March 17, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

—Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Reading that quote from a 1930 letter from Einstein to his son Eduard, I had an absurd early-20th-century vision of myself delivering Town Topics on a bicycle. Even more absurd, my route comprised the two streets we lived on during our first decade in Princeton. In reality, this would mean riding a bicycle across town from Patton Avenue to Hodge Road. Every Wednesday. While there have been times when I needed to do the honors for our current street, that was from a car. What makes the old-fashioned paper route-on-a-bicycle idea truly ridiculous is that I never met a bike I liked, and vice-versa. I honestly never really wanted or needed one, and was rarely comfortable my few times in the saddle.

Anyway, here we go. Patton Avenue, our first Princeton street, was named for the 13th president of the University, Frances Landey Patton (1843-1932), who during the Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1896 made it official, declaring that the College of New Jersey would “in all future time be known as Princeton University.’’

We lived on the top two floors of a half-stucco, half-shingled house built in the 1920s. The terror of even the bravest of paper boys, a gigantic Irish wolfhound named Troika occupied the first floor, along with his master, a stage technician at McCarter. At a yard sale advertised in Town Topics we got to know the couple next door, who performed as a duo called Smile. The wife gave piano lessons to Stalin’s granddaughter, but that’s another story I’ve told more than once before.

The most striking feature of our stretch of Patton Avenue were the sycamore trees whose roots turned the sidewalks into hazards for kids who ran before they looked, not to mention aged, bicycle-riding newsboys attempting to toss Wednesday’s paper onto porches and driveways without losing the all-important life-balance stated in Einstein’s theory.  more

ON THE DIGITAL STAGE: Pennsylvania Ballet, shown here in George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco,” pays tribute to founder Barbara Weisberger with its virtual spring season beginning March 25. (Photo by Alexander Iziiiaev)

Pennsylvania Ballet has announced the launch of its digital spring season, titled “Strength. Resilience. Beauty,” featuring newly filmed productions of classic ballets, world premieres, and principal solo performances. The season will pay tribute to the late Barbara Weisberger (1926-2020), who founded Pennsylvania Ballet.

The season, composed of three programs, will stream on paballet.org, March 25 through June 2.

“While we can’t perform live at the Academy of Music this season, our incredible dancers and artistic staff have swiftly adapted to create new digital works for devoted audiences – near and far – until we can safely return to the stage,” said Executive Director Shelly Power.

Artistic Director Angel Corella added, “These repertoires are some of the most physically demanding works we’ve created at Pennsylvania Ballet, and our dancers have risen to the challenge by working tirelessly to practice technique and maintain peak physical condition during this time of quarantine. This season is a celebration of our dancers’ resilience, the beauty of their artistry, and their strength of mind and body which continues to push the art form forward.” more

“PEONIES IN THE SUNROOM”: This oil painting by Christine Seo won Best of Show in the West Windsor Arts Council’s “2021 WWAC Member Show: Floral Persuasion,” now on view at westwindsorarts.org and in the gallery by appointment through May 14.

The West Windsor Arts Council now presents its “2021 WWAC Member Show: Floral Persuasion,” online at westwindsorarts.org and in the gallery by appointment through May 14. A virtual opening reception is Friday, March 19 from 7:15 to 9 p.m.

Perhaps one of the most universal and timeless subjects in the history of art, botanical themes offer a world of possibility for artists. Evidence of floral art and design dates back over 2,000 years, starting with the ancient Egyptians, and remains immensely popular today. Artists have used flowers for their symbolism in history, evocative qualities, and their ability to represent everything from decay to passion.

During this spring 2021 season of rebirth and renewal, West Windsor Arts Council invited artists to share floral-themed ideas and visions. Jurors Thomas Kelly and Megan Uhaze are commissioners from Hamilton Township Cultural and Performing Arts Advisory Commission.

The exhibition was an open call to WWAC members and featured prize winners, chosen by the jurors.

While describing the show, Kelly said, “The West Windsor Arts Council members show is a floral theme. What a heartening idea in this long winter we have been having. The submissions were full of joy and color! We had some difficult choices and were very happy to see so much quality work from the WWAC members. To see the interpretations, some distant vistas, and some close-up details, truly says that we all seem to be anxiously awaiting spring and all that it brings. Kudos to the members who have been busy working on their art during these trying times. Congratulations.” more

This painting is featured in “In Nature’s Realm: The Art of Gerard Rutgers Hardenbergh,” on view through January 9 at Morven Museum & Garden. A gallery walk and booksigning with author and Hardenbergh scholar Patricia Burke will be held on Saturday, March 20 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Registration is required at morven.org. Burke’s “Gerard Rutgers Hardenbergh: Artist and Ornothologist” will be available for purchase and signing separately in the museum shop in person or online. 

