August 14, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
—The Rolling Stones

After last week’s news of Toni Morrison’s death, I put aside plans for a column on Woodstock and went to the Princeton Public Library looking for one of her novels, preferably Beloved, which I’d never read. My better-late-than-never mission was delusional because there was no way I could do right by a novel of that magnitude in a matter of days, and in any case, the shelves had been cleared of her fiction, no surprise given the PU Professor Emerita’s literary stature and the town’s pride in a former resident. Aside from audio books, the only work of hers available was The Origin of Others (Harvard Univ. Press 2017), which draws on the six Norton Lectures the Nobel laureate delivered at Harvard in spring 2016. That this little book was still there reinforces my semi-superstitious belief that I can always count on the library to give me what I need even when it’s not what I think I want.

What I needed, among other things, was a way to make sense of my inability to literally get into Morrison’s best-known and most acclaimed novel. My problem was that the opening of Beloved seemed to be a contradiction in terms. The first paragraph simply didn’t open for me. I couldn’t get in the door. I know I should have made more of an effort, but all I saw was an enigmatic number: “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” What follows — about a grandmother named Baby Suggs suspended “between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, who couldn’t get interested in leaving life or living it” — left me in the dark. If I’d read farther, I’d have learned that 124 was the street number for what was, in effect, a haunted house. But I didn’t read farther.

I was reminded of my experience with the opening of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury when I first ran headlong into it as a college sophomore: “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree.” What flag? Who was hitting what? Who was Luster? Of course once I learned that I was seeing with the eyes of a deaf mute at a golf course, I was at least through the door and into a world so many-leveled and many-voiced that for the first time in my life I started rereading a novel the same day I finished it.  more

“TOPDOG/UNDERDOG”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Topdog/Underdog.” Directed by Lori Elizabeth Parquet, the play runs through August 18 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Brothers Lincoln (Nathaniel J. Ryan, left) and Booth (Travis Raeburn, right) stare each other down during a game of three-card monte. (Photo by Kirsten Traudt)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton Summer Theater is concluding its 2019 season with a gripping production of Topdog/Underdog. This edgy, character-driven drama, which depicts the relationship between two African American brothers, is an apt fit for a season whose mission has been to “explore love in all its forms.”

Topdog/Underdog played on Broadway in 2002. It earned playwright Suzan-Lori Parks the Pulitzer Prize, as well as the Outer Critics Circle Award.

Lincoln is a former three-card monte hustler who now earns money at a carnival arcade by impersonating the famous president for whom he is named. This entails wearing whiteface and pretending to be shot.

Booth — the younger brother — has not given up three-card monte, and aspires to emulate his brother’s former success at the game. In his apartment he ceaselessly practices dealing cards, and luring potential victims with smooth chatter, although we will discover that in the past there was a crucial moment in which his skill drastically fell short of his ambition. He persists in attempting to persuade Lincoln to abandon his current occupation and join him. more

With two stages, six bands, Music Fest Princeton returns to Palmer Square on Sunday, September 15. The festival pays homage to famed musical acts from the Garden State.

The show’s headliner, The B Street Band, pays tribute to Asbury Park’s Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. Also scheduled is a tribute to the songs of Hoboken native Frank Sinatra by Swingadelic, a jazz swing band from New York City.

The family-friendly festival will have two stages, food and beverage vendors, retail offerings, and activity tables from around Palmer Square. more

The West Windsor Arts Council’s Out of This World Performance Troupe, composed of local teenagers, performs “Music Through the Decades,” a revue of favorite show tunes, on Saturday, August 24, at the Nassau Park Pavilion [between Target and Panera], Route 1 South. The performance is from 7 to 8 p.m.

“The goal of the program is to strengthen our young performers’ Broadway repertoire and guide them through staging and choreography. We are looking forward to putting on a great show that gives everyone a chance to shine,” said director Ellen Renee. Under her tutelage, many of Renee’s students have gone on to professional careers on stage, in print, and on television. 

The production will feature professional sound and lights as well as a special guest appearance by Kyle Alexxander, who has been performing since a young age under Renee’s training and coaching. Alexxander’s credits include Walt Disney World, supporting the ensemble of Broadway’s Mary Poppins Main Street USA televised Christmas Day Parade Broadway, and singing pop punk tunes on the main stage of the Seaside Heights Music Festival.

