February 29, 2012

On a night when Hollywood was honoring its own with the Oscars telecast, The Princeton Singers paid homage to its own past, as well as Princeton history, with a concert of late 19th and early 20th-century British and American choral music. As part of its continuing collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, The Princeton Singers invited its audience to sit in the chancel of the Princeton University Chapel for a concert of some of the greatest hits of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, complementing the Art Museum’s exhibit of Princeton and the Gothic Revival, 1870-1930.

Princeton Singers conductor Steven Sametz placed the 18-member vocal ensemble under the foot of the chancel, facing the high altar. With conductor and singers so close together, it was easy to keep control over the sound, and an intimate concert environment was created for the audience. Throughout the evening, the homophonic music of late 19th century England was well-blended and diction came through well.

Sunday night’s concert was subtitled “Vivat Regina!” and the singers cut right to the chase, opening with C. Hubert H. Parry’s I Was Glad, sung at every royal coronation since 1902 and heard most recently in royal context as the bride’s processional at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. This piece was designed to shake the rafters, with its top-volume organ registration and harmonic shifts, and the space of the University Chapel was a perfect venue for this lush music. The four-manual Aeolian Skinner Chapel organ also provided ample choices in registration and dynamics for this program. Parry created his setting for the traditional British choir of men and boys, whose laser sound would cut through Gothic walls and organ registration, but the Princeton Singers sopranos had an equally pure sound in the cozy setting.

All the works chosen for Sunday evening’s program showed a full clean sound with explicit diction. Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s Wash Me Thoroughly in particular was sung with a flowing choral tone. Penitent in its simplicity, the Wesley anthem demonstrated especially well-blended men’s sections while the sopranos topped off the sound like icing.

Dr. Sametz contrasted these chordal anthems with the more jarring style of Charles Ives to show how the British Anglican revival was assimilated into American music. Both “General Booth Enters into Heaven” and the closing Psalm 90 of Charles Ives were percussive in vocal style. For the General Booth anthem, Dr. Sametz moved the chorus outside of the chancel, leaving bass soloist William Walker close to the audience. It would have been easy to hear Mr. Walker from anywhere in the hall, and both choir and soloist conveyed the musical drama well, accompanied in the tricky piano part by Akiko Hosaki. Ives’s setting of Psalm 90 was smooth and sustained, punctuated by bells played by members of the Nassau Presbyterian Church’s Ringers. The Singers well maintained the long choral stream of this piece, while soloists tenor Peter De Mets and soprano Martha Ainsworth carried well in the space. Ms. Ainsworth was appropriately restrained in a complex vocal line which left little room for overly-Romantic singing. Dr. Sametz intermingled the choral pieces on the program with organ works played by Timothy Harrell. In both the Edward Elgar and Horatio Parker works, Mr. Harrell was able to take full advantage of the wide range of dynamics and registration available from the instrument.

Princeton Singers concerts are often mini-courses in music history, and Sunday night’s performance was no exception. The actual museum exhibit may have been nearby, but the gothic structure of the University Chapel provided plenty of atmosphere to transport the audience to an earlier era and give them some new musical insight to take home.


Have our cell phones transformed the nature and quality of our most important human relationships? Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone (2007) provides its audiences with an engaging, thought-provoking, consistently amusing, and frequently surprising experience exploring this, and other timely issues, at Theatre Intime on the Princeton University campus for one more weekend.

Intelligently and dynamically staged here with a poised six-member undergraduate ensemble under the sure-handed direction of Princeton University junior Daniel Rattner, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a dark romantic comedy — yes, definitely about cell phones and the problems with contemporary communication, but also about the larger peculiarities of this modern world and about no less than our struggle for fulfillment through connection with other human beings, in this world and the next.

Ms. Ruhl, emerging as a major new playwright of the twenty-first century (Eurydice in 2003, The Clean House in 2004, and In the Next Room in 2009, a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006 and twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), dexterously shuttles back and forth in her plays between the surreal and the mundane. Dead Man’s Cell Phone, with its twelve scenes in two acts, provides a steady stream of surprises — in characters’ words and actions, in plot, and in ideas.

As clever in her quirky insights into the eccentricities of human nature as she is poetic and inventive in her uses of language, Ms. Ruhl makes the most of the clever premise indicated in her title. The lights rise on a café. A man and a woman sit at tables on opposite sides of the stage, and after a silent minute — anguished on her part, frozen on his — the first of many cell phones rings is heard. The rings cease briefly, only to start up again, until the annoyed woman, Jean (Sarah Paton), asks the man, Gordon (Michael Pinsky), to answer his phone. He doesn’t move. He can’t, of course, because he’s dead, which she eventually realizes, after she has answered the phone. She is immediately swept into his complicated personal and professional lives.

Throughout the play, Jean feels compelled to hold onto the dead man’s phone, and she continues to answer calls. She attends Gordon’s funeral, meets his imperious mother (Savannah Hankinson), his mysterious Other Woman (Bits Sola), his eccentric widow Hermia (Annika Bennett), and his shy, sweet brother Dwight (Eric Traub).

From her initial exasperation at the annoyance of Gordon’s unanswered phone to an acute compassion and curious desire to connect with the dead man and his world, Jean finds herself taking responsibility for passing along, and creating, the meaning of Gordon’s life, his mysterious career and his most important relationships. This ambitious and daring undertaking sends Jean deep into the worlds of romance, international intrigue and family dysfunction in a series of wild scenes—from café to church to mom’s dinner party to bar to stationery store to Johannesburg airport to some semblance of the after-life (or it might be another planet).

As she continues on her quest to connect and make meaning out of the mystery and loneliness of her life, of Gordon’s life and the lives of his loved ones, she finds herself making up increasingly creative tales. “I call Jean’s stories confabulations, I never call them lies…,” Ms. Ruhl writes in her notes for the director.

Ms. Paton, as the frenetic, beleaguered, ultimately triumphant protagonist, undergoes a wide range of emotions and experiences during the course of the two-hour evening. She creates a sympathetic character, though less than credible at times in age (late 30s — an almost 20-year stretch for this actress) and in a dependence on the distraught look, the sighs and furrowed brow at the expense of a wider variety of reactions. It would have been helpful, and in keeping with the fanciful nature of the play to see Jean at times relaxing the distressed demeanor and enjoying more fully the power and creative challenges of her romantic, moral adventure.

As Gordon, Mr. Pinsky plays a convincing dead man in the opening scene, makes an astonishing entrance at the end of act one, returns in act two to tell us about his last day, and, with effective self-assurance and lack of affectation, delivers, to Jean and the audience, essential words for contemplation.

Ms. Hankinson as the formidable, doting mother creates a compelling presence and almost steals the show in creating an unforgettable character — albeit, as written, more of a two-dimensional caricature. Her funeral speech for her son, interrupted by a ringing cell phone, of course, is a tour de force, followed up expertly with classic matriarchal encounters, peppered with searing one-liners directed at Jean, her younger son and her daughter-in-law.

Ms. Bennett’s Hermia, Gordon’s widow, is another larger-than-life yet thoroughly believable character — fascinating and compelling in her eccentricity, manifested, for just one example, in her final decision, and final appearance in full regalia, to join the Ice Follies.

Mr. Traub as Dwight, a striking contrast to the more flamboyant characters surrounding him and a suitable match for the protagonist, and Ms. Sola as the enigmatic Other Woman provide first-rate support and interest to the play’s romantic and adventure plots.

The pacing occasionally drags here, as Jean wends her way towards love and fulfillment. “There is a great deal of silence and empty space in this play,” Ms. Ruhl describes, “but the pauses should not be epic.” The glimpses of yearning, loneliness, isolation — what Ms. Ruhl describes as frozen Edward Hopper (the painter) moments — are important, but this production could pick up the pace at times, both between and within scenes.

Mark Watter’s simple, flexible set,—single café tables stage right and stage left, simple platforms upstage and basic furniture brought on as necessary, serves the play well. Sean Drohan’s richly colorful lighting, with the backdrop transforming from fuchsia in the first scene to an array of different hues, ending in bright pink for the finale, contributes significantly to the creation of this surreal world.

“You know what’s funny?” Jean confides to Dwight near the end of the first act. “I never had a cell phone. I didn’t want to always be there, you know. Like if your phone is on you’re supposed to be there. Sometimes I like to disappear. But it’s like — when everyone has their cell phone on, no one is there. It’s like we’re all disappearing the more we’re there.” It’s not just a coincidence that the most meaningful relationship in the play takes place between two characters who meet in person, without any electronic communication, and who find love in a stationery store, triumphing over the intrusions of cell phones into their lives.


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.  Opening March 1 is “Drawing Beyond: An Exhibition of Contemporary Drawing,” with works by Eve Aschheim, Caroline Burton, Theresa Chong, and other artists. Opening March 24 is “Arnold Roth: A Selection of Work from Area Collections.” For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley in Trenton, is showing “The Capital City College and University Art Exhibition” March 20-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. An opening reception is March 31, 4-6 p.m. Visit www.artworkstrenton.com for hours and information.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Illuminating Data: Visualizing the Information that Moves Our World” from March 14-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.

Coryell Gallery at 8 Coryell Street in Lambertville is celebrating the 31st Annual Juried Art Exhibition, through March 18. Artists include Dean Thomas, Barbara Postel, Jack Muessig, Pat Smythe, and several others.

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 from March 2-July 8.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, is showing “Variations on Greek Urns, Ghosts, and Myths” by Larry Parsons through March 11. On March 16, “Digital Noir: Black-and-White Photographs by Richard Trenner” opens, along with “Ingenuous Tapestries” by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac. The opening Reception is Friday, March 16 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. A Meet the Photographers event is Sunday, March 18, from 1-3 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents paintings by Jeff Epstein in “Intersections of the Man-Made and Natural Worlds,” through March 2.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Viewpoints,” with art by students of Hightstown artist Susan Winger, March 4-25. An opening reception is March 4 from 1-3 p.m. 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 and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. 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: 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. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit 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, Clinton, presents “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,”  through March 25. Mr. Skiles created and installed 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show.

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. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches is on view through February 26. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler from March 1-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.

Lawrence Headquarters Branch Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, opens a photo exhibit by Philip Liu on March 2, with a reception from 2-4 p.m. Mr. Liu’s work is focused on his cultivation of lotus and water lilies. The show is in the library’s East Lobby Gallery.

Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, 185 Nassau Street, opens a “Inhabited,” a show by senior Genevieve Irwin on March 1, in conjunction with the spring Princeton ArtWalk. A reception is being held from 7-9 p.m. The Lucas Gallery is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 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. 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 scholars, students, staff, and other women associated with the University.

Princeton ArtWalk, in its second year, is a self-guided tour Thursday, March 1 from 5-8 p.m. at several locations including the Arts Council of Princeton, Bernstein Gallery of the Woodrow Wilson School, Cranbury Station Gallery, Firestone Library, the  Historical Society of Princeton’s Bainbridge House, Princeton Public Library, and other stops. Visit www.facebook.com/princetonartwalk for more information.

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.

Princeton Day School‘s Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery is presenting works by installation and ceramic artist Debbie Reichard through March 8. Architect Michael Graves is lending his original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes for 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 March 17-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. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

River Queen Artisan’s Gallery at 8 Church Street, Lambertville, is showing “Beating the Doldrums,” an exhibit of art and fine crafts by 32 local artists, until March 15.

Straube Center is presenting a “Fine Art Show: Grace, Strength and Freedom,” from March 2-May 25. The opening reception is March 2 from 7-9 p.m. Local artists will be featured. The center is on Route 31 at West Franklin Avenue in Pennington, in buidings 100 and I-108.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, shows “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” from March 3-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.

WHAT KIND OF PLACE IS THIS?: George (Paul Rudd, left) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) discover that the “quaint bed and breakfast” inn that they checked into the previous night is really a commune of nudists who believe in free love. Ready to try anything, the happily married couple decides to give the alternative life style a try, which results in them ending up in some hilarious situations.

Happily married Linda (Jennifer Aniston) and George (Paul Rudd) bought a home after being convinced by their realtor (Linda Lavin) that a “micro loft” in the West Village of Manhattan would be a great investment. However, when George subsequently loses his high paying, high stress job, the couple is forced to sell their postage stamp-sized studio apartment at a considerable loss.

Unable to afford to live in Manhattan any longer, they decide to take up George’s brother’s (Ken Marino) generous offer of a job and a place to live in Atlanta until they can get back on their feet. So, they pack up their car and start the long drive to Georgia.

En route they book a room for a night at what they think is a quaint country bed and breakfast located off the beaten path. But they quickly realize that something strange is afoot when they are greeted in the driveway by a naked man (Joe Lo Truglio) who isn’t the slightest bit modest. They learn that they have just checked into a free love commune that considers monogamy tantamount to sexual slavery.

Linda is initially put off by the free love idea while George is intrigued by the alternate lifestyle. However, she grudgingly agrees not only to move in but even to have an open relationship in order to make her husband happy.

Then, lo and behold, Linda does take to the arrangement, and she soon seduces Seth (Justin Theroux), after he serenades her with his guitar. George, on the other hand, has a harder time bringing himself to cheat on his wife with the attractive young blonde (Malin Akerman) who is propositioning him.

Can this marriage survive the infidelity and ever present temptations? That is the question posed by Wanderlust, a comedy directed by David Wain.

The picture was produced by Judd Apatow, whose string of coarse films includes Bridesmaids, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Fortunately, the conviction which Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd bring to their parts as the couple in crisis succeeds in holding together an implausible storyline. The talented leads are ably assisted by a gifted supporting cast of veterans like Alan Alda and Ray Liotta, as well as scene-stealing comediennes Kathryn Hahn and Kerri Kenney.

Very Good (***). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, drug use, and nudity. Running time: 98 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.


