October 3, 2015

Karen Zacarías' Destiny of Desire in 3D

As part of the Women's Voices Theater Festival, the Arena Stage at the Kreeger Theater is premiering Karen Zacarías' Destiny of Desire, a comic melodrama with edge. Zacarías' laugh out loud comedy is based on the telenovela, but specific to the Mexican approach, which in the 1970s and 1980s pioneered using this limited run version of the TV soap opera to shape social behavior, such as influencing people on the ideas of family planning. The Dresser, who saw this two-hour (plus 15-minute intermission) performance on October 2, 2015, says edge because Zacarías embraces a Brechtian and Shakespearean frame.

Typically the story of the telenovela involves a convoluted set of relationships. In Destiny of Desire two couples--one rich, one poor--show up in the ill-equipped hospital of Bellarica, Mexico, to give birth to what will be for each their only child. Fabiola Castillo (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), the rich mother who nearly dies in childbirth, rejects her sickly underweight daughter and demands custody of the healthy baby girl born to the farmer Ernesto del Rio (Carlos Gómez) and his wife. Destiny-of-Desire-Birth.jpgShe bribes Doctor Jorge Ramiro Mendoza (Oscar Ceville) so he can buy equipment for the hospital but Sister Sonia (Marian Licha) is morally outraged and wants to stop this from happening. However, the nun gives in because the doctor says the healthy baby will get a better life with the Castillos who own the local casino while the sick baby who will die from a weak heart will be replaced by the farmer and his wife with another baby. To sweeten the deal, Fabiola promises to hire the poor mother to help care for the stolen daughter. Most of the action of the play takes place 18 years later when both daughters have reached maturity and are ripe for falling in love.destiny-2Girls.jpg

While the melodrama unfolds with the return of Armando Castillo's banished son Sebastian (Nicholas Rodriguez) and the revelation that Dr. Mendoza is in love with Hortensia del Rio (the farmer's wife as played by Rayanne Gonzales), running commentary voices over with such facts as how much money it costs to raise a child in the United States of America and how many Americans are waiting for heart transplants. Yes, Victoria Maria del Rio (Elia Saldaña) needs a heart transplant.

The Brechtian influences can be seen even before the play officially begins as the actors congregate on stage changing into their costumes and interacting emotionally with each other, sometimes showing what a particular actor doesn't want to do as a particular character. Bertolt Brecht's philosophy of epic theater was to shake up the practice of theater arts and one way he promoted this was to have the actor simultaneous be him- or herself as well as the character. The running social commentary throughout Destiny of Desire plays to Brecht's predilection to find ways to keep the audience awake and motivated to think through what is happening on stage so that when the audience leaves the theater, they will act on the ideas and issues presented. Brecht's brand of staging comes through in Destiny of Desire in a barebones set that shows actors and musicians waiting in the wings along with the disorienting use of filmy curtains that move rapidly across the stage. There is nothing static about Zacarías' play.

While Shakespeare was known for convoluted relationships, he was also playing to the audience of his day by feeding them often amusingly presented details involving current events. Zacarías drops in such details and one especially memorable dig against a current Republican frontrunner for president of the United States was packaged as "not the same Donald Trump beauty pageant." The Dresser tips her hat to the playwright for just flashing the annoying reality TV would-be-president mogul without taking attention away from her play, which is both comic and dead serious. The end scene of Destiny of Desire has a decided echo of Shakespeare's As You Like It that ranges from kissing cousins, group weddings, and a woman getting the final say.

The acting is sublime in a way only Latino actors can get the delivery of words, song, and body language right for this particular play without over- or underdoing what is necessary. Kudos to José Luis Valenzuela for outstanding direction. The Dresser was also pleased with the original music by Rosino Serrano and the choreography by Robert Barry Fleming. Costume Designer Julie Weis absolutely got the Dresser's attention in the first dance number where almost everyone. including the men wore attention-getting shoes. The red suede loafers worn by Armando Castillo (Cástulo Guerra) trumped the scene where Victoria del Rio wearing Pilar Castillo's ("daughter" of Armando as played by Esperanza America) evening clothes loses a high-heel shoe in a Cinderella sequence.

So much went on in this play, the Dresser would like to go back and see it again. In fact, that Brechtian stop-action-and-restart technique used in Destiny of Desire was something the Dresser would have loved to impose herself to see exactly how certain scenes flowed so ably.