Admission is free. For more information, call (609) 716-1931 or visit westwindsorarts.org.

“CHAPLIN’S MEADOWS” This watercolor by Harry Leith-Ross (1886-1973) is featured in “Harry Leith-Ross: Scenes from Country Life,” on view at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., through February 2020. The works in the exhibit depict locations in Holland, Scotland, Nova Scotia, New Hope, and Doylestown, among others.

The Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., presents “Harry Leith-Ross: Scenes from Country Life,” on view in the Pfundt Gallery through February 2020.

Featuring drawings and watercolors primarily from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition illuminates the artistic process and skilled draftsmanship of the painter Harry Leith-Ross (1886-1973). Born in the former British colony of Mauritius, Leith-Ross grew up in Scotland and England before moving to the United States in 1903. After working as a commercial artist and studying painting in Paris, he enrolled in the Art Students League’s summer school at Woodstock, N.Y., in 1913 and began exhibiting in New York and Philadelphia. more

“BY THE SEA”: This photo by Heidi Sussman is featured “New Jersey Photography Forum — A 25-Year Retrospective,” on view September 15 to November 10 in the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park. The exhibit will feature nearly 100 works ranging from film and digital imagery to alternative processes such as cyanotype, glass fusion, and hand coloring.

The Trenton Museum Society will present “New Jersey Photography Forum — A 25-Year Retrospective” from September 15 to November 10 in the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion. The museum is located in Cadwalader Park at 299 Parkside Avenue, Trenton. Admission is free, with donations welcome.

The exhibit’s nearly 100 works range from film and digital imagery to alternative processes such as cyanotype, glass fusion, and hand coloring, and will represent the 25 years since the New Jersey Photography Forum’s (NJPF’s) 1994 founding.  more

August 7, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

It’s so fine, it’s sunshine, it’s the word love….
—John Lennon, from “The Word”

When I began writing this column on Thursday, August 1, an hour into Herman Melville’s 200th birthday, I’d been reading Philip Hoare’s celebration of Moby-Dick in the online July 30 Guardian, where he says he “fell in love with Melville” as much as “he had fallen in love with whales.” With the combination of love and Melville in mind, I had my subject. Two days later, the mass shooting in El Paso followed by Sunday’s in Dayton put hate in the headlines. The news cycle’s massive dissemination of love’s opposite only underscores the enduring power and significance of one of the most casually abused, glorified and degraded verbs in the language. Even so, it remains remarkably durable. John Lennon and the Beatles made an anthem of it in “All You Need Is Love” after paying tribute to it in “The Word.” When Lennon sings, “Everywhere I go I hear it said, in the good and the bad books, that I have read,” I’m thinking of what Melville said after finishing Moby-Dick: “I have written a wicked book and feel as spotless as the lamb.” more

Travis Raeburn and Nathaniel Ryan star in “Topdog/Underdog,” a play by Suzan-Lori Parks, ending Princeton Summer Theater’s 2019 season at Hamilton Murray Theater August 8-18. Though the text is not Princeton-specific, the production aims to bring its exploration of race and prejudice in contemporary America home to Mercer County by incorporating nods to Princeton’s historically African American Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood throughout the production design, such as a sign for John Street visible in an apartment window. The actors are shown in front of Maclean House, with a memorial to the 16 enslaved individuals who occupied the building when it was the official residence of the University president. Visit princetonsummertheater.org for tickets.

GIVE IT A TRY: Westminster Conservatory will offer children and their parents who are looking for a place to take music lessons the opportunity for a free “test drive” at “Try It Out Day” on Saturday, September 7.

Westminster Conservatory, the community music school of Rider University’s Westminster College of the Arts, will give children and their families a chance to sample what the school has to offer at a gathering on Saturday, September 7. from 10:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Offered at the Conservatory’s main location on the Westminster Choir College campus on Walnut Lane, “Try It Out Day” will feature Early Childhood demonstration classes for children between the ages of 14 months and 8 years, as well as free 20-minute trial lessons with Westminster Conservatory teachers for children 6-18. Adults are also welcome to register for a trial lesson. more

Princeton Ballet School is enrolling students for fall classes, which begin September 9 at the studios on Harrison Street in Princeton Shopping Center, at the Cranbury branch, and at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. Placement classes are August 15 and 22 and September 7. For details, visit www.arballet.org or call (609) 921-7758.