February 22, 2012

ARE WE DOING THE RIGHT THING?: Wesley Deeds (Tyler Perry, left), the successful CEO of Deeds Corporation, is having second thoughts about going through with his impending marriage to Natalie (Gabrielle Union), who is a successful realtor. Wesley finds Natlie to be a shallow person, and she thinks that he is boring and predictable. To add to the tension, Wesley finds himself attracted to a homeless war widow who has a young daughter.

Wesley Deeds (Tyler Perry) seems to have it all. He is the CEO of the Deeds Corporation — a thriving computer software company — and is about to marry a successful, if shallow, San Francisco realtor Natalie (Gabrielle Union). Wesley was chosen to be the CEO by his mother (Phylicia Rashad), who picked him over his hot-headed brother Walter, (Brian White), to replace their late father, the former CEO of the Company.

However, it seems that Wesley has spent most of his life trying to satisfy his domineering mother, and it looks like he might be getting married more to please her than himself. Even Natalie finds Wesley to be boring and predictable, despite his being a great catch.

Then, as the couple is putting the final touches on their elaborate wedding plans, an unlikely other woman, Lindsey Wakefield (Thandie Newton) — who is a single mother living in a car with her 6-year-old daughter, Ariel (Jordenn Thompson) — enters the picture.

Lindsey’s world crashed around her after her husband was killed in Iraq. She was forced to drop out of nursing school and was able to find a job as the night janitor in Wesley’s office building.

The gruff woman initially rubs Wesley the wrong way. She is definitely not the class of women that he is accustomed to meeting.

However, the tension between the two starts to dissolve the night she offers to give him a back massage while he’s burning the midnight oil at work. And upon hearing all the details of her pitiful plight, Wesley altruistically offers Lindsey and Ariel an apartment to live in indefinitely.

Will Wesley develop deeper feelings for Natalie? If so, will he be able to summon up the courage to break off his engagement and defy his mother?

That difficult dilemma is the center of the plot of Good Deeds, the latest morality play written, directed, and starring Tyler Perry. Avoiding his usual staples of comic relief, courtesy of Madea and clownish support characters, Perry presents this soap opera in a straightforward fashion.

As a result, the plot is not only perfectly plausible, but remains refreshingly grounded in reality from start to finish. The veteran lead actors, Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, and Gabrielle Union generate a convincing chemistry that will keep you interested right up to the surprising resolution of the love triangle.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, profanity, and mature themes. Running time: 129 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.


Artsbridge at the historic Prallsville Mill, Stockton, holds its 2012 Members’ Show through February 26. Included are oils, watercolors, pastel paintings, mixed media, sculpture, and photography.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting the photography show “Location of Place,” through February 25. The show explores various approaches and methods taken by photographers in remembering and documenting spaces, places, and geographic locations. An exhibit called “Terrace Project: New Sculpture by Rory Mahon is on view through March 30. An exhibit of works by artist-in-residence T.J. Erdahl is up through February 29. Opening March 1 is “Drawing Beyond: An Exhibition of Contemporary Drawing,” with works by Eve Aschheim, Caroline Burton, Theresa Chong, and other artists. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilof
princeton.org.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Raymond Pettibon: Early Drawings,” an exhibit of more than 40 works by the graphic artist through February 29 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. From March 14-April 18, “Illuminating Data: Visualizing the Information that Moves Our World” will showcase how artists engage with data. Visit www.tcnjartgallry.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

Coryell Gallery at 8 Coryell Street in Lambertville is celebrating the 31st Annual Juried Art Exhibition, through March 18. Artists include Dean Thomas, Barbara Postel, Jack Muessig, Pat Smythe, and several others.

Erdman Center Art Gallery of Princeton Theological Seminary is presenting a show of abstract painting, “Memory Scape,” by Shirley Kem, through February 29. The gallery is at 20 Library Place.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, is showing “Variations on Greek Urns, Ghosts, and Myths” by Larry Parsons through March 11. On March 16, “Digital Noir: Black-and-White Photographs by Richard Trenner” opens, along with “Ingenuous Tapestries” by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac. The opening Reception is Friday, March 16 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. A Meet the Photographers event is Sunday, March 18, from 1-3 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents paintings by Jeff Epstein in “Intersections of the Man-Made and Natural Worlds,” through March 2.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Art from the Heart VI” through February 26. The show features works by the A-Team Artists of Trenton. “Viewpoints,” with art by students of Hightstown artist Susan Winger, will run March 4-25. An opening reception is March 4 from 1-3 p.m. 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 and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. 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: 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. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.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, Clinton, presents “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,” through March 25. Mr. Skiles created and installed 100 objects made entirely from rubber foam for the show.

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. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches is on view through February 26. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler from March 1-July 1.

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.

Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, 185 Nassau Street, is showing paintings by Jaewon Choi, a senior in the Visual Arts Certificate Program, February 23-28. Meet the artist at a reception February 23 from 7-9 p.m. The show is titled “Frogs & Forms.” On March 1, senior Genevieve Irwin will open her show “Inhabited” in conjunction with the spring Princeton ArtWalk. A reception is being held from 7-9 p.m. The Lucas Gallery is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 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. In conjunction with the show, puzzle writer Amy Goldstein, who sparked Ms. Johnson’s interest in puzzles, will speak February 26 at 2 p.m. Admission is $10 ($8 for members). 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 scholars, students, staff, and other women associated with the University.

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery is showing works by photographer Lucy Lu, focused on the region of Xinjiang, China, the most northwestern region of the country, through February 29. The library is at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, is showing “Seeing the Light,” paintings and photographs by Meg Brinster Michael through February 24. Landscapes, still lifes, and digital photographs are included in the show.

Princeton ArtWalk, in its second year, is a self-guided tour Thursday, March 1 from 5-8 p.m. at several locations including the Arts Council of Princeton, Bernstein Gallery of the Woodrow Wilson School, Cranbury Station Gallery, Firestone Library, the Historical Society of Princeton’s Bainbridge House, Princeton Public Library, and other stops. Visit www.facebook.com/princetonartwalk for more information.

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.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting works by installation and ceramic artist Debbie Reichard through March 8. Architect Michael Graves is lending his original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes for a show on his design process, April 2-25.

Princeton High School Numina Gallery celebrates Black History Month with “Princeton’s Black History: A Pictorial Retrospective, photographs from the 1860s to 1960s focused on people, education, and buildings. The photos come from the collections of Shirley Satterfield, the Princeton Regional Schools Archive, and The Historical Society of Princeton. The show runs through February 24. The school is at 151 Moore Street.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-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. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

Rider University Art Gallery presents paintings by Lynette Lombard through February 26. “Painting Place” is a group of recent landscape paintings and drawings from Ms. Lombard’s work in Illinois and Andalusia, Spain. The gallery is located in the Bart Luedeke Center on the Lawrenceville campus.

River Queen Artisan’s Gallery at 8 Church Street, Lambertville, is showing “Beating the Doldrums,” an exhibit of art and fine crafts, until March 15.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, is exhibiting “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz, through February 26. From March 3-April 27, “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” will show 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-Vi
sual-Artists.html for details.

“WALLPAPER”: (20” x 24,” egg tempera on panel.) This is one of the most striking of a series of works in Mavis Smith’s “Hidden Realities.” The hypnotic intensity reflects the artist’s account of how she works: “Your mind is open and you go into a trance and the ideas come in.” The exhibit will be at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown through May 20.

When you wander into an art show called “Hidden Realities” by an artist you don’t know, free of preconceived notions and critical agendas, you may think that you’re merely passing time until you discover that you and time have parted company. If anything, it’s time that’s passing you, not the other way around, since the first painting you see holds you for maybe three or four minutes, and even then, it’s not easy to walk away. The woman in Mavis Smith’s subtly surreal painting, Solace, is looking at you as if you and she have a history. She’s got your number; she’s looking right through you.

It’s the other way around in Night Gown. By all rights a beauty in a silky, darkly lustrous dream of fabric should be seductive, not dazed and vulnerable. Far from putting you in your place, she seems to be saying, “Understand me, tell me who I am, tell me where I am.”

By the time you come to Small Sacrifices, whether you know it yet or not, you’re in Mavis Smith’s movie. While you may feel no particular compulsion to figure out what the “sacrifices” are, you can’t help wondering what it is this wise, wounded, endearing girl has given up. Like the subject in Night Gown, she seems lost, new to the world. Before you start feeling protective, you remind yourself that she’s a work of art like the others, “egg tempera on panel,” and the artist’s love for her is protection enough. She’s safe in there forever, as timeless as the elaborately detailed storybook tapestry passing as wallpaper behind her.

Sensuous Surfaces

In Mavis Smith’s edgy mystery movie disguised as an art exhibit, which will be at the James A. Michener Art Museum through May 20, a great deal of seriously expressive power is communicated through gaze and gesture, flesh tones, fabrics, garments (or their absence), and the sensuous lustre of the surface created by the artist’s meticulous employment of the medium she discusses in the catalogue under “The Fine Art of Tempera Painting”:

“It may seem strange to make pictures by mixing pigments into egg yolks, but people have been doing it for a long, long time …. The process can be tedious — or mesmerizing — depending on how you look at it. Once the pose is sketched in, I start building up layers of paint. Alternating between dry feathery brush strokes and sheer washes of color — back and forth, back and forth. This stage can take days or even weeks, but that’s when the direction and mood of the painting gradually reveal themselves.”

Smith describes being “in a very relaxed, almost hypnotic state” as mood and direction come together. In another statement, she says that the “build up” can require “hundreds of layers,” before it achieves “a luminous, ethereal quality.”

The terms Smith uses in describing herself at work are reflected in the hypnotic mood she creates, although “ethereal” doesn’t really fit the solid, smoothly formed physical presence of the seated woman in Solace, yes, it’s her again, I came back for another look, trying to figure out which movie actress she reminds me of; perhaps an older, wiser, earthier Scarlett Johansson.

It’s no accident that thoughts of movies keep surfacing, what with the Academy Awards looming next Sunday. More to the point, Smith has said that she’s “probably as much influenced by film directors” as by other painters. She likes the way certain older films (think Hitchcock and Kubrick) are shot “with especially tightly cropped frames and from unusual angles, with looming ceilings and odd shadows.” She is equally intrigued by “the idea of the beautiful, pristine surface with the subtle suggestion of a darker side hovering just below” or “around the corner, or in the next frame.” The gallery walls feature quotes from David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and Sam Mendes’s American Beauty, which she considers “a perfect example of smooth on the surface suburban life with a dark undercurrent.”

I began feeling the presence of David Lynch long before I came to the posted quote from Wild at Heart (“This whole world is wild at heart and weird on top,” says Laura Dern’s Lula). Having already picked up flashes of Lynch in the tranced-looking females with outsized jaws and equine faces in flatter, broader, closer-to-caricature works like Specks of Dust, Exile, Somnambulist, and The Key, I knew I was in Twin Peaks country when I saw the blonde girl in rust-colored top and worn-shiny jeans stretched out on a bed in Night Pool. I could almost hear the yearning, angst-saturated music of Angelo Badalamenti, a subtle “the-owls-are-not-what-they-seem” tingle running up the back of my neck at the thought of the surreal off-the-wall ABC series that captivated the nation in the first years of the nineties. Somehow Smith has endowed her females with something like the haunted and haunting aura that could make ominous presences of slowly revolving ceiling fans while network audiences obsessed on “Who killed Laura Palmer?” It all began when a plastic sheet was pulled back to reveal Laura’s face, scary beautiful in death, like a drowned sister to Botticelli’s Venus.

Best Picture Nominee

In an email exchange about films and Oscar night, Mavis Smith made special mention of The Descendants. When she pointed out what appealed to her in the Best Picture nominee — “serene on the surface but subtly disturbing around the edges” — she was obviously describing elements of her own work.

“We come into contact with dozens of people on a daily basis, catch their eyes for a brief moment and move on,” Smith observes in the Artist Statement, “never knowing the intricate accumulation of experience that forms their reality. My work is about that moment — hinting at a narrative, yet remaining intentionally elusive.”

A Mavis Smith moment in The Descendants occurs when George Clooney, in the course of tracking down the real estate agent his comatose wife was having an affair with, finds himself standing on a beach, at the water’s edge, conversing with the man’s wife (played by Judy Greer, who could have stepped right out of one of Mavis Smith’s paintings). Since we know that Clooney has been shaken half out of his wits by a trainwreck of converging crises, we’re intensely aware of the forces building up to a moment that for the friendly, unknowing woman is nothing more than a few casual words about her kids and Clooney’s. For Clooney, the meeting is a stunningly significant event, and he makes the audience feel every one of its, to use Smith’s words, “subtly disturbing” possibilities. We know he must be tempted to blow his cover and make her suffer the knowledge that’s tormenting him (misery loves company and vengeance is sweet). What makes Clooney’s performance Oscar-worthy is the way he’s able to communicate his character’s struggle to contain, contend with, and somehow express a storm of conflicting possibilities (something comparable to Smith’s “intricate accumulation”). Here’s a reasonably rational, centered human being doing his best to cope with (for a start) death, love, infidelity, outrage, guilt, property, and fatherhood.

Mavis Smith’s art, like the art of movie acting, is about expressing the virtually inexpressible, those “hidden realities” cited in the exhibit’s title. One of the show’s most haunting images is staring out at you from Wallpaper, which contains, slyly ignored by the title, the most riveting close-up in the exhibit, a Laura Palmeresque face that holds the mixture of “mystery” and “elegance” Smith has identified as one of her goals. “I was interested in the close cropping of the face,” she writes, “and the proximity of the intense, repetitive wallpaper pattern.” To which she adds, “At one time, women were encouraged to ‘blend into the wallpaper’ but in light of today’s social hierarchy, the wallpaper might take over the room.”

Obviously “wallpaper” is a loaded phrase for a female artist dedicated to presenting female mystery, beauty, strength, and presence. Smith recalls meeting a “very tiny older couple” at the exhibit’s opening reception. “At one point the woman pulled me aside and whispered ‘your paintings give a woman confidence’” — which made the director of “Hidden Realities,” the movie, “feel as good as anything I have ever heard about my work.”

