August 14, 2013
STAND BY YOUR MAN: Gloria (Oprah Winfrey, left) staunchly supports her husband Eugene (Forest Whitaker), who is at odds with their elder son Louis (David Oyelowo, not shown) about their views on Civil Rights issues. Louis wants his father to take advantage of his position in the White House to express opinions about the aims of the Civil Rights movement to his superiors at work, which would contravene Eugene’s terms of employment.

STAND BY YOUR MAN: Gloria (Oprah Winfrey, left) staunchly supports her husband Eugene (Forest Whitaker), who is at odds with their elder son Louis (David Oyelowo, not shown) about their views on Civil Rights issues. Louis wants his father to take advantage of his position in the White House to express opinions about the aims of the Civil Rights movement to his superiors at work, which would contravene Eugene’s terms of employment.

Eugene Allen (1919-2010) served eight presidents during his career in the White House where he rose from the position of Pantry Man to Head Butler by the time he retired in 1986. In that capacity, the African American son of a sharecropper was privileged to be an eyewitness to history, since his tenure coincided with the implementation of most of the landmark legislation that dismantled the Jim Crow system of racial segregation.

Directed by two time Oscar nominee Lee Daniels, The Butler is a father-son biopic relating events in Allen’s life as they unfolded against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. This fictionalized account features Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker in the title role as Cecil Gaines, and a supporting cast of Oscar winners Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, and Melissa Leo, as well as Oscar nominees Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey.

The movie begins in a plantation in the deep south, where Cecil witnesses his father’s (David Banner) murder in a cotton field for protesting his mother’s (Mariah Carey) rape by an overseer. Because the perpetrator was never brought to justice, the youngster gets the message at an early age that “Any white man could kill us at any time and not be punished for it.”

Therefore, to avoid the same fate as his father, in his teens, he skips town and settles in Washington, D.C. where he lands steady work as a bartender in a hotel that caters to an upscale clientele. There he also meets Gloria (Winfrey), the maid whom he marries, and starts a family.

Cecil’s reputation as a polite and deferential black man leads to a position in the White House, where he is hired on the express understanding that “You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve.” Although he maintains an apolitical façade on the job, the same can’t be said for his home life, where current events are freely debated.

As a result, Cecil finds himself increasingly at odds with his elder son, Louis (David Oyelowo), a civil rights activist who participates in voter registration marches, sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and freedom bus rides. The simmering tension between the two builds over the years to the boiling point when Louis derisively refers to his father an Uncle Tom.

At that point, Cecil’s wife slaps her son and then delivers the moving line that is likely to earn Oprah Winfrey another Academy Award nomination: “Everything you have, and everything you are, is because of that butler.” However, Forest Whitaker is even more deserving of accolades, thanks to his nonpareil performance as a humble provider who is understandably reluctant to rock the boat.

Kudos to Lee Daniels for crafting a gut-wrenching tour de force that never hits a false note and chronicles critical moments in the African American fight for equality.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, smoking, profanity, ethnic slurs, disturbing images, and mature themes. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

 

August 7, 2013

book revIf you want to know India, study Vivekananda. 

—Rabindranath Tagore to Romain Rolland

The song really came from Swami Vivekananda, who said, ‘If there is a God, we must see him. And if there is a soul, we must perceive it.’

—George Harrison on the origins of “My Sweet Lord”

T he first chapter of Phillip Goldberg’s American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation; How Indian Spirtuality Changed the West (Doubleday 2010) opens by suggesting that the Beatles’ “extended stay” with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in February 1968 “may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness.” Goldberg goes on to say that the resulting “media frenzy over the Fab Four made known to the sleek, sophisticated West that meek mysterious India had something of value. Our understanding and practice of spirituality would never be the same.”

While there’s no doubt that the Beatles played a major role in alerting American culture to the manifold riches of the subcontinent, I have a problem with Goldberg’s choice of words. “Something of value” doesn’t begin to say it, “mysterious India” is for travel brochures, and, above all, what does a word like “meek” have to do with the land associated with riots, juggernauts, and sadhus who can decapitate you with a look? Probably the best thing anyone said about the Beatles’ Indian venture was Ringo Starr’s comparison of the “momentous spiritual retreat” to “a Butlin’s holiday camp.” George Harrison, the one Beatle who found something  of lasting value in India, went beyond the Maharishi to the teachings of Vivekananda (1863-1902), the man who truly did bring India to the west.

Born Narendra Nath Datta in Calcutta 150 years ago, January 12, 1863, Vivekananda is the subject of A.L Bardach’s Wall Street Journal Magazine piece “What Did J.D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy, and Sarah Bernhardt Have in Common?” wherein she takes the Beatles analogy full-circle. When Vivekananda greeted the audience at the 1893 Parliament of World Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair as “Sisters and brothers of America,” the response presaged “the phenomenon decades later that greeted the Beatles” as the “previously sedate crowd of 4,000-plus attendees rose to their feet and wildly cheered the visiting monk.”

“No doubt the vast majority of those present hardly knew why they had been so powerfully moved,” Christopher Isherwood writes some 50 years later. “A large gathering has its own strange kind of subconscious telepathy and this one must have been somehow aware that it was in the presence of that most unusual of beings, a man whose words express exactly what he is.”

Unknown

While the Beatles came to America in February 1964 atop a tidal wave of music and media, Vivekananda arrived in Chicago in July 1893 wholly unknown, with no credentials and very little money. Only after finally finding the entry bureau did he learn that the Parliament of Religions wouldn’t open until September, that it was too late to register, and worse yet, that he was not qualified to take part because he belonged to no known group. Using the last of his money, he took a train to Boston, where, being an imposing presence in his red turban and yellow robes belted with a scarlet sash, he caught the eye of a retired literature professor at Smith who invited him to her home; there, she introduced him to a professor at Harvard who wrote to the president of the Committee that Vivekananda should represent Hinduism at the Parliament. He then gave the 29-year-old pilgrim a ticket back to Chicago, where he landed dazed and disoriented, having lost the address of the Committee. When he asked for directions, he was rebuffed because of the color of his skin. Doors all over Chicago were slammed in the face of this bizarrely-attired “negro.” He was sitting in the street when he was noticed by a woman who gave him refuge, took him to the Parliament, where, as 1915 Nobel laureate Romain Rolland writes in Prophets of the New India (Boni 1930), “The unknown of yesterday, the beggar, the man despised for his color by a Mob” imposed “his sovereign genius.”

There he stood, “the young man who represented nothing—and everything—the man belonging to no sect but rather to India as a whole.” The newspapers swooned over his “fascinating face, his noble stature and gorgeous apparel,” and “the raven black of his hair, his olive complexion, his dark eyes, his red lips.” The New York Herald called him “undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament” and  the Boston Evening Post said he was “the great favorite” who “received acclamations every time he crossed the platform.” During the two week duration of the Parliament, he spoke 10 or 11 times and “the only way of keeping the public at the meetings … was to announce that Vivekananda would speak at the end.”

The simple power of his message sent a charge into the event, burning through all the scripted rhetoric, “his thesis of a universal Religion without limit of time or space uniting the whole Credo of the human spirit … into a magnificent synthesis, which … helped all hopes to grow and flourish according to their own proper nature.”

No internet was needed to spread the word. He was famous, if not overnight, within a matter of weeks. “Having nearly succumbed to poverty,” Rolland writes, “he was now in danger of being overwhelmed by riches. American snobbery threw itself upon him, and, in its first flush, threatened to smother him with its luxury and vanities.”

Again, it’s almost too easy to find a parallel to the experience of the Beatles when they toured America (and the world), where only the rich and famous could get near them. In order to free himself from his privvileged protectors, Vivekananda went on a speaking tour of the East and Middle West, but the more he saw of the country, and the disparity between rich and poor, the more outspoken he became about “the brutality, the inhumanity, the littleness of spirit, the narrow fanaticism, the monumental ignorance, the crushing incomprehension” of a people who thought themselves “the paragon nation of the human race.” In Boston he inveighed against a civilization of monied “foxes and wolves” whereupon hundreds of people “noisily left the hall, and the Press was furious.”

Even as Vivekananda was attacking the country at large, false Christianity and religious hypocrisy among his favorite targets, he  found pleasure and amusement in the company of American followers, many of the most devoted of whom were weathly, well-born women of a certain age. Since the inadvertenty absurd juxtaposition of such a personage with ordinary people is all but made for mockery, it’s important to keep in mind that in addition to George Harrison, Vivekananda’s admirers included Tolstoy, William James, Sarah Bernhardt, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley, Nicolas Tesla, Gandhi, Jung, Santayana, Stravinsky, and, not least, J.D. Salinger, whose long relationship with the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York extended from the early 1950s until his death in January 2010.

An up close and gushingly personal view of Vivekananda can be found on www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info, provided by a Detroit woman who spent time with him in 1894 at the compound on Thousand Island Park that Salinger would visit some six decades later. Among the profusion of adoring quotes: “We take long walks and the Swami literally, and so simply, finds ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good (God) in every thing.  And this same Swami is so merry and fun-loving. We just go mad at times.”