“SELF PORTRAIT”: This 1944 painting by Helen Lundeberg is featured in “Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein,” running September 3 through January 5 at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers in New Brunswick. The exhibit brings together paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs, along with poetry and ephemera associated with the Dimensionist movement. (Photo by Peter Jacobs)

Beginning September 3, the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers will host the nationally-touring exhibition that explores Dimensionism, an artistic movement tracing the influence of early 20th-century scientific discoveries on some of the era’s most celebrated artists. “Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein” highlights the untold story of the Dimensionist Manifesto, authored by Hungarian poet Charles Sirató in 1936 and calling for an artistic response to groundbreaking scientific discoveries that changed human understanding of the universe.

Organized by Vanja Malloy, formerly curator of American Art at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College and now director and chief curator of Syracuse University Art Galleries, the exhibition features some 75 artworks by more than 36 artists, including the manifesto’s signatories — such as Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Joan Miró, László Moholy-Nagy — and their contemporaries. more

“LANDSCAPE WITH THREE TREES”: This 1643 etching by Rembrandt van Rijn was recently acquired by the Princeton University Art Museum, which now holds 70 of the 300 prints produced by Rembrandt over his career. The museum is free and open to the public.

An evocative and technically complex etching by Dutch Baroque master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69), Landscape with Three Trees (1643), was recently acquired by the Princeton University Art Museum.

The Princeton University Art Museum holds 70 of the 300 prints produced by Rembrandt over his career, providing a cross-section of the artist’s graphic output, ranging from several of his earliest self-portraits and genre studies to some of his greatest late religious compositions. The new acquisition joins the only other landscape etching in the Museum’s collection, Landscape with a Thatched Cottage (1641), which was acquired in 1960. more

July 31, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

Before I put my moviegoer cards on the table, I should say upfront how much I enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. I found more to like and even love in it than in anything I’ve ever seen by the director of that iconic cinematic sugar rush, Pulp Fiction (1994). If you asked me my favorite moments in the films of Wim Wenders or Jim Jarmusch (not to mention, not yet, Sergio Leone), I could go on for an hour and still have more to say. With Tarantino, it usually comes down to the moment when John Travolta and a barefoot Uma Thurman do the Twist in a nightclub dance contest, Thurman’s character having just told Travolta’s character that his gangster boss, her boyfriend, killed a man for massaging her feet. After that, the sugar began losing its kick and I had second thoughts about every single blood-bright bravura scene. But there was no denying the excitement of a new thing under the Hollywood sun. The mere fact that there was so much to talk and argue and bitch about was an accomplishment in itself.

With Tarantino’s latest still fresh in mind, I have no second thoughts worth mentioning about the interplay between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, a fading TV cowboy, and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, his charismatic stuntman double, driver, man Friday, and drinking buddy. I enjoyed watching the two speeding around LA in Dalton’s white Caddy, and the way Tarantino caught the nighttime, neon-branded, Sunset Strip spirit of the time and place. While DiCaprio gives an Oscar-worthy performance, Pitt supplies old-fashioned star power with his warmly earthy, good-humored alternative to the dour heroes played by Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen. He’s a joy to watch at all times, whether he’s smilingly destroying an insufferably arrogant Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), going through the elaborate routine of feeding his pit bull Brandy, or fixing the television aerial on the roof of Rick’s Cielo Drive home, which just happens to be located in the immediate vicinity of the crime-scene-to-be inhabited “in real life” by Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. more

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Directed by Maeli Goren, the play runs through August 4 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Nick Bottom (Chamari White-Mink, center) entertains the company with a play within the play. (Photo by Kirsten Traudt)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton Summer Theater is presenting a bold, somewhat abstract reinterpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. William Shakespeare’s comedy (c. 1595), in which fairies disrupt the romantic lives of ancient Athenians, is an apt choice for a season whose mission is to “explore love in all its forms.”

Director Maeli Goren has added an environmental focus, going so far as to begin the play with a speech that does not appear in the script until the second act. Titania, Queen of Fairies, offers this warning: “The spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world, by their increase, now knows not which is which. And this same progeny of evils comes from our debate, from our dissension.” more

AWARD-WINNER: Actor Denzel Washington is the recipient of Crossroads Theatre Company’s Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee Living Legends Award.

