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O-o-o-oh, Romeo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o… December 3, 2012

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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If you were thinking of going to see the well acted and thoughtfully staged The NOLA Project production of Romeo and Juliet and NOMA: don’t. The acoustics and sight lines are horrible in the foyer of NOMA and render a great part of the dialogue, including the balcony scene, unintelligible to the audience on stage right. Only a handful of the actors–A.J. Allegro as Mercutio, Natalie Boyd as the Nurse, James Yeargain as Friar John and experienced Shakespeareans Martin Covert and Jim Wright as Montague and Capulet, managed to modulate their voices to minimize the echoes and so be intelligible and demonstrate their talent. Even the best of the actors sometimes were placed in the space so that one despairs of understanding them. Good use was made of the four entrances and stairway to generate an energetic tension in the scenes of conflict between the young men of the two families, but the scenes of Juliet on the staircase and balcony, while dramatically staged, placed her dead in the center of the echo chamber. Kristin Witterschein was a fresh and charming Juliet What can be seen from an obstructed view and what could be understood was well done, but I’m judging much of her performance from tone of voice and a few brief glimpses, as if I were watching a foreign film behind a tall man in a tall hat. I would love to see this company perform this in another place.

If you already have your tickets, be sure to arrive by 6:00 for the 7:30 curtain and run don’t walk to a seat in front stage left, where I think you would at least be able to understand the balcony scene and have unobstructed sight lines. Or else be sure to read the play before you come so you can at least play it in part in your own head. If you insist on going, buy an obstructed sight line ticket and save some money because there was no effort made to actually segregate the seating, and our full price tickets placed us squarely between two pillars and we arrived at 6:30.

Odd Words: An Indian Summer Night’s Dream Edition October 15, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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The setting as well as the best of the players give us the dream when A Midsummer Night’s Dream unfolds in the Bestoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. This is a belated review but better than none, as I don’t want anyone who reads this to miss the opportunity of this show. There are still two days left, and it’s not sold out so do not be Demetrius and wait until the last moment to discover your true love but try and get your tickets.

The entry plaza and steps make an excellent stage for the first act (and the small concrete platform in the lagoon another for the last, but don’t go left if the usher suggests it, go right even if its crowded) but the true magic is in the heart of the play and the garden, the woodland action set against a backdrop of trees and shrubbery in the middle of the space. To see the star-crossed lovers and the fairy band from a torch-lit meadow against this backdrop is truly magical.

I just had a conversation with a theater direction on another blog, where he lamented the technical ability of young actors and we discussed the ability to project to fill a space without lavaliers or other contrivances (actors or performers of their own poetry for that matter, who are just another set of player) to project themselves. Not everyone in the cast could carry that large open space, especially if you found yourself consigned to the back when the action and the audience move deeper into the park in Act II.

Francesca McKensie would have been a marvelous Puck beneath a proscenium. Her dark eyes seemed to sparkle in the night with her physical energy, but I often struggled to understand her. Perhaps its difficult to cast someone with the spritely look and manic energy who also has a set of lungs sufficient to the open air. Others players: stately Andrew Vaught as Theseus and Oberon; Emilie Whelan’s masterful Bottom (she might have taught the author’s own players a thing or two about casting across genders); the delightfully ditzy Veronica Hunsinger-Lee, who charmed her way into the audience’s affections as a slapstick, teen-aged, all arms-and-legs Helena; all had no trouble being heard by the cheap seat squirrels. The experienced Martin Covert (just seen in Tulane’s Twelfth Night as Antonio) carried himself well as Egeus the width and breadth of the meadow and over the distraction of the whistling park train. I wish the director had spent some time standing in the back of the space. As simple a thing as a slight adjustment of a mark or a slight turn of the head toward the audience might have made all the difference for the actors unused to such a space.

It is all in all a marvelous setting for the middle action of the play, with characters dashing in and out of the shrubbery as Titania’s bower descends from the park’s old oaks. If the listener cannot quite hear the songs of the fairie band except as beautiful distant voices perhaps it is not a failing but another perfect part of an magically inspired staging.

You still have two nights. I am disappointed this morning that I missed the offered sneak preview staging in early summer and did not quickly get tickets before the first run promptly sold out. I wish this were my second or third trip out to see it, the combination of the magical and comic story, strong players and a brilliant setting is just too perfect. I suggest you reconsider your plans for this weekend and hustle over to Eventbrite to see if you cannot still get a ticket.

