April 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information visit www.morven.org.


Theater Rev

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

Admissions: The Musical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LET ME SHOW YOU HOW IT’S DONE: The alpha male Freddie, (center), of a clan of chimpanzees living in the Ivory Coast’s jungle patiently shows Oscar (left) how to crack and clean nuts for food. Oscar became an orphan when his mother (not shown) disappeared during a battle with a tribe of rival chimpanzees who were trying to take over Oscar’s clan’s territory. Much to the surprise of the documentary’s crew members, in a never before observed behavior, Freddie undertook the task of raising Oscar.

This delightful Disneynature documentary, narrated by Tim Allen and shot in the wilds of Africa’s Ivory Coast, is about the adorable antics of an infant chimpanzee named Oscar. Co-directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the film chronicles the little fellow’s adjustment from an infant who is completely protected by his mother, but who overnight becomes an orphan due to circumstances beyond his control.

At the point of departure, we find 3-month-old Oscar living in the heart of the jungle where he’s surrounded by a tight-knit extended family of 35 chimpanzees. There, under the watchful eye of his mother, Isha, he plays with other youngsters while exploring the world around him.

Oscar is completely oblivious to all the surrounding threats to his existence, such as ferocious leopards and the rival group of chimpanzees located nearby that covets his clan’s grove of fertile nut trees. Defense of the clan’s turf is a collective affair that is directed by the alpha male, Freddie. The two clans skirmish intermittently but Oscar’s family generally gets the better of the exchange even though they are outnumbered.

Monkeys are a little lower than chimpanzees on the food chain and are the chimpanzees’ favorite meat to eat. One monkey provides enough food to feed the clan. Interestingly, the chimps have developed a complicated scheme to trap a monkey that calls for members of the hunting party to play different roles, such as stalkers, blockers, and ambushers, in order to trap their prey.

Oscar’s situation changes drastically when Isha disappears one day during a battle. When it looks like unprotected Oscar might soon succumb to a predator or the elements, Freddie, the alpha male of the clan, spontaneously adopts Oscar as his own.

This never before seen bonding prompts the observing primatologists to exclaim: “The loss of his mother could’ve meant the end. Instead it’s a new beginning.”

The film is a must-see for animal lovers and people who liked March of the Penguins and Winged Migration.

Excellent (****). Rated G. Running time: 78 minutes. Distributor: Disneynature.

 

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

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, shows “Babbling Brooks and Silent Springs” through May 4. In conjunction, “Waterscapes,” a show of photography by high school students, is on display. Also featured is “Voices for the Marsh,” a juried photography show about the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. A permanent exhibit of native waterfowl decoys is now on view in the Johnson Education Center. Jay Vawter and Dr. Charles Leck will lecture on decoys, waterfowl migration patterns, and more on April 25 at 7 p.m. A dessert reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

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

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, from April 27-May 27 shows Frank Magalhaes’ “I Am a Tree, Part 2.” The opening reception is April 27 from 6-8 p.m. “Meet the Photographer” is April 29 from 1-3 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Garden State Watercolor Society, Prallsville Mill, Route 29, Stockton, is holding an art sale April 29-May 6 of all media by such artists as Suzanne Hunt, Robert Heyer, Marilyn Rose, Joanne Amantea, and Lucy McVicker. Hours are weekends 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and Mondays-Fridays 12-5 p.m. Free demonstrations will be given May 1-5 by the artists on their different media.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Spring into Spring,” art by Mary Ellen Brennan, through April 29. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University presents “Fourteen ‘13s,” junior independent work by visual arts students, from April 26-May 6 at the James S. Hall ‘34 Memorial Gallery, Butler College. The opening reception is April 26 from 7-9 p.m. “Moan: The Monstrous Sublime,” a photographic installation by senior Jun Koh, is at the Chancellor Green Rotunda April 26-May 9. The opening reception is April 26, 8-10 p.m.

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

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

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery hosts fractal derived works of art by Mike Hunter during the month of April.

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

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

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

Small World Cafe, 14 Witherspoon Street, shows “Saints & Sinners, a Celebration of the Mundane, Sacred and Profane” through May 1. The art is by Tom McGill.

SOHO20 Chelsea, 547 West 27th Street, Suite 301, New York, is showing “Painting Poetry” by Princeton artist Anne Elliott through May 19. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 12-6 p.m. The opening reception is April 26, 6-8 p.m.

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

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

University League Art Gallery, 171 Broadmead, shows works by Rita Stynes Strow in a show called “Celtic Myths and Faith,” April 28 from 1-6 p.m. and April 29 from 2-6 p.m.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, shows “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” through April 27. The exhibit is the work of self-taught artists. The arts center partners with HomeFront’s ArtSpace to produce this show. A juried exhibit for visual artists ages 13-33, “Can You Hear It?” will run May 2-June 8; the opening reception is May 6, 4-6 p.m. with a gallery talk with participating artists and jurors. Visit ww.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

April 18, 2012

Whitman’s Washington consisted of an unfinished Capital dome with blocks of marble and granite strewn about its grounds. The Washington monument was not yet half of its present height of 555 feet. The Treasury, Post-office, and Interior Department buildings were unfinished as well. There were few sidewalks and only one theatre. 

—from Washington During War Time

Among a multitude of other things, bad and good, Washington D.C. is a city of statements on the Grand Scale. Right now one of the dominant statements is Construction, with Jobs as a positive subtext. The cranes are everywhere. Waiting in line for a cab at Union Station, you’re surrounded by a construction zone, with the dome of the capitol in the near distance looking a bit embattled. The cab must have skirted half a dozen such sites before it reached our destination, the Tabard Inn on N Street, one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Washington. It’s also a survivor. According to the brochure at the front desk, efforts to demolish the property in the early 1970s “were halted when its neighbors rose up in protest.” If you happen to enter the lounge and restaurant during the dinner hour, as we did, you feel that you’ve walked into the busiest, most convivial gathering place in the city. There may be some other tourists here and there, but it soon becomes clear that the brochure is not stretching the truth when it claims that the spot “is a favorite haunt for journalists, publishers, and those involved in the arts and congressional intrigue.”

If “congressional intrigue” sounds like a line from a political thriller, no wonder, for it turns out that the Tabard Inn Hotel is a setting in numerous novels, including John Grisham’s Pelican Brief; Jerry Doolittle’s stories about Tom Bethany, “a Boston self-styled detective and wrestling buff who frequently visits his mistress in D.C.” Then there’s Les Whitten’s character “Frederick Tabard,” the senior partner of a prestigious law firm whose family founded the Tabard. It’s said that there was also a failed screenplay about a president “who hides in the Tabard’s secret Chrome Room to foil his pursuers.”

On the Mall

Construction is the story even on the National Mall, where visitors to the war memorials — World War II, Korea, and Vietnam — will find themselves navigating around the resurfacing of the walks and installation of sidewalks adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Under construction in the other direction is the Museum of African American History and Culture. Other projects include memorials to President Eisenhower and American Veterans Disabled for Life, which the optimists among us can assume is so titled to include suicidal victims of post-traumatic stress disorder like the one mentioned in Nicholas Kristof’s column in this Sunday’s Times.

Numbers

Last Thursday we joined the crowd streaming toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It seemed that all the kids from all the malls in America had been turned loose on the National Mall with the same objective: Maya Lin’s haunted and haunting black wall bearing the 58,000-plus names of the dead. The kids sustained a sort of easygoing decorum when they encountered the somber, stirring reality of the names. Not that they were quiet or even consciously respectful; it was as if the sheer power of the place created a hush in which they were submerged. I had no names to look for, but Richard Stuart Patterson caught my eye, my middle name being Patterson, which was my mother’s maiden name and the name on my uncle’s dog tag (Robert E. Lee Patterson, Jr.), which I keep close at hand; he was a bombardier, killed in a freak accident in February 1942. There are lots of Pattersons on the wall. Richard Patterson was born in Toledo, Ohio, spring of 1950, joined army September 1970, killed in action July 1971, one of the 58,000-plus.

Like the scale of the Mall, the numbers are extreme. Rounded off, World War I: 52,000, World War II: 415,000. Korean War: 34,000.

The staggering numbers of Civil War dead have recently been revised upward from 618,222 (360,222 from the North, 258,000 from the South) to 750,000, according to an April 2 story in the New York Times. Based on “newly digitized census data from the 19th century,” the death toll increased by more than 20 percent. You’d need another Mall, maybe ten Malls, to even begin to acknowledge the numerical no-man’s-land of the War Between the States. Against that unfathomable carnage, the National Mall exalts one leader above all others.

Follow the path from the Vietnam wall to the Lincoln Memorial and it’s like entering American history’s sacred ground. You feel you’re a pilgrim approaching some goal or concept beyond your power to comprehend. You seem to be looking at the summit of scale, above and beyond any horizon. One minute you’re admiring the way the magnitude of the monument overwhelms the tiny figures climbing the steps. Then you’re one of them, part of the scene, as you move slowly to the top, and there he is.

My favorite statue in the world is probably Rodin’s Balzac, not the one in the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden, nor the one in the Rodin Museum, but the one occupying a polluted square in Montparnasse. But this white marble rendering of one infinitely human individual seated in a chair, less like a monarch on a throne than a tired father with a world of grief on his shoulders, warms me, chills me, fills me with love and hope, foolish though such thoughts may seem in view of what’s going on and will always be going on in the world, not to mention in this forever conflicted, problematic, scene-shifting, wheeler dealer dream of a city. Everywhere, on all sides, people are lifting an array of photographic devices, held high toward the massive presence, with the fond hope of taking home a portion of Lincoln.

Whitman’s Escalator

Washington’s grandeur is all the more impressive when you aren’t expecting it. In the DuPont Circle metro station the dizzyingly steep straight-up escalator tempts photographers to stand at the bottom taking aim to catch the uncanny effect of people gliding into view at the pinnacle of the mechanism, or else ascending like figures in some parable of heavenly ascension.

When the DuPont Circle escalator finally reaches the top and deposits you on firm ground, you may notice words engraved in capital letters along a sort of rotunda, THUS IN SILENCE IN DREAMS’ PROJECTIONS …. What’s that all about? Not exactly your run of the mill ceremonial platitude. Think how those six unlikely words might strike someone with an easily inflamed imagination who is perhaps already slightly drunk from the ascent. Imagine Camus or Coleridge or Emerson or DeQuincey, or any of their faithful readers, or any soul with a predilection for the unknown, rising from the subterranean depths to find that unfinished sentence waiting to be followed around to its completion on the other end of the rotunda. RETURNING, RESUMING, I THREAD MY WAY THROUGH THE… Unless you’re a student of the poet whose words you are now following, walking beside, as near as you can get to them without tumbling into the depths of the escalator pit, you will be wondering what dreams? returning from what? resuming what? threading your way where? Only when you arrive at the word HOSPITALS does the identity of the author become clear, and when it does, it makes perfect sense because of the thousands and thousands whose names were on that long black Vietnam wall, THE HURT AND WOUNDED I PACIFY WITH SOOTHING HAND which Walt Whitman did in one or the other of Washington’s 56 makeshift hospitals when he was living in Washington between 1862 and 1865. I SIT BY THE RESTLESS ALL THE DARK NIGHT SOME ARE SO YOUNG If you look at the online information about each of the soldiers named on Maya Lin’s wall, you’ll find that the majority were between 18 and 20. SOME SUFFER SO MUCH. It’s hard to make out the words on the far side: you practically have to tiptoe along the edge of the abyss (no one can put as much feeling into a simple “so” as Whitman, who nursed the wounded, wrote to their families, held their hands). I RECALL THE EXPERIENCE, SWEET AND SAD.

The last two lines of the stanza, from “The Wound Dresser,” have been left off, perhaps not because Walt crossed the line with references to soldier’s “loving arms” about his neck and “soldier’s kiss on these bearded lips” but because there simply was no room.

Reading Walt Whitman’s account of his time in Washington in Specimen Days and in his journals and letters, you begin to think that if Lincoln had not existed, Whitman would have invented him. Admiring the president on horseback, “dress’d in plain black, somewhat rusty and dusty, wears a black stiff hat,” Whitman approvingly observes that he “looks about as ordinary in attire, &c., as the commonest man.” In a letter written shortly after Lincoln took office, the Good Grey Poet sees a face “like a Hoosier Michelangelo, so awful ugly it becomes beautiful.”

———

Washington During War Time is an anthology published in 1902 by the Tribune Company.