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“MOONLIGHT STORY”: This photo by Samuel Vovsi won first place in Friends of Princeton Open Space’s annual Give Thanks For Nature Photo Contest. Visit fopos.org to view all the contest winners.

Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), a nonprofit devoted to preservation and stewardship of land in Princeton, has announced the winners of their annual Give Thanks For Nature Photo Contest. 

The contest is sponsored by REI in support of their annual OptOutside initiative, which encourages everyone to avoid shopping on the day after Thanksgiving (aka Black Friday) and to instead spend time outdoors enjoying nature. Eligible photos were taken in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve from November 26, 2020 through January 31, 2021. 

New in 2020, FOPOS opened the contest up to students aged 16 and under.

“When we saw the substantial increase in families enjoying the trails in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve in 2020, we knew we had to invite young nature enthusiasts to enter the contest,” said Fran McManus, FOPOS board member and photo contest coordinator. “To reward the winners, we purchased gift card prizes from the bent spoon, JaZams and LiLLiPiES – a win-win for kids and local businesses.”

To view contest winners and learn more about Friends of Princeton Open Space, please visit fopos.org

GREAT SCOTT: Hun School boys’ basketball player Jack Scott dribbles upcourt in a game this season. Junior guard Scott’s solid all-around play helped Hun go 8-2 this winter. (Photo by Lexi Thomas)

By Bill Alden

Although the Hun School boys’ basketball team dropped a 64-62 nail-biter to the Patrick School in its season finale on March 2, that defeat didn’t put a damper on a positive campaign for the program.

“We just kept getting better, improving, and growing with confidence,” said Hun head coach Jon Stone, whose team ended the 2021 campaign with an 8-2 record.

“We were pretty disappointed with the last game and the result. We were right there, we had a lot of chances. We just couldn’t close the deal.”

The Raiders were excited to get a chance to play back-to-back games against Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) rival Peddie, posting a pair of wins, topping the Falcons 78-60 on February 27 and 58-52 on March 1.

“It was great to play a team in our league. We played Blair early on which was great,” said Stone.

“It doesn’t feel like a season if you don’t play some league games. We were super-excited to hear that they were cleared to play and then to play them back to back was great. It was great for us to get wins both times.”

Hun displayed offensive balance in the victories over Peddie, with four players (Jack Scott – 20 points, Dan Vessey – 15, Kelvin Smith – 14, and Toby Thornburg -11) scoring in double figures in the first meeting and three (Vessey – 18, Smith – 16, Isiaha Dickens – 14) hitting that mark in the second contest. more

March 10, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

It is shuddersome and sinister. About it hovers the grisly something which we all fear in the dark but dare not define.

—James Huneker on Chopin’s Prelude No. 2

When a film is called Night of the Living Dead, you know what to expect. Same with The Walking Dead. Given the Hitchcock brand and half a century of shower-slaughter word of mouth, you know where you’re headed with Psycho.

Carnival of Souls is another matter. The film’s title alone has intriguing possibilities, with room for whatever or whoever you want to bring to the dance, if you don’t mind fox-trotting or waltzing to sinister organ music reminiscent of NBC’s Inner Sanctum, the old time radio precursor to The Twilight Zone. The horror movie genre it has been consigned to is less interesting to me than the title’s suggestion of a gathering of souls. In my preferred vision of the carnival, the doors are open to great souls like Kafka and Chopin, whose 211th birthday was March 1.

Keeping in mind the rhetoric Chopin’s sometimes “shuddersome and sinister” music has attracted — the “affinities with the darkling conceptions” of Poe and Coleridge in the Scherzo in C-sharp minor that James Huneker likens to “some fantastic, sombre pile of disordered farouche architecture” about which “hovers perpetual night and the unspeakable and despairing things that live in the night” — I’ve been thinking a lot about Carnival of Souls and its protagonist, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss). Having survived an accident in which two friends drowned, Mary moves from Lawrence, Kansas, to Salt Lake City, where she has a job as a church organist. She’s in a department store buying a new dress when suddenly the world goes silent, sales people and other customers no longer see her, she can’t hear them, they can’t hear her, and after escaping outside she’s still in the silent spell until a bird’s song brings the real world back to life for her. 