In "Watching Godzilla in 3D," Miles David Moore talks about the interaction immediacy between audience and monster movie made in three dimensions. What Karen Zacarias does with Destiny of Desire is move audience consciousness into dimensional space that transforms the often trancelike effect of theater to an immediacy that is visceral, such that people around the Dresser were clapping or cheering whenever a moment on stage arose to illicit such reactions. The Dresser thinks Zacarias achieved the 3D effect for her audience.


This is your painless dose of shock and awe:
A mile of scaled and sinewed CGI
Arising from a pixel sea. Each claw
And fang engulfs the conflagrating sky.
Tokyo, Las Vegas, San Francisco crumble
In tune to Dolby's all-surrounding roar
As you applaud the glass and stone that tumble
Down from the screen and vanish toward the floor.

You're CGI yourself. On cue you smile
With all the film's insipid hireling crowd
At this tyrannosaurus-crocodile
Whose gaze you're primed to say is brave and proud.
That stomps back to its ocean, having killed
A world you didn't make, and can't rebuild.

by Miles David Moore
published in Poetry Alive, The Iota Poetry Series, 20th Anniversary Reading

"Watching Godzilla in 3D" copyright © 2015 Miles David Moore

Photos: C.-Stanley-Photography

Bookmark and Share

September 1, 2015

A Midsummer's Night Rave

The Dresser is going on the record to say that Washington, DC's Shakespeare Theatre Company's 25th Anniversary Free For All production A Midsummer Night's Dream that runs from September 1 through September 13, 2015, belongs in the rave category. Shh, she saw the current dress rehearsal of this 2012-2013 revival!

MIDSUMMERS.jpgAdam Green as Puck is outstanding in how he stands. His body language is cause enough for raving. However, Director Ethan McSweeny has conceived the fight in the forest between the fairy-dusted lovers Hermia (Chasten Harmon), Lysander (Stephen Stocking), Helena (Julia Ogilvie), and Demetrius (Ralph Adriel Johnson) in what the Dresser sees as mad mosh pit rave scene where ecstasy is messing with youthful heads. In addition his circus like portrayal of Titania's (Sara Topham) fairies who pop out of many trapdoors in the stage and swing like acrobats from ceiling chandeliers, along with Titania sleeping in an elevated grand piano, reminds the Dresser of what Jean Cocteau did in his film La Belle et La Bete. And certainly Bottom (Tom Alan Robbins), when Puck crowns the pompous weaver with an ass's head, becomes Tatania's beloved monster!

It's an enchanting evening running two hours and 45 minutes and if you are lucky you will snag a ticket.

Salvation is what Theseus, Duke of Athens, grants the madcap lovers of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In a way it's all about appearance and what is acceptable in the milieu in which one live. W. T. Pfefferie 's poem "Salvation" speaks to Shakespeare's Dream from the 21st century.


This place is cool.
This is my coolest shirt.

Let me see what I can salvage
from past scattered moments.

I once believed I was a dream.
A felt hat worn by a rakish angel.

But what I thought was salvation
was really only car wrecks.

Lucky for me, I believe in redemption,
in sins forgiven.

A balloon rising over sandy mountains,
a paper heart cut with crooked scissors.

Something that keeps me warm,
on this, the coolest day of the year.

by W. T. Pfefferie
from My Coolest Shirt

My Coolest Shirt Copyright © 2015 W. T. Pfefferie

Bookmark and Share

August 9, 2015

The Righteous Girls & Their Composers

If you were a current-day working composer of classical music and the young but technically accomplished piano-flute duo known as the Righteous Girls approached you for a commission--that you would write a composition for them, the Dresser would say leap at the opportunity.

On August 8, 2015, at Washington, DC's Atlas Performing Arts Center, the Dresser heard flautist Gina Izzo and pianist Erika Dohi play ten pieces, all by different composers, from their award-winning debut album Gathering Blue.GatherBlue.jpg

The Girls, dressed in lacy black tights with black camisole-like tops, began modestly with David Molk's "Edge," a work with electronics that features a staccato flute sounding like bird Morse Code with bass accents from the piano. With a more pronounced electronic soundscape, "Anzu" by Ambrose Akinmusire (the only California-based composer in an otherwise all New York constituency) floats momentarily into a passage reminiscent of George Gershwin's "Summertime" from the jazz opera Porgy and Bess. Christian Carey's "For Milton" is a tribute to the late contemporary classical composer Milton Babbitt and it offers a furtive romp of serialism with accents of jazz. The Dresser admits that only one hearing of this piece is not enough to appreciate its complexity.