NOMA Centennial Poem April 16, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque reads the ekphrastic poem “Reading Ida Kohlmeyer‘s Cluster # 39″ commissioned by the New Orleans Museum of Art for its centennial. The reading and discussion was part of a weekend of poetry events organized by museum librarian Sheila Cork ,which included poets writing Friday evening in the sculpture garden and a collection of similar poems written by the students of poet Brad Richard’s creative writing program at Lusher Charter School and collected with Bourque’s in a booklet.

Unfortunately this isn’t great video, as it was taken with my phone the Druid (as the Android OS insists I must mean to type when I type Droid, which is Odd), but crank up the volume and you can hear it well enough. Sadly, you can’t see the painting well and I can’t find it on the Internet.

I’ll have more on this event and on the poetry written by Richard’s students, and their readings in front of the NOMA paintings that inspired them, later here and on NolaVie on NOLA.COM.

Looking for the Darkness on a Sunday Afternoon June 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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It was hard to peer closely into the darkness while surrounded by a happy mob searching for their Blue Dogs.

The other visitors moved through the George Rodrigue retrospective like an assembly line of amoebas, blobs of people expanding and contracting as they moved by fits and starts through the gallery, their progress governed by the little audio tour boxes clasped to their heads. It’s my own damn fault about the crowd, waiting until the afternoon of the last day. Rodrique’s Blue Dog work has far too large a status as local cultural icon to think there would not be a mob on Sunday. Me, I had not come for the Blue Dog. I had come to experience close up the painted twilight beneath his mythic oaks, and the darkness of those trees themselves.

It seemed everyone in line to enter clutched Blue Dog books, hoping to get a an artist’s autograph. I struggle to understand the attraction. The eyes of the blue dog are disturbing: fixed circles that seem soulless and infinitely deep, like the empty sockets of some stone idol. Those eyes betray Rodrique’s original inspiration of the Cajun boogie-man/swamp monster loup garou, but the packaging in a small terrier or whatever Blue Dog might be strikes me as pure kitsch, something of a cross between Hello, Kitty and the nasty bunny rabbit line popular with middle school girls, tarted up a bit with oils to make sure there was a high-end line of originals to go with the posters and coffee mugs.

I had not come for the dogs (or even the blue bears, which I had not seen before) and certainly not for wildly popular portrait of Drew Brees with Blue Dog or the fawning picture of Ronald Reagan. I am drawn to the earliest landscapes and portraits, like the reproduction that hangs in my house of the 1984 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival painting–the subjects human like luminous ghosts or figures brightly lit on an night time exterior film shot. The strange luminosity that seems to come from within the figures results in large part from the contrast with the blackness of those trees that stand over and behind the figures, a landscape in the palette of camo. I had come to see what I could just detect in the mass produced prints, could only see in the art book with a magnifying glass–the complex blends of blacks and browns, greens and grays from which those trees were made, the brush knife work of applied paint mimicking the patterning of a Live Oak’s bark.

The images I had not seen before which struck me were late paintings of dark oaks with a luminous blue-green sky of a color not typically associated with planets with nitrogen-oxygen atmospheres. The color makes the seen ominous, which most of his dark landscapes are not. It is as if he had distilled the frightening eyes of that Blue Dog into something purely blue and unnatural, and cast it into the sky to light the scene

If this all sounds a bit Gothic perhaps it is, in a sense far older than the fashion trend of the late 20th Century. Rodrique’s work before Blue Dog or the portraits of famous Louisianians is a window into a world Gothic in a way that the Shelleys or Pre-Raphaelites would recognize. In a few of the paintings there are colors in a patch of sky that suggest celestial twilight, the set of warm colors sunset paints on the clouds, but in so many others there is no clear indication of the time of day. It is a timeless darkness that seems not an obscured light from above but something that radiates from the trees . These are not the scenes one will encounter just up the street beneath the widely scattered trees in City Park, as magnificent as they are. It is a window into the Forest Primeval, into Mythago Wood.

This is not the darkness of the grasping trees of a frightening Disney forest with boles for eyes. It is a cool and inviting dark like a room on the shady side of a house on a cool day, a mysterious attraction like the mouth of a cave. It is an invitation into another world which in the end is something all great art does. The only frightening thing in these mythic woods is the thought that at the end of the path there might be a pair of perfectly circular bright orange and soulless eyes, fixed and unblinking, waiting for you.