June 5, 2013
INTO THE GARDEN: Hopewell’s fine art photography gallery features works by Martha Weintraub, whose “Conservatory,” shown here, is one of several garden images on view. Ms. Weintraub creates hand-colored gel transfers from her photographs to yield whimsical and often surrealistic landscapes. (Image Courtesy of Gallery 14)

INTO THE GARDEN: Hopewell’s fine art photography gallery features works by Martha Weintraub, whose “Conservatory,” shown here, is one of several garden images on view. Ms. Weintraub creates hand-colored gel transfers from her photographs to yield whimsical and often surrealistic landscapes.
(Image Courtesy of Gallery 14)

Photographers Martha Weintraub, Rhoda Kassof-Isaac, and Wiebke Martens feature in a joint exhibition at Hopewell’s fine photography Gallery 14, opening Friday June 7 and running through July 7.

Ms. Weintraub has a series of “Into the Garden” images in the show. “Since the ancient Egyptians, people have been taming the wilderness into spaces reflecting beauty, style, and status,” says Ms. Weintraub, who likens a garden to a work of art “Like painters, garden designers plan perspectives of foreground, middle, and background in their compositions. Designs thus express more than the flowers, trees, shrubs, and water features they may include; history and geography influence design; European and American gardens differ from the gardens of the Far East, which value irregularity and surprise.”

Ms. Weintraub approaches her photography as if it were painting rather than a record of reality. In Photoshop she often improvises, combining and modifying different elements to create a composition. Some of her work is whimsical and surrealistic with imaginary and colorful landscapes, while other work is sensitive consisting of lovely botanical renditions. In either case the viewer is invited to immerse oneself in quiet contemplation.

She has visited many gardens near her home and in travels abroad. For her garden images, she creates hand-colored gel transfers, post computer. She begins by taking photographs, which she then converts to black and white positives and prints on transfer film. Using a gel medium and a roller, she transfers the positives to artist’s water color paper and then hand-colors each image using water color pencils and acrylic paints.

The results are impressions of gardens, not literal translations. Her work is reminiscent of illustrations found in 19th century English literature, etchings, and Chinese and Japanese wood block prints.

Ms. Weintraub’s photographs have been chosen for a number of local and national juried shows. Her image City of Books was awarded Best in Show at Phillips’ Mill Annual Photography Exhibit in 2012. She is the current president of Gallery 14 and her work can be viewed at: www.martha
weintraub.com.

Both painter and photographer, Ms. Kassof-Isaac is a founding member of Gallery 14 and has been inspired by the group’s growth and reputation. “This gallery is a place where professional photographers gather to discuss, share, and explore the new directions that the art of photography is moving toward. Inspiration thrives, grows, and is content in this atmosphere,” she says. The collection of her works on show is titled “Look Again.”

Of the relationship between painting and photography in her work, she says; “Is this like having two languages? The two media speak with each other and offer greater inspiration.”

Ms. Kassof-Isaac is also a teacher and a psychoanalyst. She has lived in Switzerland and Italy for many years. Her photographic work is enhanced by painting on each image.

Ms. Martens has been fascinated by photography ever since receiving her first camera at age 12 and concentrated on travel and landscape when she grew up.

In recent years, she has significantly expanded the scope of her work, exploring the great variety of textures, patterns, and colors in nature.

Last year, on a tour of Iceland, she was captivated by the landscapes, from farm houses in lush, green, pastoral settings to surreal black tuff ring volcanoes. Looking closely, she discovered small flowers covering an orange rock face, algae growing on stones like hair, and beautiful basalt formations. Her images capture the contrasting colors of Iceland. Her collection “Colors of Iceland” is in Gallery 14‘s Goodkind Gallery.

Her work has previously been exhibited at Dalet Gallery in Philadelphia, Art Way Gallery in Plainsboro, and the Bank of Princeton in Lambertville, among others.

For more information and gallery hours, call (609) 333-8511.

Art Times Two Gallery, Princeton Brain and Spine Care, 731 Alexander Road, presents photos by Eileen Hohmuth-Lemonick and Kris Giacobbe, titled “REPORT: Providing Health Care Where Basic Needs are Unmet” through November. View by appointment. Call (609) 203-4622.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “EAT,” a show by photographer John Treichler, through June 9. (609) 397-4588.

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, “Unchained, the Bike Art Show” through June 13. The show explores the intersection of art and bike culture. Visit www.art
workstrenton.org.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street, has “Neighborhood Portrait: Documenting the Witherspoon-Jackson Community” on permanent exhibit. “Mimesis,” curated by Thaddeus Erdahl with works by regional ceramics artists, runs through June 15. www.artscouncil
ofprinceton.org.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has “Cooking for Change,” photos by Steve Riskind and text by Doris Friedensohn, through June 7.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Pennington Road, Ewing Township, presents “Art, Innovation and Ideas,” a juried K-12 exhibition through June 23 including work by students from all over the state. Artist Faith Ringgold is among the jurors.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place, has “Dangerous Blossoms,” a mixed-media exhibit, through July 19. Visit www.drgreenway.org.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents the Delaware Valley Fine Crafts Invitational and “Memories of Warsaw,” paintings and drawings by Kyle Hamilton, June 15-July 28. “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909” is June 15-September 22. The opening reception for all three shows is June 22, 7-9 p.m. A fine craft demonstration by Joyce Inderbitzin and Geoffrey Noden is July 14, 2 p.m. (609) 989-1191.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has “Your True Friend and Enemy: Princeton and the Civil War” in the Mudd Manuscript Library through July 31. “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History from Jamestown to Appomattox” is on view through August.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has works by George W. Taylor in July. Visit photogallery14.com.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has “Spring Splash,” works by Watercolorists Unlimited, through June 30.

Grounds for Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, has Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” in the East Gallery through July. In the Meadow, “THRE3” and “MYTHOS” are on view. Visit www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, has photographs from its collection in the Princeton Pride Gallery. “We Love Princeton: Stories from the Street” and “Einstein at Home” are also on view. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Transformations II: Works in Steel by Karl Stirner” through June 16.  “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Form, Rhythm, Song” is on view through September 29. “Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality” is exhibited June 8-September 8. Visit www.
michenerartmuseum.org.

Jane, 7 Spring Street, hosts “The James McPhillips Museum and Gift Shop Show” through June 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” through June 23. “Henri-Gabriel Ibels” is exhibited through September 8. Works by Russian artist Leonid Sokov are displayed through July 14. “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derriere L’Etoile Studio” is on view through September 29. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music” is on view through September 13.

Lawrence Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, shows Robert Allard’s pen and ink and pencil drawings through June 30. A reception is June 15, 1-4 p.m. Visit mcl.org.

Morpeth Contemporary, 43 West Broad Street, Hopewell, presents paintings by Ann O’Connor, titled “reverie,” through June 15.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, shows “Coastal Impression, Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940” through September 29. Visit www.morven.org.

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, has in it’s second floor gallery a Drip Art Series by members of the Arctists Collective. A reception is June 14, 6-9 p.m. It is sponsored by The Arc Mercer. www.arcmercer.org.

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Erdman Gallery, 20 Library Place, exhibits works by master iconographers and apprentices of the Prosopon School through June 30.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe” through June 9. “Picturing Power: Capitalism, Democracy, and American Portraiture” is on view through June 30. “1913: The Year of Modernism” is on display through June 23. From June 29-September 15, “Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” is exhibited. “American Prospects: 19th Century City Views by William James Bennett” is shown through July 14. 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.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has “Away We Go,” a group exhibition by Art+10, through July 2.

Straube Center, 1 Straube Center Boulevard, Pennington, shows Jay McClellan’s “Tip, Honey & Lucky-Bold Barks” paintings through June 14. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, has works
by Jordana Scheer through June 22.

Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington, has recent watercolors by Linda Bradshaw through June 29.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, exhibits “WW33: Full Circles,” by artists aged 13-33, through June 15. From June 15-July 20, “Full Circles/Painters Circle” shows the work of older artists. The opening reception is June 23, 4-6 p.m. (609) 716-1931.

Witherspoon Hall, 400 Witherspoon Street, will exhibit “A Princeton Mix,” a collage mural by Nancy Shill, with a dedication June 6 from 5-6:30 p.m. Sponsored by the Arts Council of Princeton, the mural is made entirely of materials found or collected in Princeton. Also on view will be collages by students who were in Ms. Shill’s workshops.

THIS IS THE PERFECT PLACE FOR OUR HIDEAWAY!: The three teens, Patrick (Gabriel Basso, left), Biaggio (Moises Arias, center), and Joe (Nick Robinson) have found a clearing in the woods that is the ideal place for them to build a shack so they can run away from their controlling parents for the summer.

THIS IS THE PERFECT PLACE FOR OUR HIDEAWAY!: The three teens, Patrick (Gabriel Basso, left), Biaggio (Moises Arias, center), and Joe (Nick Robinson) have found a clearing in the woods that is the ideal place for them to build a shack so they can run away from their controlling parents for the summer.

Freshman year of high school has just ended for Patrick (Gabriel Basso) who isn’t looking forward to spending the summer under the same roof as his over protective parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), who monitor his every move and tease him mercilessly about his raging hormones. The situation’s even worse for Joe (Nick Robinson) whose widowed father’s (Nick Offerman) way of grieving involves belittling and grounding Joe at every opportunity.

One night at a party, the best friends come up with a solution to their predicament when they discover a clearing in the middle of the forest. Why not build a house out in the woods where they will be free from the abuse and control of their meddling parents?

Swearing each other to secrecy, they hatch an impromptu plan to live off the land. They are joined in their clandestine endeavor by classmate Biaggio (Moises Arias), a mysterious eccentric contemporary who is willing to help them out.

Next, they’re building a shack out of materials they found on a construction lot, and forage for food by diving into a dumpster behind a restaurant. Meanwhile, their worried parents are calling the poice, convinced that the missing boys have been kidnapped.

That is the point of departure of The Kings of Summer, a quirky comedy that is also the directorial debut of Jordan Vogt-Roberts. His laugh-a-minute adventure is reminiscent of some the best of the rebellious adolescent genre movies, such as Stand by Me (1986), Superbad (2007), Ghost World (2001), Super 8 (2011) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

The picture’s clever script, written by first-timer Chris Galletta, is laced with hilarious scenes such as when Biaggio attempts to throw the police off their trail with a ransom note from the fictitious “Jamal Colorado” inspired by combining a black first name with one of the fifty states. Biaggio’s main role in the film is to provide intermittent comic relief.

The movie is about the trio’s struggle to survive while eluding the search party. The plot thickens with the sudden arrival of Kelly (Erin Moriarty) at their hideaway, a beautiful young woman who Joe is interested in dating.

Will Kelly prove to be the boys’ undoing, or will their bond remain intact? Let’s just say that between memorable performances by a cast of relative newcomers, and a haunting score by Ryan Miller, The Kings of Summer is a sleeper not to be missed.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity and underage alcohol consumption. In English and Italian with subtitles. Running time: 95 minutes. Distributor: CBS Films.

May 29, 2013

book rev1Minor miracles are literature’s stock in trade. Thus an English poet who died at 47 in 1599 can change the lives of a stableman’s son in London in 1813, a graduate student at Indiana University in 1944, and a sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley in 1963. The poet whose work enforced the change is Edmund Spenser. The intermediaries include John Keats’s friend and tutor Charles Cowden Clarke, followed some 130 years later by Rudolph Gottfried, editor of the Prose Works for the Variorium Edition of Spenser overseen by A.H. Judson, who wrote the Variorium biography (1945). The last and personally most significant intermediary, and the inspiration for this column, is Renaissance scholar Paul J. Alpers, who died at 80 on Sunday, May 19.

If there were a Mount Rushmore of pre-1700 English literature, Edmund Spenser would have a place up there along with Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. The sculptor would be working in the dark, however, since the elegant Elizabethan face on the cover of Andrew Hadfield’s Edmund Spenser: A Life (2012) is a portrait of “A gentleman said to be Edmund Spenser.” As the biographer himself admits, there is “no reliable image” of the poet, although he clearly has a soft spot in his heart for the “charming print” from English Literature for Boys and Girls that shows Spenser reading something of his to a suavely attentive Sir Walter Raleigh.

Clarke and Keats

According to Robert Gittings’s biography John Keats (1968), it was the 26-year-old C.C. Clarke’s reading of Spenser’s “Epithalamion” to the 18-year-old Keats that struck the “spark” which, in Clarke’s words, “fired the train of Keats’s poetic tendencies.” Keats was “so enchanted” that he took away the first volume of The Faerie Queen that night, and, as Clarke says, “ramped through” it “like a young horse turned into a Spring meadow.” Merely reading “Spring-headed Hydras and sea-shouldering Whales” wasn’t enough for him; according to Clarke, Keats “hoisted himself up, and looked burly and dominant as he repeated the last words.”

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1819 lecture on The Faerie Queen, the element outside “all particular space or time” that moves short, pugnacious, impressionable young men to mimic horses and whales is viewed in “the domains neither of history or geography” but “truly in land of Faery, that is, of mental space. The poet has placed you in a dream, a charmed sleep, and you neither wish, nor have the power, to inquire where you are, or how you got there.”

Although Keats’s first recorded poem, no surprise, was “Imitation of Spenser,” the Spenserian fancy flows most freely in his early letters along with citings from Shakespeare and other literary forebearers. Keats is still exulting in Spenser’s “Spring meadow,” as when a borrowing of “sun-shine in a shady place” from the first book of the Faerie Queen inspires his “Close to the source, bright, pure, and undefil’d/Whence gush the streams of song.”

The author of The Faerie Queen is all over a verse letter from 1816 to Clarke, with references to “Mulla’s stream” which flows near Spenser’s home in Kilcolman, and allusions to the Faerie Queen’s Belphoebe, Una, Archimago, and, in case you doubt where he’s coming from, “Spenserian vowels that elope with ease,/And float along like birds o’er summer seas.”

By the time he writes to Benjamin Bailey on 13 March 1818, Keats has abandoned “faery land” for an earthier element as he imagines ways to discourage his ailing brother Tom from coming to join him in Devonshire’s “splashy, rainy, misty snowy, foggy, haily floody, muddy slipshod County.” When he does fall back on Spenser, referring to the flowers that “have an Acrasian spell about them,” it’s only to launch another flight of fancy wherein he’s “able to beat off the devonshire waves like soap froth,” which, after references to Julius Caesar, England’s strong Men, and Edmond Ironside’s descendants,” brings him to one of those details his art and character are grounded on: “Scenery is fine — but human nature is finer — The Sward is richer for the tread of a real, nervous english foot.”

book rev2Spenser in Indiana

The Indiana University graduate student whose life was changed by Spenser enjoys reading to his six-year-old son from handsomely decorated and illustrated little books like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Stories from the Faerie Queen Told to the Children by Jeanie Lang, whose preface claims Edmund Spenser could see Fairyland “more clearly” than other men. In fact, the Indiana campus. made a perfect Fairyland for children living near the lofty limestone castle of the Union Building with its terraces and battlements and balconies for sentries and bowmen, and down below a moat we called the Jordan River, with a “draw bridge” across all two yards of it. A spacious greensward called Dunn Meadow fronted the castle, enriched by the tread of sneaker-footed female students firing arrows at red-blue-yellow bull’s eye targets on sunny afternoons while we staged our own Robin Hood-style tournaments with sticks for swords, riding the same imaginary horses on which we galloped downtown for cowboy-movie Saturday matinees. The campus woods on the other side of the castle were dark and deep with sunny Spenserian glades and “gloomy glens” like the one where Sir Guyon meets Mammon on his way to Merlin’s cave.

