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October 2011 Archives

October 3, 2011

Nellie McKay & Madeleine Peyroux: Don't Pick Fights with Poets

Peyroux.jpgTwo contemporary American songwriters--Nellie McKay and Madeleine Peyroux--on the same bill at the acoustically fabulous Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Maryland September 30, 2011. The Dresser was psyched for this concert.

Nellie McKay opened. Thirty minutes, eight and a quarter songs mixing her originals (e.g. "I Wanna Get Married" and "Adios") with oldies like "Don't Fence Me In" and "If I Had You." She entered, curtsied in a dimly lit corner of the stage, and seated herself between an organ and piano with her back to the audience--this keyboard arrangement was set up for Peyroux's keyboard man Gary Versace. Before she started to set the keys on fire with "Toto Dies"--she's a remarkably outstanding pianist, she turned to the audience and said deadpan, "I hope the back of my hair looks OK." Nellie McKay.jpg By the second song, it was clear when the audience laughed at her Danielle Steele line from satiric "I Wanna Get Married" in Get Away from Me, a standout double album released in 2004 as her first album

I wanna get married
Yes, I need a spouse
I want a nice Leave it to Beaverish
Golden retriever and a little white house
I wanna get married
I need to cook meals
I wanna pack you cute little lunches
For my Brady bunches
Then read Danielle Steele

that this audience had never paid attention to her lyrics before or possibly did not know her work.

At song three, "Mother of Pearl," she emerged from the shadows to stand in a spot at a mic. She played her ukulele. Then the Dresser could see her bouffant black skirt and greenish sparkly top, but also her dance antics, which she has honed for this particular song of social criticism. Here's a video of this song done live at the 92nd Street in New York City.

Most folks who have heard her music--and maybe unaware that they did so on such TV shows as Weeds, Grey's Anatomy, NCIS, and Nurse Jackie--probably don't know she is or has been a sometimes actor and stand-up comedian. In 2006, McKay played Polly Peachum in the Broadway production of Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera and she won a Theatre World Award for that role.

In song four "Adios" from her latest album Home Sweet Mobile Home, she turned serious, but how she delivers serious borders on hysterics in her giddy language of "hypocrite heathens," "rinky-dink Eden," and "Frankenstein lady," an allusion the Dresser guesses to be the gothic novel's author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley.

If time runs like a river
I saw my people bathed in blood
And if the faithful find the sinners
I'll have to leave all I loved

Goodbye, O hypocrite heathens
Goodbye, O false paradise
Goodbye, O rinky-dink Eden
And may you lie yourselves to sleep

We're marching through the madness
With not a soul about to see
We're moving through the fortress
Chasing the ghosts of anarchy

Goodbye, my Frankenstein lady
Goodbye, O pagan delights
Goodbye, and good riddance, baby
And may you lie yourselves to sleep

She also performed "Beneath the Underdog," (also from Home Sweet Mobile Home) which is dedicated to Troy Davis, the convicted killer of a police officer and the man recently executed by the state of Georgia. The song, which includes the lines "I found a kind of friend in you/It wasn't pleasant all the time," seems to refer not to the man who was on death row, but to her interest in animals, especially her own dog. "So settin' off from this hill camp / I'd rather be her little tramp / My own companion / Or maybe with one whose tail is waggin' "

In ending her concert with "The Dog Song," she reaffirmed how her pet gives stability to her life. However, she also did something else to cap her performance and that was to answer a request for "Happy Flower" from an audience member (presumably not a ringer). Her first reaction was to say comically, that she didn't know her own music and therefore couldn't do the song spontaneously, but she rethought the request and worked in a couple of stanzas as an impromptu introduction to "The Dog Song."

Then without fanfare and taking a little bow, again in the same dimly lit corner of the stage without any spotlight, she left the stage. Had the Dresser not heard Nellie McKay at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, January 23, 2006, the Dresser would suspect the authenticity of this performance. The Dresser would also be furious with Madeleine Peyroux for trying to diminish her warm up act who should have been given more time on stage. However, McKay knew what she was doing and most of what she does is part of her act.

