May 30, 2012

I’LL ALWAYS HAVE YOUR BACK: Special Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, left) and Special Agent J (Will Smith) are surrounded by enemies, but each one is able to protect the other by keeping their backs to each other.

One sign that scriptwriters have run out of fresh ideas is when they recycle the time-travel theme in order to extend a film series. This approach has been employed over the years in sequels such as The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991), to name a few.

Even Back to the Future III (1990) doubled-down on the cinematic device when it had Michael J. Fox teleported back to the Wild West instead of to the fifties like the earlier installments.

Fortunately, Men in Black III is more than just another rip-off. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (MIB & MIB II), the picture reunites Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as alien-hunting Agents J and K, respectively.

However, don’t expect to see much of Jones since he only makes what amounts to a couple of cameo appearances during the film’s wraparound opening and closing sequences. Otherwise, Josh Brolin plays K in the story which unfolds in the summer of 1969.

At the picture’s point of departure, we find a one-armed convict called Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) sitting behind bars in a maximum security prison located on the moon. The evil alien soon escapes with the help of his cake-bearing girlfriend (Nicole Scherzinger), his first visitor in over 40 years.

Next, Agent J catches wind of the missing fugitive’s plans to travel backwards in order get even with Agent K for having shot off his limb. The vindictive Boris also intends to spearhead an intergalactic invasion of Earth by the Boglodites, a bloodthirsty race of his rogue relatives. Of course, J decides to return to the past too, to keep the world safe for humanity and to make sure his partner survives any attempted rewrite of history.

Courtesy of some preposterous pseudo scientific mumbo-jumbo, J learns that he must accomplish his mission and return to the present in less than 24 hours before a breach in the temporal fracture (huh!) closes. Upon arriving on July 16, 1969, Agent J introduces himself to the 29-year-old incarnation of Agent K, and does his best to loosen up Agent J’s Type-A personality.

What ensues is an engaging mix of special effects mirth and mayhem, with the tension centered on the launch of Apollo 11 at Cape Canaveral. Since there’s never a doubt that Boris and the Boglodites are destined to be subdued, the true payoff arrives after the action subsides by way of an emotional revelation that it would be unfair to spoil.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for violence and suggestive content. Running time: 103 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.


Art All Night, at Roebling Wire Works, 675 South Broad Street, Trenton, starts Saturday-Sunday, June 16-17, 3 p.m. to 3 p.m. Artists of all ages and levels are invited to submit one piece of art in any medium or format, on Friday, June 15 from 5-9 p.m. or Saturday, June 16 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Millyard Park entrance. Visit artworkstrenton.org.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, presents “Transient Spaces” in remembrance of Herban Garden, Writers Block, and Quark Park through June 9. On view through July 28 is “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin, and “Terrace Project: Sculpture by Jonathan Shor.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscoun
cilofprinceton.org.

Artsbridge at Prallsville Mills, Route 29 in Stockton, presents the 18th Annual Juried Show from June 8-24. Artists from a 50-mile radius are invited to submit work until June 3 at 5 p.m.; acceptances will be announced June 5. Visit www.artsbridgeonline.com.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, presents “Absorptions and Immersions,” an exhibit of watercolors and photographs by Gail Bracegirdle and John Treicher from June 8-July 1. The opening reception is June 9 from 5-8 p.m.

Bucks County Gallery of Fine Art, 77 West Bridge Street, New Hope, Pa., presents new bar and tavern interior scenes by Steve Messenger June 1-30. The opening reception is June 2. Visit www.buckscountygal
leryart.com.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place off Rosedale Road, presents “Crossing Cultures,” art celebrating the biodiversity of habitats, through July 27.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the library’s Milberg Gallery, “Capping Liberty: The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic” is on view through July 8. “Alan Turing at Princeton,” is on display in the lobby through June 5. The Princeton University Numismatic Collection is showing historically important pieces in the Boyd Room of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. An opening celebration is May 31 at 4 p.m.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “The Elephant and the Rainbow” by Charlie Gross June 1-July 1. The opening reception is June 1 from 6-8 p.m.; Meet the Photographer is June 3 from 1-3 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. In the Education Gallery through June 6, “The Impact of Art” will show works by artists with disabilities. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows “Kirsten Hassenfeld: Cabin Fever,” through June 3. The artist does sculpture and collage. From June 10-September 9, sculpture by Nancy Cohen is on view. Visit www.hunter
donartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” is featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting a series of original children’s book illustrations until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display through July 31. The museum is offering free admission this summer to all active military duty personnel and their families, through Labor Day.

Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, Lawrence Shopping Center, Texas Avenue and Brunswick Pike, Lawrence, presents an exhibit of paintings by Bill Plank through June 22. The gallery is open Mondays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lewis Center for the Arts of Princeton University presents in its Lucas Gallery at 185 Nassau Street the “Senior All-Star Art Show,” an exhibition of the best of the best of graduating student work, through June 5. Paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, film, video, and mixed media are included.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. In collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton, “Paint Out at Morven” on June 9 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. allows the general public to experience painting en plein air. Visit www.morven.org or call (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

Nassau Club, 6 Mercer Street, is showing “Thoughts on Paper” by Princeton artist Anita Benarde, through July 1.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, hosts work by senior artists through May 31. Acrylics, watercolors, pencil drawings and pastels by senior artists who attend classes at PSRC will be on view.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, through June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run through June 10. “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” will be up from July 14-September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Princeton University Office of Gender and Sexuality in 113 Dickinson Hall is presenting “Roles with a Punch,” collages and paintings by Stacie Speer Scott, through June 30.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, presents “Audrey Flack: Recent Pages from an Ancient Past,” through June 30. A “Feminist Fete” honoring Ms. Flack is June 3 from 3-6 p.m.

Straube Center, Route 31 and Franklin Avenue, Pennington, presents “The Inception of an Era” June 1-August 31. Works in all media are by artists who have graduated from colleges and universities within the past five years. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

Thomas Sweet Cafe, Montgomery Shopping Center, Skillman, is showing “Old Masters 2,” the second annual exhibit by artists from Hannah Fink’s class at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, from June 1-30. Works range from still life to landscape, in a variety of media. An opening reception is June 14 from 7-9 p.m.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, is showing “Deep Within the Soul,” photographs by Colleen Maniere, through June 10. A percentage of all sales of the work benefit pancreatic cancer research.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, has a juried exhibit for visual artists ages 13-33, called “Can You Hear It?” running through June 8. Visit ww.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-VisualArtist.html for details.

May 23, 2012

Thirty-three years, or a third of a century, is a long time in any organization’s history. In her pre-concert remarks, Princeton Pro Musica Artistic Director Frances Fowler Slade commented that when she first wanted to start a chorus in Princeton she was told that “the last thing Princeton needed was another music ensemble.” On the contrary, in the past thirty years, the Princeton area has exploded with high-quality musical performances, and Princeton Pro Musica has grown right along with the musical community. After thirty-three years, Ms. Slade has decided to pass on the Pro Musica baton to a new choral visionary, and the chorus honored its founder on Sunday afternoon with a final performance under Ms. Slade’s direction. Choosing what could be the most towering choral work going, Ms. Slade, chorus, soloists and orchestra brought J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor to spirited life in Richardson Auditorium.

It surely was not easy to conduct the last concert of an ensemble that she has brought up like a child, but Ms. Slade was all business when it came to Bach’s intricate music. Tempi were quick with instrumental soloists finding nuance within the speed, and the chorus showed off three decades of choral discipline in its handling of coloratura runs. Movements which often get bogged down in over-romanticization moved right along, with the pathos and poignancy of the Biblical text conveyed by Baroque phrasing and tapered cadences.

Bach probably never heard all the components of this monumental work performed together as a single unit in his lifetime, but since the 19th-century revival of interest in Bach’s music and evolution of the choral society it has become a staple of choral performance, featuring up to five choral parts and four soloists, accompanied by Baroque orchestra. Soloists for Sunday’s performance included singers who had a history with Pro Musica, as well as newcomers. Soprano Mary Ellen Callahan had her hands full with a very quick “Laudamus Te,” but handled the tempo well without feeling rushed. Ms. Callahan was well matched with mezzo-soprano Alyson Harvey, with whom she shared two duets. These two singers were especially cognizant of each other in the “Et in unum Dominum” duet, as phrases flowed among singers and violins.

Ms. Harvey had two very tough arias, closing phrases particularly well in the mezzo aria from the “Gloria” section. Her phrasing never felt rushed, despite the difficulty of the passages, and she was elegantly accompanied by oboe d’amore player Caroline Park. Ms. Harvey was also key in closing the entire mass, singing a haunting yet crystalline “Agnus Dei” which summed up the imploring text leading up to this point and making the final chorus all the more glorious.

Tenor Robert Petillo brought a long history of Bach performance to this concert, drawing on his experience as a Bach passion evangelist to present the “Benedictus” text with the authority of a preacher, as the flute obbligato, gracefully played by Mary Schmidt, chased the vocal phrases. Mr. Petillo collaborated well with Ms. Callahan in a duet from the “Gloria,” with Mr. Petillo handling well some unusually quirky word placement. Bass Kevin Deas, who has been heard with Pro Musica numerous times, was as commanding as he has been in previous performances, maintaining especially well the long vocal lines of “Et in spiritum sanctum.” In this aria Mr. Deas was accompanied by two oboi d’amore (played by Ms. Park and Nathan Mills), which was a special treat since it is rare enough to hear one oboe d’amore, much less two. In a previous choral section, Ms. Slade wisely re-assigned a very difficult bass choral line to Mr. Deas, who presented the resurrection text with affirmation and conviction.

More than anything else, this performance was about Pro Musica and what Frances Slade has created over the past thirty-three years. The choral movements were full of the trademark Pro Musica blocks of sound, with especially clean runs in very quick tempi. As could be expected, the vocal musicians sang their hearts out, and the sections were always well-balanced. Most energetic among the choral movements was the “Et expecto” section which closed the “Symbolum Nicenum,” with the chorus flying through runs and three trumpets adding a joyous touch. As also should have been expected, all performers, and especially Ms. Slade, were clearly pleased with themselves as the ensemble celebrated its past and looked toward new beginnings.

 

Not since Byron awoke one morning to find himself famous has there been such an example of worldwide celebrity won in a day by a book.

—New York Evening World

The novel that made Upton Sinclair rich and famous “in a day” was written in a tarpaper shack behind a farm house on the Princeton Ridge. By all rights, The Jungle should have been written in New York or in the urban nightmare of its setting, Chicago, or anywhere but “the hills north of Princeton.” Why there? What brought the young muckraker to our neck of the woods? And where exactly had he written the book?

Last fall I was researching a photo-based piece for Princeton Magazine on the local residences of famous writers. My mission seemed simple enough. The other houses had been easily located and photographed. But Upton Sinclair had apparently resided in a whole slew of mostly vanished tents, cottages, shacks, and farmhouses in at least two different locations between the western edge of Ridgeview Road and Province Line Road.

The rub is, I could have solved the mystery at the outset simply by visiting the offices of a local realtor. No need to study old maps or old issues of the Princeton Recollector, no need to drive all over the Ridge buttonholing residents in my quest, no need to consult former Ridge homeowner John McPhee, who graciously played a wary Watson to my hapless Holmes in The Case of the Disappearing Cottage. Nor was it necessary to join forces with another Ridge resident, the dauntless, ever resourceful Sherri, who played Nancy Drew to my Frank and Joe Hardy in The Adventure of the Chimney in Back.

Of course I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Into the Mystique

As he helped me put the facts of the case in focus, even at one point consulting Sinclair’s autobiography on my behalf, McPhee contended that “an accurate location” of Sinclair’s “early dwellings or sites thereof … would be something close to impossible to achieve. You can’t, of course, just drive up to some place and think ‘that’s probably it.’”

But that’s just what I did one sunny, hazy, mid-November Sunday afternoon.

Anthony Arthur’s biography, Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair (Random House 2006), includes an old photo of the Sinclair house “near the intersection of Drake’s Corner Road and Province Line Road.” That’s pretty specific. No mystery there. Even if the house had been demolished or renovated or added to, I could scout the spot, and if the house was there, I could ask the owner’s permission to have a photographer take some pictures of it.

So, down Drake’s Corner toward my goal I go, only it’s a road I’ve never been on before, I know nothing of its ways, its twists and turns, ups and downs. What starts as a paved surface begins to narrow, slip out of definition and direction and sense, as if it might simply disappear, leaving one to drive off the edge of the world. Now it seems little more than a path, no room for oncoming vehicles, nature’s closing in with Blair Witch overtones, the light’s gone strange, as if strained through a filter, everything more intense, more haunting, and yet even as it seems most strange it’s becoming excitingly familiar. A force far more compelling than the possibility of finding the house in the photograph is at work. I’m picking up flashes of southern Indiana, some scary thicket of childhood, Br’er Rabbit’s briar patch, the mysterious landscape the schoolbus used to plow through every schoolday morning.

