NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
A Delicate Balance
As American theatre goes, the
decade of the 60's is clearly
Edward Albee's. During that tumultuous period, Albee produced ten plays that helped to change the essence of American drama and, more than The Zoo Story, ...Virginia Woolf, The American Dream, The Death of Bessie Smith, the three adaptations ...Sad Cafe, Malcolm, Everything In The Garden, A Delicate Balance looms as his most brilliant, accessible and beautiful play, with the possible exception of Tiny Alice. It was also the recipient of the 1967 Pulitzer prize for drama.
It is presently gracing the newly refurbished boards of the Rivertown Repertory Theatre in Kenner (through Nov. 30) in a beautiful production staged by director Joe Warfield. If you like excellent, thought-provoking theatrical fare, you'll love this production. I know I did.
Agnes (Janet Shea) and Tobias (Eliott Keener) are a married couple entering their senior years. They live in an upper middle class suburban home on the East Coast (beautifully designed with copious detail by Robert Self and sensitively lit by Daniel Zimmer, with absolutely correct and character-defining clothes by Elizabeth Parent). Agnes' alcoholic sister, Claire (Abby Lake) lives with them. They are beginning to contemplate death which is the next, and last, event in their otherwise dull, sterile lives. They are the parents of a 36 year old daughter, Julia (Gina Porretto), who is still stuck in her adolescence, having just broken up with her fourth husband.
Agnes and Tobias, like George and Martha in ...Virgina Woolf, also represent Albee's cynical take on the dysfunctional family, a family in which the Mom is the leader while the Dad is hen-pecked, submissive and impotent. The alcohol-soaked Claire is Albee's alter-ego, serving as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on and reiterating the action. She is also clairvoyant and helps to define the metaphor of the title, saying at one point: "We can't have changes-throws the balance off." As Michael E. Rutenberg states in his book, Edward Albee: Playwright In Protest [DBS Publications, Inc., 1969] "...the delicate balance being that of the status quo, whether it be in reference to an existing relationship within the family, a friendship outside, or the general state of affairs within the country or, for that matter, the world. Each and every relationship hangs in the balance of time, doggedly resistant to change...."
The on-going brittle dialogue between Agnes and Tobias mooning over their respective fates is rudely interrupted (and another aspect of the theme advanced) with the unlikely intrusion of Harry (Charles Bosworth) and Edna (Pauline Prelutsky), Tobias' and Agnes' contemporaries and best friends, who crash their home seeking a haven from an unknown fear that has suddenly gripped them (their fear of death). They have come seeking refuge by brunt of their friendship. They are put up in Julia's room, even as Julia arrives, coming home once again for solace from her own marital wars. She is so undone by this massive intrusion that she threatens death to the intruders with a gun, which provokes the denouement-the balance has been tipped: the friendship is dissolved, Agnes, by having to share her bed with Tobias once again, suddenly becomes the submissive one, forcing Tobias to make decisions he has forestalled all his life.
Mr. Warfield has assembled a topnotch, very professional cast through whom he elicits admirably the delicate details of Mr. Albee's tour de force. Janet Shea, arguably New Orlean's best actress, thoroughly owns her role, delivering the Albeespeak of long, protracted paragraphs as if she spoke this way all her life; likewise, Abbey Lake, who insinuates her maxims like a bibulous wisecraker. Gina Porretto, while looking smashing, keeps the same hysterical level a little too intensely, but to great comic effect nonetheless, while Charles Bosworth and Paula Prelutsky, only ciphers in Albee's terse play, nonetheless make a handsome and believable couple. My only reservation is Warfield's casting, against type, of the actor Eliott Keener, a true "heavy," calling attention to his physical condition to the detriment of the relaxed, lean and hungry naturalism of his fellow actors, which caused titters when he was called upon to sit on a pillow by the fireplace. His reading, however, is right on the nose, especially in his two long sililoques ("arias" as Albee dubs them).
Although A Delicate Balance is now 30 years old, it is still as fresh and compelling as ever. Rivertown Rep's producer, Charles Ward, is to be commended for offering his patrons such thought-provoking and meaty fare, eschewing the usual dinner theatre fluff. The food, which is optional and catered by Messina's, continues to be delectable.
