Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach | "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (the Platters, 1958) [link]

To hear The Platters sing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, from a 1958 recording, go here:

Monday, May 29, 2017

Peter, Paul, and Mary | "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" [link]

Peter, Paul, and Mary's classic "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" on the 25th anniversary.

David Crosby | "She's Got to Be Somewhere" [link]

David Crosby's newest: "She's Got To Be Somewhere," as performed on Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show. An unusual number for him:

Dimash Kudaibergenov | "Adigio" [link]

Definitely kind of kitsch musical performances, but still quite incredible, and Dimash Kudaibergenov's voice has a five octave rate. Here's his "Adigio."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Douglas Messerli | "Going On" (on Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne's Battlefield, based on The Mahabharata, by Jean-Claude Carrière)

going on
by Douglas Messerli

Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne adaptation (from the play, The Mahabharata, by Jean-Claude Carrière) and directors Battlefield / Beverly Hills, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the performance I attended was the matinee on Saturday, May 27, 2017

After productions in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere, Peter Brook’s most recent work, Battlefield, has now moved in for a short, 4-day run at Beverly Hills’ Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.


      In some respects this seems less like a new work than a kind extension, or epilogue, to Brook’s epic 1987 work The Mahabharata, a nine-hour spectacle that had such a large cast that, when it was performed in Los Angeles, it was staged at the Raleigh film sound studio.

      Like that epic-event, in this new Brook worked with long-term collaborator, Marie-Hélène Estienne, adapting the play by the noted writer Jean-Claude Carrière (who collaborated with Luis Buñuel on several films and wrote the scripts for dozens of others, including The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Tin Drum, and Valmont); but as the years have passed Brook and Estienne have shifted their focus from large to small, moving increasingly to a kind minimalist purity.

       Battlefield runs just over 1-hour, and its sets consist primarily of few slender wooden poles lined up in a row along the back of the stage; there are only four actors, dressed primarily in colorful robes which they don to differentiate the various roles they undertake. Instead of the large chorus of instruments employed in The Mahabharata, there is a single drummer, Toshi Tsuchitori, who performed as well in that earlier production.

       Yet for all of this stripping away of extraneous detail, Battlefield does not feel simplistic or constrained. In fact, it carries with it all the terrifying details the great battle before it which has killed millions, including nearly all of Yudhishthira’s (Jared McNeill), family, along with his greatest enemy, whom his mother Kunti (Carole Karemera) reveals early in the play was actually his brother, born with her in a liaison with the sun.

       Yudhishthira, overwhelmed with the grief of all those deaths, is determined to enter the woods in penance for his destruction of so many lives, but his father (Sean O’Callaghan) and his mother insist he must carry on as the new King, suggesting that he visit his grandfather, the elderly and soon-to-die Dritarashtra (Ery Nzaramba), who, in a series, of parables and gnomic statements, impresses upon the his grandson the cyclic nature of war and peace, of love and violence. What has just happened will ultimately happen again and again, and is not entirely the fault of those involved but simply a product of their destinies. Much as in Beckett’s works, Yudhishthira is a man who cannot “go on,” but must go on nonetheless.


     Finally convinced to take up the crown, Yudhishthira gives away all his personal goods and wealth to the priests, but is advised, instead, by his royal counsel, to give everything to the poor. One of the most charming episodes of the play is when, after gathering up all the robes upon the stage, the counsel attempts to give them away to the poor, a difficult thing to do to the front-row patrons of the Beverly Hills theater. Giving up on asking whether any them of poor, the counsel asks only if they might know someone is poor.

       Other crises follow, and there are further engaging parables, one between Destiny and Time, who argue about a snake that just killed a child; Time wants to kill the snake, but Destiny successfully argues that the snake was only doing what a snake does and therefore should be allowed to escape alive.

      In another such parable, a worm is terrified to cross a road, desiring to remain alive in the world, even though he, in his former life a cheating man, has been punished by becoming just who he is. Time argues that he has no choice but to cross the road, even if a speeding chariot might crush him, and the worm is convinced to move forward; he is, of course, crushed.

      In a third such scenario, a just prince, after promising to save a pigeon, gives away parts of his own body equal to the size of the pigeon to a falcon who demands to feast upon his prey. Having finally given up his entire body, both the falcon and the pigeon praise the now dead prince as being the most just man in the universe.