When the woman from Detroit asked Vivekananda how some of the “beautiful society queens of the West would appear to him — especially those versed in the art of allurement,” he looked at her “calmly with his big, serious eyes and gravely replied, ‘If the most beautiful woman in the world were to look at me in an immodest or unwomanly way she would immediately turn into a hideous, green frog, and one does not, of course, admire frogs!’ “

“Meek, Mysterious India!”

That word meek is still crawling around like an ant in my brain. It’s hard to imagine a more grossly misguided association than “meek” and “India.” One of the most off-putting things about the spiritual stereotype implicit in the Maharishi is the travesty of humility skewered in John Lennon’s song “Sexy Sadie” (“We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table”), which he told Playboy he wrote “when we had our bags packed and were leaving.”

My negative reaction to “meek” is due to the intensity of my own experience during the six months I spent in India, undoubtedly the most significant, exciting six months of my life. What happened to me there on more than one occasion can be compared to a dumbed down version of the early moment with Ramakrishna described by Vivekananda. On one of his first visits, “Ramakrishna had placed his right foot on my body. The contact was terrible. With my eyes open I saw the walls and everything in the room whirling and vanishing into nothingness….The whole universe and my own individuality were at the same time lost in a nameless void.” When that happened to Narendra he wasn’t aware of anything cosmic or spiritual. He was terrified and repelled, thinking himself “face to face with death,” crying out like a frightened child, “What are you doing? I have parents at home.” Which comes close to describing what went through my mind whenever India lowered the boom. It would be nice to think that the heavy things that happened to me there were spiritually valid, but the charge was almost purely sensory: like being turned upside down by a roller coaster. Sharing sunrise on the Ganges at the Kumbha Mehla in Allahabad with seven million Hindus is a magnificent memory, but in the actual roar of the moment I was stunned, embattled, and disoriented. It was the ultimate manifestation of being “out of my depth.”

September 11, 1893/2001

The conclusion of Vivekananda’s opening address at the Parliament of Religions is worth repeating, if only in view of the date:

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism.”

 

—Stuart Mitchner

 

Ann Louise Bardach is working on a biography of Vivekananda. Philip Goldberg’s book, which was helpful as a back-up to Rolland’s Prophets of the New India, is available at the Princeton Public Library and should not be dismissed out of hand because of his unfortunate use of the word “meek.”

ART PHOTOGRAPHY AT ELLARSLIE: Peter Cook’s silver gelatin print portrait of Cowboy Larry will be on display as part of the “Camera Work 2013” exhibiton at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton. The show features a dozen local photographers whose exceptional art work was part of the Ellarslie Open earlier this spring. The show opens this Friday and will run through September 22.

ART PHOTOGRAPHY AT ELLARSLIE: Peter Cook’s silver gelatin print portrait of Cowboy Larry will be on display as part of the “Camera Work 2013” exhibiton at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton. The show features a dozen local photographers whose exceptional art work was part of the Ellarslie Open earlier this spring. The show opens this Friday and will run through September 22.

For six weeks, beginning on Friday, August 9, the entire first floor of the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park will play host to twelve talented area photographers who have been invited back to the museum after they had taken part in the recent Ellarslie Open exhibition. According to a recent press release, a survey of photographs included in the Ellarslie Open revealed an immense diversity of styles, technique and printing.

The twelve photographers will display their work in an entirely new exhibition titled, “Camera Work 2013,” which will run through September 22. There will be an opening reception this Friday from 7 p.m to 9 p.m. following a members and artists only reception from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The show takes its name from the publication, Camera Work, that was edited by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) from 1902 to 1917. It features contemporary photographers Bill Hoo, Peter Cook, Richard DeFalco, Joseph Gilchrist, Dwight Harris, Mary Leck, Ed Nyul, Martin Schwartz, John Slavin, Igor Svibilsky, Kristina Tregnan and Kevin Hogan and pays tribute to Stieglitz and other early 20th century photographers who took photography into the realm of art.

The American born Stieglitz championed the idea that photography was on par with accepted mediums of painting and sculpture in its ability to convey artistic expression. He promoted the idea in Camera Work, the publication of the Camera Club of New York.

The cross-section of works on display in “Camera Work 2013” represents how Stieglitz’s original concept of a photograph being able to convey mood and evoke emotion has been passed down, re-interpreted, and refined over the last century. The installation includes several selections on subjects ranging from people to places, including Classical Italy, Europe, Route 66, and the natural world.

For more information, call (609) 989-1191, or visit: www.ellarslie.org. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays and municipal holidays.

COMFORTABLE LIFE OR COMMITTED LIFE?—Convalescing photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Maeve Brady) contemplates her choices in life as she prepares to head back to the war zone, in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still (2009) at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus for one more weekend.

COMFORTABLE LIFE OR COMMITTED LIFE?—Convalescing photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Maeve Brady) contemplates her choices in life as she prepares to head back to the war zone, in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still (2009) at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus for one more weekend.

In the midst of an increasingly heated argument over the question of the individual’s responsibility to reject the comfortable life and to try to make a difference for those who are less fortunate, Mandy confronts photojournalist Sarah and foreign correspondent James. “I wish you’d just let yourselves feel the joy. Y’know? Otherwise…what’s the point?”

The questions hang in the air and remain the central concern of Time Stands Still (2009), Donald Margulies’ engrossing examination of two contemporary couples struggling with the personal, marital and moral choices that will define their lives and relationships. Nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, Time Stands Still is a serious, intelligent, fascinating drama, and this extraordinary Princeton Summer Theater company provides an engaging, thought-provoking evening — a theater experience that audiences want to talk about afterwards.

In the past two months the abundantly talented PST troupe has taken its audiences on an adventurous, brilliantly successful journey with four strikingly different shows, each posing its own significant intellectual and theatrical challenges.

From its opening with an exquisite production of the much loved, intimate musical She Loves Me (1963), to a heart-warming presentation of Beth Henley’s hilarious, southern gothic masterpiece Crimes of the Heart (1978), to the wildly farcical, Monty Python-esque murder mystery spoof The 39 Steps (2005) and now the disquieting, contemporary drama Time Stands Still — this youthful, impressively professional contingent of college undergraduates and recent graduates from Princeton University and elsewhere has offered one of the finest seasons in the 45-year history of Princeton Summer Theater.

With only four characters and just one setting, in the Brooklyn apartment of the two protagonists, Time Stands Still is deceptively simple — in some ways the most challenging production of the summer for PST. Though it seems like a small world here, Mr. Margulies, with seven scenes in two acts spanning a period of almost a year, draws his characters in rich, three-dimensional detail. The dialogue is realistic, intellectual, engaging and entertaining.  With the two main characters, James and Sarah, in their late 30s or early 40s, approaching the most difficult stage of their relationship and the unresolvable existential questions of middle age, and the two supporting characters, 25-year-old Mandy and 55-year-old Richard, with no less thorny character dilemmas and relationship issues to grapple with, the requisite stretches here are huge for these actors in their early 20s.

The play begins as James (Brad Wilson) is bringing Sarah (Maeve Brady) home to their New York apartment from the overseas hospital where she has been recuperating from injuries sustained in the war zone on a photography assignment in Iraq. Sarah, strong and determined, though visibly suffering with scars, leg brace and crutches, and James, energetically solicitous and concerned, are obviously together (married by act two) and in love, though frequently in conflict.

Their future, individually and together, hangs in the balance, as the issues proliferate. James is still suffering from the traumas of reporting the Iraq war. He feels guilty because he came home early, leaving Sarah in Iraq. James is eager for a more conventional, less public life—marriage, family, stability. He is working on an article, not about devastating current events, but about horror movies. “I just want to be comfortable,” he tells Sarah later in the play. “Does that make me a bad person?”

Sarah, however, remains unwilling to give up her career. She is committed to her larger sense of purpose. Determined and uncompromising, she is eager to return to work, to the front lines, despite her severe injuries.  Does she need James and the security, comfort and “normalcy” of life in Brooklyn more than she needs the excitement and the moral commitment of her life on the barricades?

These issues and others are brought to the fore and further developed with a visit from their friend Richard (Evan Thompson), a 55-year-old photo editor, and his 25-year-old girl friend Mandy (Sarah Paton). Mandy, from a different generation and seemingly from a different world, exposes the conflict most starkly. Though she admires and remains in awe of Sarah, and they even bond in their mutual respect and understanding, Mandy provides a completely antithetical perspective, as she is ready to give up her job to pursue a conventional marriage, family and life style with her much older spouse.

Ms. Brady in the central role is strong, focused and convincing in her physical fragility, as she contends with her injuries, and in her mental steadfastness. This character is clearly set apart, heroic in her life choices and her ability to stay true to those choices, and Ms. Brady communicates that commitment with powerful presence and delivery. Mr. Wilson’s James effectively displays a wider range of thoughts and feelings as he deals with his trauma, his desire for a more conventional life, his love for Sarah and her adamant dedication to her career.

