful emoting, Kristin Chenowith like a speedy recording, Julie Andrews open, a bit British and Celine Dion, hot and noisy!

To close my list, if not the shows, Barbara Carroll, at 88 is still a virtuoso jazz piano player, whose Cole Porter medley makes jazz sound classical.

KT Sullivan

KT Sullivan

Among the hosts, KT Sullivan, who organizes the event, did a swinging “You’re the tops,” shifting moods and sounds, calling up a bit of the movie scene.

The personable Klea Blackhurst, her comic nasal Ethel Merman voice reminding one of a horn, put out a pulsating “Those were the days,” though she knew that the present didn’t need another right-wing souvenir of a time when “we didn’t need no welfare state, girls were girls and men were men.”

And Jeff Harnar & Andrea Marcovicci, classic sophisticated cabaret artists, reminded us what the art form is about.

About the egotistical critic Rex Reed, who thought the tribute to the late singer Sylvia Sims was really about him, the less said the better. Or “Mr. Reed, next time say less.”

Cabaret Convention 2016, Produced by Mabel Mercer Foundation, Rose Theatre, Time Warner Building, Broadway & 60th Street, New York City, Oct 18-21, 2016. The cabaret convention is presented every October. 10/27/16.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

“Battlefield,” inspired by Brook’s Mahabarata, an elegant parable of justice and war

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 11:03 am

By Lucy Komisar

Peter Brook’s “Battlefield” is an elegant, moving and sad parable about justice and war, life and death, going back in our sophisticated times to the simple way earlier societies said these truths. It is inspired by the “The Mahabarata,” a stylized ritualistic vision of war from the epic Sanskrit poem dating from 400 B.C. which director Peter Brook staged in a 9-hour performance in 1987.

This 70-minute play is the end of the war, showing the suffering of the victors as well as vanquished. It is a morality play, a poetic parable of life and death, justice and war, addressed in a narrative about the victorious king and his family.

Sean O’Callaghan, Ery Nzaramba and Carole Karemera, photo Richard Termine.

Sean O’Callaghan, Ery Nzaramba and Carole Karemera, photo Richard Termine.

There are fields of dead corpses, women lamenting. The bare stage holds just a black box and some artfully casually thrown bunches of bamboo. The ground is a rust red cloth, matching the walls that were painted 30 years ago when BAM put on the first Mahabarata. At that time, BAM director Harvey Lichtenstein took over the Majestic movie theater and turned it into a ruined playhouse with crumbling brown and cream walls to fit the devastation told by the tale.

The characters wear black robes or colorful fringed blankets in red and gold; they are barefoot. A drummer (Toshi Tsuchitori) plays on a skin drum.

The defeated blind King Dritarashtra (Sean O’Callaghan) laments. But his brother Vidura tells him, “The destruction of your sons was inevitable, you knew that and yet you refused to listen to us when we asked you, “Stop that massacre.”

 

The new king, Yudishtira (Jared McNeill), his nephew, has been triumphant in battle and will become ruler. His mother Kunti (Carole Karemera) asks him to do the funeral oblation for the defeated enemy, Karna. She says he was of noble birth.

Sean O’Callaghan, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba and Carole Karemera, photo Richard Termine.

Sean O’Callaghan, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba and Carole Karemera, photo Richard Termine.

Then the joy in victory is diminished when she says that Karna, who he killed, was his half-brother, from her impregnation by a god. And she acknowledges, “My son was cruel. His egoism was insatiable. Had only one word on lips, war.”

Duryiodhana (Ery Nzaramba), son of the old king, will lose his life.

So this is a primitive long ago place/society. But maybe not so much.

Earth has been ruined. Destruction comes on tiptoe. Death is not peace. The god Krishna tells the new king that the Earth needs a calm and just king, but that his choice will be between a war and another war.

Now, Dritarashtra says, “My son was cruel, his egoism was insatiable, it had no limits. He had only one word on his lips, “war.”  Some of the language seems pedantic. Yudishtira asks, “Can peace of mind be found when I have been the instrument of all that massacre?”

Jared McNeill and Ery Nzaramba, photo Richard Termine.

Jared McNeill and Ery Nzaramba, photo Richard Termine.

Other times it’s philosophical. Death (Ery Nzaramba) declares, “More than everyone I have no free will. If you have to blame somebody blame the real responsible ‐ Time.” But Time arrives and says the fault is Destiny.

In these African tales of myth and magic, parables of a snake, a pigeon, a worm and a mongoose play roles. Wild animals invade the country. The old king and the new king’s mother walk into the fire of death.

But essentially, this is a political play. Grandfather Bishma urges, “Yudishtira, protect your people, protect the poor. Do not accept to make wars. Let peace be your aim.”

The words seem plain, but the cool almost choreographed production by long-time collaborators Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne provide an elegance that turns the play into poetry.

“Battlefield.” Based on the Mahabharata and the play by Jean-Claude Carrière; Adapted and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne. Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100. Opened Sept 28, 2016; closes Oct 9, 2016. 10/6/16.

 

 

 

 

 

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