Archive

Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

TBA:09 in Review – Young Jean Lee's Theater Company's The Shipment & Meg Stuart's Maybe Forever

September 5, 2009 1 comment
Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company – The Shipment
You know you’re not colorblind, right? Young Jean Lee continuously reminds you of this fact as her piece “The Shipment” pushes and pulls at racial identity, stereotypes, perception and memes. The Shipment, divided into five parts, is smart, funny, and painfully insightful. It opens with actor/dancers Mikeah Ernest Jennings and Prentice Onayemi who dance and spring around the stage in ecstatic and playful fashion. It’s disarmingly joyful and extremely likable. It’s a perfect prologue and an extremely skillful misdirection that puts the viewer into a space where they won’t know exactly what to expect from piece.
The short opening dance is followed by Douglas Scott Streater, who comes on stage and does a caricature of a stand-up comedian. Think “Night at the Apollo” or Chris Rock and you capture the essence of Streater’s piece.  “You think I want to be here talking about race? I want to be talking about poop!” exclaims Streater. It’s an important moment addressing the core issue of exactly where the issue of race lives. It poses the questions ‘must a black comedian joke about race because he’s black?’ or maybe even the underlining question ‘can someone who isn’t black create a show dealing with seemingly black specific issues?’ Douglas Scott Streater is electrifying in this part of The Shipment, extremely likeable and extremely funny. He makes it easy to completely lose the sense that you’re watching an experimental theater piece and actually believe that you’re at a stand up show.
Streater’s stand up routine is followed by an odd robotic and cartoonish lampoon of racial stereotypes. It’s done with a minimalist set, in a quasi improv style. The price reminded me of seeing a long form improv piece at the Improv Olympics in Chicago or perhaps seeing an segment of South Park written and directed by Young Jean Lee. While this wasn’t my favorite part of the show, it was oddly amusing in its outlandish style and rhythm and the actors are so likeable in ‘The Shipment’ that it’s a joy to follow along whatever they do.
No sooner do you feel like you’ve got a grip on ‘The Shipment’ than Young Jean Lee pries your fingers away and shows you that you don’t. The cartoonish farce is followed by an extremely naked and beautiful song. Three of the actors stand at the edge of the stage, with the house lights raised, piercingly staring at each and every member of the audience as they sing in harmony. During this part of the show Young Jean Lee forces you out of your role of observer of this work, you can’t just comfortably sit in the dark laughing and clapping, saying “they’re not talking about me.”  The song is hauntingly beautiful and having the piercing gaze of an actor meet your eyes is a unique theatrical experience that is wonderful, amazing and terrifying all at once.
The final piece of ‘The Shipment’ is a seemingly conventional one act play that takes place at a cocktail party in an upscale apartment. As with the other pieces of the show, the ensemble cast works extremely well together here. It’s expertly performed and very entertaining. There are a number of twists and turns in the final piece of the evening which are best left unspoiled, but as with the rest of the work, expect to have your perceptions turned on its head.
Young Jean Lee’s ‘The Shipment’ is an example of how successful a piece of experimental theater can be. In many ways it’s extraordinarily confrontational, dealing with deep issue of racism and racial identity, but it’s done so well, with such a charismatic and likeable cast that it doesn’t turn the audience off or push them away. It’s easy to shock an audience and push at their comfort zone, it’s a lot more difficult to make them laugh and carry them along while you push at their comfort zone. Young Jean Lee and her company of actors accomplish this is an amazing way, with a night of theater that should not be missed.
Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods & Philipp Gehmacher/Mumbling Fish
Maybe Forever
I knew I was in trouble when PICA’s guest artistic director Cathy Edwards introduced Meg Stuart’s piece as “wonderfully atmospheric”. To me that’s often code for a piece which has a lot of style and very little substance. Unfortunately, Meg Stuart’s ‘Maybe Forever” lacked in both style and substance. Opening on an extremely dimly lit stage (I could barely make out anything I was seeing), two figures gyrate, roll around and move on the floor. They’re accompanied by looped audio with sounds of a dock or bay. Yes, it’s ‘atmospheric’, but atmospheric of what?  The stage is so dimly lit you can barely see a thing.
Once the lights do finally go up you see the two performers echo some of the movements barely visible before. I wouldn’t call the movement in Maybe Forever dance. The gyrations and frequent arm moves of the piece have little flow, no finesse and very little sense of connection with anything outside the insular world that’s created on stage. These gyrations are occasionally interrupted by singer-songwriter Niko Hafkensch whose songs aren’t bad but they all seem to blend into one never ending waltz. His songs begin as enjoyable but they become almost unbearable as the sounds and themes circle back around and around.
At one point Meg Stuart performs some quasi spoken word accompanied by angular gyrations. It comes off as pretentious and self indulgent an aspect which echoes throughout the entire piece. Sure, I get that Stuart is paying out aspects of her relationships, there are themes of ecstasy, love, hate, death, rape and longing. But the piece seems to have almost no regard for the audience. There’s no connecting points, nothing to really grasp on to and certainly nothing to enjoy.  It’s theater as therapy for the artist and there’s no pleasure in being a voyeur to it.
Maybe Forever goes on for a full hour and a half, repeating movements and themes over and over and over again only to loop back around to them and revisit them again. I have no problem with a piece obsessed with its theme. Last year at TBA Lessar and Company did a phenomenal dance piece on the theme of relationships. It’s was beautiful, moving and challenging. This piece never breaks out of its own insular world, never gives the viewer a connecting point or anything more than the same shard of broken dreams on loop. I was a lone boo, in a trickle of polite applause. There were turned heads, rude comments and shock over this audible communication of displeasure with the puce. To me, polite applause would have been as disingenuous as the piece itself. (Read – Why Not Boo? by Terry Teachout from the Wall Street Journal who puts this issue into perspective better than I ever could.)
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123758739465399861.html
Young Jean Lee Theater Company The Shipment at TBA:09