As Richard, Mr. Thompson plays with assurance the role of authoritative photo editor, older friend and partner to his much younger girlfriend/fiancée. Ms. Paton’s Mandy, though the most accessible role for this quartet in terms of age (25), is the most demanding characterization in terms of dialogue and tone.  Mandy’s youth, inexperience, provincialism and orthodox attitudes clash sharply with the mindset of Sarah in particular and at times of the other characters too. Her girlish attire, the balloons she brings to the ailing Sarah and her patterns of speech and her demeanor all bespeak another generation with more traditional priorities than those of the other three characters.  And yet — and here is where Mr. Margulies’ dialogue may have created an impossibly inconsistent tone and character — Mandy’s character demands to be taken seriously. Sarah may be the praiseworthy heroine of the play, but Mandy’s assertion of the values of marriage, family, children and conventionality resonates strongly and clearly, in a manner that none of the others, not even the stalwart Sarah can ignore or deny.

These four skillful, experienced performers have all distinguished themselves in two or more major roles in previous productions this summer, and here, under the wise, capable direction of Emma Watt, they explore these complex characters and the troubling terrain of this play with energy and focused seriousness of purpose.  These characters have proven their abilities to effect dazzling theatrical magic and convincing character stretches, but here some credibility and chemistry are missing at times as these 20-something actors grapple with their characters’ big questions of middle age or when actors of the same age are working out an age gap of 30 years in their characters’ relationship. Mr. Margulies’ occasionally elusive tone and the plethora of issues here — political, moral, marital, personal, career — further complicates the challenge.

But my quibbles arise partly from the fact that PST’s extraordinary season may have raised unrealistic expectations. Mr. Margulies’ play is rich, intellectually stimulating and entertaining — among his best, dealing with some of the same issues as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends (2000) and the Pulitzer finalists Collected Stories (1996) and Sight Unseen (1991). And Ms. Watt’s production features four superb performers and first-rate production values manifested in Jeffrey Van Velsor’s detailed, thoroughly realistic Brooklyn apartment set, Alex Mannix’s adroit lighting and Annika Bennett’s spot-on costumes.

In discussing his aims in Time Stands Still, Mr. Margulies described his desire “to capture a sense of the way we live now, to dramatize the things that thinking, feeling, moral people are thinking about and struggle with.” He accomplished that ambitious goal and more, and Princeton Summer Theater brings it all to life in this dynamic culmination to their exciting 2013 season.

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?: The wolf in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “We’re the Millers” is drug kingpin Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), who needs $44,000 from small-time dealer David Burke (Jason Sudeikis, on right). Members of Burke’s emergency “family” are a stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston) and a teenage runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts).

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?: The wolf in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “We’re the Millers” is drug kingpin Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), who needs $44,000 from small-time dealer David Burke (Jason Sudeikis, on right). Members of Burke’s emergency “family” are a stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston) and a teenage runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts).

David Burke (Jason Sudeikis) is a small-time pot dealer with a big problem. He’s just been robbed of all of his cash and stash, leaving him indebted to Brad Gurdlinger, an impatient drug kingpin (Ed Helms) to the tune of $44,000.

Now, David’s only hope of wiping the slate clean rests with accepting a proverbial “offer you can’t refuse” from skeptical Brad, namely, to smuggle a couple of tons of marijuana across the Mexican border. Figuring a family in an RV would look a lot less suspicious trying to get through customs than a single guy with a panel truck, he starts looking for folks down on their luck willing to pose for a few bucks as his wife and kids.

All he can find on such short notice are Kenny (Will Poulter), a naïve, home alone kid who lives down the hall; Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a struggling stripper at the local gentlemen’s club; and Casey (Emma Roberts), a streetwise teen runaway. But will the faking foursome be able to pass themselves off as a typical suburban family over the course of their 4th of July weekend jaunt?

That is the intriguing premise of We’re the Millers, a raunchy road comedy directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball). Of course, the faux family has a really hard time maintaining their cover, such as when supposed mother and daughter are spotted making out by a DEA Agent (Nick Offerman) they unwittingly befriend en route.

While certifiably funny in spots, consider this a fair warning: much of the movie relies on a coarse brand of humor apt to shock fans of co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, given the relatively-tame, TV fare they’re known for. For instance, there’s the hilarious, if graphic, sight gag featuring a swollen testicle that’s been bitten by a tarantula.

The dialogue can be crude, too, especially when characters discuss their sexuality and bodily functions. But betwixt and between the bottom-feeding jokes, director Thurber continues to ratchet up the tension as we watch the Millers do their best to deliver the weed despite alarming the authorities and being trailed by a vicious mobster (Tomer Sisley) with a claim on the contraband.

Picture Cheech & Chong on a National Lampoon Vacation!

Very Good (***). Rated R for pervasive profanity, crude sexuality, drug use and full-frontal male nudity

 

July 31, 2013

BookReview1Everything good about Detroit is available on iTunes.

—post on New York Times blog

“When the nation catches a cold, Detroit gets pneumonia,” people would say during the Depression, with auto sales dropping so drastically that by 1933 almost half the city’s autoworkers were unemployed. That infectious epigram, from Lars Bjorn’s Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit 1920-1960 (Univ. of Michigan Press 2001), has been in my thoughts the past week, or ever since I read the story in the July 18 New York Times (“Billions in Debt, Detroit Tumbles Into Insolvency”).

Being the worst sort of cockeyed optimist, I responded to the news by immediately flashing on positive personal associations with Detroit, at one time my favorite city outside New York and home of the most glorious skyscraper this side of the Chrysler Building. The iTunes remark posted on the Times blog contains a large grain of truth, however. The first singer I turn to when I’m feeling Melville’s “damp drizzly November in my soul” is Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops belting out “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” or “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” which Detroit’s emergency manager should put on PA systems all over the city every day at dawn and dusk, a Motown muezzin calling the faithful and unfaithful to aim high, not low. Stubbs was born in Detroit in 1936 and died there in 2008. He’s buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, as is Rosa Parks — and as are Edsel Ford and his son, although there have been reports that some of the monied dead have been transplanted to cemeteries in the suburbs. The tombstone for Levi Stubbs is shaped like a shiny black valentine with the legend Two Hearts Beat As One, waiting for the day his wife joins him.

BookReview2Another soul-saver buried at Woodlawn is the legendary jazz tenor Wardell Gray, who grew up in the Detroit area and attended one of the great American schools, Cass Tech, among a multitude of others including Donald Byrd, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Lucky Thompson, Alice Coltrane, Ellen Burstyn, Lily Tomlin, Kenny Burrell, and Diana Ross. Now that I think of it, they should put that Motown mantra, ”Where Did Our Love Go,” on the city-wide PA, let it play and play and play, it’s a song that never ends, the beat says so, it just goes and goes past death and time and taxes, you can’t stop it by turning it off. It’s the beat that never gives up and riding it is a voice you hear once in a lifetime, somewhere between Billie Holiday and Lata Mangeshkar. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that sound on the car radio driving into the depths of Brooklyn, thinking “Detroit!”

While the Supremes were seducing the world in the late 1960s, another Detroit-born singer whose father had come to the city in the 1920s from Mexico wasn’t faring so well. His two albums had gone nowhere, so he went to college, got a degree from Wayne State, worked in demolition, and one day Sixto Rodriquez woke up to find himself famous and beloved in another land, the fairy tale told in the Academy-Award-winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man. Detroit needs another fairy tale. It was looking for one in May, not long after the emergency manager took over, when Rodriguez played to a capacity crowd at the Masonic Temple theatre. Tickets for the event had sold out within minutes and were fetching $200 on Craig’s List.

The Anti-Hero

A key figure in my boyhood vision of Detroit was Ty Cobb, the ultimate anti-hero, a racist scoundrel who carved out his career in the Motor City, tearing up the base paths, spiking infielders and pitchers covering first, and making himself a pariah while building a reputation as the greatest hitter and most exciting player ever. Though Cobb had long since retired when I was a 12-year-old St. Louis Cardinals fan, it was because of the Georgia Peach that I favored the Tigers over the other teams in the American League. Since I tended to identify cities with players, it was Good Guy St. Louis (Stan Musial) and Bad Guy Detroit (Ty Cobb). The bad guy ended his career in 1928, the same year a 47-story-high Art Deco skyscraper branded with the name of an Indian tribe in Maine was erected in the financial heart of downtown Detroit.

Detroit Noir

In a postcard of the Detroit skyline at night that I’ve had ever since a summer visit with my father when I was in seventh grade, the Penobscot Building looms in the center dominating everything, like some fantastic hall-of-the-mountain-king eminence with a red beacon blazing on top. For the past 85 years, with a headdressed Deco-style caricature of a stoic Indian chief carved above the arched entry, the mighty Penobscot has been looking down on the city. The year it went up it was the tallest building in the U.S. outside New York and the eighth tallest in the world. The Penobscot was also the star attraction of our trip to Detroit. At night we went for a walk, took in a Penny Arcade, and saw a sinister B movie that left me feeling uneasy and vulnerable as we walked around afterward. There was a hint of menace in the shadows between the street lamps on “the Main Street of Detroit,” Woodward Avenue.