Every year or two, the Princeton University Department of Music presents a major opera with students in the starring roles. Given the magnitude of this year’s production, it is clear why the department spends at least a year putting these projects together. This past weekend brought Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera Albert Herring to the Richardson Auditorium stage, with most of the technically difficult roles handled by students singing well beyond their years. The designation of this opera as “chamber” is certainly understated — Albert Herring is as vocally complex and demanding as some major 19th-century works.

Friday night’s opening (the opera was repeated Saturday night) demonstrated how a tremendous amount of work had gone into presenting a smooth production with few flaws. University director of choral activities Gabriel Crouch took on a new role, conducting an orchestra comprised of area professionals and students, many of whom performed solos matching a specific character in mood and text. Most notable were flutist Jayn Rosenfeld, oboist Matt Sullivan, and hornist Karen Schubert, all of whom well interpreted Britten’s orchestral concept of opening scenes with extended instrumental solos setting the mood onstage. Britten composed Albert Herring shortly after World War II, when material things were likely scarce in Britain. Designer German Cardenas’ sets represented the era well, with simple furniture shaded in pinks and blues.

Albert Herring is cast with thirteen singers, each of whom must sing intricate vocal lines against an accompaniment that often has nothing to do with the singers’ parts. Of the vocal performers in this production, only one was cast with a non-student — the part of Mrs. Herring, sung by mezzo-soprano Danielle Wright. Ms. Wright brought a vast operatic background to this role, which required vocal power perhaps beyond the college-age range. The tenor role of Albert Herring also extended into a vocal maturity beyond college years, but sophomore Christopher Beard moved through the role well as the opera progressed, especially in a very physical and comical soliloquy. Mr. Beard was well able to hold his own in duets with Ms. Wright as his mother. These two significant roles were joined by elderly autocrat Lady Billows, sung by sophomore Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa. More than any other member of the cast, Ms. Tawengwa sang with vocal skill well beyond her University level, wielding her cane as well as her words and bringing solid comic character to the part. These were all challenging roles, but Lady Billows in particular stretched well into dramatic soprano range.

Lady Billows seemed to be always surrounded by her entourage, comprised of the teacher, the vicar, the mayor and the constabulary. As the vicar, Dan Corica showed himself to be a solid tenor with a great deal of animation. His fellow tenor onstage, Saumitra Sahi performing the role of the mayor, sang with more vocal bite, but equally as much animation. The role of the constabulary was clearly borrowed from Gilbert & Sullivan, with bass Kevin Zhu looking every bit the part of a keystone cop, singing decisively into the lower bass register and registering every comic look of dismay and agitation. Soprano Anna Powell sang the role of Miss Wordsworth the teacher with sparkle going as high into the vocal stratosphere as Mr. Zhu was in the basement. The tough role of Housekeeper Florence, with a great deal of a cappella singing, was well handled by Stella Kim, who particularly came to life in the scene which decided Albert Herring should be the “King of the May.” Katherine Buzard and Matthew Walsh sang the romantic roles of Nancy and Sid, respectively, and were particularly effective in a late Act 1 duet in which they sang very clean octaves against what seemed to be a totally unrelated orchestral accompaniment. Music director Gabriel Crouch kept things well under control in the pit, allowing the thirteen-piece orchestra to build ensemble tension gradually. Like Gilbert & Sullivan, Albert Herring is overly-melodramatic at times, with its instrumental music very appealing and played cleanly.

This was a huge undertaking by the department of music, with tough music requiring supreme confidence from the singers. It is very unusual to hear an opera of this difficulty performed at the collegiate level, and the Princeton University Opera performers were no doubt rightfully proud of their accomplishment.


THE WORKS OF GEORGE BALANCHINE: Principal dancers, Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette from the New York City Ballet, will return to McCarter Theatre on Tuesday, April 24. The dancers will perform a range of works by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon, and Peter Martins. For more information, visit www.nycballet.com. (Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik)

 

At McCarter Theatre last fall, a group of principal dancers from the New York City Ballet took part in a lecture demonstration about the works of choreographer George Balanchine. Presented in conjunction with a course being taught at Princeton University by former City Ballet member Heather Watts, the program was a revelation to audience members. The celebrated dancers — among the finest on stages today — wore practice clothes to perform excerpts from several ballets, giving audience members a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse into their world.

Many of those same dancers will return to McCarter on Tuesday, April 24, when New York City Ballet MOVES, a kind of farm team for the company, brings a program of works by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon, and Peter Martins to the Matthews Theatre stage. Tiler Peck, Daniel Ulbricht, Wendy Whelan, and brother-and-sister Megan and Robert Fairchild, all of whom performed in the lecture demonstration, are among this stellar group. They are joined by Tyler Angle, Andrew Veyette, Sara Mearns, Amar Ramasar, Jonathan Stafford, and other well-known members of the company.

Peter Martins, who has led City Ballet since Balanchine died in 1983, came up with the idea for MOVES a few years ago. “It was a vision of Peter’s,” says Jean-Pierre Frohlich, MOVES’ Artistic Administrator/Director and a former principal dancer with City Ballet. “He always wanted to have a small group to be able to tour to venues that normally the company as a whole does not visit. I think it was also a way to get our name out there, giving people a professional company with wonderful ballets. Basically, it’s to get people to get to know New York City Ballet.”

MOVES’ first tour was to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “It was a very big success,” recounts Mr. Frohlich. “The following year we went to the Vail Dance Festival in Colorado, and then back to Jackson Hole, where quite a few people from other institutions came to see us, liked us, and asked us to come to them.”

What followed were engagements in Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, California, and elsewhere, in addition to Princeton. The company will return to Vail this summer, and some European theaters are interested in presenting them.

City Ballet MOVES dances mostly small-scale ballets that require little scenery, but almost always to live music. “Due to our orchestra union contract, we have to perform to live music and cannot use tapes unless the ballet being presented was premiered without live music,” Mr. Frohlich says. “So some of the ballets will have a piano accompanist, or a pianist and violinist, or more. Most of the dancers are principals with the main company, though this time we’re bringing some members of the corps de ballet as well.”

On Tuesday’s program are Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, which debuted at the 1972 Stravinsky Festival; Robbins’ In the Night, danced to piano music by Chopin; Wheeldon’s Polyphonia,” to Ligeti; and Martins’ A Fool for You, to songs by Ray Charles and others (taped). Mr. Frohlich says a new piece is being created for the company by City Ballet dancer Justin Peck. It will premier in Vail this summer.

City Ballet’s regular schedule includes long engagements at Lincoln Center each winter and spring, followed by summer seasons in Saratoga Springs and touring to various parts of the globe. Adding extra work with MOVES might be considered a burden, but Mr. Frohlich says it is quite the opposite.

“The dancers love it,” he says. “A lot of the dancers who haven’t gotten to participate yet are envious of those who have. We try to rotate the group, because this is extra work for them, beyond the guaranteed work week. But they are happy to participate, because it’s more relaxed. They get to experience each other more, and become very good friends. And for the younger dancers in the corps, its especially exciting, because they might get an opportunity to do a role they wouldn’t get the chance to do otherwise.”


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

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley in Trenton, is showing “The Capital City College and University Art Exhibition” through April 24. The exhibit highlights the work of emerging and young regional visual artists as well as the centers of art instruction in the central New Jersey region. Visit www.art
workstrenton.com.

Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall of Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton Universtiy, shows “ARC: Paintings and Mixed Media by Paul Stopforth” April 30-August 3. The opening reception is May 11 from 6-8 p.m. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, shows “Babbling Brooks and Silent Springs” through May 4. In conjunction, “Waterscapes,” a show of photography by high school students, is on display. Also featured is “Voices for the Marsh,” a juried photography show about the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. A permanent exhibit of native waterfowl decoys is now on view in the Johnson Education Center. Jay Vawter and Dr. Charles Leck will lecture on decoys, waterfowl migration patterns, and more on April 25 at 7 p.m. A dessert reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

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

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, is showing “Digital Noir: Black-and-White Photographs by Richard Trenner” along with “Ingenuous Tapestries” by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac through April 22. From April 27-May 27, Frank Magalhaes’ “I Am a Tree, Part 2,” is on view. The opening reception is April 27 from 6-8 p.m. “Meet the Photographer” is April 29 from 1-3 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Spring into Spring,” art by Mary Ellen Brennan, through April 29. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, has two exhibits in the Domestic Arts Building through April 22: on the main floor are the cutting-edge works of the winners in the International Sculpture Center’s 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards. In the mezzanine gallery is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. Opening May 12 are spring/summer exhibitions including Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. In the Education Gallery through June 6, “The Impact of Art” will show works by artists with disabilities. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. A one-day workshop with artists W. Carl Burger is April 21 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., open to amateurs and professionals, at Updike Farm. Cost is $80; $65 for members. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.prince
tonhistory.org.

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

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view April 21-August 10.

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

Lawrence Headquarters Branch Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, has a photo exhibit by Philip Liu. Mr. Liu’s work is focused on his cultivation of lotus and water lilies. The show is in the library’s East Lobby Gallery. The library is also holding its Third Annual Trashed Art Contest, in which artists can submit one piece of original artwork in any medium with a minimum of 75 percent recycled content. There are two categories, for adults and kids who live in Mercer County. The entries will be on display through April; a reception is April 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Lawrenceville School’s Hutchins Rotunda Gallery on the campus, Main Street in Lawrenceville, presents “Basin Logic” by Lauren Rosenthal, through April 21. Visit www.law
renceville.org.

Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University presents “The Quinoa Quandary: A Deconstruction of a Documentary,” a photo and video exhibit at Butler College Gallery. This solo show by senior James Cole runs through April 20.

Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown, shows “Life Sentence,” drawings by Israeli artist Shai Zurim, through April 19, when there is a reception from 6:30-8 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. On April 22 at 2 p.m., “Puzzles, a Pathway to Recovery: A Conversation with Amy Goldstein” returns to Morven. Tickets are $10 ($8 for Friends of Morven). Visit www.morven.org or calling (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery hosts fractal derived works of art by Mike Hunter during the month of April. A reception is April 22 from 2-4 p.m.

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

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Letting Off Steam,” original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes by architect Michael Graves, through April 25.

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

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

Rider University Art Gallery, Bart Luedeke Center, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, presents a Senior Honors Thesis Exhibition April 17-23 with works by Kellie Marshall, Nicole Meyer and Megan Moyer. Hours are Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 12-4 p.m. The opening reception is April 19, 5-7 p.m.

Small World Cafe, 14 Witherspoon Street, shows “Saints & Sinners, a Celebration of the Mundane, Sacred and Profane” through May 1. The art is by Tom McGill.

SOHO20 Chelsea, 547 West 27th Street, Suite 301, New York, is showing “Painting Poetry” by Princeton artist Anne Elliott April 24-May 19. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 12-6 p.m. The opening reception is April 26, 6-8 p.m.

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

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

University League Art Gallery, 171 Broadmead, shows works by Rita Stynes in a show called “Celtic Myths and Faith,” the weekends of April 21-22 and 28-29. Saturdays are from 1-6 p.m.; Sundays 2-6 p.m. A reception is April 20 from 6-9 p.m.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, shows “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” through April 27. The exhibit is the work of self-taught artists. The arts center partners with HomeFront’s ArtSpace to produce this show. A juried exhibit for visual artists ages 13-33 will run May 2-June 8; the opening reception is May 6, 4-6 p.m. with a gallery talk with participating artists and jurors. Visit ww.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

WHO’S DOWN HERE?: Curt (Chris Hemsworth, center) accompanied by Marty (Fran Kranz, left rear) and Jules (Anna Hutchinson) are investigating a strange noise that is emanating from the basement of the isolated cottage they are staying in during their weekend break from college.

At first glance, The Cabin in the Woods appears to be a run-of-the-mill slasher film. After all, it’s about unsuspecting teenagers who are alone in a secluded setting and who find themselves stalked by a homicidal maniac. At the picture’s point of departure, we’re introduced to five naïve college kids setting off on a weekend getaway to a lakefront cottage that has no cell phone reception and even can’t be tracked by GPS.

Such a break off the grid from school is just what the overstressed quintet of college students assembled by Curt (Chris Hemsworth) need. It turns out that he’s been given free use of a cabin that is owned by his long-lost cousin. Each of Curt’s classmates who were invited to join him for the trip is a typical horror film archetype. There’s Jules the blonde (Anna Hutchinson); Marty the wasted stoner (Fran Kranz); Dana the innocent virgin (Kristen Connelly); and Holden the straight-A student (Jesse Williams).