       There is, in short, no answers provided for the horrible events that The Mahabharata chronicle; there is only the consolation of moving forward. While his mother and father determine to do penance by moving off into the woods, to live on roots and fruits, Yudhishthira has no choice but to rule for the 36 years that have been pre-ordained, and to do the very best he can do in his position.

       After all the roar of the battlefield, his rule is a time of silence, of sorrow, of regret, and reunification—essons we can all use now as we once again hear the refrains of  “us” and “them,” of the differences between people who are, after all, simply our brothers.

       What Brook’s new work reveals is that, after the smoke has cleared and the bodies carried off, there can never be losers and winners; only fate itself remains. Lamentations have no meaning; only the knowledge of what life is and isn’t matters to those given the task to go on living.

       If this play is simple in its storytelling, it is made profound by the brilliant acting the entire cast. With their quiet voices, their every word was clearly to be heard, and only the beat of life played out on Tsuchitori’s drum had the ability to drown out their musings. But that is, obviously, life’s prerogative, as it gradually kills off all of the fears, absurdities, and contemplations of the living.

Los Angeles, May 28, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pablo Capra | "Theater in the Merry-Go-Round" (on James Harris's An Illegal Start)

theater in the merry-go-round
by Pablo Capra

James Harris (author), Paul Sand (director) An Illegal Start / Santa Monica Public Theatre, in the Santa Monica Pier Merry-Go-Round / The performance I saw was on Friday, May 19, 2017

Pete (Cameron Tagge) and Robbie (Irish Giron)

Watching a play in the 1920s merry-go-round of the Santa Monica Pier has to be one of the most uniquely wonderful theater experiences in Los Angeles. The painted horses and carnival architecture immediately inspire viewers to be transported to another world.

In the case of An Illegal Start by James Harris, that other world is a small town in 1980s Colorado, where two high school boys are beginning an unlikely friendship.

Pete Wilson lives a life of good fortune. He has just survived a serious car accident with only minor injuries, an inexpensive ticket, and no censure from his middle-class parents. He dreams of moving to Los Angeles to become an actor and writer.

Robbie Zamora is less fortunate. He was knocked out in the accident (and would have died if he hadn’t been wearing an army helmet), resulting in a concussion that causes him to hear the voice of his dead grandmother. He lives in an impoverished minority neighborhood in a floodplain, and crudely describes what his parents would have done to him if he’d been driving. His only aspiration is to stay in his hometown and become a fireman.

Several years pass between each scene, visualized by the spinning of the merry-go-round, and possibly reminding us of the philosopher Boethius, who cautioned not to trust the fickle wheel of fortune. At first, the difference in the two boys’ fortunes only seems to increase. By the middle of the play, Pete is accepted at UCLA, while Robbie enlists in the Air Force and may have to go to war. But while writer James Harris has us worrying about Robbie, he cleverly distracts us from the signs that Pete is really the one in trouble.

Pete’s minor injuries from the accident linger as a ringing in his ears. He becomes increasingly dependent on alcohol. His date with his high school crush goes nowhere. In contrast, Robbie’s injuries heal quickly. He outgrows his youthful drinking. He becomes so popular with the girls that he takes three dates to the prom.

By the end of the play, their reversals of fortune are obvious. Robbie returns from the Air Force unharmed. He has traveled. He has married. He has his own business as a contractor (while also indulging his childhood dream by becoming a volunteer fireman). Meanwhile, Pete works at the same bar he’s been at forever, with no career or romantic prospects. His alcoholism leads him to a point of crisis where he almost dies in the hometown he was determined to escape.

What happened?

Finally the play reveals what it’s really about: having the courage to follow your dreams. Pete began as a dreamer but took no meaningful action (perhaps that was “the illegal start” that led to his downfall). Instead he waited at his bar for a customer to give him a part in a movie.

Robbie’s dream may not have been to go into the Air Force, but it was a way forward, and he took it. Pete is confounded by Robbie’s decision until it is finally explained. Robbie confesses that he joined the Air Force to not betray the dreamer that Pete was, making Pete aware of how he has betrayed himself.

"I thought you really had it together, Pete. You spoke as though you had all wisdom, and I bought every word of it. You had the guts to leave everything behind. To do things your own way." 

By going into the Air Force, Robbie demonstrated that he had the guts to fight for the life he wanted.

Irish Giron as Robbie is full of energy, quick to laugh, and extroverted, filling the room with his assertive presence. Cameron Tagge as Pete is understated and brooding. He simmers throughout, then delivers an explosive release of emotions. Both actors show off athletic talents, leaping over railings and performing handstands.

