February 15, 2017

INHERIT THE WIND: Rehearsing for Rider Theatre’s production of “Inherit the Wind” are Shelly Walsh in the role of Drummond and Dan Maldonado in the role of Matthew Harrison Brady in Rider University’s upcoming production of the play, that will be presented in the Yvonne Theater on the campus of Rider University in Lawrenceville. February 22-26. Learn more at www.rider.edu/arts.

Rider Theatre will present the Tony Award-winning play Inherit the Wind in the Yvonne Theater on the campus of Rider University in Lawrenceville. February 22 — 26. A preview performance will be Wednesday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m., and performances will be Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m. The production, directed by Miriam Mills, will be performed by Rider University students. more

With picturesque towns and medieval castles, the Baltic nation of Estonia is known to many as a stop on a Baltic sea cruise; much of the classical world is unaware of the rich Estonian choral tradition dating back to the 12th century. In and out of Russian control from the early 1700s, Estonia most recently came into its own politically in 1991 and since that time, the worldwide choral community has been eager to devour the unique music of Estonia’s composers. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, with its own 35-year high-level performance history, brought this long-standing musical tradition to the Princeton University Chapel last week. more

“BREAKING POINT”: Starting February 28, this piece by Kahlilah Sabree will be on display at the Prindiville Mohey Gallery at Artworks Trenton. “Explorations in Geometry,” an exhibition of prints by Bill Brookover will open the same day in the Artworks Community Gallery.

Artworks Trenton presents two exhibitions opening February 28, 2017. There will be an opening reception March 11, 6-8 p.m. for both exhibitions. more

“CONCRETE REEF”: This photo by Valerie Chaucer-Levine is part of the “Cell Phone Images Only” art exhibition on display in the Considine Gallery at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton from March 3– April 13. The public is invited to the Opening Reception on Sunday, March 5, 2-4 p.m. and the Gallery Talk on Tuesday, March 7, 1-2 p.m.

Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart announces the spring exhibition in the school’s Considine Gallery will feature works from the Princeton Photography Club. Over 25 photographers are represented in the innovative exhibition, “Cell Phone Images Only,” which runs March 3 — April 13, and is made up entirely of images taken on cell phones. The opening reception is Sunday, March 5 from 2-4 p.m. There will be a gallery talk with the artists on Tuesday, March 7 from 1-2 p.m. The gallery is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, when school is in session.  more

February 8, 2017

Not since the campy TV-sitcom in the 60s has Batman been so successfully lampooned. In this movie, the superhero is the perfect material for parody in this madcap animated adventure.

More concerned with jokes than plot development, this spoof is relentless in its rush to find the next punch line. Fortunately, the picture never disappoints, whether the laughs are generated by clever quips, silly sight gags, or allusions to earlier versions of the Batman franchise.

For example, right before confronting a couple of villains, Batman (Will Arnett) tells Robin (Michael Cera) that, “We’re going to punch these guys so hard that words are going to magically appear out of thin air.” That, of course is a reference to the cartoon bubbles (such as “Crack!” and “Pow!”) that appeared on the screen during fist fights in the 60s television series.

And it’s not just the TV Batman that gets knocked off a pedestal, every other version of The Caped Crusader is fair game. In this film, Chris McKay makes a remarkable directorial debut with this frenetically-paced farce.

The picture does have a plot that is really just another stock Batman storyline. At the point of departure, The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is planning to level Gotham City with the help of a host of super-villains. In turn, Batman enlists the assistance of Robin (Michael Cera), Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), and his loyal butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).

However, before the action begins between these archenemies, the Joker demands that Batman actually say “I hate you” to his face. When that phrase isn’t forthcoming, the Clown Prince of Crime vindictively responds with “I’m done — and on my way out, I’m going to blow up Gotham City.”

The ensuing mix of mirth and mayhem is mesmerizing, and it’s easy to forget that you’re watching LEGO figures.