If you can’t get to the museum, be sure to take a tour of Mavis Smith’s work at http://mavissmithart.com/Exhibition%20HR%20page.htm.

February 15, 2012

Artsbridge at the historic Prallsville Mill, Stockton, holds its 2012 Members’ Show through February 26. Included are oils, watercolors, pastel paintings, mixed media, sculpture, and photography.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting the photography show “Location of Place,” through February 25. The show explores various approaches and methods taken by photographers in remembering and documenting spaces, places, and geographic locations. A presentation by Karen Yama, “Endtime Trilogy,” is February 15 at 7:30 p.m. An exhibit called “Terrace Project: New Sculpture by Rory Mahon is on view through March 30. An exhibit of works by artist-in-residence T.J. Erdahl is up through February 29.

For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Raymond Pettibon: Early Drawings,” an exhibit of more than 40 works by the graphic artist through February 29 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. Visit www.tcnjartgallry.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

Community Art Gallery, Bank of Princeton in Lambertville, is showing “Captures and Releases,” photography by John Treichler, through February 15. The location is 10 Bridge Street.

Coryell Gallery at 8 Coryell Street in Lambertville is celebrating the 31st Annual Juried Art Exhibition, through March 18. Artists include Dean Thomas, Barbara Postel, Jack Muessig, Pat Smythe, and several others.

Erdman Center Art Gallery of Princeton Theological Seminary is presenting a show of abstract painting, “Memory Scape,” by Shirley Kem, through February 29. The gallery is at 20 Library Place.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents paintings by Jeff Epstein in “Intersections of the Man-Made and Natural Worlds,” through March 2.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Art from the Heart VI” through February 26. The show features works by the A Team Artists of Trenton. 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 and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. 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: 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. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.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. Suggested 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, Clinton, presents “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,” through March 25. Mr. Skiles created and installed 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show.

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. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches is on view through February 26. “Have Gags Will Travel: The Life and Times of a New York Cartoonist” will look at the work of Sylvia Getsler from March 1-July 1.

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.

Morven Museum & Garden presents “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” through June 3. The show tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson. In conjunction with the show, puzzle writer Amy Goldstein, who sparked Ms. Johnson’s interest in puzzles, will speak February 26 at 2 p.m. Admission is $10 ($8 for members). 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 scholars, students, staff, and other women associated with the University.

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery is showing works by photographer Lucy Lu, focused on the region of Xinjiang, China, the most northwestern region of the country, through February 29. The library is at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, is showing “Seeing the Light,” paintings and photographs by Meg Brinster Michael through February 24. Landscapes, still lifes, and digital photographs are included in the show.

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.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting works by installation and ceramic artist Debbie Reichard through March 8. Architect Michael Graves is lending his original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes for a show on his design process, April 2-25.

Princeton High School Numina Gallery celebrates Black History Month with “Princeton’s Black History: A Pictorial Retrospective, photographs from the 1860s to 1960s focused on people, education, and buildings. The photos come from the collections of Shirley Satterfield, the Princeton Regional Schools Archive, and The Historical Society of Princeton. The show runs through February 24. The school is at 151 Moore Street.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-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. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

Rider University Art Gallery presents paintings by Lynette Lombard through February 26. “Painting Place” is a group of recent landscape paintings and drawings from Ms. Lombard’s work in Illinois and Andalusia, Spain. The gallery is located in the Bart Luedeke Center on the Lawrenceville campus.

River Queen Artisan’s Gallery at 8 Church Street, Lambertville, is showing “Beating the Doldrums,” an exhibit of art and fine crafts, until April 9.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, is exhibiting “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz, through February 26. From March 3-April 27, “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” will show 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.

HOW DID THOSE GUYS KNOW WHERE WE WERE?: Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington, left) and Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) barely manage to escape alive from the CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Now they must figure out who compromised the location and bring the guilty parties to justice.

Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is a veteran CIA agent who has been on the run for close to 10 years after he was suspected of selling military secrets to America’s enemies. However, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a newcomer to the agency who’s been itching for some action. Unfortunately, he’s stationed in South Africa where he’s been assigned to maintain a backwater safe house that’s never been needed for a clandestine operation.

Until now. The two meet soon after Frost decides to come in from the cold in Cape Town because an army of assassins is closing in on him. The renegade spy surrenders himself at the U.S. Consulate, which in turn is directed by the CIA brass to deposit Frost in the safe houuse with Weston for debriefing.

However, all hell breaks loose right after the team of interrogators arrives, and the safe house unexpectedly comes under attack by a gang of mercenaries. Frost and West barely escape with their lives out the back door while the rest of the CIA agents perish during the siege. With no idea why the supposedly secure location had been compromised or whether there’s anybody whose word they can trust, the rookie and the rogue realize that their survival depends on their mutual cooperation.

That is the intriguing point of departure of Safe House, a riveting espionage thriller with non-stop action. The film is best described as a combination of The Bourne Identity (2002) and Taken (2008), with the former’s “spy on the run desperate to clear his name” theme and the latter’s wanton slaughter and sense of urgency.

The movie is the English language debut of Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, who has obtained a great performance from Denzel Washington. In addition, he has also allowed Ryan Reynolds to show that he is a capable actor.

The co-stars not only acquit themselves well in the fight sequences, but the chemistry that develops between them enables the audience to forgive the periodic holes in the picture’s plot. They are helped by powerful support performances from Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson, and Ruben Blades.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity and graphic violence. In English, Afrikaans, and Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 115 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.


Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry (University of California Press $34.95) has an abundance of memorable moments, some shocking, some joyful, some sad, some funny. The ninety-one-year-old jazz legend had help pulling it all together from his wife of 22 years, Gwen Terry, who not only saw him through this project but stood by him during a perfect storm of medical challenges that intruded on but never fully thwarted his busy life as a performer, teacher, and goodwill ambassador.

Out of Nowhere

I shared a moment with Clark Terry nine years ago. It began with a telephone call. I was writing a piece about a November 1950 recording session by the Count Basie small group on which Clark played trumpet. After finding “C Terry” in the Englewood N.J. phone book, I had to work up the nerve to dial the number, being, after all, a stranger calling out of nowhere about a three-minute performance he’d been part of more than 50 years before. Half-expecting to encounter an answering machine or a protective spouse, I was startled when the man himself answered the phone. At first he sounded tired and groggy, having just returned, he told me, from L.A, where he’d played a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He perked up when he heard that the focus of my article was the song “Little White Lies” and the solo played by the brilliant tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray, who was born this week, February 13, 1921, and died an ugly, drug-related death in May 1955. Gray’s widow, Dorothy, had called me from California after reading “Song of the Thin Man,” a piece I’d written for the Village Voice. My enthusiasm for her husband’s playing with Basie had prompted her to suggest that I talk with Clark. “They were very close in those days,” she said. “He was best man at our wedding.”

“A Beautiful Time”

Holding the phone to the speaker, I played Clark both takes of “Little White Lies” while for the first time in half a century, he listened to his performance as the sweet-talking liar while Wardell played, with naked feeling, the heartsick victim. When he asked to hear the music over again, it was as if Wardell had come back to life again long enough to formally introduce us.

I mailed Clark my CD of the “Little White Lies” session along with a note and some questions, and with true jazz-life timing, he called me at 2:30 in the morning and talked well past three about “the beautiful time” he and Wardell Gray had with the Basie small group, the road trips, sharing a room in Philadelphia, the food (“Beans smeans!”), baseball and haircuts and the secret language they shared, esoteric phrases like “Put the cuffs on him, Sam!” borrowed from some show they’d seen. After Clark left Basie to join Duke Ellington, they kept in touch, corresponding “religiously” until drugs came between them. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard he was using. He was such a conscientious person. And when I read about his death in the paper, I jumped up and screamed. I couldn’t believe it, you know. I really loved him.”

“It Broke My Heart”

For reasons most likely having to do with space and name recognition, Wardell Gray receives only a passing mention in Clark Terry’s memoir. But he’s there, between the lines, when reference is made to the “camaraderie” of the Basie group, and if you’ve heard Clark lament what happened on that May night in Las Vegas, you know that his old friend’s death haunts the chapter where for the first time in the book he directly confronts the plague of drugs. “It was an overdose,” he told me during that late-night call. They “thought he was dead so they put him in a car, drove into the desert and dumped him out but he wasn’t dead yet. It was the rocks in the desert that broke his neck. Dorothy showed me the death certificate.” The pained disbelief was still in his voice five decades later. “I couldn’t understand it. He had everything going for him.”

In the chapter focused on the issue of drugs, Clark recalls the time, “around 1953,” when he was on his way to a restaurant in the Times Square area and saw “this bulk lying in the gutter on Broadway. I walked closer and looked and discovered that it was a person. I rolled him over with my foot and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Miles Davis!”

Thinking back to that stunning moment, Clark surely flashed on the fate of Wardell Gray. With Miles, who would survive to have a spectacular career, Clark could at least do something about it, so he helped him up, took him into a restaurant, bought him some breakfast, walked him back to his own hotel, and put him to bed before going out for a couple of hours. When he came back, the door to the room was open, Miles was gone, and so were Clark’s clothes, trumpet, and radio.

Clark’s coda to that scene: “So many of the cats were on dope. It broke my heart, but there was nothing I could do.”

In fact, Clark Terry went on to do a great deal, setting an example by abstaining, even when users tried to force it on him, and by helping enrich the future of jazz through teaching and working with generations of young musicians.

Words and Music

One of the core lessons Clark Terry teaches his students is the importance of translating the lyric of a song (like “Little White Lies”) into “the language of jazz” (his italics), “how to bend a note, slur it, ghost it,” how to say “I love you” to “a lovely lady.” As a writer, he turns the lesson around, finding ways to translate the Terry sound into English. What enlivens his writing is the element Gary Giddins has singled out in his playing, his “personality,” that distinctive “comic esprit” — “every note robust, beaming, and shadowed with impish resolve and irony.”

Clark’s personality shines forth throughout the book, but most vividly during his early years on the road. After describing Ida Cox, whose voice “could have knocked a fly off the back wall,” Clark sketches another performer in her troupe, “a peg-legged guy” whose skin color was “coffee with a dash of cream” and whose “slicked back conk was so oily that a flea would have broken his neck trying to land.” Clark nicknamed him “A Track and a Dot,” because “when he’d walked in the snow he’d made a footstep and a hole.”

Clark had names for just about everyone. Tall, thin Wardell was “Bones” and his stylish wife, Dorothy, was “Vogue.” His nicknaming skills get mightily exercised in one of the numerous early road life anecdotes, where he and his bandmates endure a 750-mile ride in the back of a truck full of monkeys he names “Twitchy,” “Chatty,” “Snags,” “No-Tail,” “Old Man Mose,” “Lips,” “Bubble Eyes,” “Ribs,” and “the Warden” (who “fought a lot”). The monkeys “became tolerable after a few hours and it seemed like they didn’t want to be bothered with us any more than we wanted to be bothered with them. So the trip wasn’t too bad, other than the smell and the noise. But we did have to turn our back and sneak bites from the food.”

Food also provides material for several Terryesque zingers. To describe rapport with a buddy, he writes, “We hit it off like biscuits and molasses.” Playing a gig in the rain, many pages and years later: “We were all as wet as biscuits in the river.” Clark’s “repertoire was getting fatter than a liver-fed cat.” Some product placement from early days with a band: “We were dressed sharper than Gillette razors.” Having never finished high school, he was daunted by teaching a clinic at a real college: “I felt like a young mouse on a cat farm.”

One of Clark’s most curious similes — “I felt like a small dot on a huge manuscript” — comes when he abandons Basie for Ellington, his guilt compounded by a not so little white lie he had to tell in order to make the move. When he runs into Basie years later: “Seeing the smile on his face and knowing that I’d lied to him made me feel as small as a cork in the ocean.”

Among the book’s strongest chapters are those covering his years with Ellington. Describing the way Duke handled his musicians (“all these very different attitudes and egotudes”), Clark writes, “He knew exactly how to use each man’s sound to create the most amazing voicings. The sounds of trains, whistles, birds, footsteps, climaxes, cries. Rhythms that vibrated the floor. Harmonies with ebbs and flows that almost lifted me right out of my chair.” Clark imagines the eyes of the audience “glued to us like we were the fountain of life. The music was so powerful and electric, if I’d had a big plug I could have stuck it in the air and lit up the whole world.”

Lighting Up YouTube

You can see Clark Terry lighting up YouTube’s vision of jazz heaven, whether he’s making love to the trumpet or the flugelhorn, or creating his own foxy language with “Mumbles,” the ultimate in word jazz, on the Tonight Show, or in what may be his earliest filmed appearance, the Snader transcript of the Basie small group’s “Bass Conversation.” In the parallel universe of YouTube, Clark is forever 30 and Wardell is 29, they’re always on the bandstand, moving shoulder to shoulder, swaying, jiving to the beat laid down by the Basie rhythm section, the Count mugging outrageously at the piano, steady Freddie Greene strumming, Jimmy Lewis “playing the hell out of the bass” (as Clark would put it), smiling Gus Johnson dealing with the drums. After clarinetist Buddy DeFranco takes the first solo, it’s Wardell’s turn, quoting “Swinging On a Star” before cutting loose, one on one with Jimmy Lewis. But it’s Clark who delivers the show stopper, making his trumpet talk, sassing the Count and then riding out in style as the ensemble kicks in and all is as it should be in the best of all possible worlds.


GOTHIC IMAGE: Francis Lathrop’s “Jonathan” (1889), a model for a window in the old Marquand Chapel, which burned in 1920, will be on view in the Princeton Art Museum’s new show, “Princeton and the Gothic Revival.” The model is a gift of the Museum for the Arts of Decoration, Cooper Union, for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York. (Photo by Bruce M. White.)

The Princeton University Art Museum will present “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930” from February 25 through June 24, 2012.