Going directly from that nightmare to the church organ,  she begins to rehearse, but the sounds she’s producing soon veer into dissonance and discord that she’s helpless to control, it’s as if her hands have taken on a spasmodic life of their own, crawling and creeping over the keys, and when two large hands reach out of nowhere to cover hers, you think at first they belong to the ghoulish figure that’s been stalking her. But no, it’s the appalled minister putting a stop to the profane uproar before pompously firing her on the spot. A day ago he’d praised her playing, telling her to put her soul into it, and so she has but it’s not her soul.

The sequence takes only four of the film’s 80 minutes, and I’ve seen it several times on YouTube, trying to imagine the impact on the minister had certain portions of Chopin’s B flat minor sonata been translated into the language of the pipe organ, a sonata that Schumann says “begins and ends … with dissonances, through dissonances, and in dissonances,” not to mention “the brief, astonishing finale, a coda to the famous marche funebre suggesting that the departing mourners were swept away by a tornado.”    Scarily akin to the sight of Mary’s hands is a fellow pianist and composer’s account of Chopin at the piano: “It was an astonishing sight to see one of his little hands reach out and cover a third of the key-board. It was like the mouth of a serpent about to swallow a rabbit. In reality, Chopin was made of rubber.”

The first piece I associated with Mary’s trauma was the Polonaise fantasie in A flat major that Franz Liszt described in an 1852 monograph as “an elegiac tristesse … punctuated by startled movements, melancholic smiles, unexpected jolts, pauses full of tremors, like those felt by somebody caught in an ambush, surrounded on all sides.” To a critic of the period, “the piano speaks here in a language not previously known.” When he was working on the Polonaise, Chopin himself admitted he didn’t know what to title it until the end, confessing, “I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call.” He completed it in August 1846, three years before his death. more

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra returned to its virtual classical concert series this past weekend with a performance highlighting music of the Italian masters for strings. Sunday afternoon’s program also featured Russian harpist Alexander Boldachev, who was scheduled to perform live in Princeton this season, in works of Bedrïch Smetana and Astor Piazzolla, as well as two of his own compositions.

Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances was a set of three orchestral suites from the early 20th-century Italian composer, inspired by lute and guitar music of the 16th through 18th centuries. In a concert recorded last fall in Princeton’s Morven Museum and Garden, Princeton Symphony performed the third of these suites, which was comprised of four baroque musical dances and which was unusual in its scoring for strings alone. 

Led by Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov, the strings of the Orchestra began the opening dance of “Suite III” gracefully. The upper strings maintained a great deal of forward motion to the melodic lines, accompanied by delicate pizzicato playing from the lower strings. Throughout the “Suite,” one could easily hear the plucking of a 17th-century lute. The strings well handled the complex shifting of styles in the second movement “Aire di Corte,” well capturing a rustic dance atmosphere. An elegant lilt marked the third movement “Siciliana,” and the Orchestra closed the stylish work with a rich orchestral texture similar to a Baroque organ.   more

BAGPIPES AND MORE: Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato is among the “leading ladies” of classical music to be celebrated in a free concert stream by Princeton University Concerts on March 28.

Princeton University Concerts pays tribute to Women’s History Month by spotlighting four “leading ladies” of classical music who are pioneers of instruments often overlooked in the mainstream. Accordionist Ksenija Sidorova, bagpiper Cristina Pato, harpist Bridget Kibbey, and saxophonist Jess Gillam with pianist James Baillieu will present an international virtual concert streaming from London, Barcelona, and New York City on Sunday, March 28, at 3 p.m.

This free “Watch Party,” a continuation of Princeton University Concerts’ commitment to presenting world-class artistry at no charge to the public during the course of the pandemic, will showcase a varied program. The four musicians will follow their individual performances with a group discussion and live Q&A, in a discussion both amongst themselves and directly with viewers. These women all share the distinction of being pioneers in their field, being the first of their gender or instrument to accomplish milestones within the music industry — the first saxophonist to be signed to the Decca Classics record label; the first female Galician bagpipe player to ever release a solo album; the “Yo-Yo Ma of the harp” who has pushed the instrument into unchartered genres; and an accordionist who is as comfortable appearing at the Mostly Mozart Festival as she is performing alongside Sting.  more

“RESIST CONVENIENCE”: Mercer County Community College’s James Kerney Campus in Trenton showcases the photography of Heather Palecek through April 1. Gallery hours are Mondays from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m. at 137 North Broad Street by appointment. For reservations, visit JKCGallery.online. Photo courtesy of Heather Palecek)

Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC’s) James Kerney Campus (JKC) Gallery now presents its first in-person photography show in almost a year. The exhibit, “Resist Convenience,” showcases the photography of Heather Palecek and is available for viewing through April 1. The gallery is located at 137 North Broad Street in Trenton. Hours are Mondays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., by appointment.