Young Jean Lee Theater Company The Shipment at TBA:09

Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company – The Shipment

You know you’re not colorblind, right? Young Jean Lee continuously reminds you of this fact as her piece “The Shipment” pushes and pulls at racial identity, stereotypes, perception and memes. The Shipment, divided into five parts, is smart, funny, and painfully insightful. It opens with actor/dancers Mikeah Ernest Jennings and Prentice Onayemi who dance and spring around the stage in ecstatic and playful fashion. It’s disarmingly joyful and extremely likable. It’s a perfect prologue and an extremely skillful misdirection that puts the viewer into a space where they won’t know exactly what to expect from piece.

The short opening dance is followed by Douglas Scott Streater, who comes on stage and does a caricature of a stand-up comedian. Think “Night at the Apollo” or Chris Rock and you capture the essence of Streater’s piece.  “You think I want to be here talking about race? I want to be talking about poop!” exclaims Streater. It’s an important moment addressing the core issue of exactly where the issue of race lives. It poses the question ‘must a black comedian joke about race because he’s black?’ or maybe even the underlining question ‘can someone who isn’t black create a show dealing with seemingly black specific issues?’ Douglas Scott Streater is electrifying in this part of The Shipment, extremely likable and extremely funny. He makes it easy to completely lose the sense that you’re watching an experimental theater piece and actually believe that you’re at a stand-up show.

Streater’s stand-up routine is followed by an odd robotic and cartoonish lampoon of racial stereotypes. It’s done with a minimalist set, in a quasi improv style. The piece reminded me of seeing long form improv at the Improv Olympics in Chicago or perhaps seeing a segment of South Park written and directed by Young Jean Lee. While this wasn’t my favorite part of the show, it was oddly amusing in its outlandish style and rhythm and the actors are so likable in ‘The Shipment’ that it’s a joy to follow along whatever they do.

No sooner do you feel like you’ve got a grip on ‘The Shipment’ than Young Jean Lee pries your fingers away and shows you that you don’t. The cartoonish farce is followed by an extremely naked and beautiful song (Modest Mouse’s Dark Center of the Univese). Three of the actors stand at the edge of the stage, with the house lights raised, piercingly staring at each and every member of the audience as they sing in harmony. During this part of the show Young Jean Lee forces you out of your role of observer of this work, you can’t just comfortably sit in the dark laughing and clapping, saying “they’re not talking about me.”  The song is hauntingly beautiful and having the piercing gaze of an actor meet your eyes is a unique theatrical experience that is wonderful, amazing and terrifying all at once.

The final piece of ‘The Shipment’ is a seemingly conventional one act play that takes place at a cocktail party in an upscale apartment. As with the other pieces of the show, the ensemble cast works extremely well together here. It’s expertly performed and very entertaining. There are a number of twists and turns in the final piece of the evening which are best left unspoiled, but as with the rest of the work, expect to have your perception turned on its head.

Young Jean Lee’s ‘The Shipment’ is an example of how successful a piece of experimental theater can be. In many ways it’s extraordinarily confrontational, dealing with deep issue of racism and racial identity, but it’s done so well, with such a charismatic and likable cast that it doesn’t turn the audience off or push them away. It’s easy to shock an audience and push at their comfort zone, but it’s a lot more difficult to make them laugh and carry them along while you push at their comfort zone. Young Jean Lee and her company of actors accomplish this is an amazing way, with a night of theater that should not be missed.

