June 21, 2017

A bar mitzvah is nearing its climax in an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem when the balcony reserved for women suddenly collapses. When the dust settles, the members discover that the collapse has left the wife of their rabbi in a coma, and also that her husband, Rabbi Menashe (Abraham Celektar) is in denial about the condition of his wife and is no condition to lead his synagogue’s members.

It becomes clear that neither Rabbi Menashe nor the Mussayof Synagogue will be back to normal anytime soon. With the building closed because it is unsafe, the congregation finds a temporary home in a nearby school. However, its location makes it difficult to assemble a minyan, the quorum of 10, that is required for religious services.

A savior arrives when they ask David (Avraham Aviv Alush), a young rabbi who happened to be passing by, to join them to make their minyan complete. Not only is he willing to join their services, but in the next few weeks he takes over the position of the congregation’s rabbi and their plans to repair their damaged synagogue. However, it turns out that he advocates an ultra-orthodox form of Judaism, and he attempts to convince the congregation that they should embrace his more restrictive interpretation of the laws of the Bible.

For example, he tries to persuade the women to dress more modestly by always covering their heads with a scarf. Next, he announces that instead of using the money that the congregant’s women have collected to repair the balcony, he is going to use the money to commission the writing of a new Torah scroll for the new congregation.

None of this news sits well with the women of the original Mussayof congregation who decide to fight against their new rabbi. As in Aristophanes’ classic play, Lysistrata, and Spike Lee’s latest “joint,” Chi-Raq, they agree to withhold sex until their husbands come to their senses.

All of the above plays out in hilarious fashion in The Women’s Balcony, a delightful tale of female empowerment directed by Emil Ben-Shiron. The movie was a hit in Israel where it won five of that country’s equivalent of the Academy Award nominations. Kudos, too, to Menemsha Films’ Neil Friedman, who has produced several charming sleepers that include Dough, The Rape of Europa, Beauty in Trouble, and The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

Excellent (****). Unrated. In Hebrew with subtitles. Running time: 96 minutes. Production Studio: Pie Films. Distributor: Menemsha Films.

It’s only fitting that signed editions of several of Princeton native John McPhee’s acclaimed works — part of what the New York Times called “a grand pointillist mural of our time and place” — are among the items of special interest at the upcoming Friends of the Princeton Public Library Book Sale. During a library ceremony honoring him some years ago, McPhee confessed that when he was a boy he’d borrowed a book and failed to return it (“Well I lost it”). In donating signed editions of all his works to the library’s Princeton Collection on that occasion he was in effect repaying his debt. He then gave the idea of repayment another turn by claiming that he’d written all those books to make up for the one he’d lost.  more

AWARD WINNER: Recent TCNJ graduate Piper Torsilieri is the winner of Princeton Area Community Foundation’s 2017 Thomas George Artist Fund Award. Graduating art majors from Mercer County colleges and universities are eligible to apply for the annual award of $5,000. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Area Community Foundation)

The Princeton Area Community Foundation has named Piper Torsilieri as the winner of the 2017 Thomas George Artist Fund Award.

Ms. Torsilieri, 23, who grew up in Flemington, graduated from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in May. more

“THE SON AND THE HOUSE”: This glitch art painting by Phillip McConnell is part of the “Digital Alchemy” exhibit at The Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury from July 9-28. A reception will be held at the gallery on July 9 from 1-4 p.m

The Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury presents “Digital Alchemy” by Trenton artist Phillip McConnell from July 9-28. A free reception will be held at the gallery on July 9 from 1-4 p.m.

Mr. McConnell describes himself as a glitch artist with a focus on abstract, surrealist digital art.

