Arts In LA
 
We welcome back Bob Verini, formerly one of the fine ArtsInLA.com theater reviewers, always a flawless and engaging writer—whether setting his gimlet eyes on theater or just letting us know how a former Angeleno can survive in the snow.

He'll be our correspondent for Arts in New England, and we hope you'll be checking in there to catch up on what LA-related artists are doing in the Northeast!

Have a read of his first report from the front, below.



 
Theater review from New England:

Our American Hamlet
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in residence at Babson College

Reviewed by Bob Verini


Jacob Fishel, Maureen Keiller, Jake Broder, Will Lyman, and Joe Fria
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Even if the youngest son hadn’t sought immortality by murdering our 16th president, the Booth family story would eminently qualify as the source of high drama, early-American style. In the saga of fabled, dissolute touring tragedian Junius Brutus, and even more fabled classical actor Edwin, can be found such fertile themes as father-son competitiveness; modern artistic concepts elbowing out traditional ones; infidelity and betrayal (Junius kept a second wife and family in the UK, to the chagrin of the home folks); sibling rivalry (young Johnny, too, aspired, to his father’s crown), and the remarkable and persistent vulnerability of performers to demon rum and mental illness.

   With the blossoming of an assassin on the family tree comes a wealth of additional facets, including a family’s shame at having raised a viper in their midst; the “celebrity murder” phenomenon, which caught on a century later but whose roots lay in the tragedy of 1865; the haunting of the present by the past; and the unforgiving nature of the mob, who insisted on tarring Edwin with the same bloody brush as John Wilkes. Multitalented Jake Broder—he who rocked L.A. with his writing and acting in Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara and Miravel—has managed to incorporate all of the above thematic elements into a 90-minute dramatic portrait.

 Our American Hamlet received a stylish, accomplished world premiere engagement by the prestigious Commonwealth Shakespeare Company of Wellesley, Mass., and now that the short run (ending April 2) has ended, the way should be clear for some needed script work prior to the many additional productions that will doubtless follow. (Full disclosure: Jake hosted the 2016 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards, which I produced, and we became friends.)

The Booths have been the source of drama before, of course. But the biography Prince of Players, the film adaptation of the same name starring Richard Burton, and Milton Geiger’s stage play Edwin Booth failed to do their subject justice due to a sluggish, conventional, chronology-based approach.

   Broder has wisely chosen a more impressionistic take on the material, one that director Steven Maler has happily run with. The action is set within a framing device in which, months after the assassination, Edwin Booth (Jacob Fishel) is about to face the madding crowd in a New York revival of Hamlet. Passions are high and death threats swirling, as reported by Booth intimate Adam Badeau (a real-life character, portrayed by Broder here). Would it not be wiser to go abroad or just lay low? But Edwin is driven, and we alternate between the dressing room and flashes of his past, often enough to render it not just understandable but also inevitable that he would seek to make this most daring public appearance at this most fraught public moment.

   Julia Noulin-Merat’s set is itself a stage, opening out to the auditorium shown on the back wall, with a dressing room, ropes, and a locking rail stage left. And why not, since the world of the Booths was always the world of backstage and greasepaint. Maler and Noulin-Merat have platforms and furniture deftly sliding in and out so that the events of a half-century of touring and family tension can sail along. Particularly impressive is the sound design of David Remedios, which makes ghostly voices manifest and allows us to feel the impact of a bloodthirsty mob even while the onstage cast merely numbers seven.

But Broder has something even more sophisticated in mind than just fracturing time frame and incident. He has taken pains to weave the plot, characters, and lines of Hamlet into the Booths’ everyday and professional lives. This effort—which one senses really tickled the playwright—feels very right: A family defined by its relationship to the theater might well be in the habit of communicating through Shakespearean references. And with Edwin so obsessed by the role of the haunted Prince, it makes psychological sense that his shaky command of reality should be seen through the lens of that play.

   The whole thing is a tall order for any cast to handle, but Maler’s ensemble is up to the challenge. Fishel is a splendid Edwin, louche and period-believable in his relaxed moments and scarily frenzied when madness is upon him. You start to wish you could see him play Hamlet in full, which could be the best possible compliment to anyone portraying this role. The playwright is quite persuasive as Badeau, whom historians have believed for years was enamored of Edwin in every possible way and may or may not have made his intentions known; Broder subtly hints at the role’s undertones.


Jacob Fishel and Will Lyman
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots


   The superb Will Lyman—a local stalwart, known by voice around the world as the longtime narrator of PBS’s Frontline—goes toe to toe with Fishel as the patriarch, while Joe Fria, familiar to LA audiences, manages to negotiate both the comic swagger and murderous mania of John Wilkes. Kelby Akin gets less to do as the eldest Booth son (I’d forgotten about June, who went off early to produce plays on the Pacific Coast and missed most of the sibling warfare), but acquits himself capably in various other roles. It’s a little odd to have the same actor double as Edwin’s sister and wife—yikes!—though Lucy Davenport differentiates them nicely; the doubling of Junius’s two wives is a little less weird and Maureen Keiller thrives in both parts.

To bring his play to the next level, Broder needs to reexamine his framing device, which is predicated on Badeau’s attempt to dissuade Edwin from making himself available to the angry crowd. But that effort dissipates quickly, and very soon each revisit to the 1866 playhouse just becomes a too-convenient way to lay out exposition. If we’re going to keep returning to them, Badeau and Edwin need a genuine dramatic question they can wrestle with for the play’s duration, and the transitions between 1866 and the past need clarifying (the director’s aid could be enlisted here). More knotty—although rather noble, all things considered—is the confidence Broder has that his audience is intimately familiar with Hamlet’s plot and lines. Amidst the prevailing 19th-century diction, we’re never quite sure when they’re shifting into Shakespearean quotes; as it is, those references seem shoehorned in by the playwright, rather than the result of conscious character choices.
   Whatever work it needs, Our American Hamlet is already an ambitious and absorbing entertainment.

