October 17, 2018

By Stuart Mitchner

Thanks to the five-word Molotov cocktail Donald Trump threw at the news media shortly after taking office, I’ve been rereading Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

The last time I read Ibsen was out loud with a friend many years ago on a student tour of Europe. The other reader was an aspiring actress from Erie, Pa., recently the site of one of Trump’s red-meat rallies. I can’t recall how Sally and I each happened to have a copy of the plays. Perhaps we bought them in Oslo to keep us sane in the immediate aftermath of our tour leader’s psychotic meltdown and subsequent incarceration. One aspect of his mania was the notion that he was leading a company of actors, musicians and writers he called the Golden Bear, after the name of the tour.  more

“MOUNT ADAMS, WASHINGTON, 1875”: This oil on canvas painting by Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) is featured in “Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment,” an exhibition encompassing three centuries of American art. It is at the Princeton University Art Museum through January 6, 2019. Admission is free.

The story of our changing relationship with the natural world is comprehensively told through this exhibition encompassing three centuries of American art. “Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment” presents more than 120 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, videos,  and works of decorative art, from the colonial period to the present, exploring for the first time how American artists of different traditions and backgrounds have both reflected and shaped environmental understanding while contributing to the development of a modern ecological consciousness. more

“DETROIT ‘67”: Performances are underway for “Detroit ‘67.” Directed by Jade King Carroll, the play runs through October 28 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Chelle (Myxolydia Tyler, left) is upset by a series of risky choices made by her younger brother Lank (Johnny Ramey). Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The music of Motown underscores Detroit ’67, a drama whose action begins just before the Detroit Riot, or Great Rebellion. It focuses on an African American woman’s determination to provide security for her family; and her passionate younger brother’s wish to start a new life, and blur racial boundaries.  more

Annie Zheng

Princeton High School Orchestra performs Friday, October 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the school’s Performing Arts Center, in a concert to benefit the fund for Unicef. Pianist Angie Zhang is guest soloist in Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto.  Also on the program is the premiere of PHS senior Easha Nandyala’s Waves. The finale of the concert will feature student musicians from throughout the community. more

On Saturday, October 27 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 28 at 4 p.m.,the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) welcomes pianist Inon Barnaton and conductor Marcelo Lehninger for collaboration on a two-day cycle of all five piano concertos completed by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Concertos 1, 2, and 4 make up the Saturday program while 3 and 5 (The Emperor) are reserved for Sunday. Both concerts are at Richardson Auditorium and include a free Pre-Concert Talk for ticket holders. more

October 10, 2018

By Stuart Mitchner

Early morning, early October, my wife and I are walking along the Delaware near Lambertville, the roar of the rapids so loud there’s no talking until we’re past the sound, heading south toward Washington’s Crossing. Downriver near Pennsbury Manor my paternal ancestors John and Sarah were indentured servants on William Penn’s estate, having come to America with him from England in 1682 on the good ship Welcome.

I’m mindful of my roots these days after unloading boxes of family photos, clippings, genealogies, old letters, and journals like my mother’s from the time she and my father took a cruise up the St. Lawrence to visit Barnhart’s Island, the home of her maternal ancestors. Just before she died, my mother, who grew up in river towns like St. Joseph, on the Missouri, and Smithville, on the Little Platte, told me, “Go down to the river.” My scholar father’s last words were “What’s on the agenda for today?” It would be hard to find two sentences more expressive of the differences between my parents and their families.  more

“FOUNDATION@50”: The new exhibition at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton celebrates 50 years of support by the New Jersey State Museum Foundation. The show features more than 60 objects, artifacts, and specimens that have been added to the museum’s collections over the past 50 years, runs through January 27, 2019.

The New Jersey State Museum has announced the opening of its new exhibition, “Foundation@50: Celebrating Five Decades of Support.” Since its founding in 1968, the New Jersey State Museum Foundation has provided vital support to the museum. The exhibition highlights more than 60 objects, artifacts, and specimens that have been added to the museum’s collections over the past 50 years through the support of the Foundation. It will be on view through January 27, 2019. more

Organist Stephen Buzard will lead a master class on Tuesday, October 16 at 2:30 p.m. and participate in the Sacred Music Lab at 6:30 p.m., in Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton. Sacred Music Lab is a worship service led by Westminster’s Sacred Music students and is open to the public. Admission is free. He will also present a recital in the Princeton University Chapel on Monday, October 15 at 8 p.m. more

By Kam Williams

Neil Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969 when he became the first person to walk on the moon. Subsequently, the NASA astronaut never sought to cash in on his celebrity status. Instead, he eschewed fame and fortune and withdrew from the limelight in favor of sharing his experiences in the classroom as a college professor. He even discouraged biographers until he finally agreed to cooperate with James R. Hansen on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.

