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February 2011 Archives

February 1, 2011

The Arabian NIghts -- Then & Now

KillerKingSM.jpgIn what wondrous time would Bagdad be called the City of Peace and Poets, when a disguised king could walk its streets and not be recognized, when an extraordinary woman scholar could engage in a contest of knowledge and defeat a king's court of academicians and she could have the chutzpah to refuse the king's marriage proposal, and when could another young woman stave off her death night after night by telling bawdy and learned stories to a man hell bent on taking revenge for a cuckolding wife? That time, of course, would be the one thousand and one Arabian nights of Scheherazade.


On January 28, 2011, the Dresser basked in the soul-redeeming imagery, music, dance, and tales spun by Mary Zimmerman's play The Arabian Nights in performance through February 20, 2011, at the Fichandler Theatre of the newly renovated Arena Stage in Washington, DC. If you, Dear Reader, think this is throwback in time, be prepared for an unexpected bomb from the modern day world here and there. The Dresser, days after seeing the performance, is still marveling how playwright Zimmerman managed to thread these startling, sometimes-comic but more-often-tragic, details into the landscape of the medieval Middle East. Sorry, but she isn't planning to spoil the author's ambushes.

The Arabian Nights is based on One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern and south Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age (mid-8th century to mid-13th century). Like Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, which were both influenced by One Thousand and One Nights, Zimmerman's The Arabian Nights has outrageous scenarios like the case of the merchant who exacted an unending fart.


Stacey Yen at Scheherazade remains particularly vivid in the Dresser's mind because of her mirroring antics. In a number of instances, Yen, as Scheherazade, begins telling a story that is picked up by another actor who then speaks while Yen mimes behind that new character. In general, movement of the performers often becomes a precision exercise that works well on the Fichandler's theater-in-the-round stage. Adding to the excitement of the movement/dance are drummers and oud and flute players. If any of this sounds like a circus, just wait until you see the marvelous Greengrocer (Terence Archie) who flirts with alternate movement of his pecs, a kind of upper body version of belly dancing.StorytellerSM.jpg

In her poem "The Miller's Daughter," Barbara Louise Ungar explores the plight of another young woman who will be killed by a king unless she appeases him. In Ungar's poem, the young woman has to spin straw instead of stories to stay alive. She also has to outwit the angry dwarf Rumpelstiltskin. The Dresser wonders how many of the tales from One Thousand and One Nights were written by women. Certainly Zimmerman's play The Arabian Nights is about many strong women.


You appeared to help me spin
straw to gold. I promised, in

desperation. Little Man of Steel,
you call yourself: steel your hair,

steel your face, steely your
will to have your pound

of flesh. Hidden in your dark
house under the hill, you fondle

your hoard; at the forge you smelt
simulacra of my cunte.

A Mack truck, you'd love
to run me over. And over,

like a snake in your drive.
But I've become a clever Queane:

I've learnt your real name
so you can't steal my son--


go stamp your steel-toed boot
and tear yourself in two.

by Barbara Louise Ungar
from Charlotte Brontë: You Ruined My Life

Copyright © 2011 Barbara Louise Ungar

Photo of Stacey Yen (Scheherazade) & David DeSantos (King Shahryar) by Stan Barouh.

Photo of cast in Scheherazade's wedding procession by Stan Barouh.

February 20, 2011

The Thoughtful Premiere of "Five Episodes"

How exciting for the Dresser to share with Carl Banner's Washington Musica Viva the experience of a first concert held February 18, 2011, in the spacious and esthetically pleasing Kramer Gallery & Music Room of the Silver Spring, Maryland Civic Building. WMV-sign.jpgThe program entitled "Five Episodes" focused on the world premiere of a five movement atonal composition for clarinet and piano that was written by John Stephens for clarinetist Ben Redwine. The hour-long program offered an interesting path into and out of the new work that was, quite frankly, a challenging piece to listen to and understand.