On October 19, actor Denzel Washington will accept Crossroads Theatre Company’s inaugural Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee Living Legends Award, at a fundraiser at the Heidrich Hotel and the State Theatre in New Brunswick.

The gala will feature special performances by Crossroads alumni, as well as receptions. Crossroads, a resident member of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, is in its fourth decade of being a gateway for black theater. more

ECLECTIC SEASON: Ailey II is among the dance, music, and theater attractions at McCarter Theatre this coming season.

Special Programming Director William W. Lockwood has  announced the lineup for the 2019-2020 Dance, Music, and Signature Series at McCarter Theatre Center. Each series will feature a mix of acclaimed musicians, dance companies, and performing artists, including several returning favorites and McCarter debuts.

“This year’s schedule contains some of my very favorite artists, including some I’ve been trying to book for a long time,” said Lockwood. “McCarter is unique in its reputation as a home for artists from around the world. No other institution in the country presents a full-time Theater Series alongside a full schedule of presented events quite like McCarter does, and no other does it better.” more

“COLOR VISION”: Works by Helen Mazur, above, and Catherine J. Martzloff, below, along with paintings by artist Debbie Pisacreta, will be featured in an exhibit at Small World Café, 254 Nassau Street, August 6 through September 3. A reception is August 17 from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

Small World Café, located at 254 Nassau Street, Princeton, will host a small group show featuring three local New Jersey artists, Catherine J. Martzloff, Helene Mazur, and Debbie Pisacreta. The exhibit will be on view from August 6 through September 3. A reception, which is open to the public, will be held on Saturday, August 17 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. more

July 24, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

During the first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers, Ross and Matt, waved a magic wand and gave us a once-in-a-lifetime character in Eleven, the fugitive child with telekinetic powers played by Millie Bobby Brown.

In Stranger Things 3, the Duffers have conjured up a white rabbit surprise in the form of a romantic comedy that blends screwball fun and creature feature clout. No need to worry about spoiler alerts and such because when the dust clears what makes the ride worth taking has less to do with why or how or who gets slimed, who dies and who doesn’t, than with the old boy-girl, man-woman, person-person scenario that’s been delighting audiences ever since Shakespeare dreamed up the star-crossed lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hollywood paired Katherine Hepburn’s scatterbrained Susan with Cary Grant’s hapless paleontologist in Bringing Up Baby, where romance turns on the search for a lost dinosaur bone, a dog named George, and a leopard named Baby. The best thing about the spectacular doings of the Mindflayer in Stranger Things 3 is the challenge it offers the various amusingly human couples fighting, arguing, laughing and loving their way through life-and-death situations. When it comes down to choosing between human beings and special effects, it’s the human moments you hold close. Twenty-two years this side of Titanic, what stays with you, the sinking of a luxury liner or the romance between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose?  more

By Nancy Plum

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra spent last week in Princeton coaching and guiding four contemporary composers in an immersive laboratory experience through which the talented participants received musical and practical feedback about their pieces, composing for a symphonic orchestra, and getting music published and performed in today’s market. Dichotomy, conflict, and ultimate hope seemed to be the overriding themes of the pieces resulting from this year’s Edward T. Cone Composition Institute, as these works were presented in a concert entitled Scores last Saturday night at Richardson Auditorium. Led by Romanian conductor Cristian Macelaru, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performed four works of the Cone Institute’s composers, along with an East Coast premiere of Institute director and Princeton University professor Steven Mackey. more

The final concert of the Blue Curtain series at Pettoranello Gardens Ampitheater features the Afro-Cuban music of OKAN and Latin-jazz legend Charlie Sepulveda and The Turnaround, shown here. Bring picnics and blankets to the free concert, which starts at 7 p.m. on July 27. The ampitheater is at Route 206 and Mountain Avenue. The bad weather location is the Princeton High School Performing Arts Center.

“CELEBRATION”: This work by Aleksandra Seletskaya is featured in an exhibit of works by Creative Collective/Tuesday Colorists Groups, on view at the Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury August 4-30. An opening reception is Sunday, August 4 from 1 to 3 p.m.