“We are thrilled that we are finally able to physically open our doors with this fantastic show from Heather Palecek,” said Michael Chovan-Dalton, director of the JKC Gallery. “Heather has been an amazing partner with the JKC Gallery and has helped showcase many artists over the past year with the Third Thursdays Artist Talk program. It has been one year since we shut our doors and we are fortunate to have Heather’s work be the first work back on our walls.”  more

This work by Ze-Xin Koh is part of a virtual exhibition presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts at Princeton University. On view through May 15, the show features poster designs and artists’ books by the seniors and juniors in the program, organized by faculty member Pam Lins. It is free and open to the public online at 185nassau.art. For more information, visit arts.princeton.edu.

“AUBERGINE WAVES”: This watercolor by Susan DeConcini is featured in “Textured Waters: Paintings by Léni Paquet-Morante & Susan DeConcini,” on view at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Taplin Gallery March 13 through April 3. DeConcini’s works reflect her interest in the movement and textures of water surfaces.

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) presents “Textured Waters: Paintings by Léni Paquet-Morante & Susan DeConcini,” on view in the Taplin Gallery March 13 through April 3.

Artists Susan DeConcini and Léni Paquet-Morante share an interest in water as a subject matter. Susan’s watercolors on paper explore her interest in the movement and textures of ocean waves and other water surfaces in motion. Painted at a variety of water environments, Leni’s plein-air landscape interpretations inform her studio work. Together, these artists’ works provide a contemplation of water as both a familiar subject and intriguing metaphor.

“I paint landscapes that prompt a narrative about water as it engages its surrounding embankments, the detritus within it, and the bio-matter growing from it,” said Morante, who works in oil. “I am as interested in moving paint around as I am in these narratives and so use dynamic brushwork to drive a contemporary interpretation rather than a portrait of place. Working outdoors in a variety of settings over the last two years has inspired the work that I do in the studio, which tends to be more abstract. The landscape paintings in ‘Textured Waters’ reflect my commute through the world as I was drawn to vistas and intimate spaces alike.” more

March 3, 2021

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra continued its musical partnership with the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble of South Africa this past week with a concert entitled Soulful and Scintillating Solos, launched Friday and running through the weekend. The Buskaid concert included works of classical composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ernest Bloch, and Camille Saint-Saëns, along with American popular music and traditional South African selections. As with the first Soweto String Ensemble broadcast earlier this winter, the performance featured members of the Ensemble as instrumental and vocal soloists.

It is difficult to imagine that one of Mozart’s most iconic chamber works was composed as “background” music to an 18th-century social event, but that may well be the case with the popular Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Composed in 1787, this four-movement work was likely intended by the composer as a notturno, a chamber piece played late at night at a social gathering. Mozart appears to have given the piece its famous subtitle to differentiate it from a serenade, played earlier in the evening. Regardless of the work’s genesis, the musical themes of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik have remained among Mozart’s most recognizable.

Led by conductor Rosemary Nalden and playing from memory, the string players of the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble played the first movement of Mozart’s Nachtmusik crisply and decisively, leaning into appoggiaturas and demonstrating graceful dynamic swells. Nalden provided effectively supple conducting gestures when required, and the players communicated well among themselves, showing that they had been playing together for a long time. This performance was taken from a 2019 archive, recorded (as were all the works on this program) in the Linder Auditorium of the Wits Education Campus in Johannesburg, South Africa.   more

By Stuart Mitchner

Imagine this scene from a gone world: a live event is underway at San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore. The owner is reciting a passage from Americus: Book 1 (New Directions 2004). It’s the summer of 2004, you can hear fog horns and there’s a North Beach mist steaming the windows. Projected on the wall next to Lawrence Ferlinghetti as he reads is the final moment of the silent film that gave the store its name.

