January 20, 2016

Art Topic 1

This photograph by princeton photography club member Jay Brandinger will be displayed in the gallery exhibition titled “Americana: A Photographic Journey of the Country, Its People, and Its Culture” that will run from January 29 — February 21, 2016 at the Pennsylvania Center for Photography in Doylestown, Pa. There will be an opening reception January 29, 2016 from 6-8 p.m.

record revIf someone in the strange sad days since January 10 were to ask what David Bowie means to me, I’d say two words, Hunky Dory. From all that I’ve read online since the ongoing event of his death, I’m not alone in thinking Bowie’s fourth LP is his best, not an album so much as the creation of a mood, a state of mind my wife and I associate with the best, brightest moments of the 1970s. We lived in the music much as we lived in our consciousness of England and our two years in Bristol, the city we came to know and love. The songs from that haunting, stirring, and most companionable of records evoke the country of Shakespeare and Chaplin, of Hampstead Heath and Kate Bush’s “old river poet” the Thames. Much more than a none-too-sturdy piece of black vinyl, Hunky Dory was a very special, pleasant place to be for a father, mother, and the child who was born five years after its 1971 release and who, on hearing the news of the death of his “biggest hero” four decades later, said “It’s like losing a member of the family.”

While the tracks we found most fascinating and challenging were “Life on Mars,” “Oh You Pretty Things,” “Quicksand,” and “The Bewley Brothers,” the song that we felt closest to as a family (we and no doubt thousands if not millions of other families) was “Kooks,” which may be the most charming thing Bowie ever wrote.  more

Photograph © T. Charles Erickson

HUMOR AND HUMANITY: (L to R) Lymon (David Pegram), Wining Boy (Cleavant Derricks), Doaker (John Earl Jelks), and Boy Willie (Stephen Tyrone Williams) share stories and memories of the past in McCarter Theatre’s production of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Piano Lesson” at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through February 7. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Twenty-eight years after its original creation, 90 years distant from its Depression-era setting in the Pittsburgh Hill District, August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson (1987) speaks powerfully, lyrically, and eloquently of an African-American family in conflict and of their past, which they must confront, embrace, and overcome in order to move forward. more

 

WCC

ANNUAL HOMECOMING CONCERT: The Westminster Choir, conducted by Joe Miller, will present its annual homecoming concert titled “Angel Band” on Monday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall on the Princeton University campus. Admission is free, but tickets are required. To reserve tickets in advance, call (609) 258-9220 or visit www.princeton.edu/utickets.

The Westminster Choir, conducted by Joe Miller, will conclude its 2016 tour of the Eastern United States with its annual homecoming concert on Monday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall on the Princeton University campus. Admission is free, but tickets are required. To order tickets call (609) 258-9220 or visit www.princeton.edu/utickets. more

January 13, 2016
movie rev 1-13-16

(Photo by Kimberley French – © Copyright © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved)

Hugh Glass (1780-1833) was a legendary frontiersman who explored the American West in the early 19th century. His life has been previously portrayed in films by Richard Harris in Man in the Wilderness (1971) and Dewitt Lee in Apache Blood (1975).

Glass’s life story has also been the subject of several books, most recently The Revenant, a story of survival published by Michael Punke in 2002. The bestselling book has been adapted by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who won three Academy Awards for writing, directing, and producing Birdman, 2015’s Best Picture of the Year.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio who might finally land the Oscar that has eluded his grasp five times. The movie features him in virtually every scene, and his acting never disappoints. He delivers a compelling performance that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you pull for his character from beginning to end.

At the point of departure we are introduced to Hugh (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who are guiding a hunting party of fur trappers across the Rockies. Along the way, the expedition is tested at every turn by “Injun” ambushes, animal attacks, frigid weather, and the challenging terrain.

Unfortunately John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a member of the party, is a racist who murders Hawk and leaves his badly wounded father behind to die in the forest. However, instead of perishing, Hugh wills himself to survive, in order to track down his son’s killer.

What ensues is a visually captivating movie portraying Hugh’s determination to exact revenge for the murder of his son. Despite the hurdles he encounters, Hugh remains resolute as he stalks Fitzgerald across the Wyoming wilderness. Credit co-star Tom Hardy for portraying the villain Fitzgerald in a manner that the audience loves to see get his due.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, graphic violence, gory images, ethnic slurs, brief nudity, and a rape. In English, French, and Native American dialects with subtitles. Running time: 156 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

book revLet’s say I’m sitting on a bench in Central Park thinking about long-ago weekend afternoons playing catch with Florence Victor, a tall, lean, motor-mouth poet with long black hair tied back in a pony tail, who stopped talking only when she was throwing the ball and did she throw it, crack! every time it hit my mitt. Being truly, proudly, deeply neurotic, she was usually talking about her various ailments and anxieties, which tended to be interchangeable with her poetry.

