Wednesday, April 23, 2014

War Horse at The Capitol Theatre

I taught a Humanities class where I spent one lecture discussing the ins and outs of World War I.

We would discuss how old war fighting traditions stood against machine guns and biological warfare. You can talk about the battles and list the numbers of the dead, show the artists and show how the existential movement was born from the horrors of the fighting--but War Horse was the most moving demonstration I have ever seen of the horrors of this war.

Broadway Across America presents The National Theatre of Great Britain's production of War Horse.

First of all, you should see a picture of the horses.



The horses were operated by three puppeteers whose job was to bring to life the animals. With every stir of the head, every breath, every twitch of the tail, you felt and understood the animal's spirit.

Joey and Topthorn are two horses sent into war to charge with the cavalry.

They are sent into the war to charge into machine guns and barbed wire.



Both guns and barbed wire rip into the flesh of these magnificent animals and during the fighting soldiers from both sides of the war risk their lives to save the innocent animals.


The whole play is about people who can't understand one another, learning to hear and speak to one another. From the horse Joey and the boy Albert's first meeting, to Captain Freidrich's efforts to communicate with a young French girl, to an exchange between an English soldier and a German soldier--both determined to save an injured horse.

The whole war was about a clash of perspectives and an inability to see eye to eye. The 19th century fighting styles clashing with the 20th century weapons. The Kaiser and the Kings. Albert writes home that he's still in farm country--and he is. Across the different borders, across languages--the spirit of the land and the kindness of the people extend to both sides of the conflict. But across the land, the inability to communicate leaves the land a growing cemetery.

But where good men try, as they take a moment to listen to breathing, to choose their gestures carefully, and reach out in gentleness, we see hope that despite the differences, the world will heal from this great war.

The play was beautiful. It wasn't a vehicle for actors. It was a vehicle for a story. Each person was a part of a whole. It was moving to see actors work so seamlessly with one another to honor the story that they were telling.

If you have an opportunity, don't miss out on a chance to see this beautiful play.

It runs April 22-27 at The Capitol Theatre. Tickets are expensive, but worth it. This kind of puppetry is something you don't see everyday. (Thank you Handspring Puppet Company.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Helping

There's a place on State Street where young homeless people can go and find lunch and hope.

They provide classes, training, one on one guidance, clothes for interviews, food, and opportunities.

Volunteers of America runs the place.

It's on 655 South State Street.

They are working to help homeless youth--people who often blend in--to find a way out.

If you have time or money and you're looking for some way to help with the homeless crisis, please consider their efforts.

They are now raising money to build a 30 bed youth shelter.

They are just finishing a home with 14 beds to help the youth transition from the street to their own homes.

I'm so impressed with the work that they're doing.
 
If you would like more information, visit http://www.voaut.org/Services/Homeless-Outreach--Housing-Programs/Homeless-Youth-Resource-Center

Instead of giving to panhandlers, give to this or any of the other resources available to the homeless.

Instead of giving your change to panhandlers who may or may not be homeless or who are part of syndicates who often have to give their money to higher ups who use them to collect money--consider this alternative:  Keep bottles of water on hand and share information about nearby resources where they can turn for help. Instead of pocket change, offer refreshment and education.

If you would like to donate your resources, the shelters are in need of food right now.  These organizations are always in need of volunteers. And of course, whatever money you can give will go a long way.

Thank you!



Monday, April 21, 2014

Seeing Les Miserables at Hale

Saturday night, my friend Andrea called me and asked if I wanted to be her date to Hale Centre's production of Les Miserables that night. The show sold out ages ago. I had heard wonderful things about the show, but I never thought I'd get the chance to actually see the show because I just didn't have the time or money--and it was sold out!

It was a beautiful show. I don't need to write about the plot or even this particular production.

Instead, I want to write about seeing this show on closing night.

There was something deliciously metatheatrical about this particular performance.

First of all--Hale is theatre in the round. You look down onto the action, rather then up at it. Instead of seeing the action played out across a stage--you see the action swirling in front of you. And you're always aware you're in a theatre because you're constantly gazing around at all the people watching the show. The audience is a part of the action of the play. Because of this, all theatrical experiences in this space have a bit of metatheatricality about them.

But closing night... that was a whole 'nother story.

Throughout the run, two casts of actors performed Monday thru Saturday, at least twice a day.

I imagine, knowing you needed to preserve your energy and strength for a week's worth of shows, the actors would have measured their energies and sang with gusto, but a touch of reservation. Saturday night's actors left EVERYTHING on that stage. I felt like I was watching actors finally free to give absolutely everything to a performance. Every gesture, every chord, every tear, everything was filled with all the energy and love they could muster.

I never really fell into the world of the play. I was more touched by the actor's story then by the story of the play. (Not that Les Miserables isn't a beautiful story!) But when the bishop offered Jean Val Jean redemption, I was more moved by the look shared between David Weekes and Casey Elliott as they cried over sharing the moment for the last time.

As Casey sang out "Bring Him Home", he held that sweet note at the end just a touch longer. And the audience roared with applause, not only for that night's performance, but in gratitude for all the previous performances.

My friend Andrea's daughter Abigail Scott played young Eponine. It was so delightful to see her running around the stage during "Master of The House" stealing luggage, serving beer, and stealing beer. She was a riot. My heart melted at the curtain call as she and young Cosette stood in front of the audience and tried to keep little smiles on their faces as their lips quivered and little tears streamed down their faces.