James Harris’s lean descriptions effortlessly conjure up the various time periods of his play: the ‘80s Reagan Depression, the ‘90s Gulf War, and the optimistic turn-of-the-century. During this long span, he creatively makes drama out of letter writing and journal entries to maintain the characters’ connection.

Director Paul Sand has the actors constantly interact with the merry-go-round. They push it, ride it, run on it, and count the horses—while pointing out that there’s also a pig and a goat! He transforms the challenges of the non-theatrical space into the most memorable parts of the staging. An encounter with a police officer is imagined through an open window, and a support column becomes an indispensable prop for the actors. It’s clear that he’s getting the most fun out of directing a play in a merry-go-round.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Douglas Messerli | "Dance of Surprises" (on Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures)

dance of surprises
by Douglas Messerli

Matthew Bourne (choreographer) Early Adventures / performed at Beverly Hill’s Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, May 17-21, 2017 / I attended with Thérèse Bachand the matinee on May 20, 2017.

Although Matthew Bourne has choreographed plenty of traditional musicals and balletic events, including My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Oliver! and The Red Shoes, he is perhaps best known for his notoriously gay-themed productions, particularly his Swan Lake and his proposed male-male production of Romeo and Juliet.

The three ballets of Early Adventures, reconceived works from the late 1980 and early 1990s, often toy with some of the same gestures, surprising and sexualizing sequences which might otherwise have been “cute” or simply “sweet.” Yes, there are dazzling heterosexual couples spinning through the three pieces, but the marvel of his works is that at any moment the proper British characters might slip into bawdy and outright randy behavior, like the bad boys and girls of the first work here performed, “Watch with Mother” from 1991, based on Joyce Grenfell’s “Nursery School Sketches” (probably forgotten by most Americans, Grenfell, who died in 1979, is still a well-loved monologist and performer in Britain).

       The children of this piece begin simply enough by playing a kind of version of ring-round-the rosy, but the boy at the center of their ring, Paris Fitzpatrick, is clearly an outsider to this community of little brutes, and quickly finds himself the subject of torture to the children who leap upon each other’s backs, riding their peers like horses, rolling like tops toward one another, and generally displaying other elements of quite sadistic behavior, accompanied by music by British composer Percy Grainger, Bach and Fauré.

      Bourne’s 1991 masterpiece, “Town and Country” followed. This multi-segmented piece includes nearly everything, including satiric views of wealthy British couples, two of whom (João Carolino and Mari Kamata) take somewhat  strip-tease-like balletic baths attended—or we might say, “overattended”—by a valet and maid. Two British dandies (Fitzpatrick and Edwin Ray) lovingly restrain themselves while satisfying each other’s sexual needs during an outdoor picnic.

      In another scene, Bourne duplicates the famed railway restaurant scene from David Lean’s Brief Encounter, playfully satirizing the long and languid stares of the couple(s) that can never result in more than a good-bye kiss.

     The music of the period by Elgar, Coward, Coates, and, again, Grainger moves us to the country for a good old-fashioned clog dance, and another romp through country lanes by male-male, female-female, and mixed couples ends in the death of one of the several stuffed animals peeking out from the greenery. All dancers suddenly go wild on children’s scooters, and a kind of funeral performance of Pomp and Circumstance is performed on ukulele. One might summarize the piece by suggesting that Bourne’s Brits, despite their polished behaviors in town, go absolutely wild in the country!

     The raunchiest pieces of Bourne’s repertoire, however, are saved for the last French-based series of dances, The Infernal Galop: A French Dance with English Subtitles. Here the rather up-tight British can go whole hog in their imaginations of French lowlife behavior.

     To the strains of Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Tino Rossi, and Mistinguett, streetwalkers prowl the Paris wharves, a merman is serenaded by three sailors, and after an adventurous quartet of toughs converge at a street pissoir, two of the group proceed to engage in rough sex that keeps getting interrupted a band of street carolers. The piece ends, how else?, in a kind of satirical version of Offenbach’s can-can. In short, Paris is presented as rough and tough, alluring and gay as any Baedeker guide might wish to imagine it.

     Bourne is a great narrativist, who can convey character, class, and sex in just a few bends and rolls of the body, and his dancers in this production represent a wide range of personal eccentricities. No one in Bourne’s dances, he suggests, is precisely what they seem, as men and women wind through each other’s arms and legs as if they were performing a kind of Schnitzler-like ballet of “hands around.” The very energy of it is a lovely thing to watch.


Los Angeles, May 21, 2017