So as I’m sitting there smiling, remembering how Florence and I sometimes kept the ball flying between us until twilight and beyond, along comes this tall guy in a hoodie with a camera in his hand, asking if he can take my picture. Ordinarily I’d say “no thanks” and find another bench, but since this is an imaginary encounter I know right away that this guy is Brandon Stanton whose book Humans of New York: Stories has been my constant companion, along with the fiction of Chekhov, ever since the new year began. In fact, the more I read the two together, the more I realize how many subtle unexpected things the humans of New York have in common with the humans of late 19th-century Russia. Before he can get started, I explain that his book was a party gift from a friend at work. “It’s addictive,” I tell him. “It lights me up every time I look inside.”  more

Art Groya

GETTYSBURG: An artist reception for Cynthia Groya’s “150 Years After the Civil War: A Contemporary Perspective,” will take place on Sunday, January 24 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Nassau Club, located at 6 Mercer Street in Princeton. Groya taught at Bucks County Community College and Newtown Friends School before founding C.A.P.S. (Cultural Arts in Progress), an interdisciplinary art school in Yardley. She resides in Princeton.

The Nassau Club will host an artist reception for Cynthia Groya’s “The Civil War: A Contemporary Perspective” on Sunday, January 24 from 3 to 5 p.m. The exhibit will be on view through March 6.

Groya’s “Civil War” exhibit, expresses a conversation about the struggle for equal rights, which can be traced back to the Civil War, which ended 150 years ago. The outcome of that war preserved the Union, but the struggle for equal rights continues. The abstract landscapes, exteriors, and interiors of Groya’s paintings are done on multiple surfaces of plexiglass. The hope is that these works inspire reflection amongst viewers.  more

Gaslight

Metuchen-based Raconteur Radio presents a staged radio play of Gaslight Sunday, January 24, at 3 p.m. in the Community Room at Princeton Public Library. The production is adapted from the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play about an opera singer whose husband attempts to drive her insane and the Scotland Yard detective who intervenes on her behalf.

Featuring Laurence Mintz, Jason Jackson, and Danielle Illario, the 55-minute production includes theatrical lighting, period costumes, Golden Age radio equipment, sound effects, and vintage commercials.  more

Art Stuart

UNIVERSAL RHYTHMS 1: This piece is one of the paintings by Alan Taback, and are part of the Painters’ Paradise Art Exhibition on display in the Considine Gallery at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton until February 25, 2016.

The public is invited to view the exhibit on display at Stuart’s Considine Gallery, until February 25, 2016 featuring the works of Silvère Boureau and Alan Taback. The gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, when school is in session.

Silvère Boureau grew up in France surrounded by a family of artists, sculptors and writers. When he came from France in 1982, he was primarily an expressionist painter of the human form, however, he was heavily influenced by American landscape and its interpretation by nineteenth century luminists. Silvère draws inspiration from the remote wilderness, especially his experiences in the backwoods of Maine, the Adirondack Mountains and the Grand Canyon. To stand on a mountaintop and look as far as the eye can see without encountering any mark of human intervention remains an exhilarating experience for him.  more

January 6, 2016

movie rev 1-6-16The Force Awakens is a splendid sequel to Return of the Jedi, the 1983 finale of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Episode VII, marks the launch of another trilogy and might be the best of the Star Wars films yet. This is no surprise because it was directed by Spielberg’s protege J.J. Abrams (Super 8), who’d proved himself with his prior successes with the Star Trek and Mission Impossible franchises.

The Force Awakens is an ingenious mix of the old and the new and features the familiar faces of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, as well as fresh ones; John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver. The same can be said of the adventure’s robotic cast members, with the anthropomorphic android BB-8 joining forces with R2-D2 and C-3PO.

An engaging plot interweaves the old and the new in a way that never feels forced. Credit goes to Abrams for collaborating with three-time Academy Award-nominee Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon) and Oscar-winner Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) in writing an engaging script. Amongst the hi-tech battles between good and evil, the story exploits breaks in the action to serve up nostalgia and sentimentality.

It all unfolds a few decades after the events in Return of the Jedi, and opens with the trademark “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by an explanation of what’s transpired since the last movie. At the point of departure, we learn that the New Republic is joining forces with the Resistance to fight the Stormtroopers of the First Order, an intergalactic dictatorship led by the diabolical Snoke (Andy Serkis).