En route, they blithely dismiss the ominous warning to avoid the place that is given by a creepy local resident (Tim De Zarn) who is familiar with the grisly history of their destination. Of course it isn’t long after their arrival that the evil forces at the haunted house start picking them off one-by-one.

That is where the similarity to the stock scary movie plot begins to unravel in this film which is the directorial debut of Drew Goddard. Our heroes have no idea that their ensuing struggle for survival is a high-tech ordeal orchestrated from an underground bunker by a couple of government bureaucrats (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who are assisted by an army of techno-wizards.

It’s impossible to discuss the storyline further without spoiling the many surprising supernatural developments. Suffice it to say that there is a host of bloodthirsty ghouls and goblins who can kill in creative ways. Overall, this hair-raising movie keeps you on edge for the length of the picture, although its frustrating game often feels unfairly rigged in favor of the sadistic manipulators.

This horror film definitely deserves its R rating given the incessant gore. Nevertheless, it remains highly recommended for fright fans interested in a more cerebral brand of bloodletting.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, drug use, sexuality, nudity, and graphic violence. Running time: 95 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.


April 11, 2012

He offered the cosmos as an adventure rather than a scheme. He did not explain evil, far less explain it away: he enjoyed defying it …. He may be said to have serenaded heaven with a guitar, and even, so to speak, tried to climb there with a rope ladder.

—G.K. Chesterton

One click of the iMac mouse and into the YouTube universe we go, Robert Browning’s voice coming through, at first faint and sketchy over the noise made by the Edison cylinder, like the sound of a horse at full gallop as the poet springs “to the saddle …. I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three …”

It’s April 7, 1889, and the first recording ever made of a poet reading from his work is barely underway when Browning forgets his lines. “I’m terribly sorry,” he cries in mid-gallop, “but I cannot remember me own verses!” It’s as if he were slyly playing out the eccentric, self-conflicted dynamic of one of his dramatic monologues as, undaunted, he lifts his voice in a transatlantic salute to the wizard of Menlo Park, for this “astonishing moment by your wonderful invention,” a moment he says he will remember all his life (he had less than a year to live). Still riding full-tilt above the galloping background noise, he shouts his name for the ages — “Robert Browning!” — before bellowing three times at the top of his lungs, “HIP-HIP HOORAY!” as he gallops off with a last brazen farewell roar of wordless exultation. This is Browning writ large, the heart’s-core essence of the energy that runs like an electric charge through his poetry.

On the afternoon of December 12, 1890, after a group at Edison’s Menlo Park lab marked the first anniversary of Robert Browning’s death by listening to the white wax cylinder, someone noted that this was the first time that any voice had been heard from “beyond the grave.”

Browning’s 200th

It was only after listening to another voice from the grave that I found the Edison cylinder of Browning and, with the wind of his farewell roar at my back, came upon Allan Massie’s March 31 story in the Daily Telegraph, which ends by rightly declaring that Browning’s bicentenary “should be celebrated with loud, cheerful, and sometimes discordant music.”

April was the key. Among poets, you could say that T.S. Eliot staked a claim to the “cruellest month,” but if any poet has April in his vest pocket, close to his heart, it’s the man who wrote, “Oh to be in England/Now that April’s there.” It wasn’t Browning’s “Home-Thoughts from Abroad,” however, that led me to my subject. It was a song with the same title sung by a British singer songwriter named Clifford T. Ward, who composed it in the form of a letter to his wife, with a reference to Browning in its opening line and a hint of the poet’s conversational manner in the phrasing. If you want to see this very special artist, you can find him on YouTube, as I did, alive and well, singing his “Home-Thoughts” beautifully, as he sang all his songs, even after multiple sclerosis was diagnosed in 1984, when he was 40; he died on December 18, 2001, singing and writing to the end (it’s said that he “crawled on all fours” to his home-based studio to make his last album).

How Strange It Seems

The Browning poem most in accord with my recent encounters and discoveries in the online “cosmos” (“an adventure rather than a scheme”) is “Memorabilia,” which begins, “Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,/And did he stop and speak to you.” In his note to the poem, Browning recalls an encounter in a London bookshop when a stranger spoke of something that Shelley had once said to him. “Suddenly,” Browning writes, “the stranger paused, and burst into laughter as he observed me staring at him with blanched face …. I still vividly remember how strangely the presence of a man who had seen and spoken with Shelley affected me.”

When the first stanza ends (“How strange it seems and new!”), it’s Browning himself speaking, not Andrea del Sarto or Rabbi Ben Ezra or Fra Lippo Lippi, or any of the other personae this poet assumes in his signature dramatic monologues. How mind-boggingly strange and new it seems, then, to discover Robert Browning’s handsome face, as I did today, side by side with the face of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on the Washington Times website, wherein columnist Tim Kern, having plucked Browning’s “Less is more” out of the virtual universe, attempts to build an economic argument around it in the cause of “More is more.” Kern does admit that the Laffer Curve is one practical application of the “less is more” principle; the problem is that he quotes from the wrong poem, “My Last Duchess,” when the line in question is actually to be found in “Andrea del Sarto.”

In fact, a brave new old world of Browning is out there, not only online but in so-called everyday life. Take a poem like “Rabbi Ben Ezra.” No one needs to know what it’s all about to cop a line and run with it. When I was raving about God and Shakespeare under somewhat extraordinary circumstances (a large dose of mescaline in a laboratory setting), the scientist in charge, one of the few great men I ever knew, whispered “What I aspired to be,/And was not, comforts me,” in my ear. I had no idea where those words came from at the time, but the message was on the money and I never forgot it. Whether you read Browning or Keats, Tolstoy or Melville, you’re aspiring to share in greatness and the comfort you find in the sharing is worth the effort.

Brett Does Browning

Think how many couples over the past century and a half have shared and been inspired by the story of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whether as an audience to dramatizations of their courtship and romance or as readers in their voluminous correspondence. Just as Browning became Ben Ezra, so actors on the stage and in film have become Browning, the shining knight who rescued the captive invalid, saving the life of a poet whose reputation at the time was larger than his own. Theirs, the most renowned of all real-life literary romances, was first portrayed in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Robert Besier’s 1931 play, a triumph for Katherine Cornell (Brian Aherne played Browning). M-G-M released it in 1934 with Frederic March and Norma Shearer in the leads; Bill “Geordie” Travers and Jennifer Jones starred in the 1957 CinemaScope version.

The best and most elusive version of the story is the BBC production from 1982, which apparently can be seen only in YouTube installments. In a January 2008 column celebrating Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, I suggested that his talent up to then had been wasted in unworthy roles. Among the most significant exceptions, it turns out, was his Browning, which is as exemplary and almost as energetic as his Holmes. Brett’s rapport with Jane Lapotaire’s Elizabeth makes their scenes together a pleasure to watch even in the washed-out print posted online. Brett’s alertness, the way he pounces on and passionately elucidates every nuance of his beloved’s response to him, her self-deluding acceptance of her lot, her unhealthy devotion to her father, and her fear of Browning’s physicality and indefatigable devotion to her recalls the genius that will animate Brett’s performance as Holmes three years later. What he learned from playing Browning clearly proved useful when he took on the role of his life as Conan Doyle’s moody master sleuth.

Like Holmes, Browning was a master of disguises. One of Jeremy Brett’s best moments is when Robert admits to Elizabeth that if he wrote about himself rather than disappearing into roles, the result would be dreadful. After Elizabeth hands him his famously obscure work, Sordello, and asks him to explain a particular passage, he scans it, ponders it by the fireplace, and admits, as the real-life Browning once said, that when he wrote it “only God and I knew what it meant, and now — alas — only God does.”

How He Lives On

How does he live? Let me count the ways.

Even though the above echoing of one of the most quoted sonnets this side of Shakespeare was written by Browning’s Elizabeth, he owns the emotional rights; it was written for him. And, as I’ve been suggesting, he doesn’t need any help from Edison’s “wonderful invention” to speak to us from beyond the grave. Like his American literary cousins, Emerson and Thoreau, he dispenses high-energy mood-enhancers. He courts the ailing Elizabeth Barrett in us, and when we’re in need of being roused out of our particular prisons, he cheers us on. But you can’t always be sure that he’s speaking for himself. In “Pippa Passes: A Drama,” he can make one of his most oft-repeated pronouncements (“God’s in his heaven;/all’s right with the world”) and end the same work by suggesting that we’re “God’s puppets, best and worst.”

Lennon’s Last Song

Among the couples who aspired to be Robert and Elizabeth were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The Brownings gave them a romantic theme for their last album, the posthumous (for John, speaking of voices from the grave) Milk & Honey (1985), which carried John’s song “Grow Old With Me” (with its adapting of the first two lines of “Rabbi Ben Ezra”) and Yoko’s “Let Me Count the Ways,” taken from E.B.B.’s most famous sonnet. The couple envisioned “Grow Old With Me” as a song comparable to Lennon’s “Imagine” (a New Year’s Eve standard in his adopted home, New York City), one that would be chosen for special occasions, namely marriage ceremonies. Evidence online suggests that this is what has happened. While John’s “Grow Old With Me” may be in better shape than Browning’s Edison cylinder travesty of “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix,” the clearest, loveliest version is sung by Princeton’s own Mary Chapin Carpenter.


SON, MAYBE IT’S TIME WE TALKED ABOUT THE BIRDS AND THE BEES: Father and son Noah Levenstein (Eugene Levy, left) and Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) sit down for a heart to heart talk when Jim comes home to East Great Falls, Michigan, with his wife and child (not shown) for his and his wife’s high school class’s thirteenth reunion.

To some, it probably seems like only yesterday that the high school seniors in American Pie were on a mission to lose their virginity before their graduation. But that was actually two sequels (American Pie 2 and American Wedding) and four spinoffs ago, and the high school friends have long since graduated and gone their separate ways.

Thus, at the point of departure we find that Jim (Jason Biggs) has married former band geek Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and the couple are raising a toddler (George Christopher Bianchi) who gets into everything. Meanwhile, Oz, the jock (Chris Klein), is now a high-profile TV sportscaster in Los Angeles; Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is married and working as an architect; and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a bohemian fantasizing about doing something more daring than managing a Staples store in New Jersey.

As middle-age approaches, the buddies decide to put their lives on hold and return to East Great Falls to attend their 13th high school reunion. There, they encounter former classmates Stifler (Seann William Scott) and The Shermanator (Chris Owen); Kevin’s ex-girlfriend, Vicky (Tara Reid); Oz’s ex-wife Heather (Mena Suvari); as well as Stifler’s mother (Jennifer Coolidge); and Jim’s father (Eugene Levy).

In the ensuing weekend, the band of friends reminisce and become embroiled in sordid affairs and sophomoric hijinks. For example, Kevin gets so drunk that when he wakes up in bed with Vicky, he can’t remember whether he’s cheated on his wife (Charlene Amoia). Jim is pursued by his 18-year-old next door neighbor (Ali Kobrin) whom he used to babysit.

Frankly, the group is a little long-in-the-tooth to over-imbibing in alcohol, ecstasy, and sex. A telltale sign that the cast members might have run its course is the lack of enthusiasm (other than Eugene Levy and Seann William Scott) with which they deliver their lines.

Good (**). Rated R for nudity, profanity, drug use, teen drinking, crude humor, and graphic sexuality. Running time: 113 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is showing “Drawing Beyond: An Exhibition of Contemporary Drawing,” with works by Eve Aschheim, Caroline Burton, Theresa Chong, and other artists, through April 13. On April 12 at 7 p.m., Tim Lefens, founder of A.R.T. (Artistic Realization Technologies), will speak on “Art and the Real.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscoun
cilofprinceton.org.

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley in Trenton, is showing “The Capital City College and University Art Exhibition” through April 24. The exhibit highlights the work of emerging and young regional visual artists as well as the centers of art instruction in the central New Jersey region. Visit www.art
workstrenton.com.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Illuminating Data: Visualizing the Information that Moves Our World” through April 18 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. The exhibit will showcase how artists engage with data. Visit www.tcnjartgallry.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, shows “Babbling Brooks and Silent Springs” through May 4. In conjunction, “Waterscapes,” a show of photography by high school students, is on display. Also featured is “Voices for the Marsh,” a juried photography show about the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. On April 12 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., a juried poetry reading, “Water, Water Everywhere,” with flutist Judith McNally, will be presented. A permanent exhibit of native waterfowl decoys is now on view in the Johnson Education Center. Jay Vawter and Dr. Charles Leck will lecture on decoys, waterfowl migration patterns, and more on April 25 at 7 p.m. A dessert reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

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

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, is showing “Digital Noir: Black-and-White Photographs by Richard Trenner” along with “Ingenuous Tapestries” by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac through April 22. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Spring into Spring,” art by Mary Ellen Brennan, through April 29. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, has two exhibits in the Domestic Arts Building through April 22: on the main floor are the cutting-edge works of the winners in the International Sculpture Center’s 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards. In the mezzanine gallery is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. Opening May 12 are spring/summer exhibitions including Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. In the Education Gallery through June 6, “The Impact of Art” will show works by artists with disabilities. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.princetonhistory.org.

