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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Louisville Choral Arts Society Performs Mozart's Mass in C Minor, K. 427

The Louisville Choral Arts Society will perform Mozart's "Great Mass" in C minor, K. 427 tomorrow evening, Friday, March 25 at 8:00 p.m. in the chapel of St. Francis in the Fields, 6710 Wolf Pen Branch Road 40027. 

Artistc Director James Rightmyer will conduct the performance featuring soloists: Leslie Fagan, soprano; Daniel Weeks, tenor; and Philip Morgan, bass. 
 Mozart began the composition in 1782 and premiered the Kyrie and Gloria on October 26 of the following year during Mass at St. Peter's Abbey in his hometown of Salzburg with his wife Constanze singing the soprano solo. The work is considered by many to be musically superior to his later Requiem, though it is performed less often. 

Rightmyer and the chamber orchestra will be joined tomorrow evening by soloist Nancy Albrink for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491. During the first three months of 1786 Mozart was at the height of his talent and creative energy. During that time the composer finished off his piano concertos Nos. 22 and 23 and, a month after the completion of No. 24, premiered his opera Le Nozze di Figaro. Although there is no extant documentation of his Viennese patron's response one suspects they were much surprised by this innovative work so unlike his previous offerings. This is one of only two piano concertos Mozart composed in a minor key, the waltz signature of the first movement is unique as is his use of both clarinet and oboe. 

Tickets for the Louisville Choral Arts Society concert are $20, $15 for patrons over 60 and $10 for students. For advance tickets call 502.228.1176.



To refresh your memory of the "Great Mass" I've added this recording with John Eliot Gardiner.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: The Louisville Orchestra

"We have intimate audiences in March," joked Louisville Orchestra CEO from the stage before last night's concert. The several hundred of us gathered in Whitney Hall chuckled as we looked at the too-many empty seats scattered through the room. Sadly, the arts in contemporary America do not compete with allure of the arena. But, those who did attend last evening's Hilliard Lyons Classics concert experienced one of the nation's top orchestras at its best.
Pianist Seung-Un Ha


Last night's program opened with music director Jorge Mester and the Orchestra accompanying soloist Seung-Un Ha in Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. With this work and his concerto in F minor (composed the previous year) Chopin re-created the genre that had lain nearly dormant since Beethoven's final piano concerto had been finalized more than two decades before. Chopin was a pianist-composer and as Mester pointed out during his pre-concert conversation the soloist could easily perform this work without benefit of an orchestra and you would never notice. As soloist for last evening's performance, pianist Seung-Un Ha was absolutely mesmerizing. Chopin premiered this work himself in October, 1830 and created it as a vehicle for his own virtuosity. As a performer Seung-Un Ha is often described as an amalgam of silk and sinew. This is an apt description of her style which combines fluidity and precision with brilliant musicality. While I am in general a fan of the invisible performer who allows the music to take center stage I was fascinated by the added dimension created by the choreography in Seung-Un Ha's subtle, balletic hand gestures as the moved across the keyboard. Despite the criticisms of Chopin's orchestration, maestro Mester coaxed a gorgeous accompaniment from the players who engaged this work and brought its full potential to light.

If the first part of the program gave the Orchestra little to do, Mester more than made up for it after the interval with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65. This is an organic plume of music that explodes with fortissimo octaves stylistically reminiscent of Beethoven's C minor symphony (No. 5). Shostakovich famously wrote on multiple levels to appease the authoritarian Soviet regime while conveying the pain of repression felt by the Russian people. Subsequent to its 1943 premiere an unknown author affixed this interpretation to the first movement: The bitterness of existence under the yoke of tyranny. Subsequent movements carry equally bleak descriptions: The Fearful Individual caught in this living nightmare, The constant fear of a Knock at the door, Imprisonment, and finally Dreaming of Freedom. Far from offering the hope of freedom, however, Shostakovich ends with a sense of unrequited longing. This lack of optimism was problematic for the Soviet government at the time fighting the Axis on the western border. Following the Zhadonov decree of 1946 the eighth symphony was shelved until it's rehabilitation in 1956. 


Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 is a technical challenge for any orchestra that requires absolute precision, endurance, and technical proficiency. Mester and the Orchestra far exceeded these basic challenges giving a performance with a clear musical point of view. This symphony offers numerous opportunities for virtuosity and these were realized magnificiently by the musicians of the L.O. including concermaster Michael Davis, Acting principal cellist Peter McCaffrey, Marianne Peterson on English Horn, Principal Trumpet J. Jerome Amend, Principal Bassoon Andrew Cuneo, Donald Gottlieb on Piccolo, Principal Timpanist James Rago and the entire percussion section, led by Principal John Pedroja. 


The Louisville Orchestra still has challenges to overcome, but speaking with Robert Birman at intermission I was assured that the L.O. is planning to finish the 2010-2011 season. The Classics season continues on April 1 at the Brown Theatre with music director Jorge Mester leading the Orchestra and soloist Julie Albers performing Dvorak's Cello Concerto. Also on the program that evening will be Britten's Soirees musicales and Elgar's Enigma Variations


Tonight Bob Bernhardt and the Louisville Pops join Steve Lippia for the Music of Frank Sinatra. That concert begins at 8 p.m. in Whitney Hall. 


On Saturday, March 26 associate conductor Jason Weinberger and the Orchestra perform the Teddy Bear's Guide to the Orchestra beginning at 11 a.m. at the Brown Theatre as part of the orKIDStra series, sponsored by YUM! Pre-concert activities will begin at 10 a.m. 


To GET TICKETS and find out more about Louisville Orchestra performances call 502.584.7777 or go to LouisvilleOrchestra.org.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: The 35th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays presents "Edith Can Shoot Things And Hit Them" by A. Rey Pamatmat

Teresa Avia Lim portrays the titular character in Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.
 A. Rey Pamatmat's play continues through April 2 in Actors Theatre of Louisville's Bingham Theatre as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Photo by Michael Brosilow, 2011

Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them is a sweet coming-of-age story set somewhere in early 1990s mid-America. Playwright A. Rey Pamatmat has doubtless drawn from his own feelings about being a gay Asian-American latch-key kid growing up on a farm in rural Michigan in creating the situation for his three characters. The first person we encounter is twelve year old Edith, played with subtlety and humor by Teresa Avia Lim. Edith, accompanied by her large stuffed frog, prowls the farm like a feral cat protecting its territory, which includes her 16 year old brother Kenny, played by John Norman Schneider. Together, brother and sister live in their abandoned family home--an isolated farm somewhere in flyover country, sans parents or adult intervention. Enter Benji, played by Cory Michael Smith. The same age as a Kenny, Benji lives a more mainstream version of the American dream with dad and mom at home, chores, and church. The only sophomores in pre-calculas class the become friends and are eventually drawn together as lovers. Bereft of role models these bookish boys search for answers in comic books, the dictionary and medical texts.

Originally Pamatmat thought he would pursue a career in acting, but found few parts for Asian men outside the stereotypical. A class assignment led him to create his own opportunities, which he now shares with others. In an interview with Mik Mrocynski published in Inside Actors 35th Humana Festival of New American Plays Pamatmat discussed his predilection for ensemble casts. Edith follows this style giving equal voice to the needs and input of each character. Director May Adrales and her design team have exploited the opportunities afforded them by the Bingham theatre's ovular configuration. By fixing home-base solidly in the center of the stage, as it is in the psyches of the characters, Adrales frees the peripheries for exploration of self and the world outside.

Though Pamatmat's characters face a number of potentially overwhelming situations including the physical loss of a parent and abandonment by the other, conflicts and confusion over emerging sexuality, betrayal, and the dread of absolute freedom; Kenny, Benji and Edith meet and overcome each obstacle with a Matheresque frown and a quick epiphany that allows them to move serenely onward. In this A. Rey Pamatmat is a kind of neo-expressionist--less concerned with problem solving and more interested in the internal development of his characters. On the surface nothing much has changed at the end of Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them. Internally, however, Kenny, Benji and Edith have grown substantially in their understanding of themselves and their place in the world. They have established a new balance of power with the world outside and come to a true understanding that to choose inaction is itself an action with consequences.