Published in 2005, the book has been adapted to the screen by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight). However, the movie covers 1961 through 1969 — Armstrong’s early years in the space program — and ending with Apollo 11’s historic lunar landing. more

October 3, 2018

“WONDERLAND”: Glitch artist Phillip McConnell and expressive pop artist Chris Ernst will collaborate via playing off each other’s unique styles in “The Remix,” running October 7 to 26 at Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury. An opening reception is Sunday, October 7 from 1 to 3 p.m.

The Gourgaud Gallery, located in Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, presents “The Remix,” an exhibit on view October 7 through October 26. A reception is Sunday, October 7 from 1 to 3 p.m.

A remix is a piece of media which has been altered from its original state by adding, removing, and/or changing pieces of the item. This style is mainly seen in music, but applies to visual art as well. When two artists with vastly different styles seek each other out to create a new style of mixed media only one thing can come from it. more

By Stuart Mitchner

Trying to remember the last time I spent all day glued to the TV, the best I can do is September 11, 2001. Last Thursday my attention was focused on a 51-year-old stranger who was tenuously holding her own under the glare of the national spotlight. As she spoke shyly but unsparingly about the most traumatic moment of her life, I found myself pulling for her as if she were an old friend.

When the first half of the Senate hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh was adjourned, I searched online for the song I’d been thinking of during the cross-examination’s most stressful moments. All it took was typing in “Dear Christine,” by Klaatu, a Canadian group named after the traveler from another world in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Love songs like this one live and breathe with feeling and make you instantly emotional, particularly if you’ve just spent a supremely intense period of time empathizing with a woman named Christine.

 more

By Nancy Plum

There is a lot of Leonard Bernstein in concert halls these days; in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the iconic composer’s birth, performers worldwide are participating in Bernstein at 100, a two-year global celebration. Princeton Symphony Orchestra joined the party this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium by devoting the opening concert of the 2018-19 season to music of the American legend. A clear sign of growth and success, Princeton Symphony Orchestra has expanded its classical series to two performances of several of the classical concerts this season. Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) brought several of Bernstein’s more popular works to life, featuring two stellar solo performers. more

Princeton University Orchestra’s first concerts of the season are October 20 at 7:30 p.m. and October 21 at 3 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium on the campus. Ruth Ochs conducts the program, which features concerto competition winner Henry Peters ’20 on marimba.

On Tuesday, October 23 at 7:30 p.m., the orchestra presents the Orchestra of the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala on their United States tour, also at Richardson. Ivan Fisher, internationally known conductor, leads the orchestra. more

“SALT PEPPER KETCHUP”: Performances are underway for “Salt Pepper Ketchup.” Directed by Jerrell L. Henderson, the play runs through October 14 at Passage Theatre. Paul (Justin Pietropaolo, left), a representative of a food co-op, shows restaurant owners John Wu (Fenton Li) and his wife Linda (Chuja Seo) an article about their new partnership — but the results are different from what has been promised. (Photo by Jeff Stewart)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre is opening its season with the first professional production of Salt Pepper Ketchup. Playwright Josh Wilder was born and raised in Philadelphia, where the play is set; this is reflected by the script’s urgent realism. Director Jerrell L. Henderson, who directed the equally thought-provoking Caged for Passage’s previous season, has elicited uniformly strong performances from the gifted cast. more

Princeton Theological Seminary is hosting a film series this fall focused on movies that explore faith. The movie screenings are a part of a class, Faith and Film: Ministry in the Movies, which examines theological themes and pastoral issues portrayed in cinema that Christian leaders may face.

“By viewing these films, I want participants in the course to encounter a broad range of commonplace occurrences in modern ministry and to reflect, scripturally and theologically, on their responses to experiences they themselves are someday likely to encounter,” said Clifton Black, Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology at the Seminary.