WMV-Intro.jpgOpening the program, Banner began with his own arrangement of Mozart's playful "Sonata in F, K. 376." This allowed for violinist Kathy Judd and pianist Carl Banner to be joined successfully by clarinetist Ben Redwine. The Dresser felt the choice suitably welcomed in the 50-60 people who attended the concert.

Next came William Bolcom's jazzy "Little Suite of Four Dances (1984)." This composition for E flat clarinet and piano with its four dances--Rag, Apache-Jungle, Quasi-Waltz, and Soft Shoe--provided a range of comic and moody seriousness. "Rag" spoke to the Dresser like a man who was tipsy on booze. "Apache-Jungle" squealed and simpered while showing off with intricate repetitions. "Quasi-Waltz" offered a laconic waltz that transported the Dresser to La Boca in Buenos Aires. "Soft Shoe" seemed like a flirtation between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In many ways, Bolcom's piece was a good lead into "Five Episodes."

WMV-Composer.jpgComposer John Stephens introduced "Five Episodes" by saying his new work for clarinet and piano requires more than one hearing. Memorably, "Fast" (first movement) began with an elongated blast from the clarinet. "Lento expressivo" (second movement) subtly began with a low pitch note from the clarinet that sounded like a tugboat moving closer, maybe in fog. It was a melancholic and mysterious landscape of sound. The third movement "Moderato (a Ballata)" sounded Impressionistic. "Very Slow" offered a quiet, lower pitched sound from the "Moderato." "Very Quick" offered an ascending scale. Carl Banner said of "Five Episodes" that its block chords gave him a new appreciation for how to play Brahms.

Closing the program was "Trio (1996)" by Gian Carlo Menotti. This three-movement piece--Capriccio, Romanza, and Envoi--was for piano, violin, and clarinet. The work offered call and response voices that reminded the Dresser of music used with silent films ("Capriccio"), a dreamscape ("Romanza"), and lively counterpoint ("Envoi").WMV-Bow.jpg

There was lots of variety in this engaging program delivered with passion from all three musicians. Chamber music concerts are a good way to restore tranquility in a stressful world. In René Char's poem "Pourquoi la Journée Vole" as translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, one can experience the ebb and flow of passion and of breath in much the same way that Carl Banner had programmed Washington Musica Viva concert "Five Episodes."


The poet leans on some tree, or sea, or slope, or cloud of
a certain hue for a moment during his life, if circumstance
smoothes the road. He's not welded to others' confusion. His
love, his grasp, his joy have their match in all places he's never
been, nor will ever go, in strangers he'll never know. When
they ply him with prizes--those that would bind--and praise
him with voices raised, invoking the stars, he responds that
he comes from the country next door, from the sky just now

The poet gives life then runs to the plot's dénouement.

At night, despite dimples in cheeks like a novice, he cuts short
his goodbyes--polite passerby--to be there when the bread
leaves the oven.

translation by Nancy Naomi Carlson
from Stone Lyre: Poems of René Char


Le poète s'appuie, durant le temps de sa vie, à quelque arbre, ou mer, ou talus,
ou nuage d'une certaine teinte, un moment, si la cironstance le veut. Il n'est
pas soudé à l'égarement d'autrui. Son amour, son saisir, son bonheur ont leur
équivalent dans tous les lieux où il n'est pas allé, où jamais il n'ira, chez les
étrangers qu'il ne connaîtra pas. Lorsqu'on élève la voix devant lui, qu'on le
presse d'accepter des égards qui retiennent, si l'on invoque à son propos les
astres, il répond qu'il est du pays d'à côté, du ciel qui vient d'être englouti.

Le poète vivifie puis court au dénouement.

Au soir, malgré sur sa joue plusieurs fossettes d'apprenti, c'est un passant courtois
qui brusque les adieux pour être là quand le pain sort du four.

by René Char
from Stone Lyre: Poems of René Char

Copyright © 1962 Éditions Gallimard, Paris

About February 2011

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in February 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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