In the midst of these woods was the humble single-story building housing the offices and classrooms of the English Department where resident Spenserians Judson and Gottfried taught the courses that helped make a scholar of my father. What specifically lured him into the enchanted forests of academia, however, was Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender and its mysterious presenter, a personage known only by the initials “E.K.” My father’s mission to determine the identity of E.K., something no one had been able to do in just under 400 years (and to this day, it seems), led to an article for Studies in Philology taking issue with the theory that Spenser himself was E.K. The larger result was the plunge into Medieval studies that made Bloomington our home for the next 30 years. A decade and a half later I was reading The Faerie Queen in Rudolph Gottfried’s senior survey

Spenser at Berkeley

Of the UC Berkeley campus, which was once upon a time even more deeply wooded than Indiana’s, all I remember is the little bridge where my future wife and I sat talking for hours the night we met. Next year her life would be changed, not so much by Spenser as by the teaching of Paul Alpers. Berkeley in the mid-sixties was an exciting place to be. You could cut your political teeth at demonstrations led by Mario Savio; dance to the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore in San Francisco; hang out with filmmakers like Ben Van Meter who did the light shows at the Avalon Ballroom; have your math homework done by Phil Lesh of the Dead; and take classes from poets like Thom Gunn, critics like Stanley Fish, Stephen Orgel, Fred Crews of the Pooh Perplex, and celebrity teachers like Edward Teller.

Above and beyond all the political, cultural, and musical excitement was the experience of reading The Faerie Queen for a teacher who made the poem matter so much that you were up all night writing papers (often handed in late) meant to more than meet his expectations. The other teachers went about their business with varying degrees of professionalism. Although Alpers was a tall, imposing presence “from another world,” a graduate of Reuben Brower’s famous Hum 6 course at Harvard, he read and taught and lived Spenser earnestly, wholeheartedly, and unaffectedly. His essay on King Lear had just appeared in Brower and Poirier’s landmark anthology, In Defense of Reading (1963). Four years later Princeton University Press brought out Alpers’s magnum opus, The Poetry of the Faerie Queene. 

That undergraduate course in Spenser was the beginning of a 50 year friendship sharing books and films and MLA conventions. Jeanie Lang’s note at the beginning of Stories from the Faerie Queen says of Edmund Spenser the simple essence of what could be said of Paul Alpers: “He was brave and true and gentle, and loved so dearly all things that are beautiful and all things that are good, that his eyes could see Fairyland more clearly than the eyes of other men ever could.”

Andrew Hadfield’s biography is available at the Princeton Public Library.

PASTORAL PRINCETON: Charles McVicker’s oil painting, “Mustard Field, The Great Road”, will be one of his works on show in the joint exhibit with Lucy Graves McVicker opening with a reception from 3 to 6 p.m. this Sunday, June 2, at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mills, Route 29, Stockton.(Image Courtesy of the Artist)

PASTORAL PRINCETON: Charles McVicker’s oil painting, “Mustard Field, The Great Road”, will be one of his works on show in the joint exhibit with Lucy Graves McVicker opening with a reception from 3 to 6 p.m. this Sunday, June 2, at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mills, Route 29, Stockton. (Image Courtesy of the Artist)

Although they share their home and their lives, and have the creative impulse in common, husband and wife artists Lucy Graves McVicker and Charles McVicker rarely exhibit their artwork together. So, the show that opens this Sunday, June 2, at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mills in Stockton, promises to be a rare treat.

The exhibition, for which there is a reception from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, is titled “Opposites Attract,” appropriately enough. This is their first joint show in many years.

As the exhibition will demonstrate, each artist has maintained a unique approach borne of differing personalities, temperaments, and conceptions of art. Although they have worked side by side for many years, the couple say that they have not influenced each others’ output. Rather, with encouragement and humor, each has watched the other develop an individual artistic path.

Through critiques, art classes, and individual teaching, the couple has affected a broad range of local artists over the years.

The McVickers married after college when Charles was in the Army. Lucy supported her husband while he studied at The Art Center College of Design on the GI Bill, and raised the couple’s three daughters when they came to Princeton, during which time he commuted to Manhattan as a free-lance illustrator. When their youngest daughter, Heather, was in school, Lucy commuted to Parsons School of Design for two years to renew her own interest in painting.

WATER WORLD: This acrylic painting titled "Deep Water's Treasures," by Lucy Graves McVicker will be  on show in a rare joint husband and wife exhibition opening, Sunday, June 2, and running through June 15 at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mills, Route 29, Stockton.

WATER WORLD: This acrylic painting titled “Deep Water’s Treasures,” by Lucy Graves McVicker will be on show in a rare joint husband and wife exhibition opening, Sunday, June 2, and running through June 15 at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mills, Route 29, Stockton.

Mr. McVicker, then became an assistant professor of art at The College of New Jersey, and both artists began to enter local, statewide, and national juried exhibits.

Both have won significant honors and awards in state and national competitions and both are called on to serve as jurors for art exhibitions.

Charles McVicker has works in the permanent collections of the U.S. Capital, The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, and Princeton University. As one of the founders of the Princeton Artists Alliance, he has seen this organization expand the scope of art through significant venues such as Bristol-Myers Squibb Gallery, The Newark Museum, and the Noyes Museum in Oceanville, NewJersey.

Artwork by Lucy Graves McVicker is in the collections of Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson and Johnson, AtlantiCare, and ADP Corporation. She was represented by Janet Hunt of the Coryell Gallery in Lambertville for over 15 years.

Both have paintings in the collection of the DuPont Corporation, and their artworks have recently been selected to be hung in both the Capital Health System’s new hospital, and The University Medical Center at Princeton.

The exhibition benefits the Delaware River Mill Society and takes place through June 15 at the Sawmill Gallery at Prallsville Mills, Route 29, north of Lambertville, Gallery hours are: Tuesday through Sunday, 1-6 p.m. Charles McVicker will lead a gallery “Talk and Tour” on Wednesday June 5, at 2 p.m. and Lucy Graves McVicker will offer a watercolor demonstration on Saturday, June 8 at 2 p.m.

AOY Art Center at the Patterson Farm, 949 Mirror Lake Road, Yardley, Pa., has the Artists of Yardley 2nd Annual Juried Show through June 2. Original paintings, photographs, and sculpture by regional artists is on view. Visit www.artists
ofyardley.org.

Art Times Two Gallery, Princeton Brain and Spine Care, 731 Alexander Road, presents photos by Eileen Hohmuth-Lemonick and Kris Giacobbe, titled “REPORT: Providing Health Care Where Basic Needs are Unmet” through November. View by appointment. Call (609) 203-4622.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “EAT,” a show by photographer John Treichler, through June 9. (609) 397-4588.

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, “Unchained, the Bike Art Show” through June 13. The show explores the intersection of art and bike culture. Visit www.art
workstrenton.org.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street, has “Neighborhood Portrait: Documenting the Witherspoon-Jackson Community” on permanent exhibit. “Mimesis,” curated by Thaddeus Erdahl with works by regional ceramics artists, runs through June 15. www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has “Cooking for Change,” photos by Steve Riskind and text by Doris Friedensohn, through June 7.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Pennington Road, Ewing Township, presents “Art, Innovation and Ideas,” a juried K-12 exhibition June 2-23 including work by students from all over the state. Artist Faith Ringgold is among the jurors.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place, has “Dangerous Blossoms,” a mixed-media exhibit, through July 19. Visit www.drgreenway.org.

Douglass Library, Rutgers, 8 Chapel Drive, New Brunswick, has “Trans Technology: Circuits of Culture, Self Belonging” through June 3. The show is part of the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents the Delaware Valley Fine Crafts Invitational and “Memories of Warsaw,” paintings and drawings by Kyle Hamilton, June 15-July 28. “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909” is June 15-September 22. The opening reception for all three shows is June 22, 7-9 p.m. A fine craft demonstration by Joyce Inderbitzin and Geoffrey Noden is July 14, 2 p.m. (609) 989-1191.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has “Your True Friend and Enemy: Princeton and the Civil War” in the Mudd Manuscript Library through July 31. “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History from Jamestown to Appomattox” is on view through August.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has “Where the Land and Water Meet: A Father and Son Show” by Richard and Win Trenner through June 2. Visit photogallery14.com.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has “Spring Splash,” works by Watercolorists Unlimited, June 2-30. A reception is June 2, 1-3 p.m.

Grounds for Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, has Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” in the East Gallery through July. In the Meadow, “THRE3” and “MYTHOS” are on view. Visit www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, has photographs from its collection in the Princeton Pride Gallery. “We Love Princeton: Stories from the Street” and “Einstein at Home” are also on view. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Transformations II: Works in Steel by Karl Stirner” through June 16. “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Form, Rhythm, Song” is on view through September 29. “Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality” is exhibited June 8-September 8. Visit www.michener
artmuseum.org.

Jane, 7 Spring Street, hosts “The James McPhillips Museum and Gift Shop Show” through June 14. Meet the artist June 1, 12-4 p.m.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” through June 23. “Henri-Gabriel Ibels” is exhibited through September 8. Works by Russian artist Leonid Sokov are displayed through July 14. “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derriere L’Etoile Studio” is on view through September 29. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music” is on view through September 13.

Lucas Gallery, Lewis Center for the Arts, 185 Nassau Street, Princeton University, has works by graduating seniors in the Program in Visual Arts, through June 4.

Morpeth Contemporary, 43 West Broad Street, Hopewell, presents paintings by Ann O’Connor, titled “reverie,” through June 15.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, shows “Coastal Impression, Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940” through September 29. Visit www.morven.org.

The Nassau Club, 6 Mercer Street, has new paintings by Shirley Kern, “The Liminal Line,” through May 31. Call (609) 924-0850.

New Hope Arts Center, A Space Gallery, 2 Stockton Avenue, New Hope, Pa. shows “The Not For Sale Art Show and Salon Party” by The Artist Circle, weekends through June 2.

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, has traditional Japanese watercolors and calligraphy by Taiko Lyding.

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, has in it’s second floor gallery a Drip Art Series by members of the
Arctists Collective. A reception is June 14, 6-9 p.m. It is sponsored by The Arc Mercer. www.arcmercer.org.

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Erdman Gallery, 20 Library Place, exhibits works by master iconographers and apprentices of the Prosopon School through June 30.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe” through June 9. “Picturing Power: Capitalism, Democracy, and American Portraiture” is on view through June 30. “1913: The Year of Modernism” is on display through June 23. From June 29-September 15, “Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” is exhibited. 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.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has “Space and Light” abstract paintings and portraits by Jannick Wildberg through June 4. “Away We Go,” a group exhibition by Art+10, is June 4-July 2. “Cosmic Works,” pastels by Joel Rudin, is June 2.

Straube Center, 1 Straube Center Boulevard, Pennington, shows Jay McClellan’s “Tip, Honey & Lucky-Bold Barks” paintings through June 14. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, has works by Jordana Scheer through June 22.

Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington, has recent watercolors by Linda Bradshaw through June 29.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, exhibits “WW33: Full Circles,” by artists aged 13-33, through June 15. From June 15-July 20, “Full Circles/Painters Circle” shows the work of older artists. The opening reception is June 23, 4-6 p.m. (609) 716-1931.

YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT??!!: The gangster Marshall (John Goodman, left) accompanied by his sidekick (John Epps) refuses to divulge where he stashed the $21 million dollars he stole from Chow (Ken Jeong, not shown). So it is up to the wolfpack to figure out where the money is and free Doug, who has been kidnapped by Chow.

YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT??!!: The gangster Marshall (John Goodman, left) accompanied by his sidekick (John Epps) refuses to divulge where he stashed the $21 million dollars he stole from Chow (Ken Jeong, not shown). So it is up to the wolfpack to figure out where the money is and free Doug, who has been kidnapped by Chow.

When we last left the wolfpack, (Doug, Stu, Phil, and Alan), the boys were in Thailand for the wedding of Stu (Ed Helms) and Lauren (Jamie Chung). Of course, before the bride and groom could tie the knot, the men found themselves separated from Doug (Justin Bartha) who was suffering from amnesia following a wild night of partying in a seedy part of Bangkok.

But that was two years ago and now everybody has settled down into humdrum, uneventful lives in suburban Los Angeles. Everybody that is, except Alan (Zach Galifiniakis). He went off his medications recently which might explain such bizarre behavior as driving down the freeway with a giraffe in a trailer.

However, after his father (Jeffrey Tambor) passes away suddenly, Alan takes a turn for the worse and his pals stage an intervention and drive him to a mental health facility in Arizona for help.

However, before they arrive, their car is run off the road and Doug is kidnapped for ransom by Chow (Ken Jeong), the mobster you may remember from Hangover I and II. He and his henchman (Mike Epps) demand that the wolfpack retrieve $21 million in gold stolen from them by Marshall (John Goodman), a ruthless gangster who stashed the bars of bullion in the walls of a mansion located somewhere in Tijuana.

That is the point of departure of The Hangover Part III, a finale for the trilogy which is an improvement over Part II yet still pales in comparison to the zany original. At least you don’t develop a nagging sense of déjà vu watching this screwball adventure, even if it isn’t exactly laugh out loud funny.

The story takes Phil (Bradley Cooper) and the rest of the wolfpack south of the border and then on to Las Vegas for another round of male-bonding rituals. Once there, Stu stumbles upon his ex (Heather Graham) and Alan finds the woman of his dreams (Melissa McCarthy), a big hint that the trilogy is destined to be stretched into a tetralogy.

Very Good (***). Rated R for sexuality, drug use, violence, brief nudity, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 100 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

May 22, 2013

RecordReviewI’m looking at a photograph of my father when he was a graduate student at Indiana University. He’s wearing a sleeveless sweater and in his lap is a princely male Siamese cat named Kiloo. He had purchased Kiloo for a nominal sum from an opera singer everyone called Madame Manski, who, I have just discovered, sang at the Met, as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre, Elsa in Lohengrin, Venus in Tannhäuser, and Gutrune in Twilight of the Gods before moving on to sing Isolde in Tristan und Isolde under the direction of Bruno Walter at the Vienna State Opera. Being only six at the time, I would not have been as impressed by this information as I am now, faced with the daunting prospect of delivering a column on Wagner’s 200th birthday (1813-1883). I own no LPs or CDs of Wagner’s music and have never been to a concert, unless you count the production of Parsifal I was coerced into attending at a time when my interest in “serious music” had peaked with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.

One of the handful of Wagnerians I know is a London research consultant who recently told me of the time he somewhat nervously introduced his 15-year-old daughter to “her first real experience of Wagner,” a performance of Siegfried at Covent Garden. Booking the tickets, he’d been worried she might not “take to it.” At the end of the first act he turned to her to see how she liked it, and she said, “Daddy, you’ve changed my life!” They’ve been sharing Wagner ever since, including memorable productions of the Ring at the Royal Albert Hall in 1998 and Covent Garden in 2007.

When my father turned to see how I felt after the first half of Parsifal, I didn’t need to say anything. My bleary eyes and stifled yawns told the story. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t want to get it.

Wagner, the Film

In my five-day crash course I’ve tried to catch up with Wagner by listening to a stack of CDs from the library and watching Tony Palmer’s magnificent nine-hour-long 1983 made-for-television Wagner with Richard Burton (1925-1984) in the title role. The film took me and my wife four nights to get through, and though our eyes may have been a little bleary, we weren’t yawning. In fact, Wagner may be the most visually arresting, splendidly staged film biography ever made. The version cut in half and shown on Channel 13 in 1986 was deemed a “colossal disaster” by John J. O’Connor in the New York Times (a gross misjudgment that can be half-excused because he was watching only half a film and you can be pretty sure that the missing parts were unmissable).