Films scheduled are Babette’s Feast on October 5, Dead Man Walking on October 12, The Apostle on October 19, Doubt on November 2, Of Gods and Men on November 9, Calvary on November 16, and First Reformed on November 30. more

September 26, 2018

NEW AND IMPROVED: The first floor galleries at Morven Museum and Garden opened September 7 after a major redesign. Visitors that evening inspected a 19th century grand piano that was sold to Commodore Robert Field Stockton in 1864, two dueling pistols, and other historic artifacts.

By Anne Levin

Since its conversion to a museum 14 years ago, Morven has focused on the lives of such noteworthy residents as Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and other patriarchs key to the history of New Jersey, the nation, and the house itself.

But there was a lot more to the story of this National Historic Landmark on Stockton Street. Thanks to “Historic Morven: A Window Into America’s Past,” visitors can now learn not only about famous residents, but about the women, children, enslaved men and women, immigrant servants, and others who lived and worked at the 18th-century property. The exhibition, which is on the first floor of the museum, opened a few weeks ago. more

By Stuart Mitchner

“Dr. Ford has said that they were stumbling drunk at the time that this occurred …. That has to be part of any relevant questioning.”
—Senator Richard J. Durbin, quoted in the New York Times

With the dark side of high school drinking dominating the national conversation these days, what was meant to be a column marking the shared birthdays of T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and George Gershwin (1898-1937) has taken an unexpected turn.

Romancing under the influence is practically a genre in itself in the Great American Songbook, from loving hyperbole (“You go to my head like a sip of sparkling burgundy brew”) to barfly camaraderie (“We’re drinking my friend to the end of a brief episode … so make it one for my baby and one more for the road”).

Jump ahead a few decades and it’s Ray Davies’s “Sunny Afternoon” where the rich slob’s girlfriend has run off with his car and “gone back to her ma and pa telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty.” In the mid-70s the Kinks were singing “Oh demon alcohol,” with Davies lugubriously lamenting how booze “messed up his life when he beat up his wife” while reciting the booze hound’s litany: “barley wine, pink gin, port, pernod or tequila, rum, scotch, vodka on the rocks.”  more

By Nancy Plum

Bobby McFerrin is a vocal visionary, stretching the capabilities of the human voice to new heights and palettes of sound. Through his recordings, live improvisational concerts, conducting engagements, and his innovative professional ensemble Voicestra, McFerrin has shown that he is so much more than his signature musical command “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” As part of Princeton University Concerts’ 2018-19 season, McFerrin brought his unique brand of musical performance to Richardson Auditorium last Friday night in a joint concert with the Princeton University Glee Cub and the vocal ensemble Gimme5. The informality of the evening was set when the members of the Glee Club took the stage dressed in everyday collegiate attire, however the quality of this concert was anything but casual.

The musicians performed less than 10 musical selections within the 90-minute concert, but each was a creative unfolding of sound and vocal color, undulating in dynamics and timbre as singers were added and subtracted from the musical palette. Princeton University Concerts wisely chose to begin its 125th anniversary season with singing, as more people participate in singing than any other performance medium, and the crowd-unifying elements of Bobby McFerrin will no doubt pique the interest of new attendees for later events. more

PRAISE THE LORD, I’VE BEEN SAVED: Louis Zamperini was persuaded by his wife to attend a revival meeting led by Billy Graham, where the preacher’s message transformed Louis’s life and alleviated his PTSD.

By Kam Williams

The movie Unbroken (2014) portrayed the ordeals undergone by the Olympian athlete and Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. Directed by Angelina Jolie, the biopic was adapted  by the Coen brothers from Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller of the same name.

The sequel, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, is also based on Hillenbrand’s book, but unfortunately the creative team is not as outstanding as that of the earlier film. The cast has also been changed, with Samuel Hunt now starring as Louis.

Unbroken 2 picks up where the first film left off. The original closed with Louis kissing the ground upon landing back in the states after he was liberated from the POW camp, thereby implying that he lived “happily ever after.”

True, he did meet and marry Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson) and the happy couple moved to California to start a family. However, Louis becomes haunted by flashbacks to the torture he underwent during World War II at the hands of Corporal Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai), a sadistic guard at Sugamo prison.

Unfortunately, Louis is suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and he has become angry, abusive, and an alcoholic. In desperation his wife persuades him to attend a Billy Graham Christian revival meeting (in which Billy Graham is portrayed by his grandson, Reverend Will Graham).

The charismatic Baptist preacher’s plea to “just reach out and take the hand of Jesus, and every problem will be washed away,” resonates with Louis. When Louis falls to his knees, it is clear that he has been saved. The closing credits show scenes of Louis being featured at subsequent evangelical revival meetings.

