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?

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