As the featured artist taking 90 minutes, Madeleine Peyroux performed something over a dozen songs with Gary Versace on keyboards, Barak Mori on bass, and Darren Beckett on drums. She said upfront that she intended to have fun with this group of musicians and intimated that she would be jamming with them. Like McKay, she sang a mix of original songs new and old but also a couple of songs in French. She opened with a signature Bessie Smith song "Don't Cry Baby" and closed with Alfred Newman's "Smile though your heart is aching." Her encore was Josephine Baker's "J'ai Deux Amours." For the Dresser, Peyroux hit the arc of her performance when Gary Versace with a melodica and the other musicians formed a semi-circle with her to do a song one could imagine hearing on a corner in France (singing on street corners in Paris is how she started) followed by "Don't Pick a Fight with Poet," a catchy song with a Latin beat from her latest album Standing on the Rooftop. Melodica.png

Continue reading "Nellie McKay & Madeleine Peyroux: Don't Pick Fights with Poets" »

October 7, 2011

Synetic Theater: Physical But Wordless Shakespeare

i-5ZT9XpR-SMedal.jpgAmericans, who love their movies, and therefore favor image over text, and action over talk, should pay attention to the Washington, DC area company Synetic Theater. Founded in 2002 by Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, Georgian artists who moved to the United States in the 1990s, Synetic Theater's goal is to be the premier American physical theater company. Their brand of physical theater includes: text, drama, movement, acrobatics, dance, music, as well as colorful and clever sets, costumes, and props. While there are at least a half dozen physical theater companies operating in the United States, Synetic distinguishes itself with its silent interpretations of Shakespearean plays.

Having accrued 79 Helen Hayes nominations and received 21 Helen Hayes awards, Synetic has forged alliances with the Kennedy Center (in 2006, Synetic began its five-year partnership with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to produce one show per season) and The Shakespeare Theatre Company (producing an adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra at STC's Lansburgh Theatre). It also offers a number of its productions for touring engagements. In 2010, Synetic secured permanent space in Crystal City, Virginia.

So far, the Dresser has seen Synetic's productions of The Master and Margarita, King Lear, and on October 2, 2011, Macbeth, which is part of Synetic's Speak No More Silent Shakespeare Festival. Macbeth ran September 14 to October 2, Othello runs October 19 to November 6, and Romeo and Juliet runs November 25 to December 23.

Synetic's Macbeth, which premiered in January 2007, was nominated for 11 Helen Hayes awards and received 5 in 2008 including:
Outstanding Resident Play

Outstanding Director, Paata Tsikurishvili

Outstanding Choreography, Irina Tsikurishvili

Outstanding Sound Design, Irakli Kavsadze and Paata Tsikurishvili

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Philip Fletcheri-dnjRp8q-SMaleWitch.jpg

This current production, which just closed, featured Irakli Kavsadze as Macbeth, Irina Tsikurishvili as Lady Macbeth, and Philip Fletcher as the male witch. Each brought tremendous energy and power to their performances. What's interesting about Synetic's interpretation of Macbeth is that you did not have to know Shakespeare's extensive list of players (Macduff, his lady, their children, Banquo, Duncan, Malcolm, Ross -and Tsikurishvili and his writing partner Nathan Weinberger have cut out some of the more minor characters) to enjoy this ninety-minute show. The five acts, without intermission, go by seamlessly in one remarkable scenario after the other.

Perhaps, one could argue that the first scene with three clerics--Jewish, Muslim, and Christian--holding aloft a large globe of our planet sets the bar of excellence for the entire production. Of course it helps if you know Shakespeare's play, especially if one knows the witches chant, which reveals why the clerics preside in the opening scene.

Otherwise what you, Dear Reader missed, was the breath-taking entrances and exits of the witches from their manholes, an army with flashlights that the Dresser associates with the Gestapo in WWII (this must be some film or nightmare influence), the crown tango between Macbeth and his Lady, i-8z4bb9m-SKnives.jpgLady Macbeth and the long knives she hid in her boots, the fluid but brutal fight scenes and murders, the puppet banquet that Macbeth as king conducts, Lady Macbeth gone mad. The photos say it best.


Round about the cauldron go:
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first I' the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blindworm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing.
For charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd I' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangl'd babe,
Ditch-deliver'd by the drab,--
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For ingrediants of our cauldron.
Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron, bubble.

