Saturday, May 28, 2016

They Don't Talk Back

May 28, 2016

Native Voices Loud and Clear

In February La Jolla Playhouse (LJP) announced that Native Voices would become the LJP 2016-17 resident theatre company. Based at the Autry Center in Los Angeles, Native Voices is the first theatre company from outside San Diego to be so named and the only Equity theatre devoted exclusively to developing and producing new works for the stage by Native American, Alaska Native and First Nation Playwrights.

Friday, May 27, at the LJP Shank Theatre, Native Voices, in association with Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre, presented Frank Henry Kaash Katasse’s (Tlingit) impressive contemporary play, They Don’t Talk Back, directed by Randy Reinholz (Choctaw), who is producing artistic director and cofounder of Native Voices at the Autry. Native Voices co-founder Jean Bruce Scott, codirects Katasse’s play.
Jennifer Bobiwash and Kholan Studi
Photo by Craig Schwartz

A unique drama combining Native Alaskan experience, language and sensibility with contemporary mores, the production continues through June 5. It concerns a troubled teen named Nick (Román Zaragoza, Pima) who has nowhere to go. His father (Brian Pagad Wescott, Athabascan, Yup’ik) is a war veteran suffering from PTSD, and his mother (unseen) is an incarcerated drug addict, so he is sent to live with his grandparents, Paul Sr. (Duane Minard, Yurok, Paiute) and Linda (Jennifer Bobiwash, Ojibway), in a remote fishing village in Southeast Alaska. The immense culture shock is eventually alleviated by Nick’s bond with his teenage cousin, Eddie (Kholan Studi, Cherokee).

The characters are fully developed and each is given at least one aria to sing. Did I say sing? Yes, the two-hour, 15 minute piece has the form of an opera, with each major character – and they are major – stepping out to state their feelings and motivations poetically, leading us to a more complete understanding of who they are. The boys are especially lovable, but then, so are the grandparents, eking out a living as boat fishers of dwindling resources, having already taken in one grandson and now a second. The elders are set in the old ways, but who’s to say the old ways are not good ways? And that of course is the point of it all. We need love and family wherever we find it. 
Roman Zaragoza and Duane Mindard
Photos by Craig Schwartz

The acting is exceptional, with little “emoting,” just honest and forthright delivery. The staging is excellent, too, considering the simple resources. We are presented with an elevated living room surrounded by ramps and a downstage playing area (scenic and props director is Sara Ryung Clement), with upstage projections of the sea and the harbor. Costume designer is E. B. Brooks (Sami, Algonquin) with lighting and sound by R. Craig Wolf and John Nobori respectively, and Ed Littlefield (Tlingit) is the composer, language adviser and choreographer. A trim of possibly 15 minutes would improve the experience a great deal. Because this is the world premiere production, that may happen.

For tickets to They Don’t Talk Back call LJP box office at 858-550-1010.

June 7, 8 and 9, Native Voices will present Native Voices New Play Festival, a series of three readings as follows:

June 7
Fairly Traceable
By Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee)
Directed by Jean Bruce Scott
Dramaturg Kelly Miller

June 8
And So We Walked
By DeLanna Studi (Cherokee)
Directed by Corey Madden
Dramaturg Shirley Fishman

June 9
Bears and Black Sheep
By Jason Grasl (Blackfeet)
Directed by Olivia Espinoza (Azteca)
Dramaturg Rachel Wiegardt-Egel

All readings are free; RSVP required. Curtain at 7:00 pm. Call 858-550-1010.

Monday, May 16, 2016

kallisti Noon at Dusk, diversionary and Great Scott

Apparently, Google has planned to drop the photo storage and add capabilities of this blog system for quite some time. I guess I was standing behind the door when the news came my way. Until I figure out my alternatives I'll be posting without photos. I suppose there are worse things, but right now I can't think of any, at least blogwise. I'm not the only one.

May 28: I've gone through all kinds of machinations and now, when I went to post a new blog today, everything is as it was. So herewith, a photo of Noon at Dusk for you and a reprieve for me.

My ‘terrifying’ weekend in retrospect

Kallisti presents Noon at Dusk

As the Noon at Dusk program states, “Bringing a new opera to life is risky.” Mau 13 I went to the second of three performances of the world premiere opera that took place at UCSD’s Conrad Prebys Music Center’s Experimental Theater over the weekend.