As O’Connor rightly points out, the film doesn’t ignore or soft-pedal Wagner’s anti-semitism (though it’s not “rabid,” as O’Connor terms it, but casual, constant, and matter of fact). Nor is his arrogance, or nationalistic fervor glossed over or excused. He’s an insufferable egomaniac who assumes that as the great genius of the age he has the right to take full advantage of his friends’ time, money, devotion, and wives, and when someone points this out, he says, keeping a straight face (we laughed out loud), “But that’s what friends are for.” It’s hard to imagine Burton’s Wagner as the storm-bearing, sword-brandishing godfather of the Third Reich because he’s being played by a Welshman with Shakespeare in his DNA and less than two years to live who may sense that this is his last great part, probably the most challenging since his Hamlet 20 years before. And there’s a Shakespearean force and wit in his Wagner; you suspect he’s thinking of Hamlet’s advice to the players (“Speak the speech, I pray you”) every time he tells his singers and musicians how to perform his music. True to Hamlet’s lesson, Burton never “tears a passion to tatters to split the ears of the groundlings.” In particular, the conversations with Ronald Pickup’s Nietzsche are brilliantly and subtly played by both actors and Nietzsche’s extraordinary dinner table soliloquy must be one of the many brilliant moments dropped from the version of the film seen by O’Connor.

Chaplin and Levine

My Open Sesame to Wagner was the Prelude to Lohengrin. Not only did the unearthly beauty of this nine-and-a half-minute-long piece of music hold me, it followed me around. I knew I’d heard it somewhere before. Then a reference to the music haunting me appeared on the front page of Monday’s New York Times with a picture of James Levine on his return to the Met, conducting from his wheel chair “a serene, poised and glowing” account of “the Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin.” A week ago I would have drawn a blank on that sentence. Having lived in and been stalked by that music long enough by now, all I can say is “What?” Poised? Serene? This is soul-stealing music by the composer James Huneker calls “The greatest poet of passion the world has yet encountered.”

If you want to see poetry and poise and passion, look at Charlie Chaplin’s travesty of Hitler in The Great Dictator. The scene where he does a pas de deux with a helium globe of the world may be the most stylized solo turn in his repertoire. Think of it — in September 1940 an entertainer beloved around the world disappears into a Nazi uniform, with mock swastikas and gleaming jackboots, taking advantage of that little dab of mustache that the Dictator and the Tramp have in common. A lesser performer with the same mission would go heavy, making something demented and demonic of the globe ballet while prescribing more of the same for the soundtrack. Chaplin becomes an almost maidenly Hitler, the world is his poem, until his lust gets the better of him, prompting a subdued fit of mad-genius cackling. Then the lover embracing, nuzzling, and noodling the globe becomes a child with a toy, bumping it with his bum, Chaplinesquely jackbooting it up to the ceiling. It should be uproarious. But it isn’t, not really. Somehow the whole performance has become something you feel, it’s coming up behind you, unsettling you, undermining you, which is when the balloon bursts and the music stops.

Yes, the music! It’s been there throughout the bizarre ballet, music of subtle, insidious splendor, so piercingly, uncannily beautiful, that you could close your eyes and simply submit to it, cry with it, die with it, if you weren’t already so thoroughly transfixed by Chaplin’s art; the music isn’t there to accompany the caperings of a giddy madman, it’s there for Chaplin, it’s the melodic manifestation of his genius. And though I must have seen that sequence many times before this week — a standard item in any anthology of Chaplin’s greatest moments — I never paid much attention to the inappropriate delicacy of the music, never gave the source of it a thought,  assuming Chaplin had composed it himself, as he did the music for his other full-length films. It’s only thanks to this past week’s crash course in Wagner that I can finally appreciate Chaplin’s crowning touch, to score his devastating caricature of Der Führer with Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin. Did he also comprehend that the beautiful music he was using contained elements of the same emotional dynamite that made Wagner the Reich’s inspirational maestro? In his autobiography Chaplin says that he would never have dared to make that film had he known what was going on in the concentration camps.

Baudelaire Floating

Eighty years before Chaplin released The Great Dictator, the same music opened a program of Wagner at the Theatre des Italiens in Paris, with Wagner conducting. According to Enid Starkie’s biography of Baudelaire, the author of Les fleurs du mal was in the audience experiencing Wagner for the first time as “one long revelation.” In his landmark essay on Wagner, said to be the only piece he ever wrote about a musical event, Baudelaire describes listening with eyes closed to the Prelude to Lohengrin and feeling as if “lifted from the earth,” “released from the bonds of gravity,” aware of “the extraordinary thrill of pleasure which dwells in high places,” imagining himself “in the grip of a profound reverie, in an absolute solitude … with an immense horizon and a wide diffusion of light; an immensity with no other decor but itself” until he comes to a “full conception of a soul moving about in a luminous medium, of an ecstasy composed of knowledge and joy, hovering high above the natural world” [Baudelaire’s italics].

Proust’s Telephone

Another of Wagner’s French admirers, Marcel Proust didn’t need to go to a concert to fall under his spell. He describes hearing the music in everyday sounds, like the opening and closing of a door that renders “those broken, voluptuous, plaintive phrases that overlap the chant of the pilgrims towards the end of the Overture to Tannhäuser,” or in the sound of the telephone while Marcel waits in lonely anguish for a call from Albertine that resembles, when it finally comes, “the shepherd’s pipe in Tristan.” Wagner is present all through Remembrance of Things Past, as when, among many instances, the fictitious composer Vinteuil’s “little phrase” is compared to a theme in Tristan, or when Swann’s Odette expresses a passion for Wagner and thinks of visiting Bayreuth, and when during the First War the sirens are “Wagnerian,” evoking the “Ride of the Valkyries” and what other music could hail “the arrival of the Germans?”

Wagner’s Reach

After citing “a host of circumstances, not the least Wagner’s own writings” that “drove his music into the proximity of the most evil political system in the history of Western Europe,” Nicholas Spice’s recent London Review of Books essay, “Is Wagner Bad for Us” explicitly “skirts … the fraught question of the association of Wagner’s works with National Socialism” because “the subject of Wagner and the Nazis is too big to be fitted meaningfully into a set of general reflections on the composer.”

Filming Wagner in the early 1980s, Richard Burton’s instincts brought him into contact with “the fraught question.” At the end of his life as an actor, surely knowing it’s his last hurrah, he’s summoning the power he found playing Hamlet, where the ecstasy of acting, the overflow of spirit and language, made theatrical sense of acts of violence like the killing of Polonius that in turn drives Ophelia to drown herself; he must have recognized a comparable force in his Wagner. It’s the art of excess that James Huneker was writing about at the turn of the previous century, with his reference to a fascinating “poet of passion” whose “demoniac art … enchants, thrills, and makes mock of all spiritual theories about the divine in music.”

In the preludes to Lohengrin and Tristan, Wagner becomes something else altogether, something perhaps best described by his great counterpart Verdi, whose bicentennial is also this year. After experiencing Tristan and Isolde, Verdi said “that he could never quite grasp the fact that it had been created by a mere human being.”

The Verdi quote is from Bryan Magee’s The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy (Holt 2000), which I read around in, particularly the chapter on “Wagner’s Misleading Reputation.” For an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the 2010 Robert Lepage production of the Ring, see Wagner’s Dream (2012), which the New York Times called “the rare backstage film that maintains a level head even in moments of crisis.” The DVD is available at the library, which also has the complete version of Tony Palmer’s Wagner that by all rights should be out in Blu-Ray for the bicentennial. WKCR 89.9FM New York, the radio station of Columbia University, will commemorate Wagner’s 200th birthday with a 48-hour broadcast of the operas, from Rienzi to Parsifal. It begins today, May 22, and runs through May 23. The Princeton Festival will present Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre on Saturday, June 22 at 8 p.m. and Sunday June 29 at 3 p.m. It will be the Festival’s first Wagnerian production.

ART, INNOVATION, IDEAS: Faith Ringgold will be one of four artists and teachers judging submissions from local students to The College of New Jersey’s exhibition, “Art, Innovation and Ideas,” opening Sunday June 2. Students from high schools in Princeton and Lawrenceville will be featured in the TCNJ art gallery. An opening reception will be held at the gallery, Sunday, June 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, call (609) 771-2633, or visit: visit www.tcnj.edu/artgallery.

ART, INNOVATION, IDEAS: Faith Ringgold will be one of four artists and teachers judging submissions from local students to The College of New Jersey’s exhibition, “Art, Innovation and Ideas,” opening Sunday June 2. Students from high schools in Princeton and Lawrenceville will be featured in the TCNJ art gallery. An opening reception will be held at the gallery, Sunday, June 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, call (609) 771-2633, or visit: visit www.tcnj.edu/artgallery.

This summer, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) will showcase artwork by New Jersey’s K-12 students alongside innovative lessons designed by their talented art teachers.

Students from Princeton High School, The Hun School, Maurice Hawk School in Princeton, as well as students from Notre Dame High School and Slackwood School in Lawrenceville have artwork accepted to the exhibition, “Art, Innovation, and Ideas,” which is co-organized by Dr. Lisa LaJevic, assistant professor and program coordinator of art education at TCNJ, and Emily Croll, director of TCNJ’s Art Gallery.

The exhibition opens in the college’s Art and Interactive Multimedia (AIMM) Building on Sunday, June 2 and continues through June 23. An opening reception will be held at the gallery, Sunday, June 2, from 1 to 3 p.m.

Of the more than 440 artworks submitted to “Art, Innovation, and Ideas,” 121 submissions were accepted after review by a jury of contemporary artists, curators, and educators, including internationally acclaimed artist, illustrator, and author Faith Ringgold.

Known for her painted story quilts, Ms. Ringgold has works in the permanent collections of many museums including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her many awards include 22 honorary doctorates. A devoted advocate for art education, she has illustrated sixteen children’s books, eleven of which she authored. Her first book, Tar Beach, was a Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration.

Other jurors include New Jersey artist and educator Aylin Green; Baltimore-based sculptor and fine artist Christine Tillman; painter and director of Art Collaborations in Princeton, Heather Barros; and TCNJ Gallery Director Emily Croll.

Ms. Green is currently the membership director at Grounds for Sculpture. She holds a Masters of Ed from Tufts University in Boston, Mass., and a BFA in Sculpture from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Her mixed media paintings and cast metal sculpture has been exhibited at galleries and art centers throughout the region including Philadelphia, Princeton, and Trenton. She has taught classes for adults and children in a variety of traditional and experimental media in a range of educational settings including private studios, city and county programs, public schools, and art centers.

Ms. Tillman is primarily a sculptor who draws. Her main interests lie in ideas surrounding handmade celebrations and man-made interpretations of natural forms. She earned her MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Iowa.

Ms. Barros directs Art Collaborations, an art school in Princeton offering year-round classes for children, teens and adults. She began teaching children at the Arts Council of Princeton in 1990 and now directs art programs and summer art camps at the Arts Council, Montgomery Cultural Center, Charter School of Princeton, and now with Art Collaborations. She studied oil painting with Gregory Perkel for ten years and paints every day, en plein air every week. “I’ve visited art museums around the world and I’ve seen some of the greatest art ever made, but children’s art work is still my favorite genre,” says Ms. Barros. “I once thought that if I surrounded myself with children’s art long enough that I could do it as well. I’m not even close.”

“Art, Innovation, and Ideas” is intended to connect student learning and art to current real world issues. It aims to exhibit meaningful two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and media artworks and to recognize efforts by New Jersey art educators to push the boundaries of the arts in K-12 schools. Submissions were received from more than 100 cities and towns across the state.

“As the world is changing, it is vital that arts pedagogy and curriculum reflects the world in which we live,” says Dr. LaJevic. “As such, I support innovative art making that connects student learning and art to the real world, academic subjects, social issues, big ideas, and/or contemporary art.”

TCNJ Art Gallery is located in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building (AIMM) on the campus at 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing. In June, the gallery is open to the public free of charge, Wednesdays and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. and by special appointment for groups and school visits.

For more information, call (609) 771-2633, or visit: visit www.tcnj.edu/edu/artgallery.

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) completed its 2012-13 Princeton concert series in grand fashion on Friday night with a performance full of precision, operatic flair, and innovative musical composition. Music Director Jacques Lacombe led the orchestra in a program of two works linked by musical richness and complexity, combined with a concerto capturing the essence and humor of the growing child, all served to a wildly enthusiastic audience in Richardson Auditorium.

The opening work commemorated the birth year of towering composer Richard Wagner, who would have been 200 years old as this review arrives on Princeton doorsteps. Wagner’s Prelude to his monumental opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg brought together the major themes of the opera in a majestic flow well captured by the New Jersey Symphony. The opening phrases showed a bit of heavy playing, but the strings developed a leaner sound for the second section with clean and stately motives from the brass. Mr. Lacombe kept the tempi moving along, marked by sinuous solo lines from oboist James Roe, flutist Bart Feller, and clarinetist Karl Herman, and a solid underpinning from the tuba, played by Derek Fenstermacher. Mr. Lacombe took an especially broad approach to the close of the work, with precise rhythmic motives from the brass.

As part of its New Jersey Roots Project, the orchestra presented the east coast premiere of Princeton composer Steven Mackey’s Stumble to Grace: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra — a unique piece capturing an aspect of everyday life in innovative musical style. All parents can identify with the struggles, both poignant and humorous, of a child learning to walk, as Dr. Mackey characterized, “learning to become human.” A joint commission by NJSO, the St. Louis Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, Stumble to Grace musically depicts several stages of child development, emphasized by a huge range of percussion instruments and effects.

The piece began with what sounded like looking out over a collection of child’s toys, followed by an effect with which all parents are familiar — the sound of things dropping. Piano soloist Orli Shaham (to whom the work is dedicated) played the appealing jazzy piano lines with swing as Mr. Lacombe kept a crisp beat from the accompanying orchestra. The musical communication and jazz rhythms between soloist and orchestra was exact, with a light right hand in the piano perfectly answered by the orchestra in the first section. Stumble to Grace changed character among its five movements (much like the day-to-day changes of a growing child), and Ms. Shaham and the NJSO captured the different moods well. So varied were the percussive and orchestral effects that this is the kind of piece one might want to hear again just to catch all the different instrumental tricks.

Tchaikovsky’s massive yet elegant Symphony No. 5 in E minor has been a cornerstone of the orchestra’s late spring concert offerings, and clearly one with which Mr. Lacombe is very familiar. Composed in 1888, the four-movement symphony is cyclical (considered one of Tchaikovsky’s “motto” symphonies), with a theme which recurs in some form in each movement. Like many of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic works, the piece retains an element of tragedy, but has an overall arch leading to triumph which Mr. Lacombe captured with a musical approach emphasizing elegance and clean harmonic flow. Clarinetists Karl Herman and Andrew Lamy opened the first movement in dark and stately fashion, as Mr. Lacombe took his time leading up to a lilting first theme. The wind melodies maintained an even flow, with solos from Mr. Herman and bassoonist Robert Wagner. An almost imperceptible beginning marked the second movement Andante with the beginnings of triumph well introduced by an expressive solo from hornist Chris Komer. The winds took charge in this movement, with graceful solo playing by Mr. Herman, Mr. Wagner, and oboist James Roe topping off the orchestral fabric.

This was a symphony of great tunes and melodic phrases, and Mr. Lacombe paid tribute to its light-hearted touch in the third movement Valse, saving an operatic crescendo for the fourth movement Finale. The work closed in grand fashion, with crisp trumpets and a joyous coda which seemed to characterize the NJSO’s season this year. A lively encore excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet score sent the audience home in high spirits, no doubt looking forward to more great music from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra next year.

ENJOYING A BREAK FROM THEIR NON-STOP SAILING DUTIES: The crew of the Kon Tiki take advantage of what was surely a rare moment in their trip to enjoy a calm moment in their long and dangerous voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

ENJOYING A BREAK FROM THEIR NON-STOP SAILING DUTIES: The crew of the Kon Tiki take advantage of what was surely a rare moment in their trip to enjoy a calm moment in their long and dangerous voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

At the beginning of the 20th century it was generally agreed that Polynesia had been settled by Asians arriving from the Far East. But it’s one thing for a professor to sit in an ivory tower and speculate about who might have discovered the island group some 1,500 years ago and quite another to go about proving a theory by attempting to replicate the putative pioneers’ feat.

While doing research in the Marquesas on the Isle of Fatu Hiva in the mid-30s, a Norwegian anthropologist named Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Hagen) came up with a novel idea about the roots of the natives. After studying the local fauna and flora, watching the flow of the tides, and listening to aborigine folklore about their ancestors’ arduous journey towards the setting sun, he reasoned that the region must have been settled by tribes migrating there from South America.