Make this an audience for the ages, a gathering worthy of the poet publisher of City Lights whose subject is the “eternal dialogue echoing through the centuries of all the voices that ever sang or wrote.” Everyone’s feeling the “maze and amaze of life” when Chaplin gazes into the astonished eyes of the once-blind flower girl the moment she realizes that the rich handsome benefactor she’s imagined is a pathetic little tramp. He’s gone to great and hilariously exhausting lengths raising money to help pay for the operation that restored her sight and all he’s got to show for it is the flower she has just gently, sweetly, patronizingly bestowed on him, and yet he’s smiling as he holds the flower to his face, using it to hide the wretched, Chaplinesque wonder of a smile that made Einstein weep, a smile in synch with the words the white-bearded 84-year-old poet is reciting, “a sound of weeping beyond reason, a pianist playing in the ruins of Prague, a London fog.”

In his brief preface to the 60th anniversary edition of Pictures of the Gone World (City Lights 1955), Ferlinghetti remembers “the unique San Francisco consciousness of the 1950s” and the “freshness of perception that only young eyes have in the dandelion bloom of youth.” At the moment I’m thinking of 1958 when the then-39-year-old clean-shaven Ferlinghetti was a few blocks away reading from A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions 1958), with the Cellar Jazz Quintet. I’m realizing that I never felt as close to the man or his poetry as I do now that he’s “no longer with us.”

“A State of Change”

In his brief preface to “Oral Messages,” Part 2 of Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti advises the reader that the poems “were conceived specifically for jazz accompaniment … rather than written for the printed page. As a result of continued experimental live readings, they are still in a state of change.” Going to Ferlinghetti after last week’s bicentenary celebration of Keats is like moving from one live performance to another.  more

ROMANCE GONE WRONG: Andrea Burns, shown here with cinematographer Hudson Flynn, who happens to be her son, stars in “Bad Dates,” the first show of George Street Playhouse’s streamed season.

Broadway actor Andréa Burns stars in the first show of George Street Playhouse’s 2021 streaming season with the premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates, running through March 14. The full-length, filmed production features direction by Peter Flynn, husband of Burns, and cinematography and editing by their son, Hudson Flynn.

“Creating this production was a true family affair,” said Artistic Director David Saint. “Thanks to a generous GSP board member granting us use of her home as a filming location, our star, director, and cinematographer were able to form a safe familial ‘bubble’ and film this one-of-a-kind production from the ground up. We hope patrons will join us as subscribers this year as we work to create high-quality theatre in exciting new ways.” more

The Arts Council of Princeton celebrates International Women’s Day on Monday, March 8 with a dance workshop led by Bollywood dancer and choreographer Uma Kapoor. In this hour-long, virtual event, participants will learn new moves to favorite songs about girl power including “Single Ladies” and “I Will Survive.” Tickets are $10 and proceeds benefit the Arts Council to help close the gap created by COVID-19. Visit artscouncilofprinceton.org.

ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION: Princeton alumni Tessa Albertson, Class of 2020 (foreground), and Jake Austin Robertson, Class of 2015, are featured in The Wild Project’s production of Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days,” produced in association with Princeton University’s Fund for Irish Studies. (Photo courtesy of The Wild Project)

A filmed production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, produced by The Wild Project of New York’s East Village in association with Princeton University’s Fund for Irish Studies, is being shown via free Zoom webinar on Friday, March 5 at 4:30 p.m., in recognition of this modernist masterpiece’s 60th anniversary. more

TIME TO ENROLL: Westrick Music Academy is getting ready to begin Term 4 virtual music classes for groups and individuals of all ages.

Westrick Music Academy (WMA), home of Princeton Girlchoir and Princeton Boychoir, is currently enrolling students of all ages in a variety of music education classes, exploring new and engaging ways to build and strengthen musicianship skills.

For musicians in grades 3-12, a variety of classes are offered for all levels. Students can learn how to relax and strengthen muscles while focusing on the slow, deep breathing used in singing with Yoga for Singers. In Musical Theater Fun, young artists will engage in activities focused on singing techniques, character development, acting skills, and dance/choreography in preparation for a final showcase performance. In the Ukulele group class, students will build their musicianship while learning to play traditional songs on one of the most delightful instruments.

In a group setting, students enjoy social interaction and regular informal performance opportunities as their skills grow. Students can also take individual voice lessons to grow their singing and performance skills. WMA’s teachers create a fun, engaging environment that facilitates learning and encourages musical growth.