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

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view April 21-August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting a series of original children’s book illustrations until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display April 14-July 31.

Joan Perkes Fine Art, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, is a new gallery currently showing work by Malcolm Bray, Cesar Nunez, Alan Goldstein, Celia Reisman, among others. Michener Museum Bruce Katsiff will show a small collection of platinum prints of the Bucks County area. Call (609) 460-4708.

Lawrence Headquarters Branch Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, has a photo exhibit by Philip Liu. Mr. Liu’s work is focused on his cultivation of lotus and water lilies. The show is in the library’s East Lobby Gallery. The library is also holding its Third Annual Trashed Art Contest, in which artists can submit one piece of original artwork in any medium with a minimum of 75 percent recycled content. There are two categories, for adults and kids who live in Mercer County. The entries will be on display through April; a reception is April 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Lawrenceville School’s Hutchins Rotunda Gallery on the campus, Main Street in Lawrenceville, presents “Basin Logic” by Lauren Rosenthal, through April 21. Visit www.lawrenceville.org.

Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University presents “The Quinoa Quandary: A Deconstruction of a Documentary,” a photo and video exhibit at Butler College Gallery. This solo show by senior James Cole runs through April 20, with an opening reception April 12 from 7-9 p.m. At the Guggenheim Gallery of Whitman College through April 18 “Selected Works” will feature photographic portraits by senior Alex Knoepflmacher. A reception is April 12 from 7-9 p.m.

Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown, shows “Life Sentence,” drawings by Israeli artist Shai Zurim, through April 19, when there is a reception from 6:30-8 p.m.

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

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

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery hosts fractal derived works of art by Mike Hunter during the month of April. A reception is April 22 from 2-4 p.m.

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

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Letting Off Steam,” original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes by architect Michael Graves, through April 25.

Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, hosts work by senior artists from April 11-May 31. Acrylics, watercolors, pencil drawings and pastels by senior artists who attend classes at PSRC will be on view. The opening reception is April 11 from 4-6 p.m.

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

Rider University Art Gallery presents “The Outside From Within: Envisioning Forest and Sea,” drawings and paintings by Professor of Fine Arts Harry I. Naar. The show runs through April 15. The gallery is in the Bart Luedeke Center on the campus, 2083 Lawrenceville Road.

Small World Cafe, 14 Witherspoon Street, shows “Saints & Sinners, a Celebration of the Mundane, Sacred and Profane” through May 1. The art is by Tom McGill.

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

Terhune Orchards, Cold Soil Road in Lawrenceville, is showing more than 20 works by local artists from the Lawrenceville Main Street Artists Network April 14 and 15 as part of a wine event, from 1-3 p.m. both days. Some items will be for sale.

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

University League Art Gallery, 171 Broadmead, shows works by Rita Stynes in a show called “Celtic Myths and Faith,” the weekends of April 21-22 and 28-29. Saturdays are from 1-6 p.m.; Sundays 2-6 p.m. A reception is April 20 from 6-9 p.m.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, shows “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” through April 27. The exhibit is the work of self-taught artists. The arts center partners with HomeFront’s ArtSpace to produce this show. Visit www.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

April 4, 2012

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?: Amanda (Maeli Goren) and Elyot (Evan Thompson) are back together again after marriage, divorce, rekindled relationship, and so many skirmishes in between, in Theatre Intime’s production of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” at the Murray Dodge Theater on the Princeton University campus through April 7.

Love, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and repeat — Noel Coward’s 1930 masterpiece of witty repartee and stylish, high society British humor, seems a long way removed from life in the 21st century, but Private Lives, playing in an accomplished Theatre Intime production, retains its wise perspectives on the necessity and impossibility of love and its power to entertain contemporary audiences.

It’s the story of Elyot (Evan Thompson) and Amanda (Maeli Goren), who, after being divorced for five years, find themselves honeymooning with new spouses in adjoining rooms in the same French hotel. The first of three acts takes place on the hotel terrace, as the surprised Elyot and Amanda gradually discover each other’s presence, and quickly realize that they can’t live without each other. They decide to leave their new partners and escape to Paris. Victor (Tadesh Inagaki) and Sybil (Bits Sola), the abandoned spouses, join forces and follow Elyot and Amanda to Paris, where the tumultuously romantic rollercoaster ride of the last two acts ensues in Amanda’s apartment.

Shockingly risqué in its time, the plot, despite the cleverness and rich ironies of the opening scene, is paper thin, and the four main characters, though mostly realistic, are barely three-dimensional, with no backgrounds, employment, family, or interests outside the necessities of the romantic plot. But the central relationship is fascinatingly, frustratingly paradoxical in its volatility, its lust, its abuses — both physical and psychological — and its impossible inevitability.

“I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives,” Amanda tells her confused new husband in the first act. “It all depends on a combination of circumstances. If all the various cosmic thingummys fuse at the same moment, and the right spark is struck, there’s no knowing what one mightn’t do. That was the trouble with Elyot and me, we were like two violent acids bubbling about in a nasty little matrimonial bottle.”

This feast of Cowardian wit is full of froth, but all that witty badinage, the sharing of a certain flippancy, the refusal — in striking contrast to the sober attitudes of their more mundane counterparts — to take life too seriously, constitutes the essence of Elyot and Amanda’s relationship. This is the lost art of conversation, and — save Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, and maybe Tom Stoppard — no one is more artful in this rarefied realm than Noel Coward (Hay Fever, 1925, Blithe Spirit, 1941). Coward wrote Private Lives in four days, then went on to play the role of Elyot, with Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier, in subsequent successful London and New York runs in 1930-31. It has been revived in the West End and on Broadway many times since.

Mr. Thompson’s Elyot is suitably dashing, high-energy, and refined. He makes the ten-year character stretch with credibility and carries off the emotional requisites of the role — from suave sophistication to exasperation and hysteria to deep affection — with style and commitment.

Ms. Goren’s Amanda, “jagged with sophistication,” is a worthy counterpart, alternately alluring and attacking, romantic and rebellious. Both leads are thoroughly, convincingly in character, but suffer occasional diction lapses. The British-accented, rapid-fire wit occasionally speeds by too rapidly for comprehension, and it’s all too clever and entertaining to allow a single line to get lost.

Mr. Inagaki as the somewhat pompous, buttoned-up new husband to Amanda, and Ms. Sola as a whiny, needy young bride to Elyot are both excellent, on target in their characterizations, and clear and direct in word and action. They serve as effectively convincing, down-to-earth foils to the central duo. As Louise the French maid, Amy Gopinathan provides a timely, deftly humorous walk-on in the third act — a glimmer of perspective from the real world on these eccentric, upper-crust lovers.

Princeton University junior Savannah Hankinson has directed her young — all freshmen and sophomores — cast with intelligence and understanding. The action moves swiftly, with just one intermission, between acts one and two, and a short pause between acts two and three, and the total running time comes in at less than two hours. The staging, including some passionate brawling and physical combat to complement the verbal sparring, is clear and economical.

Michaela Karis’s simple, elegant, symmetrical set designs, enhanced by Laura Hildebrand’s nuanced lighting, effectively reflect the rarefied realm of the play. Sophie Brown’s costumes, a rich array of upscale outfits, including shimmering evening gowns for the ladies and formal wear for the gentlemen, enhance the creation of these characters and their world.

“Selfishness, cruelty, hatred, possessiveness, petty jealousy. All those qualities came out in us just because we loved each other,” Amanda reflects in act one, and she and Elyot agree, “To hell with love,” just before deciding to run off to begin the cycle again. Noel Coward’s Private Lives paints an intriguing portrait of these desperately loving, desperately tortured fools for love, along with some of the cleverest romantic repartee ever written, all brought to life in this fine Theatre Intime production.


One only has to attend a local Metropolitan opera moviecast to know that opera is popular in Princeton. What is lesser known to audiences in the area is the process by which an opera comes to be. The Princeton University Music Department, in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts, has spent the past few years immersed in a creative project bringing professionals and students together to produce three one-act operas exploring the relationship among music, text, and the body onstage. The three one-act operas presented this past weekend in McCarter’s Berlind Theater were diverse in theme and musical style, but were bound together in their uniqueness and challenge to the creative process.

Saturday night’s presentation (the performance was also held Friday night) included two extended one-act operas and one of shorter length, but less time did not necessarily mean less material. Director Mark DeChiazza bracketed James Chu’s 10-minute tennis-themed opera, dense in music and dramatic nuance, with works by two well-established composers, the first was Anthony Davis’s Lear on the Second Floor. Throughout his extensive compositional career, Mr. Davis has drawn his operatic storylines from some of America’s darker political moments, and Lear on the 2nd Floor brought the Shakespearean story of King Lear into the modern-day dilemma of Alzheimer’s diagnosis and caregiving. Mr. Davis consulted with medical experts during the work’s composition to get the details right, and incorporated visual and aural effects to emphasize a range of confusion. The lead character, transplanted into a high-powered 21st-century neuroscience career, was dramatically sung by soprano Susan Narucki. Although occasionally overpowered by the small orchestra, Ms. Narucki demonstrated solid command of a very complex role. Opera is full of characters who descend into madness (usually played by sopranos), but Ms. Narucki’s Nora Lear wandered among a wide range of mental uncertainties, including seeing visions of her dead husband, decisively sung by bass-baritone Justin Hopkins. Nora Lear’s daughters, all vying for custodial rights, were effectively sung by Tara Naoko Ohrtman, Katherine Buzard, and Tessa Romano. Ms. Buzard in particular demonstrated a strong vocal sound as a defiant daughter. Humor came into this dark theme in the character of the hospital nurse, sung by Jorrell Williams.

Next to an opera about Alzheimer’s, a work taking place in a tennis club might seem like a theatrical piece of cake, but Princeton University student James Chu’s one-act Off Court was full of more political nuance than initially met the ear. Soprano Katherine Buzard (who had a very busy evening) turned in a very different character as the reluctant wife whose husband (sung by Jonathan Choi) desperately wanted to gain acceptance to the very exclusive tennis club. Mr. Chu’s music was underscored with unspoken plotlines about exclusion and compliance, with unique instrumental sonorities from a small orchestra placed onstage as part of the action.

The most theatrically complicated production was saved for last — Barbara White’s Weakness. Based on the Celtic story of The Curse of Macha, Ms. White’s music and libretto introduced one character whose voice and body were separated into two performers: soprano Sarah Davis and dancer Leslie Kraus. With brilliant hair (also matched by the dancer), Ms. Davis showed a spectacular range of vocal styles and intensity, backed by a multi-aged chorus and an unusual orchestration of electric guitar, clarinet, bass clarinet, percussion and shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. The soaring quality of Ms. Davis’ sound was matched by the litheness and agility of Ms. Kraus, with sections of the opera being positively eerie in mood. No matter what the demanding vocal requirement, Ms. Davis hit every note right, and her regal demeanor was a good contrast to Ms. Kraus’ lightness on the stage. Throughout all three operas, Rachel Hauck’s set design and Jane Cox’s lighting design made the most use of the limited amount of stage at the Berlind.

The Princeton University One-Act Opera Project was a long time coming in preparation, but has certainly focused on something entirely new for the University. A great deal of thought clearly went into selecting these works and figuring out how these pieces could “live together” on the same stage and on the same evening, but all three achieved a goal of taking the form of opera in new directions.


 

It is the Hamlet of horror roles.

—Anthony Perkins (1932-1992)

Question of the day — if James Dean had lived, would he have been brave, crazy, or desperate enough to play Norman Bates in Psycho? Put it another way. Can you imagine anyone else but Anthony Perkins chatting with Janet Leigh in those first scenes at the Bates Motel? Montgomery Clift maybe? One look at that scarred, haunted countenance and Janet would be backing out to take her chances with the rainy night. As for James Dean, even if he’d trimmed the flame of his method actor’s ego down to a flicker, it’s hard to believe he could have kept a believably straight face while watching Janet nibble at her last supper, not with lines like, “You eat like a bird,” or “My hobby is stuffing things. You know, taxidermy,” or “It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes.”