When his iconoclastic idea was roundly ridiculed by his colleagues, Thor decided to prove his theory by organizing a 4,300-mile expedition from Peru to Polynesia. Even though he knew nothing about sailing, and couldn’t swim, he had the sense to assemble a team capable of assisting him in the dangerous endeavor.

They built a balsa wood raft identical to the type used by indigenous people in pre-Columbian times by meticulously following their methods of construction down to the smallest detail. And since they would not be able to steer this vessel, christened the Kon-Tiki, Thor estimated it would take about three months for the currents and winds to take them to their destination.

His intrepid crew was comprised of four fellow Norwegians and a Swede, including his childhood friend, Erik Hesselberg (Odd Magnus Williamson), the navigator; radioman Knut Haugland (Tobias Santelmann), a decorated World War II veteran; Torstein Raaby (Jakob Oftebro), another radio expert; Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), an engineer; and Bengt Danielsson (Gustaf Skarsgard), the Swedish steward.

Co-directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, Kon-Tiki faithfully chronicles their historic transoceanic voyage. Despite the fact that most of the picture’s dialogue is English, it earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category earlier this year.

The men set sail in the spring of 1947, encountering storms, shark attacks, ship rot, insubordination, and a host of other challenges. The deliberately paced production harks back to a bygone era when much of the Earth’s surface had not yet been explored.

Replete with breathtaking Pacific panoramas shot on location, Kon-Tiki is worth watching for the captivating visuals alone. However, the storytelling is solid, too, which all adds up to a fitting tribute to the exploits of legendary Thor Heyerdahl.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence. In English, Norwegian, Swedish, and French with subtitles. Running time: 118 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

May 15, 2013

GatsbyBookThe Garden Theatre was filled to overflowing for the Friday evening showing of Baz Luhrman’s big, jazzy, flamboyantly picturesque improvisation on The Great Gatsby (see review in this issue). People were seated on the steps of the aisle between the stadium seats. You got the feeling half the Princeton student body was there, along with a goodly number of teenagers from the area schools. Most nights at the Garden or Montgomery, particularly when the film is a literary classic as was recently the case with Anna Karenina, you see very few people under 30 or even 40. Or 50. Or, well, you get the idea.

According to the “Arts, Briefly” column in Monday’s New York Times, Gatsby took in $51.1 million over the weekend, second to Iron Man’s $72.5 — “an astounding result for a period drama” that received, at best, mixed reviews. Only 33 percent of ticket sales were for the 3-D version. Apparently the word of mouth about Gatsby’s flying shirts was less than enthusiastic. If you’re interested, those “beautiful shirts” can all be had at Brooks Brothers, along with the regatta blazers and boater hats, bow-ties, and shawl-collar sweaters. According to Adweek, the film’s 500-piece wardrobe was modeled on Brooks’ early 1920s catalogue. It’s also reminiscent of the faux sixties marketing boom created when Mad Men was the rage, with cool, elegant Don Draper at the center, a self-created mystery man who has more than a little in common with Fitzgerald’s “elegant roughneck,” Jay Gatsby.

Anyway, with a score as ecstatic and multi-dimensional as Luhrman’s, who needs 3-D? Depending on your stamina, the film’s pounding over-the-top blend of rap and Gershwin, Lana Del Ray and Bryan Ferry, can either kill you or cure you. My advice is to forget what’s being done to Fitzgerald’s original and go along with the sights and sounds, ride the music, get drunk on the spectacle, and don’t worry about little things like the absurdity of Nick Carraway in a sanitorium writing Fitzgerald’s book as a form of therapeutic rehab. If anyone is Fitzgerald. it’s the man with all the beautiful shirts.

The spectacular score alone is more than enough to put the 2013 Gatsby on a level above the previous versions — which isn’t saying much when you consider the quality of the competition.

Herbert Brenon’s 1926 silent Gatsby with Warner Baxter is presumed lost, probably just as well. If you look online, you can see the preview, which features the novel’s signature vision, the immense billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg. All the films are faithful to it in their fashion but fall short of Fitzgerald’s “blue and gigantic” eyes with retinas “one yard high” looking out of “no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.”

The first sound version of Gatsby didn’t hit the screens until 1949, some 20 years after the talkies were born. For some unfathomable reason, Paramount gave the project to Elliott Nugent, a director of comedies who had just finished filming Mr. Belvedere Goes to College. The best thing about this version, which can be seen in full on YouTube, is Alan Ladd. The only Gatsby of the lot who can say “old sport” as if it came naturally, Ladd makes his first appearance in a moving car tommygunning a rival in case you doubt where he’s coming from, and if you think he’s going to be vanquished by Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s brute of a husband at the end, as are all the other Gatsbys including the real one, you don’t know Alan Ladd. When Tom threatens to break his neck, this Gatsby stands his ground (“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I’m pretty good with or without gloves”) and leaves the scene with Daisy even more devoted to him than she already was. But he gets all noble, Hollywood style, at the end as Paramount pays contemptible obeisance to the Code by making him apologize for his evil ways.

The Gatsbys from 1974 and 2000 (a television movie) are both uninspired ventures, Jack Clayton’s Robert Redford/Mia Farrow debacle having been famously compared to a dead body by Vincent Canby.

The Face of the Book

Now that we know the film had a strong opening weekend, what has been the financial fate of a novel about a man spending a fortune to win a girl whose voice is “full of money?” In 1925, given the popularity of Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, sales and reviews were disappointing. In 2013, however, the Gatsby gold mine is working overtime. The paperback sells 500,000 copies a year, twice that many this year thanks to the film. Worldwide, the numbers approach 25 million in 42 languages, according to USA Today. In the rare book market, where literary stature makes all the difference, a copy of the first edition of The Great Gatsby sold at auction in 2009 for $182,000. Like all modern first editions, it attracts serious money only if it’s wrapped in its original dust jacket. The most you can get for a fine copy of an unjacketed Gatsby is a mere $8,000. With this novel, however, you have a double dose of value, for the Gatsby dust jacket is the Hope Diamond of cover art, the rarest and most celebrated in all literature.

When Fitzgerald had his first look at the cover image the summer before the novel’s April 1925 publication date, his excitement was such that he fired off an urgent command to his editor Max Perkins not to “give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.” He’s referring, of course, to the novel’s single most famous image, those giant billboard eyes that, “dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.”

Having seen the fascinating face that his work-in-progress would reveal to the world when published, Fitzgerald lets himself go and declares in the letter’s next sentence, “I think my novel is about the best American novel ever written.” It’s the sort of famous-last-words boast that even a writer less superstitious than Fitzgerald might want to take back. But the brilliant image has reinforced his enthusiasm for the brilliance of his conception. He knows he’s struck gold.

Scribners paid Francis Cugat $100 for the visionary cover art that captivated Fitzgerald. Not much is known about the artist except that he was the older brother of bandleader Xavier Cugat and that he worked in Hollywood as a technicolor consultant on number of films, including John Ford’s The Quiet Man. The eyes in Cugat’s image evoke Gatsby’s inspiration, his love and his doom, Daisy Fay Buchanan, “whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs … sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth.” It isn’t just that Cugat has shone a light on one of the visions haunting the heart of the novel, he’s found a way to visualize Daisy as Gatsby imagines her — the “colossal vitality of his illusion” that “had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way.”

Again, the character capable of Fitzgerald’s conception isn’t Nick Carraway, it’s the man with the beautiful shirts. And if you have any doubt about where Gatsby’s “creative passion” is actually coming from consider the needless urgency of Fitzgerald’s message about the cover art, as if his editor really might let some other Scribner novelist snap it up. Fitzgerald is claiming possession of the treasure, it’s his, all his; and he’s already put it to use.

Gatsby C’est Moi

In the media frenzy generated by Baz Luhrman’s film, you hear a lot about Gatsby but not so much about Fitzgerald. He’s the forgotten man, overshadowed by his own creation. Gatsby lives, while his creator, the poet laureate of Old Nassau, is a tragic phantom. Online, on network and cable television, even on political talk shows like Chris Mathews’s Hardball, the charismatic Gatsby is front and center along with the Great Baz and a lot of chatter about poor boys, rich girls, and the American dream. Meanwhile Fitzgerald seems to be hanging on to his creation’s coattails. It’s almost as if Gatsby wrote Gatsby, and actually, that’s what I’ve been talking about: Fitzgerald and Gatsby are one; in Fitzgerald’s variation on Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary c’est moi,” the dreamer becomes his dream. Fitzgerald says as much in a letter to a friend written a few months after the novel appeared: “you are right about Gatsby being blurred and patchy. I never at any one time saw him clear … for he started out as one man I knew and then changed into myself.” Edith Wharton picks up on the connection when she says “how much I like Gatsby, or rather His Book” in a letter thanking Fitzgerald for sending her a copy.

A Radiant World

The first time Fitzgerald gives Maxwell Perkins a hint of what he’s up to with the book that became The Great Gatsby, he draws a line between it and his two previous novels and the “trashy imaginings” in his stories: this is “purely creative work … the sustained imagination of a sincere yet radiant world.” For that reason, it will be “a consciously artistic achievement and must depend on that as the first books did not.” In a brief letter to a magazine editor in April 1924, he describes his work in progress as [italics added] “a new thinking out of the idea of illusion (an idea which I suppose will dominate my more serious stuff) …. The business of creating illusion is much more to my taste and talent.” Gatsby could have been thinking along the same lines when he began amassing the fortune that would enable him to imagine he could create an illusion fascinating enough to capture Daisy. In August of the same year, in a letter to a rich friend, Fitzgerald is using similar language as he contemplates the story’s inevitable confrontation with the death of the dream: “the whole burden of this novel” is “the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.”

It’s finally pointless to say, as has been said of Baz Luhrman’s attempt, that Gatsby is “unfilmable” when it’s been filmed five times and will go on being filmed indefinitely. It seems clear by now, however, that no filmmaker can truly, in the Jamesian sense, do Gatsby.

———

Francis Cugat’s cover painting, Celestial Eyes, is owned by the Princeton University Library. With all the attention that’s being lavished on this latest and most lavish Gatsby, now might be a good time to display the work that inspired one of the novel’s most significant images.

 

TIGERS ON PARADE: This Princeton reunion scene is among the works by artist Jay McPhillips in a new exhibition opening, Saturday, May 18 and running through June 14 at Jane on Spring Street. The artist will be on hand to greet visitors from noon to 4 p.m. For more, visit: www.jaymcphillips.com.

TIGERS ON PARADE: This Princeton reunion scene is among the works by artist Jay McPhillips in a new exhibition opening, Saturday, May 18 and running through June 14 at Jane on Spring Street. The artist will be on hand to greet visitors from noon to 4 p.m. For more, visit: www.jaymcphillips.com.

The James McPhillips Museum and Gift Shop Show opens at Jane on Spring Street this Saturday, May 18, with a Meet and Greet with the artist from noon to 4 p.m.

Jane is a consignment and fair trade shop owned by Jane Henderson Kenyon and her daughter Isabelle Kenyon. In addition to selling men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, and home goods, the store has recycled and fair trade items.

It has also made room for original artwork by local artists.

Store manager Johnna Hooban, who has worked at Jane for two years, recalls the first time James (Jay) McPhillips stopped by. “He’s funny and personable and phenomenally talented,” recalls Ms. Hooban. “He was interested in the fact that the store consigns artwork and he brought along his oil paintings. We thought his work was out of this world.”

Since then, Mr. McPhillips has had oil paintings regularly on display at Jane alongside items such as T-shirts. His work has also been featured at Small World Cafe, in the NJ Skateshop, 72 Witherspoon Street, and at the Chapman Gallery, 46 E. State St., Doylestown, Pa.

The former Comedy Central TV staffer and advertising agency art director, whose diverse clients have included The Guggenheim Museum and Brooklyn Chewing Gum, has worked in the Princeton area for over a decade, five of those, from 2002 to 2007, as McCarter Theatre’s graphic designer.

His work has been exhibited on Times Square billboards, gallery paintings, clothing, bumper stickers, and numerous print and web publications. He has an ear for humor and an eye for visual puns. Witness his T-shirts sporting the face of musician Prince above the word Ton. His book of humorous stories, drawings, and notions, Staff Pick is available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.

A native of Philadelphia, now residing in Doylestown, Mr. McPhillips was living in Lambertville when he first came to Princeton to work for McCarter. Before that, his two-hour daily train commute to Manhattan for his job at Comedy Central was compensated for by his love of the work there, creating ads for shows such as South Park and The Daily Show.

While working at McCarter and cutting across the Princeton University campus on his way into town, the artist began painting local scenes. “The architecture in Princeton is incredible,” says Mr. McPhillips who has also painted scenes of Bucks County and Doylestown.

Since leaving McCarter, the artist has been focusing full-time on painting and on producing his own greeting cards, T-shirts, bags and other items. He’s received several local commissions for his work and hopes that the exhibition at Jane will result in more exposure. The exhibition will feature some 15 oil paintings, influenced by the Pennsylvania Impressionists and the early 20th century Tonalists, ranging from the elegantly moody to the wildly humorous.

When Jane, which also sells vintage Princeton ephemera, was thinking about upcoming graduation and reunions, the idea of an exhibition was born. Mr. McPhillips’s scenes of Princeton were an obvious fit. The exhibition will include Princeton paintings, giclee prints and greeting cards, T-shirts, and bag designs as well as Art Mini’s (bagged, tagged hand-painted mini paintings of famous works throughout art history).

The James McPhillips Museum and Gift Shop Show at Jane, 7 Spring Street, opens Saturday, May 18 and continues through June 14 with a second Meet and Greet with the artist on Saturday June 1, noon to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit: www.jaymcphillips.com.

LUSTY AND LUPINE: The wolf (Noah Brody) charms Little Red Ridinghood (Emily Young) in Fiasco Theater’s spin on Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s dark fairy tale musical “Into the Woods,” playing at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through June 9.

LUSTY AND LUPINE: The wolf (Noah Brody) charms Little Red Ridinghood (Emily Young) in Fiasco Theater’s spin on Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s dark fairy tale musical “Into the Woods,” playing at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through June 9.

Your favorite fairy tales — Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel — they start with wishes, and “I wish” is a repeated refrain in Into the Woods (1987), Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s dark and psychological, whimsical and musical spin on the Brothers Grimm. In pursuit of their wishes, all of Sondheim’s characters venture deep into the woods: “Into the woods,/it’s time to go./I hate to leave,/I have to, though./into the woods—/it’s time, and so/I must begin my journey.”

As their specific quests — to escape, to visit Grandma, to sell a cow, to find a prince — continue and interweave with each other, the plot dashes ahead at a rapid pace. The familiar fairy tales remain, but the principal characters develop in interesting, complex, three-dimensional ways, moving far beyond the pre-intermission “happy ending.” A childless baker and his wife, seeking to remove a witch’s curse so they can have a baby, help to tie plot strands together as they join the fray in search of four objects that the witch demands: a red cape (from Red Ridinghood), a white cow (from Jack), yellow hair (from Rapunzel), and a golden slipper (from Cinderella).

Fiasco Theater’s “reimagined” rendition of this much-loved show, playing at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through June 9, will not disappoint Into the Woods aficionados. Though a single piano, instead of full orchestra, provides most of the musical accompaniment, along with bassoon, cello, trumpet, and guitar picked up and played sporadically by the actors on stage; and just ten actors, with some inventive doubling and tripling of roles, play all the parts; this does not feel like a “stripped down” production.

On the contrary, the wildly imaginative staging, shifting of roles, costuming, sound effects, set and lighting and the contagious spirit of collaboration — a trademark of Fiasco Theater, which recently presented a highly acclaimed six-actor version of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline off-Broadway — make this production a lavish feast of music, story-telling, and creativity, further enriched by the irresistible engagement of the audience’s imagination.