Excellent (****). Rated PG for action and rude humor. Running time: 90 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

Sometimes it feels even when no one is there that someone something is watching and listening …. —C.K. Williams (1936-2015), from “The Singing”

With Valentine’s Day approaching, here’s a bouquet of love notes from three writers who were all born on this date, February 8. According to the peerless prose stylist John Ruskin (1819-1900), he of the unconsummated marriage, “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” Jules Verne (1828-1905), the author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, sounded the amorous depths when he asked, “Is not a woman’s heart unfathomable?” While it’s a challenge to pick any one gem from the riches Robert Burton (1577-1640) compiled for his “Symptoms of Love” in The Anatomy of Melancholy, it’s hard to top this spectacular valentine: “better a Metropolitan City were sackt, a Royal Army overcome, an Invincible Armada sunk, and twenty thousand Kings should perish, than her little finger ache ….”

Another literary luminary born into the world of love and loss on this date, Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) begins her poem “Three Valentines” by claiming, “Love, with his gilded bow and crystal arrows/Has slain us all.”  more

A SATIRICAL FANTASIA: Princeton University freshman Tri Le (left) as Frank and senior Kathy Zhao (right) as Kathy in rehearsal for Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery to be presented at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts and directed by faculty member Peter Kim on February 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. Performances will take place at the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio located at 185 Nassau Street in Princeton. (Photo Credit: Justin Goldberg)

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Charles Francis Chan, Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery by Lloyd Suh, directed by faculty member Peter Kim and featuring senior Kathy Zhao, on February 10, 11, 16, 17, and 18 at 8 p.m. Performances will take place in the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio located at 185 Nassau Street in Princeton. The February 17 performance will be American Sign Language-interpreted. A symposium presented in collaboration with the student theater group East West Theater Company will precede the February 11 performance, beginning at 2 p.m. in the Matthews Acting Studio. more

“WITHIN THE LIGHT TENT: A SELF- PORTRAIT”: This photo by Shana Mimnaugh ’17, will be a part of Princeton Day School’s upcoming exhibit, “Identity.” The student artwork explores the individual identities of the PDS community and will be on display from February 13 until March 8.

The Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery at Princeton Day School is pleased to present an exhibit titled “Identity,” on view from February 13 to March 8. Entirely composed of work created by Princeton Day School students in all three divisions, the exhibit centers around individual identities and the diversity of the PDS community. The artists reception will take place on Thursday, February 16, from 12:30–1:30 p.m. Both the exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. more

February 6, 2017

On Tuesday, February 7 from 6-8 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College will hold a Westminster Community Town Hall Forum to discuss the recent announcement by Rider president Gregory Dell’Omo that the Rider Board of Trustees is considering a plan to sell the Westminster campus in Princeton and move the college to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus.

The forum panel will include representatives from student, alumni, and faculty groups from both campuses, including Art Taylor, president of the Rider University chapter of the AAUP faculty union. The university administration is looking for ways to stabilize  low enrollment and a projected $13.1 million deficit this year. Friends and neighbors of the college and the university are invited to participate and discuss how this proposed campus consolidation would affect their community.  The forum is open to the public.

February 1, 2017

20th Century Women, written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners), is set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979. The nostalgic drama is about the efforts of a neurotic single mother to raise her 15-year-old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who desperately needs a role model.

The picture’s protagonist is Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a middle-aged chain-smoker who owns the rooming house where the story is set. She recruits two considerably younger females, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning), to help her raise Jamie and, for some reason, ignores her handyman, William (Billy Crudup), who is actually a pleasant father figure.

Abbie tries to reach the impressionable teenager by having him read popular feminist manifestos such as Sisterhood Is Powerful. On the other hand, Julie, 17, establishes a Platonic relationship with him because they’ve known each other since they were little.