Yes, there’s a frame house of the right vintage at the intersection of Drake’s Corner Road and Province Line Road. The owner is doing yard work, I pull over, introduce myself, explain my mission, and am thrilled to hear that his house had belonged to someone named Stout, which is the name of the farmer who had sold it to Sinclair. I send hopeful emails to Sherri and McPhee. The next day I show the owner the photo in the biography, but nothing matches, neither the house nor the lay of the land. So I go on my way, neither sadder nor wiser, but never mind: I’m in a state of benign mystification. It’s all to the good that the previous day’s quest led nowhere because I know there’s no such thing as nowhere in this somewhere. I’m on the other side of the Looking Glass, in the suburbs of Xanadu. Yesterday’s drive has created an enchanted neighborhood around Drake’s Corner, Province Line, the Ridge. References to other names associated with the locale — Cedar Grove and Hanging Rock — make my eyes light up and my heart beat faster. And all to find the work space of a writer I’d never read a word of — no, not even The Jungle. Not until the quest began.

Reading Sinclair 

The Jungle was not the first book Upton Sinclair wrote on Princeton Ridge. If you wonder what made him come here in the first place, the answer is a novel about the War Between the States. In his preface to the revised edition, retitled Theirs Be The Guilt (Twayne 1959), Sinclair explains that the book was written in 1903 and published a year later as Manassas: “Its author was twenty-four, living in two tents in the hills north of Princeton, New Jersey …. I had moved to that hillside woodland in order to have the use of the fine Civil War collection at Princeton University Library. They allowed me to take home a dozen volumes at a time, and I would rent a farmer’s horse and buggy for $1 a trip and drive down from the hills to load up a week’s groceries and an armful of reference books.” He claims to have studied over 200 volumes.

The two tents were pitched on the property behind a farmhouse on Ridgeview Road. According to a New York Times piece from July 21 1985 (“Upton Sinclair’s Princeton Hideaway),” all that then remained were “a few hand-hewn logs” forming “a skeletal frame” and a “chimney … of mortar and stone” under “a canopy of oak and poplar branches.” When my fellow investigator Sherri and I explored the spot in February, all that remained was the base of the chimney and some wooden remnants like railroad ties. The owner had been kind enough to give us a sheaf of material that answered all the essential questions about both Sinclair sites. That there had been two tents, yes, along with one 16’ by 18’ cottage and a “tar paper shack for writing” that in 1905 was moved to a spot behind the farm house Sinclair purchased a mile and a half away on Province Line Road upon his return from the famously productive stockyard adventures in Chicago.

I’ve been to both the Province Line and Ridgeview sites now, and have rushed through both books. Walking around the proximate location of the “black shack” where The Jungle was written, I tried to imagine how it had been. Wife and child in the house with the carpenter’s gothic front porch, Sinclair scribbling his fiendish work in that poorly insulated hut while the winter wind howled like an outraged muse. Apparently, that’s how he wanted it. He’d written the first book in the same flimsy, storm-besieged structure during the previous winter.

It makes sense that Sinclair wanted to endure heavy weather or at least a semblance of exposure to risk and adversity. He needed to write in a wilderness. The worst thing he could imagine was to be trying to work in the same space with his wife and baby. That’s why he pitched the second tent, built the second cabin. He had to be haunted, on the edge, aware of the precipice. Adversity is what The Jungle is all about. You don’t finish that book, you wake up from it, shaking your head, pinching yourself, as from a nightmare. What gets you isn’t simply the hair-raising stuff about the meat-packing plant, the rats, the filth, but the relentless punishment Sinclair lavishes on Jurgis, his Lithuanian Job whose wife is raped and later dies in childbirth and whose only son, a toddler, falls from an elevated sidewalk and drowns in mud. At the plant, where men drown in tubs of lard, a 13-year-old relative is locked in a storage room and eaten by rats. Jurgis is hammered at every turn.

Think about the writer who is conjuring up this nightmare. Did his wife and child shudder when he came back into the house of a night, wild-eyed, after one of his bouts with the demon muse? Here’s a budding socialist who wanted to write, as he boasted to Ernest Poole when he first arrived in Chicago, “the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the Labor Movement.” Instead he wrote a novel as nightmarish as Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, a far greater work.

Imagine this unlikely creation burning like a fire in the windows of the wind-blown shack, seen flaring and fading through the trees on Province Line Road as the author hounds his protagonist through every imaginable circle of urban hell. This is the passionate, anguished, pull-out-all-the-stops narrative Sinclair wraps around his documentary dynamite, an explosion heard round the world (“I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident hit its stomach”). “By accident?”

Recalling the eerie, exciting chill I felt that first day driving down Drake’s Corner Road, I wonder if Sinclair’s muse isn’t still haunting those woods. I talked about it that November afternoon with the owner of the house I mistook for Sinclair’s. When I said, “This area feels strange, spooky,” he told me that the people living in the nearby McMansions had said as much.

The Chimney in Back

It was thanks to Sherri’s considerable charm that we were allowed to explore the yard behind the house on Ridgeview Road, which turns out to be not far from the home owned by Sherri and her husband, who, coincidentally enough, has always had “a fascination with The Jungle.

All that remains of the cottage is the base of the chimney, the open hearth that Sinclair, his wife and baby warmed themselves by during the vicious winter of 1903-1904. The author must have been better company when he was working on Manassas, where one striking domestic detail makes an unlikely appearance in the next to last chapter. With the battle raging, bullets flying, Union soldiers are barricaded in the home of a “poor white,” where, “near the fireplace of the little room,” two kittens are playing together: “one would lie on its back and the other would bite it, and they would roll over and over.”

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, presents “Transient Spaces” in remembrance of Herban Garden, Writers Block, and Quark Park through June 9. On view through July 28 is “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin, and “Terrace Project: Sculpture by Jonathan Shor.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscoun
cilofprinceton.org.

Artsbridge at Prallsville Mills, Route 29 in Stockton, presents the 18th Annual Juried Show from June 8-24. Artists from a 50-mile radius are invited to submit work until June 3 at 5 p.m.; acceptances will be announced June 5. Visit www.artsbridgeonline.com.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, presents “Absorptions and Immersions,” an exhibit of watercolors and photographs by Gail Bracegirdle and John Treicher from June 8-July 1. The opening reception is June 9 from 5-8 p.m.

Bucks County Gallery of Fine Art, 77 West Bridge Street, New Hope, Pa., presents new bar and tavern interior scenes by Steve Messenger June 1-30. The opening reception is June 2. Visit www.buckscountygal
leryart.com.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place off Rosedale Road, presents “Crossing Cultures,” art celebrating the biodiversity of habitats, through July 27. An opening reception is May 23 from 6-8 p.m.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the library’s Milberg Gallery, “Capping Liberty: The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic” is on view through July 8. “Alan Turing at Princeton,” is on display in the lobby through June 5. The Princeton University Numismatic Collection is showing historically important pieces in the Boyd Room of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. An opening celebration is May 31 at 4 p.m.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, through May 27 shows Frank Magalhaes’ “I Am a Tree, Part 2.” From June 1-July 1, “The Elephant and the Rainbow” by Charlie Gross is on view. The opening reception is June 1 from 6-8 p.m.; Meet the Photographer is June 3 from 1-3 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Garden State Watercolor Society at Prallsville Mill, Route 29, Stockton, presents the Annual Members’ Exhibition through May 27. Hours are 12-6 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays. The reception and awards presentation is May 27 from 3:30-6 p.m.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Local Paintings & Preview of the Journey through Britain in Watercolor Exhibit,” by Daniel Turner Thomas, through the end of May. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. In the Education Gallery through June 6, “The Impact of Art” will show works by artists with disabilities. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princ
etonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows “Kirsten Hassenfeld: Cabin Fever,” through June 3. The artist does sculpture and collage. From June 10-September 9, sculpture by Nancy Cohen is on view. Visit www.hunter
donartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” is featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting a series of original children’s book illustrations until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display through July 31.

Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, Lawrence Shopping Center, Texas Avenue and Brunswick Pike, Lawrence, presents an exhibit of paintings by Bill Plank through June 22. The gallery is open Mondays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lawrenceville School, Hutchins Gallery, Gruss Center for Visual Arts, presents “Cassie Jones ‘97 over and under” through May 26. Visit www.lawrenceville.org for information.

Lewis Center for the Arts of Princeton University presents in its Lucas Gallery at 185 Nassau Street the “Senior All-Star Art Show,” an exhibition of the best of the best of graduating student work, through June 5. Paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, film, video, and mixed media are included.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. Visit www.morven.org or call (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

Nassau Club, 6 Mercer Street, is showing “Thoughts on Paper” by Princeton artist Anita Benarde, through July 1.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, hosts work by senior artists through May 31. Acrylics, watercolors, pencil drawings and pastels by senior artists who attend classes at PSRC will be on view.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, through June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run through June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Princeton University Office of Gender and Sexuality in 113 Dickinson Hall is presenting “Roles with a Punch,” collages and paintings by Stacie Speer Scott, through June 30.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, presents “Audrey Flack: Recent Pages from an Ancient Past,” through June 30. A “Feminist Fete” honoring Ms. Flack is June 3 from 3-6 p.m.

Straube Center is presenting a “Fine Art Show: Grace, Strength and Freedom,” through May 25. Local artists will be featured. The center is on Route 31 at West Franklin Avenue in Pennington, in buildings 100 and I-108.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, is showing “Deep Within the Soul,” photographs by Colleen Maniere, through June 10. A percentage of all sales of the work benefit pancreatic cancer research.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, has a juried exhibit for visual artists ages 13-33, called “Can You Hear It?” running through June 8. Visit www.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

SCORE ONE FOR THE UNITED STATES NAVY: Intrepid sailors on the high seas manage to fend off the attack from one of the seemingly invincible attack vessels from outer space that are determined to take over planet earth.

Though ostensibly inspired by the Hasbro board game of the same name, Battleship is a special effects driven science fiction adventure that has more in common with blockbusters like Armageddon (1998), Transformers (2007) and Independence Day (1996). The movie devotes considerable attention to developing a back story before the action begins.

That gives the audience a reason to care about the characters when war with bloodthirsty invaders from outer space breaks out. Another positive is director Peter Berg’s cast, led by Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, and Brooklyn Decker. Also pop icon Rihanna more than holds her own in her acting debut as Petty Officer Cora Raikes.

The picture opens in 2005 where we meet Stone (Skarsgard) and Alex Hopper (Kitsch), two brothers seemingly headed in opposite directions. The former is serving his country as captain of the destroyer USS Sampson, while his ne’er-do-well brother lands in jail over an incident with an attractive blonde (Decker) whose father (Neeson) is in charge of the entire Pacific fleet.

Fast forward to the present where we learn that Alex has not only enlisted in the Navy, but has already risen to the rank of Lieutenant. He is also dating Samantha over the objections of her disapproving father who doesn’t trust her hot-headed suitor.

Alex is summoning up his courage to ask Admiral Shane for permission to marry his daughter when five vessels arrive from planet G and proceed, without provocation, to decimate an international armada on maneuvers in the middle of the ocean. Suddenly, wedding plans have to take a back seat to defending the planet.

Furthermore, as the most senior officer aboard his ship who survives the initial attack, Alex assumes command of the U.S.S. John Paul Jones. This affords him a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his future father-in-law.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for profanity and intense violence. Running time: 131 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

 

May 16, 2012

PLAYWRIGHT IN DISTRESS: Stranded with two abandoned children (Hope Springer, left, and Matthew Kuenne) in a strange house and a hostile environment, Mundie (Paul Gross) tries to make progress on his new screenplay in the world premiere of John Guare’s “Are You There, McPhee?” at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through June 3. (Photo by Michal Daniel)

At a New York City party the guests are telling stories in the opening scene of John Guare’s new play Are You There, McPhee? at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Edmund “Mundie” Gowery, a playwright, urges the group to gather round for his “horror story” of abandoned children, a dead mother, a porn ring, at least two sea monsters (11-pound lobsters) and Walt Disney. Mundie’s story, which he both narrates and re-lives, takes him from the present back to 1975, summer of “Jaws” (blockbuster movie and book), as he, at the age of 35, becomes embroiled in a tangled series of troubling, life-defining incidents — alternately absurd, horrific, and romantic — on the island of Nantucket.

In addition to the above, this two-and-three-quarter-hour surrealistic comedy includes dozens of different characters, all played by a versatile cast of 12; a slew of movie allusions and children’s literature references; repeated appearances by marionettes depicting the Argentine writer Borges, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, and Mundie himself; a diamond-stuffed lobster; a heart literally turning to gold; movie deals with Disney and Roman Polanski; a living room in the style of a Magritte painting, with a train coming out of the fireplace; literary references to Herman Melville, Samuel Beckett, Dr. Seuss, Primo Levi, and others; and frequent visitors from the past dredged up from Mundie’s creative memory.

This much plotting and literary, cinematic, artistic, and dramatic material can become daunting for audiences struggling just to keep track of what’s going on. The humor is clever, surprising and richly absurd. The distinguished cast is excellent, led by the dynamic, humorous, and appealing Paul Gross (Due South, Slings and Arrows) as Mundie. The talented Sam Buntrock (Travesties at McCarter last month and a widely acclaimed production of Sunday in the Park with George in London in 2006 and on Broadway in 2008) directs with imagination and finesse, teaming up brilliantly again with set and costume designer David Farley (Travesties, Sunday in the Park).