What was there to fear from a street with a name as dull and ordinary as Woodward? All these years later I’ve figured it out. One day when I was maybe 10 looking through bound volumes of back issues of Life in the school library, I was startled by photos of the 1943 race riot, images of blacks being beaten and of a black kid my age being chased across Woodward Avenue by a mob of whites; another picture showed a streetcar on Woodward burning. Thirty-four people were killed in the three days of violence, 25 of them African Americans. During the riots, according to Before Motown, “whites claimed Woodward Avenue as theirs by attacking black moviegoers at the all-night Roxy and Colonial theaters, just a few blocks from the Near East Side ghetto.” Also on Woodward was the Paradise, Detroit’s “most important venue for black musical entertainment” through the 1940s. A number of jazz and rhythm and blues clubs were nearby in a neighborhood known as Paradise Valley, where buildings and shops were burned and looted during the riot.

Levi Stubbs would have been seven at the time. Less than a year later Diana Ross was born. Rodriguez was a year old. At 22, Wardell Gray had his first break in June 1943 and was touring with the Earl Hines big band, which played at the Paradise.

Crazy Numbers

The 1943 riots happened when Detroit was booming. Attracted by the humming defense industries, as many as 50,000 blacks and 300,000 whites, most from the south, converged on the city. Earlier that same month, when Packard promoted three blacks to work with whites on the assembly line, 25,000 whites walked off the job.

In 2013 the payroll for the Detroit Tigers — who play before an average crowd of 37,000 fans in a bankrupt city — is the fourth highest in the major leagues at $148,414,000. The highest paid member of the team, Prince Fielder (an African American), is making $23 million a year. Meanwhile, the city is planning to spend more than $400 million on a new hockey rena for the Red Wings.

Pequot and Penobscot

Tomorrow, August 1, is Herman Melville’s 194th birthday, and while it would be a stretch to find a Detroit connection for the author of Moby Dick, readers will remember that Melville named Ahab’s doomed ship the Pequod, which, with its craggy masthead, shared certain obvious generic Indian design elements with the Penobscot Building.

But who named it the Penobscot and why? According to historicdetroit.org, the lumber baron Simon J. Murphy, who made his fortune before settling in Detroit, spent his youth working the logging camps along the Penobscot River in Maine. So it was nostalgia for the river that gave the great tower its name. Penobscot, which means “the place where the rocks open out,” was Murphy’s version of Citizen Kane’s Rosebud. Another odd twist worth pointing out is that Melville chose to name Ahab’s ship after the Pequot because, as was thought in 1850, the tribe had been annihilated during the Pequot War and, writes Melville, “now are as extinct as the ancient Medes.” Truth once again outdoes fiction and the shapings of history as the Pequots reappear in the tribal casino culture of New England where online sources report that the Penobscot tribe in Maine taught the Pequots in Connecticut how to make big money from high-stakes bingo.

Then and now, ever and again, that’s what the deal comes down to.

The Right To Be

Detroit has no homegrown Melville, nor even a Saul Bellow or Philip Roth. Louis Ferdinand Celine worked in the Ford plant and wrote about it in Journey to the End of the Night (1932). In The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), Henry Miller called Detroit “the capital of the new planet — the one, I mean, which will kill itself off.”

Detroit does have a homegrown poet, Phillip Levine, who was born in 1928, the year Ty Cobb hung up his spikes and the Penobscot Building made its debut. Levine’s father sold used auto parts, his mother sold books. By age 14 he was working in automobile plants. After earning his BA at Wayne State (then Wayne University), he worked nights in the forge room at Chevrolet gear and axle before going to the University of Iowa, where he studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman. In 2011, he became America’s poet laureate. In a Paris Review interview, he talks about going back to Detroit in 1987: “Much of what’s in the city was absent; there were no stores around, very few houses, no large buildings. Lots of empty spaces, vacant lots, almost like the Detroit I knew during the war …. [The poem, “A Walk With Tom Jefferson”] came out of the hope that the city might be reborn inside itself, out of its own ruins, phoenix-like, rising out of its own ashes. Except I don’t see it in heroic terms. The triumphs are small, personal, daily. Nothing grandly heroic is taking place; just animals and men and flowers and plants asserting their right to be, even in this most devastated of American cities.”

WASH DAY ON THE SUB-CONTINENT: Susan Winter’s painting, titled “The Washing” is one of several works inspired by scenes of India on view at the Plainsboro Library, 9 Van Doren Street, from August 3 to August 28 with a reception on Sunday, August 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., at which time the artist will be on hand to answer questions about her work. “Connecting Impressions,” features oils, oil/collages, and pastels and focuses on landscapes with figures.

WASH DAY ON THE SUB-CONTINENT: Susan Winter’s painting, titled “The Washing” is one of several works inspired by scenes of India on view at the Plainsboro Library, 9 Van Doren Street, from August 3 to August 28 with a reception on Sunday, August 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., at which time the artist will be on hand to answer questions about her work. “Connecting Impressions,” features oils, oil/collages, and pastels and focuses on landscapes with figures.

Susan I. Winter was born on a large farm in rural Monmouth County where she had few playmates outside of her family. And yet her paintings, even her landscapes, invariably include human figures. “I suppose it is this lonely background that lends itself to the themes of most of my work; I enjoy painting people either interacting with others or in quiet reflection” she says.

Now living in Hightstown, where, since 1983, she’s part of the Art Station Studio, which she describes as “a wonderful studio setting where other artists are available for both critique and support.” A certified teacher, she has taught art at the Peddie School, at Artworks in Trenton, and elsewhere throughout central New Jersey for over 35 years.

Her influences derive from Master Classes with Nelson Shanks and studies with Daniel Greene, Robert Sakson, Rhoda Yanow, Richard Pionk, Christina DeBarry, and Stephen Kennedy. One of her paintings was chosen to be included as part of the White House Collection and her painting “Ole Freehold” is owned by Bruce Springsteen

Inspired also by Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, and, she says, awed by “their genius and value to the art community,” she is a charter member of the New Jersey Pastel Painters Society and a member of numerous galleries and arts councils including the West Windsor Arts Council.

Her recent exhibitions include works on paper at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and one-woman shows at Bordentown’s Farnsworth Gallery, Trenton’s Gallery on Lafayette, and Princeton’s Triumph Brewery.

Interviewed by phone, the artist shared her excitement at this new exhibition, titled “Connecting Impressions.” “The Plainsboro show is a perfect opportunity for me to express my love of people, and let my viewers see how important my personal connections with humanity are to me,” she says.

The artist’s rural upbringing figures heavily in her art, and although she works predominantly with landscapes, people play a critical role in the theme of each piece. But it wasn’t always so. From 1985 to 1996, she worked as a freelance artist with Greater Media Newspapers. “For 10 years I did nothing but paint portraits of houses; after that I did landscapes because that’s what galleries were interested in, but now I include people in my paintings and that’s what excites me about this show,” she says.

“Connecting Impressions” will feature oils, oil/collages, and pastels, paintings of seemingly ordinary scenes that are awash with light and color. Look for her lively park scene, Girl with the Yellow Balloon and The Washing, her rendering of women washing clothes in the Ganges.

In a statement of her artistic philosophy, Ms. Winter says: “I try to capture the beauty of my life: impossible; to try to capture the beauty in each extraordinary moment is only possible through the artist’s eye and imagination. This is my goal with each new painting.”

Ms. Winter’s exhibit will be at the Plainsboro Library from August 3 to August 28 with a reception on Sunday, August 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., at which time the artist will be on hand to answer questions about her work.

The Plainsboro Library is located at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For more on the artist and her work, visit: www.paintings
bysusanwinter.com.

For more information, call (609) 275-2897.

 

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

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has works by painters Alla Podolsky and Charlie Katzenbach through August 4. Visit lambertvillearts.com.

Artworks, Everett Alley, Trenton, presents “nOgWorks,” a group exhibit from the AbOminOg Arts Collective, August 6-September 21. The opening reception is August 10, 6-8 p.m. www.ArtworksTrenton.org.

Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University has “Passages: Mixed Media Artwork by Ela Shah” through September 11. (609) 497-2441.

D&R Greenway Land Trust, 1 Preservation Place, Olivia Rainbow Gallery, has the Ennis Beley Project/Young Audiences “Arts for Living” Photography Exhibit: The Cartography of Self,” through August 2. Visit www.drgreenway.org.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909” through September 22. (609) 989-1191.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History from Jamestown to Appomattox” on view through August 4.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has a juried show through August 11. Visit photogallery14.com.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has paintings by Arthur Anderson August 4-25. The opening is August 4, 1-3 p.m.