Given the frenetic nature of the original, with so many plot strands and such an array of wildly realistic and unrealistic, natural and supernatural characters and extravagant events, Fiasco Theater does a remarkable job of bringing clarity to the proceedings. If there at times seems to be a bit too much going on here — too much plot, too long an evening (almost three hours, with one intermission), too many disparate characters — with the consequent difficulty for the audience in really caring about or identifying with all these questing figures, then perhaps Sondheim and Lapine, rather than Fiasco and McCarter, must take the responsibility.

Based on The Uses of Enchantment (1975), Bruno Bettelheim’s psychological interpretations of fairy tales, Into the Woods is about the importance of stories, stories that are handed down from generation to generation. It is about what those stories mean and how they are told — stories about human experience: growing up, discovering who we are, learning how to accept and to overcome being alone. And it’s about parents and step-parents. “Mother cannot guide you./Now you’re on your own./Only me beside you./Still you’re not alone./No one is alone.”

Then in the second act (“Once upon a time … later …”), as the protagonists all must go back into the woods, the story is about darker concerns: moral decisions (facing the giants!), death, loss, adult passions, and broken marriages. But, perhaps even more importantly, and especially vibrantly realized in this production, Into the Woods is about the sheer delight of stories and the collaboration of storytellers and artists, along with listeners, participating together to bring life and meaning to these stories. To watch and to participate in this rollicking event with these likable, enormously talented performers is a pleasure.

The Fiasco ensemble, several of whose members emerged from the Brown University theater program, takes imaginative collaboration and ensemble playing to new levels. Accompanied by the uncompromisingly adept pianist/music director Matt Castle, an integral part of the proceedings as his piano wheels around the stage from scene to scene, this cast does everything with skill, precision, and abandon — from moving sets, to manipulating props, to transforming costumes and characters, to singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, and acting with intensity.

Jessie Austrian, a founder and co-artistic director of Fiasco, plays the Baker’s Wife with memorable conviction and credibility, engaging the audience in her plight, first as childless wife, then as protective mother of a baby, then the straying wife in the second act. She delivers powerful duets and a reflective, moving second-act solo, “Moments in the Woods.”

As the witch (the role originated on Broadway by Bernadette Peters), Jennifer Mudge rises to the challenge with her frightening, witchy tormenting of Rapunzel and the Baker and his wife in the first act, then her transformation into a beautiful princess, her loss of magical powers (“Witch’s Lament”) and her acquired wisdom, all delivered with dramatic and vocal power and appeal.

Emily Young does dynamic double duty as Rapunzel and as a feisty, aggressive Little Red Ridinghood, complete with wolf skin cloak in place of red cloak after her violent, triumphant encounter with the wolf. Claire Karpen’s Cinderella brings interesting added dimensions to the romanticized fairy tale role, as she interacts, in action and song, with not just her eccentrically nasty step sisters and step mother, but also with her deceased mother, a sympathetic Baker’s Wife, a less-than-ideal prince/husband and a host of other characters. Liz Hayes lends strong support with a suitably harsh edge as both Cinderella’s stepmother and Jack’s mother.

Among the male contingent Noah Brody and Andy Grotelueschen share the prize for versatility and ubiquity — also for extraordinary talent and theatrical prowess of all sorts. Mr. Brody is a deliciously savage, scheming, and lascivious wolf as he sings and wheedles his way with Red Ridinghood (“There’s no possible way/to describe what you feel/when you’re talking to your meal!”).

And how, you might ask, does Mr. Brody also play both wicked step-sister Lucinda and Cinderella’s prince? The answer is a delight to behold, as the two princes’ act one and act two duet (with Mr. Grotelueschen), “Agony” and its reprise, provide comical highlights of the show and timeless commentary on the arrested male psyche. Mr. Grotelueschen, burly and bearded, also offers, with only a bell for a costume and prop, a first-rate characterization of Jack’s cow and a memorable Florinda, wicked second stepsister to Cinderella.

As the Baker, Ben Steinfeld, also a founder of Fiasco and co-artistic director, creates a thoughtful, sympathetic character, as he struggles first with the demands of the witch, then with his wife, then with the perils of fatherhood and other dilemmas throughout the play.

Patrick Mulryan as Jack and the royal Steward contributes two contrasting and credible roles, a powerful voice and strong presence, and Paul L. Coffey as the Mysterious Man adds the appropriate air of mystery and musical expertise both vocally and instrumentally.

Mr. Steinfeld and Mr. Brody, listed as co-directors of the production, have pulled together the multiple disparate elements of this show with focus, dynamic pacing, and extraordinary coordination of acting, music, set, props, lighting, sound, and special effects.

Derek McLane’s imposing set, looking like the enlarged and exploded insides of a piano, provides a fascinating, provocative backdrop to the action. The long, vertical metallic brown rods loom over the set and threaten like the tall dark trees of a forest. The set is a masterpiece in its own right, with definite relevance to the events of the evening. Whether it actually furthers or distracts from Fiasco’s purpose of stripping down to essentials in order to emphasize the actors, the text, and the story is another question.

Choreography by Lisa Shriver, inventive costuming by Whitney Locher, dramatic lighting by Tim Cryan, and striking sound by Darron L. West all contribute essential elements to the stimulation of the audience’s imagination and the creation of this wonderful, magical, sometimes terrifying, sometimes whimsical world of Into the Woods.

To create a cow with just a bell, or a wolf with just a stuffed head and a little leather for paws, or a magical hen with a feather duster, or birds out of paper, or a tower from a wheeling ladder, or a truly terrifying giantess with just a shadow and the booming of a bass drum, not to mention a whole world of Grimm’s fairy tales on a small stage — that’s theater magic, and it can be found in abundance at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre during the next four weeks, in Fiasco Theatre’s exhilarating production of Into the Woods.

DAISY, DAISY, GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER DO: Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio, right) has prevailed upon his next-door neighbor Nick Carraway (not shown) to invite his married cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) to his house for a tryst between Jay and Daisy, who were once an item before Jay went overseas to fight in World War I.

DAISY, DAISY, GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER DO: Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio, right) has prevailed upon his next-door neighbor Nick Carraway (not shown) to invite his married cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) to his house for a tryst between Jay and Daisy, who were once an item before Jay went overseas to fight in World War I.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an era defining literary masterpiece that captured the decadence, debauchery, and self-destruction of privileged elites living in the lap of luxury at the height of the Roaring Twenties. Set in an eventful summer on Long Island, the tragic tale of love and betrayal unfolds from the point-of-view of social climber Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a nondescript bond salesman who hopes to be a celebrated writer someday.

At the point of departure, we find him renting a modest cottage that is in the shadow of a sprawling waterfront mansion owned by Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a self-made man who throws extravagant parties for his fellow members of high society. Despite having his pick of gold-digging flappers, the mysterious millionaire remains obsessed with Daisy (Carey Mulligan), an attractive woman he had dated when he was a soldier before going off to fight in World War I.

While he was overseas, Daisy met and married Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), an abusive adulterer from an old money family whose mammoth estate is located on the other side of the bay from the Gatsby estate. Nick comes to play a critical role in the proceedings once Gatsby learns that Nick is a distant cousin of Daisy.

Soon, the lovelorn Gatsby prevails upon his next-door neighbor to serve as a go-between by inviting Daisy over for a secret rendezvous. Sparks fly afresh, and it’s not long before all the morally-corrupt central characters end up taking a ride aboard an emotional roller coaster.

Perhaps more pertinent than recounting further the familiar plotline of a novel we all remember from high school is addressing its reimagining as a visually-captivating, ethereal fantasy by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge). The director shot the New York story in his native Australia, and filled the soundtrack with hip-hop tunes by the film’s executive producer, Jay-Z, and wife, Beyoncé.

Before you join the rush to indict the anachronistic inclusion of rap as blasphemous in a movie that is recreating the Jazz Age, consider the fact that historical costume dramas generally tend to tell us more about the period in which they were made than about the one in which they transpire. Why else would anyone see fit to mount a fifth version of Gatsby?

Reflecting the influences of both its producer and director, this riveting reinterpretation for the Hip-Hop Generation is probably best appreciated by fans of gangsta’ rap who were weaned on videos featuring materialistic misogynists enjoying champagne while surrounded by gyrating beauties. Bravo to Baz for effectively lending his lush and lurid touch to a classic that chronicles the downside of the American Dream.

Excellent (****) Rated PG-13 for sexuality, smoking, violent images, partying, and brief profanity. Running time: 143 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

May 8, 2013

dvdrevIt’s already old news now, as dated as its subject — the obituary notices announcing the death at 91 of Deanna Durbin, the “plucky child movie star” who saved Universal Studios from financial ruin; “the best-loved and most fondly remembered singing star of Hollywood’s golden age” who cut short her career at 28; “the perfect girl next door” who left the fans-next-door to live the rest of her long life in a suburb of Paris.

Was the Canadian-born Durbin truly the “superstar” claimed by the headline of the Associated Press obituary? Indeed she was, and then some. If anything, the Hollywood hype falls short because her impact on a world at war transcended stardom. Stay with the metaphor and you could say she outshone all the stars in Hollywood, whether her light was shining on the battlefield or the homefront, soldiers or civilians, regardless of nationality. The April 30 New York Times obit’s “wholesome, radiant, can-do girl who in a series of wildly popular films was always fixing the problems of unhappy adults” became the “can-do” embodiment of beauty and music and youth symbolically opposed to the problems of a disastrously unhappy world.

Wartime 

When the Japanese wanted to crush the morale of the American families imprisoned at the Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila at the outset of World War II, they released the news that Deanna Durbin had died in childbirth, a sham presented so convincingly that it prompted a memorial service. Since the Japanese banned the use of radios, the prisoners continued to think the “can-do girl” was dead for almost three years, until a makeshift radio pulled in a broadcast from San Francisco and they heard her voice dedicating an evening of music “to the women of the Philippine Islands.”

On the other side of the world in Amsterdam, Anne Frank was taping two photos of Deanna Durbin on the wall of the secret annex, both from First Love (1939), a variation on the Cinderella story in which Durbin receives her first screen kiss from Robert Stack. Although there are no explicit mentions of the film in Anne’s diary, her frequent references to the developing relationship with Peter and their first kiss suggest that she must have given those images more than a few significant glances in the spring and summer of 1944. The photos remain on the wall, just as they were, at the Anne Frank House museum.

Another Durbin fan, British prime minister Winston Churchill, had no need of photographs; he made sure to see the films before they were released to the general public in the U.K., where she was even more beloved than she was in the U.S.A. Churchill’s special favorite was One Hundred Men and a Girl, in which Deanna helps bring together Leopold Stokowski with an orchestra of out-of-work musicians that includes her trombone-playing father (Adolphe Menjou). Churchill reportedly screened the film on celebratory wartime occasions while enjoying brandy and a cigar. The same movie was also “a great prewar favorite in Japan,” as were all of Durbin’s pictures, according to various sources, including Donald Richie, who says that Akira Kurosawa’s early film, One Wonderful Sunday “takes its concert finale straight from One Hundred Men and a Girl,” while paying homage to Durbin through the “jazzy optimism” of the fresh-faced heroine “pulling for her young man just as Deanna Durbin pulled for Stokowski — same polished cheeks, same tear-filled eyes.” Another example of her following among the Japanese: a Deanna Durbin film, His Butler’s Sister, was the first American movie that General MacArthur’s Occupation Committee permitted to be shown in Japan.

The fact that Durbin’s films were banned in Germany suggests that she was equally popular there; apparently the same was true in Italy, where in 1941 Mussolini published an open letter to “Dearest Deanna” in his official newspaper asking her to intercede with President Roosevelt “on behalf of American youth” to convince FDR not to become involved. The letter spoke of how “we always had a soft place in our heart for you” but that “today we fear that you, like the remainder of American youth, are controlled by the President and perhaps tomorrow will see fine American youth marching into battle in defence of Britain.”

Around the time Mussolini was calling on Deanna to intercede with Roosevelt (she sang Schubert’s “Ave Maria” at the memorial concert for FDR), her “hair, makeup, and on-screen outfits set fashion trends worldwide and were emulated by millions,” according to the AP obituary. In the 1941 hit Nice Girl?, the “spangled white organdy dress, ruffled and modestly cut” worn by 20-year-old Deanna “became the rage at proms and country club dances across the United States.” The teen-age soldiers-to-be who went to those dances with the girls in white organdy might lust for pin-up cheesecake like Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable, but Deanna was the girl of their lovesick dreams and deepest hopes. A soldier from England told her that she epitomized “Sincerity, tenderness, music, and laughter … it is just a little piece of Heaven to be able to visit the garrison cinema, see you and feel the sweetness and peace which surrounds you.”

Durbin also had admirers in the arts. Cellist and composer Mstislav Rostropovich cites her as one of his most important musical influences in an interview from the mid-1980s: “She helped me in my discovery of myself. You have no idea of the smelly old movie houses I patronized to see Deanna Durbin. I tried to create the very best in my music, to try and recreate, to approach her purity.” And when Indian director Satyajit Ray accepted a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1992, he mentioned Deanna Durbin as the only cinema personality of the few he wrote to who had acknowledged his boyhood fan letter with a personal reply.

Headlong and Heartfelt

During the opening moments of her feature film debut, Three Smart Girls (1937), Deanna is coming right at you in mid-coloratura-flight while steering a boat on a Swiss lake, and you may find yourself wondering how much of this girlish virtuosity you can put up with. Graham Greene speaks of becoming “only too intimately acquainted with the hideous cavern of the human mouth” in his New Statesman review, which begins with a quote from Henry James, in mid-flight himself on the subject of divorce in What Maisie Knew (“To live with all the intensity and perplexity and felicity in its terribly mixed little world would thus be part of my interesting small mortal”). By the end of a film that was no chore to watch thanks to Henry Koster’s direction of a lively ensemble and lots of comic relief (oh rare Mischa Auer), you’ve been humbled by the sheer uninhibited power emanating from “the interesting small mortal” played with such seismic energy by Deanna Durbin. She’s a force of nature, nothing less, and no father (Charles Winninger) in the clutches of a gold-digging blond (Binnie Barnes) could resist her. Durbin’s headlong unstoppable emotional energy shows up Hollywood’s frequently cringe-inspiring attempts to believably duplicate “real feeling” between parents and children (or couples, for that matter), and when Deanna submits herself to the muse of song again, this time in a police station, her coloratura outburst seems as spontaneous as the joyous, loving laughter she shares with her father when they bond for the first time.

A Bizarre Noir

When I first read the news of Deanna Durbin’s death in the Times, one detail that caught my attention was the claim that she’d played a “prostitute in love with a killer” in Robert Siodmak’s Christmas Holiday (1944). That bizarre noir, with its deceptively festive title, must be the most uncharacteristic, and, now that I’ve seen it, all-around best film she was ever in, along with It Started With Eve (1941) wherein Deanna and Robert Cummings hit, kick, pinch, and chase one another about and she and Charles Laughton enjoy an unforgettable night on the town. Until I found Universal’s 2-DVD Sweetheart Pack, all I knew of her work beyond One Hundred Men and a Girl was His Butler’s Sister, which I’d made a point of seeing only because it was made by a great director, Frank Borzage. Although it’s minor Borzage, the musical and romantic moments glow with the master’s touch and, as with just about every female star he directed, you’re seeing the 22-year-old actress at her most luminous.

Finding it hard to believe that Durbin had ever played a prostitute, I located Christmas Holiday on YouTube, and let it be known — Deanna does not play a prostitute. She’s only a singer going by the name of Jackie Lamont (her real name is Abigail Martin) in a high class New Orleans bordello called Maison Lafitte. True enough, she’s married to a convicted murderer, played with great verve and sleazy, sinister charm by Gene Kelly, whom she meets at a concert. Watching her intimate moments with Kelly — one where he awakens her late the night of the murder, another where she sings “Always” leaning close, her arms around his neck, as he accompanies her on the piano — it’s hard to fathom that a mere five years before she was an unbridled adolescent life force sweeping all before her. There’s much to admire in Christmas Holiday, including the uneasy noir mood, the cinematography, the New Orleans flavor, the extraordinary midnight mass scene during the subtly directed and acted night she chastely spends with a disoriented soldier probably not unlike the ones who adored her in real life. Perhaps most impressive of all is the way she manages to suggest both the wounded, worldly wise Jackie and the wholesome, loving, concert-going Abigail as she delivers a torch singer’s sultry, low-key rendition of “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” to the house band’s easy-swinging, Dixie flavored accompaniment while looking at once sweet and sexy in a daring if not quite risque black evening gown.