The bigger risk, that the new opera might never be heard again, goes without saying.

One might also say, “Bringing a new opera to life is terrifying.” Terrifying applies across the board, not only to the creators and the artists, but also to audience members that may be stuck in the middle of a row, unable to escape, or perhaps, like those in the front row of the May 7 opening of San Diego Opera’s Great Scott, able to flee. In plain sight of God and everyone, they got up and left.

Sad for them (a bit of schadenfreude for me) that they missed composer Jake Heggie’s incredibly beautiful final quartet, an homage to Richard Strauss titled “It’s Always Been the Song.” But then again, the escapees are probably terrified of Strauss too, even of the sublime Der Rosenkavalier. Sadly, anything that’s not Bohème, Butterfly or Carmen terrifies many operators.

Noon at Dusk

The same cannot be said for the audience that gathered for Noon at Dusk. They were there on purpose -- for the excitement and adventure of hearing a new opera. Flexibility is required. Here both composer Stephen Lewis and librettist Yi Hong Kim tackled their first opera. Although a seasoned composer of other kinds of classical music, Lewis seemed to be exploring the limits of the human voice and in an atonal setting. Notes extending above high C proliferated. Some duets, especially for mezzo and soprano, were truly well written. Unfortunately for Kim, who infused much of her libretto with words of poet Christina Rossetti, the words were seldom understood.

Ashley Cutright and  and Kirsten Ashley Weist
as the upwardly mobile architect and her lover.

Sopranos in the extreme of their top voices do not easily convey text, and there were no supertitles. The text (about 30 percent) that I was able to understand was sung by baritone Jonathan Nussman as Eliot and bass-baritone Philip Larson as Eliot’s boss. Distaff were impressive vocally, mezzo-soprano Ashley Cutright as Annelise, an architect; soprano Kirsten Ashley Weist as her lover, a librarian; soprano Hilary Jean Young as Lisha, Eliot’s girlfriend; and soprano Tiffany Du Mouchelle as Annalise’s friend, Maya.

Interpersonal relationships of short and longer duration are affected or soon to be affected by change, and neither Eliot nor Annalise, who go for the career advancements, are good at easing the path for the important others, or potential important others, that they will leave behind.

Jessica C. Flores’s lighting and scenic design impressed, especially juxtaposed with Jason Ponce’s projections, which were dependent in part on six little carousels filled with a fascinating array of everyday objects, sometimes shot-through with light and projected on the set’s large white backdrop.

The splendid 13-piece orchestra was conducted by Dana Savada, artistic director of Pasadena Opera. Susan Narucki, artistic director and producer of kallisti, directed.

Kallisti was established by Narucki at UCSD in 2009. It brings together UCSD’s contemporary music grad students and distinguished guest artists to present chamber opera, vocal chamber music and newly commissioned works. A distinguished example is Anthony Davis’s Lear on the Second Floor in 2012.

The weekend summary

Saturday night I attended the world premiere of Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser’s new musical, The Boy Who Danced on Air. A review will run in this week’s Uptown News. It is set in present day Afghanistan and concerns the practice of bacha bazi, in which older men purchase young boys and train them to dance and also to perform in other ways.

I watched the NPR Frontline documentary The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan Sunday morning. Very bleak. I’m fascinated with these boys, both real and as the play’s authors imagine them. The masters in the documentary made me appreciate the musical’s character, Jahandar, all the more. He is a good man basically. 

As I left the performance of The Boy Who Danced on Air Saturday night, KPBS FM was playing the final moments of Jake Heggie’s opera, Great Scott. The scene is homage to Richard Wagner and kind of capped off my musical week, or so I thought, having experienced kallisti's stratospheric and atonal opera.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, as a belated birthday gift from composer/author/director Rayme Sciaroni, I heard youngsters perform in his Junior Theatre production of The Music Man — with Sebastian Mellen, a 15-year-old 6’3” Harold Hill (!), and a beautiful young soprano, Ruby Ross, as librarian Marian Paroo. Kids seated next to me in booster seats were mesmerized angels, and parents and kids filled most all the seats in Balboa Park’s Casa del Prado Theatre.