The exhibition of 40 works explores America’s changing attitudes toward the art and architecture of the Middle Ages around the turn of the 20th century. Organized by Johanna G. Seasonwein, the Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Academic Programs, “Princeton and the Gothic Revival” investigates the adoption of the Gothic Revival as a style appropriate for American universities, as seen through the lens of Princeton University’s campus and collections.

“Princeton and the Gothic Revival” covers the years between the dedication of the first High Victorian Gothic building on the Princeton campus, Chancellor Green Library, and the completion of the extraordinary University Chapel. The exhibition draws from the Art Museum’s collections and resources of Princeton’s Firestone Library and University Archives, along with those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions, to highlight Princeton University’s role as a major patron of Gothic Revival art and architecture and the role of this style — of England’s “ancient universities” — in shaping the identity of modern-day Princeton.

“Princeton’s campus and collections provide a unique opportunity to explore the transformation of the Gothic Revival into a symbol of the American academy. Princeton moved forward into the 20th century by essentially looking back at the architectural style of Oxford and Cambridge,” said Ms. Seasonwein, a historian of the art of the Middle Ages. “Ultimately, “Princeton and the Gothic Revival” examines how the language of medieval forms was used to articulate a new model of American higher education, both in campus design and in the classroom.”

“Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930” is organized into four sections. The first, the Gothic Revival prior to 1870, introduces the Gothic Revival movement in America and its English roots. Wealthy Americans visiting medieval sites or modern “Gothick” estates such as Fonthill Abbey often were inspired to design their own Gothic Revival homes that were a mix of the authentic and the fantastic. This section features a design for a stained-glass window for Fonthill Abbey by painter Benjamin West and a design for the first American Gothic Revival estate by noted architect Alexander Jackson Davis (on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The Gothic Revival in the Gilded Age presents the first High Victorian Gothic buildings constructed on the Princeton campus with a mix of medieval and other styles that reflected the donors’ interest in the Aesthetic movement, and its eclectic approach to design. This section highlights the former Marquand Chapel, designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt. The chapel was later lost to fire. Featured works include Hunt’s original architectural plans and artist Francis Lathrop’s models for one of the stained-glass windows.

The Middle Ages and the Modern University investigates the connection between architectural style and academic identity and use. This section presents works relating to the first Biological Laboratory and Art Museum buildings, both of which were constructed in the Romanesque Revival style. Also on view are some of the earliest works of medieval art purchased by the Museum (one of the great repositories for medieval art in the United States), including one of the first English medieval alabaster reliefs to enter an American collection.

The final section, The Collegiate Gothic Campus explores, the development of Princeton’s campus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The new buildings, which simulated those of Oxford and Cambridge, conferred an instant pedigree on the University and communicated the school’s desired stature to the student body (at that time all male and almost exclusively white and Christian). This section includes images related to many of the Gothic Revival buildings on campus, most notably a set of never-before exhibited watercolors of the original designs for the University Chapel.

“‘Princeton and the Gothic Revival’ continues the Museum’s interest in understanding the ways in which Princeton University’s buildings and its design choices have shaped its identity as one of the world’s great research universities and vice versa, while offering a lens through which we can reconsider one of the 19th century’s most significant design movements,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward.

In conjunction with Princeton and the Gothic Revival, a mobile web application will take the exhibition out of the Museum and onto the campus for visitors. The tour will provide a multimedia exploration of nine campus buildings that are featured in the exhibition and related catalogue. Drawing from the special collections of the Firestone Library and Archives and the Museum Collections, the experience will emphasize existing and historic sites presented in the exhibition, highlighting the recently digitized Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series from the University Archives, as well as historic photographs and audio that features experts from across the campus.

A reception for “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930” begins at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 26 at the Art Museum. A concert by the Princeton Singers follows in the University Chapel at 7 p.m.. The group will take a look back at music of the Victorian age, from sacred to sentimental, and at the British traditions that took root in America. Tim Harrell, guest organist, will play the Chapel’s 1928 Aeolian-Skinner organ. Both events are free and open to the public.

Admission to the Princeton University Art Museum is free. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. through 10 p.m. and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Free highlight tours of the collections are given every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. For information, call (609) 258-3788 or visit the Museum’s website at http://artmuseum.princeton.edu.

February 8, 2012

Artsbridge at the historic Prallsville Mill, Stockton, holds its 2012 Members’ Show February 11-26. The opening reception is Saturday, February 11 from 3-6 p.m. Included are oils, watercolors, pastel paintings, mixed media, sculpture, and photography.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting the photography show “Location of Place,” through February 25. The show explores various approaches and methods taken by photographers in remembering and documenting spaces, places, and geographic locations.

For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Raymond Pettibon: Early Drawings,” an exhibit of more than 40 works by the graphic artist through February 29 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. Visit www.tcnjartgallry.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

Community Art Gallery, Bank of Princeton in Lambertville, is showing “Captures and Releases,” photography by John Treichler, through February 15. The location is 10 Bridge Street.

Coryell Gallery at 8 Coryell Street in Lambertville is celebrating the 31st Annual Juried Art Exhibition, through March 18. Artists include Dean Thomas, Barbara Postel, Jack Muessig, Pat Smythe, and several others.

D&R Greenway at 1 Preservation Place in Princeton presents “Textures and Trails,” an exhibit of landscape quilts, metals, textiles, and objects from nature through February 10. The show celebrates the many paths that wind through the New Jersey landscape.

Erdman Center Art Gallery of Princeton Theological Seminary is presenting a show of abstract painting, “Memory Scape,” by Shirley Kem, through February 29. The gallery is at 20 Library Place.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents paintings by Jeff Epstein are in “Intersections of the Man-Made and Natural Worlds,” through March 2. An artist’s reception is February 8 from 5-7 p.m.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Art from the Heart VI” through February 26. The show will feature works by the A Team Artists of Trenton. 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 and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. 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: 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. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.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. Suggested 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 also 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, Clinton, presents “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,” through March 25. Mr. Skiles created and installed 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show.

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. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches is on view through February 26.

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.

Mercer County Community College’s Gallery exhibits “Surface Tension: Works by Ayami Aoyama and Florence Moonan,” a show of sculpture and painting, through February 9. The college is at 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor.

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. 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 scholars, students, staff, and other women associated with the University.

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery is showing works by photographer Lucy Lu, focused on the region of Xinjiang, China, the most northwestern region of the country, through February 29. The library is at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, is showing “Seeing the Light,” paintings and photographs by Meg Brinster Michael through February 24. Landscapes, still lifes, and digital photographs are included in the show.

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.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting works by installation and ceramic artist Debbie Reichard from February 13-March 8. Architect Michael Graves is lending his original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes for a show on his design process, April 2-25.

Princeton High School Numina Gallery celebrates Black History Month with “Princeton’s Black History: A Pictorial Retrospective, photographs from the 1860s to 1960s focused on people, education, and buildings. The photos come from the collections of Shirley Satterfield, the Princeton Regional Schools Archive, and The Historical Society of Princeton. The show through February 24. The school is at 151 Moore Street.

The Princeton University Art Museum explores the spiritual lives and religious customs of late medieval Christians in “Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” through February 12. “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, is on view from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-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. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

Rider University Art Gallery presents paintings by Lynette Lombard through February 26. “Painting Place” is a group of recent landscape paintings and drawings from Ms. Lombard’s work in Illinois and Andalusia, Spain. The gallery is located in the Bart Luedeke Center on the Lawrenceville campus.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, is exhibiting “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz, through February 26. From March 3-April 27, “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” will show 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.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?: In the process of exploring a mysterious cave that suddenly appeared in Steve’s (Michael B. Jordan, center) backyard, Steve, Matt (Alex Russell, left), and Andrew (Dane DeHaan), encounter a mysterious object glowing in the cave. At this point the three boys pass out and when they awake, they realize that they have been magically imbued with super powers.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) bought a camera so he could videotape every waking moment of his day. The proverbial 98-pound weakling is routinely teased by bullies, but fortunately his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell) frequently intervenes on his behalf. The situation at home is just as bad because he is the butt of his disabled father’s (Michael Kelly) verbal abuse while he is watching his terminally-ill mother (Bo Peterson) slowly die.

Everything changes the evening Matt invites his cousin to attend a party with him. Once there, Andrew is asked by a classmate Steve (Michael B. Jordan), to bring his camera outside to film a strange hole he’s found in the woods. The three proceed to descend deep into a cave where they encounter a mysteriously glowing object and instantly pass out.

Fast forward a few weeks where we find that all three teens have been magically transformed — they have developed psychic powers, superhuman strength, and the ability to fly. Initially, they use their newfound powers by doing some sophomoric pranks such as telepathically moving a parked car to a different spot on a lot, or scaring a child in a toy store by levitating a teddy bear.

Matt and Steve are satisfied with such benign experiments, however, social outcast Andrew sees this as his opportunity to turn the tables on the cruel world that has treated him so badly. After running an annoying tailgater’s car into a ditch with the wave of his hand, he ignores his buddies’ pressure to employ his powers only for good things. Instead, he indulges his darker impulses, while Matt and Steve become increasingly worried about him.

That is the premise of Chronicle, a riveting, science fiction thriller marking the directorial debut of Josh Trank. Given that this is a “found-footage” film, it makes sense that much of the dizzying production would have been shot from the perspective of a shaky, hand-held camera. However, the movie measures up well against movies such as Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project.

Surprisingly sophisticated for a teen-oriented adventure, Chronicle’s script has intellectual asides about the philosophies of Plato, Jung, and Schopenhauer. My only complaint about the film is the pessimistic picture it paints of humanity, implying that we might be naturally more inclined towards malice than compassion.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, sexuality, teen drinking, and intense violence. Running time: 83 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

Dickens_dreamHis genius plays like a warm light on the characteristic aspects of homely England. No man ever loved England more; and the proof of it remains in picture after picture of her plain, old-fashioned life — in wayside inns and cottages, in little dwellings hidden amid the City’s vastness and tumult, in queer musty shops, in booths and caravans. Finding comfort or jollity, he enjoys it beyond measure, he rubs his hands, he sparkles, he makes us laugh with him from the very heart.

—George Gissing on Charles Dickens

The first night of my first trip to England, Ethel and Bertie, the suburban London couple I was staying with, took me to the pub described in the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge (1841). They had treated my father to the same outing ten years earlier during the summer he’d spent in their guest room. When I left after a week of cheerful and caring English hospitality, they gave me a copy of Barnaby Rudge inscribed “In memory of a happy evening spent at the Dickens Maypole, King’s Head, Chigwell.” Ethel and Bertie’s parting gift to my father was a family treasure — a letter with the Gad’s Hill letterhead in Dickens’s hand, written not long before he died.

In a 1939 essay that aided the 20th century revival of Dickens’s literary reputation, Edmund Wilson blamed the lack of “serious attention” from British biographers, scholars, or critics on the fact that Dickens “has become for the English middle class so much one of the articles of their creed — a familiar joke, a favourite dish, a Christmas ritual — that it is difficult for British pundits to see in him the great artist and social critic that he was.”

Although Dickens meant more to Ethel and Bertie than “a familiar joke,” our trip to the Dickens Maypole fits with the “favorite dish” and “Christmas ritual” stereotype Wilson has in mind. But when I think of the way they opened their home to me and my father, it’s clear that Ethel and Bertie were themselves Dickensian, in the best sense of that hugely inclusive term. They were just the sort of warm, caring, pure-of-heart people who would have given refuge and nourishment to David Copperfield or Oliver Twist or Little Nell and her grandfather.

A Dickensian Hero

Wilson sees the “typical Dickens expert” circa 1939 as an “old duffer” primarily interested “in proving that Mr. Pickwick stopped at a certain inn or slept in a certain bed.” After chiding the Oxbridge literati and the Bloomsbury set for their haughty neglect of “the greatest English writer of his time,” Wilson singles out George Gissing (1857-1903), “whose prefaces and whose book … are not only the best thing on Dickens in English, but stand out as one of the few really first-rate pieces of literary criticism produced by an Englishman of the end of the century.”

A Dickensian hero in his own right, Gissing was born above his father’s chemist’s shop and had a brilliant career as a scholarship student at Owen College, Manchester, until he fell in love with Nell, a prostitute he’d rescued and attempted to reform, spending what little money he had to keep her off the streets. Caught stealing from fellow students, he was arrested, imprisoned, and expelled. After doing a month’s hard labor in prison, he spent a year in the U.S., taught school, wrote poems idealizing Nell, and published his first fiction in a Chicago paper. On his return to England, he married Nell and wrote Workers in the Dawn (1880) while struggling to care for his ailing alcoholic wife, who would be back on the streets five years after the marriage, and out of his life until he had to identify her body five years and six novels later.

By the time Gissing published Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1898), he’d written 18 novels, including major works such as The Nether World (1889) and New Grub Street (1891) and, along with Thomas Hardy and George Meredith, was among the most highly regarded British novelists of the late 19th century. Coming to his study of Dickens as an enlightened admirer who had “lived the life” while proving himself an expert practitioner of the same craft, Gissing balances a novelist’s insights with the uninhibited attitude of a reader who attacks the defects no less forthrightly than he celebrates the highlights.

Getting Personal 

Gissing’s fraught personal history with Nell may explain why his remarks on Dickens’s fallen or embattled women can at times take on a distinctly personal intensity. In the chapter titled “Women and Children,” Gissing appears to be drawn by the dynamic of his own experience to the issue of “English censorship” and the fact that showing the “actual course of things in a story of lawless (nay, or of lawful) love is utterly forbidden” while “a novelist may indulge in ghastly bloodshed to any extent of which his stomach is capable.” The example he offers is of Dickens himself performing scenes from his own work “on a public platform,” where he “recites with terrible power the murder of a prostitute by a burglar [in Oliver Twist] yet no voice is raised in protest. Gore is perfectly decent; but the secrets of an impassioned heart are too shameful to come before us even in a whisper.”