Even with key mashing (several keys depressed into a noisy crash), Randy Woolf's "Nobody Move" was a favorite composition. Dohi was fully engaged with the scale runs, syncopation, boogie woogie intensities, and the changing tempos. At the end of this piece, Izzo makes her flute sound like we have entered a pinball arcade. The Righteous Girls know how to dramatize as well as rise to the challenge of such experimental music.

For Jonathan Ragonese's "non-poem 1" Izzo plays an alto flute. The sound is rich and sultry with slow piano accents. Andy Akiho's "KARakurENAI" has a shimmering and haunting sound partially created by the pianist manipulating the piano harp. It's a piece with a plucking sound that comes across sounding like restorative rain.

Mike Perdue's "Entr'acte" relies heavily on dubbing because it is for two flutes and two prepared pianos and all the parts are executed by Izzo and Dohi. The Dresser thought this piece would make good accompaniment for a sci-fi film.

"Accumulated Gestures" by Vijay Iyer is a complex soundscape that was apparently so emotionally intense for the pianist that Dohi wrapped her left leg around her pedal-playing right as if to anchor herself to the piano bench. The flautist meanwhile provided percussive sounds with heavily bursts of breath. Lots of drama in this piece.

The final piece of this just-over-one-hour concert was Pascal Le Boeuf's "Girls." This is another prepared piano piece but also where the pianist throws her whole body into the keys using a fist, elbow, or forearm to create sound. It's jazzed and full of thunder.

Like the sleek agile big cat of Vladimir Levchev's poem "Leopard," the Righteous Girls are a rare sighting in a sea of standard chamber music concerts. They deserve bigger audiences than the 20 or so attending their Atlas performance. So the Dresser who knows that Izzo and Dohi have a breakneck concert schedule advises that they network vigorously with the power brokers of new music so that they won't be consumed by an unknowing vacuum.


This poem is
a leopard skin.

It could be
of an aristocratic house,
of a medicine-man,
of the moths in a museum.

This poem is the memory
of a rare jungle specimen.

Burned by hungry farmers,
the jungle disappears
day after day.

Vladimir Levchev
from Black Book of the Endangered Species

Black Book of the Endangered Species copyright © 1999 Vladimir Levchev

Bookmark and Share

July 20, 2015

Ghosts of Versailles: Bigger or Smaller, Comic or Tragic?

The only thing more expensive than opera is war as the old kernel of wisdom reflects and therein lies the most compelling reason for scaling back composer John Corigliano's and librettist William M. Hoffman's opera spectacle The Ghosts of Versailles. Having premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991, the original full-scale opera, which, by the way, was produced in February 2015 by L.A. Opera with the American opera star Patricia Racette and Broadway powerhouse Patti Lupone, has an enormous orchestra (L.A. Opera had an onstage orchestra and a pit orchestra) and massive chorus.

For four performances in July 2015, Wolf Trap Opera at the Barns of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia, presented a scaled-back version of Ghosts. Director Louisa Muller uses Opera Theatre of St. Louis' compact score that put only 44 musicians on stage.


The Dresser is still processing this wildly extravagant libretto parsed in two acts and running just over three hours with one intermission. This is a case of operas within an opera directed on stage by the dead opera playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (author of the Figaro stories The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro). Beaumarchais is obsessively trying to change history so that the tribunal of the French Revolution does not behead Marie Antoinette. So what emerges is Figaro and Suzanna getting mixed up with Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette who are all in Beaumarchais's play but also in Hoffman's libretto as anchoring characters watching all the multiple stage performances.

Act I is opera buffa and includes a scene where Turkish government official Suleyman Pasha entertains the English Ambassador at a party where fake belly dancing occurs. The lead singer-dancer is over-the-top outrageous so who, except the Dresser, would notice the silly choreography? Need I say that Patti Lupone riding a hot pink elephant got this role in the recent L.A. Opera production? But what boggles the mind is that some how Figaro infiltrates this party dressed as a harem girl so he can gather intelligence related to his former boss Count Almaviva who is being plotted against by the French Revolution villain Bégearss. And who is Bégearss? He is a character that appears in Beaumarchais' third Figaro play called The Guilty Mother which Hoffman uses to compare Marie Antoinette and Countess Almaviva.

Act II tackles the serious problem of Bégearss imprisoning Count Almaviva and everyone associated with him including his wife, her illegitimate son Léon, his illegitimate daughter Florestine as well as Figaro's Suzanna. So the playwright Beaumarchais must get Figaro to rescue them and also rescue Marie Antoinette. The Dresser hasn't mentioned that Léon and Florestine are in love but the Count, enraged with his countess over her affair with Cherubino and their child (Léon), has promised Florestine to Bégearss. If that doesn't make your head spin, then consider the music which embraces neoclassical, Romantic, aleatoric (improvisatory) and atmospheric sounds.