The Gourgaud Gallery, 23 North Main Street, Cranbury, will present “Celebration,” an exhibit by Creative Collective/Tuesday Colorists Groups, August 4 through August 30. An opening reception with the artists will be held on Sunday, August 4, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Gallery. Light refreshments will be served. All events are free and open to the public. more

“TRANSITION”: This 1965 work, originally commissioned for the J. C. Penney Headquarters Building in New York City, is featured in “The Poetry of Sculpture: Raymond Granville Barger (1906–2001),” on view through October 20 at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa.

The Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., now features “The Poetry of Sculpture: Raymond Granville Barger (1906–2001),” on view through October 20.

Visitors have the opportunity to meander through the indoor and outdoor exhibition viewing objects from the museum’s permanent collection as well as several loans, many of which come from private collections. Rarely exhibited works from the 1930s provide insight into Barger’s early classical approach, while later sculptures signal his development as a symbolic abstractionist as well as a technical innovator.

While best-known for his monumental outdoor sculptures, including works for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Barger also created smaller-scale, more intimate works for interior spaces. His Transition, a 25-foot long bronze sculpture originally commissioned for the J. C. Penney Headquarters Building in New York City in 1965, has graced the Byers Garden at the Michener since the year after the museum opened. more

July 17, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
—William Wordsworth

The younger you are, the closer you are to the moon, whether it’s dangling in a mobile above the crib, or the funny-faced thing the cow jumped over, or the serene presence just outside the bedroom window you’re saying goodnight to as you serenade your drowsy two-year-old with the little book by Margaret Wise Brown. In the story made at once wondrous and intimate by Clement Hurd’s images, the moon is there with you, in the “great green room,” as close and as real as the teddy bears and the kittens and the telephone. I’m also thinking of the moonlight immediacy captured some 220 years ago by Samuel Taylor Coleridge when the author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner grabbed his notebook to jot down this entry about his first-born child: “Hartley fell down & hurt himself — I caught him up crying & screaming — & ran out of doors with him. — The Moon caught his eye — he ceased crying immediately; — & his eyes & the tears in them, how they glittered in the Moonlight!”  more

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts ended its 2019 season last week with a return to the classics, as Canada’s Rolston String Quartet performed the final concert of the series. Formed six years ago at the picturesque and renowned Banff Arts Center in Alberta, Canada, the Rolston String Quartet provided a fitting close to a season featuring innovation by showing the future of classical music through the masterworks of the past. Violinists Luri Lee and Emily Kruspe, violist Hezekiah Leung, and cellist Jonathan Lo dazzled the audience at Richardson Auditorium last Friday night with their musicality and energetic approach to the works of string quartet masters Franz Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven bracketing a complex piece by 20th-century Hungarian composer György Ligeti.

“Papa” Haydn is considered the father of the string quartet genre, which Beethoven subsequently pushed to new musical boundaries. Among Haydn’s most well-known string quartet compositions are those contained in Opus 76, the last complete set of the more than 60 quartets the composer wrote. Quartet No. 63 in Bb Major, the fourth of Opus 76, acquired the nickname “Sunrise” for its depiction of the sun coming up over the horizon, and the Rolston String Quartet brought out well the diverse shadings one sees in an early sunlit sky. In the first movement “allegro con spirito,” the Rolston players placed their musical emphasis on “con spirito,” energetically moving through the allegro with clean sforzandi accents and a light violin sound from Lee’s Baroque-era instrument. Lee and Kruspe also demonstrated especially sweet thirds between the two violin parts. more

SHAKESPEARE AND SOCK PUPPETS: The cast of Princeton Summer Theater’s “Puck’s Midsummer Mischief.” Shows are at the Hamilton Murray Theater, Fridays and Saturdays at 11 a.m. through August 3. For tickets, call (732) 997-0205 or visit princetonsummertheater.org. (Photo by JJ Haddad)

Princeton Summer Theater’s annual children’s production brings together a William Shakespeare classic with sock puppets.

“I didn’t mean to write a children’s play about open borders,” Princeton Summer Theater (PST) playwright-in-resident Annika Bennett said. “But I guess that’s what I did.”

Bennett’s Puck’s Midsummer Mischief is her fourth children’s theater piece commissioned for Princeton Summer Theater. A Seattle-based playwright and arts administrator, Bennett created original works throughout her time at Princeton University (she graduated in 2015) and has found a niche writing plays for audiences of all ages. Her work is accessible for younger theatergoers and fun for older ones, and has a heavy emphasis on audience engagement. more