San Diego. What a place to be right now! A blessed weekend of terrifying and not so terrifying works, capped off with a reminder of why we’re here. In the words of the Great Scott finale (libretto by Terrence McNally), “It was always the song.”

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Juxtapositions: Rapture, Mahler and Poetry

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Rapture and Mahler’s Sixth

Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn, just opened at San Diego Repertory Theatre April 27, is all about what women long for, what they get, what they want next, what they’re willing to tolerate in order to perpetuate the status quo, and what they sacrifice for success. Along the way to Gionfriddo’s somewhat desperately achieved denouement, we might also ask, What is success?.

The work, which at length and slapdash explores the history of post-‘60s feminism (now called Second Wave Feminism) from the introduction of the pill and Betty Friedan onwards, uses its characters as stereotypes to achieve its message. There’s more truth in this play than some may be willing to admit. I felt my life being played before me.

With great understanding, Sam Woodhouse directs the 2012 off-Broadway play, which was commissioned by and originated at Playwrights Horizons. It’s staged in the round in the Lyceum Space Theatre, four elaborate portals of which (scenic design by Robin Sanford Roberts) declare, “Home. Sweet. Home.”
Paige Lindsey white, Shawn Law and Sandy Campbell
Photo by Daren Scott
  Gwen (Sandy Campbell) and Don (Shawn Law) Harper are entertaining Gwen’s former college roommate, Catherine Croft (Paige Lindsey White), who was Don’s girlfriend when all were in grad school. Gwen insists that Don pay and fire their college-age babysitter Avery (Jennifer Paredes) because she has a black eye. Gwen doesn’t approve of Avery’s filmmaking sideline and the boyfriend that goes along with it and the black eye, fearing they will be a bad influence on the children.

Shawn Law
Photo by Daren Scott
Around 15 years ago, while the ambitious Catherine was in London furthering her brilliant career as a feminist author/lecturer, Gwen stole Don, something Catherine has never gotten over, apparently. Although Gwen envies Catherine her career and her exciting life, Gwen’s life orbits around her children, two widely separated boys, the teenager an aspiring thespian and the unformed 3-year-old, a daddy’s boy. (The children are never seen.) Catherine has returned to New England to care for her mother, Alice (Susan Denaker), who recently had a heart attack. Catherine is certain that Alice is going to die soon. Both mother and daughter are inveterate martini guzzlers.

Gwen, a recovering alcoholic dependent upon meetings, puts up with Don’s obvious alcoholism and lack of ambition. Catherine thinks it would be a good idea to rekindle her former romance (She thinks she could make Don the man he should be). She also teaches a class in feminist theory/history in which Gwen and the wild Avery are the only students and into which Alice drops with 4 pm cocktails and a Shirley Temple for Gwen.

How’s that for a setup? Home Sweet Home re-forms accordingly and in hilarious ways, offering Gwen the taste of freedom and excitement she thinks she craves; Don and Catherine the consummation of their lust for each other and booze; and, in Don’s youngest child, Alice gets the the affection she craves. Everyone is happy until he/she is not, and there has to be some way to end the chaos. Gionfriddo struggles to find the path and all toast  Phyllis Schlafly and the inadvertent gift she unwittingly provided.

Jennifer Parades
Photo by Daren Scott
The extended feminist polemic, represented by each character’s life choices, grows tedious at times, especially as Gionfriddo and her characters thrash about in the mess she’s made; but to those who lived the play, it’s still highly entertaining. The acting is simply superb, with especial kudos going to Paredes as Avery (costumes by Jennifer Brawn Gittings, who never fails to find outrageousness) and to White as the calculating Catherine, who almost elicits tears of sympathy as Gionfriddo finds her way through the morass of her own creation. Law does very well in his thankless role and Denaker and Campbell are  solid and likeable as always. Alanon and AA for all.

Lighting designer is Lonnie Alcaraz and sound design and original music by Kevin Anthenill. 

Rapture, Blister, Burn continues through May 15. Tickets, $33-$66. or 619-544-1000.


San Diego Symphony & Mahler

Maestro Jahja Ling
Courtesy San Diego Symphony

Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, conducted by Maestro Jahja Ling April 29-30 on San Diego Symphony’s Masterworks Series, is called the “Tragic.” It is the only one of Mahler’s nine symphonies which ends without a shred of hope, and, indeed, the two outer movements, both marches, impel the hero implacably towards his fate.

