Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

The 43rd Annual Christmas Revels

This afternoon, my wife, son, and good family friend Craig took in the  performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The annual pageant of music, dance, storytelling, and drama focused this year on the pilgrimage along the Camino de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia.  As a Celtic culture, the Galicians have their own version of the bagpipe called the gaita which featured prominently. Any piece featuring gaita and drums was a highlight for me.  The largest drum resonated throughout the house.

The story of this Revels follows Everyman (portrayed by Jay O’Callahan) on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and onwards to the End of the Earth in Finisterre.  Elements of Don Quixote are woven into the story as Everyman is knighted and joined on his journey by squire Sancho (Billy Meleady, who starred in last year’s show) and the tavern keeper Angélica (the delightful Angélica Aragón).

Usually the theme of a Revels’ performance is an excuse to tie together song and dance numbers, but this story of a pilgrimage actually maintains a pretty continuous narrative built around set pieces along the Camino, in a tavern, at a monastery, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and finally at Finisterre.  The sets and lighting are really remarkable in adapting the stage for the different places along the journey.

Highlights of the show include:

  • the talent and hard work of the Revels’ children whose performance more than ever is fully-integrated into the show.
  • the charming line dance when the pilgrims are greeted by the monks to the tune of “Alborada de Ourense.”
  • O’Callahan telling the story of “The Singing Sack.”
  • sing-a-long with choreography to “Fum, Fum, Fum.”
  • puppetry and lights to enact the Galacian version of the posadas ritual.
  • an amazing bit of stagecraft where a giant censer is swung like a pendulum over the performers on the stage (based on the Botafumeiro at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
  • Jaime Jaffe’s solo performance of “Ondas Do Mar De Vigo.”
  • a mummers play featuring a mustachioed dragon who performed the hammiest death throes.

There were some disappointments.  Jay O’Callahan was hard to understand and I’m not sure if he was mumbling or mic’ed improperly.  Sitting in balcony center meant it took a long time to get downstairs to participate in “The Lord of the Dance.”  It ended just as we reached the lobby.  While I would not rank this among my all time favorite Revels’ performances, it was still delightful and I recommend seeing it if you have the chance. There are four more performances before the show closes on December 27th, so get your tickets now!

The Boston Globe has a more-detailed review for your perusal.

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The 42nd Annual Christmas Revels

It would not be Christmas without the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.  This year my wife, son and I joined by our friends Abby, Kim, & Sid took in the Winter Solstice performance on the evening of December 21st.  The show was delightful as always with the subject being near and dear to my heart, the music of Irish emigrants as they sail the new world.

The show was a more restrained and simple performance than a typical Revels keeping to the theme of the cast being impoverished immigrants aboard a ship and not having much to celebrate with.  After the opening number, lines and gangways were removed from the sides of the stage and notably no cast members went down the steps into “the ocean” except during a storytelling sequence.  These restraints did nothing to detract from the beauty of the song, dance, and stories performed.

Highlights of the show for me included:

  • Bill Meleady’s colorful telling of The Soul Cages, the exception to the restraint on the performance where the visuals of the story come to life in vivid detail.  I enjoyed the dancing crustaceans especially as well as Steve Barkhimer’s portrayal of the merrow Coomara.
  • “The Wexford Lullaby” gorgeously performed by Mary Casey along with Jamie Jaffe as a duet and later as a quartet.
  • The dramatic “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” swelling as the audience joins the chorus.
  • “The Lord of the Dance” is always a highlight and was cleverly worked into the show as being the English ship crews’ contribution to the shipboard celebration.
  • The show had several sets of traditional Irish music by The Rattling Brogues and step dance by O’Shea-Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance that livened up the proceedings greatly.
  • If there was one minor disappointment is that the show ends with the immigrants seeing The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  The show is set aboard the Cunard steamship RMS Carpathia and since Cunard had a western terminus in Boston (there’s still an office building marked “CUNARD” on State Street) it would have been a nice local connection to have the ship dock here instead of New York.