You can almost feel the negative charge flowing from Dickens to Gissing when he says, “On this account I do not think it worth while to speak of Nancy [the murdered prostitute], or of other lost creatures appearing in Dickens.” For the ex-husband who sacrificed his education and more than ten years of his life to one of those “lost creatures,” the response is an outraged citing of a passage from Little Dorrit where “a woman of the town” accosts Amy Dorrit “and her idiot friend Maggy” as they are “wandering about the streets at night.” Suddenly Gissing is right there, in your face as surely as if he were sitting across from you in a pub telling you “read, I beg, that passage” and “wonder that the same man who penned this shocking rubbish could have written in the same volume pages of a truthfulness beyond all eulogy.”

Contemporary readers accustomed to novels like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will find nothing shocking in the 14th chapter of Book I of Little Dorrit. And while it may cause an occasional awkward silence in my imaginary pub table dialogue with Gissing, his spontaneous, sometimes indecorous attitude is among the qualities that make him such an appealing and effective champion of Dickens. In fact, he’s doing it again on the same page, badmouthing Dora, David Copperfield’s lavishly idealized, ever-attentive wife: “Take Dora seriously,” he tells you, “and at once you are compelled to ask by what right an author demands your sympathy for such a brainless, nerveless, profitless simpleton.” Before you have time to say a word or two in Dora’s or Dickens’s defense, Gissing leans closer, his eyes shining as he completes another shocking rubbish-to-unparalleled truthfulness couplet, “Enter into the spirit of the chapter, and you are held by one of the sweetest dreams of humour and tenderness ever translated into language.”

Gissing’s approach is a critical version of tough love. When Dickens gets out of line, he holds him to account but through it all you know that he would agree with Edmund Wilson that Dickens was “incomparably the greatest English writer of his time” and the creator of “the largest and most varied world.”

For my long-ago hosts Ethel and Bertie, Dickens was as much a part of their homeland as high tea and a night at the King’s Head, but their notion of his greatness was closer to Gissing’s: “He lived to take his place in a society of wealth, culture, and refinement, but his heart was always with the people, with the humble-minded and those of low estate,” where “he had found the material for his genius to work upon,” as “the perfect mouthpiece of English homeliness.”

Born February 7, 1812, Charles Dickens died of a stroke on June 9, 1870. Shown here, Dickens’s Dream is a watercolor by Robert William Buss (1804-1875), who began it after Dickens’s death but did not live to finish it. An edition of George Gissing’s Charles Dickens: A Critical Study was published last year by Kessinger Legacy Reprints. The Princeton Public Library’s Charles Dickens (1812-1870) bicentenary celebration concludes tonight, Wednesday, February 8, with a 7 p.m. showing of George Cukor’s 1935 film David Copperfield in the Community Room.

Note: I’ve just been informed that Grayswood Press has published a 3-volume edition of the complete works of George Gissing on Charles Dickens  (http://grayswoodpress.clanteam.com/gissing.pdf). There are also several online e-versions of Gissing’s writings on Dickens.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra gave its sold-out audience on Sunday afternoon a comprehensive lesson in Russian history. The ensemble’s winter concert in Richardson Auditorium was titled “Simply Russian,” but there was nothing simple about the music performed. Each of the three pieces presented was infused with Russia’s rich past — both the jubilant and the intensely dark.

Princeton Symphony presented the three works by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich slightly out of chronological order, beginning with the piece with the most wide-ranging orchestration. The ensemble’s performance of Prokofiev’s Suite from his opera Eugene Onegin was a preview of the PSO collaboration with several Princeton University departments to present the world premiere of the composer’s complete opera.

Prokofiev’s 20th-century compositional style had roots in the Classical period, shown in the 1936 Eugene Onegin Suite by the incorporation of two harpsichords contrasted against the modern and unorthodox orchestral use of saxophones. Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov presented the incidental music to the sixteen operatic scenes deriving a full and lush sound from the orchestra, beginning with Caroline Park’s opening oboe solo through the rich melodies in the violins against undulating violas. Mr. Milanov allowed the music to flow, lulling the audience with sweet wind solos from Ms. Park, clarinetist Pascal Archer, and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld, saving the striking contrast for the dramatic entry of the horns. The effect of two solo harpsichords was quirky for this transitional time between two world wars (they may well make more sense in the complete opera) but keyboardists Wendy Young and Steven Ryan communicated well with each other and Mr. Milanov, no doubt piquing the audience’s interest in how all this fits together.

Tchaikovsky’s 1876 Variations on a Rococo Theme is firmly planted in Tsarist Russia, and its elegance and light orchestration defer both to the Classical period and to the relative calm of life in Russia before the decline of the reign of Tsar Alexander II. Tchaikovsky’s work is an homage to Mozart, and perhaps fitting in this performance was featured cello soloist Joshua Roman, who is also youthful and prodigious. Mr. Roman showed unusual poise and respect for his collaborating musicians, constantly communicating with the orchestra players and teasing them with a saucy playing style and solid technical control. Mr. Roman handled the wide-ranging solo lines with ease, drawing a lean rich sound from the lower register and an amazingly pure tone from the highest register of the instrument. Particularly impressive was a series of 5ths and octaves in the solo cello line, played with purity by Mr. Roman. This cello soloist may have had the audience fooled a bit by his youthfulness and unassuming manner, but it was clear Mr. Roman was able to pull a tremendous range of musical effects from his bag of tricks.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra closed the concert with a work from the depths of Russia’s darkest moments. Dmitri Shostakovich composed Symphony No. 5 in D minor in part to save himself from Josef Stalin, whose party looked for “heroic classicism” from the nation’s composers. Growing up in Bulgaria before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Mr. Milanov may well have been aware of the dire straits of Russian composers and the significance of this piece. Shostakovich seemed to take no chances with this symphony, building the orchestral sound majestically, yet still managing to pay homage to his contemporaries who did not survive the Stalin regime.

Mr. Milanov conducted this work forcefully, bringing out an air of desperation which always permeated the music. The orchestral fabric still left room for poignant wind solos, such as that of clarinetist Pascal Archer, accompanied by solo bassoonist Roe Goodman in the first movement. The music was occasionally jarring (as life surely was as well) and the terror of the times came through well. Shostakovich scored unique combinations of solos which were well played by the orchestra, including flutist Jayn Rosenfeld and hornist Douglas Lundeen and a very graceful series of sequences between clarinet and oboe. Mr. Milanov brought out well the varied and contrasting styles of the symphony, especially in the third movement, richly infused with Russian church music. A haunting exchange between harp, played by Andre Tarantiles and two flutes, played by Ms. Rosenfeld and Mary Schmidt added to the emotion of the movement, aided by almost imperceptible playing by the violins. The brass excelled at the closing moments, as Mr. Lundeen provided a calm and reassuring solo and the symphony closed gloriously.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra has had a busy week preparing this performance and the premiere of Prokofiev’s opera. The orchestra is clearly healthy and growing — certainly a pleasure to see in these tough economic times.

February 1, 2012

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting the photography show “Location of Place,” through February 25. The show explores various approaches and methods taken by photographers in remembering and documenting spaces, places, and geographic locations.
For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Raymond Pettibon: Early Drawings,” an exhibit of more than 40 works by the graphic artist through February 29 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. Visit www.tcnjartgallry.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

Community Art Gallery, Bank of Princeton in Lambertville, is showing “Captures and Releases,” photography by John Treichler, through February 15. The location is 10 Bridge Street.

D&R Greenway at 1 Preservation Place in Princeton presents “Textures and Trails,” an exhibit of landscape quilts, metals, textiles, and objects from nature through February 10. The show celebrates the many paths that wind through the New Jersey landscape.

Erdman Center Art Gallery of Princeton Theological Seminary is presenting a show of abstract painting, “Memory Scape,” by Shirley Kem, through February 29. The gallery is at 20 Library Place.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents paintings by Jeff Epstein in “Intersections of the Man-Made and Natural Worlds,” through March 2. An artist’s reception is February 8 from 5-7 p.m.

Gallery 14 presents a member group show through February 5. The gallery is at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell and is open Saturdays and Sundays, noon-5 p.m. and by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Art from the Heart VI” from February 4-26. The show will feature works by the A Team Artists of Trenton. 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 and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. 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: 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. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.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. Suggested 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” starts February 1. 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, Clinton, presents “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,” through March 25. Mr. Skiles will create and install 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show. Opening February 5 are two shows: “Fragmented” featuring works of Astrid Bowlby, Sebastian Rug, Christopher Skura and Ben Butler; and “Elizabeth Gilfilen: No longer, no later,” four large abstract paintings.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. A reception for the painter is February 3 from 6-7:30 p.m. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit opening February 3 featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches will be on view through February 26.

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.

Mercer County Community College’s Gallery exhibits “Surface Tension: Works by Ayami Aoyama and Florence Moonan,” a show of sculpture and painting, through February 9. A gallery talk is February 2 at 7:30 p.m. The college is at 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor.

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. 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 scholars, students, staff, and other women associated with the University.

Pennington School’s Silva Gallery of Art, is showing a collection of paintings by Trenton artist Mel Leipzig through February 2, when a closing reception will be held from 6-8 p.m. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery is showing works by photographer Lucy Lu, focused on the region of Xinjiang, China, the most northwestern region of the country. A reception is Saturday, February 4 from 1-3 p.m. The exhibit runs February 3-29. The library is at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, is showing “Seeing the Light,” paintings and photographs by Meg Brinster Michael through February 24. Landscapes, still lifes, and digital photographs are included in the show.

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.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Say It With Flowers,” featuring artwork by alumnus Lily Stockman ‘01, through February 2. From February 13-March 8, works by installation and ceramic artist Debbie Reichard will be on display. Architect Michael Graves is lending his original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes for a show on his design process, April 2-25.

Princeton High School Numina Gallery celebrates Black History Month with “Princeton’s Black History: A Pictorial Retrospective, photographs from the 1860s to 1960s focused on people, education, and buildings. The photos come from the collections of Shirley Satterfield, the Princeton Regional Schools Archive, and The Historical Society of Princeton. The show runs February 3-24, with a reception February 3 from 6-8 p.m. The school is at 151 Moore Street.

The Princeton University Art Museum explores the spiritual lives and religious customs of late medieval Christians in “Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” through February 12. Two photo shows are on view through February 5: “Lee Friedlander: Cars and The New Cars,” 14 prints from the recently rediscovered “The New Cars 1964;” and “Pattern/Picture,” from the Museum’s collection of 15 works from the archives of the Clarence White School of Photography. “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, is on view from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-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. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

Rider University Art Gallery presents paintings by Lynette Lombard through February 26. “Painting Place” is a group of recent landscape paintings and drawings from Ms. Lombard’s work in Illinois and Andalusia, Spain. A reception will be February 7 from 5-7 p.m. with a talk by curator Deborah Rosenthal. The gallery is located in the Bart Luedeke Center on the Lawrenceville campus.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, is showing small quilts and other fabric art pieces by Sammi Nguyen of Group Hug Quilts through February 7.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, is exhibiting “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz, through February 26. From March 3-April 27, “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” will show the work of self-taught artists. The arts center partners with HomeFront’s ArtSpace to produce this show.

THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS: When George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, left) was at the top of his cinematic career as a silent film star, he chose to ignore the ugly rumors about Peppy Miller (Berenice Bijo) that were being printed in the tabloids, and hired her to co-star with him as his dance partner. That role served as the beginning of her career as a movie star in the new talking movies, while George quickly became forgotten by the fickle public because he couldn’t make the transformation to the talkies.

It is 1927, and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the height of his career as a matinee idol. But that is also the year that talkies were introduced, an innovation which signaled the demise of the silent movie era.

Unfortunately, because George doesn’t realize that the talkies are about to transform the movie industry, he is caught by surprise when he is no longer in demand as a leading man. Then, with the loss of income and the stock market crash of 1929, he ends up losing all of his money and also his wife (Penelope Ann Miller).

After moving from a sprawling mansion to a modest apartment, George lays off his longtime chauffeur (James Cromwell), whom he can no longer afford. At this point, the dejected has-been feels like his only friend in the world is his Jack Russell Terrier (Uggie).

Meanwhile, the career of emerging ingénue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is in sharp contrast to George’s. However, she owes a debt of gratitude to George because, despite an ugly rumor printed in the tabloids, George had still cast her as his dance partner in one of his pictures even she was an unknown aspiring actress.

Although sparks had flown between the two on the set back then, nothing had become of the mutual admiration. However, now, with Peppy on top of the world, the question is whether she will remember George, who had given her her big break.

So unfolds The Artist, a silent, black & white film which celebrates a bygone era. This cinematic masterpiece is entertaining as it chronicles a critical moment in the evolution of the cinematic art form.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for a crude gesture and a disturbing image. Running time: 100 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

 

On Monday, February 6 at 7 p.m., Princeton University English professor Jeff Nunokawa will commemorate Dickens’s 200th birthday with a talk in the Princeton Public Library’s Community Room. At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 7, the author’s actual birthday, a discussion of David Copperfield will take place in the Fireplace Area on the library’s second floor, and a screening of the 1935 film version of the novel is set for Wednesday, February 8, at 7 p.m. in the Community Room.

The same day the New York Times runs yet another gloom and doom story about the book business (“The Bookstore’s Last Stand”), I’m taking New Jersey Transit into Manhattan to see the Morgan Library’s “Dickens at 200” exhibit, which will continue through February 12. The book I’m reading is a 1929 edition of George Gissing’s study, Charles Dickens (1898). The woman sitting in front of me is also reading an actual hardcover book (can’t see the title) like the “actual books” the Times article discovers sharing the same room with “a virtual wallpaper of Nook color devices” in the facility where Barnes and Noble “finds itself locked in the fight of its life.” I’m trying to get my mind around the idea that the Nook, “a relative e-reader latecomer” is “the great e-hope” that, along with Barnes & Noble, is the only thing “standing between traditional book publishers and oblivion.”

