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December 2012 Archives

December 19, 2012

Faust: Looking for a Second Chance

The human condition at the end of life is how the Icelandic Vesturport Theatre and Reykjavik City Theatre frame Faust: A Love Story, an entry in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. The Dresser saw the December 13, 2012, performance of Faust's six-performance run, a United States premiere.

The script, co-written by Vesturport Theatre members Nina Dögg Filippusdottir, Gísli Örn Gardarsson, Carl Grose, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, and Vikingur Kristjansson with music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is drawn from Faust plays by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Christopher Marlowe with modern day commentary attempting to weave the old poetic lines together. Once the Dresser accepted that the Faust story, despite the play's title, was not the critical emphasis, she found the tale of an old actor abandoned in a nursing home at Christmas time, looking for a second chance with life and love, a poignantly sad and moving experience.

The way Johann, the old actor, (played movingly by Thorsteinn Gunnarsson) gets his second chance is through acting the Faust story. All nursing home residents, attendants, and visitors become part of his production. Faust-Mephis-LilySM.jpgVesturport Theatre director Gísli Örn Gardarsson literally cast a net over the central portion of the orchestra seating such that the players who claimed in a talkback session that they were not acrobats tumble and saunter drunkenly in space that is normally stirred only by dust motes. The Vesturport group, which premiered their Faust play in January 2010, specializes in physical theater, much like what the American Chicago-based troupe 500 Clown does and to certain degree Arlington, Virginia's Synetic Theater.

The Dresser supposes that if she had not seen productions by 500 Clown (500 Clown Macbeth in 2006) or Synetic Theater (The Master and Margarita in 2010), she would be more wowed by the old man in a wheelchair (Magnus Jonsson) who tears open his face to become the evil Mephisto, who throws a noisy firecracker on stage, who steals and moves the soul of Johann to Asmodeus (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), one of Mephisto's devils by holding their hands and letting their respective body electricity swap. DevilsSM.jpgThe play is a mash-up where the circus arts, except for the old lady who transforms into a contortionist, do not come close to the skills of Cirque du Soleil performers as one was led to believe by the advanced advertising. The play is a mash-up of two classic works in conflict with each other where the tragedy of Goethe is mixed with the comic relief of Marlowe's morality play. The Icelandic play is a mash-up of old classical verse versus modern day lingo.

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The Dresser tips her hat to Nina Dögg Filippusdottir who plays the devilish Lilith (yes, Adam's first wife). Filippusdottir in her gauzy slip, red gloves, and red boots is quite the seductress. Her scene atop an upright piano as she runs her gloved fingers across the keyboard is scintillating and much more so than when nurse Greta (Unnur Osp Stefansdottir) as Faust's lover pulls off her bodice revealing her naked breasts.

Stories about aged performers locked into old-age institutions, such as Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut film Quartet, are now accruing a large following in the United States as Baby Boomers have reached their senior years. In Grace Cavalieri's book-length poem Pinecrest Rest Haven, an elderly lady called Mrs. P deals with the drama of growing old. Her twin, unlike Johann's, is anchored in a formative friendship something Johann was not able to achieve during his life.

............................Waking up under water,
Mrs. P thought of Jan because Jan remembered
the flowers Mrs. P had in her backyard, pink and white peonies,
Queen Anne's lace by the tracks, lily of the valley. Pulled up
through the medicine of dreams, people kept waking her up to tell her
to get some rest. Thinking she was young, she woke one day to find herself
old. The shock nearly killed her. The doctor's legs were the first thing
she recognized. One leg looked bigger than the other. She saw that
the day he wore khaki shorts. Who died?! she shouted.
Did somebody die? She lay back down, exhausted.
She'd never wear high heels again. Now she knew. Mockingbirds
outside make the same sound three times. Come to dinner, come to dinner, come.
At camp Jan and she were five years old and they both tried out for the part
of fairy princess. As they were best friends, the Director made the role
for twin fairies, so they said their lines together, held identical
wands, bowed exactly the same time, wet their pants together after.

by Grace Cavalieri
from Pinecrest Rest Haven

Copyright © 1998 Grace Cavalieri

December 22, 2012

Strolling with the Folger Consort & Trio EOS

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After partaking of "Florence: Christmas Music of the Trecento" played by the Folger Consort with animated singing by Trio EOS, the Dresser was filled and remains full of the peaceful joy that comes with the exuberant delivery of a program of praise songs (more formally known as laude) and dances. The two-hour program with one intermission offered a range of 14th century, mostly polyphonic compositions. Folger Consort artistic director Robert Eisenstein on medieval fiddle, recorder, and lute played with guest artists Christa Patton (harp, recorder, bagpipe), Mark Rimple (lute, psaltery, medieval fiddle), and Mary Springfels (medieval fiddle, citole).

Most of the program was done in sets of three to four pieces alternating between voice and instrumental performance. The opening composition "Altissima luce col grande splendore" established the role of sopranos Jessica Beebe and Michele Kennedy and mezzosoprano Maren Mantalbano. Mantalbano in this ethereal and joyful opening number stood out with her engaging stage presence that continued throughout the concert.

Bagpipes were employed in several compositions including the first "Salterello" (two were played) where the bagpipe's drone gave a special texture to a vigorous dance tune.

At the intermission, the musicians stayed on stage to talk one-on-one with audience members curious about the medieval instruments. Mary Springfels answered questions about the citole, which she said was particularly shaped for the strolling troubadour. Further enhancement of the evening included an intricate piece of precepe folk craft from Naples, Italy. Look for this display in an out of the way alcove at the back of the theatre. Precepe craft began in the 1200's in Italy when St. Francis of Assisi asked Giovanni Vellita from the village of Greccio to create a manger scene.
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The central part of Italy seems to inspire happiness and creativity. Hilary Tham in her poem "In Tuscany" expresses the joy she felt in painting the Tuscan landscape, a landscape where olive trees are cut back to regenerate beyond their normal life span. Because music of the medieval period was rarely set down on paper much of it was lost. How lucky the audiences of the Folger Consort are to have their interpretations of this beautiful music.



IN TUSCANY (an excerpt)

...

I am happy painting light, the cultivated peace
of olive trees, their gnarled and strange shapes
as they are cut back again and again to regenerate
and bear fruit beyond the natural span
of uncut trees. Once, I bit into a ripe olive,
had to spit it out. The fresh olive is acrid,
it cannot be eaten until soaked in brine.

"I am a sculptor of marble," Michelangelo said,
cursing his fate that made the pope demand
he paint pictures on a chapel ceiling.
Strange how forcing nature achieves great yields.

by Hilary Tham 

from Reality Check & Other Travel Poems & Art

Copyright © 2001 Hilary Tham

About December 2012

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