In The Making of Psycho, screenwriter Joseph Stefano describes the key change he suggested to Hitchcock, which was to make Norman Bates “a vulnerable, young, handsome, kind of sad character” instead of the pudgy middleaged man in the Robert Bloch novel on which the film was loosely based. As soon as he heard Stefano enumerate the qualities of the ideal Norman Bates, Hitchcock said, “Tony Perkins!” Picking Perkins for Norman was the true “making” of Psycho. Any number of female leads besides Janet Leigh, as good as she is, could have played the doomed Marion Crane; the same holds for the other roles. Tony Perkins, who would be 80 years old today, is nearly as vital to the film as Hitchcock himself. No one else could have brought the same devastating mixture of shy, sweet solicitude and sinister unease to that intimate, fiendishly understated scene Marion and Norman share in the motel office among stuffed birds of prey. “We scratch and we claw,” Norman says, quietly, thoughtfully, politely (his guest is eating, remember), “but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

A Self-Made Enigma

One of the preconceived notions Hitchcock counted on to maximize Psycho’s shock value was Tony Perkins’s image in the summer of 1960. While not yet a major star, he was clearly being groomed for superstardom. Young, attractive, oozing sensitivity, slightly off-center (“quirky” would be the word of choice in 2012), neither the rebel nor the anti-hero, he received a magnum shot of publicity in the March 3 1958 Newsweek cover story that began by quoting a Paramount executive (“We’ve invested 15 million bucks in this kid”) and some co-workers (“Let’s face it, he’s odd,” “He’s mystical,” “He’s a self-made enigma”). When it wasn’t recycling rumors, the article provided a fair summary of Perkins prior to Psycho: he was going to be “the next Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart,” “possibly the most gifted dramatic actor under 30 in the country,” starring in a Broadway hit (Look Homeward, Angel), capable of playing “young men at the brink of maturity” with “dignity and a certain elevation of spirit.”

Although Newsweek lets Perkins speak for himself at the end, the piece is full of gossip, much of it unfounded and unflattering, including comments that might have caught Alfred Hitchcock’s eye: “I thought the crazy kid was trying to kill me,” one actor recalled after the filming of a fight scene; another said, “Everything about him is immature. He’s like a 12-year-old …. I think he ought to meet a good psychiatrist.”

Probed by Mike Wallace

The Newsweek piece led to a long, characteristically probing interview on CBS with Mike Wallace. Fans of Mad Men should see this interview, which is available in full online, if only for the spectacle of Wallace lecturing the audience on the scientific virtues of Parliament cigarettes (“with the recessed filter” and 30,000 traps “set deep down” so that “nicotine and tar can’t get on your lips”). Wallace goes at it no less pedantically than the psychiatrist hauled absurdly in at the conclusion of Psycho to explain the fine points of Norman’s psychosis.

The Wallace interview could have served as Perkins’s screen test for the part of Norman Bates. All the tics and intonations are there, the quick smile, the nervous laugh, the stammering, the measured, thoughtful manner that shades toward the dark side every time Wallace hits a sore spot, as when he refers to the “good psychiatrist.” Perkins’s sudden unguarded response is almost identical to Norman’s when Marion Crane seals her fate by suggesting that his mother should be put away someplace. “People always call a madhouse someplace, don’t they?” he snaps. “Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places?”

A Role Model

Around the time of the Newsweek story, I had entered into an imaginary relationship with Tony Perkins, the fourth of my teen-age role models, after James Dean, Holden Caulfield, and Thomas Wolfe. It didn’t matter that the only movies of his I’d seen were inconsequential compared to Dean’s big three. The way he looked, moved, and spoke appealed to me, and seeing him play Wolfe’s alter ego Eugene Gant in Look Homeward, Angel on Broadway (his final performance) sealed the one-way friendship. We were in the same building, two Eugene Gants breathing the same electric theatrical atmosphere.

Being several inches shorter than TP, I had less to “gangle” with (he was always described as “gangling”), but I was right there when it came to being awkward, restless, and sensitive, among the other adjectives that followed him around. I liked the way he described himself in the Newsweek story, “a young boy, searching, not aggressive, but introspective — the representation of Everyman’s youth.” I also adopted his way of hugging his own shoulders, arms crossed, high up (as if posing for a straitjacket, now that I think of it here on the other side of Psycho), and I did it so well that some girls I met one summer paid me the ultimate compliment (“hey, you remind me of that actor” etc. etc.). I also had the voice down, having shared his greatest moment in Look Homeward, Angel, praying for his dead brother Ben at the end of Act Two: “Whoever you are, be good to Ben tonight.” Three times he said it, like a litany or a poem. I could do it just the way he did, in a sort of plaintive rush, running the words together. I also knew when he was going through the motions and could do a decent parody of his lovemaking with Audrey Hepburn in Green Mansions (“Oh Rima you are so beautiful Rima, oh God, oh Rima, Rima!”).

Meanwhile, the protagonist of the novel I’d started writing at 17, originally based on James Dean, was, no surprise, becoming a taller, skinnier, more introspective, less aggressive type who could, like Tony Perkins, sing. When the novel was published, I sent him a copy and got back a typed note thanking me, promising to read the book, and suggesting that we meet after a performance of Greenwillow if the Broadway musical was still running in June (it wasn’t). He also thanked me for my “kind remarks” on what had been his “closing performance” in Look Homeward, Angel.

Along Comes Norman

Tony’s letter was dated May 9, 1960, a little less than two months after he’d completed filming Psycho. Of course I knew nothing of this at the time. Given the secrecy cloaking the project, neither did anyone else.

Four months later I staggered out of a London movie theatre. It was broad daylight but the walk from Mayfair to Bloomsbury might as well have been through dark streets with gangling, cross-dressing psychopaths lurching out of doorways and Bernard Herrmann’s relentless music pounding and slashing at my back. My days of identifying with Tony Perkins were over, needless to say.

After maybe half a dozen viewings of Psycho over the years, with all the film’s wonders, its unparalled directorial dynamics and musical genius (arguably the most compelling score ever written), the scene I most admire is that cozy dinner conversation between Norman and Marion in the motel office. Just a few minutes of quiet dialogue before the bloodbath and in that time Tony Perkins gives the film warmth, depth, and an unlikely measure of humanity. “I do have affection for Norman as a person,” Perkins told Steve Biodrowski in a Cinefantastique interview. “It is the Hamlet of horror roles and you can never quite get enough of playing Norman Bates. It’s always interesting … it’s identified me …. People who see me and think of me in terms of this role usually, as they’re talking to me, will also say, ‘Oh but I also liked you in this or that.’”

The post-Psycho typecasting that hurt Perkins in Hollywood didn’t prevent him from doing a lot of interesting “this or that” in Europe, including Kafka with Orson Welles (The Trial), Greek tragedy with Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri (Phaedra), December-May romance with Ingrid Bergman (Goodbye Again), two films with Claude Chabrol (The Champagne Murders and Ten Days Wonder), and an acclaimed performance as Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. At home, he laid claim to Norman Bates by making three sequels to Psycho, the second of which he directed himself. After a series of affairs with other men, he married at 41 and raised two sons before dying from complications of AIDs on September 12, 1992. His widow, photographer Berry Berenson, died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on American Airlines Flight 11.

———

The Making of Psycho is included in the Collector’s Edition of the film, which can be found on the DVD shelves of the Princeton Public Library. Turner Classic Movies is marking Perkins’s birthday by showing five of his early films, beginning at 10:45 a.m. today with his first, The Actress, and ending at 6:30 with Pretty Poison. Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho, with Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, is in pre-production for Fox Searchlight.


The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is showing “Drawing Beyond: An Exhibition of Contemporary Drawing,” with works by Eve Aschheim, Caroline Burton, Theresa Chong, and other artists, through April 13. “Arnold Roth: A Selection of Work from Area Collections” runs through April 7. On April 12 at 7 p.m., Tim Lefens, founder of A.R.T. (Artistic Realization Technologies), will speak on “Art and the Real.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscoun
cilofprinceton.org.

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley in Trenton, is showing “The Capital City College and University Art Exhibition” through April 24. The exhibit highlights the work of emerging and young regional visual artists as well as the centers of art instruction in the central New Jersey region. Visit www.artworkstrenton.com.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Illuminating Data: Visualizing the Information that Moves Our World” through April 18 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. The exhibit will showcase how artists engage with data. Visit www.tcnjartgallry.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, shows “Babbling Brooks and Silent Springs” through May 4. In conjunction, “Waterscapes,” a show of photography by high school students, is on display. A reception is April 11, 7 p.m.; register at (609) 924-4646. Also featured is “Voices for the Marsh,” a juried photography show about the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. On April 12 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., a juried poetry reading, “Water, Water Everywhere,” with flutist Judith McNally, will be presented.

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

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, is showing “Digital Noir: Black-and-White Photographs by Richard Trenner” along with “Ingenuous Tapestries” by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac through April 22. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. Tickets are now on sale for “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, coming to the museum April 21-August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting a series of original children’s book illustrations until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display April 14-July 31.

Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University presents “Selections from The Museum of Contemporary Culture,” an installation at Butler College Gallery through April 6. Until April 11, a photo show called “Imprints” by Kaitlin Henderson and a drawing and sculpture exhibit called “What Stays” by Lauren VanZandt will be on view. Both artists are Princeton University seniors and will be on hand April 5 from 7-9 to meet the public at a reception.

Mercer County Community College Gallery, West Windsor, is showing “Mercer County Artists 2012” through April 5. On that day at noon, Russian artist and visual art professor Yevgeniy Fiks will speak on his Soviet and Post-Soviet art in the Communications Building, Room 109. Visit www.mccc.edu/gallery for hours.

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

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

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery hosts fractal derived works of art by Mike Hunter during the month of April. A reception is April 22 from 2-4 p.m. Mr. Hunter will give a live performance of his improvisational music with background imagery on April 9 at 7 p.m.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, from April 10-September. A reception is April 10 from 5-7 p.m.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Letting Off Steam,” original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes by architect Michael Graves, through April 25. A reception is April 9 from 12:30-1:30 p.m.

Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, hosts work by senior artists from April 11-May 31. Acrylics, watercolors, pencil drawings and pastels by senior artists who attend classes at PSRC will be on view. The opening reception is April 11 from 4-6 p.m.

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

Rider University Art Gallery presents “The Outside From Within: Envisioning Forest and Sea,” drawings and paintings by Professor of Fine Arts Harry I. Naar. The show runs through April 15. The gallery is in the Bart Luedeke Center on the campus, 2083 Lawrenceville Road.

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

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

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, shows “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” through April 27. The exhibit is the work of self-taught artists. The arts center partners with HomeFront’s ArtSpace to produce this show. Visit www.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

TO HELL AND BACK: Perseus (Sam Worthington, center front) accompanied by his band of valiant warriors, are setting out on their descent into hell to rescue Perseus’s father Zeus, who has been imprisoned by Hades (Ralph Fiennes, not shown) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez, not shown) in an underworld dungeon. On the way to rescuing his father, Perseus must overcome a series of mythical creatures such as a cyclops, a minotaur, and fire breathing dragons.

I don’t understand why the characters in movies that are set in ancient Greece invariably speak with British accents, since the English language didn’t even come into existence until centuries later. Other than that, I have no complaints about Wrath of the Titans, a 3D sequel which actually exceeds the original in quality.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles), this visually captivating action adventure is about another epic battle between the forces of good and evil. Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Danny Huston, and Ralph Fiennes have returned to reprise their lead roles as Perseus, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, respectively.

The story unfolds a decade after the previous film ended with our hero Perseus’s defeat of the Kraken. After slaying the monstrous sea monsters, the widowed demigod had been passing an unassuming existence as an ordinary fisherman, quietly raising his now 10-year-old son, Helius (John Bell).

However, when Perseus learns that the Titans Hades and Ares (Edgar Ramirez) have imprisoned his father, Zeus, in an underworld dungeon, he has a good reason to take his mighty sword out of its scabbard.  Because, after Poseidon was killed, the two renegade titans entered into a diabolical pact to dominate the world.