This is the symphony that calls for a giant, resonant box that is hit by one of the percussionists with a huge, hardly lift-able mallet three times originally but eventually changed to only twice by the composer, as it was played on Saturday. As if three times would be tempting fate a bit too much, and the Jacobs Music Center might disappear with all of us aboard – poof!

The first time Mahler played the newly completed score on the piano for his wife, Alma, they both wept uncontrollably. Anyone who’s ever created a work of catharsis, said to herself, “Finito,” and immediately bursts into tears, will understand. Anyone who attended Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey’s stunning Dinner With Marlene at Lamb’s Players Theatre and felt the weight of impending doom hanging over Europe will understand. Anyone who is human will understand. Juxtaposition can be overwhelming.

San Diego Symphony played Mahler’s Sixth with great sensitivity and compassion as guided by Maestro Ling, who has been music director here since 2004 and has announced his departure following the close of next season.

Just last week San Diego Symphony  completed a run of San Diego Opera’s Madama Butterfly at the Civic Theatre, within shouting distance of the Jacobs. The experience of these three events within so short a time certainly struck me, making me ever more mindful of and grateful for the wealth of creativity that surrounds my existence.

The Juxtaposition of Music and Poetry

Here’s my reaction to Mahler’s Sixth as conducted by Mo. Ling in the 2008-09 season. My daughter, Laura Morefield, had just been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She died in 2011.

The Hammer and How It Works

By Charlene Baldridge

During Mahler’s Sixth Symphony
the percussionist hefts a gigantic mallet
and lets it fall on a resonant chamber
from whence it strikes the solar plexus of each listener.

In advance, my Japanese companion reads the program notes,
then asks what is a hammer? so I make a sketch
of the hammer and how it works, driving in and removing,
nailing things together, then clawing them apart.

No one escapes the blows, and during
our brief, intermittent consciousness
it appears that everyone dies and we do not.

We revel in the resonance,
see and feel the hammer’s fall and
fail still to comprehend.

What to do about the hammer and how it works?

Make a list of things to do when the hammer falls a second time.

Write an entire poem made up of poem titles without exploring the blank page.

Punish yourself in numerous ways:

Sleep a lot.

Sleep too little.

Forsake all good resolutions in an attempt to commit suicide.

Feel guilty over your resentment of everyone else she loves;

Fail to list your desires, however irrational, for instance:
to push the others away and be the only person who matters to her.

Quit flossing.

From The Rose in December (C) Charlene Baldridge

* *

One of Laura's last poems (June 2010):

The Work at Hand

By Laura Morefield

Some moments:
I feel compelled to start my long goodbye—folding advice
until it reveals hope, creasing resilience side by side with laughter,
tucking courage into the pocket made by joy—making
the message of my life into individual origami.
I want to start this project early because
there are so many
(nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, parents,
friends) who enfold my life with grace and song.

(And then there is also and always you.)

Other times:
The work of goodbye seems a betrayal,
a prediction of defeat—inappropriate to my
interior pose of being.
A warrior keeps her back leg strong, connected
to the earth. She faces her hips forward.
She lifts hands and face skyward as
her front leg leans into the territory of the enemy
as far as, as long as, her breath will take her.

And then:
there are slow seconds like these,
when the single square of window reveals
pine tree needles bursting into branches,
making their stubborn way through a furrowed trunk. 
When the wind moves
like a feathered thing over my waiting skin.
When all I want is to unfold a small quilt
of sunlight onto the cool green and sit very still,
to let the light of heaven flow over me like honey
until my bones are on fire with the beauty of it all.

From The Warrior's Stance (C) Charlene Baldridge

Laura’s poem, as set to music by Jake Heggie, premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2015. The symphonic setting, sung by Jamie Barton with cellist Anne Martindale, will be performed by the Florida Orchestra in November. Jahja Ling is the former music director of the Florida Orchestra. Current music director of the Florida Orchestra is Michael Francis, music director of Mainly Mozart Festival (opening June 4 at the Balboa Theatre). He conducted the orchestral premiere of The Work at Hand at Pittsburgh Symphony and will be on the podium when it is performed in November.

How’s that for juxtaposition?