A traditional element of the Revels – “The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” – was not included in the program but as this was the Winter Solstice, the audience was treated to a special rendition of Abbots Bromley after the curtain call.  I’d actually guessed that Abbots Bromley was the surprise we’d been promised before the show, but it was still a thrill when the first haunting notes of the recorder came out and the audience reacted with joy.

This was another great Revels and I believe all the shows were sold out.  If you missed this year’s Revels, make sure to get your tickets early for next year’s show which I promise will be just as great.

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The 41st Annual Christmas Revels

This afternoon my family and I took in the annual performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Cambridge.  The Revels is a family tradition and this marks the tenth Christmas Revels production I’ve attended (including a Washington Revels performance in 1995 and performing as a cast member in the 2009 Christmas Revels).  This was also my four-year-old son’s second Christmas Revels and my five-week-old daughter’s first Revels ever.  Peter showed exemplary behavior and was deeply engaged by the performance while Kay amazed me by actually appearing to watch the show at times when she wasn’t feeding or napping.

The Revels impress me each year by crafting a show around a theme with consistent narrative that logically incorporates music and dance from various traditions.  This year’s production is set in a French fishing village on the Mediterranean that is hosting an annual feast that draws pilgrims from near and wide.  Thus we are able to enjoy traditional music from France and other parts of Europe as well as traveling performers from the East playing Arabic music.  The Sharq Trio steal the show with sets in both acts of Arabic singing, dance and percussion.      The trio seemed to mesmerize my infant daughter at the very least.  Salome Sandoval also lends her stunning voice as a soloist.

The center of the performance is three members of the Guild of Fools – Soleil (Timothy Sawyer), Etoile (Sabrina Selma Mandell), and Eclaire de Lune (Mark Jaster) – performing the annual pageant. Amid the music and revelry there is the lurking presence of the skeletal Boney (Linnea Coffin) who seems to be just out of sight of the villagers on stage, but very frightening to at least one four-year-old boy in the audience.  At a key moment in the first act, Boney and her skeleton crew seize the light from the world plunging the holiday performance into darkness.  The fools thus are given the quest of finding their namesake light sources – the moon, the stars, and the sun – which they do with plenty of song and dance and a nativity play along the way.  The Revels crew deserve a lot of credit for the stage design featuring multiple layers of scaffolding for the performers and a Ship of Fools upon which the featured trio sail to fish for the reflection of the moon.  The costuming is also brilliant, especially Soleil, Etoile, and Eclaire de Lune’s outfits for the concluding mummer’s play.  And the makeup helped make Boney and the other skeletons the scariest things I’ve ever seen in a Revels’ production.

The final performance is Thursday December 29th at 1 pm, so get tickets and go see the show if you can.  If you’re reading this after the fact, make sure to check out The Revels’ website for future events.

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The 40th Anniversary Christmas Revels

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m a big fan of Revels and their annual Christmas Revels performances at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.  I was excited and honored to attend the dress rehearsal performance of this year’s 40th anniversary production of the Christmas Revels on Thursday, December 16th.  Had I better journalistic standards I would have used this scoop to get my review up before the show opened on Friday night, but at least at this point there are still eleven more shows to go.

This year’s Christmas Revels returns to a familiar setting, Haddon Hall, an English manor house that was the scene of the first and many subsequent Revels performances.  This time the show is set in the 1920s and the 10th Duke of Rutland with his wife and children are making one last visit to the long abandoned house before it is demolished to make way for a motorway.  I never before realized that Haddon Hall is a real place and the characters in these Revels are based upon real people who in fact saved and renovated Haddon Hall in the 1920s.   The story told in the Revels performance of course is a beautiful fiction but one that contains deeper moral truths about family, ritual, and place.

In the performance, the spirits of the Duke of Rutland’s ancestors emerge from the walls to celebrate the solstice.  This gives the chorus and instrumentalists the very enjoyable opportunity to perform music and stories from various eras – medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian – a Revels’ clip-show of sorts.  While building on the historic traditions of England, the show also builds on Revels traditions of the past 40 years.  Sanders Theatre is very much our Haddon Hall for the families and friends of the Revels who come each year.