Grounds for Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, has Pepon Osorio’s “Where the Me Becomes We” and Jonathan Shahn’s “Heads in Wood and Plaster” in the Domestic Arts Building through September 22. Visit www.groundsforsculpture.org.

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

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Form, Rhythm, Song” through September 29. “Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality” is exhibited through September 8. “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound” is on view through October 13. Visit www.michenerart
museum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Henri-Gabriel Ibels” through September 8. “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derriere L’Etoile Studio” is on view through September 29. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music” is on view through September 13.

Lawrence Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, has cartoons and illustrations by Ralph Schlegel, retired editorial cartoonist, August 1-30. Cartoons, greeting cards, and children’s books are part of the display. Visit www.mcl.org.

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

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, has “Connecting Impressions” by Susan Winter August 3-28. The reception is August 11, 2-4 p.m.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” through September 15. “Faces and Facets: Recent Acquisitions” is on view through August 18. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Silverman Gallery, 4920 York Route (Route 202), Buckingham Green, Buckingham, Pa., shows “Side by Side,” with more than 175 works by the gallery’s four artists, August 3-September 28. Visit www.silvermangal
lery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Aaron Epstein through August 6.

The “A” Space Gallery, 37 West Bridge Street, New Hope, has a photography show by Scott Riether and a glass work display by Alexander Bjorn Papageorge Fridays-Sundays August 3-25. The opening is August 2, 7-10 p.m.

Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington, has recent oil paintings and studies by Thom Montanari through September 13.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, has works by faculty members on view through September 6. Artists are Priscilla Snow Algava, Hong Lu, Donna Payton, Aparajita Pooja Sen, Adam Reck, and Zakia Ahmed.

 

HEY, OFFICER, I’M JUST ON MY WAY HOME FROM A PARTY: Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) refuses to obey the Oakland police officer’s order to lie on his stomach so he could be handcuffed. The subsequent scuffle with two police officers results in Grant being Tasered and then mortally wounded by a bullet fired into his back.

HEY, OFFICER, I’M JUST ON MY WAY HOME FROM A PARTY: Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) refuses to obey the Oakland police officer’s order to lie on his stomach so he could be handcuffed. The subsequent scuffle with two police officers results in Grant being Tasered and then mortally wounded by a bullet fired into his back.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), were returning to Oakland in the wee hours of the morning after attending a New Year’s Eve 2009 celebration. Their crowded train was stopped by police in response to a report of a disturbance on the train. Oscar was among a number of male passengers ordered onto the platform at Fruitvale Station, where he was initially told to sit quietly with his back against the wall.

However, he was subsequently ordered to lie on his stomach so that he could be handcuffed and placed under arrest. When he resisted, a struggle ensued during which Oscar could be heard begging not to be Tasered as a cop yelling “bitch-ass [N-word]” forced him to the ground.

Another officer pulled out a pistol and shot Oscar, who was unarmed, in the back, prompting the mortally-wounded young father to exclaim, “I got a 4 year-old daughter!” The incident was captured on a cell phone by a passenger who posted the video on Youtube, which turned the controversial slaying into an international event.

Was Oscar callously executed or accidentally killed by a cop who may have mistaken his .40 caliber weapon for his stun gun? The officer’s guilt or innocence, a matter that is left for a jury to decide, is not the primary focus of Fruitvale Station.

Instead, this bittersweet biopic humanizes the colorful Oscar Grant by chronicling the series of events that led up to his untimely death. The film depicts the last day in the 22-year-old’s abbreviated life, as he interacts affectionately with Sophina, their daughter (Ariana Neal), his mother (Octavia Spencer), pals, strangers, and relatives.

For instance, we see Oscar inform his girlfriend that he’s lost his job as a clerk at the local supermarket. Later, he tucks tiny Tatiana into bed and promises to take her to Chuck E. Cheese the next day. And he ominously takes his mother’s erroneous advice that riding the train would be a lot safer than driving to San Francisco that fateful night.

Already winning awards at both the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals, Fruitvale Station marks the writing and directorial debut of Ryan Coogler. A recent graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, the 27 year-old Coogler exhibits the talents of a seasoned veteran here, crafting a character driven tale that’s touching and emotionally engaging without resorting to sentimentality or melodrama.

Some of the credit must also go to Michael B. Jordan for his compelling warts-and-all portrayal of Oscar, a complicated soul with perhaps as many positive attributes as faults. The support cast deserves a share of the accolades, too, for ensuring that the production, well grounded in a sobering, inner-city reality, never hits a false note.

Whether Oscar Grant deserves to be remembered as a martyr or a provocateur, this poignant portrait of him as a flawed free-spirit is moving enough to be remembered at Academy Awards time.

Excellent (****). Unrated. Running time: 85 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

 

July 24, 2013

dvd revI knew, the first time I saw Before Sunrise, that here was a film for which I felt not only interest or admiration but love; a film I would want to revisit repeatedly over the years; one that would join the short list of films that remain constant favourites.

Robin Wood in Cine-Action (1996)

I have a low tolerance for uninformed superlatives like the one casually inflicted on readers by David Brooks in a recent column to wit, “As every discerning person knows, The Searchers is the greatest movie ever made.” I still ask myself, “Is he kidding?” It’s not even the greatest western, let alone John Ford’s greatest western. So just please stop it with the greatest this and the greatest that, okay?

But here I am writing about something truly great. What to do? I decided to let the late Robin Wood (1931-2009), one of the few film critics I respect, say it for me, though I’m not sure that I agree with him that Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise belongs all by itself with “the dozen or so films that exemplify ‘cinema’ at its finest.” But put it together with Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight, which was all too briefly at the Garden not long ago, and I’m on board. I’ll even go him one better and say that the saga of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a historic accomplishment, a classic that will still be shown and loved long after the blockbusters and Academy faves of today and yesterday and tomorrow are forgotten.

Sadly, Robin Wood died without seeing Before Midnight. Writing in 2005, he could only wonder, as did everyone, whether the story of Celine and Jesse would continue: “Linklater’s artistic integrity as a filmmaker is really on the line.” What will he do next? Maybe the story was “too fragile to pursue any further into the wilds of time and history.”

In fact, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy pursued the story all the way to the sunny wilds of Greece and have brought back Before Midnight, a triumphant affirmation of “artistic integrity” on all fronts. When the new film comes out on DVD, viewers will be able to watch the whole epic romance from sunrise to sunset to midnight, and wonder “How did they do it?”

Chemistry 

Any film worth seeing benefits from the chemistry between the actors or between actors and director, actors and screenplay. But Linklater’s films are about chemistry, which is what Ethan Hawke seems to be getting at in a 2007 Guardian interview when he says that Chekhov would like Before Sunset “because it’s all about nuance … it’s completely fluid, just chasing the nuance of life, and kind of believing whatever God is lives in this kind of energy that flows between all of us.”

Hawke is close to echoing what Delpy’s Celine says to his Jesse in Before Sunrise: “I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between.”

If you read enough interviews with Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater, you’ll notice a definite overlap between things said in “real life” and things said in character. What Celine says next speaks to the interface between imagination and reality that these three films live in so productively: “If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something.”

Which could also mean the filmic magic of connecting and sharing, character to character, actor to character, actor to actor, actor to director.

Connecting

When Hawke and Delpy were making Before Sunrise, they were concerned about all the dialogue, asking Linklater “Shouldn’t it at least be funny? Is this boring?” In a recent conversation on reddit.com, Hawke remembers Linklater telling them that “he’d never been in a helicopter crash, he’d never been involved in any espionage, he’d never been to Outer Space, and yet his life felt full of drama. And the most dramatic thing that ever happened to him was the experience of truly connecting with another person. And he really wanted to try to make a movie about that, about that connection, about that exchange of energy, ideas.”

Before Sunrise opens on a train between Budapest and Vienna as the noise made by a squabbling married couple (definitely some negative chemistry) drives Celine to move to a seat where she can read in peace. Jesse is sitting reading across the aisle. Given the battle coming 18 years later between the 40-something Jesse and Celine in Before Midnight, there’s an ironic resonance in knowing that the first thing these two strangers talk about is a fighting middle-aged couple. After a conversation in the dining car that moves like music (the more they play, the more they connect), they get off together in Vienna and fall in love during a night walking around the city, where they encounter a couple of actors, a palm reader, a trusting bartender, and a panhandler who composes poems to order. Before going their separate ways, they agree to meet in Vienna in six month’s time; he shows up, she doesn’t. In the nine years that follow, Jesse gets married, has a child, and writes a novel based on that night in Vienna, and as Before Sunset begins, he’s answering questions after a reading at a bookshop in Paris (Shakespeare and Company, itself an enduring symbol of the literary connection between the U.S. and France). When he’s asked what made him write the novel, he repeats almost verbatim what Linklater said about the genesis of the film (another example of real-life/film-life overlap), the helicopter crash, Outer Space, “connecting with another person.” A minute later he looks to the side and there’s Celine.