Accompanied by the lovely Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) with comic relief Agenor (Toby Kebell) tagging along, Perseus and his band of warriors descend into a subterranean hell on behalf of humanity.  While searching for Zeus, they encounter a host of mythological creatures, including a one-eyed Cyclops (Martin Bayfield), the half-man half-bull Minotaur (Spencer Wilding), an addlepated fallen god (Billy Nighy), and fire-breathing dragons.

Of course, the quest culminates in a spectacular showdown which takes full advantage of advances in 3-D technology. Be prepared to find yourself frequently ducking or squinting to avoid boulders or flaming embers that appear to be aimed straight at your head.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for action and intense violence. Running time: 99 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers


March 28, 2012

Based on my experience last week, the best things to be found at used book sales like Bryn Mawr-Wellesley are the ones that you didn’t know you wanted and, in this case, that you didn’t know existed.

What I was looking for when I walked into the sturm und drang of the Thursday preview was something with a story or a cover quaint and curious enough to write about and reproduce on this page. What I found was a new paperback edition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and a like-new copy of Debussy On Music, both of which will be of use for future columns on Sinclair and Debussy, whose 150th birthday falls on August 22.

The closest thing to a “want” that I found at the preview was a volume from 1908 with a handsomely embellished Art Nouveau style cover titled The Poetic Old World: A Little Book for Tourists, which I abandoned on the cookbook table when the surprise announcement was made that Collectors Corner, the domain of rarities, was “open to everyone.” I naively assumed that my find (edited by one Lucy H. Humphrey) was safe tucked between Beard on Pasta and a trashed copy of The Joy of Cooking. When I got to Collectors Corner, a dealer was walking out with a big box in his arms and a big smile on his face. Five minutes later, after finding nothing in the CC, I went back to the cook book table and The Poetic Old World was gone. After rummaging around in the vicinity, I gave up. I felt only mild regret, not having had time to fully appreciate the gem I had so thoughtlessly thrown to the winds.

I left the vaunted preview with nothing visually enticing enough to show off here, except perhaps the third edition of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, with its tan buckram cover (the big red “T” set in a little gilt window). It always feels good to find anything early by Stephen Crane and it would have given me an excuse to write about a man who, if American literature were baseball, would be the catcher on my personal all-star team. A best-seller in its day, the Red Badge isn’t particularly rare in later editions, even ones from 1896, although most book people who can see beyond their scanners would have shelled out more than the $2 I paid for it.

“Tarry at the Taft” 

What a difference a day makes. On Thursday afternoon, the first day of the regular free-admission sale, I immediately found six books I’d have gladly snatched up the day before, if they’d been there. One of the realities of the Bryn Mawr event is that dealers and book lovers gorging themselves on the first day often leave a few crumbs behind, most likely because the condition is just a bit off or the price a bit too high. With my small stack of dealer rejects in one arm, I went downstairs to the main room and found Lucy H. Humphrey’s The Poetic Old World among the neglected masses on the poetry table.

I was still smiling when I walked over to the literary classics table and found this year’s treasure, my heart’s desire, which had been picked up, stashed, pondered over, and tossed back into the Bryn Mawr book stream for some dutiful volunteer to fish out and return to its rightful place early that morning, and now there it was, waiting for me. Reader, how often do you see a small professionally bound hard cover copy of A Tragedy By the Sea and Other Stories by Honoré de Balzac with a decorated Deco cover featuring a raised image of the Taft Hotel and the words “Compliments of the HOTEL TAFT New York” imprinted in the lower right-hand corner? Open it and on the inside cover you see a simulated Ex Libris book plate with a space for the name of the guest (“This Book Belongs To”) under another image of the hotel (“Adjoining the Roxy Theatre”). Think about it: 70-plus years ago, a big New York hotel a stone’s throw from Times Square published Balzac’s stories under its own imprint (“Tarry at the Taft”) while alerting its guests to the fact that it adjoined, was connected to, in touch with (avoisiner in French) one of the city’s foremost movie palaces, which could be entered directly from the hotel according to an online website about the Taft.

So why this rush of mindless joy? Only because the book fates who gave me this gift obviously knew how I felt about New York and big New York hotels, thirties movies and the Roxy, not to mention Balzac. What really got me was the idea that the management of a major Manhattan hostelry during the Great Depression would go to such quixotically thoughtful lengths for their guests. Would you believe that Tarry at the Taft also published The Picture of Dorian Gray? And Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue? And at least half a dozen others, including Alice in Wonderland? Wilde, Poe, Balzac, and Alice! I mean, what sort of guests, aside from me, did they have in mind?

Imagine you’re coming to the city for the first time, a young writer in the 1930s, thinking to splurge by spending your first night at a great Times Square hotel, and you walk into your room and find this little orange book waiting for you on the bedside table. And outside maybe it’s windy and raining and the radiator’s knocking like a demented spirit, so you crawl under the covers, open the book, and lose yourself in Balzac’s Paris, which is to say, in Balzac’s mind, heart, and soul, and he’s writing about the great surgeon Despleins (in Balzac, as Swinburne observed, everyone is a genius), “this perpetual observer of human chemistry” who possesses “the knowledge of the elements in fusion, of the causes of life, of life before life, of what from its preparations it will be before it is” — okay, so it’s a clumsy translation, not to worry, life goes on.

The first paragraph is three pages long, no break, and every now and then you can hear the soundtrack from the movie at the Roxy (sounds like Henry Fonda taming the lynch mob in Young Mr. Lincoln), it’s not a smooth ride, you soar and sink, the unnamed translator staggering about as if in drunken awe as Balzac dissects the surgeon’s atheism, “recognizing in man a cerebral center, a nervous center, and an aerosanguineous center … convinced during the last two or three days of his life that the sense of hearing was not absolutely necessary for hearing, nor the sense of sight absolutely necessary for seeing, and that the solar plexus could replace them beyond suspicion of any change.”

Finally coming up for air, brought to attention by the horns honking down below on the passage au Commerce (except you’re no longer in Paris, it’s a line of Yellow Cabs on 50th Street), you begin to realize where you are. Only then does it hit you: that three-page-long Balzacian cadenza came with the room, compliments of a hotel that not only serves its guests but contains its own publishing venture, or so I like to think. So where did they get that weird translation? Nathaniel West worked in more than one Manhattan hotel during the Depression. Maybe he sent some down-and-out editor pal who’d lost his job to sell the idea of an in-house reprint line to the manager of the Taft, who then hired a needy writer (a Woody Allen type) to translate Balzac’s stories rather than pay some publisher for the right to use the existing translations of Clara Bell or Ellen Marriage. I can just see it: the hotel manager banging on Woody’s door — ”Get a move on, kid! We go to press in a month!”

Lucy and Henry

The dozen or so books I found at the big sale reflect two different states of mind. The first bunch came from the chaos of the preview; the second, better group from the relative calm of the following afternoon. The Poetic Old World bridges both days, since I found it, lost it, and found it again. I couldn’t learn much about Lucy Humphrey online beyond the fact that this was the sort of pocket-(or purse-) sized volume of “famous poems associated with historic and classic localities” that she herself had “longed for” when traveling in Europe. She compiled a sequel, The Poetic New World, that appeared in 1910. Otherwise she seems to have been known primarily for her translations, an art I became all too aware of while reading the Taft version of Balzac.

Who better to bring down the curtain on translations, finding and losing, and the old world, than Henry James? The 1889 edition of Guy de Maupassant tales called The Odd Number, a book I found on the first day, has an introduction by the Master, who begins to the effect that it is “embarrassing to speak of the writers of one country to the readers of another,” for “One should never go out of one’s way to differ, and translation, interpretation, the business of adjusting to another medium, are a going out of one’s way. Silence is the best disapproval, and to take people up, with an earnest grip, only to put them down, is to add to the vain gesticulation of the human scene.”

I bought 12 books altogether, two were $3, the rest were $2. Two of the $2 books have covers I’d show off here if we had room: from 1902, The Dragon of Wantley by Owen Wister (the third edition), nicely illustrated by John Stewardsom, and from 1889, The Bon Gautier Ballads, with illustrations by Doyle, Leech, and Crowquill. I was also glad to find the 1950 edition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I hope to read in connection with the Dickens bicentennial.


Musical ensembles in Princeton have presented a number of fine soloists over the years, and when a superstar passes through, it is immediately noticeable. Pianist André Watts has been a legendary performer long enough to be familiar to an entire generation of concert-goers. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) brought Mr. Watts to Princeton this past weekend in a Brahms concerto performance that thrilled both players and audience.

Music Director Jacques Lacombe preceded the American legend with a taste of the next generation of talent by starting Friday night’s concert in Richardson Auditorium with three young students in the orchestra’s education and community engagement program. The three musicians played a lively flute trio, showing poise and musicianship. It was also fitting that the NJSO followed this educational outreach sampler with Edward T. Cone’s Music for Strings, given Mr. Cone’s commitment to students over his life.

Music for Strings proved to be a block of concentrated string sound, with players uniform in their intensity and meter changes. Mr. Cone clearly liked lower strings, with the dense sound of the celli and double basses contrasted by a lyrical violin solo by concertmaster Eric Wyrick. Mr. Lacombe maintained solid control over the changing textures, bringing the piece to nothingness at the end.

André Watts joined the orchestra for Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, a towering late 19th-century work combining keyboard virtuosity with a luxuriant orchestral palette. Mr. Watts was seated almost directly behind the conductor, but it was clear from the outset that both conductor and soloist had the piece well in hand and needed only occasionally to check in with each other. The first movement’s opening paired principal hornist Lucinda-Lewis with Mr. Watts in a perfectly timed duet. What set Mr. Watts well above other excellent soloists was the exact timing and rhythmic symbiosis between the soloist and orchestra. Mr. Watts’s precise dialogues with the ensemble no doubt come from familiarity, at times seeming to play just for himself, yet keeping solid communication with the orchestra. He took complete charge of tempo changes, with skips in the left hand and phrasing that always seemed to be going somewhere. Mr. Watts in particular exhibited fierce contrary motion between hands and forceful double trills to close the first movement.

The concerto was primarily about the orchestra and pianist, with a few wind solos interspersed, including from flutist Bart Feller and oboist James Roe. The third movement featured an extended duet between piano soloist and solo cello, gracefully played by principal cellist Jonathan Spitz. This movement gave the pianist a bit of a break, as the music moved languorously among several solo instruments. Mr. Watts returned to constant piano motion in the closing movement, accompanied by well-nuanced phrasing from the orchestra.

Equally as towering as the Brahms Concerto was Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, known as the Rhenish Symphony because of the influence on the composer of Europe’s Rhine River. Through the four movements of the symphony, Mr. Lacombe kept the tempi moving along at an exuberant clip, giving the impression of the Rhine rolling along. Clearly very familiar with the work, Mr. Lacombe allowed the first movement to state its point from the beginning while building dynamic swells and elegantly tapering wind phrases. The second scherzo movement maintained a rather heavy lilt with a bit of teasing in some of the internal cadential passages. Mr. Roe demonstrated delicate playing in oboe solos in the first movement, and an augmented brass section blended well with clarinets and bassoons in the fourth movement.

The nearly full house at Richardson no doubt thought it was a truly special evening to hear a soloist of this caliber, as Mr. Lacombe and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra continue to make their mark around the state.


Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, hosts “Sharing the Moment: Scenes from the Delaware Valley,” featuring paintings by Jo-Ann Osnoe and Joe Kazimierczyk from April 6-May 6. An opening reception is April 7 from 4-7 p.m.; closing reception is May 6, 2-5 p.m.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting “Terrace Project: New Sculpture by Rory Mahon” through March 30. “Drawing Beyond: An Exhibition of Contemporary Drawing,” with works by Eve Aschheim, Caroline Burton, Theresa Chong, and other artists, is currently on view, as is “Arnold Roth: A Selection of Work from Area Collections.” On April 12 at 7 p.m., Tim Lefens, founder of A.R.T. (Artistic Realization Technologies), will speak on “Art and the Real.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncil
ofprinceton.org.

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley in Trenton, is showing “The Capital City College and University Art Exhibition” through April 24. The exhibit highlights the work of emerging and young regional visual artists as well as the centers of art instruction in the central New Jersey region. A reception is March 31, 4-6 p.m. Visit www.artworkstrenton.com.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Illuminating Data: Visualizing the Information that Moves Our World” through April 18 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. The exhibit will showcase how artists engage with data. Visit www.tcnjartgallry.pages.tcnj.edu/ or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, shows “Babbling Brooks and Silent Springs” through May 4. Also featured is “Voices for the Marsh,” a juried photography show about the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. On April 12 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., a juried poetry reading, “Water, Water Everywhere,” with flutist Judith McNally, will be presented. A permanent exhibit of native waterfowl decoys is now on view in the Johnson Education Center. Jay Vawter and Dr. Charles Leck will lecture on decoys, waterfowl migration patterns, and more on April 25 at 7 p.m. A dessert reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

Douglass Library Galleries, Rutgers, 8 Chapel Drive, New Brunswick, presents visiting artist Audrey Flack in a lecture, “Recent Pages from an Ancient Past,” April 3 at 5:30 p.m.