The verdict isn't in for the Dresser on this opera but she will say the only boring moment was a short interlude done with a closed curtain (the orchestra was then out of sight) and not a player on the static stage. The Wolf Trap singers performed well but not in the Dresser's mind remarkably. In the end, the scaled-down version of The Ghosts of Versailles makes complete sense because it allows for more productions.

Ghosts 400X250.jpg

Grace Cavalieri's poem "The Day They Gave Husbands Away" from her new collection The Man Who Got Away brings resonance to the scenic complexity of The Ghosts of Versailles. Cavalieri has the ability to meld the serious and comic together such that the emotional load is both heavy and light. This is what Ghosts attempts to achieve with its buffa first act and its bloody and wrenching second act which ends with Marie Antoinette telling Beaumarchais she cannot be saved and he cannot alter the course of history.


The curtains are blowing the trees through
...........................................the roof
The chill comes through the room
.........pushing the curtains aside
People are hugging outside laughing
.........asking for a ride
The don't know someone is dying
The curtains are red, the color of blood
......... blood lost from the
body's thirst
From the wind comes a note from the sound of his throat
F minor blowing the curtains
................................the color of blood
There are pills on the floor
The door knob breaks off
The fan blows the curtains sharply between them
She twists her hair
......................She rushes to find him
But the curtain has dropped sharply between them
................................Perhaps she will see him
on a Monday across the street in the rain
........or riding by in a cab
...............................or on a Tuesday.

Grace Cavalieri
from The Man Who Got Away

The Man Who Got Away copyright © 2015 Grace Cavalieri

Bookmark and Share

May 21, 2015

Resurrecting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

"Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where's it going to end?"
Tom Stoppard


Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead premiered on Broadway in 1968. While the bantering dialogue on subjects of life, death, communication, and reality between the principal characters seems clearly influenced by Samuel Beckett's 1953 play En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot), the Folger Shakespeare Library's production (seen May 17, 2015) under the direction of Aaron Posner brims with current day spirit in such lines as "Fire! I'm demonstrating the misuse of free speech" and in the rapidly delivered poetic chatter that seems much like rap.

The Dresser also adds that Stoppard's play, written in London beginning in 1964 when he was only 29 years old, reminds her of Leslie Bricuisse and Anthony Newly's 1964 musical The Roar of Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. In both theatrical works, games are played that emphasize the role of chance and how the underdog can never win because a higher power has control.

Stoppard's story line spins off from Shakespeare's Hamlet. The tragedy of the Danish prince is re-visioned through the perspective of Hamlet's friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are summoned to spy on Hamlet by the murderous new king Claudius, brother of Hamlet's father and usurper of the young Hamlet's right to his father's throne. Posner divides the action between what looks to be an attic in Act I and a ship in Act II. Both sets have perches which suggest precarious thrones that either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern climb up to.Stage.jpg

Helen Q. Huang's costume designs are remarkable in the way that they identify which players belong together. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wear winged sweaters that zip diagonally up the front and include a hood. When Adam Wesley Brown as Guildenstern appears on stage enclosed in his sweater with hood up, the Dresser could not help but associate both characters with the teenage boys that move around the streets of America today. Hamlet (Biko Eisen-Martin), Ophelia (Brynn Tucker), Gertrude (Kimberly Schraf), and Claudius (Craig Wallace) wear a mix of gauzy and opaque materials where the gauze suggests exposure and that they are not long for this world. The tragedians led by Ian Merrill Peakes wear clunky costumes with accessories that call attention to themselves as one would expect for actors. For example, Peakes wears a codpiece prominently under his belt buckle.

Despite identity confusion between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (sometimes even they no longer know who is who), Romell Witherspoon as Rosencrantz and Adam Wesley Brown as Guildenstern create two easily distinguishable characters with their own ways of moving and responding. As actors, each brought his character to life with appealing inflection.

Artifice is the landscape of an actor's world and Ian Merrill Peakes as the lead Tragedian demonstrated from the first moment he appeared on stage to tell the audience to turn off our cell phones that he was a master of the art of posturing. Likewise Biko Eisen-Martin as Hamlet is the essence of crazy. Actually, his body language and strange hairstyle (shaved at the lower half and long stand-up bushy hair on top of his head) made the Dresser equate this character with Jerry Seinfeld's wild friend Kramer and that in turn made the Dresser see Guildenstern as Jerry Seinfeld and Rosencrantz as Jerry's friend George Costanza. The production, running May 12 to June 21, provokes not only belly laughs but also haunting thoughts about the human condition.