I’ll try not to give too much away, but here are some of the highlights of the show (don’t read if you want to be completely surprised):

  • The emergence of the spirits in white shrouds to the “Cries of London” is eerie and creepy in a beautiful way.  When the chorus makes it on stage and remove the shrouds so that there costumes are visible for the first time is a big wow moment for me.
  • The children’s chorus is excellent as always and seem to be more integrated into performing with the adult chorus, especially on the lovely piece “On Christmas Night.”
  • All the actors put in a great performance, particularly Tim Sawyer as the Duke and Emma Jaster as a mute jester.
  • Harriet Bridges plays the Duchess and also provides a soaring soprano for pieces like “Down in Yon Forest.”
  • The traditional mummers play of St. George in the Dragon is always entertaining and the brand new dragon (part costume/part puppetry) really steals the show.
  • A sing-a-long of “Let’s All Go Down the Strand” is joyful and exuberant, and as David Coffin noted they really do make it fit into the show.
  • The real showstopper for me is the chorus’ performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “There Shall A Star From Jacob Come Forth.”  The intertwining of voices and the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble is breathtaking.

I’ll be returning to Sanders Theatre on December 26th to catch a Revels’ matinée with my wife, son, and mother.  In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Cambridge and want to celebrate the holidays, go see this show!

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Christmas Revels: The Reviews Are In

As reported earlier, I’m participating as a member of the Roaring Gap Chorus in this year’s Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA.  The show has been great thus far and tickets are still available for the final six performances.  Come out and see us and don’t just take my word for it, read these lovely reviews from:

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39th Annual Christmas Revels

I’ve promoted the Revels before on my blog because it is an organization that promotes song and dance, participation, community and tradition.  This is most apparent from the annual Christmas Revels productions at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA.

This year I have extra reason to be excited about the Revels as I’ve managed to get myself into the Revels Chorus.  Despite my little experience and trouble remembering my bass parts I’ve been warmly welcomed into the community of performers at the heart of the Christmas Revels.  Now all we need is you to come be an enthusiastic audience member.  I guarantee you will have a wonderful time.

There will be 17 performances between Dec. 11-27 and tickets are on sale now!

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Movie Review: The Right Stuff

Thanks to Craig for our new Netflix subscription, Susan and I were able to watch one of my favorite movies of all time, The Right Stuff (1983).  I watched this movie repeatedly on cable and VHS as a child and had much of the dialog memorized.  The excellent dialog plus the skillful acting and the wonderful blending of special effects with human interest make this movie for me.  Plus it’s about astronauts, so it’s got to be wicked cool.

This lengthy film can be broken down into three parts.

The first part shows the harbinger of the Space Age with Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) breaking the sound barrier.   This was my favorite part as a kid, mostly because Yeager is such an engaging character.  If you read up on what actually happened you’ll learn that like many parts of this movie the facts have been rather loosely dramatized but gets at the gist of things.  I’ve always been perturbed by the reporter saying “the Russians are our allies” even though US-Soviet relations had deteriorated quite a bit by 1947.  After Yeager’s historic flight, we see another flight where he once again sets the speed record to top a civilian pilot before the 50th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight.  Young cocky pilots descend on Edwards Air Force Base including Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid), Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin)  while their wives nervously discuss the risky lives of test pilots.

Then Sputnik orbits the Earth.   The frenzied Eisenhower administration wonders how the Soviets got ahead of the US and plans on manned missions to space.  In one of the funniest sequences in the movie, two government agents played by Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer show films of potential candidates for the astronaut corps, but when Ike insists on test pilots Goldblum and Shearer are dispatched on a recruting mission.  First they go to Edwards where they pick up Cooper, Grissom, and Slayton, to Yeager’s ridicule.  Then they watch clean Marine John Glenn (Ed Harris) on a tv game show.  Finally they board an aircraft carrier and meet Naval aviator Alan Shepherd (Scott Glenn).

