Monday, June 25, 2007
I haven’t seen a production this good at the Delacorte in a long, long time. The acting was strong, the set was fabulous and the play, of course, is wonderful. The only fault I could find was with director Michael Greif’s decision to have all the actors in practically every scene traipsing through the shallow pond of water that nearly fills the stage. If there was a psychological or symbolic reason, it escaped me.
Otherwise,I was drawn in as soon as I walked into the theatre by scenic designer Mark Wendland’s dramatic set. I loved the starkness -- a large black bow bridge spanning the water, with a black planked boardwalk surrounding it. I always prefer minimalistic sets at the Delacorte because they don’t block out the natural setting of Central Park, which is a large part of what makes going to this theatre so special. This set revolved and the bridge broke in two parts when separation need to be shown.
Oscar Isaac and Lauren Ambrose are just right as Romeo and Juliet, as is Camryn Manheim as the nurse and as are the parents and kinsfolk. I did feel sorry for them Friday night, though, having to spend so much time in the water and then walk around with wet costumes. It was chilly!
For me, it was a perfect Shakespeare in the Park experience. We picnicked first by Turtle Pond and then, comfortably wrapped in a sweaters and a jackets, enjoyed the show as the moon and stars came out. I had a great view of Belvedere Castle, with the pond and its trees, illuminated by park lighting, adding to the magic. It was one of those wonderful New York evenings that is still with me. I always love going to the Delacorte because of the park setting, but during the George C. Wolfe years the shows were more often than not disappointing.
I’m glad The Public Theater is again offering two shows each summer. I look forward to being back there in August for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
As for tickets, my friend Carolyn Hearn got there around 9 a.m. and I relieved her around 11. Tickets were given out at 1 p.m. and we barely made it in, with seats in the last row. We were told there were fewer tickets than usual because it was a press performance and Bronx night, whatever that is. (I could have had one press ticket, but chose to wait it out with Carolyn because we’ve been doing this for more than a decade, since my previous longtime Shakespeare in the Park friend, Kate Kinney, moved to Seattle.)
Romeo and Juliet continues through July 8.
Friday, June 22, 2007
continued from yesterday
“A singer's sexuality shouldn't matter, and I suspect in a hundred years or so, it won't. But, in the fifties and sixties, the color of one's skin also shouldn't have mattered, but it did. It mattered mightily -- particular in America.
What I/we were certain of when we decided to make the passage CD is that people would be moved by the depth of feeling we all had for God, and the songs we chose to sing. And eventually the energy of passage evolved into a play with music that I wrote called “Matthew Passion,” which featured a singing Greek chorus modeled after passage.” (For more about this, see my March 18 posting.)
This need for acceptance isn’t limited to the gay community. We all feel it, especially anyone who has faced family rejection for other reasons or who works in demanding careers like the performing arts and journalism with all their rejection. That is why the words spoken before the final song, “Remember Me,” are so healing. The first couple times I heard them, they sent tears streaming down my face:
“When we get to heaven I believe God will say, ‘My beloved child, you are most welcome. Thank you for remembering me during the beautiful life you lived. . . Thank you for keeping the faith when you were made to feel you were not entitled to my grace. You knew better . . Thank you for making the world a better place for your loving presence in it. . . Thank you for sharing your gifts, wisdom and talents tirelessly with others. . . Thank you for the beauty, the grace, the humanity and goodwill you added to the world during your time in it. . ‘.”
Listening to those words reminds me of God’s love and acceptance. What a blessing it is to be able to listen whenever my soul needs a lift.
The passage CD can be ordered from:
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The words to the first song express how I feel when I listen to this CD: “You lift me up,/And I’m touching the blue sky./You lift me up, I’m on top of the world.” I listen often to this CD by passage, a group formed by Phil Hall as the first openly gay singers to record spiritual songs and hymns.
A few of the songs were familiar to me, but many were not and they have blessed me profoundly. “Testify to Love,” has rousing words and is sung in great harmony, and I am moved by the words to the chorus of “Hymns”: “Composer of my soul/Show me all you show to them;/But hymn Writer, hymn Singer,/Let me know their eloquence,/Let me share their offering,/Put the notes in my heart, the lyrics on my lips,/And let the essence of my life be a song/That others will want to sing.” And “Sweet Hour of Prayer” reminds me again how blessed I am to have God in my life. When Jonathan Moon, Andrew Redeker and Randy Glass sing these songs they touch my soul deeply.
I told Phil Hall I was surprised that in this day and age this is the first openly gay group to sing spiritual songs and asked if churches had made them feel they were unworthy. And I asked why it’s important to make note of one’s sexual identity. This is what he shared with me:
“I think part of God's loving gesture of sending His Son to earth was to make manifest His love to us through a human being, AND to have Jesus love us for our humanity, and to teach us how to love ourselves (and others) in the same way. I think so often, Jesus saw past the human weaknesses/failings of His disciples and of Mary Magdalene, and saw into their hearts. I imagine if I had met Jesus and heard Him preach, I would have asked to follow Him.