Soon thereafter the protagonists: rebel fighter pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), renegade Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Admiral Han Solo (Ford) are introduced. The good guys have an inexhaustible army of adversaries to vanquish en route to making the universe safe again for freedom and democracy.

The hostilities build to a spectacular light saber battle best appreciated in 3-D and on an IMAX screen. Nevertheless, the movie’s most inspired moments are the scenes like the touching reunion of Solo and Princess Leia (Fisher).

Excellent (****).Rated PG-13 for violence. Running time: 135 minutes. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures.

Vasen PicClose to 300 family members, friends, colleagues, and members of the Princeton community gathered Sunday in the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater at 185 Nassau Street on the Princeton University campus to remember and celebrate the life of Timothy Vasen.

Mr. Vasen, 51, lecturer in theater and director of the Program in Theater at Princeton, died on December 28 following an accident at his home in Brooklyn, New York.

The gathering also included current and past colleagues from the Yale School of Drama and Baltimore’s Center Stage. More than a dozen speakers shared memories of Mr. Vasen as a dedicated family man, an avid outdoorsman, a food aficionado and cook, a world traveler, a talented theater director, and a generous colleague, teacher, and mentor.

“Some of us have lost a very dear friend, one of the finest human beings we have known,” said Michael Cadden, chair of the Lewis Center last week. “All of us have lost one of the world’s finest teachers of theater — an intellectually voracious, physically vital, and imaginatively daring practitioner of the art form he cherished above all others.”

Mr. Vasen directed plays and taught classes at Princeton part-time starting in 1993. He went on to direct plays in New York, Philadelphia, and at theaters throughout the country. From 1997 to 2003 he was resident director at Center Stage in Baltimore, then joined the Princeton faculty in 2003 and in 2012 became director of the Program in Theater.  more

Music Rev

THE POWER OF MUSIC: After only a few months of study, young participants in the El Sistema music education program in Trenton were invited to play at a festival held last June at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The Trenton program is the focus of a Martin Luther King Day event at the Arts Council of Princeton, at which a documentary by Jamie Bernstein, daughter of composer Leonard Bernstein, will be screened.

One day eight years ago, Jamie Bernstein was casually scrolling through Facebook when she came upon a YouTube video titled Mambo: the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. Since “Mambo” is one of the most famous compositions from the musical West Side Story, written by her late father, Leonard Bernstein, it caught her eye.

“I thought, okay, I’ll watch this for a second,” Ms. Bernstein recalls. “And I just about fell into my screen. I had never seen anything like it. The joy these kids had! I thought, who are they? And where is my Dad?” more

Art 1 Joy

Original works by artist Joy Sacalis will be on view at The Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street in Princeton, from January 8 through February 24. “Mind’s Eye: Landscapes of Inner Expression” includes paint, collage, and mix media artwork. A special reception for the artist will take place on Friday, January 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. When she is not painting, Sacalis works as a Holistic Health Counselor and Energy Healer. 

book revHis fearless inventions … quest after the entirety of life: he will include every emotion, every bit of evidence that has a natural claim on our attention. Contemporary life is so rich and vivid in his poetry that by contrast many of the movies and poems we are used to seem pale, spaced-out and insipid. – Robert Pinsky on C.K. Williams

In the special December 27 poetry issue of the N.Y. Times Book Review (NYTBR), after admitting that the Times “has not always treated poets well,” John Williams quotes an unsigned review from 1860 faulting Walt Whitman for seeing “nothing vulgar in that which is commonly regarded as the grossest obscenity.” Whitman is also upbraided for rejecting “the laws of conventionality so completely as to become repulsive,” although it’s noted that on occasion “a gleam of the true poetic fire shines out of the mass of his rubbish.”

Reviewing C.K. Williams’s Selected Later Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux $30) in the same issue, Katy Lederer finds “visceral discomfort … — a sense a human boundary has been knowingly traversed, an intimacy exploited” through “intrusions into others’ private lives” that “feel less acquisitive than desperate.” Williams, who died September 20, is also cited for “subject matter” that “could be pedestrian and at times vulgar,” giving “the impression of a writer” who is “spiritually off-balance.”  more

Art 2 ACP

The Neighborhood Portrait Quilt has joined the Arts Council of Princeton’s permanent exhibitions in the Sands Gallery at the Paul Robeson Center. Utilizing materials drawn from the collection of the Historical Society of Princeton, the quilt incorporates documents and photographs that illustrate the history of the Witherspoon-Jackson community.  more

Alumni of the Westminster Choir College CoOPERAtive Program will perform Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel on Friday, January 15 and Saturday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, January 17 at 2:30 p.m. in the Robert L. Annis Playhouse on the Westminster campus in Princeton. The semi-staged production will be performed with piano accompaniment and sung in English. Tickets are $25. On Sunday, January 17, children under 12 will be admitted for free when accompanied by an adult.