The astronaut candidates go through a series of brutal and often bizarre tests in another of the really funny parts of the film.  I especially like the part where Shephard is given a talking to by an Hispanic orderly because of his Jose Jimenez impersonation (all while Shephard has an enema).  Once the seven candidates are selected they are introduced to the media with great hype.  It takes a while for these seven men to gel as a team, but they come together to defend their positions as pilots of spacecraft as opposed to being “astronaut-occupants” of a capsule.  In an interesting sequence the astronauts play the media off the engineers and insist on a redesign of the spacecraft to have a window, a hatch with exploding bolts and manual controls for reentry.  While the exploding hatch plays a big part in Grissom’s mission, it is interesting that the filmmakers chose to leave out that the manual controls proved vital for Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank) to return safely to the Earth on his mission.

But Carpenter and Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen) are only minor characters in this film.  The filmmakers also never mention that Slayton was grounded due to a heart condition but became a respected member of NASA as head of astronaut selection.  And so the film only dramatizes four of the Mercury missions, which is good in the interests of time and storytelling works pretty well.  Each mission has a particular point of tension.  The humorous incident of Sheppard needing to urinate is followed by the harrowing case of Grissom needing to swim to safety after the hatch blows accidentally. Glenn’s historic orbital flight is given a long, heroic depiction underscored by concerns about a faulty heat shield.  The film ends with the launch of Cooper’s flight.  The movie keeps in mind the wives dealing with the stress and the overbearing press corp as well as astronauts on the ground monitoring the missions of their fellow astronauts.

Yeager’s presence is never overlooked in this film and his character acts as kind of Greek chorus to the Mercury program.  In the penultimate scene Yeager is shown testing (and crashing) an aerospace trainer aircraft in what proved to be his last mission as a test pilot.  These scenes are contrasted with the Mercury 7 astronauts being feted Texas-style at the opening of the new NASA space center in Houston.  The Right Stuff asks but never answers, who is the best pilot?  The unsung fliers of experimental  jets or men who sat atop explosive rockets in front of millions of viewers?

Movie Review: Broken English

There’s a common argument that men don’t like “chick flicks” because these films tend to be about relationships. I tend to counter that I don’t like movies that earn the tag “chick flick” because they’re usually full of fluff and hackneyed clichés of both women and men.
Broken English (2007) makes an effort to be a film about relationships without being fluffy or clichéd.  It also stars Parker Posey whom I’ve had a celebrity crush on since Party Girl so I’m unable to be an impartial viewer.

The plot is familiar.  A smart, successful, and attractive New York woman named Nora (Posey) goes through a series of dates with unsuitable men and begins to feel she will never find happiness in a relationship.  Then she meets and falls in love with a very direct French man (Melvil Poupad) and decides to go to Paris to pursue him.  You may be thinking you’ve already seen this one with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline.

Despite the recycled plot, Broken English is good enough to keep us on our toes and provide some realistic behavior from our characters.  I particularly like that Nora struggles with shyness and anxiety and that it’s portrayed in a sensitive but not sensationalist manner.  Like my favorite romantic comedy of all time Next Stop, Wonderland, the ending is ambiguous.  Nora and Julien meet in Paris and they may fall in love, they may remain in close contact, or they may never see each other again.  You can pretend that live happily ever after if you prefer, but the filmmaker doesn’t feel the need to spell it out to you.

So that’s Broken English, a movie that may not perfect the “chick flick” but at least give it the intelligence it deserves.

Movie Review: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) tells the story of a young woman today considered one of the great heroes of Germany.  Sophie Scholl (portrayed by Julia Jentsch in a great performance) was part of the White Rose, a student organization in Munich that opposed the Nazi regime during the Second World War.  Along with her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) she is arrested for leafleting the main building at Munich University.  The scene in which they are shown frantically leaving stacks of leaflets is taught with tension and I couldn’t help hoping they’ll get away okay even though I knew they’d get caught. Part of the reason they don’t get away is because on a whim Sophie pushes a stack of leaflets over a ledge so that they fall all over the atrium.

