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January 2008 Archives

January 6, 2008

Michael Kahn’s Tamburlaine

Having rescued a pair of unused tickets to the January 6, 2008 matinee performance of Washington, DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe, the Dresser had no intention to pick up her pen or apply fingers to her computer keyboard. However, the production moved her so greatly that she could not keep herself from a few comments in the hope that others will not overlook the work of director Michael Kahn. (Helas, the show is closed now.)

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OPERATIC IN ITS ENORMITY

Although Marlowe’s play is highly melodramatic and populated with an extremely large number of characters (very operatic in its enormity), the Dresser was excited to get the opportunity to experience Marlowe’s poetry on stage. After seeing the show, the Dresser realizes that without Kahn’s exquisite direction that included painterly scenes (the players moved into beautiful tableau vivant moments constantly throughout the scenes), the outstanding selection of cast (Avery Brooks as Tamburlaine is a tour de force knowing how to be alternately brutal, tender, comic, raging), and the pageantry of costumes and props, the poetry and aphorisms of Marlowe’s first play would have been hard to communicate effectively.

One famous line that illustrates how hard it is to deliver Marlowe’s text is “Accursed be he that first invented war.” The line belongs to Mycetes, who is King of Persia. He is a poor leader and his brother Cosroe is looking to depose him. Floyd King plays Mycetes as an effeminate fop who just barely understands the insults his brother lobs at him. Costume designer Jennifer Moeller has dressed Mycetes in all red, including pointed slippers with heels. Mycetes sports what modern audience might call a Daliesque mustache. The opportunity to depose Mycetes comes with the rise of Scythian shepherd Tamburlaine who intends to conquer the world around him. A melodramatic chase scene ensues where an unprotected Mycetes suddenly stops the action and delivers “Accursed be he that first invented war.” It is an oddly comic and tragic moment and makes the Dresser understand why her friend Ernie Benjamin who she encountered by chance at intermission said that he found Tamburlaine overly melodramatic and preferred Marlowe’s Edward II which was also in production at the DC’s Shakespeare Theatre.

OF WAR AND LOVE

Briefly the story of Tamburlaine focuses on the surprising success of a lowly shepherd who conquers what today’s audience would recognize as Iran, parts of North Africa (Morocco and Algeria) and the Middle East. Tamburlaine’s landscape, brutality, and clash with Moslem countries give currency to today’s American audience who live with involvement in brutal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that impact relations with Iran and other Moslem countries.

Tamburlaine is also a set of powerful love stories that shake the modern day viewer. Mia Tagano as the captured daughter of the Sultan of Egypt Zenocrate presents no cardboard character. When Zenocrate falls in love with the initially menacing Tamburlaine (her captor), Tagano gives us a woman with complicated feelings. We see Zenocrate wait for Tamburlaine to make her his queen, plead for her father’s life, revel in the company of her three sons, and then die young from some unnamed disease. Marlowe sets Zenocrate in opposition to a character introduced later in the play—Olympia, the wife of the fallen Captain of Balsera, who is captured just after she has wrenchingly killed her son and before she can commit suicide. Theridamas (one of Tamburlaine’s trusted men) falls in love with this strong woman, but she won’t have him and tricks him into killing her. Amy Kim Waschke as Olympia pierced the Dresser’s heart when she cried out after slaying her son. Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Zabina, Empress of Turkey, provides a memorable performance both as the feisty royal wife
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and the captured and humiliated slave put on a leash outside her husband’s cage.

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Continue reading "Michael Kahn’s Tamburlaine" »

January 26, 2008

Céline, Not His Brother's Keeper

Of all the possibilities the Dresser had in choosing a play in New York January 18, 2008, she elected to see Journey to the End of the Night presented by The Flying Machine and starring Richard Crawford. Night was adapted by Jason Lindner and directed by Joshua Carlebach. Although the play when it was first workshopped at the Public Theatre had eight actors, the current version presents Crawford effectively playing all the roles.

The play is based mainly on Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (published in 1932) but also touches on Céline’s life and his anti-Semitic political pamphlets—Bagatelles pour un massacre (1937, Trifles for a Massacre), L’école des cadavres (1938, School for Corpses), and Les beaux draps (1941, A Nice Mess). It seems that like Adolph Hitler, Céline believed that the Jews kept him from being an artist. Because of these vitriolic pamphlets, the French government at the end of World War II denounced Céline as a traitor. Having fled France, he was eventually caught and imprisoned in Denmark. He was convicted of treason in 1951 but eventually granted amnesty. He returned to France where he resumed his life as a writer and a medical doctor. He died in 1961.

The Dresser’s interest in Céline is related to her study of Jane Bowles who encountered the French author when, at the age of sixteen, she was making a trans-Atlantic crossing. She told him without knowing who he was that Céline was “one of the greatest writers in the world.” Indeed the Dresser has been savoring Céline’s observations (however dark but so well stated) and his writing style that alternates between wisdom and wisecracks. Although the novel does not reveal his anti-Semitism, it clearly exhibits a racist view of black Africans. The darkness and the no-holds-barred slang of Céline’s writing has influenced many writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Charles Bukowski. The Dresser believes that his picaresque work also shaped the work of Jane Bowles.