In Group Ukelele for Adults, basic chords and strumming techniques are the focus. WMA also looks forward to hosting a Comedy Improv Workshop this term. This highly interactive, one-day class is open to anyone of any experience level.

For more information, visit WestrickMusic.org/education.

Arts Festival Volunteer Director Paul Boger has announced that applications for the 2021 Doylestown Arts Festival, scheduled for September 11-12, are now open. Discover Doylestown (Pa.) and the Arts Festival team will be “taking special precautions and initiatives to ensure the safety of everyone involved but remain committed to holding a physical event of some scale, to best support our community and all of you.” For more information, visit dtownartsfestival.com/apply.

An exhibit of photographic images by Joseph DeFay will be showcased at Bell’s Tavern Dining Room, 183 North Union Street, Lambertville, from March 10 through the end of April. The images, which focus on unique color and textures often overlooked, present the simpler aspects of everyday life seen with renewed beauty in a new perspective. DeFay is an exhibiting member of Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville.

February 24, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

“Portrait of John Keats on his death-bed in Rome,” by Joseph Severn

Though a quarrel in the Streets is a thing to be hated, the energies displayed in it are fine; the commonest Man shows a grace in his quarrel.

—John Keats (1795-1821)

Why begin a column about friendship, love, death, and poetry with reference to the positive energies displayed in a street quarrel? You might also question the timing of a tribute to the poet of “beauty and truth” and “fellowship divine” when America is still living in the shadow of the monumental lie that led to the January 6th insurrection, not to mention the monumental truth that more Americans have died of the coronavirus in the past year than in two world wars and Vietnam. 

The fact of the moment is that snow is falling, again, as I write, and that John Keats died in Rome 200 years ago yesterday. And the monumentally unfactual word that comes to mind when watching fresh fallen snow is poetry. If you take some liberties with Keats’s theory that the poet is the most unpoetical of God’s creatures, with no self, foul or fair, no identity, “continually in for and filling some other Body,” sun, moon, sea, then it’s easy to say the poet is the snow, that it’s freshly fallen Keats giving grace and mystery to the day.

Five hours later the morning’s poetry has turned to slush and I’m reading “Bright Star,” one of the last poems the unpoetical poet ever completed, a sonnet that begins over our prosaic heads, poetical to a faretheewell, so sculpted and lofty, with “Eremite” pulled out of the poet’s grab bag to rhyme with “night,” and the poetry of falling snow reduced to “a new soft-fallen mask” to rhyme with “task.” But all the pomp and circumstance vanishes when the poet comes down to earth with the “soft fall and swell” of his fair love’s breast, “Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, / And so live ever — or else swoon to death.”

So ends Jane Campion’s biopic Bright Star (2009), the film and the poem’s last words both beautifully, brokenly uttered by Keats’s grieving Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) as she walks into the snowy dusk on Hampstead Heath. Reading about the poet’s last hours in Robert Gittings’s acclaimed 1968 biography, I was reminded of the most striking scene in the film — the moment Fanny is told of Keats’s death. Rushing from the parlor to the stairs, she holds the bannister for support, she’s lost, she’s falling, turning one way, then another, groping with her hands, helplessly pleading, supplicating, suffocated, bent double, brought to her knees, jabbing one hand toward her chest, calling for help, choking, “I can’t breathe!” Only when she’s being held and lifted and sustained by her mother does the wrenching visceral misery of the seizure begin to resemble an actor’s performative hysteria, except that by now the force of the fit has generated so much breathless momentum there’s no relief until the abrupt cut to the next scene. Seconds later she’s a lone figure walking on the snowclad heath, whispering the sonnet so thoughtfully, so tenderly, that even the rhetorical formality of the opening lines live with love as the poet becomes star, night, nature, snow, human shores, mountains and moors. more

“BABEL”: Passage Theatre has presented an online production of “Babel.” Written by Jacqueline Goldfinger and directed by Jill Harrison, the dark comedy is set in a future in which genetic testing may prevent a person from being welcome in mainstream society. Renee (Tai Verley, above) must make a painful decision, with unwanted help from a tough-talking stork. (Photo by Lauren Eliot Photography)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

In Jacqueline Goldfinger’s darkly comic play Babel, Renee (the main protagonist) exclaims, “What is this, an old episode of Star Trek?” She probably is thinking of a 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “The Masterpiece Society.” In that story, the Enterprise crew encounters a colony that has been developed through genetic engineering and selective breeding.