Adam Dietlein's performance as Javert... I was told I would cry in several different places, but I didn't. I was moved. I was inspired, but like I said earlier, I never really fell into the story. Not complaining--just saying, I didn't cry. Adam's performance was solid. I never felt like I was watching an actor on closing night with him. I felt like I was watching Javert. And when he jumped off the bridge into the foggy depths, I cried.

Madeline Weinberger had a beautiful moment as Eponine. She had several, but I was especially moved by her choice to just be. She didn't push. She didn't over emphasize. The words just poured out of her mouth without anything more than a breath. The choice to just sing--without affectation, without pushing, without supplication--it spoke volumes. It told me that she was tired, that the mere expression was all she could muster. It was moving in a way that anything more would have sullied.

Of course I watched Emily Bell's performance of Madame Thenardier carefully because that's the role I wanted to play. Of course she was magnificent. She wouldn't have won the part if she wasn't incredibly talented at both singing and acting. She was funny and grounded. Where everyone else's characters are caught up in flights of romanticism, she and her partner in crime, played perfectly by Josh Richardson, were pragmatic capitalists. My only complaint is that she looked too young to be Eponine's mother in the scenes after young Eponine becomes older Eponine. I was surprised they didn't put a streak of white in her hair or something. Despite the fact that I'm a good ten years older, I take great pride in the fact that I probably would have looked too young as well. (Gotta love looking young!)

Erin Royall Carlson's Fantine was beautiful, dangerous, and passionate. Her voice soared and her body quivered. She carried herself in this unbalanced way as though her whole life took place on a rocky ship that left her unbalanced and undone. The lovely ladies that surrounded her were equally mesmerizing. They were gritty and raw.

I've never really connected with the character of Cosette. She's lovely, but it's hard to remember that she was the poor neglected girl who sings about castles in clouds. Instead, she's the girl who gets the guy. (As the girl who does NOT get the guy, I don't relate well to this character.) Rachel Woodward was beautiful and she did a beautiful job. I'm not surprised that she won over Brad Robins heartstruck Marius.

Derek Smith's Enjolras was inspiring, as he should be. His followers were equally inspiring. He rode around the circle on his cart, waiving all of us on to fight in his revolution.

My favorite moment of the show was when he died. (I realize I'm a touch morbid.) I gasped. I think I even muttered "Holy Sh**!"  During the fighting, the guns went off and fire blazed in spurts all over the stage. People fell injured and crawled back on top of the barricade (remember, we're looking down on the barricade, not up at it--brilliant work by set designer Kacey Udy). At the moment of death though--when these brave soldiers died...the light designer Brian Healy orchestrated a shot of light--or rather--a BEAM of light to catch the character in their moment of death. The actor would freeze in that moment and then fall to the ground. All around the stage--shot, beam, freeze, death. One after the other. Now you understand why I swore. It was an unexpected bit of magic. Not only did you feel the sorrow of their death, but in the same instant, you felt like these poor souls were carried immediately to heaven.

And of course, it was no surprise to see the souls return to carry Jean Val Jean to heaven at the end of the show.

It was a beautiful production. Kelly DeHaan's musical direction was pitch perfect. (Sometimes a good cliche is hard to resist.) Director David Tinney found delicious nuances in the story. Peggy Willis and Suzanne Carling's costumes were a treat. The colors were muted. The shapes were intriguing. The layers, the structure, the lack of structure--all told compelling stories. No one really notices sound until something goes wrong--and I didn't notice Dan Morgan's sound at all. (That's a lie, I noticed quite a bit of lovely nuances that added to the story... but you know what I mean..)

I'd tell you to go see the show, but it's likely you already saw it. And it closed.

So instead, I'll encourage you to just go and enjoy live theatre. If nothing else, remember the beautiful moments that happen when audiences and actors come together to tell a story. Truly, a theatre is a hallowed place. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter

Easter is my favorite holiday.

As a child of divorce, Christmas was always about figuring out where you were going. Or as we get older, about making sure you have a gift for everyone you see. It's really fun buying gifts, but there's always this nervousness that you're going to forget someone you love.

Halloween for an actor is a night you don't have to dress up. Very fun, but I never really get into it because I find that the favorite part I like to play is myself.

But Easter is a day you're only beholden to yourself. You don't have to buy gifts. If you don't show up to a party, it's all right. I don't even feel guilty not going to church because we really should remember Jesus year round. On Easter, we are invited to celebrate with music, scripture, and really tasty candy. And it's springtime. There are evidences of rebirth and renewal everywhere you look. You don't have to decorate because the earth does it for you.

In Judaism, my favorite holiday is Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement. Because it reminds me of Easter.

..In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work ... For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the LORD. -Leviticus 16:29-30

 What does it mean to afflict our souls?  To remember. To remember what we have done.

He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord. 

To remember what He has done. 
 
We remember that He lives. We remember the gifts and the blessings, despite our afflicted souls. We remember the wrongs and we remember that they will be right. 

It is a day to remember hope, renewal, and resurrection of both the body and the spirit. 

It is a day of praise and gratitude. 

Please enjoy this beautiful song of "Total Praise", written by the incomparable Richard Smallwood.


You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. 

I lift my hands in total praise to you.