For more Information on Young Jean Lee Theater Company:

Meg Stuart - Even The Name of the Piece is Pretentious

Meg Stuart - Theater as Therapy

Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods & Philipp Gehmacher/Mumbling Fish – Maybe Forever

I knew I was in trouble when PICA’s guest artistic director Cathy Edwards introduced Meg Stuart’s piece as “wonderfully atmospheric”. To me that’s often code for a piece which has a lot of style and very little substance. Unfortunately, Meg Stuart’s ‘Maybe Forever” lacked in both style and substance. Opening on an extremely dimly lit stage (I could barely make out anything I was seeing), two figures gyrate, roll around and move on the floor. They’re accompanied by looped audio with sounds of a dock or bay. Yes, it’s ‘atmospheric’, but atmospheric of what?  The stage is so dimly lit you can barely see a thing.

Once the lights do finally go up you see the two performers echo some of the movements barely visible before. I wouldn’t call the movement in Maybe Forever dance. The gyrations and frequent arm moves of the piece have little flow, no finesse and very little sense of connection with anything outside the insular world that’s created on stage. These gyrations are occasionally interrupted by singer-songwriter Niko Hafkensch, whose songs aren’t bad but they all seem to blend into one never-ending waltz. His songs begin as enjoyable but they become almost unbearable as the sounds and themes circle back around and around.

At one point Meg Stuart performs some quasi spoken word accompanied by angular gyrations. It comes off as pretentious and self indulgent, an aspect which echoes throughout the entire piece. Sure, I get that Stuart is playing out aspects of her relationships; there are themes of ecstasy, love, hate, death, rape and longing. But the piece seems to have almost no regard for the audience. There are no connecting points, nothing to really grasp on to and certainly nothing to enjoy.  It’s theater as therapy for the artist and there’s no pleasure in being a voyeur to it.

Maybe Forever goes on for a full hour and a half, repeating movements and themes over and over and over again only to loop back around and revisit them again. I have no problem with a piece obsessed with its theme. Last year at TBA Lessar The Company did a phenomenal dance piece on the theme of relationships. It’s was beautiful, moving and challenging. This piece never breaks out of its own insular world, never gives the viewer a connecting point or anything more than the same shard of broken dreams on loop. I was a lone boo in a trickle of polite applause. There were turned heads, rude comments and shock over this audible communication of displeasure with the piece. To me, polite applause would have been as disingenuous as the piece itself. (Read – Why Not Boo? by Terry Teachout from the Wall Street Journal, who puts this issue into perspective better than I ever could.)

For more information on Meg Stuart/et al.:

Categories: Theater Tags:

TBA 2009 – Tons of Free Options at Portland's Premiere Arts Fest

September 2, 2009 No comments
TBA 09: Time Based Art Festival

TBA 09: Time Based Art Festival

Going over this year’s TBA:09 (Time Based Art) Festival catalog I was struck by just how many of the events at Portland’s premiere arts festival are free.

In addition to the free events, there are also a number of options that provide pretty hefty bang for the buck.

Top of that list is the Works Pass. For $75 ($50 for PICA members) you get access to all the late night programming at the Works (Washington High School – 531 SE 14th Ave) running from September 3rd – September 10th.  In all 16 shows!

Some of the highlights from The Works (531 SE 14th Ave)  include:

Totally free TBA:09 events:

Top TBA Picks to shell out dough for:

On Portland plans to bring you complete coverage of TBA 09 with up to date recommendations on shows, pictures and reviews.

Categories: Events, Theater Tags:

The Last Cargo Cult by Mike Daisey – A Workshop Review

August 2, 2009 No comments
The Last Cargo Cult

$20 from The Last Cargo Cult

It would be completely unfair to write a review of Mike Daisey’s newest monologue The Last Cargo Cult. Saturday’s performance of the monologue was only the third time anyone had ever seen it performed.

Mike Daisey doesn’t rehearse his material, he doesn’t write a script, and he will only perform in front of an audience.  Daisey’s monologues are living, breathing entities which morph, reorganize and change considerably over their lifecycle.

“At this point, the monologue may change up to 40% from workshop to workshop,” comments Jean-Michelle Gregory, Mike Daisey’s director, editor and wife.  She goes on to explain the painstaking process that they go through after each performance as Daisey’s notes get annotated, patched up and reorganized.

I had the opportunity to sneak a peek at Daisey’s notes for the show and they consisted of bullet-pointed words and phrases like “Uh oh” and “Getting back on the plane”.  These mile markers represent the core of the story and enable Daisey to follow tangents and connections that may spontaneously occur from night to night without worrying about how he’ll get back on track. As an audience member, the experience of witnessing Daisey discovering a nugget of gold off a seemingly random tangent is indescribable.