Some of the Durbin fans on YouTube busy assembling montages in tribute to her may choose to close out her career with the last Wagnerian moment of Christmas Holiday: a close-up of the bereft Abigail staring upward as the Liebestod plays and storm clouds part on a magnificently brilliant night sky. A still better ending to any tribute, including this one, would be the close-up of Deanna singing her heart out at the end of His Butler’s Sister. Her “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot is a long way from Pavarotti’s but it makes a passionate and radiant farewell.

 

The most useful source of information I found online was www.deannadurbindevotees.com.

LIGHTPAINTING: The cover of Eva Flatscher’s newly published book shows one of the colorful images for which she is known. Ms. Flatscher has been a Princeton resident for less than three years and finds the town conducive to artistic creativity. With Princeton as her base, she continues to work in New York City and in Europe. She is currently preparing an exhibition based on the artwork “LightPainting,” available online via Amazon.com. For more information, visit: www.evaflatscher.com/book.

LIGHTPAINTING: The cover of Eva Flatscher’s newly published book shows one of the colorful images for which she is known. Ms. Flatscher has been a Princeton resident for less than three years and finds the town conducive to artistic creativity. With Princeton as her base, she continues to work in New York City and in Europe. She is currently preparing an exhibition based on the artwork “LightPainting,” available online via Amazon.com. For more information, visit: www.evaflatscher.com/book.

“If Van Gogh were living today, he’d be painting digitally,” says Princeton resident Eva Flatscher. Instead of the traditional tools of paint, brush, and canvas, Ms. Flatscher uses light, a grip pen (the equivalent of a mouse in stick form), and a graphic tablet. “I paint live. It’s not prepared and its projected on stage against a white background with dancers.”

To paint live means that this artist’s work is very much of the moment. It’s a digital performance that, according to Wilfried Seipel, is nonetheless rooted in the Dutch masters of the 17th century. “Johannes Vermeer knew, that with the first stroke of the brush a painting is ready and readable for its entirety,” says Mr. Seipel in the introduction to Ms. Flatscher’s newly published book LightPainting (Long Pipe, LLC., New York, N.Y.).

Mr. Seipel is the executive director of the Museum of History of Art (KHM) in Vienna, a major cultural institution with a rich collection of Dutch Masters such as Bruegel and Rembrandt. His high praise is enormously gratifying to the artist and his is not the only voice expressing delight in Ms. Flatscher’s unique approach. Michael Birkmeyer, director of the School of Ballet at the Vienna State Opera, who worked with Ms. Flatscher in Austria, speaks of her as a “pioneer” who makes music visible. Her performances are an “avant garde combination of painting, dance, and music.” The Princeton resident has performed with jazz and classical musicians here in the United States and throughout Europe, to which she returns with some frequency.

Her live performances have taken place in the Jewish Museum in Vienna; the Festival Hall, St.Pölten, Austria; the Schauspielhaus, Bremen, Germany; and the Musikvereinssaal, Vienna.

Ms. Flatscher’s work “transforms traditional understanding of fine art and takes it to an entirely new level,” says Mr. Seipel. “At times, Eva Flatscher’s productions recall the Traumpfade, the ‘song lines’ or ‘dream lines’ of the Australian aborigines, who by dancing and singing seek to decipher the mystery of the cosmos, of ‘dreamtime,’ in a pictorial realization of the past.”

As a record of her work, Ms. Flatscher created 40 pieces, not on canvas, but on satin. These are the paintings in LightPainting, and that will be presented in a upcoming exhibition that is still in the beginning stages of preparation.

Created during live performances in venues spanning the globe, the paintings were meticulously finished in the artist’s Princeton studio.

Originally from Vienna, Ms. Flatscher and her husband, journalist Alfons A. Flatscher, moved to Princeton just under three years ago and have made their home on Birch Avenue close to the center of town. The artist, who describes herself as a city-lover, says the move was prompted by a desire for a comfortable town with good schools that would be a safe environment for the couple’s two children: David (17) and Alina (15), now a junior and freshman at Princeton High School.

“There is a high quality of life here in Princeton, especially for a painter,” says Ms. Flatscher who describes the move as having been surprisingly easy. She describes the people here as “warm and welcoming.”

LightPainting by Eva Flatscher is available online via Amazon.com. For more information, visit: www.evaflatscher.com/book.

Very few chamber ensembles thrive for more than forty years, and few music organizations have the luxury of saying good-bye through music to their loyal and steadfast fans. The Tokyo String Quartet, formed in 1969 at the Juilliard School of Music, is disbanding after forty-four years, some of the most significant of which have included Princeton. The Quartet’s farewell season is taking them back to a number of their favorite cities and concert halls, and this past Wednesday night was Princeton’s turn to say farewell. The four members of the Tokyo Quartet came to Richardson Auditorium to play three of their signature pieces as a nearly full house flocked to hear a concert capping the ensemble’s 40 year performing and recording history with the Princeton community.

Josef Haydn’s string quartets are chamber music gumdrops, and the Opus 103 Quartet in D minor, even in only two movements, is no exception. The two movements, which would likely have been the inner movements of a full quartet, were graceful and charming in their simplicity, and throughout both, the Tokyo musicians maintained their most intimate collective chamber personality. Violinists Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda, violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellist Clive Greensmith played in an elegant manner which made the audience immediately feel at home, as if they were eavesdropping on a living room soirée. First violinist Mr. Beaver played with strength and grace as cellist Mr. Greensmith kept the music flowing, especially in a crisp and sprightly Minuet section. The quartet as a whole demonstrated delicate endings to repeated sections, and presented a sweet yet teasing Trio in a second movement full of Haydn-esque humor.

The Quartet No. 6 of Bela Bartok was much more complex than the Haydn, but no less appealing. Begun in the early days of World War II and not premiered until two years later, this work was both introspective and poignant, especially its final movement capturing a feeling of looking out over the war’s devastation. The first movement began with a soulful and melancholy viola solo played by Mr. Isomura, a fitting recognition of the only continuous and original member of the ensemble. The movement was intense, with a Vivace section marked by furious pizzicato from Mr. Greensmith. Phrases came together well, and the second movement Marcia, containing some of the most demanding passages of the piece, was effective as a march of grief. Mr. Isomura’s expressive viola melody returned in the final movement to close the work with peaceful yet jarring effect.

The Mendelssohn Quartet in E minor which closed the program was also vintage Tokyo String Quartet — melodic and crisp in clarity. Mr. Beaver played a number of key lines as first violinist, with refreshing melodic lines also heard from the second violin. Clean figures were heard from all parts, and the first movement in particular was forceful but not overpowering. An especially sweet melody was heard from cellist Mr. Greensmith in the third movement Adagio, and a non-stop first violin part toward the end of the final movement brought the Mendelssohn work to a close and the Richardson crowd to its feet. The Tokyo Quartet obliged the appreciative audience with an encore taken from Mozart’s K. 499 String Quartet in D major, in a serene “Ländler” character which brought the Tokyo String Quartet’s musical relationship with Princeton to an elegant and glorious finale.

 

WHEN YOU HUG ME, JUST REMEMBER YOUR SUPERHERO STRENGTH: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, right) is apparently unafraid of being crushed to death by the Iron Man (Robert Downey,Jr.) as he holds his sweetheart in a fond embrace.

WHEN YOU HUG ME, JUST REMEMBER YOUR SUPERHERO STRENGTH: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, right) is apparently unafraid of being crushed to death by the Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) as he holds his sweetheart in a fond embrace.

This film is the seventh movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series that started with Iron Man 1 in 2008, and followed by The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers. The question is whether the series is running out of steam or if it’s worth investing in yet another episode.

Great news! The movie more than lives up to its billing as the first blockbuster of this summer season. And, the plot remains true to the basic comic book formula in which a superhero is pitted against a diabolical villain bent on world domination.

However, Iron Man 3 adds something new to the usual mix of derring-do and visually-captivating special effects because Robert Downey, Jr. brings so much charm to the title character. He delivers a plethora of pithy comments, whether in his role as bon vivant billionaire Tony Stark, or his intrepid alter ego.

Also reprising their roles are Gwyneth Paltrow as Iron Man’s love interest Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as his best friend Rhodey, and Jon Favreau (the director of episodes 1 and 2) as his chauffeur and chief of security Happy Hogan. Critical additions include Ty Simpkins as Harley, Iron Man’s new sidekick, and Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, the maniacal spokesman for an international terrorist organization.

The point of departure is Bern, Switzerland on New Year’s 2000 where we find Tony Stark declining an offer to go into business together being made by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a disabled scientist who covets an experimental drug being developed by Stark Industries botanist Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). The story immediately fast-forwards to the present, and a string of bombings that are suspected of being set by The Mandarin.

Foolishly, Tony dares the Mandarin to a fight, and soon Tony’s ocean front home is leveled by a barrage of rockets. Fortunately, a number of Iron Man outfits were left unscathed and, with the help of Harley and Rhodey (aka Iron Patriot), he proceeds to get to the bottom of who is really behind the bombings.

Far be it from this critic to spoil the surprising developments which ensue en route to the big showdown. Just brace yourself for an array of captivating stunt work interrupted intermittently by comical comments by our protagonist. Audience members who are patient enough to sit through the long (and I mean long) closing credits will be rewarded with a brief session of the Iron Man decompressing on the shrink’s couch with Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense violence and brief sensuality. Running time: 130 minutes. Distributor: Walt Disney Studios.

May 1, 2013

book revIn the loose living of my early years

the impulses of my poetry were shaped,

the boundaries of my art were plotted.

—C.F. Cavafy, from “Understanding” (1915)

Monday was a two-sided anniversary for the Greek poet C.F. Cavafy, born 150 years ago on April 29, 1863, to Greek parents in Alexandria, where he died 70 years later on April 29, 1933. UNESCO is commemorating his 150th birthday with Cavafy festivals around the world this summer, and one of his foremost translators, Princeton Professor Emeritus Edmund Keeley, will be reading from his renderings of Cavafy and other Greek poets at the PEN World Voices Festival May 5 in New York and on May 7 at a dinner for the Princeton University Society of Fellows at Palmer House.

The lines above, from a poem translated by Keeley in his book, Cavafy’s Alexandria (Princeton University Press 1976, rev. 1996), are listed under the heading “The Sensual City” in a handy appendix of chronological tables of composition and publication (other categories are “The Metaphoric City,” Mythical Alexandria,” and “The World of Hellenism”). Daniel Mendelsohn’s introduction to his handsomely designed edition of the Collected Poems (Knopf 2009), with his translations and commentaries, is titled “The Poet-Historian.” In his opening paragraph, Mendelsohn contrasts Cavafy’s “flesh-and-blood existence” as a government bureaucrat and “private life” as a homosexual with the poetry, its “haunted memories of passionate encounters in the present and its astoundingly rich imagination of the Greek past.”

Cavafy’s Presence

Like numerous other readers, my own first encounter with Cavafy was as “the old poet of the city” in Justine, the volume that begins Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet. At roughly the same time Cavafy’s presence in Durrell’s Alexandria was bringing a somewhat ghostly form of him to the attention of a new generation of readers, Rae Dalven’s edition of The Complete Poems appeared (Harcourt, Brace & World 1961) with an introduction by W.H. Auden, in which Auden notes Cavafy’s influence on his own work.

In the fall of 1977, Lawrence Durrell sent Henry Miller a “lucky charm” in the form of a postcard from Alexandria. The card’s occult power was, he said, due to its having been written “on the very desk” where Cavafy wrote two of his best known poems, “Waiting for the Barbarians” and “The City.” The gist of the message is that “Alexandria is still full of luciferian charm and magic.”

Recalling a visit earlier in the same decade in Cavafy’s Alexandria, Keeley observes that it was difficult to move through the streets of the city “without feeling the presence of Cavafy’s ghost.” Durrell says that when he first arrived in Alexandria in 1941, eight years after Cavafy’s death, the poet “was so very present” and “extremely alive in a sense” that he had no difficulty in “transporting him into the city which really belonged to him.” In the same 1975 interview, Durrell admits, “I used him, you know, like you use a character in a novel.” As for his role in the Quartet, the old poet was “the expresser of the essence of the city.”

In fact, Cavafy does not merely haunt the city, its brothels and cafes, he illuminates and evokes it in passages throughout Justine. In one, Durrell’s alter ego Darley recalls visiting “the worm-eaten room” on the Rue Lepsius (the street Cavafy lived on most of his life) “where once the old poet of the city had recited ‘The Barbarians.’” On another occasion, Darley/Durrell describes hearing “with an emotion so deep it was almost horror” a gramophone recording of the old poet reading lines clearly based on an actual poem of Cavafy’s. But then this is the case all through the novel, where you have, in effect, Durrell improvising on existing translations. In another scene, Justine recites “those marvelous lines of the old Greek poet about a love-affair long since past.” For Darley/Durrell, “hearing her speak his lines, touching every syllable of the thoughtful ironic Greek with tenderness, I felt once more the strange equivocal power of the city … and knew her for a true child of Alexandria.”

Cavafy’s Charm

In my five-day tour of Cavafy and Alexandria, I’ve been struck by his use of the second person as a way to bring the reader into the charmed element of the poem. In Durrell’s admitted “transplanting” of an existing translation of “The City,” Cavafy directly approaches you (“You tell yourself”) and later no less directly, intimately addresses you (“Ah, don’t you see”). Durrell may be taking liberties, but being a poet himself, he knows what Cavafy’s doing, as well he should, given his stress on the word “charm” (as in lucky and luciferian) in the postcard he sent Miller. Whether you speak of it in terms of charming or seducing, or simply bringing the reader in, that’s what’s happening; however you describe  the effect — personal, magical/poetical or luciferian — you’ve been charmed.

Cavafy does it again in “Waiting for the Barbarians,” the other piece of the “lucky charm” Durrell sent to Miller. From the first line, “What are we waiting for,” to the closing stanza’s “And now what shall become of us,” you’re in the poem; the question isn’t coming to you from some nameless persona in an unspecified past, it’s coming from Cavafy, as if he were sitting across the table from you in one of the cafes he frequents. The effect is also movingly evident in “The God Abandons Antony,” which Durrell pairs with “The City” on the last page of Justine. As Mendelsohn points out in his commentary, Cavafy is improvising on a passage from Plutarch’s Life of Antony, when his troops had deserted him and “all Alexandria knew that his cause was totally lost.” In Cavafy’s second-person, you the reader are Antony and the city has been set in motion like the dream of a ship departing without you “at darkest midnight.” As the poem ends, the city having become something to “be worthy of” if you can shed misleading dreams and “useless hopes,” Cavafy’s right there with you again in the cafe of his charm, telling you how to endure it, how to say “with courage … your last good-byes/To Alexandria as she is leaving.”

Cruised by Cavafy

So there you are at the cafe table feeling emotional after saying your last goodbyes in “The God Abandons Antony” (the poem also inspired a song by Leonard Cohen), when you realize that the old poet wants to take you home with him, he’s speaking English now, having gone to school in Liverpool from the ages 7 to 14 (his family was in the import-export business). Before you can explain your boringly hetero inclinations, he understands. As W.H. Auden observes, Cavafy is an “exceptionally honest” witness who “neither bowdlerizes nor glamorizes nor giggles,” one who “refuses to pretend that his memories of moments of sensual pleasure are unhappy or spoiled by feelings of guilt.” Auden quotes as an example a poem from 1921 (“Their Beginning”) where Cavafy makes the connection between sex and poetry explicit. After the lovers fulfill “their deviate, sensual delight,” they rise and dress and go their separate ways (“furtively … somewhat uneasily”), “as if they suspect that something about them betrays/into what kind of bed they fell a little while back.” But for the “life of the poet” nothing’s lost; its all gain: “Tomorrow, the next day, the vigorous verses/will be composed that had their beginning here.”