The advent of Nook, e-readers, and e-hope, seems no more plausible than the phenomenon described by Gissing, who supposes that for at least 25 years of Dickens’s life “there was not an English-speaking household in the world, above the class which knows nothing of books, where his name was not as familiar as that of any personal acquaintance.”

The Serial Solution

At the Morgan, which is an easy walk from Penn Station, there’s a glass case displaying a stack of faded gray green booklets comprising the original serial-form appearance of Dickens’s first work of fiction, The Pickwick Papers. These slender, unprepossessing 32-page pamphlets were the medium through which Dickens became a household name (and the founder and editor of a journal he called Household Words). Every novel he wrote made its appearance not as a completed entity but piecemeal. According to Joel J.Brattin’s “Dickens and Serial Publication” (www.pbs.org/wnet/dickens), the publishing of fiction in parts “grew dramatically in the 1830s” due to “the wild success” of Pickwick. Among the advantages of serial publication was that a novel in monthly installments cost “only one shilling a month, instead of a guinea (21 shillings) or more for an entire novel.” It not only expanded the market for fiction, “as more people could afford to buy on the installment plan,” but also offered “the opportunity to advertise, as ads could easily be incorporated into the little booklets.” It also “created a greater intimacy with the audience, something Dickens always relished.”

Dickens also must have relished knowing that these little booklets were being passionately consumed by all levels of his readership, from the upstairs lords and ladies in Victorian incarnations of Downton Abbey to the footmen and scullery maids downstairs in the kitchen. While poor folks would have nothing but a stack of read-to-rags fragments at the conclusion of each novel, the well-to-do could take the monthly numbers to a bookbinder and have them bound into a single volume.

Could it be that, given the Nooking, Kindling, and e-virtualizing of the bound book, the serial form (reading “on the installment plan”) might be revived as a possible antidote to the shifting, drifting reality of bookland? A dangerous idea no doubt. Imagine the mayhem had the Harry Potter books appeared in monthly issues. The rub is, no living writer could do what Dickens did. Given his drive, his energy, and his unflinching pursuit of each of his many goals, Dickens could probably save the book business all by himself — if we could just conjure him up again.

His Handwriting

While I was at the Morgan a tour was in progress, vividly led by a woman whose delivery would have warmed the cockles of Elaine May’s heart, although Dickens may have been fuming in his grave to hear himself referred to as a dandified control freak with terrible handwriting who hypnotized his wife, lorded it over his home for fallen women, badmouthed America, walked 30 miles and wrote 30 pages every day, and looked better without a beard.

Anyway, it’s Dickens the writer who should be celebrated above and beyond the mesmerist, the philanthropist, the tourist, or the actor, though those sides of him were active and necessary elements in the chemistry of his genius. The essence of “Dickens at 200,” however, is his “wretched” handwriting (as the woman keeps reminding us), enlarged and legible samples of which adorn the gallery walls: “I am a reformer heart and soul” is above the display of letters related to “Philanthropy,” while the letters written during his first visit to America are on view under the heading, “They flock about me as if I were an idol.” The area devoted to the notes he made when plotting his last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend (1862-65), is headed “The story weaver at his loom.” These jottings roughly outlining the first three chapters of a book that grew to 959 pages can be discerned in the background of the caricature of Dickens occupying the exhibit’s poster image, shown here. It’s as if the author were leaning on his walking stick against a coded landscape of his pen’s own making, a free-form force field of words, the DNA of one of his darkest novels. Look closely and you can make out the roman numerals above a scattering of notes for each chapter of the vast work he was composing 150 years ago while the Union and the Confederacy fought the Civil War. Gazing down at the various manuscript pages in the year 2012, you can almost see the movement of his hand and hear the rapid scratch-scratch of the pen scoring the surface of the page.

When you think of the quantity of ink Dickens lavished on these documents, the rivers of prose flowing from his pen, it makes sense that his portable ink well is one of the two personal objects on display, along with a brass seal given him by his friend and eventual biographer, John Forster. The ink well is disarmingly small, about the size of a cigarette lighter, but it has a powerful presence.

His Illustrators

Dickens illustrators George Cruikshank, Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), and John Leech, all on display in “Dickens at 200,” are as indispensable to the fabric woven by the “story weaver” as the characters they sketched, such as Cruikshank’s inimitable caricatures of Fagin and Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist, Phiz’s Mr. Micawber from David Copperfield, and Leech’s rendering of Scrooge’s phantasmagoric voyage through Christmas past, present, and future. Cruikshank once claimed that he’d given Dickens the plot and characters for Oliver Twist. Nonsense, of course, and yet Cruikshank’s creations, like those of Phiz and Leech, come so uncannily close to matching the style and spirit of scene and character that one can’t imagine the novels without them.

It’s appropriate that William -Hogarth’s Gin Lane is displayed in proximity to Cruikshank’s illustrations for Oliver Twist. That novel’s subtitle, The Parish Boy’s Progress, reflects Dickens’s admiration for Hogarth and series like The Harlot’s Progress and The Rake’s Progress. According to the commentary, Dickens owned 48 of Hogarth’s engravings.

The day before my trip to the Morgan, I’d paid a visit to the main gallery at Firestone to see Hogarth’s vision of 18th century London in “Sin and the City.” My interest had been roused by George Gissing’s observation that Dickens had “assuredly learnt” from Hogarth, for “it was inevitable that such profound studies of life and character should attract, even fascinate, a mind absorbed in contemplation of poverty and all its concomitants.” It’s impossible to view “The Harlot’s Progress” without thinking of the fate of Nancy in Oliver Twist and the ruin of Little Emily in David Copperfield. Certainly one of the essential connotations of “Dickensian” is based on the author’s commitment to social welfare, whether it involved workhouses for the poor, prisons, public sanitation in London, or, in this case, his support for a home for the redemption of prostitutes (featured under “Philanthrophy” in “Dickens at 200”). The density of detail and Hogarth’s imagery in “The Rake’s Progress” and “Five Stages of Cruelty,” not to mention “Gin Lane,” have the boldness and descriptive density Dickens brought to his depictions of London squalor a hundred years later.

Dickens at Penn Station

An hour shared with Dickens and his illustrators in a relatively small gallery after skipping lunch can put a certain charge into the look of Manhattan street life on an unusually fine day in late January. A walk down 36th Street through the prolonged zig-zag pedestrian walkway around a construction site, evoked something wayward, crooked, and, well, Dickensian. All the dogs I saw were Dickens dogs, or, if you like, Hogarth dogs. The common denominator was England.

In the crowded Jersey Transit waiting area I found what seemed to be the only empty seat. The tension of anticipation before the frantic rush down to the train was all-encompassing. I saw nary a Kindle nor a Nook (as if I knew the difference) and few actual books. With a 20-minute wait ahead of me, I took out my copy of Gissing’s Charles Dickens and started reading at random:

“I had but to lean, at night, over one of the City bridges, and the broad flood spoke to me in the very tones of the master. The very atmosphere declared him; if I gasped in a fog, was it not Mr. Guppy’s “London particular”? — if the wind pierced me under a black sky, did I not see Scrooge’s clerk trotting off to his Christmas Eve in Somers Town? We bookish people have our consolations for the life we do not live. In time I came to see London with my own eyes, but how much better when I saw it with those of Dickens!”

The Morgan Library and Museum is located at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 36th Street. The undated caricature of Dickens is by Alfred Bryan (1852–1899). Gift of Miss Caroline Newton, 1974. The autograph manuscript page from Our Mutual Friend (1862–65) was purchased by the Morgan in 1944; MA 1202–3. 


It is late January — it is cold, it may snow and William Scheide invited the town to his musical birthday party. These annual celebrations, presented by the Scheides and benefitting a local non-profit organization, have become a happening in Princeton, and last Friday night’s concert in Richardson Auditorium was sold out several days ahead of time — a celebration for all involved. In true Scheide fashion, the concert was not just about the birthday celebrant, and as this year’s beneficiary, the Princeton Public Library was rightfully enthusiastic.

As in past years, the visiting Wiener KammerOrchester and conductor Mark Laycock provided the music, beginning with an overture by the evening’s other birthday boy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who turned 256 on Friday. The overture to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro gave the Wiener KammerOrchester many opportunities to show grace and precision with Viennese flair, and the ensemble did not disappoint. The strings were very clean on the opening instrumental swirls and the flute and oboe lines could clearly be heard. Mr. Laycock maintained a nice ebb and flow to the phrases, and the KammerOrchester demonstrated a full and rich sound without becoming out of control dynamically.

These Scheide birthday celebrations have often included guest soloists, and this year the KammerOrchester was joined by the legendary husband-and-wife team of violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson. Two-thirds of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson have also had successful careers as soloists and teachers.

Other 18th and 19th-century composers have featured two solos instruments in concerto format, but Johannes Brahms was the first to combine violin and cello in his Double Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Orchestra in A minor. This was an unusual concerto in its introduction of the opening material in a cadenza played by the cello soloist. Ms. Robinson started right off with double stops in a somewhat disjunct line answered by clean winds and a very sweet violin solo by Mr. Laredo. Mr. Laredo has an especially remarkably appealing sound in the upper register of the instrument, and he and Ms. Robinson complemented each other as they traded cadenzas and triplet passages. A very nice sonority was heard as the solo cello was accompanied by sectional violas, and the numerous instances of “question-and-answer” between the soloists were cleanly handled by the players. The gypsy-flavored vivace finale showed sauciness and flair from both soloists and orchestra, with timpanist Klaus Zauner, who had remained very subtle during the Mozart, coming to life to close the Brahms decisively.

The Scheides have maintained a long commitment to education, and the second half of the concert featured an emerging pianist playing the product of one of William Scheide’s favorite past-times — collecting rare musical scores. In his youth, Brahms apparently provided a short piano solo work to an “autograph book” of a 19th-century conductor and collector Arnold Wehner in Germany. Mr. Scheide recently acquired this book, and excerpted Brahms’s short untitled piece (titled by the Scheides Albumblatt in A minor) for New York University student Andrew Sun to play. Particularly fun was the Scheide’s printing of the piece as a program insert, enabling the audience to follow along. A student of a student of Vladimir Horowitz at NYU, Mr. Sun kept the internal running eighth notes very steady, with nice phrase direction, bringing out the suspensions which remind performers that this was a composition by a young Viennese.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major has been considered one of his more “upbeat” works, yet the circumstances of its premiere were more poignant than carefree. This symphony is also celebrating a birthday; composed between 1811 and 1812, it was premiered at a concert benefitting “Austrian and Bavarian soldiers disabled at the battle of Hanau, part of the Napoleonic Wars.” Beginning with a lilting oboe solo played by Hannes Strassl, the KammerOrchester was well-restrained but ready to unleash the powerful orchestral scales and sectional trills of the first movement. Mr. Laycock capitalized on the rise and fall of dynamics, bringing the orchestra to its fullest sound on the main theme. This was a spirited and joyful performance, suitable for the occasion, with excellent solo playing from Mr. Strassl and flutist Renate Linortner.

Beethoven composed the very familiar second movement in an andante tempo, but eventually changed this tempo to allegretto. Mr. Laycock and the KammerOrchester took the tempo on the faster side of allegretto, keeping the ostinato a bit on the dry side, contrasting with the lyrical and poignant tune from the violas and celli. Flutes and oboes played perfectly together on the melody, and one could hear the Classical counterpoint of the movement. The KammerOrchester closed the symphony well, bringing the ensemble to full sound and showing off the clean playing of the brass.

As in past years, Mr. Laycock topped off the concert with his own “discovery” of a work by a well-known composer which happens to include “Happy Birthday” interspersed into the familiar music. This year the composer was Tchaikovsky, and after weaving a convoluted tale of how this work remained hidden for the past 100 or so years, Mr. Laycock presented his version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, also a Napoleonic work. One cannot underestimate the amount of work it takes to rearrange this piece to include “Happy Birthday” in clever and witty occurrences, and a special treat came in the way Mr. Laycock handled the Russian tunes in the overture. Joining the KammerOrchester was the excellent Russian Chamber Chorus of New York singing the opening Slavic Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross (usually assigned to violas and celli). Mr. Laycock also incorporated a sung Russian folk song into the overture, which includes a Russian folk dance. As an arranger, Mr. Laycock clearly had control over Russian harmonic changes, and nothing seemed out of place musically as bits and pieces of “Happy Birthday” wandered through the score. The audience was clearly in rapt attention, listening for the next appearance of the song, as Princeton wished William Scheide yet another great year.

January 25, 2012

HURRY UP AND WAIT: The Tuskegee airmen were trained as fighter pilots in 1940, but were relegated to an isolated base at the Tuskegee Institute because the armed forces were racially segregated at that time. Even when the United States entered the second world war, it took several years until they were allowed to enter into combat. Their competence, bravery and valor in over 1500 missions showed that they were as good, if not better, than other units in the armed forces, and helped eliminate racial discrimination in the U.S. military forces.

The Tuskegee airmen is the nickname given to the 332nd Fighter Group, the first squadron of African-American aviators ever trained by the U.S. Air Force. Formed in 1940, the historic unit was stationed at a base on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama because the armed forces were still racially segregated.

After America entered World War II, the government was still reluctant to deploy these pioneering pilots overseas, out of a concern that the presence of black officers in the midst of white soldiers might have a negative effect on military morale. Consequently, the Tuskegee airmen languished stateside for several years, seeing no action until they were finally cleared for combat in the European theater of operations.

Upon arriving in Italy, their second rate airplanes were upgraded to state-of-the-art P-51 Mustang fighter planes, which they flew to escort B-17 bombers on dangerous raids deep into Germany. The untested pilots performed admirably on over 1,500 successful missions and demonstrated their competence and valor.