The Last Cargo Cult may not be as polished as a work like Monopoly! , but it does have an amazing energy surrounding it, as if you can almost feel something  actively growing and building.  Seeing a work at this stage of the creative process is extremely rare; most artists shy away from showing anything that isn’t completely done or perfected.  This isn’t to say that The Last Cargo Cult isn’t already an extraordinarily enjoyable, insightful and hilarious monologue – it is.  The imperfections act in many ways like a beauty mark on a stunning model and add to the experience of seeing it live and grow.

As I promised, this isn’t a review of The Last Cargo Cult. I won’t tell you why I was handed $20 by the usher as I entered the theater, what happens on the little island of Tana, what the John Frum Movement worships or what exactly fiat currency means.  These are all part of the amazing journey of Mike Daisey’s The Last Cargo Cult, a monologue which is set to have an extraordinary life including three weekends of workshops in Seattle, a premiere at Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, a run at the Playmakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, and a prime-time spot in December at the Public Theater.

I will tell you that Mike Daisey has become one of the preeminent monologists alive today. If Mike Daisey finds his way into a city you’re in, you should jump on the opportunity to see him. The workshop performance of The Last Cargo Cult sold out in a couple of days and I expect the next time he comes to town it will be even faster.

Here’s the tour current tour schedule for Mike Daisey’s The Last Cargo Cult:

Aug. 1 at 8 PM at the Wieden+Kennedy Atrium in Portland, OR
Aug. 7-22 at 8 PM at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, WA
Sept. 4-13 at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival in Philadelphia, PA
Sept. 16-20 at the Playmakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC
Sept. 24-25 at the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, AK
Sept. 29-30 at the The Whitehorse Centre in Whitehorse, YT Canada
Oct. 2-3 at The Banff Centre in Banff, AB, Canada
Oct. 9-11 at The Gamm Theatre in Providence, RI
Dec. 3-13 at the Public Theater in New York, NY
Jan. 11-Feb. 7, 2010 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC
March 4-8 at the WaterTower Theatre in Dallas, TX
March 19-April 11 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA
April 26-May 9 at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago, IL

Aug
1 at 8 PM at the Wieden+Kennedy Atrium in Portland, OR
Aug. 7-22 at 8 PM at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, WA
Sept. 4-13 at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival in Philadelphia, PA
Sept. 16-20 at the Playmakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC
Sept. 24-25 at the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, AK
Sept. 29-30 at the The Whitehorse Centre in Whitehorse, YT Canada
Oct. 2-3 at The Banff Centre in Banff, AB, Canada
Oct. 9-11 at The Gamm Theatre in Providence, RI
Dec. 3-13 at the Public Theater in New York, NY
Jan. 11-Feb. 7, 2010 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC
March 4-8 at the WaterTower Theatre in Dallas, TX
March 19-April 11 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA
April 26-May 9 at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago, I

For more information on Mike Daisey and The Last Cargo Cult:

Categories: Theater Tags: ,

Mike Daisey Interview – The Last Cargo Cult

July 31, 2009 No comments
Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey is a breath of fresh air. In an era where there is so much derivative work  appearing on stage (look no further than Shrek The Musical, Legally Blonde or Xanadu),Daisey reminds us why we go to live theater in the first place – to see something happen, in the moment.

Unlike many other notable monologists, Mike Daisey does all his performance extemporaneously. His monologues are never rehearsed and the only guide he uses is a set of notes which he amends at the end of every performance.

I’ve had the opportunity to see Mike Daisey perform on three occasions:  21 Dog Years (doing time at Amazon.com) in 2005,  Monopoly! and If You See Something, Say Something which Daisey performed at the 2009 TBA festival.  It’s been an amazing experience to see Daisey grow as a performer, and so I was extremely excited to discover that PICA was bringing him back to Portland to workshop his latest work The Last Cargo Cult (which he performs on August 1st at 8pm in the Wieden + Kennedy Atrium 224 NW 13th Ave)

Here’s our interview with Mike Daisey where he talks about the process of creating his monologues, The Last Cargo Cult, and why Portland has such a deep connection with his work:

Here’s Part 2 of the Mike Daisey Interview:

For more information on Mike Daisey:

Categories: Interview, Theater Tags: , ,

Rent comes to Portland with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal

June 24, 2009 1 comment
Rent: The Broadway Tour

Rent: The Broadway Tour

Over the past thirteen years, Rent has transformed from a smash hit Broadway musical into something much bigger. The show, which is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme, tells the story of a group of New York youth struggling with the challenges and grim realities of becoming adults. Rent takes place at the apex of the AIDS crisis when twenty-somethings not only had to worry about what they wanted to be when they grew up, but the constant fear of catching the deadly virus and dying.