A Night in Philadelphia

The connection Linklater had in mind when he was explaining the dynamic of Before Sunrise to his actors happened by chance in October 1989. Jesse and Celine’s night in Vienna is based on a night in Philadelphia. Although Linklater has spoken about his American Celine in interviews after the release of Before Midnight, he first mentioned her in 1997 to a freelance reporter for the Allentown Pa. Morning Call: “The whole plot for Before Sunrise was inspired by a woman I met in Philadelphia. I was just hanging out with my sister, who used to live near Rittenhouse Square, and I met this woman at a toy store. I just got to talking to her and then we went out later and hung out the whole night.” Linklater recently described her to The Times of London as “crazy, cute, wonderful energy.” According to a Q&A podcast with Jeff Goldsmith, Linklater admitted that “even as that experience was going on … I was like, ‘I’m gonna make a film about this.’ And she was like, ‘What ‘this’? What’re you talking about?’ And I was like, ‘Just this. This feeling. This thing that’s going on between us.’”

Just as Jesse wrote a novel about their night together, hoping that it might bring Celine back into his life, Linklater thought Before Sunrise might bring Celine’s inspiration back into his. But there was no sequel to Linklater’s story. Around the time Before Sunrise opened, the woman, Amy Lehrhaupt, was killed in a motorcycle accident; she was 24. Linklater found out about it only three years ago. Before Midnight is dedicated to her memory.

Another woman key to the realization of Linklater’s vision is Kim Krizan, with whom he collaborated on the screenplay. Once Hawke and Delpy were cast, they began contributing to the dialogue, though they were not credited until Before Sunset, for which they shared a Best Screenplay Academy Award nomination with Linklater and Krizan. In recent interviews, Delpy and Hawke stress the fact that a key factor in Linklater’s decision to cast them was that both were also writers. (Hawke, who grew up in Princeton, will have a new novel out, his third, within a year.)

Making Music

I’ll say it again: as blockbusters come and go, Celine and Jesse will be remembered and revered, for there’s really nothing in cinema quite like the inspired counterpoint played out between Delpy and Hawke. One of the greatest movies ever made about a couple, F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, was subtitled A Song of Two Humans, which would not be a bad fit for the word-music of Celine and Jessie, as they riff, spar, solo, and jam, two players so intricately attuned, their timing so uncanny, never stiff, forced, stylized or confined: even when one speaks over the other, they’re in tune, harmonics and dissonance in a deceptively effortless interplay that feels improvised and truly lived even though every line is scripted, thought out, debated, and thoroughly rehearsed.

You could compare these three films to any number of brilliantly played and directed conversation-centered projects, like Ma Nuit Chez Maud and other works by Erich Rohmer, or, most obviously, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, but Hawke and Delphy perform on another level, possessed of an identification with their characters that is downright eerie. Acting is acting in Rohmer and Bergman: people playing parts. Delpy and Hawke are so deeply invested in Celine and Jesse that even as they’re acting their hearts out it doesn’t show. Though they work closely with Linklater, almost as if he were an invisible third actor, their alter egos Celine and Julie have transcended them; as both have observed, the characters inhabit a parallel universe spanning two decades, waiting to be inhabited and brought back to life on film by their writer actors.

When Jesse and Celine finally begin to say what needs to be said in the back of the chauffeur-driven car toward the end of Before Sunset you can already hear the music of the last movement. As Celine puts her arms around Jesse before they go up to her flat, saying “I want to see if you stay together or if you dissolve into molecules,” she’s picking up on something he said minutes before (“I feel like if someone touched me I’d dissolve into molecules”). This is how it works. Maybe Delpy came up with that line or maybe the actress knew, with the character, that the hug had to happen, if only to reprise and resolve, like a motif in music, the moment in the car when her feeling for Jesse as he lamented his lot was so strong that she kept reaching to touch him and drawing back.

The scene in the hotel room in Before Midnight explodes like a climactic demonstration of the positive/negative energy of connection flowing between them. While these two no-longer-young lovers may be struggling and despairing in middle age, it’s clear that Hawke and Delpy are enjoying each other in the fire of the moment as much as they did when they were talking about reincarnation in Vienna or astrology and fate or Nina Simone in Paris. Even when they’re fighting they’re making music.

Let’s end it in Greece, as Celine and Jesse watch the sun disappear below the horizon. “Still there,” says Celine. “Still there. Still there. Gone.”

Multiple copies of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are available at the Princeton Public Library.

 

THE SOUND OF AIR AND STEEL: Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), Untitled, c. 1970s, Ink on paper, 22 x 27 inches from the collection of Celia Bertoia is part of the exhibition “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound,” through October 13 at the Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. For admission and hours, call (215) 340-9800 or visit: www.michenerartmuseum.org.

THE SOUND OF AIR AND STEEL: Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), Untitled, c. 1970s, Ink on paper, 22 x 27 inches from the collection of Celia Bertoia is part of the exhibition “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound,” through October 13 at the Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. For admission and hours, call (215) 340-9800 or visit: www.michenerartmuseum.org.

“Structure and Sound,” an exhibition of sculpture, furniture, monoprints, and jewelry by the Italian-born artist Harry Bertoia, opened Saturday, July 20 in the Beans Gallery at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown.

Described as a man ahead of his time, Bertoia (1915-1978) experimented with space and sound. A longtime resident of Bally, Pennsylvania, he created his well-known sonambient or tonal sounding sculptures and designed furniture for Knoll, Inc. there.

Born in 1915 in San Lorenzo, Italy, Bertoia came to the United States at the age of 15 to visit his older brother. He learned art, design, and jewelry making in high school and at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, now the College for Creative Studies.

In 1937 he received a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where he encountered the work of Walter Gropius, Edmund N. Bacon, and Ray and Charles Eames whose wedding rings he designed and made.

In 1943, when he married Brigitta Valentiner, the couple moved to California to work for Charles and Ray Eames.

His early studies in printmaking and metalwork at the Cranbrook Academy of Art informed the work of his later career. Drawing was an important part of the artist’s creative process, and many of his compositions articulate his planning and experimentation for sculpture.

In 1950, at the invitation of the Knoll furniture design company, he moved to eastern Pennsylvania and designed, among other pieces, the Bertoia Diamond Chair series, a series of wireframe chairs that became an iconic part of the modern furniture movement. His famous “Diamond Chair’ is a fluid, sculptural form made from a molded lattice work of welded steel. He described the chairs as being “mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them.”

Made by hand and produced with varying amounts of upholstery over their light grid-work, the chairs were an immediate commercial success and are still sold by Knoll today. Bertoia’s earnings from them allowed him to devote himself exclusively to sculpture and to explore the ways in which metal could be manipulated to produce sound. By stretching and bending the metal, he made it respond to wind or to touch, creating different tones.

The Tonal

The sculpture most associated with Bertoia is “The Tonal.” Varying in size from a few inches up to 19 feet and made of steel, copper, and brass rods capped with cylinders or drops of metal, Bertoia’s sculptures swayed, emitting sounds according to the weight and materials of their composition.

He performed with his pieces, manipulating his artwork manually, in a number of concerts and produced a series of ten albums, all entitled Sonambient.

The artist’s Pennsylvania home and studio included a barn space installation of 75 tonals of varying heights and is maintained today by his son, Val Bertoia, who is also an artist. Occasional symphonic musical performances are held there. Album recordings made by Harry Bertoia are included in the Michener installation.

Besides tonal and static sculptures by Bertoia, the exhibition also features work from his explorations into jewelry making, crafting organic forms of silver and copper, as well as monoprints and furniture. It is made up of selections from private collections, as well as from the Reading Public Museum, Knoll, Inc., the Woodmere Art Museum, and the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College.

Bertoia is known not only for his signature 1952 Diamond Chair but also for his work with a number of major 20th century architects: Eero Saarinen, Henry Dreyfuss, Roche & Dinkeloo, Minoru Yamasaki, Edward Durell Stone, I. M. Pei and others. In 1956, he received the AIA Craftsmanship Award, followed by the Critic’s Award in 1968.

His work is held in numerous public collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and museums in Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.

To coincide with the exhibition, independent scholar Mary Thorp, who has been cataloguing Bertoia’s sculptures, organizing exhibitions, and lecturing on his work at auction houses, museums and universities since 1998, will give an overview of the artist’s work on Tuesday, September 17, from 1 to 3 p.m. The artist’s daughter, Celia Bertoia, who is currently at work on a biography of her father, will discuss his techniques and share behind-the-scenes stories on Friday, October 4, from 2 to 3 p.m.

“Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound,” continues through October 13 at the Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. For admission and hours, call (215) 340-9800 or visit: www.michenerartmuseum.org.

ROMANCE, INTRIGUE AND ABSURDITY: Evan Thompson as the dashing Richard Hannay and Holly Linneman, who plays all three of Hannay’s love interests, strike a pose in rehearsal for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “The 39 Steps,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through July 28.