“‘Digital Alchemy’ is a project where I blend different aspects of photography (landscape, portrait, urban, nature and macro) with different concepts of glitch art (VHS, aesthetic, vapor wave) to create something new out of something broken,” said Mr. McConnell. “With almost everything in photography being digital, it leads the mind to wonder what can really be done when pushed a step further. more

WORK AND RIGHTS: As the opera “Fidelio” opens with the Overture, we see how the nobleman Florestan (Noah Baetge, second from left holding the banner) was imprisoned for demonstrating with the workers for “trabajo y derechos.” (Photo by Jessi Franko Designs LLC, Courtesy of The Princeton Festival)

The last two times Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera Fidelio was performed in Princeton, the productions were plagued with blizzards. In the early 1980s, Princeton University mounted a production, only to have a performance besieged by a monster snowstorm. In January 2016, a visiting opera company came to Richardson Auditorium to present the same work, with blizzard conditions predicted for most of the performance weekend and the schedule adjusted accordingly. Hopefully, Princeton Festival had no thoughts about the “Princeton Fidelio snow curse” in opening its production of Beethoven’s only opera this past weekend at McCarter Theatre Center. Festival Artistic Director Richard Tang Yuk led the cast members of Sunday afternoon’s performance at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre on a moving journey through the work Beethoven himself described as “the one most dear to him” of all his compositional “children.” more

June 14, 2017

Five years ago, Mike Dowling published Sergeant Rex, a memoir about the bond he’d forged with a bomb-sniffing dog while serving in over 35 missions in Iraq. Now, Marine Corporal Megan Leavey, is the subject of a documentary drama — based on a true story — that portrays her relationship with the same German shepherd dog.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the film stars Kate Mara as the title character, with Edie Falco and Will Patton in support roles.

At the point of departure, we find Megan enlisting in the Marines. After completing basic training on Parris Island, she finds her true calling in the Corps when she is assigned to the K-9 unit. Rex, who has become uncontrollable, is on the verge of being declared unfit for active duty by the base’s veterinarian, Dr. Turbeville (Geraldine James). Fortunately a dog lover begs that someone be given an opportunity to soothe and tame Rex.

Drill Sergeant Martin (Common) intervenes on Megan and Rex’s behalf and gives her the chance to work with the dog. With the patience of Job, Megan shows that she has the touch necessary to tame Rex. The two become inseparable and they’re shipped overseas to search for IEDs buried in the dangerous desert sands of Iraq’s Anbar province.

The deployment is uneventful, until Megan and Rex are injured in an explosion and shipped back to the States for rehabilitation at facilities far apart from each other. However, Megan’s attachment to Rex drives her to find a way to obtain possession of Rex. The remainder of the movie depicts her cutting through bureaucratic red tape until she finally succeeds in achieving ownership of Rex.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, mature themes, and suggestive material. Running time: 116 minutes. Production Studio: LD Entertainment. Distributor: Bleeker Street Media.

Tracy K. Smith, the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Princeton University Professor in the Humanities and a professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts, has been named the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2017-18.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the appointment today. Ms. Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library of Congress’s annual literary season with a reading of her work at the Coolidge Auditorium. more

The city of such women, I am mad to be with them! I will return after death to be with them!

—Walt Whitman, from “Mannahatta”

The beautiful women on view in the James A. Michener Museum’s vision of Jazz Age Manhattan in “Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography and Sculptural Formrange from elegant ladies in “dragonfly-stitched ermine coats” to Ziegfield dancers like the exhibit’s cover girl Bobbe Arnst and little (4’10) Ann Pennington, who can be seen in a series of Sheeler photographs performing Black Bottom moves like “Bon Bon Buddy,” “Down Baby,” “Step Out,” “Raggedy Trot,” and “Clap Hands.” more

BACK TO THE BARRE: Princeton Ballet School Director Pamela Levy, shown here teaching at the school (above) and during her days as a student appearing as a soldier in “The Nutcracker,” (below) has instituted some changes in the curriculum.

There are changes afoot at the Princeton Ballet School.

The 63-year-old dance academy headquartered in Princeton Shopping Center now offers free tuition for boys. There is a new Conservatory Program for serious students interested in more focused training. Another, the FLEX Program, offers similarly rigorous classes, but without the same intensity or time commitment. Class names have been simplified to more clearly reflect their progression. more

The Princeton Festival is presenting Man of La Mancha in the Matthews Acting Studio at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts. The auditorium becomes a dungeon in which Cervantes awaits trial by the Spanish Inquisition. A playwright and actor, he entertains the other prisoners — and the audience — by becoming Don Quixote, his creation. There is nothing quixotic about this beautiful production, which makes effective use of the intimate space.