The cast of this show are to be congratulated on their fearlessness and nuanced approach to the script. The opening night audience was clearly won over by their brilliant performance and I anticipate a strong run. If you don't already have tickets for Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them you had better get them quickly. Call 502.584.1205 or go to www.actorstheatre.org.
Cory Michael Smith (L) and John Norman Schneider (R) creating the roles of Benji and Kenny in A. Rey Pamatmat's Edith Can Shoot Straight and Hit Things. At Actors Theatre of Louisville through April 2 as part of the 35th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. Photo by Michael Brosilow, 2011.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: The 35th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays presents Elemeno Pea by Molly Smith Metzler

A Buffalo Bills fan lands in the backfield of the Martha's Vineyard home team.
(LtoR) Daniel Pearce as Ethan, Cassie Beck as Devon and Sara Surrey as Michaela in Elemeno Pea
Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville, 2011
Photo by Joe Geinert

Do Not Miss This Play! In preparation for my first interview with playwright Molly Metzler Smith back in January I took the opportunity to read a draft of Elemeno Pea. I was immediately taken by the characters and the richness of her storytelling. In the intervening months she has made significant adjustments that are all to the good. This is the kind of play that has made The Humana Festival of New America Plays such an important part of the international theatre community. To date three Pulitzer Prize winning plays and a finalist have come out of the Actors Theatre of Louisville festival, along with scores of published works. That Elemeno Pea will have a life after Louisville seems a sure bet and it wouldn't surprise me to hear a few years from now that it is a contender for major awards.

In his 1926 short story The Rich Boy F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observed of the very rich, "They are different from you and me." This is obviously true in terms of their habits, and great wealth like chronic illness, or relentless tragedy shapes any person's views and priorities; but the story Metzler Smith tells in Elemeno Pea rather demonstrates the truth of Irish columnist and educator Mary Colum's less famous comment to Ernest Hemingway that the only difference between the rich and other people is that they have more money. The genius of Smith Metzler's play lies partially in her ability to show us that even among "the rich," as in any community, there are nuances understood within the tribe. 
The action of Smith Metzler's play is set in a Martha's Vineyard guest house belonging to a nouveau riche advertising executive, Peter and his "trophy wife" Michaela. Scenic designer Michael B. Raiford has created a set that reflects the home owner's attempt at carless opulence, enhanced by lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal's subtly in creating a sense of the sea and sky beyond the balcony that dominates the back of the stage. This is an invaluable contribution since the story is told in real time, without intermission. 

Although we never meet the "meticulous" read "control freak" and fickle Peter, his presence surrounds the action of the play like a proscenium. Discovering the characters is key to the enjoyment and impact of Elemeno Pea and there is little I could relate about the story that would not undermine your experience. So let it suffice for me to give my best to the wonderful cast who deliver uniformly outstanding performances and to director Davis McCallum for his masterful handling in presenting the pathos and humor of Smith Metzler's script. 

Elemeno Pea is not a play about people who have money--lots and lots of money. It's a story about us and how circumstances, our reactions to life and the choices we make irrevocably change us into the people we are; people we are sometimes forced to be for a greater good. This is a story of unexamined lives and the little lies we tell ourselves to get through the day; it's a story about that day when our ship runs aground and we grab up the wreckage  to keep from drowning. Traumatic events are great levelers and sometimes expose a hero among the hoi polloi. That is what makes Elemeno Pea great theatre and that is why you should not allow this play to leave town without experiencing it for yourself.
(LtoR) Kimberly Parker Green as Simone and Sara Surrey as Michaela in Elemeno Pea
Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville 2011
Photo by Michael Brosilow

Elemeno Pea runs through April 3 in the Pamela Brown auditorium at Actors Theatre of Louisville. For tickets call the box office at 502.584.1205 or go to www.actorstheatre.org for more the 35th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.


Come back soon and you will have an opportunity to see a video interview with the playwright.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: The Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company production of Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well"