Red Tails is an eye-popping special effects movie which portrays these unappreciated veterans’ daring exploits in the war, while simultaneously chronicling their uncompromising quest for dignity in the face of the ever present humiliation of discrimination. The movie marks the feature film debut of Anthony Hemingway, who is previously best known for having shot episodes of several TV series, including The Wire, True Blood, Treme, The Closer, and CSI:NY.

The picture was produced by Lucasfilm where it has been a pet project of the studio’s founder, George Lucas, for the past quarter-century. It features an ensemble cast headed by Academy Award-winner Cuba Gooding and Oscar-nominee Terrence Howard.

Aside from raising the question of the arbitrary color line, the plot reads like a typical war movie, with its typical tight knit crew of colorful characters. Each is a simplistic archetype, like the ill fated pilot you know isn’t long for this world the moment he’s shown sitting in his cockpit gazing fondly at a picture of his fiancée right before he takes off.

Another familiar figure is the cigar chomping major (Gooding), a paternalistic pontificator who delivers inspirational speeches about God, mom and apple pie. He cares about each of the men under his command, including alcoholic “Easy” Julian (Parker); daredevil “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo); class clown “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley); and “Junior” Gannon (Tristan Wilds), a youngster who yearns to be taken seriously by his teasing colleagues.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, we find Colonel A.J. Bullard (Howard) tirelessly lobbying the military brass to put an end to racial discrimination against the Tuskegee airmen. In the end, the film is more memorable for its spectacular action sequences than for the corny dialogue which ranges from “We’re on the side of God Almighty!” to trite declarations such as “Let’s give those newspapers something to write about!”

Nonetheless, Red Tails is a long overdue tribute to a group of intrepid World War II heroes who never let their second-class status diminish their patriotism.

Very Good (HHH). Rated PG-13 for violence and profanity. Running time: 125 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

The Art Way Gallery at Princeton Alliance Church, Schalks Crossing and Wyndhurst roads in Plainsboro, is showing “Seen & Unseen,” a show of photography by Deborah Land and Jeff Currie, through January 21.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting the photography show “Location of Place,” through February 25. The show explores various approaches and methods taken by photographers in remembering and documenting spaces, places, and geographic locations.

For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Raymond Pettibon: Early Drawings,” an exhibit of more than 40 works by the graphic artist January 25-February 29 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. Visit www.tcnjart
gallry.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

Community Art Gallery, Bank of Princeton in Lambertville, is showing “Captures and Releases,” photography by John Treichler, through February 15. An opening reception is January 20 from 3-6 p.m. and a “Meet the Artist” event is February 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The location is 10 Bridge Street.

D&R Greenway at 1 Preservation Place in Princeton presents “Textures and Trails,” an exhibit of landscape quilts, metals, textiles, and objects from nature through February 10. The show celebrates the many paths that wind through the New Jersey landscape.

Erdman Center Art Gallery of Princeton Theological Seminary is presenting a show of abstract painting, “Memory Scape,” by Shirley Kem, through February 29. The gallery is at 20 Library Place.

Firestone Library on the Princeton University campus is presenting “Sin & the City: William Hogarth’s London” through January 29.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents “Birds and Beast,” showing paintings of Charles David Viera, through January 27. From January 30-March 2, paintings by Jeff Epstein are in a show, “Intersections of the Man-Made and Natural Worlds.” An artist’s reception is February 8 from 5-7 p.m.

Gallery 14 presents “Barbershop and Beauty Parlor Portraints in Ghana and Mali” by David Miller through January, and a member group show through February 5. The gallery is at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell and is open Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m. and by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Winter Light,” the third annual January Open Call for Artists. All art will feature the theme and media will include oils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, photography, and collages, through January 30. From February 4-26, “Art from the Heart VI” will feature works by the A Team Artists of Trenton. 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 and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. 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: 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. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.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. Suggested 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” starts February 1. 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, Clinton, opens its 60th year with “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,” through March 25. Mr. Skiles will create and install 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show. Opening February 5 are two shows: “Fragmented” featuring works of Astrid Bowlby, Sebastian Rug, Christopher Skura and Ben Butler; and “Elizabeth Gilfilen: No longer, no later,” four large abstract paintings.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” through May 20. A reception for the painter is February 3 from 6-7:30 p.m. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit opening February 3 featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Transmutation and Metamorphosis: The Painterly Voice: Bucks County’s Fertile Ground” will feature more than 200 works of art by Bucks County’s best-known historic artists through April 1. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches will be on view through February 26.

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. On February 1, Rachel Perry Welty opens her first solo show, “24/7.” The show runs through July 8.

The Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Hightstown, presents “Midwest Filipino,” photography by Daniel Ballesteros, through February 2. The exhibit investigates what it means to be Filipino-American.

Mercer County Community College’s Gallery exhibits “Surface Tension: Works by Ayami Aoyama and Florence Moonan,” a show of sculpture and painting, through February 9. A gallery talk is February 2 at 7:30 p.m. The college is at 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor.

Morven Museum & Garden opens “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” on January 26. The show, which tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson, is on view through June 3. 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 scholars, students, staff, and other women associated with the University.

Pennington School’s Silva Gallery of Art, is showing a collection of paintings by Trenton artist Mel Leipzig through February 2, when a closing reception will be held from 6-8 p.m. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Plainsboro Public Library Gallery is showing works by photographer Lucy Lu, focused on the region of Xinjiang, China, the most northwestern region of the country. A reception is Saturday, February 4 from 1-3 p.m. The exhibit runs February 3-29. The library is at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, is showing “Seeing the Light,” paintings and photographs by Meg Brinster Michael through February 24. Landscapes, still lifes, and digital photographs are included in the show.

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.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Say It With Flowers,” featuring artwork by alumnus Lily Stockman ‘01, through February 2. From February 13-March 8, works by installation and ceramic artist Debbie Reichard will be on display. Architect Michael Graves is lending his original sketchbooks and tea kettle prototypes for a show on his design process, April 2-25.

Princeton High School Numina Gallery celebrates Black History Month with “Princeton’s Black History: A Pictorial Retrospective, photographs from the 1860s to 1960s focused on people, education, and buildings. The photos come from the collections of Shirley Satterfield, the Princeton Regional Schools Archive, and The Historical Society of Princeton. The show runs February 3-24, with a reception February 3 from 6-8 p.m. The school is at 151 Moore Street.

The Princeton University Art Museum is presenting “Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Painting” through January 22. The spiritual lives and religious customs of late medieval Christians are the subject of “Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” through February 12. Two photo shows are on view through February 5: “Lee Friedlander: Cars and The New Cars,” 14 prints from the recently rediscovered “The New Cars 1964;” and “Pattern/Picture,” from the Museum’s collection of 15 works from the archives of the Clarence White School of Photography. “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, is on view from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-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. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

Rider University Art Gallery presents paintings by Lynette Lombard through February 26. “Painting Place” is a group of recent landscape paintings and drawings from Ms. Lombard’s work in Illinois and Andalusia, Spain. A reception will be February 7 from 5-7 p.m. with a talk by curator Deborah Rosenthal. The gallery is located in the Bart Luedeke Center on the Lawrenceville campus.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, is showing small quilts and other fabric art pieces by Sammi Nguyen of Group Hug Quilts through February 7.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, is exhibiting “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz, through February 26. From March 3-April 27, “Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories” will show the work of self-taught artists. The arts center partners with HomeFront’s ArtSpace to produce this show.

CULTURE CLASH: Chilford (LeRoy McClain), Bible in hand, spreads the Roman Catholic faith in 1895 Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe), as his unconverted servant Mai Tamba (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) looks on, firmly rooted in the beliefs of her ancestors, in the world premiere production of Danai Gurira’s “The Convert” at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through February 12. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Danai Gurira’s new play at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre, The Convert, is an historical drama, set in 1895-97 in what is now Zimbabwe. In her introduction to the play, Ms. Gurira describes the historical and political background: “the iron claw of colonization” with its “Western cultural impositions,” including “taxes, menial labor, and Judeo-Christian morals imposed by an uninvited lord,” clashing violently with the African people and their traditions.

Beyond history and politics, however, are the human stories that this production brings to life with riveting intensity, emotion, and unforgettable drama. There is the protagonist Jekesai (Pascale Armand), given the Christian name Ester, the young woman “convert,” who leaves the village of her family and joins the world of the Roman Catholic Church; her aunt Mai Temba (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), “mother of the earth,” who brings her niece under the protection of the Catholic Church but remains herself unconverted, wedded to ancient pagan rituals and beliefs of the Shona tribe; the dedicated catechist Chilford Ndlovu (LeRoy McClain), long ago uprooted from his family and African heritage, determined to serve the white man’s church and to convert Ester, her aunt and any other Africans he can win over; Tamba (Warner Joseph Miller), Mai Tamba’s son and Jekesai’s cousin, a young mine worker, unhappy with his lot and ready for rebellion; Chancellor (Kevin Mambo), translator for the white men, friend of Chilford, an opportunist who finds himself drastically caught between white and black worlds; Jekesai’s unscrupulous Uncle (Harold Surratt), who wants Jekesai back under his possession so he can marry her off for a rich bride price to an older man with ten other wives; and Prudence (Zainab Jah), a well-educated, outspoken woman, fiancée of Chancellor and wise friend to Jekesai.

The thirty-one-year-old Ms. Gurira, born in the U.S. to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe, has created a rich array of complex, three-dimensional characters — engaging, passionate, mostly likeable individuals that the audience cannot help but care about. All Africans — none of the priests or other European characters mentioned appear on stage, these characters, throughout the three-hour play — three acts, nine different scenes, all set in the modest central room of Clifford’s home — find themselves caught up in the deadly personal and societal conflicts, of 1890s Rhodesia.

The Convert, Ms. Gurira’s third play, is a finely crafted, bold combination of traditional playwriting and striking innovation, of warm humor and stark tragedy, of harsh politics and touching humanity. Ms. Gurira tells her story with captivating detail and increasing suspense, keeping a tight grip on the audience’s interest and emotions and maintaining a delicate balance between the comedic and the deeply serious from start to finish.

The Convert does make unusual demands on its audience as the plot unfolds and the characters reveal themselves. Many of the lines, in whole or in part, are spoken in the characters’ native Shona language, and the English spoken is often heavily accented. This carefully rehearsed language contributes a vital air of authenticity to the production and the world of the play. These uses of language, in their variety and shifts, also reflect the deepest issues of the play, the struggle to achieve identity and the conflict between the imposed British world and the Shona world of the ancestors. Language is also a significant source of humor here, as characters try to take on the expressions of their British masters, and the malapropisms abound.

The problem for the audience of understanding the Shona dialogue and the heavily accented English remains significant, despite consistently superb acting and diction and some helpful repetition of lines. As I struggled to pick up the exposition and plot details and to hear every exchange between characters — you won’t want to miss what these fascinating characters are saying, I occasionally wished for the clarification of supertitles or a bit less heavy accents, even if at the cost of authenticity.

McCarter’s lovingly polished, swiftly paced, highly entertaining production, with first-rate cast and crews under the direction of Emily Mann, does full justice to Ms. Gurira’s original, powerful voice. Daniel Ostling’s beautifully simple, evocative set design, subtle lighting by Lap Chi Chu, and authentic costumes by Paul Tazewell contribute richly to the world of the drama.

With the Berlind Theatre’s limited seating and just three more weeks in the run before The Convert moves to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre then to the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, you might want to order your tickets quickly before the word gets around and this one sells out.

Ms. Gurira has declared her interest in George Bernard Shaw and has acknowledged an indebtedness here to Shaw’s Pygmalion (transformed later into My Fair Lady). The similarities and contrasts between The Convert and Pygmalion are noteworthy. Both Jekesai and Eliza are high-spirited young women enlisted to be shaped and “converted” by strong-willed older men. Both seem at first to be willing, subservient followers of their masters, but later clash with surprising results.

The Convert, however, is definitely not Pygmalion (even less My Fair Lady). Though language, specifically learning English and the language of church scripture here, is crucial to Jekesai’s conversion and to Ms. Gurira’s plot, the world of segregation and white oppression for black Rhodesians is a long way from the world of upper crust London society. In the context of the Ndebele-Shona uprising in southern Africa in 1896-97, Jekesai is driven to far more extreme measures than Eliza’s in her battle to reconcile her heritage with her assimilation into the world of white Roman Catholicism. The Convert takes on a decidedly more serious tone than its Shavian comedic counterpart.

This historical drama with its strange language, its African setting, and characters so far removed from our own, will nonetheless resonate powerfully with contemporary audiences — not just because so many peoples in so many nations of the world today are battling to forge their national and personal identities in the conflict between past and future, but also because Jekesai and her world are thoroughly universal. As Ms. Gurira says, “The more specific you get in your cultural expression, the more human you’re going to get.” The Convert is a moving human drama not to be missed.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) focused its Winter Festival this year on the theme of “Fire,” including a well-received performance of the rarely-heard complete ballet score of Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Winter is by no means over, and the NJSO brought its festival to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend with a concert described as “Fire: Light and Legend.” Music Director Jacques Lacombe accomplished several of his stated goals with the orchestra in this concert while staying within the “Fire” theme, including presenting lesser-known works of familiar composers and promoting the music of important composers of our time. The Richardson audience at Friday night’s concert came away hearing the music of Haydn and Beethoven in a new way, as well as becoming familiar with a significant leader in new music.

Franz Joseph Haydn’s symphonies are frequently heard on orchestra programs, but often they are the same pieces — ignoring much of the composer’s more than 100 symphonic works. Mr. Lacombe found an early Haydn symphony which fit with the idea of “Fire,” and the ensemble’s performance of Symphony  No. 59 in A Major was as crisp and chipper as a crackling winter blaze.

The presence of a harpsichord onstage indicated the symphony’s roots in the early Classical period and its connection to the previous Baroque ear. The opening movement had unusual rhythmic gestures which Mr. Lacombe brought out decisively, accompanied by a well-unified string sound. Mr. Lacombe demonstrated an elegant touch to the more lyrical second phrases, keeping the movement’s “development” section light. The customary third movement, menuetto, was unusually forceful, contrasted by a flowing solo string quartet for the “trio” section and a graceful ending to the movement. A pair of horns, led by principal hornist Lucinda-Lewis, provided strong hunting calls in the fourth movement.