Jamison Crabtree's poem "to prevent pain," seems to echo Hamlet and his relationship with Ophelia. Hamlet causes Ophelia great pain, so great that she commits suicide, but he seems inured to it.


Cause pain. Be first, be fast. Oh yes--at last a way to strip the desperate
from the landscape; a way to put yourself back into it. To kiss me
would be cruel.

So kiss me and wake to the mice that startle the brush; to someone
who kneels down to touch your lips with a finger; then with their own
faint mouth.

But there were neither hips nor skin, not even your own--there was
a tree and the tree and the night were tressed, all knotted and gnarled
with stars.

Tonight, the forest is empty of its little prey; they dine at the feet of
the cities, the hunters feather the trees. There are no fingertips to slender
the constellations from the branches. No callused sky.

And so you want to die but if you want to die, you won't. But you will
you will you will calls out the owl. Calls out the owl to the tiny wild.

Jamison Crabtree
from rel[am]ent

rel[am]ent Copyright © 2015 Jamison Crabtree

Photos: Teresa Wood

Bookmark and Share

February 24, 2015

When Talking Heads Are Sisters

The Dialogues of the Carmelites, with words and music by Francis Poulenc and based after a play by Georges Bernanos is a through-composed opera with accessible music that has occasional flourishes common to film music. On February 23, 2015, the Dresser saw Washington National Opera's company premiere production under the direction of WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and the baton of Antony Walker leading the WNO orchestra.


The libretto rendered in clunky English (but approved by Poulenc as the official English translation) concerns Blanche de la Force (ably sung by Canadian soprano Layla Claire) a young aristocratic woman born in fear transferred from her mother whose carriage was attacked by an angry mob. The attack resulted in Blanche's birth and her mother's death. The historic setting of this story is the French Revolution. In an act of courage, Blanche tells the Marquis de la Force, her father, (American bass-baritone Alan Held) that she will join the order of the Sisters of Carmel.

Act I, which sets up convent life for Blanche including a budding friendship with a jovial novitiate named Constance (American soprano Ashley Emerson), is overall static but greatly enlivened by Emerson's performance in the laundry scene. Much to Blanche's horror, Constance tells Blanche that they will die together. Act I also includes Blanche's visit to the dying prioress Madame de Croissy (American mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick), who considers Blanche her late-life daughter. The prioress tells Blanche that the convent is not a refuge from life but a house of prayer. While this mother superior has dealt with death every day of her life, she dies in terror mirroring the death of Blanche's biological mother. While Zajick gives a wrenching performance, the Dresser suspects something more tactile involving Blanche might have helped to ratchet up the intensity of the prioress' death and to move act I from its scenes of talking heads.

While Act I has the beautiful a cappella Ave Maria sung by the sisters for departed Madame de Croissy, Act II has much more musical variety. The opening scene moves into an impassioned duet between Blanche and her brother, the Chevalier de la Force (American tenor Shawn Mathey). Mathey as the Chevalier is impressive in laying out his plea to his beloved sister to flee France with him before she is swept up by the revolutionaries and killed. Claire as the beleaguered overprotected little sister holds her ground and pushes back telling her brother she feels safe with the Carmelite community. The last scene where all the sister go one by one to the guillotine is colored by a lush musical composition unlike any other in the opera.Carmelites7End.jpg

For the Dresser, what stands out for this production is the overall excellent performances by the entire cast, the moving sets that seem classical in their contours, and the use of light to emphasize shadow. Carmelites4Shadow.jpg

In Belle Waring's poem "Baby Random," the reader meets a nurse who serves those who cannot serve themselves, including an AIDs-afflicted infant and doctor-in-training who is scared about causing this child more harm. Like The Dialogues of the Carmelites, Waring's poem is about fear, courage, and nightmares.


Baby Random

tries a nosedive, kamikaze, 

when the intern flings open the isolette.

The kid almost hits the floor. I can see the headline: 

DOC DUMPS AIDS TOT. Nice save, nurse,

Why thanks. Young physician: "We have to change

his tube." His voice trembles, six weeks

out of school. I tell him: "Keep it to a handshake,

you'll be OK." Our team resuscitated

this Baby Random, birth weight

one pound, eyelids still fused. Mother's

a junkie with HIV. Never named him.

Where I work we bring back terminal preemies,

No Fetus Can Beat Us. That's our motto. I have

a friend who was thrown into prison. Where do birds

go when they die? Neruda wanted to know. Crows

eat them. Bird heaven? Imagine the racket.