ROMANCE, INTRIGUE AND ABSURDITY: Evan Thompson as the dashing Richard Hannay and Holly Linneman, who plays all three of Hannay’s love interests, strike a pose in rehearsal for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “The 39 Steps,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through July 28.

In the opening moments of Princeton Summer Theater’s ceaselessly entertaining The 39 Steps, Richard Hannay, the dashing hero, sits alone in his London apartment. It’s 1935, between the Wars. He is sipping his scotch and soda and suffering the pangs of ennui.

“Picked up an evening paper, put it back. Full of elections and wars and rumors of wars. And I thought — who the bloody hell cares frankly? What does it all matter? What happens to anyone? What happens to me? No-one’d miss me ….” He then decides, “Find something to do, you bloody fool! Something mindless and trivial. Something utterly pointless. Something — I know! A visit to the theater! That should do the trick!” And his action-packed adventures commence.

True to its iconic source material, which it both spoofs and celebrates, The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow from a 1915 detective novel by John Buchan, a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie, and an original concept by Simon Corbel and Nobby Dimon, is a murder mystery thriller. There’s the suave protagonist; exotic, beautiful, and mysterious heroines; unremitting intrigue; a desperate struggle, with the fate of England at stake; narrow escapes; train chases; airplane crashes; treacherous bridges; a dastardly Nazi villain with a missing little finger; and much more.

But this 2005 British hit, still running in the West End, brought to the U.S. in 2008 for a Roundabout Theater production then two years on Broadway, goes far beyond its source material. With minimal set and only four actors playing all — I lost count at 130 — parts here, The 39 Steps becomes a tour de force that revels in the magic of theater and the amazing, inventive, ridiculously implausible act of creating something out of only the performers’ creative imagination and the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.

“Mindless and trivial”? “Utterly pointless,” as Hannay says before heading off to the theater? Yes, indeed, particularly in this rambunctious, outrageous, and whimsical mode — but hard to beat for sheer fun and theatrical virtuosity.

This parody of Hitchcock’s famous movie, with additional allusions to Stranger on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest, will resonate with film buffs, but no prior film knowledge is necessary to enjoy this show, which is much more about theatricality than film. In its rapturous embracing of the challenges of staging the unstageable, in its wildly energetic and ridiculously serious commitment to creating the plentiful characters and the murder mystery/spy thriller world of the play, the four actors and their top-flight production team deliver a delightfully engaging and thoroughly entertaining evening.

Jeff Kuperman, busily involved in New York theater, dance, and film over the past year since his Princeton University graduation, has directed and choreographed The 39 Steps with fabulous timing and an unerring comic sense. The melodrama, the high camp, the breakneck pace, the coordination of props, actors, sound, lights, costume changes, and the unremitting physical and verbal humor could easily misfire in the hands of less skilled, committed and talented performers, and production crew. The professional Princeton Summer Theater team is highly focused and carefully, skillfully rehearsed — even more impressive here than in their two fine productions (the intimate musical comedy She Loves Me and the comedic southern gothic Crimes of the Heart) earlier this summer.

After Hannay’s brief opening scene, the plot wastes no time in picking up speed. At the theater Hannay (Evan Thompson) meets a beautiful, mysterious woman (Holly Linneman), who turns out to be a foreign spy. When, in the middle of the night, she lands in his lap with a knife in her back and a map of Scotland in her hand, Hannay quickly realizes he must find the ruthless perpetrators, a clandestine organization called “the 39 Steps.” He also must escape both the authorities who suspect him for murder and the villains who want him dead, and solve this international espionage mystery before vital security information leaves England. The chase is on!

As the debonair hero, Mr. Thompson adopts the perfect balance of camp and commitment, of ironic detachment, and deadly serious involvement in his heroic and romantic quest. He plays almost every spy thriller cliché you can imagine with appropriate panache that is larger than life but never overdone. The age stretch is daunting — Mr. Thompson is a couple of decades away from the age 40ish world weariness of the character as originally conceived, but he blends the Hitchcock and Monty Python styles brilliantly to provide a solid core to the production.

Ms. Linneman, with an eccentric array of wigs and accents, plays all three leading ladies — all stunningly beautiful, all intricately involved in the fate of Hannay, and all straight out of the conventions of the film noir spy thriller tradition. As ill-fated foreign spy, then innocent, amorous, doe-eyed country lass, then savvy woman of the world, she is a worthy counterpart to Hannay. She keeps up her defenses, sparring verbally and physically with Hannay until the end. Ms. Linneman is on target, thoroughly in character — all three characters — while playing the high drama and romance just broadly enough to suit the prevailing tone of spoof and hijinks.

And the other 130 plus roles fall into the capable hands — and legs and faces and every other conceivable body part and vocal distortion and costume piece — of Brad Wilson and Pat Rounds, listed in the program as simply Clowns 1 and 2. These astonishingly versatile performers, who act, sing, dance, and perform all sorts of physical and vocal acrobatics throughout the evening, do not need named-in-the-program leading-character roles in order to steal the show.

Perhaps the greatest delight of watching The 39 Steps comes in observing the imagination and virtuosity of these zany, chameleon-like actors as they instantaneously transform themselves and their settings into whatever this plot-laden script demands. My favorite hilarious transformations include Mr. Wilson’s jealous old crofter husband; all of his outrageous, bewigged, heavily accented gender crosses — the shocked maid, the domineering wife of the villain and the Scottish innkeeper’s wife; Mr. Rounds’ dastardly, pinky-less spy master and heavy-handed Scottish innkeeper; the two clowns’ dazzling simultaneous depictions of train passengers, porter, paperboy, conductor, and policeman; and, of course — quite a character stretch even for these theater magicians, the roles of puddles in the road on the dangerous journey through the Scottish moors. Individually, in tandem and in interactions with the two protagonists, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Rounds provide the audience with an abundance of laughs and surprises.

The production elements here are almost as remarkable as the fine performances. Jeffrey Van Velsor’s minimal set — ladders, chairs, wheeling doors and windows — affords unlimited possibilities and opportunities for this company to display its ingenuity and boundless imagination. (What they do with windows must be seen to be believed.) Laura Hildebrand’s technical direction and Alex Mannix’s lighting design, along with sound design by Mr. Kuperman, all cohere to create this wild romp through a caricatured world of murder mystery and romance. The comic timing—actors’ delivery of lines, gesture, interactions, and physical humor, sound, lighting, props and set movements — is consistently on point.

In the same Monty Python-esque, larger-than-life mode, Annika Bennett and Maeve Brady’s richly inventive, colorful costuming — featuring a wild collection of wigs, hats, and numerous other accessories, and Gordon Jacoby’s dialect coaching skillfully both create and mock the world of The 39 Steps.

Don’t look for interesting character psychology, depth, or development here. Despite the distinguished source material, don’t look for a plausible or even consistently comprehensible plot to keep you on the edge of your seat. But “a visit to the theater” certainly helped Richard Hannay to overcome his ennui, and for sheer entertainment, hilarity, and a joyful tribute to the wonders of theatricality, PST’s production of The 39 Steps is bound to please.

 

William and Judith Scheide clearly have deep roots in Princeton, but until this past week, no one in the community knew about their strong connection to the Philadelphia Orchestra. From his earliest days at Princeton University, Mr. Scheide was a Friday afternoon concert-goer to Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, where he no doubt reveled in the orchestra’s rendition of Leopold Stokowski’s lush arrangements of Bach. Judith Scheide also attended Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, perhaps unknowingly at the same performances as Mr. Scheide. The stars converged last Wednesday night as the Scheides, conductor Mark Laycock (no stranger to the orchestra himself) and “Those Fabulous Philadelphians” came together at Richardson Auditorium for the annual Scheide Midsummer Celebration. The Philadelphia Orchestra has not performed in Princeton since 1964, and although many Princetonians likely make the journey to the Orchestra’s new home at the Kimmel Center, there is nothing like the ensemble’s clean, precise and rich playing in Princeton’s own backyard.

The legendary Philadelphia Orchestra “sound” has changed since the days of Eugene Ormandy’s performance at McCarter Theatre in 1964. Once heavy on string sonorities and legato playing, principal conductors since Ormandy, most notably Wolfgang Sawallisch and Christoph Eschenbach, crafted a leaner and more supple string sound and introduced a number of young players into the ensemble, adding to the Orchestra’s musical vibrancy. Wednesday night’s concert of refreshing and energetic works showed a wide range of dynamic and stylistic nuance, and it was clear that conductor Mark Laycock was having a great time painting on the Philadelphia Orchestra palette.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No. 1 in D Major is one of the composer’s most popular works, but not many ensembles can execute it at the speed at which Mr. Laycock began the opening Allegro movement. Ultimate precision marked this performance, whether it was a pair of bassoons against pizzicato violins, the internal winds of the third movement Gavotta or timpanist Don Liuzzi finding an incredible range of dynamics — always on the front edge of the rhythm. Conducting from memory, Mr. Laycock was thoroughly comfortable with all the works on the program, and the Prokofiev was an effective way to reintroduce the Philadelphia Orchestra to the Princeton community.