The engaging drama uses flashbacks to develop each of the lead characters’ back stories. For example, we hear Jamie thinking about life with his mother — who is fretting about her inability to understand him less and less every day. We also learn about Abbie’s concern about her cervical cancer scare, and Julie’s resentment of her therapist mother who is forcing her into group therapy sessions.

20th Century Women transports the audience back to the late 70s. The movie resurrects the era’s fashions and decor and the action unfolds against familiar backdrops of the period. In addition, the film’s score features a mix of musical artists such as Rudy Vallee, Louie Armstrong, David Bowie, and The Talking Heads.

Excellent (***½). Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, and brief drug use. Running time: 119 minutes. Distributor: A24 Films.

GOING OR STAYING: That’s the question on the minds of students at Westminster Choir College, which could be relocated to Lawrenceville if Rider University, which owns the school, decides to put the Princeton campus up for sale. A 24-hour musical performance marathon by Westminster students, faculty and alumni this week was mounted as a protest by those who want the campus to stay where it is. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

Jody Doktor Velloso’s warm, melodious soprano filled the sanctuary of Nassau Presbyterian Church Tuesday afternoon, thrilling those seated in the pews. It was a sparse crowd. But Ms. Velloso’s recital was only the beginning of a 24-hour marathon held by The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College. It was in protest of a proposal by Rider University, which owns Westminster, to sell the Princeton campus and relocate the music school to Rider’s Lawrenceville location. more

Man is like a ball, the plaything of Chance and Passion. — Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Right now the late Dr. Seuss may be the only author with the vision to do antic justice to the doomsday chaos spiraling out of Breitbart’s White House. Even if we could bring back the author of The Cat in the Hat, my guess is he’d throw up his hands and let his creation, the fussy fish, speak on his behalf, as the hysterical little scold does when he comprehends the extent of the devastation created by The Cat and Thing One and Thing Two: “This mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we can not pick it up, there is no way at all!”

In case you’re wondering what the new regime in Washington has to do with Franz Schubert, whose 220th birthday was Tuesday, the answer is that after two weeks of Trump this level of disorder is so big and so deep that words written, spoken, and thought 200 years ago jump out at you like the line about Chance and Passion from Schubert’s diary of September 1816, or this description of the Big Brother regime in Schubert’s Vienna — “absolutism mitigated by sloppiness” — during an era when “youthful high spirits … were viewed with suspicion.” The way things are going in D.C., “sloppiness” or Schlamperei (also defined as “muddleheadedness”) isn‘t doing much to mitigate the rush toward “absolutism.” more

“FACES”: This oil and gold leaf on linen by artist Phyllis Plattner is from the “Chronicles of War” series, 2014. Two of Plattner’s most recent series are on display at Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery.

Artist Phyllis Plattner’s two most recent series, “Legends” and “Chronicles of War,” are open at Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery in Robertson Hall. There will be an opening reception on Friday, February 10 at 6 p.m.

The exhibit, “Gods of War,” will be open to the public through March 2, 2017. The exhibit and reception are free, open to the public, and sponsored by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. more

“FALL FISHING”: Watercolorist Robert Sakson will be showing his work at the Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn until March 3. The opening reception for the exhibit, “Through My Eyes” will be held February 3. Pictured here is one of Sakson’s paintings, which will be available for purchase.

The Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn, located at 15 East Broad Street in Hopewell, will premiere the exhibition “Through My Eyes: The Watercolors of Robert Sakson” on Friday, February 3. The exhibit will continue through Friday, March 3, 2017. This is the second installation in a series of artist presentations at the Inn. more

When planning a season of performance, it is impossible to predict how news events will impact music in the coming year, or vice versa. At the end of a tumultuous weekend of national affairs, Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented a concert which could not have been more appropriate — music of a composer born in Belarus, a composer rooted in Middle Eastern musical heritage, music of an individual working in a repressive artistic climate, and a performer who has made a life mission excelling in a genre rooted in Eastern Europe. If there were ever an instance of music to reflect and inform a troubled time, Princeton Symphony’s concert Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium was it.  more

January 25, 2017

When it was released in 2002, xXx grossed over $250 billion dollars worldwide in theaters alone. The espionage adventure, that starred Vin Diesel, was reminiscent of a James Bond film, but with a handsomer hero and more spectacular stunts and special effects.