Because most episodes of Star Trek take place on a fictional planet in the far-distant future, the concepts it examines tend to be comfortably abstract. Although Babel is set sometime in “the future,” Goldfinger strips away that cushion of remove. The play is set on Earth, much closer to our own time, with characters that are vividly relatable.

Babel’s page on the New Play Exchange’s website credits McCarter Theatre with a 2019 developmental reading. The play is the recipient of Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s Generations New Play Award, as well as the Smith Prize for Political Theatre.

Passage Theatre presented an online reading of Babel from February 18-21. Ticketed viewers were sent links that entitled them to watch the prerecorded video, skillfully directed by Jill Harrison.

Babel begins wordlessly; we hear controlled, rhythmic breathing. We then see that it is Renee (who is given an outstanding portrayal by Tai Verley). She anxiously consults a book, and continues her exercises. Her spouse Dani (infused with steely composure by Leah Walton) appears, and soothingly starts singing “Beyond the Sea.” Renee joins her, and it is clear that they often sing it together.

We learn that Renee finally has gotten pregnant after trying for eight years, and that an unspecified condition prevents Dani from being the one to give birth. Renee is apprehensive about a medical test that she must undergo the next day. In the play’s dystopian world, there is a “precertification law” that requires all embryos to be screened for physical, cognitive, and behavioral defects.

Renee is distraught at the test results. The physical and cognitive results are acceptable, but the doctor is “concerned about the baby’s behavioral genes” and refuses to issue a certificate. If Renee chooses not to “take the shot” and terminate the pregnancy, the child will be tested again at 18. Unacceptable results at that point banish a person from society. They are forced to live in an “underground village” with constant monitoring, and manual labor as their only career choice. Renee’s state of mind is worsened by a sense that “someone or something” is following her. more

STAR HARPIST: Alexander Boldachev is a guest soloist in the Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s virtual concert on Sunday, March 7 at 4 p.m.

On Sunday, March 7 at 4 p.m., the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) presents the virtual concert “Puccini & Respighi” featuring Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite III and Giacomo Puccini’s I Crisantemi, performed by the orchestra under the baton of Edward T. Cone Music Director Rossen Milanov. Guest harpist Alexander Boldachev performs original compositions for solo harp and arrangements of well-known works by Bedřich Smetana and Astor Piazzolla.

Boldachev performs Smetana’s The Moldau, arranged for harp by Hanuš Trneček, and Boldachev’s own arrangement of Piazzolla’s Libertango. Also on the program are his 2018 work Triomphe de la Musique, dedicated to Marc Chagall and based on his mural hanging at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and a new improvisational work inspired by Princeton University’s motto, Dei sub numine viget (Under God’s Power She Flourishes). more

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra continues its Buskaid – A Musical Miracle series with the on-demand  February 26-28 virtual concert “Soulful and Scintillating Solos.” The program, focused on the South African Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, features a range of music from classical to Rodgers andHart’s “My Funny Valentine” to South African kwela with solos by Buskaid-trained artists including violinists Mzwandile Twala, Kabelo Monnathebe, and Simiso Radebe, and vocalist Mathapelo Matabane. Buskaid Founder Rosemary Nalden conducts the concert which also features a performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Wedding Cake” by guest pianist Melvyn Tan, shown here with the ensemble. Tickets are $5 per access link, available at princetonsymphony.org. (Photo by Graham de Lacy)

“BROKEN PROMISE”: This work by Khalilah Sabree is featured in “Journey to Now – A Twenty Year Retrospective,” on view through March 6 at Artworks in Trenton. The exhibit includes a variety of large scale, mixed media paintings and drawings.

Artworks, Trenton’s visual arts center, presents “Journey to Now – A Twenty-Year Retrospective” through March 6.  This retrospective of artist Khalilah Sabree spans over two decades of her work, which is about spiritual transformation and world issues. Her current body of work contains a variety of large scale, mixed-media paintings and drawings. There are several series in the collection, with a contemporary Islamic flavor.

Sabree filters the world through the eyes of an African American Muslim woman and educator. She has a Master of Fine Art in painting from The University of The Arts and received her BA from The College of New Jersey. She maintains a private studio at Artworks Trenton, and her work has been exhibited extensively throughout the tri-state area.

The exhibit is open to the public Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Masks are mandatory. Email gallery@artworkstrenton.org to make an appoint for Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Artworks is located at 19 Everett Alley, Trenton. For more information, visit artworkstrenton.org.