Present here are qualities that have established Mr. Guare (House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation) as one of the great American playwrights of the past 40 years: wildly imaginative plotting, detailed and sympathetic characterizations, hilarious comedy, striking and moving portrayals of deeply flawed men and women trying to make human connections, besieged in a forbidding environment. But Are You There, McPhee? needs an editor. Two-thirds of the current plot, fewer characters, and a running time much closer to two than three hours would suffice. The audience could catch its breath, take time to enjoy the humor rather than struggling constantly to follow the plot, and establish the kind of close ties with the main character that would draw us in to care more about his amusing, moving, sometimes ridiculous plight.

As Mundie’s story begins, the characters from his past appear and the layers of dark complexity accumulate. Lighting by Ken Billington and set shifts assist in transporting Mundie and the audience back to 1975. Mundie, who owns a Nantucket rental house he has never seen, receives an alarming phone call from the Nantucket police. They have arrested his tenants for running a child pornography ring. With Mundie’s first love interest departing for Buenos Aires with her husband, Mundie’s lawyer, and his second girlfriend demanding Mundie’s presence at a social event that evening, Mundie plans to fly to Nantucket for the day.

The literary background develops. Mundie reads Borges stories on the plane, and the famous writer appears in the form of a life-sized puppet to offer words of wisdom. Everybody else seems to be reading Jaws or going to the movie, as ominous “Jaws” sound effects complement the action here. Mundie’s Nantucket house had once been the home of a famous author of the “Elsie and Wally” books for children.

Soon after arriving in Nantucket, Mundie undergoes a police interrogation concerning his criminal tenants, and finds that everyone he meets recently acted in a local amateur production of his play, Internal Structure of Stars. They are all still furious that Mundie declined an invitation to attend a performance, but more than ready to offer dramatic samplings of their best lines.

Somehow Mundie encounters a lobster fisherman named McPhee. Some sort of alter ego for Mundie, he also had a part in the play, has a married girlfriend with the same name as Mundie’s and is also reading Borges. McPhee bestows upon him a large trash can and a cooler containing two huge lobsters.

And somehow McPhee directs Mundie to a house where Peter and Wendy are housesitting and taking care of a young boy, Poe, and girl, Lilac, and that’s where the plot really gets going, as we gradually find out details about the children’s mother, the daughter of the writer who lived in the house Mundie now owns, and the father, who directed Mundie’s play and aspires to greater achievements in Hollywood.

Mundie finds out he has a deadline to write a screenplay for Roman Polanski and looks forward to a rapid departure back to New York, but suddenly finds himself responsible for the two mischievous children who seem to have been abandoned by their parents and by Peter and Wendy.

This is just the first half, and this description barely scratches the surface. Is this Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw updated, in double time and on steroids? Much of the dialogue and action is very funny, and the excellent cast plays a colorful and entertaining array of characters: John Behlmann (McPhee), Gideon Banner (Peter), Jeremy Bobb (the lawyer), Molly Camp (Wendy), Patrick Carroll (the cop), Alicia Goranson (Mundie’s girlfriend), Matthew Kuenne and Hope Springer (the children), Jenn Lynn (daughter of the famous children’s book author), Danny Mastrogiorgio (the children’s father), and Luisa Strus (the children’s aunt) — all except for Mr. Gross’ Mundie and the children, taking on multiple additional challenging roles.

Just before intermission, after more than an hour and a half of intense exposition and plotting, Mundie looks up at the audience and tells us: “You need a break.” Despite the superb production and the wealth of great comedic and dramatic material, he’s right. Less would be more.


To close its 2011-12 season, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented musical roses — two light airy flowers and one sturdy plant with solid roots. It no doubt was very difficult to come indoors on Sunday afternoon, but those who chose to forego gardening for Ravel and Brahms were treated to a Mother’s Day gift of musical lightness and serenity.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov began the concert as if introducing the audience to a garden, surveying all the flowers in one visual gaze. Princeton composer Sarah Kirkland Snider began composing the one-movement Disquiet more than ten years ago, recently revising it for inclusion in this concert. Disquiet was lush, with many orchestral colors, and despite its title, began peacefully with almost imperceptible violins. Mr. Milanov effectively brought out crescendi and descrescendi, as the “agitated restlessness” of the piece was expressed by Jeremy Levine’s precise timpani. An elegant string quartet recurred throughout the piece against harp (played by Barbara Biggers) and clean articulation from the winds and a graceful English horn solo from Nicholas Masterson. Ms. Snider offered some unusual combinations of instruments in this piece, with the sonorities between violas and celli especially nice.

This piece was very audience-friendly because of its sonorities and the many different colors in the texture. The keynote work on the program, Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, was also an impressive palette of musical colors, illuminated with clarity by guest piano soloist Rieko Aizawa. Ms. Aizawa began the Ravel Concerto with a quick impressionistic start, playing with precision against jazz-influenced orchestration from the ensemble. Languid when she needed to be, Ms. Aizawa played with a great deal of upper arm strength, playfully adding sauciness for the final movement. Especially mesmerizing was Ms. Aizawa’s refined playing in the second movement Adagio, with an always-steady left hand and just a bit of quirkiness to the piano melody line.

Wind solos abounded in this high-spirited piece, with sweetness added from Mr. Masterson’s English horn and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld. The brass sections were able to provide jazzy effects, including some from principal trumpeter Jerry Bryant and a klezmer-type clarinet solo from Andrew Lamy. Ravel intended this concerto to be lighthearted, and all involved seemed to be having fun in this performance.

Where Ravel’s Concerto was like delicate instrumental lace, Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor was solid and substantial. The orchestra pared down for this work, showing Brahms’ Classical roots, and Mr. Milanov took a contained and stately approach to the first two movements. Particularly in the second movement Andante, the wind theme was presented nicely against pizzicato strings, with a very clean pair of horns, solo clarinet and bassoon adding to the texture. Mr. Milanov took an especially relaxed approach to this movement, building tension slowly.

The Princeton Symphony took off in the final two movements, conveying the most drama and musical bite. Mr. Milanov kept the theme of the third movement decisive, with a well-blended quartet of horns. Timpanist Jeremy Levine was kept very busy during the final movement providing a martial effect to contrast the lyrical winds and a very clean trio of trombones. Also adding to the clarity of sound were trumpeters Jerry Bryant and Paul Murphy. The closing fourth movement was also marked by a clean flute solo from Ms. Rosenfeld.

Closing Mr. Milanov’s first year as music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra with these three works showed the ensemble’s commitment to three musical tenets: the best in orchestral repertoire, new and exciting soloists, and promoting the music of contemporary and local composers. The orchestra also promoted its coming season on Sunday afternoon, and no doubt will continue building its strength in these three areas.

In May 1981, Maurice Sendak, who died at the age of 83 on May 8, confided to his journal: “I hate May, everything seems to begin and end in May. May 3 I had my coronary. The dreadful May, 14th anniversary of my coronary. I count myself 14 years old, I was born with my coronary. Death has the features of Mozart’s face and is my waiting friend.”

Sendak began keeping a journal in 1967, when he was in an English hospital recovering from “his” coronary. With such a self-aware man, it couldn’t just be “a” coronary or “the” coronary; it had to be Sendak’s coronary. Picture Max in the Night Kitchen bellowing “It’s my Coronary!” at the moon instead of “Cock-a-doodle-do!” Of course coronary in itself is the word a poet prefers to heart attack, and Sendak was a poet.

If you have ever “been” Sendak, which is how it is to share Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen with your children, you should be sure not to miss the online interviews with Hank Nuwer (1980) and, especially, Bill Moyers (2004). Although there’s an NPR anthology of the Fresh Air conversations on the Web, Sendak becomes more interestingly engaged with Nuwer and Moyers. The most unique — and maybe the last — interview aired this January on Comedy Central and is a minor comic masterpiece in which an under-the-weather-looking Sendak resists and then begins grouchily enjoying Stephen Colbert’s infectious idiocy (one of the highlights is the exchange on Night Kitchen Max’s controversial nudity, Colbert having cut out all images of the lad’s offending member and put them in a cellophane bag). Every time the seemingly grim and grizzled Sendak laughs in spite of himself (at one point he gets high sniffing his marker) is like the moment in Where the Wild Things Are when Max cries, “let the wild rumpus start!”

The Lindbergh Baby

In November 1932, when the radio is “always on” with news of the Lindbergh kidnapping, a sickly four-year-old boy in Brooklyn identifies with the infant. His immigrant parents, who have spoken openly and frequently of the possibility of his dying from one illness or another (“I knew I was mortal from a very early age”), have assured him that that “rich, gentile baby” who lives in “a place called Hope-well” can’t die. This must be the safest, most protected infant in the world and look what happened. “Who could climb up the wall, climb in the room and take the baby out and nobody know? How defenseless could babies be even among the rich?” As Sendak tells Bill Moyers in the PBS interview, the kid in Brooklyn figures that the blond, blue-eyed son of “Captain Marvel” and “the princess of the universe” is a good bet to make it. When the child’s body is found, the impact is life-changing, “I could not bear the thought that that baby was dead. My life hung on that baby being recovered. Because if that baby died, I had no chance. I was only a poor kid, okay? I mean, it doesn’t make much sense to say it. But, that’s the equation. And when the baby was found dead, I think something really fundamental died in me.”

Almost 50 years later Sendak projects the kidnapping into the goblins’ abduction of the baby in Outside Over There (“That’s what Outside is about, vomiting that up”). Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen are among the greatest books for children ever written. Outside Over There is a work of art on another level; to call it a childrens’ book is like calling Moby Dick a sea story. Children who “get” the other two books are usually baffled and disturbed by Outside Over There. What does the title mean, for a start? What would their parents tell them? Just another way of saying the Land of Makebelieve? My wife and I must have read the other two books a hundred times over to our child. We read Outside Over There to him once when it came out and never again. He knew only too well what was “over there.”

Sendak’s Gods

“I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart.”

—Sendak to Bill Moyers

Asked by Bill Moyers how he calms his demons and finds “a separate peace in a world that’s so full of scary things,” Sendak admits being “anxious about … coming here today,” wondering “Would I be all right?” What gave him the lift he needed? A “little tiny Emily Dickinson … that I carry in my pocket everywhere. And you just read three poems of Emily. She is so brave. She is so strong ….I feel better …. Art has always been my salvation.”

When Nuwer asks him if he believes in heroes, he says, “Not many,” and names Mozart, Kleist, and Herman Melville as “the core group.” In Kleist’s plays it’s the “imbalance in Nature” he responds to; in Mozart, it’s “the most quintessential perfect balance.” In Melville he finds “a more comprehensible … readable … lovable Kleist.” Sendak tells Nuwer that if a book is by a philosopher, he’ll “reject it out of hand.” If it’s by Melville, he’ll “buy it.”

While Sendak thinks of Mozart as more than human, a force of nature as large as life itself, he loves Melville both as a god and a benighted mortal, too humanly touching, lost and lonely to be merely “the lodestar of his literary heaven,” as Tony Kushner puts it in The Art of Maurice Sendak 1980 to the Present (Abrams 2003). There are deeply felt references to Melville toward the end of both the Nuwer and Moyer dialogues. Speaking of himself at 76, Sendak quotes Shakespeare (“Ripeness is all”) and Keats on the ecstasy of savoring a peach, but it’s Melville he loves and feels for, even in the context of his own life. “I’ve had my career. I’ve had my success. God willing, it should have happened to Herman Melville who deserved it a great deal more, you know? Imagine him being on Bill Moyers’ show. Nothing good happened to Herman Melville.”

Toward the end of his talk with Nuwer, when the subject comes round to Melville’s “great and ingenious work of art,” Pierre, a controversial edition of which Sendak illustrated in 1995, he’s still venting about Hawthorne’s apparent rejection of Melville’s loving friendship: “I’ll never forgive Hawthorne for Herman…. I’ll take that up with him someday. I’ll never forgive him for having so misunderstood. Mrs. Hawthorne understood better. Her journals have intuitive little things about what this poor man needed from her husband and how incapable her husband was of giving.”

Knowing and Caring

Sendak has admitted having Melville’s Pierre in mind when he composed his own story for the Nutshell Library about a boy whose thoughtless mantra for everything in life is “I don’t care.” Compared to the bellowing, forthright, fearless Max of Wild Things and Night Kitchen, Pierre is a perverse, ambiguous fatalist-in-the-making. For the sake of his young readers (and perhaps their parents), Sendak gave his Pierre a happy ending in which the lion who ate him vomits him up. My guess is that the Sendak who hates May, loves Melville, and never got over the death of the Lindbergh baby would foresee an adulthood for his Pierre nearly as tortured and fatal as that of Melville’s Pierre. Like poor mad little Pip after his near-drowning submergence in Moby Dick, and Melville after the rejection of Moby Dick, the after-the-lion Pierre will never be the same.

Rosenbach Exhibit

“Things of mine, when I’m no longer in this world, I intend to leave in my will that they be auctioned off again,” Sendak tells Nuwer. “I don’t want to leave them to anybody because I had so much fun getting them, I’d like them all dispersed.” In fact, a great many of Sendak’s “things” (a collection of nearly 10,000 works of art, manuscripts, books, and ephemera) have found their way to Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library, a repository for his work since the early 1970s. “From Pen to Publisher: The Life of Three Sendak Picture Books” will be on display until July 15 at the Rosenbach, 2008-2010 Delancey Place. The books are: The Sign on Rosie’s Door(1960), Outside Over There (1981), and Brundibar (2003).