As music director of the New Jersey Symphony, Mr. Lacombe has made a strong commitment to contemporary music, including European composers who may not be as familiar in the United States. Kaija Saariaho is well-known in her native Finland and is clearly respected enough in the United States to be named composer-in-residence at Carnegie Hall. Ms. Saariaho has collaborated with Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen for a number of years, and the NJSO brought both together with a performance of Saariaho’s Notes on Light —a concerto for cello and orchestra.

Saariaho scored this five-movement work for standard orchestra, with the addition of unusual percussion instruments and unconventional playing styles. Mr. Karttunen began the opening “Translucent, Secret” finding the quarter-tones in the solo line, and throughout the work he derived a variety of musical effects from the cello against a palette of orchestral colors. Mr. Lacombe kept a steady beat pattern on which the players could focus, and it was clear that the solo cellist had the piece well under control. Four flutes and piccolo excelled in the second movement, and in all movements Mr. Lacombe built dynamic intensity without allowing the piece to become strident.

Like Haydn, Beethoven is a popular composer on orchestral programs, and his 1800 Opus 43 ballet The Creatures of Prometheus is recognizable to many from its often-played overture. For Friday night’s concert, Mr. Lacombe chose to approach the familiar music as a multi-disciplinary performance, inviting two actors and a dance ensemble to convey a more complete story, accompanied by eight movements from the complete ballet score.

The story of Prometheus connects to fire in that fire brings the two central characters — clay statues — to life. In Friday’s performance, the two live characters were Zeus and Prometheus, acted by André de Shields and Claybourne Elder, respectively. Both actors conveyed their lines vividly, tying the story together around the musical vignettes. Acting the parts of the “Creatures” were dancers of The Francesca Harper Project.

Making room for actors and dancers required the orchestra to be more closely placed together on the stage, which brought out a very compact sound, especially from the winds. Flutist Kathleen Nester and oboists James Roe and Andrew Adelson played elegant solos in the overture, with Ms. Nester providing another clean solo in a later movement against pizzicato strings. A poignant duet was played late in the performance by Mr. Roe and clarinetist Andrew Lamy playing a basset horn, with a nice Viennese lilt maintained by the rest of the orchestra. Mr. Lacombe led a smooth transition to the coda as the work closed and Zeus seems to have his way at last.

The performance of the Beethoven ballet was visually interesting to look at, and with an additional libretto and lighting effects, was certainly a new way of approaching the work. Designing creative ways to present familiar music will no doubt work in the New Jersey Symphony’s favor in bringing people back to their concerts to see what is new.


Wordsworth & his exquisite Sister are with me …. Her manners are simple, ardent, impressive …. Her information various — her eyes watchful in minutest observations of nature — and her taste a perfect electrometer — it bends, protrudes, and draws in at subtlest beauties & most recondite faults.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
from a letter, July 1797

It’s late at night, the wind is blowing, and for the first time in too many years, I’m reading Virginia Woolf, who was born on January 25, 1882. In a piece about Dorothy Wordsworth, who died on January 25, 1855, Woolf is writing so lucidly and thoughtfully, in prose so nuanced and true, you feel that you’re there, in the moment, in the room, the sentences glowing like the embers of a fire you’re warming your hands by:

“For did not Coleridge come walking over the hills and tap at the cottage door late at night — did she not carry a letter from Coleridge hidden safe in her bosom?”

In that paraphrasing of passages in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal from the winter of 1801-1802, Woolf could be quoting from a child’s storybook of England where the author of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” comes walking over the hills of night to tap at the door of Wordsworth’s “exquisite sister.” She’s waiting, “tormented by feelings which almost mastered her, still she must control, still she must repress, or she would … cease to see,” for she knows that only “if one subdued oneself, and resigned one’s private agitations” would one be rewarded. It’s as if Virginia has been reading over Dorothy’s shoulder before becoming her, sitting in her place, pen in hand, arranging the journal as I’m arranging her commentary.

An Uncommon Reader

Reading The Common Reader and The Death of the Moth in handsome online texts provided by the University of Adelaide Library in Australia, I came to Virginia Woolf’s Dorothy Wordsworth fresh from the passionate intensity of her Mary Wollstonecraft and “the high-handed and hot-blooded manner in which she cut her way to the quick of life,” she who was “at once so resolute and so dreamy, so sensual and so intelligent, and beautiful into the bargain.” When a certain unworthy lover attempted to escape her “quickness, her penetration, her uncompromising idealism,” Wollstonecraft followed him with letters, “torturing him with their sincerity and their insight.” Fishing “for minnows,” Woolf writes, “he had hooked a dolphin.”

Woolf’s responsiveness to Dorothy Wordsworth is less passionate, but no less eloquent and intimate. Comparing the two women, she writes that Dorothy “never railed against the cloven hoof of despotism” and “never confused her own soul with the sky” but “ruthlessly subordinated” herself “to the trees and the grass.” Otherwise she would be letting her own ego get in the way of the object she was observing, “would be calling the moon ‘the Queen of the Night’” and “talking of ‘dawn’s orient beams’” while “soaring into reveries and rhapsodies and forgetting to find the exact phrase for the ripple of moonlight upon the lake.” In other words, she would be bound by poetical conventions like those sometimes observed by Coleridge and her brother William, with his “metrical arrangement” of “the real language of men.”

Woolf and Coleridge

Meanwhile in “The Man at the Gate” (from The Death of the Moth), “the labyrinth of what we call Coleridge” inspires Virginia Woolf to transcend the brilliant, gossipy portraiture of contemporary observers like Thomas DeQuincey, whose image of S.T.C. “standing in a gateway” offers her an opening. After quoting DeQuincey’s description (“his eyes were large and soft in their expression” etc), she points out that by the time DeQuincey met Coleridge, in 1807, “the Kendal black drop” (as medicinal opium was called) “had robbed [Coleridge] of his will” but had “left his mind unfettered,” and so “as he became incapable of action, he became capable of feeling. As he stood at the gate, his vast expanse of being was a passive target for innumerable arrows, all of them sharp, many of them poisoned” (DeQuincey’s among them of course). Woolf then proposes Coleridge as the “immortal character” a “great novelist” such as Charles Dickens might have created.

Using examples of passages from Coleridge’s letters that Dickens might have incorporated in the portraying of such a character, including one she identifies as “the very voice … of Micawber himself,” Woolf takes full command of the analogy, becoming great herself in respect of her subject’s greatness:

“But there is a difference. For this Micawber knows that he is Micawber. He holds a looking-glass in his hand. He is a man of exaggerated self-consciousness, endowed with an astonishing power of self-analysis. Dickens would need to be doubled with Henry James, to be trebled with Proust, in order to convey the complexity and the conflict of a Pecksniff who despises his own hypocrisy, of a Micawber who is humiliated by his own humiliation. He is so made that he can hear the crepitation of a leaf, and yet remains obtuse to the claims of wife and child.”

Woolf ends the paragraph by imagining “the Dickens Coleridge” and “the Henry James Coleridge perpetually [tearing] him asunder,” as one “sends out surreptitiously” to the chemist “for another bottle of opium” while “the other analyses the motives that have led to this hypocrisy into an infinity of fine shreds.”

How They Looked

On first meeting Dorothy Wordsworth in 1897, when she was 27, Coleridge wrote of her to a friend: “a woman indeed! — in mind & heart.” DeQuincey sketches an intriguing picture of Dorothy at 30 (except for a silhouette, the only image we have is a dull, dowdy portrait painted when she was 62), beginning with a phrase from her brother’s poem “Beggars”: “‘Her face was of Egyptian brown’; rarely in a woman of English birth, had I seen a more determinate gipsy tan.” Her eyes “were wild and startling. and hurried in their motion” and “some subtle fire of impassioned intellect burned within.” Wordsworth himself writes of “the shooting lights” of her “wild eyes.” Coleridge was more straightforward: “her person is such that, if you expected to see a pretty woman, you would think her ordinary — if you expected to find an ordinary woman, you would think her pretty.”

In The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2008), Francis Wilson compares the bond between Dorothy and her beloved William to the fictional one between Catherine and Heathcliffe in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. While it’s easy to see flashes of Dorothy’s wildness in the moor-roaming Catherine, it’s a stretch to picture the waspish William in the same dark glass as Heathcliffe. Remove him from the radiant aura of his most inspired poetry and his sister’s adoration, and you find someone with an ego as big as the Lake District (when skating on a pond, it’s said that he liked to spell his own name in the ice). And try imagining a Heathcliffe small enough to fit into Thomas DeQuincey’s picture of Wordsworth, “upon the whole, not a well-made man … pointedly condemned by all female connoisseurs in legs,” not that there was an “absolute deformity about them,” for they had been “serviceable legs beyond the average,” having “traversed a distance of 175,000 to 180,000 English miles.”

While Dorothy’s references to her brother are almost always loving, if not adoring, she seems never to really see him the way she (after subduing her “private agitations”) sees a landscape. She regards Coleridge, however, as clearly and honestly as she perceives objects in nature: “At first I thought him very plain, that is, for about three minutes” with his “wide mouth, thick lips, not very good teeth, longish loose-growing half-curling rough black hair,” but he is “a wonderful man” whose “conversation teems with soul, mind, and spirit.” As natural and devoted as Dorothy’s sisterly love for William may have been, her feeling for Coleridge sometimes overwhelms her, breaking through, spiritedly and spontaneously, as it does in a journal entry from November 1801: “C. had a sweet day for his ride. Every sight and every sound reminded me of him dear, dear fellow, of his many talks to us, by day and by night, of all dear things. I was melancholy, and could not talk, but at last I eased my heart by weeping — nervous blubbering says William.” Contrast this glimpse of William’s callousness (which Dorothy instantly rebuts: “It is not so”) to her appreciation of the opposite qualities in Coleridge, “so benevolent, so good-tempered and cheerful.”

Lake Country Mystique

When Van Morrison sings, “Did you ever hear about Wordsworth and Coleridge smokin up in Kendal by the Lakeside” in “Summertime in England,” he’s playing on the mystique embodied by, as Coleridge phrased it, “three persons and one soul” wandering the hills and valleys and cliffs of Devon and the fells of the Lake Country between 1798 and 1808. While Morrison throws Bristol and Avalon, Blake and T.S. Eliot, Yeats, Joyce, Lady Gregory, and Mahalia Jackson into the mix, there’s no room in his rock and roll vision of Avalon for the Bloomsbury set. Even so, it’s easier to see a “gipsy-tan” Virgina Woolf hiking the Lake District with Dorothy than it is to picture Wordsworth sharing a joint or even a taste of the “Kendal black drop” with Coleridge.

Her Departure

Surely Virginia Woolf must at some point have registered the fact that January 25, the month and day of her birth, coincided with the month and day of Dorothy Wordsworth’s death. A picturesque version of Virginia’s own death, on March 28, 1941, can be seen in The Hours (2002) as Nicole Kidman walks resolutely into the River Ouse. There’s something closer to Dorothy Wordsworth’s subdued “seeing” in the account of Virginia’s last walk in Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf (Oxford 1996) by Panthea Reid, who lives in Princeton:

“… Virginia walked across the bowling green unobserved. She passed along the fence by two elm trees and let herself out at the top gate. With huge black rooks cawing in the tall trees above, Virginia set out toward the river valley. She walked across the meadows, buffeted by the wind from the sea, until she reached the River Ouse, put stones in her pocket, left her walking stick on the bank, walked into the water, and sank into a tidal current, hoping to find ‘rest on the floor of the sea.’”


January 18, 2012

When the Sacred Divinity Church’s choir director Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) passes away unexpectedly, Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. Should he move the late deacon’s assistant, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) into the vacant position, or give it to the late director’s grieving widow, G.G. (Dolly Parton)?

After agonizing over the decision, the reverend settles on Vi Rose Hill, thereby potentially risking the survival of the church, since the well-to-do Sparrow family is the church’s major benefactor. By comparison, life’s a struggle for Vi Rose and most of the other citizens of Pacashau, Georgia.

As a consequence of the economic recession, the once thriving town has become a decaying metropolis complete with foreclosure signs, a soup kitchen packed with homeless people, and a business district that is dotted with vacant storefronts.

G.G.’s grudging ratification of the promotion of Vi Rose has answered the prayers of Pastor Dale who desperately wants to avoid creating a rift in his congregation. He hopes that with Vi Rose, the choir will have a chance to place first at the upcoming National Gospel Competition. This would bring a measure of pride to the church and the town of Pacashau.

That unlikely event is the essence of the plot of Joyful Noise, a modern morality play with musical numbers. The soulful singing performances are the film’s forte, such as Dolly Parton and Kris Kristofferson’s heartfelt duet of “From Here to the Moon and Back,” Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan’s interpretation of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and Ivan Kelley, Jr.’s spirited rendition of “That’s the Way God Planned It.”

At the point of departure, we see that Vi Rose has her hands full. She is leading the choir and raising two teenagers alone because her husband (Jesse L. Martin) has joined the military because he couldn’t find a local job. Their son, Walter (Dexter Darden), needs help handling his Asperger’s syndrome, and their daughter, Olivia  (Palmer), has a thug for a boyfriend (Paul Woolfolk).

Everything changes the day G.G.’s grandson Randy (Jordan) unexpectedly comes home from New York City. Although a little rough around the edges, the misunderstood young man is just the answer for everybody’s problems.

First, he falls in love with Olivia at first sight and then he becomes a surrogate big brother to Walter. When he joins the choir it’s only a matter of time before he mends the fences between Vi Rose and G.G., as they are on the road to the finals at the Joyful Noise contest in Los Angeles.

Very Good (**½). Rated PG-13 for profanity and a sexual reference. Running time: 117 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.