It’s taken 15 years for Diesel to reprise the role he originated. The picture is filled with the death-defying feats that made the first xXx such a hit. That means plenty of action sequences in which the protagonist is impervious to bullets and the law of gravity. Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), xXx: Return of Xander Cage also acknowledges earlier episodes by showing cameos of Samuel L. Jackson and Ice Cube.

At the point of departure, we find Xander living under the radar in exile in Latin America. He’s an extreme sports enthusiast, and just for fun, skis across the treetops of a verdant rain forest and then switches to a skateboard in a breathtaking ride down a winding mountainside highway.

However, he is coaxed out of retirement by a CIA chief (Toni Collette) in order to keep the world safe. His mission involves retrieving a devastating weapon of mass destruction code-named “Pandora’s Box” that’s fallen into the hands of a gang led by a diabolical trio (Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, and Deepika Padukone) who are bent on world domination.

Refusing the aid of a U.S. military support team, Xander recruits a crew of renegades. Can that rag-tag posse, composed of a crack sniper (Ruby Rose), a fearless getaway driver (Rory McCann), a state-of-the-art gadget wizard (Nina Dobrev), and an affable DJ/ jack-of-all-trades (Kris Wu), rise to the occasion?  Anything is possible, with cartoon physics on your side!

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, and pervasive violence. Running time: 107 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.

The morning after the Inauguration we’re out of milk so I drive over to the shopping center. Maybe because I’ve had no breakfast, everyone I see looks grim and hung-over. It’s a William Blake crowd, “marks of weakness, marks of woe” on every face. Or maybe it’s just me remembering how it seemed on January 21, 2009, everyone smiling, high on hope, strangers shyly nodding hello. Eight years ago! Was the contrast really so stark? Surely life’s more subtle than that.

When I get behind the wheel of my green 2000 CRV, the key won’t turn, steering wheel’s locked, so I give it a turn or two, no use. Then I look up and see almost directly across from me in the parking lot the green 2000 CRV that actually belongs to me.

No, life’s not subtle. I’ve begun January 21, 2017 by getting into the wrong car.

Driving home, the date begins sinking in. At sunrise on January 21,1966 I was with seven million pilgrims at Sangam, the meeting of holy rivers, the Ganges and the Jumna. Seven years later a friend who’d shared the moment with me writes from England with the news that his first child was born in the early morning hours of January 21. A year later living nearby in Bristol, my wife and I come to know and love the little girl and begin to think, “We can do this,” and so we do, and here we are in Princeton on the morning after.  more

ON TRIAL: After all her miraculous success in leading the French to victory, Joan (Andrus Nichols) finds herself captured, brought before an ecclesiastical court on charges of heresy, and interrogated by the Inquisitor (Eric Tucker) in Bedlam theater company’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan,” at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through February 12. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson) 

The young heroine of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan (1923) has a lot in common with the celebrated Bedlam theater company that is presenting the play at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through February 12. “There is something about the girl,” says a soldier in the opening scene of the play, as Joan of Arc wins over the local squire to supply her with a horse, armor, and troops, and, following orders directly from God, she sets out to free the city of Orleans from the English.  more

“FORMAL PEARS WITH KNIFE”: This somewhat foreboding still-life is included in Allen Fitzpatrick’s exhibit titled “Looking” in the Rider University Art Gallery Thursday, January 26 through Sunday, February 26. Learn more at www.rider.edu/arts.