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, presents “Transient Spaces” in remembrance of Herban Garden, Writers Block, and Quark Park through June 9. On view through July 28 is “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin, and “Terrace Project: Sculpture by Jonathan Shor.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncil
ofprinceton.org.

Artsbridge at Prallsville Mills, Route 29 in Stockton, presents “Rocco Scary, Book Arts and Sculpture” on May 17 at 7 p.m. as part of its Distinguished Artist Series. Visit www.roccoscary.com for more information. From June 8-24 the 18th Annual Juried Show is on view. Artists from a 50-mile radius are invited to submit work until June 3 at 5 p.m.; acceptances will be announced June 5. Visit www.artsbridgeonline.com.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, presents “Absorptions and Immersions,” an exhibit of watercolors and photographs by Gail Bracegirdle and John Treicher from June 8-July 1. The opening reception is June 9 from 5-8 p.m.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place off Rosedale Road, presents “Crossing Cultures,” art celebrating the biodiversity of habitats, through July 27. An opening reception is May 23 from 6-8 p.m.

DiGiovanni Photography Studio, 4577 Route 27, Kingston, presents “Connect,” a series of work by Michael Ciccotello May 19 and 20. A reception is May 19 from 6-9 p.m., and an open house is May 20 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the library’s Milberg Gallery, “Capping Liberty: The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic” is on view through July 8. “Alan Turing at Princeton,” is on display in the lobby through June 5. The Princeton University Numismatic Collection is showing historically important pieces in the Boyd Room of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. An opening celebration is May 31 at 4 p.m.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, through May 27 shows Frank Magalhães’ “I Am a Tree, Part 2.” Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Garden State Watercolor Society at Prallsville Mill, Route 29, Stockton, presents the Annual Members’ Exhibition through May 27. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; noon to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. The reception and awards presentation is May 27 from 3:30-6 p.m.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Local Paintings & Preview of the Journey through Britain in Watercolor Exhibit,” by Daniel Turner Thomas, through the end of May. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. In the Education Gallery through June 6, “The Impact of Art” will show works by artists with disabilities. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows “Kirsten Hassenfeld: Cabin Fever,” through June 3. The artist does sculpture and collage. Visit www.hunterdonartmu
seum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting a series of original children’s book illustrations until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display through July 31. Admission is free on May 18, which is Celebrate Art Museum Day.

Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, Lawrence Shopping Center, Texas Avenue and Brunswick Pike, Lawrence, presents an exhibit of paintings by Bill Plank through June 22. The gallery is open Mondays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lawrenceville School, Hutchins Gallery, Gruss Center for Visual Arts, presents “Cassie Jones ‘97 over and under” through May 26. Visit www.lawrenceville.org for information.

Lewis Center for the Arts of Princeton University presents in its Lucas Gallery at 185 Nassau Street the “Senior All-Star Art Show,” an exhibition of the best of the best of graduating student work, May 17-June 5. An opening reception is May 17 from 7-9 p.m. Paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, film, video, and mixed media are included.

Mercer County Community College, Old Trenton Road in West Windsor, holds the Visual Arts Student Exhibition through May 17, in the school’s gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. Visit www.morven.org or call (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

Nassau Club, 6 Mercer Street, is showing “Thoughts on Paper” by Princeton artist Anita Benarde, through July 1. A reception will be held May 20 from 3-5 p.m.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, hosts work by senior artists through May 31. Acrylics, watercolors, pencil drawings and pastels by senior artists who attend classes at PSRC will be on view.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, through June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run through June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Princeton University Office of Gender and Sexuality in 113 Dickinson Hall is presenting “Roles with a Punch,” collages and paintings by Stacie Speer Scott, through June 30.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, presents “Audrey Flack: Recent Pages from an Ancient Past,” May 19-June 30. A “Feminist Fete” honoring Ms. Flack is Sunday, June 3 from 3-6 p.m.

SOHO20 Chelsea, 547 West 27th Street, Suite 301, New York, is showing “Painting Poetry” by Princeton artist Anne Elliott through May 19. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 12-6 p.m.

Straube Center is presenting a “Fine Art Show: Grace, Strength and Freedom,” through May 25. Local artists will be featured. The center is on Route 31 at West Franklin Avenue in Pennington, in buildings 100 and I-108.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, is showing “Deep Within the Soul,” photographs by Colleen Maniere, through June 10. A percentage of all sales of the work benefit pancreatic cancer research.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, has a juried exhibit for visual artists ages 13-33, called “Can You Hear It?” running through June 8. Visit ww.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

I WANT TO DRINK YOUR BLOOD: Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp, left) a 200-year-old vampire, looks longingly at Elizabeth’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) neck as they discuss the goings on in Elizabeth’s mansion Collinwood Manor.

Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera which originally aired on ABC-TV on weekday afternoons from 1966 to 1971. What made the program unique was its gothic storyline about Barnabas Collins, a 200 year-old vampire in search of blood and a reunion with his long-lost love, Josette.

The television series developed a big cult following among youth who never took the show’s fright fare seriously, but merely enjoyed it as a mindless diversion to help them unwind after school. It is with that same lighthearted spirit in mind that Tim Burton approached the screen version of Dark Shadows.

The movie is the Oscar nominee’s (Corpse Bride) eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp; a series of movies that includes Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). And the two have reportedly agreed to work together on a remake of the Vincent Price classic, The Abominable Dr. Phebes (1971).

Set in 1972, Dark Shadows opens as we meet Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) en route to Collinsport, Maine to apply for a position as governess at Collinwood Manor. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the quiet coastal village, construction workers at an excavation site unwittingly unleash an undead monster by cutting the bolts that were keeping Barnabas’s (Depp) cast-iron casket sealed tight.

Both Barnabas and Victoria arrive at the sprawling Collins estate and find the mansion in a state of disrepair due to the decline of the family’s fortune. The place is presently presided over by an imperious matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) who controls an assemblage of oddballs: her spoiled daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Moretz); her brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); Roger’s troubled son, David (Gulliver McGrath); a live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter); and a pair of servants (Jackie Earle Haley and Ray Shirley).

The ensuing mix of slapstick violence and tongue-in-cheek humor is often amusing, nostalgic, and clever but never really laugh out loud funny. Johnny Depp’s performance leads the movie with his bloodthirsty character Barnabas’ deadpan delivery, as when he mistakenly salivates over gobs of red goo undulating around a Lava lamp.

Very Good (**½). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking, drug use, and violence. Running time: 113 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.


May 9, 2012

The counter-tenor superstar has been undergoing a relatively recent resurgence, yet much of the 17th and 18th century operas — which audiences are familiar with — were written with this voice in mind. Composers from Handel to Mozart and even Wagner wrote for the castrato voice, and in the Baroque era, male sopranos and altos were considered vocal icons. In recent decades, attention has turned back to the counter-tenor in the interest of authentic performance. Despite these roots in the 17th and 18th centuries, David Daniels’ performance last week at Richardson Auditorium journeyed way beyond the traditional Baroque counter-tenor repertory into the vocally rich music of the 19th century. Joined last Thursday night by renowned accompanist Martin Katz and dancers from the esteemed Mark Morris Dance Group, Mr. Daniels demonstrated his versatility and range to a sold-out house at Richardson.

Mr. Daniels has certainly performed his share of late 17th and early 18th century music; his recent performance in a Metropolitan Opera Baroque pastiche validated why he is considered a leading interpreter of this historical period. To open Thursday night’s performance, he stepped back a bit to the earliest days of opera. Jacopo Peri’s 1600 Euridice is one of the earliest surviving operas, employing a number of musical styles dramatically new to the times. The aria “Gioite al canto mio” exemplified the melodic style of singing prevalent in 16th-century Italy. Most likely accompanied by stringed instruments, this aria transferred well to piano, as collaborator Martin Katz maintained a light touch on the short quick scales leading to the sung part. Mr. Daniels brought a vocal richness to the text probably not heard in Peri’s era, but as he showed in this and the next few selections from the early Baroque, he is a master of this period. Mr. Daniels is an advocate of the “give and take” between accompanist and voice, and his performing relationship with Mr. Katz is solid enough to find the ebb and flow in each text. Mr. Daniels put particular weight behind the vocal line in Caccini’s “Amarilli, mia bella” (considered a signature song for counter-tenors) and showed breath control which in the Baroque era would become a staple of male singing.

In the four selections by early 20th-century French composer Reynaldo Hahn, Mr. Daniels soared in the upper registers as Mr. Katz provided light and airy accompaniment. This composer is not well-known, yet his music is equally as effectively impressionistic as the more renowned Debussy and Ravel; one could almost see Monet working on his paintings in the music.

This concert took the audience on a geographic, literary, and musical journey, and Mr. Daniels moved effortlessly into the Austrian music of Johannes Brahms. His vocal sparkle in the five selections of Brahms songs well matched the choreography of Mark Morris which provided a unique element to the performance. The Mark Morris Dance Group is known for a young, fresh, and innovative approach to dance and the six members of the troupe who performed Thursday night added simplicity and elegance, taking the concert beyond the words and music. In his songs, Brahms treated piano and voice equally, and the third song “Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen” revealed the most dramatic impact in the closing piano accompaniment.

The Mark Morris dancers returned for a very buoyant performance of three songs mostly revolving around spring and love by Hector Berlioz. “Le Spectre de la Rose” in particular covered a wide vocal range, and Mr. Daniels effectively drew out an introspective text considering destiny and fate. The close of this song drew a sparse yet dramatic accompaniment from Mr. Katz. The dancers shone in “L’Ile Inconnue,” with choreography simulating the swells of the sea. Mr. Daniels closed the concert with four folksong arrangements of Ohio composer Steven Mark Kohn. All composers need a performing advocate, and Mr. Kohn has a solid one in Mr. Daniels, who apparently has a long association with Kohn’s three sets of American Folksongs. These arrangements were nicely flowing and Mr. Kohn clearly writes well for the voice. “One the Other Shore” draws from an old American tune, which Mr. Daniels sang expressively, and Mr. Kohn’s Copland-esque musical style was a spirited way to end the concert.

Princeton University scored a coup with Mr. Daniels, also engaging him for a master class with five voice students from the department of music. If Princeton University concerts can continue to build extensive collaborations with major artists, the positive effects will be felt well through the musical community.


The winners of the Town Topics Communiversity Youth Poetry Contest range in age from 6 to 14, and attend Little Brook, Princeton Charter, and PDS. Poems were submitted on the theme “What Princeton Means to Me.” Town Topics thanks all those who dropped off poems at Communiversity.

 

What Princeton Means to Me

Princeton is Beautiful

Princeton is gracious

I love Princeton

where the skies are blue

and the stars are yellow

I love Princeton

my oh my

Where the birds sing high

I love Princeton

my oh my

—Todor Pophristic, Age 6, Little Brook

(Todor told his big sister what to write; no changes were made)

 

My Feeling of Princeton

The Princeton I know

Makes me happy while watching it grow

In important qualities for a community

That has taken on immense opportunity.

This community has a caring touch

It wants to do good for others so much.

People of Princeton give parts of their lives

To help every community grow and thrive.

Princeton is never boring

You can always go exploring

To theatres and shops

Selling things from bikes to ice cream pops.

Princeton is so pretty

And not so big

Like New York City.

Princeton is a wonderful community as you can see

That is what Princeton means to me.

—Raisa Rubin-Stankiewicz, Age 9, Grade 4, Princeton Charter School

 

 The Melting Pot We Call Princeton

Canopies of cherry blossoms engulf you as you enter the town.

You’re hit with the rush of bell chiming bikes

The cacophony of blazing sirens

And the soft patter of running shoes.

And then the smells:

Coffee from Starbucks

And the sweet aroma of Witherspoon bread stuffed in paper bags wafting through the air.

The history of the place engulfs you.

University buildings looming over,

As a silent reminder that beyond these walls

Brilliant minds are being nourished and new beginnings are on the brink of discovery.

And then there are the books:

Where the knowledge lies and the imagination rides untamed

Thousands upon thousands lined up in neat little rows

Bindings of bright reds and muted browns jutting out and surrounded by itchy fingertips.

And as you turn the corner and let your mind, body, and spirit

Sink into the melody of life,

You are met with cultures coalescing into one.

You slip into the restaurant or bistro or café

Every time sliding into that same plastic-lined booth

And met with a platter of something exotic,

Leaving your taste buds buzzing and your stomach craving for more.

Teeth sink into shish-kebabs as tall as the sky

Tongues lick off chocolate remains from oozing crepes

Lips smack after the sixth slice of Conte’s pizza.

And then every year, when balloons are notorious for finding themselves stuck in between branches,

And when the sweet mixture of cotton candy and kettle corn dominates the air,

You can see, feel, and hear the excitement of the people around you,

Celebrating and rejoicing for no reason at all,

But just for the happiness of being in the other’s company:

You know you belong.

The cook is stirring up a whole stew of history, books, wonder, and life

And as he adds that final sprinkle of salt or that dash of pepper,

You feel like you are the last ingredient thrown into the mix,

The last piece that makes the customers close their eyes

And concentrate on the savory liquid coating their throats.

You are the lost jigsaw piece to a thousand-pieced puzzle.