“Since I can't really go back to that time, what I can do is "follow Him" in my way -- in these modern times in which I live. LGBT, and their political champions, are still fighting for equal rights -- not special ones -- only equal ones. One of the last frontiers for LGBT people that needs ministering to is faith. Many of us grew up in churches that espoused conservative, fundamental theology. When churches weren't bullying LGBT people from the pulpit, their own conservative Christian families perpetuated the tradition -- many exiling their children from their homes once they dared speak the truth of who they were.
“As out gay men, when we stood up to sing those songs that we had each held dear to our hearts growing up, we took steps towards wholeness individually and for other LGBT who ached to do what we were, yet still found it daunting and/or even life-threatening.”
To be continued tomorrow
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I didn’t know why this lovely CD was given the title it was, but for someone like me who grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition and has vague memories of folk masses in the late 1960s, it seemed an unfortunate choice. What comes to my mind is teenagers with long, stringy hair playing guitars and leading songs that were easy to sing but didn’t exactly reflect liturgical music at its best. “Folk Mass” is not a mass (every word comes from the Hebrew scriptures), it features violin rather than guitar and is blessed with the beautiful voices of Gloriae Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God), who commissioned it.
I checked the press information to see if Grammy award-winning composer and violinist Mark O’Connor had an explanation. He not only explains the title, but the impetus for this moving recording: “After the terrorist attacks of September 11th I, like many others, was searching for answers in order to heal the psychological wounds. And for a very rare moment in my own personal history, my efforts at communicating through instrumental music did not seem to be quite enough. I realized I needed to reread the books of the Old Testament again. Thirty days later, after completing the entire task, I wanted to compose the choral work. After another additional month of analyzing other religious texts, I was ready to put the music to some of these healing words.”
From reading about the Israelites struggle to come out of bondage, of how they learned to trust in God and others, he saw a lesson for coping with the pain of our attacks. “I wanted the music to embody this,” he said. “This mass is for people, just everyday people, regular folk, because it is who we all were on the days following September 11th. I named my mass ‘Folk Mass’ because it is a mass for the folk.”
And it has American roots, with the sounds of Appalachia and traditional spirituals accompanying these ancient words, taking us from the calling of Abraham, the choosing of the Israelites to be a people holy to God and giving them the land of Canaan, through battle and strife, into recompense and ending in the glory of affirmation. I feel a sense of peace at last, and a promise for eternal peace. I listen to this CD prayerfully.
Mr. O’Connor mentioned his hopes for “Folk Mass:” “Like the Old Testament, which lays claim to anyone who embraces its message, I wanted the music to reflect this overlying transcendence of culture and time.”
It does indeed, Mr. O’Connor. Thank you for sharing it.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Don’t expect this prodigal son to fall on his face and cry out: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” Oh, no. This young man feels fully entitled to the fatted calf and is willing to stoop to blackmail to get it in this excellent New York premiere of St. John Hankin’s 1905 play.
Roderick Hill as Eustace Jackson is one of those villains you love to hate. Right from the start when he returns home penniless, having muddied his clothes and pretended to faint to get the sympathy of his family, he’s unrepentant. He lounges around the house expecting the servants and his sister to wait on him, and refuses to even consider working, saying he’s already failed at everything he’s tried while in Australia for five years. The suspense surrounds who will win, Eustace or his father, who wants to throw him out but over whom Eustace holds a trump card.
This, like all the shows I’ve seen by the Mint Theater Company, is first rate throughout -- the acting, sets, lighting, the whole production. I had lunch with Franny Sternhagen last June and we were talking theatre, naturally, and she said this assurance of excellence was why she was willing to perform at the Mint even though the pay is so small, as it typically is off-Broadway, especially in such a small space. We never have anything but the highest expectations when we go to one of their shows (or appear in one of them) and we are never disappointed. You won’t be either.
“The Return of the Prodigal” continues through July 8. www.minttheater.org.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Michelle LeBlanc sing live, but she tells me she’s training with Mary Cleere Haran in preparation for a New York City performance. I am looking forward to that as yet unscheduled evening. I’ve played this CD so much I would have worn it out if it was in the old form of a cassette. Thank heavens CDs are sturdy.
Michelle’s voice is smooth and sensuous, transporting me to a dark, intimate nightspot as she interprets these classic jazz songs. She’s backed up with four fabulous musicians -- Phil Forbes (7 string guitar), Gerry Fitzgerald (drums), Ed Xiques (saxophone, flutes, clarinets) and Kevin Callaghan (bass).
I absolutely love the playful way she sings “Exactly Like You,” the Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh song. “Autumn Leaves” is sexy as she sings it in French and “Old Country” has a haunting, latin feel.
When Michelle does live shows she also weaves in jazz history and anecdotes, which should be fascinating. Set your NYC date soon, Michelle!