Very Good (HH½). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing images. Running time: 98 minutes. Production Studio: Universal 1440 Entertainment/Matt Baer Films.Studio: Pure Flix Entertainment.

September 19, 2018

By Anne Levin

Princeton University’s intimate art museum is on track to become considerably larger. The University has selected Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates as design architect, in collaboration with Cooper Robertson as executive architect, for what is being called the new Princeton University Art Museum.

“The reimagined museum will be the cultural gateway between Princeton University, its students, faculty, and the world, a place of mind-opening encounter with art and ideas ‘in the service of humanity,’” said Adjaye. “We are deeply honored to be part of the next chapter of its history.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

It’s never very pleasant in the morning to open The New York Times

—W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

Auden was speaking in the fall of 1972, a year before he died in Vienna on September 28, 1973. One source of unpleasantness at that moment in history was Richard Nixon, who was into the before-the-fall fall of his second term. In mid-September 2018 opening the Times is like the first jarring swallow of a cup of gruesomely strong coffee you can’t stop drinking. Every morning you feel small stirrings of hope that the taste will mellow down to something closer to the Obama latte flavor you fondly like to think it used to have. Every morning it’s the same ordeal, with just a hint of the the addictive richness of false hope before the super-caffeinated reality hits you.  more

“CORN SNAKE”: This painting by Andrew Lee is the Mercer County winner of the 13th annual “Species on the Edge” contest, in which nature art and essays on New Jersey’s threatened and endangered species were created by fifth grade students from across the state. The exhibit runs through October 12 in the Olivia Rainbow Gallery in D&R Greenway’s Johnson Education Center in Princeton.

D&R Greenway and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey host “Species on the Edge,” through October 12 at The Olivia Rainbow Gallery in D&R Greenway’s Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place, Princeton. Nature art and essays on New Jersey’s more than 80 threatened and endangered species were created by fifth-grade students across the state. Their work evidences intensive study and arresting talent. For this 13th annual contest, over 2,500 entries were juried. Since 2003, over 12,000 New Jersey children have participated. more

“WHISTLERS DOG”: This work by Robert Beck is one of more than 40 paintings featured in “Robert Beck: Archetype,” on view at the New Hope Arts Center through October 7. Beck, who has a studio in Solebury, Pa., is the Center’s 2018 Legacy Artist.

New Hope Arts Center at 2 Stockton Avenue in New Hope, Pa., presents Robert Beck, their 2018 Legacy Artist, in “Robert Beck: Archetype,” on view until October 7. The exhibition showcases 40 paintings from Beck’s most recent work: images of New York, Maine, and the Bucks County area. more

“THE AGE OF INNOCENCE”: Performances are underway for “The Age of Innocence.” Directed by Doug Hughes, the play runs through October 7 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. An Old Gentleman (Boyd Gaines, far left) looks on as Newland Archer (Andrew Veenstra, left) and Countess Ellen Olenska (Sierra Boggess) face the conflict between their love, and their responsibility to their families — and to society in 1870s New York. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson.) 

By Donald H. Sanborn III

An exquisite new stage adaptation of The Age of Innocence opened September 15 at McCarter. In adapting Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel, which in 1921 made her the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, playwright Douglas McGrath honors its literary intent. However, he skillfully edits it to heighten its power as a piece of theater.

As pianist Yan Li plays the pensive opening notes of the incidental score by Mark Bennett, an Older Gentleman of the 1920s enters. He describes New York in the 1870s — the Gilded “Age” that gives the novel its ironic title — as a place where elite society brings rigid social conventions.

At the Academy of Music — which is the preeminent place to see an opera, as the Metropolitan on 39th Street is still under construction — an older woman, Mrs. Manson Mingott, is seated in a box with other female members of her family, including the Countess Ellen Olenska.  more

Papa Leroux (George Agalias, right) proposes to Rubenesque heiress Daisy Tillou (actually “dead” artist Jean-Francois Millet disguised as his own sister — both played by Nick Pecht) in “Is He Dead?,” a “new comedy” by Mark Twain, adapted by David Ives. The production by ActorsNET performs weekends September 28 through October 14 at The Heritage Center Theatre, 635 North Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, Pa. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors 62 and up, $15 for WHYY members and students, and $10 for children age 12 and under. To reserve, call (215) 295 3694, email actorsnet@aol.com, or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.