Johnathan Larson, who died tragically before the show’s original debut, captures the electricity of this time and combines it with a score that features a number of ensemble pieces that are nothing short of outstanding. When I saw the original production of Rent on Broadway, the performers closely mirrored their characters: they were young and struggling to make a name for themselves. The original show snapped with a spark of energy that is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen on stage.

Flash forward thirteen years to a touring production of Rent staring two of the original performers, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp. No longer struggling performers, Rapp and Pascal have become inexorably tied to their roles in Rent. After the show a huge crowd met the two at the stage door with a wave of camera flashes and screams. The two have become something akin to rock stars.

So how do two performers revisit the roles that made them famous thirteen years later? Surprising well. From the opening scene between Mark and Roger you get the sense of excitement and enjoyment. But Rapp and Pascal aren’t trying to recreate their original performances; they both seem to embrace the reality that they come at the piece from a different space. The result of this is intriguing. Anthony Rapp plays Mark with a much sharper edge, a more grounded and mature performance that places Mark at a greater distance from the people around him. Pascal’s change is more subtle and seems to come out in his scenes with Lexi Lawson, who plays Mimi. The duet Light My Candle gets a new life with Roger’s rebukes of Mimi’s advances taking on a different tone. The number between Pascal and Lawson is an absolute highlight of the show and an example of how a show, even thirteen years into its run, can find new life and space.

Adam Pascal and Lexi Lawson

Adam Pascal and Lexi Lawson

A more difficult task perhaps is asked of the newer performers, expected to inhabit iconic roles established by some of theater’s most respected performers. Some of the touring cast does this well, and some do not. Lexi Lawson, who left this season of American Idol to take part in the touring production, does a fantastic job of breathing fresh life into her character of Mimi. Lawson is best in the duets, but the solo Out Tonight seems a bit too big for her. The raw talent is there and Lawson’s chemistry with Adam Pascal is simply fantastic. Another real highlight of the touring company is Haneefah Wood who plays Joanne. Her duet Tango: Maureen is one of my favorite moments of the touring production. It may be blasphemy to say this, and I’m sure I’ll hear from “Rent-heads”, but I actually preferred Haneefah Wood’s interpretation of Joanne to the original production. Wood captures the dichotomy of being a strong and accomplished woman who still lets Maureen wrap her around her finger. I also really enjoyed Nicolette Hart as Maureen. Almost more than any of the other non-original Broadway cast members Hart makes the role her own. She throws out the original performance template of Maureen and finds her own path to the incredibly attractive but ultimately batty character.

I didn’t have the same level of affection for some of the other members of the touring company. Jacques C. Smith’s performance of Benny is by far the weakest as Smith seems lost in the role. This is most apparant in the transition between Christmas Bells and Over The Moon, which is a complete mess, partly attributed to Smith’s performance. I was also disappointed with Michael McElroy’s performance of Tom Collins. During the first act I felt that McElroy’s performance was a little listless and that his vocal range felt limited. He completely shattered these perceptions with I’ll Cover You: Reprise where McElroy pulls out a performance that is fantastic. This made me even more frustrated about his first act work, knowing that he has the goods but wasn’t bringing them until the second act. I felt the same way about Justin Johnson, whose first act performance of Angel was lacking something and whose second act work was again phenomenal.

The rest of the company who fills in the spaces of the show were really strong. The ensemble numbers were best when everyone was standing still, like with Life Support or Seasons of Love, however when the ensemble tried to sing and move the result ended up being a lot more muddled and chaotic as it was with Christmas Bells and La Vie Boheme (which was one of the only corner stone songs of the show that didn’t seem to hit its mark).

Rent in Portland

Rent in Portland

But, I feel silly complaining about some of the minor details of this show. It’s like complaining about the frame on the Mona Lisa. Rent is a masterpiece that resonates as well today as when I first saw it on Broadway. It’s a show whose universal relevance places it firmly as a ‘classic’ that is sure to be played for generations to come. The show exists in a lot of forms, from the less than stellar Christopher Columbus film version to a Reunion Broadway performance on Blu-Ray and DVD. Nothing can compare to seeing Rent live. It’s an absolute gift to have Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp reprise their original roles and the supporting touring company is well above the quality of most touring companies. I’d even go as far to say that Rent “The Broadway Tour” is the best touring company I’ve seen perform in Portland.