Voila! Bon appetite, relish the melting pot in front of you that we are proud to call Princeton.

—Sabrina Li, Age 14, Grade 8, Princeton Day School

“ANNUNCIATION”: This oil on canvas by Livio Mehus (Oudenaarde 1627-Florence 1691), is from the seventh decade of the seventeenth century and is among the works on view in “­Offering of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi, which will be on view through August 10. The museum is located at 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. For more information, visit www.michenerartmuseum.org or call (215) 340-9800.

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I  felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord — the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.

from Edvard Munch’s Diary, Jan. 1892

Just when you think it’s safe to do an art review about the new “Treasures from the Uffizi” exhibit at the Michener Museum, along comes the $119 million sale of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

Once upon a time a long time ago in Oslo, one week into the Golden Bear Student Tour, I watched our Oxford-educated, bipolar tour leader being hauled off, screaming, by the Oslo police. The first time I saw him scream was in Stockholm. He didn’t make a sound but he was looking right at me and he was screaming.

It was as Munch put it in his diary, a silent scream “passing through nature.”

What a time to see that strange painting, knowing that we were, all 36 of us, going to have to get back to Hamburg and a new tour conductor on our own. Everyone made the obvious connection between the tortured soul in The Scream and the man who had managed, but barely, to guide us from Amsterdam to Oslo.

We saw a lot of museums that summer. The Golden Bear had three other tour leaders, all of them English, all slightly bonkers, but likably so, as had been their predecessor. We saw art in Munich, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Paris, London, and Rome, but nothing, including The Scream, could match what I’d seen in Amsterdam on the first full day of the tour. We’d been staying at the Museum Hotel, so named because of the big building across the street, which I walked into that day “because it was there” and found Vincent Van Gogh. Wall-to-wall Van Gogh, miles of Van Gogh. I was 19. Art had never happened to me before. I’d always “looked at it.” These paintings were coming to life right before my eyes and some of them were screaming.

On to the Uffizi

There were tours within tours that summer, and one of them was at the Uffizi. If nothing I saw came close to wall-to-wall Van Gogh in intensity, it was due in part to the fact that almost all the art we saw was as a group with a tour guide droning on, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes obnoxiously in the style of the pompous ass showing off about Rodin in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It’s usually best to see art on your own, which is how I saw it last week when I visited “Offering of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi,” which will be at the Michener Art Museum, through August 10.

The Uffizi show represents an unprecedented opportunity for the handsome, user-friendly, if expensive, Doylestown venue whose exhibits I have been covering since the Alan Magee show in January 2004. Because the artists represented in “Offering of the Angels” are, aside from Botticelli, of lesser renown, like Il Parmigianino, Lorenzo Monaco, Livio Mehus, Pietro Liberi, Il Guercino, and Cristofano Allori, among others, the curators have emphasized arrangement over name recognition; thus, “the path to redemption is illustrated, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from the creation of Adam and the Original Sin to the passion and death of Christ, as a prelude to resurrection.”

Botticelli’s Mary

Every time you stand in front of a painting, it’s a moment of truth, minor or major. There it is: what do you make of it? Would you rather have someone tell you how to see it or what it’s all about like the groups of seniors and kids I saw being led through the Michener exhibit? This is my long and winding approach to what I saw in Botticelli’s oil on panel, Madonna della Loggia. I wonder what Walter Pater (1839-1894), one of the best writers ever about art, would have made of this tender, pensive Mary, her eyes downcast, as if she were listening to music or perhaps contemplating everything from the nativity to the last supper to the passion to the resurrection and beyond.

About Botticelli, Pater wrote, “His morality is all sympathy; and it is this sympathy, conveying into his work somewhat more than is usual of the true complexion of humanity, which makes him, visionary as he is, so forcible a realist. It is this which gives to his Madonnas their unique expression and charm.”

But what if the complexion of this particular Madonna has been altered? According to the Ufizzi’s “unedited catalogue,” the work has been “almost irremediably compromised by a disastrous ‘cleaning’ carried out in the past, followed by a reconstructive restoration based on the complete repainting of the faces of the Madonna and Child as well as many other parts.” Recent investigations have determined that only a few parts, such as “the red gown of the Virgin and the distant landscape which can be glimpsed in the background from the loggia,” have “proved to be in a slightly better state of conservation.”

The Plot Thickens

So, is the feature attraction of “Offering of Angels” to be marred by an asterisk? Not for me. Does the idea that the work of hands other than those of Alessandro Di Mariano Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) make the piece any less compelling or less sympathetic? Is she less a Madonna, more a down-to-earth Mary because she’s the offspring of a mixed marriage between Botticelli and “a restorer from the 19th century”? Look around the room at all the paintings with a less tarnished provenance and this Madonna is still pre-eminent. For me, the best thing about the proviso lamenting the wages of restoration is the information that the painting “represents a further, precious testimony” to the youthful Botticelli’s “close stylistic adherence … to the manner of his maestro, Filippo Lippi.”

Here, the plot thickens. A few weeks ago, celebrating Robert Browning’s bicentenary, I neglected to comment on one of his most famously exercised dramatic monologues, “Fra Lippo Lippi,” in which Botticelli’s mentor complains,

What, ‘tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,
And here you catch me at an alley’s end
Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?

Read the back story in Vasari and you learn that the gorgeous young woman named Lucrezia Buti who posed for Lippi’s Madonna was his lover, and that he kept her in his own house in spite of the nuns’ efforts to reclaim her (Filippino, the child eventually born to the artist and his model, also became a painter). Moreover, Lippi’s Madonna is said to have influenced Botticelli’s, and if you do some searching online, you’ll see that both Marys appear to be listening to similar music. The striking thing about Lippi’s Madonna is that she might have been painted yesterday, the work seems that fresh, that bright, her rosy lips and elaborately stylish headwear revealing the worldly element, not to mention the Puckish grin on the face of the angel bearing the weight of the Christ child (it’s said that Filippino may have posed for the angel).

Browning’s Fra Lippo Lippi delighted in the paradox of the flesh and the spirit:

Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.
Your business is to paint the souls of men —
Man’s soul, and it’s a fire, smoke … no, it’s not …
It’s vapor done up like a new-born babe —
(In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth)
It’s … well, what matters talking, it’s the soul!

An Earthy Angel

According to the Uffizi catalogue, the Flemish painter Livio Mehus’s (1627-1691) beautifully, if oddly, lit Annunciation (late 17th century) was part of a series of four canvases portraying scenes from the life of the Virgin painted for a tailor friend. I’d like to think that the tailor’s rosy-cheeked, auburn-haired teen-age daughter posed for the angel. More bemused than musing, this Mary is clearly younger and less knowing than Botticelli’s Madonna. But it’s the tailor’s daughter who steals the painter’s show, the way she’s sprawled forward, stretching, only half-kneeling, putting her whole body into the moment, her bare right foot arched, her weight on the toes, a very physical Florentine school girl sort of an angel who probably giggled (“it’s ticklish”) when Mehus attached the wonderful wings and no doubt occasionally complained about the difficulty of the pose. One of the most prominent focal points in the painting is in foreground, where the girl’s bare foot is lit in a way that brings out its sturdy physicality; both of this earthy angel’s peasant feet are poised and ready, either to sprint forward or to push off into flight.

Mavis Smith

The moment I saw the Botticelli Madonna I knew I had to go next door for another look at Mavis Smith’s “Hidden Realities,” which I wrote about a few months ago (Town Topics Feb. 22). If you have come specifically to see “Offering of Angels,” you’ll be missing something special if you don’t make a point of looking in on the subtle, deep, thoroughly accomplished 21st century counterparts of Botticelli and Mehus in the adjoining exhibit, which will be on view until May 20.

Mavis Smith will be at the Michener for a lecture and demonstration, “Egg Tempera Then and Now,” on Thursday, May 17, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. To register, call 215 340-9800.

 


HERE WE COME TO SAVE THE WORLD: Captain America (Chris Evans, center) flanked by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, left) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are coming to join with their cohorts Thor, Iron Man, Hulk (none of whom are shown here) to thwart the plans of Loki — Thor’s evil brother — to conquer the planet Earth.

The Avengers is the sixth movie in the series of Marvel Comics adaptations that was launched in 2008 with Iron Man, and quickly followed by The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America. What makes this adventure unique is that it’s the first film in the series about a team of comic book superheroes.

The actors playing the above title characters reprise their roles with the exception of Edward Norton who has been replaced by Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk. We again have Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, and Chris Evans as Captain America. The film also features the return of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, who first appeared in Thor and Iron Man 2, respectively.

Since we’ve already met all the members of the team, director Josh Whedon doesn’t have to waste time familiarizing us with their unique abilities. Instead, the plot unfolds right on the heels of the post-closing credits scene of the previous sequel which had Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) ominously enlisting the assistance of Captain America for a dangerous mission with global ramifications.

So, it’s no surprise that we find Fury assembling The Avengers. After all, as the director of the top secret espionage agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. (an acronym for Strategic Home Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division), it is his job to protect humanity, especially from a diabolical villain bent on world domination.

In this case, that villain is Thor’s exiled evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has managed not only to escape from an outer space abyss on the planet Asgard but has gotten his hands on the Tesseract, a cosmic cube which taps into a limitless supply of sustainable energy. With Loki en route to Earth, Fury has to plan a coordinated defense of the planet.

That task is easier said than done, since it calls for cooperation among a bunch of egotistical superheroes with fragile egos who aren’t used to sharing the limelight. We are given a taste of this posturing when Iron Man teases Thor about his accent and costume by asking, “Doth mother know thy wear her drapes?” Or when he sarcastically compliments Dr. Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk) by saying, “I’m a big fan of how you lose control and turn into a giant green monster.”

Of course, such witty bantering turns into camaraderie once Loki arrives with his army of alien warriors called Chitauri. Each Avenger’s talent comes in handy, of course, during the ensuing eye-popping fight sequences and include Hawkeye’s bow-and-arrow, Thor’s hammer, Captain America’s shield, and so forth.

Thanks to a sophisticated script and thrilling special effects, The Avengers easily is the best Marvel Comics screen adaptation yet. It is a remarkable movie that increases our expectations for the next film in the series, Iron Man 3.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense violence and a drug reference. Running time: 142 minutes. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures.

 


The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, presents “Transient Spaces” in remembrance of Herban Garden, Writers Block, and Quark Park through June 9. On view through July 28 is “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin, and “Terrace Project: Sculpture by Jonathan Shor.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Artsbridge at Prallsville Mills, Route 29 in Stockton, presents “Rocco Scary, Book Arts and Sculpture” on May 17 at 7 p.m. as part of its Distinguished Artist Series. Visit www.roccoscary.com for more information.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place off Rosedale Road, opens “Crossing Cultures,” art celebrating the biodiversity of habitats, on May 14. The show runs through July 27 and an opening reception is May 23 from 6-8 p.m.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the library’s Milberg Gallery, “Capping Liberty: The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic” is on view through July 8. “Alan Turing at Princeton,” is on display in the lobby through June 5.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, through May 27 shows Frank Magalhães’ “I Am a Tree, Part 2.” Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Local Paintings & Preview of the Journey through Britain in Watercolor Exhibit,” by Daniel Turner Thomas, through the end of May. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, opens spring/summer exhibitions May 12 including Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. In the Education Gallery through June 6, “The Impact of Art” will show works by artists with disabilities. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows “Kirsten Hassenfeld: Cabin Fever,” through June 3. The artist does sculpture and collage. Visit www.hunterdonartmu
seum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting a series of original children’s book illustrations until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display through July 31. Admission is free on May 18, which is Celebrate Art Museum Day.

Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, Lawrence Shopping Center, Texas Avenue and Brunswick Pike, Lawrence, opens an exhibit of paintings by Bill Plank on May 11, to run through June 22. Mr. Plank will do painting demonstrations May 11 and 12 from noon to 4 p.m. The gallery is open Mondays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mercer County Community College, Old Trenton Road in West Windsor, holds the Visual Arts Student Exhibition through May 17, in the school’s gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. Visit www.morven.org or calling (609) 924-8144, ext. 106.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, hosts work by senior artists through May 31. Acrylics, watercolors, pencil drawings and pastels by senior artists who attend classes at PSRC will be on view.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, through June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run through June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Princeton University Office of Gender and Sexuality in 113 Dickinson Hall is presenting “Roles with a Punch,” collages and paintings by Stacie Speer Scott, through June 30.

SOHO20 Chelsea, 547 West 27th Street, Suite 301, New York, is showing “Painting Poetry” by Princeton artist Anne Elliott through May 19. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 12-6 p.m.

Straube Center is presenting a “Fine Art Show: Grace, Strength and Freedom,” through May 25. Local artists will be featured. The center is on Route 31 at West Franklin Avenue in Pennington, in buildings 100 and I-108.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, is showing “Deep Within the Soul,” photographs by Colleen Maniere, through June 10. A percentage of all sales of the work benefit pancreatic cancer research.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, has a juried exhibit for visual artists ages 13-33, called “Can You Hear It?” running through June 8. Visit www.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

 

May 2, 2012

When the eldest of Charles Dickens’s ten children, 33-year-old Charley, looked in on him less than a week before the author’s death on June 9, 1870, Dickens was “writing very earnestly” on the last chapter of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. As Charley took his leave (“I shall be off now”), Dickens paid no attention and continued writing “with the same intensity as before.” Half a lifetime of such moments had conditioned the son to expect at least a few words from his father, but on this occasion, as Charley recalls, he “gave no sign of being aware of my presence. Again, I spoke — louder, perhaps this time — and he raised his head and looked at me long and fixedly. But I soon found that, although his eyes were bent upon me and he seemed to be looking at me earnestly, he did not see me, and that he was, in fact, unconscious for the moment of my very existence. He was in dreamland with Edwin Drood and I left him — for the last time.”

