NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
The New Orleans Ballet Association closed out its 1996-97 season with the
triumphantly returning modern dance company called "Momix" which is a
corruption of the name of its founding director, Moses Pendleton: "Mo-Mix," which accurately describes Mr. Pendleton's unique brand of theater: a collage, or mixture, of visual and aural stimuli tightly woven around a central thesis.
For this double-header engagement New Orleans balletomanes were treated to two nights of Momix pizzazz, the returning Passion and the debuting Baseball. Although the ingredients of both mixtures are similar, as well as their presentation, they manage, nonetheless, to be quite different.
Mr. Pendleton uses a scrim extreme down stage as a surface upon which to project a constant stream of photographs; for Passion, these tended to be flowers or extreme closeups of flowers; for Baseball, everything from Babe Ruth to Michelangelo's God's finger touching life into Adam with a baseball clinched in his fist.
Another of Mr. Pendleton's ingredients is the accompanying taped sound. For Passion most of the sound was musical in nature having been written mainly by Peter Gabriel; for Baseball, a more eclectic mix of sounds: radio excerpts, ragtime music and, of course, "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."
The binder-flour?-of the mixture is, of course, the corp de ballet: in Passion, three women and two men; Baseball, three and three. They are treated as a unit, or element, of the total picture and for the most part they respond as one living organism contorting itself and perambulating itself into configurations that often help to define the photos playing on the screen in front of them. We perceive them always through the meshy scrim. Their dancing is more often than not predicated upon the clever utilization of a prop - in Passion, long diaphanous pieces of tulle or flexible white tubing used to define the circle motif-this Passion is a metaphor for nothing less than the universe.
The props become a major part of Baseball-every conceivable kind of baseball - from small Styrofoam ones to enormous ones to a dancer in a baseball suit to real ones, to bats, bases and one enormous glove (with a dancer in each finger). There are three foot tall beer cans that the dancers jump around in and otherwise manipulate humorously. There are two large, rigid "C" shaped rockers that are used to create interesting gymnastic moves.
Also in Baseball is one extended, traditional dance done by one of the female members of the corp (uncredited) who twirls dervishly while manipulating a large baseball which she (miraculously) never drops.
In Mr. Pendelton's eye, the game of baseball, which began with the caveman and continues to this day, is nothing less than a metaphor for life itself.
Both Passion and Baseball present their individual stories with consummate theatrical knowhow and both are thoroughly entertaining, but is this dance?
On Golden Pond, presently on
Theater's spiffy boards, is a typical community theater property.
In the able hands of producer Charlie Ward, director Joe Warfield and designers Robert Self (set), Elizabeth Parent (costumes) and Daniel Zimmer (lights) Ernest Thompson's ho-hum comedy is entertainingly presented. This is perfect dinner theater fare and, since Rivertown offers dinner, why not partake?
The food, as always catered by Messina's, is excellent and works like a tranquilizer to dull the senses and make such lightweight fare as On Golden Pond actually palatable.
Joe Warfield did an adequate job in casting this play about an aging couple coming to grips with the winter of their lives while spending yet another carefree summer at their camp on Golden Pond in Maine. Charlotte Schully and Roy Dumont are a couple of naturalistic, experienced thespians who breath honest life into Ethel and Norman Thayer. Unfortunately, the very talented Danon Dastugue as their errant fortysomething daughter, Chelsea, is miscast, or, lines that refer to her thinness simply do not ring true and should have been excised. Her zaftig persona further undermines the credibility one should have toward her romantic ties with Michael Cahill, playing a divorced father who is wooing her. As Billy Ray, Cahill's valleyboy teenage son who loves to "suck face," Justin Scalese cannot be faulted, nor the hilarious New England accented turn by Peter Gabb as the local gabby postman harboring a secret crush on Chelsea.
This is a dishonest play to begin with. Nothing happens, even though we celebrate, vicariously, Norman's 80th birthday. Oh, sure, we're given the expected shock of death's door knock twice-in Act One when Norman forgets where a road is and the threat of Alzheimer's looms; and, once in Act Two when he almost has a heart attack after picking up, and dropping, a box of china. We all get a good scare but he quickly recovers. There's also a great hook at the end of Act One designed to lure us back in for the second act, when the daughter leaves her boyfriend's son to be watched by mother and father while she runs off to Europe with her boyfriend. Oh, the clash of generations! Goody!!
But the irascible Norman melts into a loving grandfather teaching the young man to fish and to read "great books." Grandfatherhood is made manifest when daughter returns with wedding ring, to pick up new stepson who will return next summer to continue his education. The dust covers go back on the furniture until next summer on Golden Pond. Ho-hum.
Next up is Rivertown's season closer, Promises, Promises, the Burt Bacharach, Hal David musicalization of Billy Wilder's film, The Apartment, a musical from the 60's, or the Golden Age of Dinner Theater.
For maximum enjoyment, I highly recommend the Sliced Pepper Corn Beef with Horseradish, the panne catfish with almondine sauce and the ultimate comfort food: broccoli au gratin. Oh, and stay and see the show!