The musical’s book is by Dale Wasserman, who based it on his television play I, Don Quixote. The Flamenco-infused music is by Mitch Leigh, and the lyrics are by Joe Darion.

Man of La Mancha is presented without an intermission, because Mr. Wasserman wished to avoid interrupting the narrative. Except for an opening guitar solo performed by one of the prisoners, there is no music during the dungeon scenes. Only the Don Quixote vignettes, which are set “various places in the imagination of Miguel de Cervantes,” contain songs.

Cervantes is brought with his manservant to a dungeon in Seville, to await trial by the Spanish Inquisition. The other prisoners, led by a “governor,” also place them on trial. If Cervantes is found guilty, he will surrender his possessions — costumes, makeup, and a mysterious manuscript — and the manuscript will be burned. Cervantes begs the prisoners to permit his defense to be in the form of a play.  more

Like many performing organizations in Princeton involving students, the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra (GPYO) has spent this past year honing their orchestral sound to make the most of their young players, only to bid farewell to graduating seniors at the end of the concert season. This past Saturday night, GPYO sent its “senior class” off with a well-performed concert of challenging orchestral music featuring a prodigious multi-talented young pianist in a movement of a concerto which challenges even the most experienced soloists. GPYO has several instrumental ensembles under its organizational umbrella, and Saturday night’s concert in Richardson Auditorium showcased the older and more experienced players in the Concert Orchestra and Symphonic Orchestra. more

June 7, 2017

Thinking, writing, talking constantly about the poem as a way of life …. —William Carlos Williams, from  The Autobiography

Imagine pitching this idea to a Hollywood producer: “It’s a film about a week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry, he’s living with a lovely woman and her English bulldog and when he goes out at night to walk the dog, he stops by a bar and has a few beers.” Long pause. The producer is waiting to hear when does the guy hold up the bar or turn out to be a serial killer who leaves poems attached to his victims, or at least, when does the girl get raped or killed. No such luck. Nobody gets hurt, unless you count what happens to the notebook the bus driver writes his poems in. When the producer’s eyes stop rolling, he asks what happens to the notebook. “Sorry,” says the writer/director. “I don’t wanta give away the plot.” Then, seeing that the producer is hyperventilating, he fills him in: “It’s the dog. The dog’s jealous of the poet. His name is Marvin. He’s amazing. Looks like Winston Churchill after a full meal.” Pause. “It’s, like, a slice of life film about poetry and love and dogs and things like that.” more

INTERACTIVE ART PLAYGROUND: “Impulse,” a new installation at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, features 15 giant seesaws that, once in motion, produce a harmonious sequence of sounds and lights. It will be at GFS from June 11-July 9. The above photo shows “Impulse” at Leicester Square Gardens in London, as part of the Pause and Play Festival. (Photo by James Munson)

Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) is featuring “Impulse,” a new installation at the 42-acre sculpture park comprised of 15 giant see-saws that will transform the southern end of the Great Lawn into a vast, illuminated interactive art playground. more

“MY GARDEN”: This floral painting by Joanne Smith Bodner is among the 16 works by local artists that will be on display from June 10-24 at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mill in Stockton.

The Hunterdon Watercolor Society will be hosting its 2017 art exhibit at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mill. Sixteen artists will be displaying not only watercolor paintings, but all media of art including oils and acrylics. The show opens Saturday, June 10 and runs through Saturday, June 24. Viewing hours are Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  more

With last Saturday night’s concert by Concordia Chamber Players, this year’s Princeton Festival is off and running. The Concordia ensemble brought only four instrumentalists to this opening concert of Princeton Festival’s 2017 season, but violinist Emily Daggett Smith, violist Ayane Kozasa, cellist Michelle Djokic, and pianist William Wolfram filled Princeton Theological Seminary’s Miller Chapel with a full orchestral-level sound in music both Romantic and contemporary.