William Shakespeare
from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1


October 22, 2011

Lost in Translation: Plays by Lee Breuer and by Alan Bennett

The Dresser loves to look at process so she sampled two plays heavy on how story was told. On October 20, 2011 at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, she experienced Mabou Mines DollHouse--yes, that is the official title for the adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play Et dukkehjem, which the English-speaking world knows as A Doll's House--and the next night, on October 21 at DC's Studio Theatre, she partook of Alan Bennett's most recent play The Habit of Art. Both are comedies built on emotionally serious loads.

The quick profile: Mabou Mines DollHouse, complete with an oversized piano keyboard and live pianist at the front of the stage, is like avant-gardist Laurie Anderson meets Harriet Beecher Stowe's Simon Legree whipping Uncle Tom. The Habit of Art is Alan Bennett meets Monty Python.

As to the serious--the living doll of DollHouse--Nora (Maude Mitchell)--throws off the shackles of a husband (Kristopher Medina as Torvald Helmer) who has minimized her (the last scene is a whopper opera spectacle that makes Nora's rejection of her husband nakedly literal) while the known and unknown artists of Bennett's play, poet W. H. Auden and composer Benjamin Britten and the thespians who play these roles, confront end-of-life issues as they try to continue to do their creative work.

Both plays live in the Post-Modern consciousness--or should the Dresser say self-consciousness--of plays that keep reminding the audience that they are watching a play. SMKrisMedina-MaudeMitchell by-Richard-Termine.jpgDollHouse works on a fantastic (as in fantasia) version of the 19th century melodrama where characters lack psychological depth. For director-playwright Lee Breuer, the brains behind this masterful adaptation of Ibsen, the two-dimensional landscape of this storytelling is ratcheted up by the women being twice the height of the men who are real life dwarves (the preferred term is little people) and by pervasive traditional and non-traditional puppetry. Nontraditional puppetry included the lowering of beautifully sculpted curtains set to a musical score, the lowering and release of large white panels with written messages, a cuckoo in a clock, the balletic lifting of little people and children by stage hands dressed in black.

The Habit of Art is a play within a play where the lines blur between the old actor Fitz (Ted van Griethuysen) and his part as the elderly poet Auden in a play entitled Caliban's Day. Separate stage realities show Fitz rehearsing the role of Auden versus Henry (Paxton Whitehead) as an initially unintroduced, still youthful Britten working with a boy soprano (Sam O'Brien) on the composer's last opera Death in Venice. On top of this are the visits of Auden's biographer (Cameron Folmar as Donald who plays Humphrey Carpenter) and Auden's rent boy (Randy Harrison) as well as the struggles going on between the stage manager Kay (Margaret Daly), the assistant stage Manager George (Matt Dewberry), the playwright of Caliban's Day and the actors, who have gathered in a rehearsal room of London's National Theatre. Habit.jpg

Both plays present their challenges for American audiences in understanding the lines that are being delivered. DollHouse goes for a patois that mixes in a few simple Norwegian words: takk (thank you), nei (no), and ja (yes) along with broken English with a Norwegian inflection. Also, Nora effects high and low voices (reminiscent of what Laurie Anderson does with her electronically altered voices). Nora's voices indicate her submissive wife personality versus her awakened self. Although a subtitles marquee was operating on one side of the stage, the Dresser could not make out the words from her rear orchestra seat and was happy enough with her own ability to hear and understand the words. The Habit of Art, being a drawing room comedy suitable for a small theater like Studio's Metheny Theatre, indulges in that British repartee that goes by fast and includes references that are unfortunately unfamiliar to most Americans. Take, for example, the mention of Spitting Images, a British television show running 1984 to 1996 that used puppets to satirize British and American politics. The Dresser would have missed this reference had not her seatmate brought it to her attention. However, these kind of references inhibited understanding and while there were people laughing at what the Dresser's seatmate called secret code for the in-crowd, there were those who tipped-toed out of the theater or did not return after the intermission. And by the way, this happened in the Eisenhower Theater too where many seats previously occupied for DollHouse were empty after the intermission.