Originally composed for a children’s Christmas celebration, Hansel and Gretel is a setting of the classic Brothers Grimm tale, and it has found its place as a family favorite complete with enchanting fairies and an evil witch. It has long been a staple of German operatic tradition and is considered an ideal way to introduce children to the theater. Ted Taylor is music director and David Paul is stage director. The cast is composed of alumni of Westminster’s CoOPERAtive summer opera training program. more

Mummenschanz

Mummenschanz is back to celebrate its 43rd anniversary with a new show at McCarter Theatre on Wednesday, January 27 at 7:30 p.m. The ordinary becomes extraordinary in the wordless universe of Mummenschanz when common materials, everyday objects (like toilet paper) and colorful abstract shapes and forms like the famous “Clay Masks,” “Slinky Man,” and “Giant Hands” spring to life.  more

December 30, 2015

Book Rev

My wife and I celebrated Christmas Day in Simla, the former summer capital of British India. The only catch is it’s not really Simla, it’s the Masterpiece Theatre series Indian Summers, filmed on location — in Malaysia.

As it happens, Rudyard Kipling’s 150th birthday is today, December 30, 2015, and the lively, elegant nightmare of a doomed society that is the Simla Club in Indian Summers (“No Dogs or Indians”) evokes, for better or worse, the writer who put Simla on the map in 1888 in his first and most famous story collection, Plain Tales from the Hills. Half a century later in the PBS series being billed as “Downton Abbey Goes to India,” it’s 1932, Gandhi is on a hunger strike and Kipling’s “imperialist claptrap” is being mocked by two of the most likeable characters in the series, a politically passionate Parsi girl and a haplessly heroic Scotsman. They’re talking about the man George Orwell nonetheless credited for “the only literary picture that we possess of nineteenth-century Anglo-India,” something Orwell claims could be accomplished because Kipling “was just coarse enough to be able to exist and keep his mouth shut in clubs and regimental messes.” more

Art Rev

EXHIBIT HONORS GALLERY NAMESAKE: D&R Greenway Land Trust presents the artwork of three generations of Kuennes, the family that donated the funds to establish the Olivia Rainbow Gallery when the Johnson Education Center opened its doors as headquarters for D&R Greenway in 2006. The exhibit, on view through January 15, 2016, includes the image seen above, “Lake Champlain” by Peter William and Matthew Kuenne.

D&R Greenway Land Trust presents the artwork of three generations of Kuennes, the family who donated the funds to establish the Olivia Rainbow Gallery when the Johnson Education Center opened its doors as headquarters for D&R Greenway in 2006. The gallery is named in memory of the family’s gifted young daughter, Olivia Kuenne. The exhibit, on view through January 15, 2016, includes art by Olivia’s grandfather, noted painter Peter Vought; her mother, Leslie Kuenne, of Princeton; and Olivia’s brothers, Peter, William and Matthew Kuenne. The family has won prizes, awards, and had gallery displays in many media. Gallery hours are business days through January 15. Free and open to the public at One Preservation Place, Princeton.  more

Civil War Flags

The New Jersey State Museum will hold a special unveiling of 100 historic flags carried by New Jersey’s troops during the Civil War on Wednesday, December 30 at noon. The flags are some of the most distinctive in the collection and have not been on display for a number of years. Included will be the national colors of the 3rd and 15th Infantry regiments, the state colors of the 33rd Infantry regiment, a guidon from the 3rd cavalry, and a rare General McAllister’s headquarters Second New Jersey Brigade flag.  more

December 23, 2015

movie rev 12-23-15In 2002, Will Smith received his first Academy Award nomination for his role in Ali, a riveting biopic about Muhammad Ali directed by Michael Mann. Smith managed to disappear into the role of Muhammad Ali and delivered a brilliant performance as “The Greatest” boxer of all time.

Despite Ali’s being able to “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” the sport subsequently exacted a devastating toll on the champ. Ali developed a host of neurological disorders as a consequence of taking so many hits to the head.

While fans call it being “punch drunk,” the clinical term for the condition is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Ironically, Will Smith may receive another Oscar nomination for Concussion, a picture in which he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian born physician who discovered the link between football and brain damage when he was a forensic pathologist in Pennsylvania.