The Magic Flute
As the season's first cold front descended upon New Orleans on a Saturday
night, with rain and wind, operagoers sweated out finding a parking place
at the Theatre of the Performing Arts, having to resort to the new (old?) spaces across Basin St. originally created for Harrah's. Why? Because the new hockey team, aptly called Brass, with its myriad blood-thirsty denizens, was holding court in the Municipal Auditorium. This awkward situation caused Mozart's operetta, The Magic Flute, to begin fifteen minutes late, sending it into overtime.
This did not make happy operatic campers; that is, until the much-loved operetta finally got underway and the high-tech set began to work its electronic magic.
Along with the incomparable setting ( Adam and Irene Kolodziej) made effervescent by C. Robert Holloway's many lighting effects, the true star of this Jay Lesenger-directed opus was Andrew Porter's English translation, making Mozart's fairy tale allegory of love and compassion accessible to all.
I vividly remember my first Magic Flute experience at the Met, which was, to me, completely opaque and incomprensible with mud-like sets and costumes by the overrated Marc Chagall. While there was laughter from a handful of German speaking people (among them my companion), most of us were supposed to enjoy the overpriced experience purely in musical terms. We had to suffer through long sequences of dialogue. Granted, Mozart's last endeavor falls mellifluously on the ears. In this English translation, made even clearer by Supertitles, all of its many Masonic flavored facets could be enjoyed and understood.
Director Jay Lesenger was another star, milking every ounce of comic buffoonery from his agile cast led with brio by baritone David Malis as the earthy, congenial bird catcher Papageno who wants, more than anything, a Papagena.
Others in the uneven cast were Erie Mills as the "evil" Queen of the Night (looking more like a Mardi Gras queen in costumers A.T. Jones & Thea Yeatman's tradition-defying bejeweled white gown and hair-you know-black equals night, right?), who is the mother of the abducted Pamina (the lovely Je Hyun Lim reproducing Mozart's sublime music to perfection) and promises Prince Tamino her daughter's hand if he is able to rescue her, protecting him and Papageno along the trecherous road with a magic flute and magic set of bells. Tenor Stephen Smith as Tamino, although thin in the vocal department, was a regal counterfoil to David Malis. The one "name" in the cast, Jerome Hines, as the abducter of Pamina, Sarastro, the King of the Sun, has seen better decades, but his Keystone Kopish slaves, led by head servant Monostatos (last minute replacement Dean Anthony) brightened the dark proceedings as did the hilarious Three Stooges turn of the Queen's three ladies, Ellen Frohnmayer, Terry Patrick-Harris and Suzanne DuPlantis, who gave the opera an electric beginning-in more ways than one (a neon moon?). Local soprano Moira K. Girard was sweetness and campy delight as Papageno's Papagena. Their last act duet was a highlight, among many.
Delgado's Theatre Arts Instructor and musical theatre director,Timothy K.
Baker, recently put together a charming production of the anti-war musical
comedy Pippin, with book by Roger O. Hirson and songs by Stephen Schwartz, which won for its original director, Bob Fosse, the Tony award (in 1973-his best year ever, also winning the Oscar for Cabaret and the Emmy for a Liza Minnelli special).
Mr. Baker drew his leads from the community and his chorus from his students and, along with his uncanny recreation of Fosse's unique choreography, put the correct spin on material that could be dry and pedantic as this is, after all, the story of the coming of age of 9th century Charlemagne's son.
In Fosse's hands this became a hip, satiric musical with lots of t & a. Mr. Baker, who has also choreographed, followed Fosse's moves closely and successfully.
A company of players, think comedia dell'arte, led by the "leading player," (Troy Poplous) enact the story, with players stepping forward to assume various roles. There is Pippin himself, an unassuming and affable young prince here evinced with self-assured cockiness and profligate talent by New Orleans' latest musical comedy phenomonon, Kasey Marino, his father, Charles (a very effete, i.e. campy, Walter Bost), Lewis, his younger half brother (Andre Chifici), Fastrada, the conniving step-mother who wants Pippin dead so her insipid son can become king (flashily created by a hip-swiveling, saucy Nicole Boyd), his grandmother Berthe (Andee Reed), and Catherine (Rani Fournier) who finally wins him.
Although Stephen Schwartz's music is as thin as gruel, with the possible exception of "Corner Of The Sky," music director Linda Park and conductor Mike Rihner kept the tempi hot with an expert four piece band, while set designer Anthony Henderson served Mr. Baker, and the audience, with yet another colorful, inspired creation that set off Sand Warren's wonderfully eclectic costumes nicely, and made the temporary home of Delgado's theatre, in the original third floor auditorium, a satisfying experience.