Quoting Charley’s account in his massive biography, Dickens (HarperCollins 1990), Peter Ackroyd finds it “disturbing” that the father was “still so immersed in his words and images that he could not even see his own son standing in front of him,” and no less disturbing that in Charley’s last moment with his father “he was ignored by him in favor of the creatures of his imagination.”

Ackroyd doesn’t acknowledge the obvious, however, which is the outward resemblance between the trance immersing the writer at work and the opium dreamland inhabited by the choirmaster of Cloisterham Cathedral, John Jasper. It’s in that tranced state that Jasper embarks on the opium “journey” that leads, again and again, to the murder of his beloved Ned, that is, his nephew, Edwin Drood (“I did it millions and billions of times. I did it so often, and through such vast expanses of time, that when it was really done, it seemed not worth the doing, it was done so soon”). Beloved though he may be, Ned is in danger because the being Jasper desires beyond all reason is Edwin’s fiance, “the pretty, childish” orphan, Miss Rosa Bud.

An End-Game Awareness

Charley caught his father in the middle of a creative transport, in another world where the word of choice is “Unintelligible” and the preferred substance is opium. To see Dickens in that state was like seeing Coleridge in the moment he was roused from the laudanum dream that spawned his poem, “Kubla Khan,” another great, unfinished work.

Dickens was not just in “dreamland with Drood” when Charley came to say goodbye, he was deeply absorbed in one of the most extraordinary, richly accomplished chapters he would ever write, and not merely because it happened to be his last. With its explicit reference back to the Chapter I (“The Dawn”), Chapter XXIII of Edwin Drood (“The Dawn Again”) is marked by an end-game awareness that Dickens has reached the turning point of a narrative he feels he will not live to complete. Three days before the stroke that killed him, he admitted as much, according to his daughter Katey (“he spoke as though his life was over and there was nothing left”). Far from surrendering, Dickens is consolidating his intentions, as if he could make a half-finished work seem complete in itself, a self-contained enigma that would do sufficient justice to his original intentions for the novel.

Dostoevsky

The fact that The Mystery of Edwin Drood was left unfinished has led to a cottage industry of guessing games, reimaginings, and rewritings based on clues scattered by the author himself. The most credible evidence drawn from Dickens or the sources closest to him, however, has the opium-addled choirmaster John Jasper strangling his nephew and disposing of the body in quicklime. Contrary to the endings of both the 1935 Universal film and last month’s BBC dramatization, Dickens did not intend for Jasper to fall to his death from the belltower of Cloisterham Cathedral. He expressed his notion of Jasper’s fate to his close friend and biographer, John Forster; there would be a “review of the murderer’s career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the culprit, but some other man, were the tempted. The last chapters were to be written in the condemned cell.” Compared to the melodramatic deaths of Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist or Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend, the novel preceding Drood, Jasper’s end would be subtle, complex, and probably redemptive, something closer to the fate of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment or of Dmitri Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov. 

Speaking of Dostoevsky, when he visited the London office of Dickens’s journal, All The Year Round, in 1862, Dickens told him that “the good simple people in his novels” were “what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself),” and that there were “two people in him,” one “who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life.”

“Unintelligible!”

If there’s a password to the cloistered heart of Edwin Drood, one that Sherlock Holmes would pounce on were he and Watson on the case (too bad Conan Doyle never thought to send the great sleuth to Cloisterham), it’s the word unintelligible, which is uttered twice and with marked emphasis by Jasper in the novel’s opium-shrouded opening, opium being a potent enemy of the intelligible.

The first paragraph of Edwin Drood has Jasper confusing a bed-post in an East End opium den with the tower of Cloisterham Cathedral. Coming out of the drugged reverie, he’s like a surrogate of the author “whose scattered consciousness has thus fantastically pieced itself together,” or like Hyde morphing back into Jeckyll. Lying on the “sordid bed” with him are a Chinaman and a Lascar, two other clients of the “haggard woman” who is “blowing at a kind of pipe to kindle it.” As Jasper gazes down at the woman who will ultimately help unmask him, he smugly wonders “what visions can she have” and “turns her face toward him” for a better look (the positions will be dramatically reversed in the book’s last chapter) before bending down “to listen to her mutterings.” What he hears makes no sense (“Unintelligible!” he exclaims), but given what happens next, he might have stuck his head into the crater of an active volcano: “As he watches the spasmodic shoots and darts that break out of her face and limbs, like fitful lightning out of a dark sky, some contagion in them seizes upon him.” The choirmaster is so shaken that he has to sit down in a chair, “holding tight, until he has got the better of this unclean spirit of imitation.”

In case the reader doubts that Jasper is capable of murder while under the influence, Dickens has him, still in the grip of the “unclean spirit,” assault both the men he’d been sharing the “ink-bottle pipe” with; when the Chinaman “resists, gasps, and protests,” Jasper asks, “What do you say?” and answers himself, after a “watchful pause,” again with that word: “Unintelligible!” In the fog suggested by that word, one may commit murder without perceiving the reality of the act.

“The Dawn Again”

Dickens gives the “haggard woman” no proper name, nor does he include her on the list of characters preceding the first chapter, which makes sense: why list Jasper’s vengeful opium genie, as if she were a “real person”? She does have a nickname, Princess Puffer, supplied by “Deputy,” a stone-throwing imp whose real name is known to none but the ”mysterious white-haired man” identified on the same list as Dick Datchery.

The only way to do justice to the last chapter — Dicken’s masterful swan song — would be to reprint the scene between the old woman and Jasper in full. By the time the choirmaster revisits the miserable room where the novel began, Edwin Drood has disappeared and is presumed dead. Thus this exchange:

‘Who was they as died, deary?’

‘A relative.’

‘Died of what, lovey?’

‘Probably, Death.’

‘We are short to-night!’ cries the woman, with a propitiatory laugh. ‘Short and snappish we are! But we’re out of sorts for want of a smoke. We’ve got the all-overs, haven’t us, deary? But this is the place to cure ’em in; this is the place where the all-overs is smoked off.’ “

Sensing Jasper has something significant to hide, the old woman teases him with endearments like “deary,” “lovey” “poppet” (and even at one point “chuckey”) “lays her hand upon his chest, and moves him slightly to and fro, as a cat might stimulate a half-slain mouse.” Repeating “her cat-like action she slightly stirs his body again, and listens; stirs again, and listens; whispers to it, and listens. Finding it past all rousing for the time, she slowly gets upon her feet, with an air of disappointment, and flicks the face with the back of her hand in turning from it.”

Is there any doubt which of the two Charles Dickens is in charge of this scene?

Dickens and Datchery

There is almost as much speculation among readers and critics about Dick Datchery’s identity as there is about whether Drood is dead or alive. Datchery’s white-maned disguise is just the sort Sherlock Holmes would use, which makes sense, since one theory is that Datchery is the detective who will solve the mystery, with some help from the opium woman who has stalked Jasper all the way from London to Cloisterham.

In the novel’s closing pages, which are dominated by Datchery, he hails the imp nicknamed Deputy, “ ‘Halloa, Winks!’ At which the imp says, “ ‘don’t yer go a-making my name public. I never means to plead to no name, mind yer.’ “ At this point, it’s as if Dickens has, in effect, entered his own novel in the guise of Datchery, for the only other person who knows the imp by name is the author who created him and put “Winks” in parentheses in the list of characters preceding the first chapter.

Dickens also bestows on Dick Datchery an elaborate analogy unlike any other figure or fancy in the novel. It’s as if he had called up the spirits of Homer and Milton for the occasion of his last hurrah:

“John Jasper’s lamp is kindled, and his lighthouse is shining when Mr. Datchery returns alone towards it. As mariners on a dangerous voyage, approaching an iron-bound coast, may look along the beams of the warning light to the haven lying beyond it that may never be reached, so Mr. Datchery’s wistful gaze is directed to this beacon, and beyond.”

Is that Dickens himself gazing wistfully toward the beacon “and beyond” of the ending he knows he will never write (and yet triumphantly does)? I’d like to think so.

I used the Chiltern Library edition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood (John Lehman 1950), which I bought for $2 at this year’s Bryn Mawr-Wellesley book sale. The first installment, with the cover shown here, was issued in April 1870; the last in September 1870. I found the Dostoevsky anecdote in Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens (2011)


Princeton University Orchestra’s annual Stuart B. Mindlin Memorial Concerts are a celebration from many standpoints. Besides honoring a former member of the orchestra, these concerts also celebrate the graduating seniors in the ensemble, often include guest vocal artists, and traditionally challenge the orchestra to play some of the most difficult music there is. Friday night’s University Orchestra concert in Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated Saturday night) brought together works by two revolutionary composers that drew the best in rhythmic precision from the players.

The gestation of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck crossed over the entirety of World War I, so it is not surprising that the “three fragments” from the opera that were played by the ensemble were dark, with a somewhat disturbing text for the soprano soloist. Conductor Michael Pratt fielded a colossal number of players for this concert, joined by the always solid Sarah Pelletier. Given the lushness of Berg’s orchestral writing, Ms. Pelletier drew wisely on her previous experience with the opera and a formidable upper range to convey the story. With a well-blended brass accompaniment in the opening “fragment,” Ms. Pelletier took a maternal approach to the text, with the martial text especially well-timed with the orchestra. Ms. Pelletier continually kept the German text clean, saving the most vocal strength for the close of the second “fragment.” The final “fragment” brought the culmination of all that preceded, couched in the simplicity of child’s play, as the orchestra built intensity through melodic scales which seemed to end nowhere.

This piece, as well as the Stravinsky work which followed, provided ample opportunities for the seniors in the orchestra to shine as soloists. In the opening “fragment,” instrumental solos by clarinetist Jeffrey Hodes and cellist Francesca McNeeley punctuated the shimmering strings as the music passed through the sections.

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was equally as avant-garde as Berg’s music, especially if the legend of its riot-filled premiere is true. Composed in the decade before Wozzeck, The Rite of Spring ballet score depicts raw and earthy “pictures of pagan Russia,” with pulsating rhythms and emotional intensity which was likely a shock to early 20th-century French audiences. Mr. Pratt and the University Orchestra presented the complete ballet score, consisting of fourteen connected sections divided into two parts. Starting with the opening bassoon solo elegantly played by Louisa Slosar, the orchestra played with a subtle underpinning which made the offbeat accents all the more jarring. Stravinsky’s music kept returning to the solo bassoon, as the orchestra musicians played accents in unison with almost simultaneous physical gestures as the players ended the first movement in an appropriate wild frenzy. Mr. Pratt kept the music flowing well, with conducting gestures precise among changing shifts in material. This music was clearly demanding on the players, with such effects as a long continuous clarinet trill well shared by two players without a gap in the sound.

Stravinsky’s music focused heavily on the winds, with many different colors coming from the clarinet section alone. Ms. Slosar and English hornist Drew Mayfield added grace to the instrumental palette, with very light flute as “icing.” Instrumental soloists scattered throughout the ensemble brought out the folktunes used in this work with clarity. In “The Sacrifice,” a very subtle pair of trumpets punctuated the pulsating winds. Key to the success of this piece was the precision in the strings — each player’s bowing was exactly the same as everyone else’s, giving exactness to the rhythm which is so important in Stravinsky.

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in particular is characterized as a demonstration of orchestral virtuosity. The Princeton University Orchestra more than showed its mettle in this concert, with Mr. Pratt looking justifiably pleased with the performance and the players clearly enjoying their last few musical weeks of school.


DARLING, PLEASE SAY YES!: Tom Solomon (Jason Segel, right) gets down on his knees to propose to Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) during the course of a romantic dinner in a restaurant. As soon as she says yes, they both agree to postpone the wedding until each one of their careers has had a chance to develop. Needless to say this is the beginning of a long engagement.

This underwhelming movie has been heavily promoted as being “From the producer of Bridesmaids,” thereby implying that Judd Apatow has a golden touch that ensures the success of any movie project he touches. However, the undisputed King of Crude has been associated with about as many flops (Wanderlust and Year One) as hits (Superbad and Knocked Up).

Unfortunately, The Five-Year Engagement fits more in the former category. Remember how the hilarious movie Bridesmaids kept you howling from beginning to end in spite of yourself? Well, don’t expect to laugh out loud even once while watching this funereal two hour endurance test.

The film does have all of the anticipated Apatow staples such as male nudity, coarse profanity laden jokes, and sexually suggestive sight gags. Much of this comedy is delivered by a diverse support team comprised of an Asian (Randall Park), an East Indian (Mindy Kaling), and an African American (Kevin Hart).

The tortoise-paced picture has an abysmal script and the romantic leads generate no screen chemistry. The oil-and-water casting of Jason Segel opposite Emily Blunt has disaster written all over it.

Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) is a sous chef who dreams of opening a restaurant in San Francisco, while Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) is a new PhD with hopes of landing a position teaching psychology at Berkeley. After the opening credits, Violet accepts Tom’s marriage proposal and puts on her engagement ring. However, they both agree that it might be wise to delay the wedding until their careers have had a chance to develop. That decision doesn’t sit well with their parents, but at least the couple can postpone the decision of whether to be married by a minister or a rabbi.

As time passes, the couple find additional excuses to put off the nuptials, such as when her sister Suzie (Alison Brie) becomes unexpectedly pregnant. Over time, Violet and Tom drift so far apart that it’s not much of a surprise when Violet sleeps with the head of her department (Rhys Ifans) or when Tom’s seduced by a co-worker (Dakota Johnson).

“Can this relationship be saved?” may be the burning question. But don’t expect to care when you’ve never really been asked to invest emotionally in such an unsympathetic couple.

Fair (*). Rated R for sexuality, nudity, coarse humor, and profanity. Running time: 124 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.


The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, opens “Transient Spaces” May 3. The show is in remembrance of Herban Garden, Writers Block, and Quark Park. A film screening with guest speakers Peter Soderman, Kevin Wilkes, and Chris Allen is May 3 at 7:30 p.m. Also on view is “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin. “Terrace Project: Sculpture by Jonathan Shor” also opens May 3. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscoun
cilofprinceton.org.

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, shows “Babbling Brooks and Silent Springs” through May 4. In conjunction, “Waterscapes,” a show of photography by high school students, is on display. Also featured is “Voices for the Marsh,” a juried photography show about the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. A permanent exhibit of native waterfowl decoys is now on view in the Johnson Education Center.

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, is holding the Save the Ellarslie Open Gala on May 5. An opening preview and reception is from 6-9 p.m., followed by a live art auction from 7-10. Freeholder Sam Frisby is the MC and auctioneer. The cost is $125 ($200 per couple); black tie is optional. Call (609) 989-1191 or visit www.ellarslie.org.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the library’s Milberg Gallery, “Capping Liberty: The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic” is on view through July 8. “Alan Turing at Princeton,” is on display in the lobby through June 5.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, through May 27 shows Frank Magalhaes’ “I Am a Tree, Part 2.” Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Garden State Watercolor Society, Prallsville Mill, Route 29, Stockton, is holding an art sale through May 6 of all media by such artists as Suzanne Hunt, Robert Heyer, Marilyn Rose, Joanne Amantea, and Lucy McVicker. Hours are weekends 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and Mondays-Fridays 12-5 p.m.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Local Paintings & Preview of the Journey through Britain in Watercolor Exhibit,” by Daniel Turner Thomas, through the end of May. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, opens spring/summer exhibitions May 12 including Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries include Sharon Engelstein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. In the Education Gallery through June 6, “The Impact of Art” will show works by artists with disabilities. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows “Kirsten Hassenfeld: Cabin Fever,” through June 3. The artist does sculpture and collage. Visit www.hunterdonartmu
seum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting a series of original children’s book illustrations until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display through July 31.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, is hosting “The Art of Seeing,” a public conversation featuring cultural leaders examining the nature of art today, on May 4 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, Lawrence Shopping Center, Texas Avenue and Brunswick Pike, Lawrence, opens an exhibit of paintings by Bill Plank on May 11, to run through June 22. Mr. Plank will do painting demonstrations May 11 and 12 from noon to 4 p.m. The gallery is open Mondays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lawrenceville School, Hutchins Gallery, Gruss Center for Visual Arts, presents “Cassie Jones ‘97 over and under” May 4-26. The opening reception is May 4 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Visit www.lawrenceville.org for information.

Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University presents “Fourteen ‘13s,” junior independent work by visual arts students, through May 6 at the James S. Hall ‘34 Memorial Gallery, Butler College. “Moan: The Monstrous Sublime,” a photographic installation by senior Jun Koh, is at the Chancellor Green Rotunda through May 9.

Mercer County Community College, Old Trenton Road in West Windsor, holds the Visual Arts Student Exhibition through May 17, in the school’s gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. Visit www.morven.org or call (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, hosts work by senior artists through May 31. Acrylics, watercolors, pencil drawings and pastels by senior artists who attend classes at PSRC will be on view.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, through June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run through June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

SOHO20 Chelsea, 547 West 27th Street, Suite 301, New York, is showing “Painting Poetry” by Princeton artist Anne Elliott through May 19. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 12-6 p.m.

Straube Center is presenting a “Fine Art Show: Grace, Strength and Freedom,” through May 25. Local artists will be featured. The center is on Route 31 at West Franklin Avenue in Pennington, in buidings 100 and I-108.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, is showing “Deep Within the Soul,” photographs by Colleen Maniere, through June 10. A percentage of all sales of the work benefit pancreatic cancer research.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, has a juried exhibit for visual artists ages 13-33, called “Can You Hear It?” running through June 8. The opening reception is May 6, 4-6 p.m. with a gallery talk with participating artists and jurors. Visit www.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

April 25, 2012

So far I’ve watched the unsinkable ship sink in the German Titanic (1943), in the Hollywood Titanic (1953), in the British docudrama, A Night to Remember (1958), and, most spectacularly and convincingly, in the 1997 blockbuster that was just re-released in 3-D.

Daniel Mendelsohn’s piece in the April 16 New Yorker examines the Titanic in the context of metaphor and myth, as a parable of money and class in the Gilded Age, and through the conflating of tragic archetypes (idolized protagonist brought down, thing of beauty shattered). Besides previewing some new books on the subject, Mendelsohn cites various films (“the yoking of romance to the disaster narrative”), including History Is Made at Night, which he calls a “bizarre 1937 tragicomedy” ending on an ocean liner “that hits an iceberg on its maiden voyage.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Frank Borzage’s picture, one of the great films of the 1930s, and I’d have mentioned it along with the others, except that the collision with the iceberg isn’t the subject, it’s merely the table-setter for a couple’s moment of death-defying intimacy amid the human drama of panic, cowardice, bravery, impending doom, and, anyway, the ship doesn’t sink.

Getting to the Heart of It

The material compiled in Richard Davenport-Hines’s nicely crafted Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From (Morrow 2012), provides what Julian Fellowes calls “a new and heartbreaking story” (Fellowes’s own miniseries about the event has apparently been a disappointment). Much of the “heartbreak” in Voyagers is experienced later in life by the survivors in the lifeboats who had to endure “for an hour” the “anguished death cries” of other passengers who were drowning and freezing to death all around them. “Sometimes the cries receded, but then the chorus of death resumed, with more piercing despair.” One teenager said he “was traumatized by the memory of that ‘continuous wailing chant, from the fifteen hundred in the water all around us. It sounded like locusts on a mid-summer night.’” A boy of nine at the time, whose mother “held his head in her hands so that he would not hear the horror,” was still hearing it a decade later while living near Briggs Stadium in Detroit, where “the roar of the crowd when a player hit a home run never ceased to remind him of the cries of the … people freezing to death in the Atlantic.”

Briggs Stadium seated 30,000 in 1923, when the boy would have been 20, which means that for him that most apple-pie-American moment, the joyous acclaim of thousands upon thousands of cheering fans when a Tiger player lofts one into the stands serves only to send the survivor back to the chorus of death in the chill of that April night when the sky was said to be so bright with stars and the sea so still. The same teenager who heard the sound of locusts in the wailing said, “I have never seen the stars shine brighter …. I have never seen the sea smoother than it was that night …. It was the kind of a night that made one feel glad to be alive.”

Reading of a beautiful night overarching that grisly scene rouses thoughts of the clear blue sky over Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. In James Cameron’s Titanic, released four years before 9/11, there’s an eerie foreshadowing of the terrorist attack in the tower-like looming of the two immensely steep sheer halves of the Titanic when it splits and sets the tiny human figures falling, leaping, sliding, like rag dolls.

While no other cinematic depictions of the sinking that I’ve seen can match Cameron’s Titanic, his bravura filmmaking (a veritable epic of special effects) seems cold and overblown compared to both Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember, where the focus is primarily on the impersonal development of the event, and Jean Negulesco’s Titanic, in which Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb are the primary instruments in a shameless but highly effective piece of emotional choreography.

One of the supreme moments in A Night to Remember occurs when the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) quietly informs Captain Smith (Laurence Naismith) that his ship, Andrews’s creation, is doomed. As the Captain absorbs what he’s just been told, the look in his eyes is truly frightening; it’s not that he’s afraid  for himself but that he’s been struck a mortal blow and is beyond fear, appalled by the magnitude of his fate and his duty, all this in the few seconds before he sweeps into action and delivers the requisite commands for readying the life-boats and telegraphing for help.

Nothing as subtle happens in the very Hollywood Titanic where the life-and-death reality of the crisis transports the estranged husband and wife back to the dawn of their relationship, and again when the briefly estranged father and son are reunited but doomed, clinging to one another facing death, brave with love (his arm around his son, Webb says “I feel as tall as a mountain”). Thanks to the performances of Stanwyck and Webb, the screenplay, the editing and cinematography and the director’s refusal to overplay a situation that begs for it, everything works; the emotional call rings loud and clear.

What the documentary approach of A Night to Remember lacks is the magnetic pull of a character like Clifton Webb, who fascinates us the moment he, as Richard Ward Sturges, a wealthy, world-class snob, strides unstoppably on board the ship. He has no ticket. The only way he can get aboard is to offer an immigrant husband in steerage a small fortune in cash (relatively speaking), convincing the man to take another boat. After being admitted aboard with the wife and baby, Sturges leaves them in steerage and goes straight to his rightful place in first class. He hardly gives us time to be appalled by the air of absolute entitlement with which he engineers this transaction. He has a compelling motive, having only just learned that his wife, Julia, is attempting to escape with their children to the real-folks down-to-earth midwest (where the P on a college boy’s sweater stands not for Princeton but Purdue), so that her son and daughter won’t become the “ruthless, purposeless, superficial” people Sturges has been grooming them to be. Webb’s behavior on the ship seems to bear her out. When during a fight over custody Julia confesses that his beloved son who idolizes him is not his son but the offspring of a one-night stand, the deeply wounded father viciously determines to behave as if the boy no longer exists.

The instant this unapologetic snob comprehends that the ship is doomed, however, he doesn’t merely rise to the occasion, he transcends it by pushing through the tide of panic-stricken passengers and making his way down to steerage to save the wife and child he so cavalierly separated from their husband and father. It might seem a wildly improbable turn for such a manner-bound man to take, but somehow it makes beautiful, moving sense, and you come to share his wife Julia’s thought, that the disaster has not transformed him so much as it has brought forth the nobility beneath the veneer of sophistication and style and privilege that she saw in him when they first fell in love.

A real-life moment of truth for Barbara Stanwyck came during the filming of the scene that followed the couple’s reconciliation. A bitter cold night had been replicated on the set at Fox’s Century City studios. The actress was suspended in one of the lifeboats swinging on davits some 50 feet above the “heavy rolling mass of water” in the outdoor tank. Looking down, she thought, “If one of these ropes snaps now, it’s goodbye for you. Then I looked up at the faces lined along the rail — those left behind to die with the ship. I thought of the men and women who had been through this thing in our time. We were re-creating an actual tragedy and I burst into tears. I shook with great racking sobs and couldn’t stop.”

The Great Borzage 

In the hands of another director, History Is Made at Night could have been unimaginably worse than the “bizarre tragicomedy” Mendelsohn brushes off in passing. In then-dialogue-director Joshua Logan’s account of the filming, a couple of foul-mouthed madcap “geniuses” named Gene Towne and Graham Baker were “talking the story” to producer Walter Wanger: “If the thinnest boredom appeared to cross Wanger’s eyes, they pepped up the story by sexing it up.” When a slam-bang denouement was needed, they decided to “sink the Titanic.”

For Borzage, the situation was a natural. He had the right actors, having already drawn career-best performances from Charles Boyer as a great headwaiter whose genius for his profession you never doubt for a second, Jean Arthur as an unhappy wife from Kansas whose life-altering love for Boyer you never doubt, and Leo Carillo, a human-comedy delight as “the great Caesar,” whose gifts as a chef you believe in absolutely, and Colin Clive as the insanely jealous husband Bruce Vail, owner of the ocean liner Princess Irene, named for his happy wife (once she’s found Boyer). What better situation for Hollywood’s greatest director of romances than to have his lovers huddled together in the tragic fog sharing a surpassingly intimate moment on a sinking ship, all the life boats lowered, their choice made, to die together, the soft floating haze lending their faces a ghostly radiance as if they were already in some limbo between life and death, while the other, mostly male passengers doomed to go down with the ship are praying, weeping, and singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

For an uncompromising humanist romanticist like Frank Borzage, it was the ultimate have-your-cake-of-life-and-death-and-eat-it-too opportunity. Not only would he bring his lovers back from the brink of death, he would do the same for everyone else on the ship and would show them experiencing the news of their salvation in a mass delirium of joy. The film closes with a swiftly edited montage of jubilant faces in close-up: a man inhaling a cigar as if it were sweet with the breath of new life, people hugging one another. You want a Hollywood ending? This is the Sistine Chapel of Hollywood endings.