Cavafy’s Ghost?

My well-marked Dell paperback of Justine was in my jacket pocket the night I went walking in Cavafy and Durrell’s Alexandria. I’d been rereading the novel on the boat from Beirut. I was 25. I never considered that I might be at risk, having ignored Durrell’s warning in Justine, that Alexandria “was not really a safe place for Christians.” The problem was that the locales in Justine I’d hoped to see could not be found because the streets had been renamed since Durrell’s time. There was no Rue Lepsius, no Cafe Al Aktar. Ah, but there was Lake Mareotis, and that was all I needed. One line I’d practically marked to extinction began “The first wet blank lamps had begun to stiffen the wet paper background of Alexandria,” which ended with “Mareotis crouched among her reeds, stiff as a crouching sphinx.” The lake also served as the setting for one of the most haunting scenes in Justine, where in the pre-dawn darkness of a duck hunt, the one-eyed Capodistria is killed, “a death that hangs in the still air like bad smell, like a bad joke.”

I had no map. Someone at the fleabag hotel where I was staying had given me sign-language directions, so off I went, throwing myself on the mercy of the “thousand dust-tormented streets” described on the first page of the novel. I soon found myself in the company of a self-appointed guide. I didn’t want company, but I hesitated to tell him so. He was promising me Lake Mareotis. Yes, this way, this way, he’d insist, taking me in precisely the opposite direction to the one I’d been shown. I took out my copy of Justine and pointed to the underlined sentence about the crouching sphinx, explaining to him, idiotically, why the fact that the lake could be found in a novel made it worth searching for: “A lake that is like a sphinx — you know the Sphinx? In Cairo? Near the pyramids?”

Suddenly something happens that changes everything, when he says: “I know that place, the lake like a sphinx. It’s not safe for you.” Nothing is, it seems. I’ve given up ever finding Durrell’s lake, but whenever I see a street I want to start down, he says, “No, no, that’s a bad street. No good for you there.”

It occurs to me as I try to make sense of the memory of that long-ago night, that I’ve consumed too much Cavafy in too short a span of time. It’s his birthday, April 29, as I write. Three competing translations are piled on my desk. I can’t be sure where one leaves off and the other begins, or where Durrell’s old poet becomes the real Cavafy, or if I’m in the company of someone who decided not to cut my throat when I showed him that line about the lake. He’s taken me in, that’s all. Alexandria’s “luciferian charm” is all around us.

There’s no ending, no farewell, as he goes his way and I go mine, it’s like that poem, “Their Beginning,” only nothing happened. Nothing.

I’m looking at the copy of Justine I read at 20, not the paperback, but the hard cover, in which, not knowing any better, I wrote in ballpoint “Noon, April 19,” under the last line on the last page, Durrell’s translation with his italics,

And say farewell, farewell, to Alexandria leaving.”

 

The 1975 interview I mentioned is from Anthony Hirst’s essay in Lawrence Durell and the Greek World, edited by Anna Lillios.

CAN THIS REALLY BE CLAY?: The black and white image shown here does little justice to the iridescent greens and blues of Hideaki Miyamura’s porcelain “Bottle with Starry Night Glaze.” Mr. Miyamura achieves a result that you would swear could only be achieved on glass. His work will be on display and for sale this weekend as part of Morven in May’s weekend celebration of art, craft, and garden at the Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street. For Friday night Preview Party tickets, call (609) 924-8144, ext. 113. For more information, visit: www.morven.org.

CAN THIS REALLY BE CLAY?: The black and white image shown here does little justice to the iridescent greens and blues of Hideaki Miyamura’s porcelain “Bottle with Starry Night Glaze.” Mr. Miyamura achieves a result that you would swear could only be achieved on glass. His work will be on display and for sale this weekend as part of Morven in May’s weekend celebration of art, craft, and garden at the Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street. For Friday night Preview Party tickets, call (609) 924-8144, ext. 113. For more information, visit: www.morven.org.

If April is Communiversity, May is Morven. Coming on the heels of last weekend’s town-wide festival, this weekend’s “Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft, and Garden” promises a more leisurely pace but just as much interest for those inclined toward the arts, crafts, and gardens.

The event starts on Friday evening, with a special preview reception, and runs through Sunday, May 5.

The museum has selected 20 professional artists and artisans from throughout the northeast region of the U.S. to present their works in glass, ceramics, decorative and wearable fiber, mixed media, jewelry, furniture, and fine art.

Included among them is the Japanese-born ceramicist Hideaki Miyamura, now based in New Hampshire. His work is compelling and exquisite. To look is to want to touch.

Mr. Miyamura’s fine porcelain is much-collected and can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, Newark Museum of Art, Sackler Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, and Wheaton College, Newton, Mass. He is revered by serious private collectors.

Known for his experimentation with traditional Chinese glazing techniques and for recreating the Yohen Tenmoku glaze of the Sung Dynasty, the artist’s interest in glazes stems from ancient Chinese tea bowls with such ancient and rare glazes that no one has been able to reproduce. He set out to create new iridescent glazes that convey inner feelings of purity and peacefulness.

During a five year apprenticeship in Japan, he developed new glazes, mainly Tenmoku, those dark brown/black glazes with a varied iridescent quality, and “oil spotting.” His research involved over 10,000 test pieces. Ultimately, the hard work paid off. Mr. Miyamura discovered the iridescent glaze on a black background, his original contribution to the art of Yohen Tenmoku.

“Over the last few years”, says Mr. Miyamura on his web site, “I have experimented to discover new glazes which combine crystallization with iridescence. I have researched crystal glaze techniques in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China. In the long history of crystal glazes, I could find no iridescent crystal glaze.”

The artist’s search, which he describes as a “ten-year long passion” for an “iridescent crystal glaze which has never been made anywhere, at anytime in history,” yielded his newest glaze: the Yohen Crystal Glaze, inspired by the “stars glistening in a night sky.” According to Mr. Miyamura, it’s “the most complicated glaze formula and firing process that I have ever done.” A fitting culmination to a lifelong passion.

While glazes may be at the heart of Mr. Miyamura’s work, form is not forgotten. He creates his own interpretations of the classical. “I am very conscious of the ways in which a form interacts with the space around it,” he says. “I want my pieces to feel in balance with their environment, to feel as though they co-exist naturally with their surroundings. When I create my pieces, I hope to make people feel good when they look at my work. My goal is to try and evoke a feeling of inner peace and tranquility.” To see more of Mr. Miyamura’s work, visit: www.miyamurastudio.com.

Along with Mr. Miyamura’s stunning work, this year’s event includes: beaded sculpture by Tristyn Albright; wearable fiber arts by Tess Colburn and Gary Temple, and Pamela Bracci; baskets by Martha Dreswick; ceramics by Katherine Hackl and Phoebe Wiley; jewelry by Sheila Fernekes, Beth Judge, and Sue Sachs; furniture from John Landis and Brad Smith; glass artistry by Karen Caldwell and Nick Leonoff; fine art paintings by Meg Michael; turned wood by James Ruocco; decorative fiber arts by Erin Wilson; clothing designs by Tess Crowninshield; and floorcloths by Elie Wyeth. Their hand-crafted offerings will be displayed for sale in gallery-style booths, under a grand tent on the museum’s Great Lawn.

Heirloom Plant Sale

For many locals, the arts and crafts sale is the highlight of Morven in May. For others, it’s the museum’s heirloom plant sale, which has grown in the last few years to become a stellar source of unusual heirloom perennials and annuals.

For the general public, the sale is open Saturday May 4, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday May 5, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Friends of Morven get to preview the plant sale on Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. Not only do Friends get first pick, they receive a 10 percent discount, which might well make it worth your while to join the group. The individual $40 level gives you free access to the museum, discounts, and other benefits. For more information, including a list of all the plants available, visit www.morven.org.

Garden enthusiasts will find this sale a must for heirloom vegetables and classic herbs. You will also find perennials, biennials, peonies and tree peonies, shrubs and roses, climbers and cascading plants, as well as plants suitable for containers. The online listing is peppered with timely tips (like mulching with straw instead of that smelly black stuff).

On Saturday at 2 p.m., botanical artist Wendy Hollander, will speak about the edible plants that grow in fields, forests, even your own backyard. Ms. Hollander is the illustrator and co-author, with Dina Falconi, of Foraging and Feasting, a combination field guide and cookbook that will be published next month. She will draw upon her “food for free” enthusiasm for forgotten skills that once allowed many to recognize edible plants in the wild and bring them in the kitchen to create delicious and nutritious meals. Admission to her talk is free with art show admission.

Before you leave the garden, however, look out for Artful Trellises in the Garden, featuring freestanding trellises designed and built by local community groups, individuals, and businesses. These will be going up and planted with annual vines over the summer at Morven.

Sponsors for this year’s event, proceeds from which help fund the museum’s collections, exhibitions, historic gardens, and educational programs, include: Rago Arts and Auction Center; Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty; PNC Wealth Management; Saul Ewing, LLC; Munich RE; Masterminds Agency; Contemporary Graphics; and Jack Morton Exhibits.

“Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft and Garden” at the Morven Museum and Garden, 55 Stockton Street, starts Friday, May 3, and runs through Sunday, May 5. Preview Garden Party tickets are available by calling the museum at (609) 924-8144 extension 113.

Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday public sale are available at the door and are $10 per person ($8 for Friends of Morven). No ticket is necessary for the plant sale. For more information and to purchase tickets: visit: www.morven.org.

For Preview Garden Party tickets, call (609) 924-8144, ext. 113.

The two works performed in the Princeton University Orchestra’s concerts this past weekend paid particular tribute to the performance’s honoree — former orchestra percussionist Stuart B. Mindlin. The music of early 20th-century France was marked by coloristic orchestral effects, many of which were scored into the percussion section. The compositions of Francis Poulenc and Maurice Ravel presented Friday night (the concert was repeated Saturday night) at Richardson Auditorium made full use of diverse orchestral palettes and showed some of the more unique percussion effects prevalent in music from a century ago.

These concerts were a collaborative effort between the University Orchestra and Glee Club, and began with the Glee Club showing the best sound heard from this ensemble in a while. Conductor Gabriel Crouch has amassed a good-sized chorus of more than eighty singers, yet the precision and clarity of sound produced in Poulenc’s Gloria made the ensemble sound like a concise chamber chorus. The Glee Club was accompanied by a substantial orchestra to bring out varied orchestra colors, punctuated by crisp brass, especially a trio of trumpets. Mr. Crouch kept the string lines sinewy and lean, allowing the vocal melodies to speak clearly above the orchestra. Throughout the six-movement work, one could hear dissonances clearly, with the tenors providing an especially full sound and the sopranos sounding like icing on an impressionistic cake. Inner voice parts were particularly well-blended, and a tricky a cappella passage in the second movement was meticulous.

Featured as soprano soloist in the Gloria was Clara Rottsolk, stepping in at the last minute. Ms. Rottsolk began her first solo passage with a strong and plaintive sound, and a vocal edge to match the accompanying lower strings. In a later movement, Ms. Rottsolk’s sound flowed effortlessly into the choral parts, backed by a steady pizzicato in the strings. The closing movement showed an especially warm orchestral sound, aided by two harps and topped by Ms. Rottsolk’s shimmering soprano, revealing Poulenc’s own version of a choral sunrise.

The true innovator of the orchestral sunrise was Maurice Ravel, whose works are renowned for building in driving intensity to brilliant heights. Ravel’s orchestration in his ballet score Daphnis et Chloé used the full range of orchestral instruments as well as a wordless chorus and a variety of percussive effects and musical devices popular in early 20th-century Europe. The stage at Richardson filled quickly with the very large University Orchestra assigned to play the ballet score, with the Glee Club split on either side of the balconies. Conductor Michael Pratt began the work subtly in the lower strings as the antiphonal chorus cleanly echoed the emerging sunrise in the lower instruments of the orchestra. Flutist Alison Beskin, principal hornist Max Jacobson and oboist Bo-Won Keum brightened the instrumental palette with elegant solo playing as the sound built in richness and sustained intensity.

The complete ballet score of Daphnis is divided into sections, with Mr. Pratt and the orchestra executing transitions smoothly and keeping the flow of the piece even. Among the percussive effects scored by Ravel was the use of a wind machine, adding an eerie color to the texture (and perking up audience interest), and a “Jeu des timbres” or glockenspiel, exploring the full scope of possible timbres. Precise winds startled the audience out of the impressionistic atmosphere, with the brass, especially trumpets, playing a key role in changing the orchestral colors. In the more familiar second suite, the sun rose through the strings, aided by languorous solos played by Ms. Beskin and alto flutist Marcelo Rochabrun. Throughout this section, the chorus built intensity and dynamic range well, with clear off-beat accents and choral sound flowing precisely across the stage between balconies. Especially impressive throughout the work was the ability of the chorus to be heard at all dynamics in the hall, especially when humming.

Although the second suite of Daphnis et Chloé is often performed by orchestras, the ballet score is rarely heard in its entirety. Both the University Orchestra and Glee Club demonstrated in these concerts that they were up to the challenge of these two impressionistic and inventive works, closing their seasons well with a well-deserved sense of achievement.

IN SPITE OF ALL THAT HAPPENED, WE’RE MARRIED AT LAST: Missy (Amanda Seyfried, right) contentedly rests her head on her new husband Alejandro’s (Ben Barnes) shoulder. The wedding finally occurred in spite of many embarrassing events that occurred prior to the ceremony.

IN SPITE OF ALL THAT HAPPENED, WE’RE MARRIED AT LAST: Missy (Amanda Seyfried, right) contentedly rests her head on her new husband Alejandro’s (Ben Barnes) shoulder. The wedding finally occurred in spite of many embarrassing events that occurred prior to the ceremony.

This picture is such a disaster that it’s hard to decide where to start in critiquing it. I could talk about how it is just the latest case of Hollywood remaking a French farce (Mon Frère se Marie) which somehow lost all of its charm when it was translated into English. Or I could point out how it’s a variation of Meet the Parents and even has Robert De Niro reprising his role as a macho father-in-law who is less inclined to reason with somebody than to threaten to bust his kneecap.

Or I could focus on how the production squanders the talents of a cast that includes four Oscar winners De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, and Diane Keaton, as well as that of seasoned comedians Topher Grace, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, and Christine Ebersole. Or I might mention that the movie sat on the shelf for over a year before the studio decided to pump up the marketing and dump it on the public.

Then there’s the homophobia and racism, reflected in disparaging remarks about lesbians and Colombians. Equally objectionable is the picture’s use of sophomoric sight gags such as projectile vomiting. Perhaps most offensive of all is the film’s coarse, off-color humor.

All of the above amounts to a bitter disappointment, especially given the elite cast. Blame for this fiasco rests squarely on the shoulders of writer/director/producer Justin Zackham, who apparently was trying to replicate the lowbrow nature of his only other feature-length film, Going Greek, a raunchy film that was released in 2001.

As for the storyline, Mr. Zackham relies on “The Big Lie” cliché, a hackneyed plot device that has been popular in TV sitcoms since the beginning of television. The plot is about characters who go to increasingly great lengths to hide an embarrassing fact from someone until the ruse blows up in their faces and the truth comes out.

In the movie, Missy (Amanda Seyfried) and Alejandro (Ben Barnes) are on the verge of tying the knot in Connecticut, when they learn that his birth mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae), is unexpectedly flying in from Colombia to attend the wedding. Because she’s a devout Catholic, they don’t want her to know that the adoptive parents Don and Ellie (De Niro and Keaton) have been divorced for a decade.