If you’ve never seen Rent, you owe it to yourself to see this show live. I doubt we’ll see Rapp and Pascal in these roles again, so there probably won’t be a better version of this show out there than this. If you love Rent, I’m happy to report that this production does the show justice, and odds are you already have tickets.

Rent runs at the Keller Auditorium through June 28th. $20 day of show tickets are available. Also of note is that the Portland Opera is opening their 2009-2010 season with Puccini’s opera La Boheme in September, so this is a rare opportunity to see Rent and La Boheme within months of each other, something that will enrich the experience of seeing both.

For more information on Rent at The Keller:

Categories: Theater Tags: ,

Live Blog From Portland Opera's Opening Night of Rigoletto

Rigoletto at The Portland Opera

Rigoletto at The Portland Opera

The only thing worst than a theater critic is a theater blogger. Good criticism is well thought out, reasoned and considered. I have mere moments to jot my thoughts about a production which dozens of people have toiled weeks and even months on.

Given that caveat, I can only really give my first impressions of Portland Opera‘s production of Rigoletto. Performance wise Mark Rucker is putting forward a very strong performance as Rigoletto pretty much eclipsing Richard Troxell, but both men are clearly upstaged by the sheer vocal beauty and presence of Sarah Coburn as Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter.  Coburn elevates ever scene she is in. For me the high point so far has been the duet between Gilda and Rigoletto.

I’ve had a few issues so far with the Portland Opera’s production of Rigoletto. The stage is murky and dimly lit. I understand what they are going for, but it doesn’t work. The dim stage seems to mute some of the performers on stage and in the second part of the first act after the opening number the chorus never quite is able to break out of the shadows.

The stage is also an issue. There was a huge pause between the first and second scene. Long at the point of being too long.  After touring the huge stage I can understand the issues they have with it. Hopefully the transition will go smoother the next performance.

But the Opera itself is enjoyable. I kept thinking about how Rigoletto gets cursed at work in the course of doing his job, how the issues of his work follow his home and impact his home life. Somehow this feels oddly timely. Should Rigoletto be punished for doing his job as a court jester? He’s hates the fact that he has to ridicule for a living and yet at the behest of the Duke he is forced to do it. Punished for a job he doesn’t want to do…But as a fool Rigoletto seems to be pretty sharp. Compare him to the fool in Hamlet and realize that Rigoletto is in fact a reluctant fool.

Perhaps Rigoletto is more the fool for thinking he can imprison his daughter and keep her from the world. Perhaps its this sin, the one of trying to control her that he’s ultimately punished for. Does his proximity to the Duke color his view of the world? Does he see all men as lecherous?

Like I said, these are the first things that run through my head as I watch this opera. I’ve found that I’m not reading the subtitles as much as listening and watching what’s happening on stage. I realize that I’m really drawn in when the emotion and presence of the actors is more important than ever word they say. Heck I can’t understand half the lyrics of songs I listen to on my iPod, why this need to have every word clearly defined.

The Opera is compelling and I’ll be interested to see how the next few acts are…

ACT II

The rough scene change of the first act clearly threw the performers off their game as the second act is noticeably stronger. Realized I totally forgot to mention the stellar performance by Keith Miller as Count Monterone. He’s on stage for mere moments and he’s simply fantastic. But the show is all about the duets between Rigoletto and Gilda. The opera revolves around them and the union of Mark Rucker, Sarah Coburn and conductor George Manhan is the real reason to see this opera.  Richard Troxell was much better in the second act with admittedly more to work with.

I feel remiss for not mentioning how much I’ve enjoyed the orchestration, the musical performance has been really solid. George Manhan makes you forget he’s there, nice to see a conductor so pitch perfect and so humble.

Story wise I find it interesting how Rigoletto sheds his role as the fool and tries to assume power, he shoes all the lords away and threatens his revenge on the Duke. The chorus says how you have to indulge children and madmen sometimes, but is Rigoletto either? Is the fool really able to have power? In the first act he sits on the Duke’s throne in mockery, but in act II he seems to have some real authority over the other men who seem mortified that the practical joke they plaid on him was not with his mistress but with his daughter. I love the moment they realize this, it’s the best moment with the chorus who all collectively seem to feel the same feeling at the same moment. Wish there had been more of that at the end of act I.

I love the line that Rigoletto delivers that talks about how much can change over the course of a day. What would have happened if Rigoletto just left well enough alone, listened to his daughter and accepted her love for the Duke? Is his undoing pride here?  At the top of the act it’s almost impossible to feel any sence of empathy for The Duke who thinks his love is gone, Are we being asked by Verdi to want the Duke to be dead. When you really think about it all Act 2 is pretty subversive. The Fool becomes the force of vengence and the Duke becomes the fool…  You know it doesn’t end well and yet when Rigoletto and Gilda sing together some how you wish that it could….