The structure of The Flying Machine’s Journey to the End of the Night alternates between a scholarly but somewhat maniacal narrator who progressively seems to become Céline
Crawford.jpgPhoto by Piotr Redlinski
and characters from the novel, including Ferdinand Bardamu—the anti-hero, sad sack adventurer who becomes a doctor and Léon Robinson who turns up in various places like a frightful tar baby that Bardamu cannot shake. Crawford is adept in changing characters. In the scenes between Bardamu and Robinson, a flip of the brim of a hat signals the change of character. Crawford’s timing is impeccable and his characters believable. Trained at Ecole Jacques Lecoq, which emphasizes movement, improvisation and collaborative directing, Crawford is a founding member of The Flying Machine and he has directed clown work for Cirque du Soleil.

If you made it to this extraordinary hour-and-fifteen-minute show before it closed on January 26, you had to enter the theater carefully. It was very dark in this small below the ground level theater and that’s exactly what director Joshua Carlebach intended. And no, there was no attempt to mollify Céline’s anti- Semitism. Jason Lindner’s presentation of Céline made sense to the Dresser who thinks one cannot ignore one’s enemies. The Dresser also recommends reading an informed essay published by the Center for Book Culture.org on Céline by Jim Knipfel. Knipfel, who makes an attempt to understand what motivated Céline’s various hatreds, observed, “I've found that you reach a point in nearly all his novels where you have no choice but to simply stop searching for meaning and coherence, and just sit back and ride.”

Because Céline and his character Bardamu were not their brothers keepers, the Dresser offers this poem from Jay Rogoff’s new book The Long Fault (due for release in March 2008). Rogoff won the Word Works Washington Prize in 1995 for his book The Cutoff.

CAIN’S GIFT

The blood cried up from the ground
and the air held its breath,
the earth’s sunset-stained
face now an epitaph
for Abel’s head and hands
thrust up from the grave,
that childish face profiled,
those hands clasped, a child

imagined by the sculptor
petitioning the God
who’d let the model murder
play out unimpeded.
From brother to his keeper
the singing from the sod
rose, a sunset lark
whose quavers left their mark

on Cain’s consciousness,
setting him aquiver
at walking the cooling face
of earth, banished forever
from Salisbury’s Chapter House,
a period put to his chapter,
and from the good book hurled
out to beget the world.

by Jay Rogoff
from The Long Fault

Copyright © 2008 Jay Rogoff

January 31, 2008

The Weary Blues: Channeling Langston

Langston Hughes wrote The Weary Blues and with the assistance of Carl van Vechten, this collection of poetry, his first book, was published by Knopf in 1926. Most people recognize the poem “Montage of a Dream Deferred” if not for having read The Weary Blues, then for having seen Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun.

MONTAGE OF A DREAM DEFERRED

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

IN THE LANGSTON ROOM

On January 23, 2008, to a full house in the Langston Room of DC’s Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and lounge popular among young professionals and the literati, poet Holly Bass channeled Langston Hughes and his Weary Blues (a re-creation of the famous Langston Hughes/Charles Mingus collaboration, by Charley Gerard) while a talented assembly of classical and jazz musicians organized by Washington Musica Viva’s Carl Banner backed her up. The Dresser and her “old man” popped in to partake and they walked away feeling hipper than when they entered.wearyblues.jpg
Top left to right: Holly Bass on mic; John Kamman, guitar; Charley Gerard, alto saxophone.
Bottom left to right: Carl Banner, piano; Harold Summey, drums & Chris Royal, trumpet; Pepe González, bass.


The music was a mix of new jazz compositions (written by saxophonist Charley Gerard) and Charles Mingus with a little dash of Chopin (Carl Banner has agile fingers on those ivories!).

THIS DIVA DESERVES ROSES

The star of the show was Holly Bass. Her mezzo timbre meshed satisfyingly with Langston’s jazzed poetry. However, she was a whole package of timing, emphasis, eye contact with band and audience, and subtly sexy moves like the way she tapped her foot and adjusted her foxtail collar around her shoulders. Of course that little pouffy green dress made her even more scintillating. But you don’t have to believe the Dresser, you can see Holly move and hear her voice and the jazz yourself.

Watch the videos on YouTube and groove.

Carl says he is looking to do this show again and all the Dresser can say is be there or be insipidly square. Even the Dresser’s husband who rarely shows for a poetry event loved this soul-satisfying performance.

A diva deserves roses and who better to supply them then Holly Bass herself with this poem that has the same strain of sensibilities as Langston Hughes.


BETTER ROSES

Georgia, August 1999

Driving back from Albany, I tell my father that I'd like a piece

of cotton to take back with me. We stop along the road. My

father has told me how he used to pick cotton every day after

school during harvest. Five-and-a-half cents per pound. The

most he ever picked in one day was 217 pounds. Forty years

later, he still remembers this number. Still remembers the

excitement of having seven hard-earned dollars in his hand.

I open my car door. I'll get it, Daddy says. Whatchu want? 

Just a cotton boll? He looks across the field for signs of a

shotgun-toting, overzealous farmer guarding his crop. No one

in sight. He wades through high grass in dress slacks and 

good shoes. I pray the ground is dry.

He pulls off three nice bolls. From where I am, it looks like he

is picking small, white roses for me. He returns to the car and

places them in my hands. I examine these strange flowers,

turning them by the stem. The papery leaves crumble as I 

touch them. The hard hull, pointed enough to draw blood,
dark
as my own skin.

by Holly Bass
first published by Beltway Poetry Quarterly

Copyright © 2002 Holly Bass

About January 2008

This page contains all entries posted to The Dressing in January 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2007 is the previous archive.

February 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.