So, instead of simply explaining the changed state of affairs to Madonna, everybody agrees to participate in an elaborate cover up to make it appear that Don and Ellie are still together, even though he’s currently in a committed relationship with Bebe (Sarandon). What a patently preposterous premise!

The escalating concatenation of calamities adds-up to an incoherent string of crude skits.

Poor (0 stars). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and brief nudity. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 90 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films

April 24, 2013
THE BIRTH OF ISRAEL: “Jacob Wrestling the Angel of God,” by the hands of iconographer Maureen McCormick is one of 20 images currently on display in the exhibition “Locating Prosopon: On the Path Towards the Divine Countenance” in the Erdman Gallery at the Princeton Theological Seminary, 20 Library Place. For more information, call (609) 462.0975, or visit: www.prosoponschool.org.(Courtesy of Maureen McCormick)

THE BIRTH OF ISRAEL: “Jacob Wrestling the Angel of God,” by the hands of iconographer Maureen McCormick is one of 20 images currently on display in the exhibition “Locating Prosopon: On the Path Towards the Divine Countenance” in the Erdman Gallery at the Princeton Theological Seminary, 20 Library Place. For more information, call (609) 462.0975, or visit: www.prosoponschool.org. (Courtesy of Maureen McCormick)

God really is in the details in an exhibition of icons currently on view at the Erdman Center Gallery in Princeton.

The icons are by master iconographers and advanced apprentices of the Prosopon School of Iconology, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

The exhibition, “Locating Prosopon: On the Path Towards the Divine Countenance” features 20 sacred images including several by the school’s founder Vladislav Andrejev.

Born in 1938 in St. Petersburg, Mr. Andrejev studied illustration and fine art at a time when sacred art was forbidden in the Soviet Union. Iconography had flourished in Russia, reaching its apex during the post-Byzantine era. Mr. Andrejev’s interest in the centuries old tradition of icon and fresco painting led him to independent study with a monk who was an iconographer in his native land. He came to the United States in 1980.

In 1988, he founded the Prosopon School of Iconology. Icon is a Greek word meaning “image” and prosopon, also Greek, can be translated as “face,” but was adopted by early Christian theologians to denote the “Countenance of God.”

Mr. Andrejev’s sons, Dmitri Andrejev and Nikita Andrejev, also teach at the school which boasts an estimated 4,000 students since its inception.

Prosopon iconographers work in the traditional medium of egg tempera and gold leaf on gessoed wood panels. The work is distinctive for sparkling, painterly highlights and luminous, textured surfaces achieved through careful layering of multiple transparent glazes of paint.

Exhibition curator and iconographer Maureen McCormick describes the technique as challenging. “It takes years just to become adept at using these materials,” she says. Egg tempera is an emulsion made from raw egg yolks and water mixed with white wine as a stabilizer (vinegar was used until it was discovered that wine works equally well and smells sweeter). Natural dyes like indigo and carmine, and pigments such as lapis lazuli, malachite, and azurite are used. “My favorite is one we don’t use any more,” comments Ms. McCormick of a pigment called Indian Yellow, the dried urine of oxen fed with mango leaves. Many are expensive. A tablespoon of the best lapis from Afghanistan, for example, can cost around $200. “It’s hard to make something ugly when working with such beautiful materials,” says Ms. McCormick who became intrigued by the medium when she attended a Prosopon workshop 17 years ago. At first, she intended it as a hobby, but soon volunteered as workshop coordinator. Some thirty students from across the U.S. and abroad are expected to sign up for the six-day, $700-workshop at Trinity Church, in Princeton, this July 7 to July 12.

Besides teaching at the school since 2005 and organizing exhibitions since 2007, Ms. McCormick is Iconographer in Residence at Trinity Church, where she produces commissioned icons and offers classes and lectures to parishioners and church and community groups in central New Jersey. Until recently, she was the chief registrar and manager of collections at Princeton University Art Museum.

The Exhibition

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a recent icon by Mr. Andrejev and never before exhibited. Also on display are depictions of the Archangel Barachiel, 2013, by the hands of Vladislav Andrejev and Dmitri Andreyev; and Christ Emmanuel, 2011, by the hand of Vladislav Andrejev.

Subjects include: Saints Maximos the Confessor, Gregory Palamas and Symeon the New Theologian; Jacob Wrestling the Angel of God; Archangel Raphael with Tobias; Angel Hesychia; as well as depictions of Christ and Christ as a child with his mother. Several icons of the same subject by different iconographer are grouped together for comparison.

Other iconographers with work in the exhibition include: Dmitri Berestova; Lynette Hull, Nikita Andrejev, Susan von Medicus; Dmitri Andreyev; Mary Kay LaPlante; Kristina Sadley; Tatiana Berestova.

You won’t find names of the artists writ large by these works of art. That’s not the tradition with sacred art. The preferred terminology is “by the hand of.” Ms. McCormick explains: “This is because we don’t feel that we are the author of these images but rather the means through which they are made incarnate.”

In orthodox Christianity, icons convey “the Gospel in light and color.” They are described as being “written” rather than “painted.” As letters of the alphabet combine to form meaning, so the colors, compositional elements, and conventions of depiction are thought to create “a symbolic language capable of compressing complex Biblical narratives and theological truths into images that can be comprehended in an instant,” explains the exhibition curator.

Most viewers will be able to recognize familiar saints, angels and, sometimes, stories. And if you are puzzled, there is usually a name written on the icon. For anyone who may feel uneasy about the “graven image’ aspect of icons, Ms. McCormick explains her own rule of thumb for distinguishing icons from idolatry. “The difference, as I see it, is that if it points you toward God, it is not an idol, but if it points toward yourself or something else, then it is an idol,” she says. “As human beings we relate to faces but how to represent the godhead is still a disputed issue.”

In 726, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III declared icons to be idolatrous on the basis of the Second Commandment, which prohibits the making of “graven images.” “People lived and died over this issue,” said Ms. McCormick. The Second Council of Nicea in 787, also known as the Seventh Ecumenical Council, was convened specifically to address the problem.

With degrees in fine art and printmaking, Ms. McCormick thinks of herself as a creative artist. In response to those who would describe her as a “copyist,” she says: “Would you call Glenn Gould a copyist?”

Although icons are created according to a strict canon, unlike the art of the west, which places a high value on artistic originality and innovation, there are, says Ms. McCormick, opportunities for the artist to be creative within the canon and Prosopon School icons are as unique as they are similar. “As an artist working in sacred art, one is bound by many constraints, and yet in that there is infinite freedom,” she says.

Like a poet working within  the form of a sonnet, one has to observe rules of prosody. Poetry is a great analogy, she believes, because like a poem, an icon compresses. “An icon can teach you volumes like that! she says with a snap of the fingers. “It bypasses the rational mind.”

As in any atelier, the school has developed new conventions for depicting garments, in wool and silk, and even, as was a recent challenge to students, painting a garment made of light.

“The act of writing, an icon for me, is an act of gratitude. We live in the world surrounded by beauty and there is a transfiguring of these raw materials in offering them back to God. This is an act of devotion,” says Ms. McCormick, “something for me to do with my hands while I pray.”

“Locating Prosopon: On the Path Towards the Divine Countenance” continues through June 30 in the Erdman Gallery at the Princeton Theological Seminary, 20 Library Place. Admission is free and the event open to the public, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 to 9 p.m. For more information, call (609) 462-0975, or visit: www.prosoponschool.org.

 

davisI had just never heard music like that. I never heard melodies that wafted away and came back to earth a long way off.

—Colin Davis on first hearing Berlioz

I move around a lot because things tend to get bad when I stay.

—Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces

It’s just not done. You don’t drive to New Hope with the Berlioz Requiem. It’s too much to ask of Moby, my sturdy 12-year-old Honda CRV, who has just been treated to a new timing belt. But this is a special occasion. Colin Davis, the conductor in charge of the sonic juggernaut rocking the car, died last week, April 14, at 85.

As we speed down down down one hill, gathering momentum for the steeper hill looming dead ahead ten minutes this side of Lambertville, I’m holding on for dear life with my left hand, conducting with my right. We’re into the last of the massive orchestral movements surging toward the Day of Wrath as we hit the upgrade, and here comes grief and glory from the four corners of the earth, four brass choirs playing the fatal fanfare, the Tuba Mirum that, as Davis liked to say, “blows your brains out.” Now Moby’s pushing past horsepower to whalepower like his great white namesake and we’re over the top as the chorus lays a wave of pure sound on the hilltop horizon, 400 voices above a score of thundering drums, it’s as if everyone who ever lived is singing “as all creation rises again.” Then we’re over the top into the sun and wind and the hushed, humbled calm of the Quid sum miser. On to New Hope!

Five Easy Pieces

The idea that “serious music” has to exist apart from the rough and tumble of real life is violated with a vengeance in Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces. Until serendipity brought the film my way in the aftermath of Sir Colin Davis’s death, I’d had doubts about doing a column on a British conductor who seemed too far from the American mainstream — too, well, serious. But not if he’s sharing the column with Bobby Eroica Dupea, the blue-collar black sheep of a family of classical musicians played by Jack Nicholson, who turned 76 on April 22.

If you can soar with Berlioz in a Honda, you can get down with Chopin in a pick-up truck. According to Edward Douglas’s biography of Nicholson, the whole film evolved from Rafelson’s vision of Jack “out in the middle of a highway, the wind blowing through his hair, sitting on a truck and playing the piano.” What makes the moment exhilarating is the way it blows through the cliches of class and cinema shaping our expectations. All we know of Bobby when he piles out of his car in the middle of a nightmare of gridlocked, horn-blaring road rage is that he’s a hard-working, hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-bowling handful with a short fuse. Now that he’s out there shouting at the honking drivers (“Ants!”) and barking back at a barking dog, we’re anticipating some vintage American violence, maybe a tire-iron duel to the death, a shoot out, or a kerosene-laced free-for-all that ends with at least one car going up in flames. Instead, Robert Eroica Dupea has spotted a familiar object in the back of an open truck, a piece of furniture he knows all too well; the canvas sheet loosely pulled over it can’t hide the story of his early life. Climbing abroad the truck, he flings the canvas off the piano, sits down, and liberates his demons, pounding out Chopin’s Fantasy in F-minor while back in the car his bellylaughing buddy claps and whoops and cheers him on. And he’s still playing when the traffic begins to move and still at it even as the truck heads off down a side road, he doesn’t care, he’s free, and for all purposes already on his way back to the other half of his life.

Sure enough, next thing you know he’s on the coast highway heading north to the family home on an island in the environs of Seattle. The apparent motive for the visit is to see his dying father, though it’s also clear that he’s fed up with his trailer camp oil-rigger life and feeling burdened by his Rayette, a sweet, sexy, gauche, super-needy, and apparently pregnant Tammy Wynette-wanna-be played to the hilt by Karen Black. On the drive north, there are some moments memorable enough to help secure Five Easy Pieces a place with the best films of its era (see the YouTube clips “Side Order of Toast” and “Palm Apodaca”). It’s also the only American film that German director Wim Wenders “felt close to” at the time of a 1976 interview. Wenders found it “a very European film in a way,” because of the family living in the big “English house” where “everybody is playing an instrument” — ”all that cultural background … it’s not American.”

After leaving Rayette at a nearby motel, Bobby revisits the music-haunted house he grew up in and proceeds to seduce his concert violinist brother’s elegant fiance, Catherine, herself a pianist (as is his sister Partita). The seduction begins when he plays, at her request, Chopin’s prelude No. 4. As a subdued Bobby plays, the camera tours the big room, which is steeped in family history, violins lying about, music manuscripts, framed photographs of family members in performance, Bobby as a youngster, and, of course, framed portraits of Chopin and Mendelssohn. In less than three minutes you understand where he’s coming from and why when he finishes and is complimented for playing with feeling, he insists that he felt “nothing.” The merging of music, imagery, and movement in this sequence is surely among the moments Wenders had in mind when he spoke of European films and English houses.

Smashing It All Up

There’s a definite rough and tumble side to Sir Colin Davis’s story, and a touch of Jack Nicholson’s volatility in a conductor known in his middle years for “schoolboy tantrums” and talking back to the audience. In fact, when the movie-star-handsome Davis was doing his first stint as conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra at around the same age as Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, he was, by his own admission, “a raw young man” battling with “a pretty ferocious bunch of pirates.” In a 2007 interview, he remembers “There were no women in the orchestra except for a harpist who smoked a pipe. And we had lots of battles.” By the time he took over from Georg Solti at the Royal Opera, he was in his mid-forties and had yet to mellow. When members of the audience, unhappy at losing Solti, booed him, he booed back and stuck his tongue out, and the Covent Garden seas remained stormy until he left in 1986.

Like Bobby Dupea, Davis had two families, three, if you count the one he was born into, a struggling bank clerk’s son with six siblings and no electricity housed above a shop in Weybridge, Surrey. In the online Daily Mail article I’ve been quoting from, which is accompanied by the best Colin Davis photos available (in one he’s shown hugging an immense pet iguana, in another he’s on fire conducting, rearing back, one fist clenched, roaring like a lion), he remembers, “We had a zinc bath in front of the coal fire with all these slippery kids jumping in and out. There wasn’t any light except for the fire. It was all rather humble.”

Of the conductor’s other two families, the first was predictably musical, given his marriage at 22 to April Cantelo, a soprano, with whom he had two children, Suzanne and Christopher; while his wife’s career was taking off, he was scuffling for work, reduced at times to babysitting, and in the mid-sixties, when personal and professional revolt were the order of the day, Davis made his move. Sounding like a British variation on Bobby Dupea, he put it this way, as quoted in Norman Lebrecht’s The Maestro Myth: “I decided I didn’t like anything in my life. So I stood back and smashed it all up.”

Unlike Bobby, who abandons his pregnant partner and heads for Alaska, Davis picked up the pieces and put his life back together again. With his marriage dissolving and his career going nowhere, he righted himself by reading Hermann Hesse, Herman Broch, and Nikos Kazantzakis, and falling in love with his family’s former au pair, an Iranian diplomat’s daughter. He married Ashraf Naini (Shamsi) multiple times in order to satisfy both the Iranian and British authorities, once in Tehran, once in the Iranian Embassy in London as well as in a civil ceremony. The marriage produced five children, Kurosh, Kavas, Farhad, Sheida, and Yalda, and lasted 46 years, until Lady Davis, as she was known after Davis was knighted in 1980, died in June 2010. When he was asked how he could go on conducting Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at the Royal Opera House only days after her death, he replied that his strength “comes from the music,” and said of Mozart, “he’s life itself.” In one of his last interviews, he admitted that “not a day passes” that he isn’t “thinking about his own death.” In a Times of London article on the occasion of his 80th birthday in September 2007, he said, “Every piece of music is a rehearsal of one’s own life. It comes out of nothing and disappears into nothing.”

Davis in Action

Go looking for the combative tantrum-thrower online and you’re more likely to find a sage whose gifts as a conductor include humanity and humility, a sense of humor, a poet’s grasp of language, and a willingness to be consumed in the fire of the score when, for example, the object is to set the Berlioz Requiem ablaze in all its tumultuous glory. On YouTube you can see him rehearsing for a millennium concert of that “stupendous” work, telling the violinists among his vast corps of student musicians to think of the tremolos in the Dies Irae as “the fire that’s going to consume you when you’ve been condemned.” These are more than words to Davis; he’s in there physically and emotionally as he demonstrates by clutching an invisible violin and sawing it in a mad frenzy, mouthing the savage sounds, as if he were single handedly conjuring the fire. It’s a frenzy even Jack Nicholson might envy.

I’d rather remember the conductor who said of his art, “The difference between something alive and something dead is that the living thing breathes,” and who could express not only the frenzy and the fire of Berlioz but the “melodies that wafted away and came back to earth,” like the Shepherd’s Chorus from L’Enfance du Christ, of which Davis says in a YouTube interview, “If you’re not moved, I’m sorry for you. You’ll have to move on.”