April 10, 2017

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in residence at Babson College, Wellesley, Mass. March 24–April 2. Running time 90 minutes. www.commshakes.org
 

 
Ballet review
L.A. Ballet’s all-Balanchine program

Various Los Angeles venues [closed]

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


The dancers of Divertimento No. 15
Photo by Reed Hutchinson/
Los Angeles Ballet


Those who talk ballet often refer to the Balanchine style. Los Angeles Ballet’s current offering magnificently reminds us that choreographer George Balanchine (1904–1983) created in many styles.
   Born and schooled in Russia, Balanchine came to America in 1933, soon founding the School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet. Trained in the strict traditions of the Imperial Ballet in Russia, given freedom to break rules in an America that was a haven for artistic rule breakers, Balanchine pushed classical lines and rhythms into what we now call “modern” and “jazz” forms.
   Los Angeles Ballet’s mixed-bill program, running through March, features three one-acts: an abstract tribute to the Imperial style, an early forerunner of modern-dance storytelling and an homage to American musicals.

The jewel in this crown is Prodigal Son, Balanchine’s depiction of the Biblical parable, set to music by Sergei Prokofiev. Patricia Neary stages this 1929 ballet for LAB, using Georges Rouault’s set and costume designs from the ballet’s 1950 revival.
   Unlike many Balanchine ballets, which are usually abstract, this one clearly tells a story, of a wild restless lad (Kenta Shimizu) who cannot wait to leave his father’s (Zheng Hua Li) control and see what the world has to offer. The Prodigal Son gets an eyeful out there.
   His Drinking Companions are false friends. They lure him into too much boozing and very bendy adventures with the very tall Siren (Elizabeth Claire Walker). Playing those louts, the male corps de ballet thoroughly commits to the grotesque movements
—to their, and the audience’s, extreme glee.
   If you take your young child to this evening of dance, you might have to explain your fellow adults’ tittering reactions to the unambiguous gymnastics of the Siren and the Son. On the other hand, it teaches the young ones a painless lesson about the wear-and-tear extreme depravity causes.
   Shimizu is all emotion, so no mime is needed here, nor does stager Colleen Neary re-impose any from various early revivals. So we don’t need to see Shimizu kiss the ground to feel how grateful this Son is to come home, to know how much he regrets dabbling in debauchery, to understand his hope for forgiveness.


Kenta Shimizu and Elizabeth Claire Walker in Prodigal Son
Photo by Reed Hutchinson/
Los Angeles Ballet
The program opens with Divertimento No. 15 Divertimento No. 15, Balanchine’s take on 18th-century courtliness, set to music by Mozart. Balanchine choreographed the piece in 1956, seeming to look back fondly at his Russian roots. Understated elegance is the style here. Still, the piece needs undercurrents of energy, other than opening-night nerves.
   Two days prior, the company lost one of its two principal ballerinas to an injury. Lia Cirio, a principal with Boston Ballet, flew in to heroically replace the injured Allyssa Bross. This may have led to the distractions and strain visible onstage. A ballerina’s slip was the first evidence of tension, followed by stiffness in a few corps members.
   Cirio is a vibrant dancer and a good soul for helping out a company in need across the country. Her style, however, with the exaggerated limbs sometimes (perhaps wrongly) associated with Balanchine, contrasts with what LAB co–Artistic Director Colleen Neary had developed in her company: a stately, more-classical demeanor. But this unshowiness too often translated as lacking performing fire.


Lia Cirio and Tigran Sarsgyan in Who Cares?
Photo by Reed Hutchinson/
Los Angeles Ballet

Who Cares? closes the show. Though choreographed in 1970, it captures the newness and excitement of jazz in its early years. Set to music by George Gershwin, the 12 dances here celebrate the syncopations and contrasting rhythms of the musical form, plus the sensuality and off-balance dance style that once made jazz seem dangerous.
   That contained, purposeful danger was mostly absent on opening night, replaced by a near complacency that felt as if the dancers had settled for learning the steps. They learned them well, and there were moments of lovely synchronization among the corps.
   But only two dancers brought excitement to the stage. Julia Cinquemani shows sultriness and musicality in her solo, “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” and pairs perfectly with Tigran Sargsyan for “The Man I Love.”
   He then partners Cirio for “Embraceable You” and Bianca Bulle for “Who Cares?” And then he takes his solo, “Liza,” displaying all the hoped-for jazziness and a musicality that toys delightfully with the music. At last, who could ask for anything more?

March 13, 2017

Republished courtesy of Daily News
 

 
Fitzmaurice Voicework
with Lisa Pelikan

www.LisaPelikan.com


 
NEW THIS WEEK:


* Reviews of Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers, Cat's-Paw, The Siegel

*On our sister site, ArtsInNY, reviews of The Hairy Ape, Sweat, The Play That Goes Wrong; War Paint and The LIttle Foxes; Groundhog Day and Hello, Dolly!

* Bob Verini returns...on the East Coast, covering New England.

COMING SOON:

* Reviews of Long Day's Journey Into Night, Once on This Island,  and more

 

To contact us, email
     info@artsinla.com




Not allied with Stage Raw or StageRaw.com. Nice try, though.

Website Builder