Kelly Moore, J. Barrett Cooper, and Mike Slaton star in Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well. Through March 19 at Walden Theatre, 1123 Payne Street. Tickets are $15. Performances: March 9--12, 14, 16--18 at 7:30 p.m. and March 19 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Now that Showtime has wrapped The Tudors maybe they would be interested in. . .The Elizabethans! My idea for the first episode is sort of I Love Lucy at the Globe Theatre. Beautiful scheming women, an undeserving recalcitrant man who gets the girl instead of the drubbing he has worked so hard to earn. As usual Shakespeare has anticipated me by more than 500 years with his problematic All's Well That Ends Well, which itself is based on one of Boccaccio's short stories in his mid-fourteenth century collection The Decameron.
The Savage Rose production of Shakespeare's play opened last night on the Nancy Niles Sexton stage of Walden Theatre. In keeping with the authenticity artistic director J. Barrett Cooper is seeking for his company the scenery was suggestive and flexible, the props few, the costumes beautiful and characteristic. It is evident that Cooper focused his attention primarily on his actors' interpretation of the language. This successful strategy convincingly transported the audience from the small black box theatre to the French countryside, the court in Paris and Florentine battlefields.
Originally conceived, I believe, as a comedy All's Well That Ends Well has been labeled a "problem play." The difficulty lies primarily in the character of Count Bertram, played here by Mike Slaton, and the slavish devotion of Helena, the orphaned daughter of the family doctor portrayed by Kelly Moore. Bertram is the definition of a cad and an extremely unsympathetic protagonist. Helena, on the other hand is so wise and beautiful it is difficult to understand what she sees in the nobleman, noble in name only. Both Slaton and Moore have made good choices for their characters to overcome these challenges and with a little more risk on their parts as actors could deliver outstanding performances. J. Barrett Cooper who plays both the King of France and Interpreter sets the bar for the company both as an actor and director. A physical actor Cooper's best often comes out in his facial expressions and body language; he is a master of subtle embellishment that enhances the poetry of Shakespeare's lines but never impinges.
Six years after introducing Falstaff to the world in Henry IV, part 1 Shakespeare gives us Parolles, a follower of Bertram. Like his predecessor Parolles is a knave and a coward, but lacks the genuine love for his ward that makes us, in turn, love him. Neill Robertson, fighting a distractingly bad hair piece on opening night, gives us a comic villain an audience can love to hate. Robertson's comic timing, business, and turn of phrase are remarkable and well-worth the price of admission, which could be seen as a sinister compliment considering the tickets are so inexpensive. Parolles's sparring matches with the old lord Lafew, well-played by Andrew Epstein, are among the funniest moments of the evening. I could have wished that Parolles's changed circumstances at the end were more evident in his attire, but this is probably a budgetary consideration rather than an artistic one.
If there was a disappointment to the evening it would be in Laurene Scalf's handling of the Countess of Roussillion, Bertram's mother. This is one of the greatest female characters in all of Shakespeare offering an actor a virtuosic opportunity to explore. Scalf gives a yeomanly performance hinting at a greater interpretation than she produced opening night.

I don't give ratings, but I will say that J. Barrett Cooper and company have created a wonderful evening of theatre that should not be missed.

All's Well That Ends Well runs through March 19. Tickets for most performances are $15 and may be purchased at the door (cash/checks). For more about this production and the Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company go to www.savagerosetheatre.com.

This is the final production of the company's second full season and I look forward to announcing their third at www.Arts-Louisville.com which will debut on or before April 10. Check this space for more about Savage Rose and the Play Reading Series Words, Words, Words that premieres April 3 with Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac.