Omalu first recognized something was amiss while performing an autopsy on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ former center Mike Webster (David Morse), who died at 50 while suffering from a combination of amnesia, depression, and dementia. Dr. Omalu was shocked to observe that, as a result of CTE, the Hall of Famer had the brain of a

very old man, so he decided to posthumously examine the brains of other National Football League veterans who had also died prematurely.

Lo and behold, the research revealed that they all had suffered from CTE, presumably as a result of the pounding their skulls had received on the field. Unfortunately, when Omalu tried to go public with his findings, he was threatened and discredited by an army of lawyers and doctors hired by Commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) to protect the NFL’s image.

 Concussion is reminiscent of The Insider (1999), an exposé recounting the ordeal of the whistleblower who took on the tobacco industry when it was denying any link between smoking and cancer.

The movie was directed by Peter Landesman (Parkland). He adapted it to the screen with the help of investigative journalist Jeanne Marie Laksas from an article titled “Game Brain” that she had written about the attempted cover-up in the October 2009 issue of GQ magazine.

Landesman surrounded Smith with a talented cast, starting with the gifted Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Omalu’s feisty wife Prema. The cast also includes Oscar nominees Alec Baldwin (The Cooler) and Albert Brooks (Broadcast News); and Hill Harper, Richard T. Jones, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Eddie Marsan.

 Concussion is a marvelous Will Smith vehicle, one that he just may drive all the way to the Oscars on Sunday, February 28th.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, and disturbing images. Running time: 123 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures

Herrera BookRevBrian Eugenio Herrera, assistant professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University, has received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for his book, Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance, which examines Latino representation and Latino artists in American theater and culture. The Nathan Committee took particular note of the analysis of the success and impact of the 1957 musical West Side Story.

The Nathan Award, administered by Cornell University’s Department of English, has been given annually since 1959 for “the best piece of drama criticism during the theatrical year.” Named for theater critic George Jean Nathan, the award realizes his “object and desire to encourage and assist in developing the art of drama criticism and the stimulation of intelligent playgoing.” Awardees are selected by a majority vote of the heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton, and Yale universities. The award carries a $10,000 prize and is considered one of the most generous and distinguished in the American theater.

“I still can’t imagine my name among that august list of Nathan honorees,” said Mr. Herrera. “It’s humbling, really. But I am just so unapologetically proud that this year’s Nathan award recognizes a Latino writer writing about the long history of Latina/o performance in this country.” more

PU Art Museum

Princeton University’s upcoming exhibition, “By Dawn’s Early Light: Jewish Contributions to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War,” consists of more than 160 books, maps, manuscripts, prints, and paintings, including some of the earliest novels, plays, scientific treatises, and religious works produced by Jews in the United States. The exhibition is based on the loans and gifts to Princeton University from Leonard L. Milberg, Class of 1953, as well as loans from museums, libraries, synagogues, and private collections. The exhibit will open on Saturday, February 13 and be on view through June 12. Pictured above is a work by American-born Thomas Sully, “Rebecca Gratz, 1831,” an oil on panel from The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia.

There might be as many ways to perform Handel’s oratorio Messiah as there are to cook a holiday turkey — how many “sides” and “dressings” there are to the performance is at the discretion of the conductor from a myriad of choices in historical versions, soloists, phrasing, tempi, and ornamentation. December Messiah performances in Princeton are usually the domain of local choruses, but last weekend conductor Jacques Lacombe brought the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra NJSO) to Richardson Auditorium for a presentation of Handel’s immortal choral/orchestral work.

It was clear from the outset of the performance that Mr. Lacombe was very familiar with the work, exploring unique ideas in instrumentation and selection of arias. For Friday night’s concert, Mr. Lacombe looked back to the 1743 London performances of the piece, with an orchestra resembling Handel’s original ensemble. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra onstage included chamber-sized contingents of strings, as well as a pair of trumpets and oboes, a single bassoon, timpani, and both harpsichord and portative organ. Conducting without a baton, Mr. Lacombe began the opening “Overture” with decisive double-dotted rhythms, yet found grace and elegance with small sweeps in the lean string playing.  more

A struggle between a family’s enduring legacy and its chance for a brighter future takes center stage in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, running January 8 through February 7 at McCarter Theatre.

Winner of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, The Piano Lesson is set in 1930s Pittsburgh, revolving around the Charles family and the fate of an ancient piano covered in carvings. To reclaim his family’s legacy, Boy Willie (Marcus Callender) wishes to sell their priceless heirloom, but will his sister Berniece (Miriam A. Hyman) and the ghosts of their past stand in his way? more