A Singer’s Notes 57: Just Plain Good

Sometimes you want to go into the theatre to have fun, to have sweetness, to hear a song you know, to listen to the ease of the artists. I saw this in three splendid evenings late in the summer. Two of these were at Barrington Stage. “See How They Run” was technically superb. The hijinks and gags worked like a well-oiled machine, never a hitch. This farce is particularly endearing if you know Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”. Bitter-sweet references to Coward’s play keep it grounded in some kind of reality which is lyrical. I love a good gag. A gag well-executed is an artistic triumph.

Abigail's Party by Mile Leigh. Photo Catherine Ashmore.

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh at Wyndham’s

Gin and it.

There are cocktail parties, and then there are cocktail parties. Dramatists like to use them as a trope for the viral malaise that has infected middle-class life. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the unraveling of a marriage is x-rayed with malicious glee, while in the sedate confines of The Cocktail Party T.S. Eliot takes up his familiar, morose theme of “shoring up fragments against our ruin,” giving us hints of the Alcestis of Euripides so that the failed marriage at the heart of the play has mythic resonance. (Albee seemed to stretch for all-American resonance by naming his duelling couple George and Martha, although the relevance to George and Martha Washington never hit home for me — history is the last thing one thinks about as the air blisters and boils in the play.)

Czesław Miłosz

Rok Miłosza (The Miłosz Year) Comes to Williams College: Inspired by Miłosz, a Tribute by Omar Sangare and his Students

Czesław Miłosz (proonouced Cheswav Meewosh), who died in 2004, was perhaps the best known of Polish literary men in the U.S., thanks to his 20-year tenure as a professor of Slavic languages at the University of Calfornia at Berkeley, where he carried on his work as an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and translator. While he could communicate and occasionally write in English, his poetry became familiar to American readers through translations published in magazines like The New Yorker. He became widely recognized as an ambassador from the land of exile, continually bearing the cross of his numerous emigrations. A Lithuanian Pole, he left for Warsaw under the German occupation. He received his education in Wilno (Vilnius), a city which was long a part of Poland, with many Polish associations, above all literary, since the two great nineteenth century poets, Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, like Miłosz, spent their formative years there. A diplomat of Communist Poland in the U.S. and France, he sought political asylum in 1951 and lived as an expatriate intellectual in Paris until 1960, when he emigrated to the United States and claimed citizenship in the great everywhere and nowhere of academia. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. After 1989 he divided his time between Berkeley and Kraków.

A Singer’s Notes 46: Rhymed Verse on the Stage, a Balancing Act; and More Fun at the Clark

Try this for starters. Read a scene in rhymed couplets to someone you know, and ask them if it sounded natural. Not easy, is it? Great rhyme masters, from Alexander Pope to Richard Wilbur, require their readers to use these couplets on stage or page, and this is no small task. It asks from the performer something like singing. The regularity of the rhyme scheme, its dominance, can be treacherous. Peter Hall maintained that a script of Shakespeare’s can be read like music, but iambic pentameter is too strong and unbalanced to accept this kind of strictness all the time. Rhymed (sometimes called heroic) couplets need, indeed require, a balancing act. The listener knows instinctively when the rhymes are over-sung. I am saying there has to be a large and flexible middle to the actor’s method. This middle might be defined as the place that is returned to.

Duett – inspired by Heiner Müller’s “Quartett” and Søren Kierkegaard’s “Either/Or” – Concocted by Amy Stebbins – At the Loeb Ex (A.R.T.), Cambridge

Amy Stebbins explicitly recommended a stiff drink as preparation for her hour-long entertainment, Duett, which is derived from Heiner Müller’s Quartett, which in itself is derived from Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereux. Unfortunately there was no time for this, as I rushed straight from a brilliant performance of early cello works by Beethoven, and all I managed was a light dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. This was not enough wipe out any culture shock I may have experienced after Beethoven’s rumbustious high spirits and supremely intelligent wit, but that certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying Duett. Perhaps a certain amount of culture shock is in order, perhaps even necessary, for our encounter with Laclos’s, Müller’s, and Stebbins’ very badly behaved aristocrats, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont.

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