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, is showing “Digital Noir: Black-and-White Photographs by Richard Trenner” along with “Ingenuous Tapestries” by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac through April 22. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Spring into Spring,” art by Mary Ellen Brennan, from March 31-April 29. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, has on the main floor of the Museum Building, “White Hot: Expressions in Iron,” an exhibition of contemporary work from nine artists working primarily in cast or fabricated iron, through April 8. Also through that date, the mezzanine hosts “Creating Steelroots,” an illuminating exhibition of maquettes and drawings by Steve Tobin, also the featured artist in The Meadow. In the Domestic Arts Building through April 22: on the main floor are the cutting-edge works of the winners in the International Sculpture Center’s 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards. In the mezzanine gallery is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton opens “Kirsten Hassenfeld: Cabin Fever,” April 1, for a show through June 3. The artist does sculpture and collage. Visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler through July 1. Tickets are now on sale for “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, coming to the museum April 21-August 10.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting “at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers” through April 1, and a series of original children’s book illustrations that will be on view until June 24. Rachel Perry Welty’s first solo show, “24/7,” runs through July 8. Meet artist Valery Yurlov at Art After Hours on April 4, from 5-9 p.m. His show, “In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov” is on view through June 3. The event will include music, lectures, and a film. “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms” is on display April 14-July 31.

Lawrence Headquarters Branch Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, has a photo exhibit by Philip Liu. Mr. Liu’s work is focused on his cultivation of lotus and water lilies. The show is in the library’s East Lobby Gallery. The library is also holding its Third Annual Trashed Art Contest, in which artists can submit one piece of original artwork in any medium with a minimum of 75 percent recycled content. There are two categories, for adults and kids who live in Mercer County. The entries will be on display through April; a reception is April 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 30 is the entry deadline.

Lawrenceville School’s Hutchins Rotunda Gallery on the campus, Main Street in Lawrenceville, presents “Basin Logic” by Lauren Rosenthal, through April 21. A reception is March 30, 6:30-8 p.m. Visit www.lawrenceville.org.

Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University presents “Selections from The Museum of Contemporary Culture,” an installation at Butler College Gallery through April 6. A reception is March 28 from 7-9, during which artist Maria Curry will be on hand to show her multi-media installation.

Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown, opens “Life Sentence,” drawings by Israeli artist Shai Zurim, March 30. The show runs through April 19, when there is a reception from 6:30-8 p.m.

Mercer County Community College Gallery, West Windsor, is showing “Mercer County Artists 2012” through April 5. On that day at noon, Russian artist and visual art professor Yevgeniy Fiks will speak on his Soviet and Post-Soviet art in the Communications Building, Room 109. Visit www.mccc.edu/gallery for hours.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. On March 31 at 2 p.m., “Puzzles of the Brain: A Discussion of Art, Science and Memory” will be held in conjunction with the exhibit, at McCosh 50, Princeton University. More information is available by visiting www.morven.org or calling (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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

Numina Gallery, Princeton High School, 151 Moore Street, shows “Selected Works from Sara Schneckloth” through March 28. The artist will lead a collaborative workshop with 25 students who will complete a large drawing to be displayed at a reception March 28 at 7 p.m.

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery hosts fractal derived works of art by Mike Hunter during the month of April. A reception is April 22 from 2-4 p.m. Mr. Hunter will give a live performance of his improvisational music with background imagery on April 9 at 7 p.m.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents Art Times Two’s “Eyejinks,” an exhibition of recent works by Princeton area artists John Franklin, Rory Mahon, and Andrew Wilkinson. The exhibit will be up through March 31. From April 10-September, “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons will be on view. A reception is April 10 from 5-7 p.m.

Princeton Day Schools Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes by architect Michael Graves in a show on his design process, April 2-25.

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

Rider University Art Gallery presents “The Outside From Within: Envisioning Forest and Sea,” drawings and paintings by Professor of Fine Arts Harry I. Naar. The show runs through April 15. The gallery is in the Bart Luedeke Center on the campus, 2083 Lawrenceville Road.

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

Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, is hosting the second of two 2012 Spring Forward weekends March 31. Included will be an afternoon devoted to writing and visual arts collaboration. Workshops will be followed by discussion of the Trenton Artist Workshop Association’s upcoming summer show, “Trenton Makes.” Register for workshops at tawaexhibits@aol.com by March 22.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, is showing “Deep Within the Soul,” photographs by Colleen Maniere, April 3-June 10. The opening reception is April 3, 7-9 p.m. A percentage of all sales of the work benefit pancreatic cancer research.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, shows “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” through April 27. The exhibit is the work of self-taught artists. The arts center partners with HomeFront’s ArtSpace to produce this show. Artists ages 13-33 are invited to submit works that explore, connect, or break down the barrier between sight and sound for an exhibit set to open in May. The deadline is April 1. Visit www.westwindsorartscenter.org/Call-to-Visual-Artists.html for details.

READY, AIM, SHOOT: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has a doe in her sights, but this time it gets away. She has had to learn how to survive in the woods outside of her district, which are out of bounds for the residents of the 12 Districts, because of the harsh conditions of her family’s life in District 12. She has taught herself how to track and and shoot game in order to keep herself and her family from starving to death.

Picture a post-apocalyptic North America devastated by a combination of fire, famine, drought, and wars. The United States has been replaced by a centralized totalitarian regime that is run with an iron fist by the president (Donald Sutherland) with the support of a group of effete elites who are living in the capitol city.

These wealthy elites are insulated from the suffering of the rest of the population that lives in the country’s twelve outlying districts. As a result of an attempted coup 74 years earlier, the government has been punishing the districts by staging an annual fight to the death, called the Hunger Game. It takes place in an unsettled wilderness area, and each district is represented by a boy and a girl.

The 24 participants are chosen by lottery and, as the story unfolds, we find 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) consoling her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), who has had her name picked to represent District 12. Katniss altruistically volunteers to take her terrified sibling’s place, and soon finds herself riding on a train to the site of the nationally-televised Hunger Games.

En route, she and her fellow District 12 entrant, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are mentored by a former winner Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). But the alcoholic Haymitch only has discouraging words to share, warning them to, “Embrace the possibility of your imminent death, and know there’s nothing I can do to save you.”

Nonetheless, Katniss is determined to survive the ordeal. Fortunately, she has a host of survival skills at her disposal, since she is adept at archery and camouflage.

Based on the first installment of Suzanne Collins’s popular trilogy of the same name, The Hunger Games is a riveting adventure which will not disappoint the book’s loyal fans. The movie addresses a number of timely themes such as greed, loyalty, exploitation, and corruption.

It is a futuristic science fiction movie about a reality show where humans hunt humans they don’t even know in order to survive.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense violence and disturbing images. Running time: 142 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.


March 21, 2012
art rev

“HAMPSTEAD HEATH, BRANCH HILL POND”: This oil on canvas painted in 1828 by John Constable, British, 1776–1837, will be on view in “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” through June 10. (The Victoria and Albert Museum. © Victoria and Albert Museum/V&A images)

“Painting is but another word for feeling.” —John Constable (1776-1837)

Say you only slept an hour on the plane, the bus from Heathrow has dropped you in the heart of London on a sunny day in June, and as happy as you are to have escaped from a summer in the armpit of New Jersey (for instance, a second-floor apartment in downtown New Brunswick), you’re feeling dazed and confused after sorting out the Bed and Breakfast situation, and your great escape is being thwarted by the summer mob scene that is London. The sidewalks of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street are so crowded you can barely move. Not to worry. All you have to do is jump on a big red Number 24 doubledecker, stagger to the second story front, and after maybe a 15-minute ride, you’re right where you need to be. A brief hike later you’re lying on your back on Hampstead Heath where Keats and Coleridge once walked and dreamed and Constable painted. Such are the elements that go into making a tried and true Anglophile.

The Princeton University Art Museum’s must-see new exhibit, “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” has arrived conveniently in accord with this Anglophile’s ongoing Charles Dickens bicentenary tribute to England featuring, so far, P.J. Harvey’s Let England Shake, Cary Grant’s Bristol, Virginia Woolf’s Dorothy Wordsworth, and George Gissing’s Dickens. Anyone with a weakness for English landscapes and English weather will find everything their rainy heart desires in this show, and it doesn’t cost a cent, unless you want to buy the V & A’s handsome catalogue.

So vivid is Constable’s England, you might need to bring along a slicker, some Wellington boots, and an umbrella. If you ever wondered what light looks like before it’s been tamed, you can see it in its wild state here, in the quick of the moment Constable went after it and captured it. Stand in front of the immense oil “sketch” for The Hay Wain and it’s not an umbrella you need but a thesaurus. What can be said? Run of the mill superlatives won’t do. To appreciate the sheer presence and painterly volatility of the work, all you need is to compare it to the brighter, more contained, arranged, and ordered images of the finished painting reproduced on the web. The exhibition-ready version of The Hay Wain hanging in The National Gallery looks to have been toned down, the fireworks of the original act dispersed for the sake of a sunnier, prettier, more balanced and clearly defined piece of work that nonetheless contained scope and power enough to amaze Delacroix. The image at the center, the hay wagon of the title, looks ramshackle-raw and broken in the sketch, whole and functional in the finished painting. In the sketch, it’s as if the moment is in flux, like the aftershock of an explosion, white flecks of light in free fall, not yet intact, not yet adhering to the forms and surfaces as does the stable, flat, relatively domesticated sunlight of the final version.

As the various critics quoted in the exhibition catalogue make abundantly clear, “sketches” is a misnomer, except of course in that these creations were not thought of as “finished” works. Otherwise, you might as well say the same of Coleridge’s fragment “Kubla Khan” or Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Writing in 1908, Julius Meier-Graefe suggests that Constable “is never greater than here” where “the particles of paint are much more roughly treated than in the pictures.” By 1921, Charles John Holmes is noting “that Constable’s greatness will be seen to rest far more on his brilliant sketches and studies.” Clive Bell considered the sketches “perhaps, the most brilliant and characteristic part of his output,” while Roger Fry found “the real Constable” in the (that unworthy word again) sketches. On the centenary of Constable’s death in 1937, John Piper observed that his first drafts “mean more to us today than his big paintings” because “they are so complete, vivid and timeless.” Kenneth Clark considered “those so-called ‘full-size sketches’ … Constable’s supreme achievement” because “the force of sensation is always strong enough to lift them above the commonplace.”

Hampstead Heath

For an artist with a gift for “the force of sensation,” painting outdoors, “in plein air,” makes existential sense, especially considering the wildly fluctuating phenomena of English weather and English skies. When Constable gazed from the top of Hampstead Heath at the view that he frequently confronted between 1819 and 1828 and tagged with a slew of titles, such as Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead; Hampstead Heath: Sand Pits: Storm Approaching; or Hampstead Heath: Stormy Noon, he was looking for, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “the strictly romantic thing called Weather; beautiful and changing as a woman.” In his essay, “The Glory of Grey,” Chesterton finds in “the great English landscape painters … this salient distinction: that the Weather is not the atmosphere of their pictures; it is the subject of their pictures. They paint portraits of the Weather. The Weather sat to Constable.”

More likely, the weather reared up and came at the painter, heaving toward him like some vision of fate. Anyway, why else was he out there if not to go head to head with nature, casting his lot with the elements? The confines of the studio are just that: confining; there’s no action, no plot beyond what the painter can generate. The weather offers an ever-changing narrative. Constable’s mission was not only to read it but to study it as a scientist would, to learn its moods and movements so well that he could channel them. He had a word for his adventures among the clouds; he called it “skying.” In the Study of Cirrus Clouds (c. 1821/22), Chesterton’s “beautiful and changing as a woman” metaphor is on the money; those seductive pastel shades of blue and soft creamy white have had their way with the painter addicted to the dark and brooding side of nature, the man who said, “I live by shadows, to me shadows are realities.”