The string musicians of Concordia Chamber Players began the concert with a tribute to an 18th-century giant by a late 20th-century composer. American composer Aaron Jay Kernis is renowned for his imaginative approach to orchestral color and instrumentation, and his 1991 Mozart En Route (Or, A Little Traveling Music) takes Mozart’s concept for the well-known A Little Night Music to new levels.  more

Paul (Joel Edgerton) managed to find a safe refuge for his family that was far from the rest of humanity in order to escape the deadly plague that has been decimating the Earth’s population. At least that’s what he thought, until his wife Sarah’s (Carmen Ejogo) father somehow caught the disease.

After she and their son (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) said their goodbyes while wearing germ-proof respirators, Paul shot his father-in-law and cremated the body in order to prevent it from infecting them. As the body was being cremated, Travis the 17-year-old grandson, comforted himself by telling his pet dog Stanley “Don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you.” Unfortunately, Stanley is the next to die in It Comes at Night, a suspense thriller that is set inside a darkened cabin in the woods. more

May 31, 2017

It’s a familiar sight in Beatles lore, a theatre full of girls screaming and swooning to “She Loves You” and “Twist and Shout.” The scene in question was filmed by Pathe news in late November 1963 in Manchester. It’s striking how small and brittle the Beatles look this early in their career, upstaged by the hysteria, out of their depth, the mastered masters performing charades of frenzy on cue while the audience responds with the sobbing, shrieking passion of the real thing. But it’s more than mere frenzy these radiant girls are expressing, it’s the ecstasy of feeling free to let go, sob, laugh, dance, scream, be delirious.

 more

KIDNAPPING IS NOTHING TO JOKE ABOUT: Rodrick (Charlie Wright, center) and his wimpy brother Greg (Jason Drucker, right) are being dressed down by the police officer who saw the “kidnapped” sign that Rodrick had pasted in the rear window of their car to protest the way his mother was treating him.    (Photo by Daniel McFadden 20th Century Fox, © TM and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved)

Series’s Fourth Episode Features New Cast Up to Old Tricks

According to Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul provides an example of that saying. The comedy describes the escalating misfortunes that plague the Heffley family during their summer road trip.
The film is the fourth in the series that is based on Jeff Kinney’s illustrated children’s novels. It was directed by David Bowers who also made Wimpy Kid 2 and 3.
The movie features an entirely new cast, starting with Jason Drucker as the title character, wimpy Greg Heffley; Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott are his parents, Susan and Frank; and Charlie Wright and Dylan Walters are Greg’s older and younger brothers, Rodrick and Manny, respectively.
Wimpy Kid 4 is about a family’s cross-country outing to attend their grandma’s 90th birthday party. The mother Susan sees the drive as an opportunity for the family to bond together, so she collects everybody’s cell phones before departing.
This frustrates her children, who find it boring without their electronic devices. Rodrick calls her “the worst mom ever” and sticks a “kidnapped” sign in the rear window that leads to their being pulled over by the police.
Other eventful stops range from an overnight stay in a motel with rats in the pool and a visit to a country fair where Manny wins a live piglet as a prize. The humor flowing from the escalating insanity is mostly of the bodily function variety.
Every skit is designed to keep the target audience of young children in stitches, with only occasional asides for adults, such as the inspired homage to Psycho’s legendary shower scene.
Very Good (HHH). Rated PG for rude humor. Running time: 91 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

May 24, 2017

It’s Maddy Whittier’s (Amandla Stenburg) 18th birthday, but she won’t be celebrating the occasion at a party or restaurant. In fact, she won’t be leaving the house or even have friends over anytime soon.

That’s because she has SCID, a rare genetic disorder that makes her allergic to everything.

Consequently, she’s been living inside a hermetically-sealed house after she was diagnosed with the illness at the age of 3, shortly after her father and brother’s untimely deaths in a terrible car crash.

Fortunately, Maddy’s mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), is a physician who can afford to raise her in a sterile environment, free of the agents that could compromise her immune system. Maddy grew up curious about the outside world, but she learned to explore it by using the internet, together with the help of online courses and a support group for children with her disorder.

Then, Maddy receives the best birthday gift she could ever imagine when new neighbors move in right next-door. The family’s son, Olly (Nick Robinson), is a boy about Maddy’s age, and after seeing her from his window, he falls head-over-heels in love with her.