ACT III

The final act has all the juicy moments you go to opera for. It’s big and tragic. The one issue I have is that Richard Troxell never makes us believe that the women of Rigoletto would literally love the Duke to death. When Gilda dies in place of the Duke all I can ask is WHY? I mean she knows full well that the Duke is a womanizer. La Dona e mobile is practically an insult to women in general and the Duke professes his same “love” to Maddelen as he does to Gilda and yet she dies in his place. I can understand her trying to save her father from Sparafucile’s knife but The Duke?

Perhaps if the Duke were played more electrically we’d understand. But Troxell moves through the third act without the charisma we need to believe. He sings La Dona e mobile like it’s a greatest hits he’s had to sing over and over, but would rather be singing something else. It’s a critical moment lost. We’ve seen him profess his love to her in the first act and we needed to see him be both despicable and utterly irritable here. Maddelen sells it, Gilda sells it but the Duke doesn’t.

The high point of the third act for me is the quartet between Rigoletto, Gilda Sparafucle and Maddelen. Portland Opera’s staging of Rigolleto really comes alive outside of the solos. Heck it comes to life any time Sarah Coburn steps onto the stage.

I find myself asking… what if Rigoletto hadn’t waited to exact his revenge? He asks Sparafucile to wait to set up the hit on the Duke, is this a nod to the indecision that faced Hamlet. Had Rigoletto hired him in act one then Gilda wouldn’t have died!  And ultimately Rigoletto pays the ultimate price for his attempt at vengeance… Is Verdi siding with the royalty or covering up the subversive subplot, and what happens next?  Will Rigoletto have what it takes to face the Duke himself or is Gilda’s death his literal ruin.  A lot of stuff to chew on…

What strikes me the most is how in an opera mostly populated by male roles (and an all male chorus) it’s the women performers who shine the brightest. Both Sarah Coburn as Gilda and Jossie Perez as Maddalena are superb. While their characters fall blindly in love with the Duke, while Gilda is kidnapped and ‘ravished’ and ultimately killed, she’s still the strongest of the bunch…

In all, I enjoyed Rigoletto very much. I did have issues with the lighting, but in the face of everything else it feels like a nit. The show is worth seeing for no other reason than to see the union of Sarah Coburn, Mark Rucker and the Portland Opera orchestra. If Richard Troxell can up his game as The Duke during the run (and I truly believe he can)  it could really morph into something special, he’s the key to elevate this very good production to a really great one, if he can make us believe then it becomes something much bigger and profound.

Here are links to my fellow Portland Opera Bloggers and their take on the evening:

Other Portland Opera Rigoletto Links:

Categories: Theater Tags: ,

Back Stage at Portland Opera's Rigoletto

Here are photos and video (almost) live from backstage at the Portland Opera’s production of Rigoletto:

Back Stage Tour of Portland Opera’s Rigoletto – Part I:

Back Stage Tour of Portland Opera’s Rigoletto – Part II:

Back Stage Tour of Portland Opera’s Rigoletto – Upstairs on The Stage:

Categories: Theater Tags:

Portland Opera's Rigolleto – The Twitter Feed

Here’s an archive of the live twitter feed from the Portland Opera’s Live Bog event:

Portland Opera's Rigoletto - Live Twitter Feed

Portland Opera's Rigoletto - Live Twitter Feed

  • Final thoughts from my Portland Opera production of Rigoletto… Live Blogged http://bit.ly/dKeKm #
  • The finale at Portland Operas Rigoletto http://yfrog.com/0e8svj #
  • Live blog up now updated with Act II of Rigoletto at Portland Operal http://bit.ly/dKeKm #
  • First act down and the opera is pretty good. Very dimly lit. Not a choice I’m really a fan of. #
  • Very long pause after the first scene as they muscle the stage change. So far I am half reading the English. Portland Opera Rigolleto. #
  • My seat at the Portland Opera Rigoletto http://yfrog.com/0ev9ij #
  • Almost time for the Opera! Rigoletto!!! #
  • great comment about this opera frokm @pxcaballero “It’s like the Law and Order of Operas” #
  • Every tried to blog with 50 or so people coming up to you and asking you what are you are doing. It’s Blogger Night at the Portland Opera #
  • Amusingly the opera’s network is called H1N1 and it’s just as slow spreading… #
  • After a nice tour of the set (which has been making the rounds for 20 years) we are on display in the lobby of the Portland Opera #
  • More back stage photos at the Portland Opera http://yfrog.com/0g8bnj #
  • Bloggers back stage at the Portland Opera http://yfrog.com/0mu2nbj #
  • Backstage at the Portland Opera http://yfrog.com/714dbj #
  • At the opera with some of the other bloggers including @culturepulp #
  • Getting an early start. Figured it was such a nice day I would take max and walk to the Portland Opera tonight. #
  • RT: @TheSquare Joe Smith heading to Portland Opera tonight for Rigoletto. It’s blogger night $10 rush tix! – @Onportland will be there too #
  • Getting psyched for the Portland Opera on Friday. Just checked out Richard Troxell’s site (The Duke of Mantua) http://www.richardtroxell.tv #
  • We will be live blogging tonight’s performance of Portland Opera’s Rigoletto. http://tinyurl.com/c85ssu #

