Friday, February 17, 2017

Weill Tunes For Vile Times - 2 Reviews Of 2 Revues In 2 Towns - "Brecht On Brecht" in Watertown & "Berlin To Broadway" in NYC

Across our land, the theater community is stepping up to the plate in ways that are gratifying and empowering to address the toxic miasma that is wafting its way from the swamp on the Potomac. Countless Artistic Directors have pivoted quickly to adjust their theater's schedules to address the current political climate. And others are finding that plays and musicals they had long ago scheduled into the current season now have a new and unanticipated relevancy, poignancy, and prophetic edge in these dark times.

In Watertown, New Rep, under the incisive direction of Jim Petosa, has taken the morose and shadowy worlds evoked by the lyrics of Bertolt Brecht and redirected them from their initial setting in the shadows of the Third Reich and pointed them squarely at the chilling prospect of a new Reich. Brecht's words and Kurt Weill's music have been plucked from their initial settings and woven together into a revue that is a cautionary tale for our times.

In the Program Notes, Mr. Petosa is explicit in using Brecht's words to make the leap from the strident tunes of Germany to our present political cacophony:

"In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times."

 "Art is not a mirror held up to reality
but a hammer with which to shape it."

"The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn't hear, doesn't speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn't know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depend on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics.  The imbecile doesn't know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies."

In reading these quotations, I got chills in imagining how pointedly they speak to our present circumstance. Mr. Petosa chose songs with Brechtian lyrics and vignettes that illustrate the point that Brecht was making in these quotations. He assembled a stellar quartet of singers led by Music Director, Matthew Stern, to bring these sentiments to life. This revue had been been arranged by George Tabori from various translations from the German of Brecht's words.

Christine Hamel portrayed Mature Woman, Carla Martinez played Young Woman, Jake Murphy played Young Man, and Brad Daniel Peloquin portrayed Mature Man. They offered some familiar tunes, like "Mack The Knife," and "Surabaya Johnny," as well as more obscure Brecht and Weill collaborations. The overall impact of this revue was powerfully thought-provoking.  It runs at the Black Box Theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts through March 5th.

New Rep Website

In New York City, only a few blocks from the "very famous" Trump Tower, The York Theatre Company is presenting as part of their "Musicals In Mufti" series a revue entitled "Berlin To Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage." 

In this case, songs from Kurt Weill musicals have been extracted from their original context and presented as a way of portraying his geographical and political journey from Germany to America. Brecht was among the dozen lyricists with whom Weill collaborated for the songs in this revue. A stunning quintet of singers were supported by the Musical Direction and keyboarding of Eric Svejcar and the Direction of Pamela Hunt.

Karl Josef Co - Tenor
Meghan Picerno - Soprano
Michael Halling - Baritone
Rachel de Benedet - Mezzo
Brian Charles Rooney - Guide
"Berlin To Broadway"
The York Theatre Company
St. Peter's Church
Through February 19th
Selections were sung from eleven different Weill musicals. Among the standouts were the following:
  • The quartet of Karl Josef Co, Rachel de Benedet, Michael Halling, and Meghan Picerno offering their rendition of "Mack The Knife" from "The Threepenny Opera."
  • Rachel de Benedet's gut-wrenching "Surabaya Johnny" from "Happy End," as well as her cabaret style tour de force rendition of "The Saga of Jenny" from "Lady In The Dark."
  • Meghan Picerno's "My Ship" from "Lady In The Dark."
  • Karl Josef Co's "Hymn To Peace" and "Johnny's Song" from "Johnny Johnson."
  • Michael Halling's "September Song" from "Knickerbocker Holiday."
  • Brian Charles Rooney's "I'm A Stranger Here Myself" from "One Touch of Venus."
The impressive performance was followed by a fascinating talkback that included not only the cast, Director, Music Director, and Producer, but also Michael Feingold of the Village Voice. Not only is Mr. Feingold a longtime theater critic, it turns out that he had done the translation for "Happy End" when he was at Yale. His insight's into Weill's work and the curation of that work by his widow added a rich dimension to the proceedings.

"Berlin To Broadway" will play through February 19th at St. Peter's Church at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street.

If you are in NYC this weekend, come over to Lexington Avenue to be entertained and challenged by this brilliant sampling of Kurt Weill's prodigious oeuvre.

If you are in the Boston area, make the trek to Watertown to gain a sense of perspective on what is happening in our world.

Art heals, but it also is the hammer that can reshape harsh reality.



Thursday, February 09, 2017

Company One Presents The New England Premiere of "Really" by Jackie Sibblies Drury - Through March 4th

Company One can always be relied upon to offer provocative plays that push the boundaries of traditional theater. The current production of "Really" by Jackie Sibblies Drury follows that tradition, for it is being performed in the intimate Matter & Light Fine Art gallery in the SoWa Arts District. With support from neighboring Gallery Kayafas. Prior to the play, audience members wander through the two art galleries, examining and thinking about a collection of photographs. The play itself examines the intricate interplay between the science and art of photography and human memory.

I first became aware of Ms. Drury's work in 2014 when Company One produced her critically acclaimed play, "We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero Of Namibia Formerly Known As Southwest Africa From The German Sudwestafrika Between The Years 1884-1915."
The playwright looks at life through her own unique set of lenses and filters, offering a glimpse at situations, individuals, and relationships that cause the audience to see them in a new light.

In "Really," three characters interact in the small space of a studio apartment that had been shared by photographer, Calvin (Aleksandr Portenko), and his girlfriend (Rachel Cognata). Calvin is no longer there, and his girlfriend has remained in the apartment after it appears that Calvin has died - although the backstory of what happened to Calvin is left purposefully nebulous - or should I say "undeveloped." Calvin's mother (Kippy Goldfarb) drops by for an awkward visit, during which time she poses for a portrait by the girlfriend, who is also a budding artist and photographer. The girlfriend struggles to find just the right shot that might capture the mother in a moment of humanity, breaking through the mask of decency and propriety that she wears. The mother is struggling to suppress her grief, and apparent rage, somehow blaming the girlfriend for Calvin's demise. The apparently deceased Calvin interacts both with the girlfriend and the mother. The playwright is bending time in a way that a photograph alters our perception of time and memory, making the past present once again as we remember the substance behind the two dimensional image.

Rachel Cognata as Girlfriend
"Really" by Jackie Sibblies Drury
Company One
Matter & Light Fine Art
Through March 4th
Under the skillful direction of Shawn LaCount, the three actors are very effective in focusing our attention on the narrative and on the underlying philosophical and aesthetic questions that Ms. Drury is posing. A good artist uses blank space as well as solid imagery to tell a story. In the same way, the playwright uses silence and awkward pauses, interspersed by the sound of a camera's shutter clicking, to depict the passage of time. At the end of the play, the audience is invited to peruse a collection of photographic portraits, and to interact with the actors.

Supporting this production are Amanda Mujica with Costume Design, Jason Fok with Lighting Design, Ben Lieberson with Scenic Design, Misha Shields with Choreography, and Lee Schuna with Sound Design.

It was a unique and satisfying evening of theater art and graphic art wedded together and beautifully framed. The play will run through March 4th.

Company One Website