This is a recording of my duet partner Karuna and me playing at a holiday concert at a local retirement home. Hope you enjoy it!
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
My violin studio had the great pleasure of being invited to the Maryland State Capitol for a concert to celebrate the holiday season. The concert was billed as a candlelight performance--which it was not for fear the building might burn down. Despite the lack of candles, we all enjoyed playing for the huge crowd in the enormous room with its amazing acoustics.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
When mortals and immortals meet, mayhem occurs. And that is just what happens in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show (directed by Ethan McSweeny, the director of the fantastic Much Ado About Nothing) set its sights high, hoping to explore Shakespeare’s world of fairies and mortals in a new way. Although it is innovative, the production is not completely successful.
The stage itself is a masterpiece. Sidney Harman Hall is transformed into an old theater, long unused, with racks of costumes and props lying on the stage. The fairies inhabit the theater during the night, slipping through trap doors to have their midnight revels, to steal props and costumes, and to observe the mortals. This setting brings the fairies down to earth. Both city and forest are symbolized in the same set, beautifully designed by Lee Savage. This decision allows McSweeny to suggest that the fairy world and the moral world are mapped atop each other, almost like anagrams, rather than being alternative worlds.
Sometimes the audience gets a strong sense that the two worlds are in fact one. At other moments, the director’s effort to distinguish the two worlds creates awkward or meaningless division. For example, during the scenes taking place in the fairy world, pre-recorded bird song occasionally bursts out of nowhere in the old theater. At one moment the theater seems to be the actual world of the fairies. At other moments, the theater merely seems to symbolize a separated forest, removed from the theater of the mortals.
Costume designer Jennifer Moeller has created outfits for the mortals from the era of the 1940s. The costumes ranged from a military uniform for the Duke to prep school uniforms. Lysander (Robert Bietzel) was dressed in jeans and carried a guitar on his back throughout the play. Somewhat incongruously, Helena appears much more formal and adult than her peers, wearing a classic 1940s dress rather than teen garb. The fairies, on the other hand, all wore bits of old costumes, pilfered from the theater within the theater. Many of the clothes seemed to be from fallen empires--from Rome, from Greece, or even from the overturned French aristocracy. Underling fairies wore elaborate Victorian lingerie with occasional touches from those and other fallen empires.
In an effort to emphasize the sameness of the mortal and immortal worlds, the clothing of the teen lovers begins to look more like the clothing of the fairies as they spend the night in the “woods.” During a slapstick brawl between the four humans, they remove their mortal clothes and find themselves in their underwear, becoming fairies in their own right, at least to a degree. At this point, these humans can suddenly use the fairies’ trap doors to get around the forest.
When Bottom and the other “Rude Mechanicals” begin to practice their play, they find themselves on a stage upon a stage, upon a stage! The thespians’ scenes are less inventive than the rest of the production but garner a lot of laughs. Snout (Herschel Sparber) plays Wall with the contents of a recycling bin trailing from his outstretched arms. Flute (David Graham Jones) plays Thisbe as a Disney princess thrilled to be prancing on stage. My favorite costume piece was definitely Bottom’s donkey head. When it first appeared on his head, it looked quite real, but soon it took on an almost “steam-punk" look.
The highlight of the show was Puck, masterfully played by Adam Green. Whether he was leaping from trap doors or splashing mud and water on the humans, he held the show together with his playfulness and sly humor. This production cast Puck as more of a trickster than a brooding spirit. There was a Cirque du Soleil aspect to the immortal world with fairies turning cartwheels and shimmying up ropes. Puck joined them by conducting many dialogues while swinging from the fictive theater’s dilapidated chandeliers.
The magical portrayal of the immortal side, in contrast with the somewhat cold and uncharismatic portrayal of the mortals, leads the audience to connect much more strongly with the fairies. Despite McSweeny’s attempt to integrate the two worlds (taken to its furthest extreme at the end of the play, which I will leave a surprise), we as viewers are left with a disappointing sense of how separated the two worlds are.