The Rider University Art Gallery will present an exhibition of works by Allen Fitzpatrick titled “Looking” from Thursday, January 26 through Sunday, February 26. The exhibit will include an opening reception on Thursday, January 26 from 5 to 7 p.m. and an artist’s talk on Thursday, February 2 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. more

Artist Josh Rockland is displaying his work at Small World Coffee on 254 Nassau Street through the month of January. On his website, joshrockland.com, he writes: “My paintings have a personal, narrative quality that combines seemingly unrelated objects in an aesthetic and accessible way.” Rockland is originally from Princeton and currently resides in Morristown.

The Takács String Quartet returned to Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University last Wednesday night for the third of the ensemble’s six-part journey through the string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven. Throughout the fall and early winter, Princeton University Concerts has built ancillary educational events around these performances, and as in the previous concerts, the Takács Quartet played to a nearly full house. Also as with other performances in this series, seating in the house was limited to downstairs and onstage, creating a more intimate atmosphere. more

Princeton Abbey and Cemetery is pleased to announce they will be hosting a concert from Les Agrements de Musique on Sunday afternoon, February 5 at 4 p.m. The concert will feature works by: Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marin Marais, Louis and François Couperin, and Charles (François) Dieupart. This concert hass general admission with a suggested donation of $15 at the door. more

January 18, 2017

Saroo (Dev Patel) was born into poverty in India’s Khandwa district. He lived there with his single mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), and his younger sister, Shekila (Khushi Solanki).

His illiterate mother eked out a living by carrying rocks from a local quarry, and she could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads. So, when Guddu found a night job hauling bales of hay, Saroo begged to go with him to help, even though he was really too small for the job.

Saroo fell asleep after the long ride sitting on his brother’s bike’s handlebars to the worksite. “It’s my fault, for bringing him here,” Guddu lamented, before leaving Saroo alone for the night on a train station bench.

Unfortunately, when Guddu was nowhere to be seen when he woke up, the five-year-old forgot his brother’s instruction to stay put and went looking for him. While searching for food on a decommissioned train, the train’s doors locked and it started moving. After several days, Saroo ended up in Bengal, a city 1,600 miles away. When he got off the train, Saroo couldn’t get any help from the busy passers-by, because he did not speak the language spoken there, and he mispronounced the name of his hometown, “Ganestalay.”

He ended up struggling to survive on the streets, until he was taken in by a local orphanage. After some time Saroo, who didn’t know his last name, his mother’s name, or where he was from, was sent to Australia where Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), were eager to adopt him.

For the next 25 years, he grew up going to school, playing cricket, swimming in a cove off the ocean, and then falling in love with Lucy (Rooney Mara), an Australian. Then one fateful evening a childhood memory was triggered during a dinner of Indian food.

Compulsively curious about his roots, Saroo used his computer to search for his birthplace in India. Finally he realized that he had been mispronouncing the name of the area where he was born and found it on the computer. When he flew to India, he had a joyous reunion with his mother and younger sister, but sadly his brother Guddu had died.

Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s autobiography, A Long Way Home, Lion is a heartbreaking biopic with an emotional punch, thanks to powerful performances by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel as the young and adult Saroo, respectively. The supporting cast, led by Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, portrayed the women who had played pivotal roles in Saroo’s life.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and some sensuality. In English, Hindi, and Bengali with subtitles. Running time: 118 minutes.

Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

If at first an idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it. — Albert Einstein

I’m thinking of two Lears. Edward is the author of “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” one of the happiest poems ever written. The other Lear is Shakespeare’s mad king who brings the world down on his head because he only hears what he wants to hear no matter how evil the source and when he hears something he doesn’t want to hear, even when it’s spoken by an angel, he banishes the angel, opens the door of his kingdom to evil, and is lost. It’s our good fortune that Shakespeare makes great literature out of all that madness and misery. It’s our absurd fortune that someone with the failings of the mad king is about to take the throne. more

The Arts Council of Princeton is nominated for Favorite Gallery, Favorite Adult Art Classes, and Favorite Art Camp in the Discover Jersey Arts People’s Choice Awards. Pictured here is their building, Paul Robeson Center for the Arts.