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I ushered for ASP's Measure for Measure this Sunday at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center.

They've had shows there before, but each time they've chosen a different layout. This time, the audience was on opposite sides of the performance space, set up to give the vague impression of jury boxes, which worked. Otherwise, the set was a panel on the floor that included a round picture of Blind Justice (a blindfolded woman holding balance scales), and a contraption with spaced vertical ropes that could be raised/lowered by one of the doors to form the bars of a jail cell.

This production is set in the here-now, with the Duke taking his leave of absence because he's reached the end of his rope, heading for some kind of break-down (the implication of addiction, to pills, to booze, to whatever), and needs to step back for a while, which I liked better than the sometimes-used assumption that he was trying to be a puppet master for all his citizens. As the actor pointed out in the talk-back session afterward, this showed the period assumption of the state mirroring the condition of its head.

It's an intense time to see this play about law unequally applied, in the wake of the same USian problem (Ferguson, NY, so many other cases). One might have thought we'd have gotten just a little bit farther along the path towards true justice...

Oh, and the ending was interesting. The Duke has asked Isabella for her hand in marriage. The play has hinged about how this novitiate has rejected the amoral demand for carnal knowledge by Angelo, and it's unclear whether she is willing to give up her chosen path for a more legitimate offer. The play embraces that ambiguity by ending with her kneeling to pray about it, and him following suit, open to interpretation by the viewer rather than a definitive answer.

Not at all relevant to the production: ASP set up a concessions stand in the gallery opposite the main stage area, which is having an exhibit of work by Cynthia Brody, which I enjoyed seeing.
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I ushered for a stage performance of (selections from) Arabian Nights (Dominic Cooke), put on jointly by the Nora Theatre and Underground Railway Theater companies at the Central Square Theater. I enjoyed the performance; they did a great job with lovely costuming (it looked period, yet so comfortable; plus a ship hat that was particularly striking and gave me ideas of things to consider), some pillows, and an impressive variety of puppets that ranged from a small hand puppet to a huge, multi-person roc that flew the hand-puppet Sinbad away. The stories are enjoyable, as always, but the frame situation bothered me a lot more than it has in the past: all those girls dead, yet the sultan is redeemed by finally realizing his love for Shahrazad. Plus, one-night marriages are obviously only about sex/sex-appeal, not real marriages at all, so it's particularly icky, basically a loophole droit de seigneur to salve his conscience.

Tangential to the performance: I was the only one of three ushers to show up at the stated time, one hour before curtain. I stuffed programs, scanned tickets, handed out programs, directed people to their seats. Luckily it was not a full house. Then another usher showed up five minutes before curtain, doing almost nothing (handing out programs), sleeping through the first act, then leaving without cleaning up after either. I was not impressed.

Henry VIII

Jan. 2nd, 2014 10:21 pm
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Sunday I ushered for ASP's production of Shakespeare's Henry VIII. I was particularly excited about it because I've never seen it, and I've read enough about the period to be familiar with the story.

The production was (er, "is", I suppose, in the sense that it runs until Sunday (with an extra show added due to demand, surprisingly enough), but I'm unlikely to see it again) done in period costuming*, with a lot of choreographed movement, most of it dancing, some processing. As with most of their productions, it was a minimalist set: there was an elaborate painted circle on the floor, with knight and king names on it in a manuscript font, a la Round Table (all the names other than Henry's were Arthurian); the back of the stage area had irregular plinths into platforms, with a huge cross on one side, and those medieval chairs that look rather like heavy wooden criss-crossing camp chairs (I noticed that the cross was one step up from those thrones: religious authority trumping temporal, at least in this). And that was it.

* I had lots of costume envy. Some of the men's clothes, especially, looked like they'd be great today. And I didn't mind seeing so many men's legs in tights, either!

The story was oddly episodic, with one problem person until knocked down (beheaded, defrocked, divorced, whatever), then another one arising. Henry was too much a man of emotions, as always, but often seemed to play the deus ex machina of each playlet, rather than being center stage throughout. I kept wondering how Henry's later excesses would be addressed, but they were completely avoided by ending with Elizabeth's christening, allowing the priest to give a nicely prophetic speech at the end, avoiding all those later disastrous marriages which didn't even get him any heir material. The unfortunate Mary is mentioned only as her mother's daughter, so her problematic reign is ignored completely too. It left me feeling like a carefully written marketing backstory for Elizabeth, even though the earlier plots (Cardinal Woolsey, some nobles meeting unfortunate ends) had nothing to do with her. Even Anne Boleyn was portrayed as not wanting to catch the king, but unable to do anything to turn his fancy aside (not the view I've read, but hey, history is open to interpretation).

Apparently the company did much editing to get to their 2:30 show, some of which included putting a lot of minor characters onto one actor, who was jester, random nobles, and random women as the need arose. I was impressed with how well this worked, the adjustment of a scarf or a jester puppet helping. I wasn't as sure about the video projection during Catherine's death scene, more because it didn't fit with the rest of the production than anything else. All in all, I'm glad I got to see this, even having to stand for the first half.

busy week

May. 15th, 2002 06:40 pm
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So much going on, it's been hard to keep up.

half a week )
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(from an article in today's Globe)

This summer's production will be Henry V, rather than their originally scheduled Macbeth (which I'm pleased about; I've seen a bunch of Macbeths recently, and a less-performed play is good.) The powers-that-decide-such-things thought that this would be more topical, considering what's going on in the world these days.