When Random cries, petit fish on shore, nothing

squeaks past the tube down his pipe. His ventilator's

a high-tech bellows that kicks in & out. Not

up to the nurses. Quiet: a pigeon's outside,

color of graham crackers, throat oil on a wet street, 

wings spattered white, perched out of the rain.

I have friends who were thrown into prison, Latin

American. Tortured. Exiled. Some people have

courage. Some people have heart. Corazon.

After a shift like tonight, I have the usual

bad dreams. Some days I avoid my reflection in store

windows. I just don't want anyone to look at me.

Belle Waring

First published in Off course: A Literary Journey

Copyright © 2000 Belle Waring

Photos: Scott Suchman

Bookmark and Share

December 21, 2014

The Little Prince, A Family Affair

1 - Henry Wager-Prince--Christian Bowers-Pilot.jpg

Suppose the little person in your life demanded three reasons why he or she should go with you to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center to see Washington National Opera's The Little Prince. You could say the star of the show is a little boy who comes from another planet to help an airplane pilot who crashes in the Sahara Desert (on December 19, 2014, the Dresser saw boy soprano Henry Wager perform fluidly in this demanding role), the red fox has her own trapdoors in the stage floor (Aleksandra Romano knew how to make the fox head worn on top of her head communicate), and the walking baobab trees had fingery roots and branches.

Suppose the teenager in your life demanded three reasons why he or she should go with you to see composer Rachel Portman and librettist Nicholas Wright's interpretation of that French kid's book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. You could say the words are in English, the snake looks and acts like a vampire with an absurdly long tail (tenor John Kapusta gives a standout performance), and the fox hunters look like blimps who have no idea how to use their rifles. This should please the vegans and vegetarians.

Suppose the man of the family be he husband, uncle, or grandpa says, what's in this for me? You could say The Rose (soprano Jacqueline Echols) and her sisters are fascinatingly sexy. While they all wear green tights with large thorns protruding, their silky petals open and close into a luscious ruby bud. Echols' vocal line is both challenging and engaging in the way any siren would maneuver and she delivers with appropriate passion.3 -WagerPrince--Lisa Williamson-The Rose.jpg

Suppose mother, sister, aunt--the ones who love the sophistication of music theater and opera just want a profile. You could say the baritone role of The Pilot (the Dresser heard Christian Bowers) adds a dimension of earthy warmth against the angelic voice of The Little Prince. Portman's pretty music (which is between music theater and opera) is melancholic and glimmering in a celestial way. There's quite a bit of harp and bell accents. You could also say that Washington National Opera Children's Chorus is an adorable community of talented youth who get to wear their pajamas while they parade through the audience onto the stage. Kudos to conductor Nicole Paiement for keeping all the musicians and singers nimbly together.

Director Francesca Zambello has made sure this is family opera at its best because everyone will find something to marvel at or admire. It is a two-hour performance with one twenty-minute break. While the Dresser adores Saint-Exupéry's story, she feels the opera could stand to be a good twenty-minutes shorter without losing its good energy. This is WNO's third season of presenting family opera and by far, The Little Prince is the best for music, costumes, vocal variety and performance, and direction. In 2003, Zambello premiered this work, which was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. Therefore, the WNO sellout for the five performances in the Terrace Theater is not surprising but certainly a disappointment for those too late to get tickets.

The Little Prince is full of wise thoughts, so the Dresser will conclude with several quotes:

"Words are the source of misunderstandings."

"It is lonely when you're among people, too," said the snake.

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.

Photos: Scott Suchman

Bookmark and Share

December 4, 2014


Painterly mise-en-scène and acting perfection are hallmarks of the Washington, DC, Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. The Dresser saw Rembrandt portraits in the sepia inflection of the opening set accented by character groupings that occur throughout the entire play and include costumes not easily placed in any timeframe. Particularly, memorable were the bronze and copper-colored bouffant satin gowns worn by Rosalind (played by Zoë Waites) and Celia (Adina Verson). Jonathan Fensom's color complimenting set and costume designs give the minimalist rich brown walls of court versus the silky skirt-like painted curtains of Arden Forest a unity that moves attention to the troop of fine players.


asyouit.scottsuchman.jpgHere the Dresser pauses to note that Fensom can easily justify his approach for the painted curtains versus trees--real or fake--in these lines:

Where dwell you, pretty youth?

With this shepherdess, my sister; here in the
skirts of the forest, like fringe upon a petticoat.