Continue reading "Lost in Translation: Plays by Lee Breuer and by Alan Bennett " »

October 28, 2011

Getting out of The Box after the quake

October 24, 2011, the Dresser went out on a rainy night in Washington, DC, to see Rorschach Theatre's production of Frank Galati's play adaption of two short stories by Haruki Murakami entitled after the quake and fell in love with a super frog that did not turn into a prince. What the Dresser loved about Frog (played with agile style by Dylan Myers) were such lines as, "A real frog is exactly what I am. A product neither of metaphor nor allusion nor deconstruction nor sampling nor any other such complex process. I am a genuine frog. Shall I croak for you?" However, she also adored, and what made her a believer was, the way this Frog moved--Myers really had the plié and frogsteps down. His croaking was pretty amusing too.Frog.jpg

So how is a frog in goggles, never mind a super frog, involved in a play called after the quake. The quick answer is that Frog has broken into the apartment of a banker named Katagiri (played by Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) to enlist his help in stopping an earthquake in Tokyo that will be bigger than the one that has already occurred in Kobe. Frog's story is based on Murakami's short story "super-frog saves tokyo." The Dresser assures you, Dear Reader, that Murakami does not use capitalization for his titles.

Where does Frog fit into the other story, "honey pie"? Actually, "honey pie" is the anchoring story. It revolves around Junpei (Daniel J. Corey), a man with two dominant loves: writing fictional stories and Sayoko (Jennifer Ayn Knight), the woman with whom he and Takatsuki, his best friend from college became inseparable college buds. Much to Junpei's silent dismay, Takatsuki makes the first move on Sayoko. She becomes his wife and the mother their child Sala (Megan Graves). The play opens with Junpei telling Sala a bedtime story about a honey bear that makes pies. Four years old, Sala has problems getting to sleep and she is often visited by an imaginary character she calls the Earthquake Man. Earthquake Man in the Dresser's mind is the opposite of save-Tokyo Frog. Sala says Earthquake Man has a small box for everyone and he is waiting with the lid open.

Cleverly, Galati has one actor play Takatsuki and Katagiri. Both of these characters are at heart loners with tough-as-nails emotional hides. In the Rorschach Theatre production, director Randy Baker emphasizes this dual role-playing in the list of Cast and Characters written in the theater's printed program. He omits noting that Frog also plays Narrator and Sayoko also plays Nurse, the nurse who attends Katagiri at the end of the super frog story.

By this time, you might have guessed that Takatsuki is not around when Sayoko and Sala need him so Sayoko calls on Junpei, who is willing to put aside his writing and help out the only woman he really loves. Another thing you might have guessed is that the super frog story is one that Junpei is writing.

What doesn't always work so well with Galati's tight-to-the-original-texts adaption is that there is a bit too much narration. This slows down the action. A challenge for this story-within-a story play is how to effectively stage the stories so that the audience knows when the stories are alternating. It seems right that Baker uses a theater-in-the-round setup so that Frog and Katagiri don't get mixed up with Narrator and Takatsuki. However, the Dresser kept falling out of the story magic because of the bright lighting that kept her aware of the audience surrounding the players.

Nonetheless, the Dresser was pleased to be introduced to Rorschach Theatre housed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the work of Rorschach's artistic director Randy Baker (his hanging props were an inspired way to bring new interest to ordinary things like making tea), and the writing of Haruki Murakami. After the play, the Dresser read Murakami's short story collection of the same name. These thematically linked stories (all are set after the 1995 Kobe earthquake) with recurring things like bears, frogs, odd trios of friends, and people and boxes with empty centers enhanced the experience of Galati's adaption.Sala.jpg

While still attending to the things of this world, Margo Stever's poem "Entering the Box" magnifies the terror little Sala has over Earthquake Man's box.


The mind can fill a dank
four-sided darkness
with ticks and sighs.
Nothing turns to something.
Breath knocks against hollow walls
like the hunched unveiled women
who gossip at the open market
and bat their canes at flies.

All my life I've worked
to rid this box of heat,
cold, light, sound,
to have no sense
but bacteria multiply
and anoint dark bread.
Green spores spread
an infected kingdom
over the floorboards.

Even with nothing here,
the telephone next door
rings on and on.
Tennis balls chop
on an asphalt court.
Hammers strike wood
again and again.
An electric saw
alarms mockingbirds into silence.

Margo Stever
from Frozen Spring

Copyright © 2002 Margo Stever

Photo of Sala: C. Stanley Photography

About October 2011

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

September 2011 is the previous archive.

November 2011 is the next archive.

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