Other Portland Opera Rigoletto Links:

Categories: Theater, Twitter Tags:

Portland Opera's Rigoletto – A Study Guide

Portland Opera Rigoletto

Portland Opera Rigoletto

The Portland Opera is hopping on the blog bandwagon with a special opportunity for a select group of bloggers to live blog the Opera with their production of Rigoletto.

On Portland will be in attendance on opening night May 8th (starting at 7:30pm at the Keller Auditorium) and will be covering the opera live here on the site as well as on twitter. Follow us @OnPortland for up to date coverage of this opera and then check in here on the site at around 9pm for the first installment of our live review  (we get to post at the first intermission).

Also if you’re going to be in the audience for opening night, let us know either here in the comments or on twitter.

In the mean time, it’s always good to study up on your opera before heading out so here are some useful bits about Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto:

Also here are some interviews with key people from the Portland Opera Production of Rigoletto:

Mark Rucker on singing Rigoletto:

Richard Troxell as the Duke:

Conductor George Manahan

Categories: Theater Tags:

Mike Daisey – If You See Something, Say Something

September 15, 2008 1 comment
Mike Daisey in If You See Something, Say Something

Mike Daisey in If You See Something, Say Something

This year at TBA I had a little mini “Mike Daisey Festival“. I saw Mike Daisey perform his ‘MONOPOLY!‘ early on in the fest, then attended a companion workshop ‘extemporaneous, autobiographical, monologue’ and finally finished with ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ at the end of the festival..and I enjoyed every minute of it.

After seeing Monopoly!, I attended Daisey’s workshop. It was a lot like watching the behind the scenes content on a DVD. Daisey opened window into his work, his process and the art form of monologue. One of the key points Daisey emphasized is “there are no messages in good extemporaneous monologue”. This perhaps is the key to why Daisey’s pieces work so well. Daisey deals with incendiary topics in his work, rather than rant and rave, beating the audience over the head with messages, he deals with core themes and trusts his audience enough to process that material and make their own conclusions.

In the workshop, Daisey also emphasized the importance of imperfection in art, a concept which spoke to me. “If you smooth away the edges you leave no point of entry to your work,” Daisey remarked. “Hamlet is a truly fucked up play. If I submitted it to a MFA program without including who wrote it, they would smooth out the edges to make it ‘better’…I mean why doesn’t the ghost of Hamlet’s father come back, we need to have him come back… and what about these fucking Pirates!” Daisey teaches weekend long workshops in New York and after getting a two and a half hour taste I’d say it’s required education for anyone pursuing a career in monologue.

After the workshop I had the opportunity to see Daisey’s newest piece. If You See Something, Say Something previewed at this years TBA festival prior to its run at The Public Theater in New York (Wednesday, October 15 – Sunday, November 30). If you See Something is a poignant and engaging musing about security, what makes us feel safe and how governments use fear as a leverage point. Like many of Daisey’s monologues, this one weaves several stories together to form the whole including: Daisey’s trip to Laos Alamos in New Mexico to see ground zero at the Trinity Site, the story of Sam Cohen and his involvement with both the Atomic and Neutron bombs, the complete history of Homeland Security and 9/11.

What struck me the most about If You See Something, Say Something was just how many levels that it played on. The audience roared with laughter as Daisey exploded with self effacing comedic moments including eating the worst hamburger in history and then barely uttered a breath as he talked about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. True to form, Daisey doesn’t beat his audience over the head with messages about how bad Homeland Security is or the insanity of the Patriot Act, instead he dissects the history of both and muses on the relationship we all have with it.

If You See Something, Say Something is an exceptional monologue and Mike Daisey has shown this week that he is one of the premiere monologists performing today. Daisey hinted that he may be back again in Portland in the near future and mentioned an off the record piece he’s proposing for a future TBA, I can’t wait.

Categories: Theater Tags: , ,