Running just under three hours including one fifteen-minute intermission, Shakespeare's comic story of romantic love, family discord, political strife, a cross-dressing female, kissing girl cousins too close for comfort, and high society versus country mores is the perfect landscape for contemporary audiences as "mainstream" America passes laws to support LGBT individuals, partners, and communities. Questions about acceptable male-on-male and female-on-female contact arise frequently in this production that includes a possibly to-the-death wrestling match between Orlando (Andrew Veenstra) and Orlando's brother's wrestler Charles (Ian Bedford). Brother Oliver (Gregory Wooddell) has not treated Orlando in a manner befitting a courtier and Orlando confronted his elder brother (actually put him in a choke hold) for failing to properly educate and provide for him. So Oliver tells Charles he doesn't mind if Charles breaks Orlando's neck, except Orlando vanquishes the much bigger man.

The wrestling as directed by Fight Director Robb Hunter then spectacularly sets up other same-sex contact scenes--Orlando holding a knife to the throat of a man he meets in Arden Forest when his loyal but elderly servant collapses from hunger and Orlando is forced to find food, Rosalind suggestively kneeling between the legs of her cousin Celia as they talk face to face, and most confusing is Rosalind disguised as the boy Ganymede but, having convinced Orlando he should role play his love for Rosalind by interacting with Ganymede as if Ganymede were Rosalind. The interaction flies out of control when Ganymede passionately kisses Orlando and Orlando recoils in horror, believing a man has kissed him.Ganymede-Orlando.jpg


For the record, four overlapping groups of people play against each other:
Group 1 is Orlando & his brother Oliver (plus Orlando's servant Adam (Jeff Brooks), Oliver's servant Dennis (Luis Alberto Gonzalez) and Charles, the wrestler),
Group 2 is Rosalind, Celia, Celia father Duke Frederick (Timothy D. Stickney) (plus Touchstone (Andrew Weems), a fool to Frederick's court and servant to Celia and Rosalind),
Group 3 is Rosalind's father Duke Senior (Timothy D. Stickney, playing a dual role. The two dukes are brothers) plus his band of men that includes guitar-playing Amiens (Matthew Schleigh) an unnamed First Lord (Todd Scofield) and the moody philosopher Jaques (Derek Smith), and
Group 4 is the country people--shepherd Corin (the engaging scene stealing Happy Anderson), shepherd Silvius (Stephen Pilkington), country woman Audrey (Tara Giordano, her dirty legs marry well with her backward but charming behavior), Vicar Sir Oliver Martext (Jeff Brooks, playing a dual role), shepherdess Phoebe (Valeri Mudek, a master at alternating frowns and radiant smiles), and country fellow William (Jonathan Feuer). Moving silently between the groups until the last scene of the play is the character called Hymen (Te'La Curtis Lee), Greek god of marriage. Attenborough chooses to make this character female, have her act as servant to Rosalind, and to have her be seen throughout the play. Curtis Lee presents a striking presence in her appearance, which is unlike the other characters (her costume suggests a stereotypical Greek goddess), and the way she carries herself on her bare feet.

It is a big cast and the actors in this production, even the minor ones, make their characters memorable. Just before Rosalind delivers the epilogue that ends the play, the entire company, many of the players in bare feet, is on stage for a joyful dance that seems part traditional African and part Macarena. The Dresser takes this as a dance inspired by the barefooted Hymen, who has one foot in the "real" world of this story as Rosalind's servant and the the other foot in the magical realm of the gods. Along with the costumes of no particular period, the choreography seems to reach across the centuries that would separate modern day audiences from Shakespeare's days at the Globe Theatre.


The Dresser, who reads a lot of Gertrude Stein and knows that Stein had a deep interest in As You Like It since Stein quoted an extensive passage from Act V, Scene 2 as epigraph to her blatant lesbian novel Q.E.D., was surprised at how Steinian Attenborough's production is. While Stein is known for the influence of Pablo Picasso's and George Braque's cubism on her writing, what few people know was how broad her reach over the centuries is. In academic terms, this reach, which shockingly might take the reader back to the Middle Ages, plays to her dimensionality. Similarly, Attenborough, through his choice of set-costume designer, choreographer, composer who chooses to have his strolling musician play on a modern guitar (versus a lute), mix of ethnic players, zooms the audience forward in time. The Dresser particularly finds the scenic suggestion of classical art (Rembrandt-like and useful in depicting the court versus the country) and the abstract Forest of Eden (where the rustic lines up with the magical), particularly Steinian because it breaks logical flow.