This impulsive act is witnessed by a janitor and really makes one question how one simple act can change one’s life. Under interrogation by Gestapo agent Robert Mohr (Gerald Alexander Held in another great performance), Sophie is almost able to talk her way to freedom by acting like a mischievous, carefree girl.  When finally forced to confess her complicity in political activism she resolutely refuses to name other members of the White Rose.  The movie very literally portrays her lasts days but weaves in biographical data in these interviews.  We learn that Sophie’s political convictions are not just based on the fact that Germany is losing the war, but on a desire for democracy in Germany and opposition to the persecution of the Jewish people and political dissidents.

The film is also steeped in historical fact.  Even the absurdly hostile judge who sentences Sophie to death is (sadly) true to life.  The film ends with the execution of Sophie, Hans, and other members of the White Rose by guillotine, but we also learn that leaflets of the White Rose were smuggled to the Allies and these would later be copied and dropped on German cities.

Movie Review: The Mission

The Mission (1986) has long been on my “too see list.” A lot of people I knew in college loved this movie for it’s explorations of faith (“the perfect movie to watch on Good Friday,” said one), it’s cinematography and the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. So I’ve finally redressed that wrong.

The film itself is made up of three parts.

In the first part, a tribe of aboriginal peoples in remote Brazil in the 17oo’s execute a Jesuit missionary, tying him to a cross which floats down the river and over a waterfall. The leader of the Spanish missionaries Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) takes personal responsibility and sets off on his own mission to the natives above the fall. In a long and harrowing scene, Gabriel climbs the falls barefoot. When he finally encounters the natives, Gabriel pulls out a flute, plays it, and wins their trust. The narrator says “With an orchestra, the Jesuits could have subdued the entire continent.” We later learn that the narrator is the emissary from the Vatican Altamirano. Gabriel establishes a community based on Christian principles and he and the natives live in peace. But all is not well. Slave catchers are venturing into the region capturing people from the community. Gabriel confronts the slave catcher Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert Deniro) but is unable to set free the villagers he caught.

The second part of the film begins back in the city where Mendoza learns that his lover is now romantically involved with his brother. In a rage, Mendoza kills his own brother in a street fight. Gabriel visits the city and is asked to speak with Mendoza in prison, as he may be the only one who could get through to the remorseful fratricide. Gabriel convinces Mendoza to join him at the mission. In another harrowing scene at the falls, Mendoza attempts to climb with a sack of his armor and weaponry tied to his waste. Despite the delays caused by this burden, Mendoza insists on carrying it as his penance. Upon arriving at the mission, the villagers recognized Mendoza as the slave catcher. In a touching and highly symbolic moment, one man draws a knife. Mendoza is entirely at his mercy but he merely cuts the rope to the bundle setting Mendoza free. In the weeks and months that follow Mendoza works hard at the mission and becomes a favorite among the Indians. He decides to become a Jesuit and swears an oath of obedience to Father Gabriel.

The final act of the movie puts the Jesuit missionaries at odds with Altamirano and the Portuguese who have gained control of the colony.  The Jesuits lead Altamirano on tours of the missions showing that they are Christian communities where native Indians are learning European culture and creating profitable self-sustaining communities.  The Portuguese plantation owners of course see this as a threat to their plans of gaining free land and free labor.  Altamirano, a true Pilate-figure, washes his hands of the situation and sides with the land-owners.  Mendoza breaks his vow of obedience and decides to fight to protect the mission from aggressors. Gabriel must stay on the side of love. “If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo.” In the culminating scenes, Rodrigo and several other priests  lead the Indians in a defense against the Portugeuse militia.  The succeed at first but cannot overcome military training and weapons.  Meanwhile, Gabriel leads a final prayer services with many of the villagers. Even as he falls to a gunshot, another man takes up the cross and carries on.  The mission is a success even as it is destroyed.

I found this a beautiful and moving film.  Even DeNiro who I usually don’t like is good in his period costume.  Sure, when he talks he still sounds like a mumbling city thug, but he doesn’t speak often and his facial expressions are spot on to the emotion of the moment. Jeremy Irons, a young Liam Neeson, and Ray McNally as Altamirano are also great in their roles.
The Mission at imdb.com

Washington Post review

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