Apparently it's being set in England in the 1930s. And Anthony Rapp has the title role.

It's running from July 19 through August 4. Last year I 'hosted' a Thursday (vegetarian/vegan) potluck on the Common, and people seemed to enjoy it... I think I'll do it again this year, with everyone here who wants to join also invited, of course. 
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(Oops. First typed "city of angles." A mathematical musical?)

I hadn't heard of this musical before, but it turned out to be pretty impressive. I always like performances where layers of reality are mutable, where the characters in the show create/play other people, and later the line of who/what is "real" within the show blurs. (Especially when each character in the show has a parallel in the show within a show...).

It's set in the grand era of Hollywood, with a writer working on a movie script of his book, which is being made into a hard-boiled detective sort of mystery flick.

I had been a bit worried, since the last time I saw a musical at this theater, it had been weak. But this was very good. There were actual musicians down in the pit (which I h aven't seen used before)! And the actors' voices were pretty much up to the task, too.

The songs were cleverly done, some filled with innuendo, others more straightforward. And most of the time I didn't have that "why the hell would anyone burst into son g now?" feeling (as I did with "Sarafina!"), partly because it was so campy, partly b/c they fit pretty well.

I was also impressed with the set, which had multiple moving parts, screens, etc, including a very clever design for the "show within a show" sh ots that was framed with "film" on either side, allowed for "sets" to be slid (slided? slode? bleh.) in front of it, with a white screen between the "film" that allowed for slides to be projected on it. Very cool. There were some glitches in moving between sets, at times (it was the preview night), but things that were obviously fixable...

[Later addendum: another cool thing I'd forgotten to metion was how there were times that the writer in the outer story decided things would go differently than he'd originally written them, so the characters went in reverse back to the point he changed the script, making gobbledygook reversed-word sounds and hand motions... very funny.] Ø
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well, not really. there was a lot of music, though no actual songs. the 3 witches were pretty much onstage all the time, if only in one of the many niches (a cool white set that allowed many points for arrivals & departures), often beating on some percussion instrument, a drum, or a tambourine. they also used castanets, clackers, and anklets of bells. all were in fluttery yet edgy white costumes, with rather extreme white and black makeup. they also did many of the bit parts in the play.

the production was really good; quite different fom jason's (director) production last year (completely different cast & audience). interesting to see how he sees the play.
other than the witches omnipresence, it was a fairly straight performance, not set in another time/place. and i was glad prog and treacle_well (& 2 other non-lj users (yes, there still are some!) enjoyed the play as well.

as usual, i am left wondering if the witches' prognostications would've come about had he not started on his path of regicide. and wondering about lady macbeth's upbringing- he wouldn't have done it w/o her goading. and of course i find it ironic that macduff's being born in some sort of c-section situation makes him "not of woman born" ... macbeth would have a hard time these days...
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this weekend was full of them.

a quiet shabbat at home, reading (the best of which was The Shadow of the
by Orson Scott Card, truly a gifted writer). it was the first
night in a long long time by myself; it was good to have a break.

saturday night (ok, i almost wrote motza'i shabbat, which is the same thing,
essentially) cthulhia and queue and i went to see the 2nd night of a
festival of 10-minute plays (some of them were a bit longer...), which was a
lot of fun. some were merely ok, while others were great. and boggle
happened afterwards, and i managed to win some :-).

today was totally scheduled (i really have to return some phone calls some
day, some time when i'm home at a reasonable hour....), a visit from queue
followed by Gosford Park at harvard sq with other friends. (no
spoilers i can think of to come) it's a beautifully done movie, all the
details just so, rather understated in dialogue, plot devices (no bashing
you over the head with conversations including direct details. lots of
innuendo used). i found the sheer number of characters a bit hard to keep
track of (10 houseguests, the host family, the myriad below-stairs

home for some (rather late) breakfast (leftover tilapia & onions. (it's a
kind of fish)), then off to cthulhia's for an epiphany of gift giving. i was
surprised & pleased with much chocolate (some from burdick's), and
(essentially) an invitation to host a (small) party, one of the how to host
a murder things.... now i have research to do on the correct sort of meal,
costume, etc; this definitely won't happen until february - january is far
too full already (at least the weekends, and i'm not going to figure out how
to fit this in on a weekday. oh, wait - there's a long weekend in january.
maybe that monday? hmmmm.). thanks to cthulhia and pheromone (also to prog -
i got to see his hair :-).
some games afterward, too. one involved smashing rats with anvils (all
cards, no real rats were used in the production of this entry), then a game
of guillotine (i finally got to play a whole game; last time (the first
time) was interrupted when the friends-in-the-hospital finally got to move
to share a room.)

but wait, the day is not done. i'd missed the jim's big ego concert cthulhia
had gotten people to go to, so she invited me along to hear him solo at a
house concert in arlington. i had a great time, crammed into a livingroom
with 25 other people to hear him sing & play guitar & recite poetry & talk
with an audience of fans...

(and now, despite tiredness, i type here. why can i not just go to bed?)


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