Bookmark and Share


November 23, 2014

Balance and Dislocation: WNO Premiers Three Short Operas

On November 21, 2014, American Opera Initiative, Washington National Opera's, program to develop and produced new American operas, presented three twenty-minute operas employing the considerable talents of Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists and other established young talent including Alexandra Christoforakis and Andrew McLaughlin. Advising the composer-librettist pairs were conductor Anne Manson, composer Jake Heggie, and librettist Mark Campbell.

The Dresser's favorite and the best defined in the category of opera is "The Investment" by composer John Liberatore and librettist Niloufar Talebi. The musical opening of this opera features the rich voice of a cello quickly joined by bass, violin, flute, and percussion.

The story of "The Investment" revolves around a work of art that isn't what the husband of a couple who buys the work expected. He and his wife learn about the inspiration of the oil painting from the painter who has been invited to their house for lunch. The painter, an Iranian American, reveals that the work is a memorial to her mother who was born in Shiraz, Iran, a city of "poets and wine, gardens and nightingales." What the Dresser particularly liked about hearing these lines sung was the music and vocal performance (by soprano Raquel González) seemed infused with the song of the nightingale.

AOI 4 - Daughters of the Bloody Duke.jpg"Daughters of the Bloody Duke" by composer Jake Runestad and Librettist David Johnston is an entertaining comic piece that is a cross between opera and music theatre. On a much smaller and less complicated scale, the story of "Daughters of the Bloody Duke" reminded the Dresser of the musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which at its roots came from the ancient Roman legend of the rape of the Sabine women. In David Johnston's libretto, the story involves revenge. A man with 40 daughters commands them to marry 40 brothers and then to kill them.

Least developed musically in the Dresser's opinion but with a compelling libretto is "An American Man" by composer Rene Orth and librettist Jason Kim. The story revolves around the death of man who was a less than perfect father to a self-made man who has become rich and is running for public office and to a daughter who stayed with their father. The Dresser found the music to be more of an accent to the libretto and vocal line than a conduit holding the work together.

The Dresser considers it exciting to witness presentation of new work and to learn about the creators as well as anticipate future work from these artists. As Judith Bowles' poem "After Hopper's The Hotel Room" concludes about Edward Hopper's painting The Hotel Room and is pertinent to the WNO American Opera Initiative productions for 2014: balance and dislocation occur simultaneously such that the elements making up the works of art create their own standards and illumination.


A woman like a swimmer
at the edge of a pool
turns her back to the glare
looks toward a book,
heavy on her knees,
loose in her hands.
Her face so in shade
that only the angle
of her chin and the angle
of the book indicate
something besides its words
are on her mind.
She is nearly naked,
her full smooth legs
another kind of glow
against the white
anchored sheet.
A creamy pink chemise
wraps her torso
like another skin.
Why does it seem
something is going to happen
or has happened here?
Her dress lysing draped
across the heavy armchair,
two pieces of luggage
standing closed and tagged,
black pumps askew
on the carpet, deep green
like the chair
and the wall to the left.
A perfect kind of balance
is at play here, the dislocation
in an order of its own.
So much has gathered
in this room where colors
have their own sense of play
and relief, next to
a wide window
noisy with light.

by Judith Bowles
from The Gatherer

Copyright © 2014 Judith Bowles

Photo: Scott Suchman

Bookmark and Share

November 13, 2014

Mini Review of Big Concert: NSO's The Rite of Spring

The concert: National Symphony Orchestra
plays "Le sacre du printemps
("The Rite of Spring")

When: November 13, 2014

Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach

The Program:

Lera Auerbach: Eterniday/ Homage to W.A. Mozart

The Dresser's reaction: rich and layered with solo instruments featured, trance-inducing, made her think of Elena Ruhr's music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Flute concerto No. 2 in D major, K. 314
Solo performer: Flutist Aaron Goldman
Cadenzas by Lera Auerbach commissioned by NSO for all three movement

The Dresser's reaction: Uplifting with recognizable themes. The cadenzas were well integrated. Goldman was a pleasure to watch and hear.

Igor_Stravinskysm.jpgIgor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring: Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts

The Dresser's reaction: From the moment the bassoon ambushes the listener with its wistful call, attention never wanes. Stravinsky premiered this work with Diaghilev's Ballets Russe in the spring of 1913. One hundred years old and the work still sounds fresh and creates electricity. The brass and percussion sections are awesome. The size of the orchestration alone is a reason to attend this concert.

Related Concert Events

November 14-15, 2014 NSO Le sacre du printemps

January 27 - February 1, 2015 Mariinsky Ballet performs Le sacre du printemps

Bookmark and Share


Current Issue of
SCENE4 Magazine