Monday, March 7, 2011

35th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays: Maple and Vine

Photo Credit: 
Jeanine Serralles as Ellen, Kate Turnbull as Katha in Maple & Vine
Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville  2011
Photo by Michael Brosilow
How did we get here? Is this where we wanted to go? Is there a way back? If there is should we take it? Can happiness and contentment be manufactured? I've been thinking a lot about these questions and discussing them with my wife Susan in the wake of our latest Humana Festival adventure Maple and Vine. The show is playwright Jordan Harrison's fourth Humana Festival entry since his debut in 2003. 
During the past 24 hours I have gone round and round with Harrison's presumptions, or what I assume to be his presumptions, regarding race, sexuality, the role of women, and Utopian blueprinting. That is certainly one measure of successful theatre. I finally decided that some of the presumptions represented in Maple and Vine may not actually be those of the playwright (watch this space for an interview with Jordan Harrison to find out). 
Harrison has created in his play an opportunity for the main characters, Katha, (Kate Turnbull) and Ryu, (Peter Kim), to leave behind their hectic modern lives in the big city for a recreated universe where it is always 1955. The play is directed by Anne Kauffman who initiated this play with The Civilians, a theatre company specializing in documentary theatre. Harrison was brought in after the company had already conducted more than 100 interviews with people in a variety of separatist communities including the Amish, cloistered nuns, and Civil War reenactors to format the work for the stage. Ultimately he left behind most of the documentary material that inspired his vision for an original work that explores the complexities of a lifestyle bounded and contained by the strict expectations of a community. 
Harrison addresses some of the obvious challenges in attracting people back to 1955--Ryu is a Japanese American in a Mixed Race marriage with a white woman. He gives up his medical practice to fold cardboard boxes. But, what does he gain? Part of the allure, as Harrison's dialogue puts it forward, of living in 1955 is the "rich subtext" created by suppression and guilt. As his wife embraces the idea of stuffing her reactions to a personal tragedy that afflicts them at the beginning of the play, she grants Ryu emotional control and the ability to "take charge" at home. His inability to cope with Katha's emotions in an equal partnership are hinted at early on. 
It would be easy to point out the shortcomings of 1955: virulent racism, unimpugned violence against women and children, the societal hatred and self-loathing of gays and lesbians. Unless you are a heterosexual, Christian, white male there is very little incentive to consider a return to the "golden age" of the mid-twentieth century. But, at a time when some  on the social right are touting the advantages of an imaginary America of 1955 as the solution to our current shortcomings, perhaps Maple and Vine is just the kind of story needed to remind us why we changed.
Photo Credit: 
Peter Kim as Ryu, Kate Turnbull as Katha in Maple&Vine
Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville  2011
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Maple and Vine continues through April 3 in Actors Theatre of Louisville's Bingham Theatre as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Special ticket prices are available for Louisville area residents who want to participate in this international event. Call the box office at 502/584.1205 or go online www.actorstheatre.org. Next up watch for a review of Molly Smith Metzler's Elemeno Pea.






Friday, March 4, 2011

35th Annual Humana Festival of New America Plays: A Devil at Noon

Playwright Anne Washburn enjoys challenging her actors, directors, designers and audiences. I know this because she told Adrien-Alice Hansel in an interview published by Inside Actors 35th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays, "It's so engaging to watch actors rise to ridiculous demands when they're performing." She didn't specifically mention the audience, but having seen A Devil at Noon I can tell you confidently of my own certain knowledge that Anne Washburn has created a funny, thoughtful and challenging work for us.

Before I get to the actors, et al I want to give some much-deserved praise and thanks to sound designer Matt Hubbs and the unnamed techs who run the sound board. Director Steve Cosson, who is the artistic director of The Civilians--a New York company that has produced several of Washburn's earlier works, has created through the use of sound (Hubbs), Lighting (Jeff Nellis) and Media (Philip Allgeier) an opportunity for the audience to explore Washburn's ideas unimpeded. The beauty of the playwright's concept, inspired in part by science fiction author Philp K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report), and his struggle with reality as it is commonly defined, requires that the experience be presented to the audience through as few filters as possible. Cosson and the cast of A Devil at Noon make extensive use of mime to give us entry to the character's inner world. This is an elegant solution to the intrinsic problem created by Washburn's concept of "Pleasurable alienation," the attempt to capture the character's own lack of understanding and their attempts to make sense of an increasingly complex world.

It is rare in my experience for a cast to give an impeccable performance during previews. If they have the lines down and execute the blocking with some precision you can label it a success. Character refinement usually comes later. The cast of A Devil at Noon will almost certainly continue to make discoveries about their characters that will enhance the performance, but on opening night they were already transparent guides to the soul of the play. Led by Joseph Adams as the Philip K. Dick-inspired novelist and Rebecca Hart as Lois, the girl who shows up inexplicably on his doorstep the company presents a beautifully choreographed dance between intersecting planes of possibility.

Actors Theatre of Louisville artistic director Marc Masterson has chosen a colorful downbeat for the festival. I look forward to speaking with him about that and sharing the interview with you hear in the near future. Check here during the next several weeks and you will have an opportunity to meet playwright Anne Washburn, Director Steve Cosson and others involved in the Humana Festival of New American plays.

A Devil at Noon runs through April 3, 2011 in the Bingham Theatre of Actors Theatre of Louisville. Special rates are available for residents to be part of this international event. For more information go to www.actorstheatre.org or call the box office at 502.584.1205.

Photo Credit:
Rebecca Hart in A Devil at Noon
Actors Theatre of Louisville, Humana Festival of New American Plays 2011
Photo by Alan Simons