Gonzo Molière at PlayMakers Rep

L to R: NATHAN KEEPERS as Dr. St. Judas, STEVEN EPP as Argan and JEFFREY BLAIR CORNELL as Dr. Wachauvia in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s world premiere adaptation, by David Ball, of Molière’s “Imaginary Invalid”. (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

Illness can be very nasty; medicine equally so. PlayMakers’ new adaptation of IMAGINARY INVALID revels in it–but as I say in today’s CVNC review,

KATIE PAXTON as Little Angel in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s  “Imaginary Invalid”.   (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

“Imaginary Invalid was an excellent choice for examination by PlayMakers, which should be commended for commissioning a version for today, and bringing in director Dominique Serrand and actors who work quite differently from PlayMakers’ usual style. The theatrics in  Imaginary Invalid are far more physical, and far less polite, than I’ve ever seen on the PRC main stage. The raucous circus is sometimes highly effective; at others, the absurdities detract from the story. At times the language descends from refreshingly abrasive to crude and the number of scatological jokes seems unnecessarily high. (On opening night — the world premiere — quite a few patrons evaporated at intermission.) There was rather too much Woody Allen-like shtick for my personal taste, but when it is right it is so right. A scene in which St. Peter (a very funny Jeffrey Blair Cornell) stands on a chair to talk to God on a cell phone, and tells Him that He needs to “smite Verizon,” drew howls of laughter.”

L to R: KATHRYN HUNTER-WILLIAMS as Klytemnestra, STEVEN EPP as Argan and MOLLY WARD as Toinette in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s  “Imaginary Invalid”.  (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

“Even though this play is often very funny, and sometimes masquerades as froth, it is no light entertainment. It’s an intellectual pan forte: dense, rich with ideas, and hard to chew. I’m not sure I got all the flavors — I may have to have another piece and see it again.”

Read the full review here. Show runs through 11/11/12.

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Stars Fell on Carolina Last Night

In the early-falling dark, golden leaf-stars drifted down, skittering against the windshield, plastering themselves to the shining blacktop. They blew into shallow drifts against the steps of Memorial Hall as theater-goers hurried out of the chill wind, turning their umbrellas right side out, eager for the warm light. Inside, the mood mixed relief (the storm was not for us, this time) with somber anxiety (this storm is going to hurt a lot of people we know) with anticipation (we are about to hear one of the world’s finest orchestras) and a lashing of potent privilege (we’ll be the first in the U.S. to hear this commission), and the crowd buzzed quietly. We settled early into our seats; the Mariinsky Orchestra into theirs, rank after rank of chairs filling the stage. Silence, all awaiting Maestro Valery Gergiev and the two featured trumpeters for Matthias Pintscher’s Chute d’Etoiles, Part 1. Only the fricative rub of rosin on bow strings disturbed the quiet. We were “gathered together in the name of music,” as Emil Kang of Carolina Performing Arts said in his introduction. Music to drown a hurricane; music to outlast death.

Carolina Performing Arts co-commissioned, along with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Pintscher’s work as part of its grand investigation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The composer (b. Germany 1971) worked with a two-trumpet theme from The Rite, but perhaps more importantly was inspired by  German artist Anselm Keifer’s (b. 1945) Chute d’Etoiles. Keifer has often used lead in his paintings/constructions, and its qualities of density, malleability and muted reflectivity are all evident in Pintscher’s music.

In the permanent collection of the NC Museum of Art: Anselm Kiefer, Untitled, 1980–1986, oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac, lead, charcoal, and straw on photograph, mounted on canvas; with stones, lead, and steel cable; in three parts: (panel with boulders) 130 1/4 x 73 in., (panel with ladder) 130 5/8 x 72 5/8 in., (panel with funnel) 130 1/4 x 72 7/8 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, W. R. Valentiner, and various donors, by exchange.

Listening the the 10-minute work, I felt very much as I feel grappling with our Keifer at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Time compresses and expands. Lines shoot toward the viewer, arrowing in, then race away. Velvety murk muffles and confuses. Space opens out. Something resolves itself, but remains a mystery. Traces glow in memory. Now when I see Keifer, I will hear muted trumpets, beckoning, calling up infinite distance.

There was more, of course–Shostakovich, and R. Strauss’ Heldenleben, dedicated to the memory of Bill Friday–but it will have to wait. Tonight the splendid orchestra will play the grand mad Rite, and I need to get there.

“I wanted to spend the rest of my life making artwork about things you can’t make artwork about.”

Meredith Monk. Photo courtesy Duke Performances.

That was Meredith Monk, high priestess of performance art, speaking on Oct. 25 in the auditorium of Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. Monk is in Durham for a two-week residency sponsored by Duke Performances, which will culminate with two performances in which she will revisit her important 1973 work, Education of the Girlchild. In the meantime, Duke Performances is contributing to the greater cultural good by providing Monk and her ensemble time and a theater in which to develop new work. Universities have become the great patrons of new performing arts, and generally they get the glory of premiering the new work. But occasionally, they do something even more generous–they give with no expectation of immediate return. This is not the first time Duke Performances has provided such sustenance to important artists; DP deserves thanks from all of us for this kind of magnanimity. Their generosity extends to the community off-campus, too. Last night’s engrossing program, “Archeology of An Artist,” in which Monk talked, sang and showed video clips for 2 hours, was free. Even the parking.

Meredith Monk is almost 70 years old. She has been making her unique art for nearly 50 years, and is still in the avant-garde. She looks like she could live forever; her generous, acute mind is working full-tilt, and her voice is still very fine. But one day she will sing her last song (perhaps it will be “The Last Song,” from her work Impermanence) and you will kick yourself into next week if you have missed your opportunity to hear and see her. Nov. 2 and 3, Reynolds Theater. If nothing else, you will get a chance to better understand how her exploratory works have encouraged recent edge work like Maya Beiser’s CelloOpera, or Shen Wei’s painted dancers in the NCMA last summer. (Note: Monk’s percussionist, John Hollenbeck, will perform in Reynolds with his Large Ensemble on Dec. 8.)

Chris Vitiello has a good piece in this week’s Indyweek on Monk, and Duke Performances has a wonderful two-part interview with her on its blog, The Thread, so I’m just going to list some of last night’s compelling quotes.

“Singing was my early language. I sang before I read, before I spoke.”

“I was learning my body through music.”

“I went to New York in the mid-60s–it was a rich time for cross-media and breaking the boundaries of forms.”

“It was an imperative for me to integrate these forms…that was a way to counterbalance the fragmentation of our culture.”

“I try to start from zero. Each piece is a world I have to discover. It’s a little like being a detective.”

“Making artwork is very much the same practice as living life. When curiosity comes in, fear starts to go away.”

“I always have thought of my performance work as sacred, spiritual work.”

“I feel very privileged to be an artist, working with the un-nameable.”

“I try to connect to the magic in our ordinary world.”

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