With Keats

Given the literary associations haunting Hampstead Heath, along with Constable’s eye for cirrus-capped narratives, it’s no wonder you find yourself thinking of “huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,” a line Keats may have gleaned from one of his evening walks on the Heath the year before Constable became his Hampstead neighbor.

Constable’s first oil sketch of the Heath was painted in 1819 when he and his wife were living practically next door to the house Keats and his brothers had inhabited only the year before. It’s likely that the two men walked the Heath at the same time on one of those evenings Constable painted. Keats may even have stopped to peer over the artist’s shoulder, though I haven’t been able to find a reference to an actual meeting between the two. Keats was 23, in love with Fanny Brawne, walking and musing on the Heath, and writing the poems that would ensure his “place among the English poets” — The Odes, the Eves of St Agnes and St Mark, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” the fragments from “Hyperion” and “Lamia,” among, amazingly, others. In the summer of 1819, John Constable was 44 and in the third year of his marriage, and the Heath was his backyard, as it was for Keats.

The wonder is that in the same year two such visionaries walked the same paths, shared the same landscape, viewed the same sunsets, and had similar if not actually identical thoughts. It’s possible to imagine Keats trying out his concept of the “Vale of Soul-Making” on the artist who once wondered “Why, then, may not landscape be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but experiments?” With barely a year and a half to live, Keats might then have responded with the thought he expressed in a letter that same year, comparing “Clouds continually gathering and bursting” to “Circumstances,” so that “While we are laughing, the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events” where it “sprouts … grows, and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck.”

Plumly’s Gift

A contemporary poet has imagined this fantasy relationship into poetry. In “Constable’s Clouds for Keats,” Stanley Plumly, who once taught at Princeton, pictures clouds as “peaceable masters” coming in off the sea” and, addressing Constable, says “you write them down in oils because of their brilliance.” It being 1822, the year after Keats’s death, Plumly imagines “it would be right” to think of those clouds “domed above the Heath in their isolated chronicle — as elegies of the spirit.” After wishing Keats had never gone to “the artist’s paradise in Rome,” he fancies how it might have been had he stayed in Hampstead.

He could be

crossing on Christchurch Hill Road now, then

over to the Elm Row and down Old Admiral’s Walk.

He could be looking at the clouds blooming between

buildings, watching the phantoms levitating stone.

He was there your first Heath summer writing odes,

feeling the weather change from warm to chill,

focused, no less than you, on daylight’s last detail,

wondering what our feelings are without us.

———

“John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will be on view through June 10. The University Art Museum is the first of only two North American venues for this exhibition.


Over this past season, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has been expanding the simple concert presentation format to creating a multi-day performance experience with pre-concert lectures, open forums with composers and soloists, and discussions of music related to the concert repertory, held in a variety of venues around town. The orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concert in Richardson Auditorium was the culmination of several public events centered on the flute concerto and other symphonic music performed, with the featured composer and soloist very involved in the process.

For this spring concert, PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov selected music related to Shakespeare, including works of three major 19th-century composers. Felix Mendelssohn composed an Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the age of seventeen for no other reason than that he liked the play. Although it was sixteen years later that Mendelssohn incorporated this music into a commission, the overture retained a youthful spirit, beginning with the well-tuned thirds in the flutes which opened the piece. Mr. Milanov maintained a light pizzicato from the strings as precise dotted rhythms moved the music forward. There was a great deal of humor and fun in this overture, such as Gary Cattley’s tuba solo representing Bottom’s transformation into a donkey. Especially lean violin playing was notable before the closing coda.

Tchaikovsky also musically addressed Shakespeare plays, with his Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture familiar to orchestra audiences. Less well known is his tone poem Hamlet, which is much darker than the Mendelssohn work, with ample opportunity for the orchestra to build drama and theatricality. The lower strings effectively set the mood, punctuated by clean trombones. This one-movement piece was a dramatic workout for the strings, with convincingly fierce playing as things got rolling. Oboist Caroline Park provided emotional contrast with a lyrical and melodic solo full of rich sound. Mr. Milanov wisely allowed Ms. Park to end her solo freely as the mood changed to a lush orchestral sound. Also impressive was the timing of the brass accents exactly with the snare drum, played by percussionist Phyllis Bitow.

The third Shakespeare-inspired work on the program was another Romeo and Juliet treatment by Sergei Prokofiev. The three selections from two Prokofiev suites performed by the orchestra were not at all in the composer’s classical vein, but closer to the dramatic late Romantic Russian style, and Mr. Milanov did well to keep the sound as full as possible without falling into the range of cacophonous. Mr. Milanov drew significant tension out of the strings during the familiar marching music of the first “Montagues and Capulets” from Suite No. 2, aided by some very nice flute work from Jayn Rosenfeld and Mary Schmidt. Prokofiev scored these pieces to include saxophone, effectively played by Ron Kerber for contrast against the orchestral palette. The three selections from Prokofiev’s two suites featured elegant instrumental solos, including English hornist Nick Masterson, violinists Basia Danilow and Valissa Willwerth, and violist Stephanie Griffin. Mr. Milanov maintained good control over this very disjunct music, bringing the final selection to a particularly ominous close, foreshadowing the drama to come in the play.

Lowell Liebermann’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra may not have had anything to do with Shakespeare, but in this work the solo flute seemed to be a character, wandering through the opening movement’s pastoral scene against a clocklike pizzicato from the strings. Flute soloist Eugenia Zukerman (who was kept very busy that afternoon doubling as narrator for the other three works on the program) played the nonstop line with ease, achieving very nice duets with members of the orchestra, including clarinetist Gi Li and bassoonist Roe Goodman. Ms. Zukerman played with a light touch and very even agility, as other winds joined her in elegant instrumental combinations. Ms. Zukerman had her work particularly cut out for her in the third movement, as a nonstop flute line speeded along. This concerto was a very appealing work, with particularly entertaining use of such unusual percussion instruments as sleigh bells, triangles, and a ratchet.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra has made a particular point of linking concerts this season with the community. With Shakespeare, there is a great deal to work with on the Princeton campus and in the town, and the orchestra seemed justifiably pleased with the results on this initiative.


Tom Stoppard’s Travesties opened in London in 1974, came to the United States and won both Tony and N.Y. Drama Critics Circle Awards for Best Play in 1976 and is currently at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre in a dazzling production directed by Sam Buntrock. It is a wildly extravagant intellectual feast.

“I want to marry the play of ideas to farce,” Mr. Stoppard explained. “Now that may be like eating steak tartare with chocolate sauce, but that’s the way it comes out. Everyone will have to decide for himself whether the seriousness is doomed or redeemed by the frivolity.”

It is Zurich in 1917, during the First World War, with Lenin preparing to return to Russia to lead the Russian revolution, James Joyce is in the process of writing Ulysses, and Dadaist Tristan Tzara is challenging the world of European art. The ideas come thick and fast here, though a constant barrage of puns, limericks, and word play, a smattering of song and dance and recurrent reminders of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest might, as Stoppard suggests, be smothering the seriousness of those ideas in chocolate sauce.

With so many historical, artistic, and literary allusions, this tour de force of hyperactive wit provides extraordinary riches for the mind. In this vein of Wildean farce and George Bernard Shaw’s comedies of manners and ideas, Mr. Stoppard has produced an impressive array of masterpieces over the past five decades, from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1968) through The Real Thing(1982), Arcadia(1993), Coast of Utopia (2007) and many more. Nowhere, however, do the farce, allusions and intellectual ideas spin more wildly over the top than they do here in the pyrotechnics of Travesties.

Mr. Stoppard’s feat of relentless verbal dexterity, extraordinarily clever plotting to get Lenin, Joyce, and Tzara together through the reminiscences of a minor consular official, Henry Carr, who narrates the play, all in a spoof of The Importance of Being Earnest is surely a composition of genius. The McCarter production is worthy of this genius — also admirable, impressive and delightfully inventive in its staging and in the eight sterling, high-energy, high quality performances of its distinguished cast of eight.

Whether audiences will unreservedly enjoy this play is another question. Such rich fare can be overwhelming. A number of patrons left at intermission last Saturday night, slightly more than halfway through the three-hour show. The fast and furious pace of allusions, ideas, and farce are challenging to say the least. Theater-goers looking for traditional dramatic virtues of plot and depth of characterization will be disappointed. Some diners find both steak tartare and chocolate sauce, not to mention the combination, too much for the palate.

Travesties focuses on the character of Henry Carr (the redoubtable James Urbaniak), old man, sitting in his apartment, still in Zurich in 1974, and remembering, with questionable reliability, back to 1917: “Great days … Zurich during the war. Refugees, spies, exiles, painters, poets, writers, radicals of all kinds. I knew them all.”

The role is fabricated partly from history, partly from Mr. Stoppard’s fertile imagination. A Henry Carr did work as a consular official in Zurich and did in fact play the role of Algernon in a Zurich production of The Importance of Being Earnest produced by The English Players of which Joyce was the business manager at the time. He and Joyce did clash over money matters surrounding the production and their dispute did end up in court.

As Mr. Stoppard wrote in the program notes for the original production, Travesties is a work of fiction which makes use, and misuse, of history. Scenes which are self-evidently documentary mingle with others which are just as evidently fantastical. People who were hardly aware of each other’s existence are made to collide; real people and imaginary people are brought together without ceremony; and events which took place months, and even years, apart are presented as synchronous.”

Mr. Urbaniak embraces this character with panache, both the irascible, forgetful old man (“… you may or may not have noticed that I got my wires crossed a bit here and there, you know how it is when the old think-box gets stuck in a groove and before you know where you are you’ve jumped the points…”) and the urbane young swain.

He transitions seamlessly from the long monologues of an old man’s reminiscences (a la Krapp’s Last Tape) to the vibrant setting (a la The Importance of Being Earnest with an added dose of politics and aesthetics) of Zurich and Carr’s encounters — political, personal and romantic — with Joyce (Fred Arsenault), Tristan Tzara (Christian Coulson), Lenin (Demosthenes Chrysan), Lenin’s wife Nadya (Lusia Strus), Carr’s eccentric butler Bennett (Everett Quinton), his sister Gwendolyn (Susannah Flood) and a young librarian, Cecily (Sara Topham), whom he falls in love with and later marries.

Mr. Coulson’s Tzara, with scissors in hand as he cuts out his words to scramble his poetic creations, is a fascinating, credible figure, vehemently defending his radical aesthetic theories, as he simultaneously pursues his romantic and personal ends.

Mr. Arsenault’s James Joyce, working on Ulysses, described here by Tzara as “derived from reference to Homer and the Dublin telephone book of 1904,” brings this unusual literary figure and his avid limerick-making to vivid, memorable life.

Mr. Chrysan’s Lenin and Ms. Strus’s Nadya are both formidable, authoritative characterizations, seen from a certain distance here — Mr. Carr had little or no actual interaction with the Russian revolutionary. Their dialogue and his speeches are almost entirely taken from historical documents.

Ms. Flood’s Gwendolyn and Ms. Topham’s Cecily both perform admirably in their embracing of the wild (and Wilde) world of this play and in encountering, with flair and poise, the erratic male characters who surround them. Ms. Topham is particularly strong, articulate, and striking throughout, as librarian, Leninist, and romantic interest, then wife, to Carr.

The incomparable Everett Quinton contributes a delightfully bizarre performance as Carr’s edgy, class conscious butler Bennett.

Production values here are of extraordinarily high quality. David Farley’s breathtaking set creates the huge shelves, dark wood paneling, and even a winding staircase between levels of the realistic Zurich library, then transforms so swiftly and effectively to Henry Carr’s small apartment, with clear, specific distinctions between 1917 and 1974 versions.

Mr. Farley’s colorfully fashionable costumes, historically specific and expressive for the period and the particular characters, along with David Weiner’s dramatic, varied, and nuanced lighting, all provide firm grounding and clarification in the creation of the worlds of this play. The renowned David Shire has composed the appropriate, appealing music for the production.

Yes, some knowledge of Europe during World War I, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Joyce, Tzara, and artistic movements of the early twentieth century is helpful here; but this luminous, dynamic cast, each character aflame with his or her particular passion, and the lucid, imaginative, intelligent direction of Mr. Buntrock (director of an award-winning revival of Sunday in the Park with George in London and New York, 2005-2008, and Take Flight at McCarter two years ago) keep the whirling words and actions moving along on track and in focus. This superb production delivers Mr. Stoppard’s Travesties — jam-packed with word-play, literary allusions, and historical references — with a dazzlingly light touch that assures entertainment even when confusion might defy comprehension.