Olly uses sign language to ask Maddy for her phone number, and then types “U R beautiful” in his first text to her. After he learns about her rare disorder, he asks if there’s any way he could be decontaminated to come over for a visit.

However, that’s against Maddy’s doctor’s orders, so the couple is forced to communicate with each other from afar. Needless to say, Maddy quickly becomes discontented with her sheltered existence in her antiseptic gilded cage.

Will she recklessly abandon her protective bubble to rush into the arms of a neighbor she barely knows? That is the burning question at the heart of Everything, Everything, a bittersweet movie based on the young adult novel by Nicola Yoon. The picture was directed by Stella Meghie who successfully adapted the book into a movie that is certain to satisfy fans of the book.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and brief sensuality. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

A song is like a dream, and you try to make it come true. They’re like strange countries you have to enter. —Bob Dylan, from Chronicles: Volume One

Is it any wonder that songs, dreams, strange countries, and parallel universes are on my mind the morning after watching the return of David Lynch’s 27-year-long interrupted dream, Twin Peaks, on Showtime Sunday night? On top of that, today, May 24, is Bob Dylan’s 76th birthday. In fact, the original motive for this column was the 100th birthday of John F. Kennedy next Monday, May 29, and while it’s too soon to say anything about the reincarnation of the show frequently credited with inspiring the Golden Age of the Television Series, it’s worth nothing that Eagle Scout David Lynch was present for the inauguration of JFK, which coincided with his 15th birthday, January 20, 1961. more

“SHEEP GATHERING”: This painting by Diane Pastore will be among those featured in “Small Works by Watercolorists Unlimited,” running June 4 through June 30 at the Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury.

This June the Gourgaud Gallery at 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury will host an exhibit, “Small Works by Watercolorists Unlimited,” featuring small watercolor paintings (under 11”x 17” framed) by Watercolorists Unlimited, a group of 13 New Jersey artists who meet monthly to critique work together. Each month the group chooses a new subject to paint, and then meets at the end of the month for lunch and a formal critique. Many of the artists have been active in the group for more than 20 years. There will be several paintings from each artist on exhibit, and most works will be for sale. more

Kyra Nichols and David Gray, shown here in the ballet studio of the Princeton home they are about to leave, are moving to Bloomington, Ind., where Ms. Nichols has joined the faculty of the prestigious Jacobs School of Music. (Photo by Andrew Wilkinson)

Princeton resident Kyra Nichols, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, has been named to the faculty of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Ind. Ms. Nichols and her husband David Gray, who is the executive director of Pennsylvania Ballet, have lived in Princeton with their two sons for 18 years. Ms. Nichols was most recently a ballet mistress at Pennsylvania Ballet. more

McCarter Theatre Center is proud to announce its participation in a new partnership with Princeton University, commissioning seven professional playwrights to write short plays to be presented with the 2017 launch of the Princeton and Slavery Project.

An impressive collection of award-winning playwrights will take part in this project, including Nathan Alan Davis, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Dipika Guha, recently announced MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Emily Mann, and Regina Taylor. The public readings will be directed by Patricia McGregor. These commissions are made possible by generous support from Mathematica Policy Research, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and the Princeton University Histories Fund. more

Jane Cox, director of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University, has been nominated for a Tony Award for her lighting design of the Broadway production of August Wilson’s play Jitney. In addition to her work as a professional lighting designer, Ms. Cox has served as a lecturer in the Program in Theater since 2007 and was appointed as director in July 2016.

The Tony Awards are given for Broadway productions and performances and are selected by a committee made up of select members of the American Theatre Wing, The Broadway League, the Dramatists Guild, Actors’ Equity Association, United Scenic Artists, and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.  more

Mill Ballet announces Christine McDowell will join as a guest instructor for the Choreographic Workshop during Summer Dance 2017. While the main focus is on ballet, summer students will be exposed to other forms of dance such as flamenco, modern, contemporary, ballroom, and jazz. Classes in dance conditioning, as well as lectures in injury prevention and nutrition, auditioning, and careers in dance will all be a part of the student’s day.