In a review for The Nation, Mark Van Doren called History Is Made at Night “easily the best of its kind in recent years” and then pointed out one of the characteristic qualities of actors in a Borzage film: “Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer as the lovers whom nothing can ever quite succeed in keeping apart … are charming not so much because they act with restraint, but because they know how to act as if nothing restrained them.”

Sad to say, Borzage’s classic, like his even greater film, Man’s Castle, is still not available on DVD in this country. History Is Made at Night can be seen online at hulu,among other resources. Just google it at imdb. A Night to Remember is at the library.


It has taken more than seven years, but Historic Morven Inc. finally has the go-ahead to add an interpretive center and expand the gardens on its 4.5-acre site. The museum received unanimous approval last Thursday from the New Jersey Historic Sites Council to go ahead with the plan.

“The board and staff at Morven are thrilled,” said Clare Smith, the museum’s director, this week. “It has been a long road to reach this point, but incorporating the views of so many stakeholders renders an end result that is appropriate and fitting for Morven — a beautiful, in-scale building that will be a ‘jewel in the garden.’ It will allow Morven to vastly expand its educational offerings to the community.”

Morven first appeared before the Council in 2005. Sent back to the drawing board, the museum revised its scheme for expansion, which had originally suggested a new building in front of the historic mansion on Stockton Street. GWWO Inc. Architects of Baltimore came up with the new plan, which places the addition to the right of the house, with its rear facing Borough Hall.

The interpretive center will include a gathering space, lobby, gift shop, and small kitchen, with offices underground. The main house, which was built before the American Revolution by Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, will be used for displaying the permanent collection and changing exhibitions, as well as for tours and small receptions.

During the building process, there will be archaeological monitoring to ensure that any artifacts found are properly handled.

The property also includes a pool house, which dates from the residence of Robert Wood Johnson in the 1940’s and has already been renovated as part of a $5.8 million restoration of Morven that began in 2004. Other restored buildings on the property include the 1890‘s carriage house, now a garden support building; and the old ice house from 1850, which is currently the gift shop but will become a classroom once the gift shop moves to the new interpretive center.


“Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft and Garden” will take place on May 4 through 6 under a 60-by-100-foot tent on Morven’s great lawn. Along with an array of hand-crafted art works, there will be a sale of heirloom perennials and unique annuals ready for planting in spring gardens.

Situated on five landscaped acres in Princeton, Morven is the former New Jersey Governor’s mansion. It showcases the cultural heritage of the Garden State through exhibits of fine, folk, and decorative arts, and educational programs. It is open for tours throughout the year thanks to a general operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission; a Friends group; and proceeds from special events like “Morven in May.”

Friends of Morven will have an opportunity to preview the plant sale and make purchases at a discount on Friday, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. The weekend officially kicks off with a Friday evening preview garden party from 6 to 8:30 p.m., followed by two days of art and garden sales.

Reservations are required for the preview party, which will feature catering by Main Street (which will also supply refreshments throughout the weekend), and a raffle. “Garden-friendly” attire, including “garden-friendly shoes.” is recommended for the Friday evening event.

Special attractions during the weekend include an appearance by Ray Rogers, author of The Encyclopedia of Container Plants, on Saturday at 2 p.m. Mr. Rogers has profiled more than 500 outstanding plants in 180 genera, and has won 397 blue ribbons and 88 top awards (including five Best in Show) at the Philadelphia International Flower Show for container-grown plants. After a career in public horticulture with the Morris Arboretum and the American Horticultural Society, he has turned to garden writing and speaking. A book signing by the author will follow. This event is free with admission to the show.

Area artists whose work will be featured include Meg Michael (paintings); James Ruocco (wood turner), and Ellie Wyeth (floorcloths).

Mapleton Nurseries and Kube Pak are among the “Partners in Horticulture” participating in “Morven in May.”

All proceeds from the event will help fund the museum’s historic gardens, exhibitions, and educational programming.

Weekend hours are Saturday, May 5, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, May 6, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. General admission to the Art and Craft Show is $10; Friends of Morven, $8; and children 12 and under, free. Admission to the Plant Sale only is free, and free parking will be available.

For more information visit www.morven.org.


Theater Rev

“THIS IS JUST A TEST”: (left to right) Archie (Chris Doubet), Jamie (Catherine Cohen), Ted (Adam Stasiw), Melanie (Julia Phillips), and Chris (Jordan Adelson), with the proctor (Jake Robertson) in the background, endure the horrors of the SAT test, just one of the many ordeals they undergo in “Admissions: The Musical,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through April 28.

Admissions: The Musical

“Please somebody out there. Won’t you let us in?” Anybody who has participated recently in the college admissions rat race or who looks forward to that experience in the near future or who can remember college admissions traumas of long ago can relate to Admissions: The Musical, written, directed and performed by Princeton University undergraduates.

The college adviser interview, the application essay (“500 words or less”), the SAT tests, the strained relationships and shattered dreams of high school senior year, the alumni interview and the long-awaited decision letter — all come under the scrutiny of this often funny, sharply satiric, sometimes poignant musical comedy.

Sporadically brilliant, tuneful, and entertaining throughout, Admissions is the creation of experienced Princeton Triangle Show writers Dan Abromowitz, Clayton Raithel, and Nora Sullivan, with skillful, focused, purposeful direction by J.T. Glaze. A collaborative effort of Theatre Intime and the Princeton University Players, the show features a cast of five principals plus five versatile ensemble members, a pit orchestra of four under the direction of Kevin Laskey, and eleven different musical numbers in two acts spanning two hours, including an intermission.

The music — mostly rock or ballad numbers, with a traditional musical comedy quality — is appealing throughout, as the lyrics range from the mundane to the highly clever and witty. The tone of the show also ranges widely, from outrageously campy and absurd to serious, sentimental, and moving. The evening is enjoyable, and the accomplishments of these talented writers, performers, and producers are admirable — uneven but admirable.

From the first guidance counselor college meeting to the fateful opening of the college decision letter, the plot spans most of a year at Salmon P. Chase High School for five seniors: Ted (Adam Stasiw), Melanie (Julia Phillips), Jamie (Catherine Cohen), Chris (Jordan Adelson) and Archie (Chris Doubet). From “Senior year’s going to be amazing,” to “All joy has been crushed out of me,” this group lives through the ups and downs of the college application and admission process.

Chris, an athlete, and Jamie, an academic star, have been a couple since freshmen year. They can’t imagine being apart, and the fact that Chris will never get into the colleges Jamie is applying to brings their lives to a crisis point. Mr. Adelson and Ms. Cohen develop this relationship with intensity, credibility and humor, as the two teenagers struggle to stay together against the odds. They blend vocal strength with on-target characterizations in a couple of duets, “The Future Is Ours” in the first act (reprised with a twist in the second act) and “Reasons to Stay” in the second act.

Melanie, a singer and stressed-out music conservatory applicant, is suffering the pressures of preparing for auditions. Ms. Phillips’ Melanie, putting her life on hold, is sympathetic in her attempts to understand herself and her dreams in the face of the travails of college admissions. She sings a memorable counterpoint duet “Pass You By,” (“Don’t Let the Year Pass You By”) with Ted early in the evening, then comes to an epiphany near the end of the evening in a strong solo piece where she realizes, “That was my dream, but now it’s not.”

Mr. Stasiw’s Ted provides first-rate vocal skills, a charismatic presence, and a healthy contrasting perspective to the group, as he opts out of the admissions competition and decides to work and travel after high school.

The most tortured character of all, Archie is from a University of Pennsylvania family, but he doesn’t get in. As the first act ends, Mr. Doubet’s Archie tries to convince himself that “I’m Okay,” but with parents like his (Alexis Kleinman and Adam Mastroianni), hilariously over-the-top caricatures of the obsessive mother and father, his road to college will not be smooth.

In addition to the over-bearing parents, Mr. Mastroianni and Ms. Kleinman, along with Jake Robertson, Amy Solomon, and Chris Murphy take on a number of colorful roles, from guidance counselors, teachers, and high school students, to admissions officers and alumni interviewers. Mr. Mastroianni, Ms. Solomon, and Mr. Murphy even don the appropriate wigs and costumes to appear as Beethoven, Mozart, and Georges Bizet to participate in one of Melanie’s tortured dreams.

The ensemble is well rehearsed and directed, switching seamlessly among a variety of roles, and providing consistently focused, high-energy support for the five principals. Of the five leads, Mr. Stasiw and Mr. Adelson stand out in displaying vocal and dramatic talents as they create their vivid convincing characters.

Alex Pimentel’s flexible unit set, with blue and green blocks of various sizes on the main part of the stage and the four-piece orchestra pit above at upstage center, works efficiently and effectively in staging the numerous rapidly-moving scenes of the show in the close quarters of the Intime performance area. Stage right serves as Archie’s family dining room, and the far stage left area provides the forum for a series of humorous monologue parodies in which students deliver reflective personal excerpts from their college application essays.

Expert lighting by Alex Kasdin uses a rich variety of colors on the cyclorama wall to vary the mood and deftly delineates the shifts in scene and tone throughout the show.

The pit orchestra is excellent, and Mr. Glaze has directed the show with a sure hand, staging the action smoothly and clearly, balancing orchestra and voices and keeping the pace moving throughout the many different scenes from start to finish. Diction and projection are less than perfect, with lines, either sung or spoken, occasionally not clear. Choreography by Mr. Glaze and Alison Goldblatt is generally unremarkable, but complements the proceedings successfully.

As the 2012 college admissions extravaganza winds down, acceptance and rejection letters have been opened and final choices have been made or are imminent; College Admissions: the Musical offers a refreshingly light-hearted perspective on the whole ordeal. The satire is delightfully trenchant, the humor is mostly sharp and on target, the music is pleasing, and the PUP/Theatre Intime premiere production provides an enjoyable evening.

“Admissions” will run for one more weekend, April 26-28, at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday and at 8 and 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 27. Call (609) 258-1742 or visit www.princeton.edu/utickets for information.


There are a number of venues for opera performance in the Princeton area, but one which is often overlooked is the Kendall Hall Theatre on the campus of The College of New Jersey. A relatively recent addition to the arts scene, this hall offers tremendous possibilities for multi-media productions. Boheme Opera NJ has also been often overlooked in the regional opera arena; the early years of the company’s 20-year history moved through several school auditoriums in the county, but the company has grown to offer professional opportunities to both national and local performers. Boheme Opera made good use of the multi-faceted Kendall Hall this past weekend with a full-staged production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The Sunday afternoon’s performance (the opera was also presented Friday night) was a brisk and clean rendition of Mozart’s always-popular opera, with some excellent singing and pacing that moved the fanciful story right along.

Performed in English with supertitles, this production used a translation which emphasized the Masonic aspects of the libretto — brotherhood, love, and virtue. Spoken dialog was clean from all performers, and the particular vocabulary of this translation substantially enhanced the singing and the mood of the scenes.

The lead performers had strong credits with national and international opera houses, and all were equally comfortable with Mozart. Although her character is onstage less than others, the Queen of the Night’s two arias are show-stoppers and this is the role audiences come to hear. Soprano Lorraine Ernest has made Mozart’s Queen her signature role, presenting a formidable and intimidating character, giving credence to the legend that the Queen may have been the embodiment of every over-bearing woman in Mozart’s life. Ms. Ernest had no trouble spinning off the high and fast coloratura (with the triplets in the “revenge” aria especially clean), and impressively exact timing between soprano and bassoon.

Sympathetic dramatic contrast came from the Queen’s daughter, Pamina, sung by Kristin Vogel. Paminas are sometimes cast as frail characters, but not in this case. Ms. Vogel sang with authority and sensitivity to the phrasing and mood of the text. Tenor James Price ably handled the role of Pamina’s love interest, Tamino. Comic relief came from bird-catcher Papageno, sung by baritone Kenneth Overton. Papageno cleverly played his own panpipe, proving a quirky tuning distinction from Tamino’s answering flute, and Mr. Overton was a warm and rich, yet precise singer. His Papagena, sung by soprano Erica Cochran, was captivating in her sparkle and light voice.

The role of High Priest Sarastro often vexes bass singers by its low register. It was refreshing to hear Tom McNichols, who has made a career out of basso profundo roles and was able to sing the role the way it was written, holding low notes for full lengths and clearly declaiming the text.

From the orchestra pit, conductor Joseph Pucciatti led an ensemble which played cleanly, keeping up well with Mr. Pucciatti’s brisk tempi. The only weak musical aspect may have been the chorus, which although well-trained in voice could have used more vocal bite and volume. Strength throughout the opera could be found in the ensembles (for which Mozart is known), with minor characters (some of whom came up through the Boheme Opera experience) showing solid stage and vocal presence.

One of the best attributes of Kendall Hall is its capability for multi-media, including the big screen at the back of the stage. Through the big screen, Virtual Set Designer J. Matthew Root was able to change scenes instantly, sometimes in the middle of arias, and the physical set onstage was able to stay simplistic against continually moving scenery and lighting. The forest scenes were particularly visual, with Tamino’s flute calling nymphs, rather than the customary forest animals.

Since 1982 Boheme Opera has presented all the greats of opera productions, but this was the company’s first Magic Flute. The days of “paying dues” in school auditoriums has clearly paid off — in its new home in Kendall Hall, the company can embark on a new era of opera performance with the best of technology and music.