Carl Maria von Weber’s opera overtures have survived almost more successfully than the operas themselves, and his Overture to Oberon well captured the early 19th-century German musical preoccupation with magic and the supernatural. Particularly marked by Jeffrey Lang’s clear and resonant horn solo, rich sectional playing from the violas and celli, and a languorous clarinet solo from Samuel Caviezel, the orchestra’s performance of this Overture emphasized the same dynamic rises in intensity as can be heard in Weber’s more familiar Overture to Der Freischütz.

The Philadelphia Orchestra demonstrated its ability to deftly shift musical gears as Mr. Laycock led the instrumentalists through the seven-part set of Variations on a Theme Of Haydn by Johannes Brahms. Remarkably light and airy in orchestration (especially the combination of winds and lower strings, and clarinets and horns), the Brahms work was led by Mr. Laycock with effective changes in tempo and character as the ensemble reached its fullest sound half-way through. The seventh variation in particular showed a nice lilt and smooth blend of sound within the Baroque Siciliano form.

The orchestra reached its height of majestic power in Robert Schumann’s Spring Symphony, full of characteristic youthful energy and rich chorale textures. A programmatic work in its connection to poetry, Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major was full of difficult stops and starts which the orchestra handled well, and smooth transitions between sections, especially in the third movement alternation of Scherzos and Trios. The fourth movement Allegro Animato was played with a strong emphasis on animato, evoking the playfulness of summer. A spirited encore of the Overture to Glinka’s opera Russlan and Ludmilla brought a grand and glorious finish to a summer concert which has become equally as grand a tradition in the community.

 

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

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has works by painters Alla Podolsky and Charlie Katzenbach through August 4. Visit lambertvillearts.com.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street, has a Terrace Project by Chris Maher and Instructor/Student Work on view through July. www.artscouncilof
princeton.org.

Artworks, Everett Alley, Trenton, presents “nOgWorks,” a group exhibit from the AbOminOg Arts Collective, August 6-September 21. The opening reception is August 10, 6-8 p.m. www.ArtworksTrenton.org.

Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University has “Passages: Mixed Media Artwork by Ela Shah” through September 11. (609) 497-2441.

D&R Greenway Land Trust, 1 Preservation Place, Olivia Rainbow Gallery, has the Ennis Beley Project/Young Audiences “Arts for Living” Photography Exhibit: “The Cartography of Self,” through August 2. Visit www.drgreenway.org.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents the Delaware Valley Fine Crafts Invitational and “Memories of Warsaw,” paintings and drawings by Kyle Hamilton, through July 28. “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909” is on view through September 22. (609) 989-1191.

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has a juried show through August 11. Visit photogallery14.com.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has “Caithness and Sutherland Landscapes,” photos by Kelli Lynn Abdoney, through July 28. From August 4-25, paintings by Arthur Anderson are on exhibit. The opening is August 4, 1-3 p.m.

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

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

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Form, Rhythm, Song” through September 29. “Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality” is exhibited through September 8. “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound” is on view through October 13. Visit www.michenerart
museum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Henri-Gabriel Ibels” through September 8. “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derriere L’Etoile Studio” is on view through September 29. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music” is on view through September 13.

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

New Hope Arts Center, 37 West Bridge Street, New Hope, has “Cut and Paste: The Art of Ruth Marcus” in its A Space Gallery through July 28.

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, has “Trash Menagerie,” featuring art made from found objects and recycled materials by the library’s Artist Group through July 30.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” through September 15. “Faces and Facets: Recent Acquisitions” is on view through August 18. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Silverman Gallery, 4920 York Route (Route 202), Buckingham Green, Buckingham, Pa., shows “Side by Side,” with more than 175 works by the gallery’s four artists, August 3-September 28. Visit www.silvermangal
lery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Aaron Epstein through August 6.

Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington, has recent oil paintings and studies by Thom Montanari through September 13.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, has works by faculty members on view through September 6. Artists are Priscilla Snow Algava, Hong Lu, Donna Payton, Aparajita Pooja Sen, Adam Reck, and Zakia Ahmed.

NOW TELL US IN DETAIL WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN YOUR HOUSE: Ron and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, seated at the right side of the table) in desperation have turned to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, seated at the left side of the table), recognized psychic researchers, to help exorcise the evil spirit which resides in the Perron’s house.

NOW TELL US IN DETAIL WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN YOUR HOUSE: Ron and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, seated at the right side of the table) in desperation have turned to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, seated at the left side of the table), recognized psychic researchers, to help exorcise the evil spirit which resides in the Perron’s house.

In 1952, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. The couple also turned a wing of their house into a museum of occult artifacts which they collected during their career as psychic researchers.

Lorraine was a celebrated clairvoyant and medium and her World War II veteran husband was the only non-ordained demonologist who was recognized by the Catholic Church. As a team, they investigated thousands of reports of haunted houses over the years, most notably, the Amityville house.

The Conjuring, directed by James Wan (Saw), recounts one of the Warrens’ lesser-known cases. Set in 1971, the film unfolds in Harrisville, Rhode Island when Ed and Lorraine were summoned to the secluded lakefront home of Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lily Taylor).

The Perrons had recently moved into the old farmhouse with their five young daughters (Mackenzie Foy, Joey King, Hayley McFarland, Shanley Caswell, and Kyla Deaver), despite several signs that the place had bad energy. For example, their pet dog refused to enter the house, the smell of rotting meat would periodically permeate the air, and they would awaken every morning to discover that their clocks had stopped running at precisely 3:07 a.m.

Nevertheless, as optimistic new owners, the Perrons did their best to adjust to the disconcerting occurrences, only to have the supernatural spirit gradually increase its disturbances. Before long, it was shaking paintings off the wall, toying with an antique music box, and knocking loudly three times in the middle of the night, presumably as an insult to the Holy Trinity.

Mr. Perron was particularly frustrated by these developments, because, as a truck driver, he often had to be away from his family for as long as a week at a time. The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when the evil doings escalated from annoyances to the demonic possession of a loved one.

When the Vatican dragged its feet about sending an exorcist to the scene, out of desperation the Perrons enlisted the assistance of the Warrens. What ensued was a classic battle between God and the devil heavily laden with Christian symbolism.

If you aren’t offended by an obvious faith-based agenda suggested by exchanges like: “Are you baptized?” “No.” “You might want to rethink that,” this film is a frightening horror film which does a masterful job of ever so slowly ratcheting up the terror. It is the most spine-tingling exorcist flick since — well — since The Exorcist.

Excellent (****). Rated R for disturbing violence and scenes of terror. Running time: 112 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers

 

July 17, 2013

book revShe was at last looking upon those curious beings who rode down from the North — those men of legend and colossal tale — they who were possessed of such marvellous hallucinations.

—Stephen Crane, from “Three Mysterious Soldiers”

During a July 4 NPR broadcast live from Gettysburg, Pa. on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the battle that turned the tide of the Civil War, people were talking about how the historic site should be preserved and remembered. On the street that runs between the battle lines, there are restaurants, souvenir shops, and motels. One Gettysburg historian named Jerry Bennett said it was “a great place to put a motel, right in the middle of it, because you’re sleeping on hallowed ground that night, if you’re a tourist.”

Although there has been a great deal of storm and strife over the Institute for Advanced Study’s plan to build faculty housing on property proximate to our own Battlefield, at least Princeton has been spared the presence of a Travelodge on hallowed ground, not to mention the paranormal buzz that has made Gettysburg a “Mecca for ghost hunters.” A story in the York Daily Record begins, “In a town where even the land beneath McDonald’s is believed by more than one ghost tour guide to be tinged with spiritual energy, Gettysburg has managed to build a booming paranormal industry.” You have to wonder when some pulp novelist or Hollywood idea guru will figure out how to bring zombies to Gettysburg. Think of the feast for the living dead as all those thousands of soldiers congregate on the battlefield for a grisly reenactment before fanning out to dine on the locals, including the faculty and student body of Gettysburg College, not to mention the folks at the Lutheran Seminary.

Southern Fried Chicken

It would take the man who gave us the post-war roadside America of Lolita to do justice to the sight my wife and I beheld on our first and only visit to Gettysburg more than three decades ago. Leering above the spot where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address was the enormous disembodied head of Charlie Weaver, the resident dirty old man on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show. Next to the outsized mug of the man known in real life as Cliff Arquette, father of movie stars Rosanna and Patricia, was the equally immense head of a Confederate soldier preparing to devour a piece of southern fried chicken as big as the Liberty Bell. Online sources confirm that what we saw that day was for real. The Charlie Weaver Museum of the Civil War was then housed in a building that had served as headquarters for General O. O. Howard, now known as the Soldiers National Museum. And today, some four decades later, a recent tour on Google Earth suggests that General Pickett’s Buffet and KFC currently occupy the site of the fried chicken restaurant, the Confederate colossus having given way to the ubiquitous Col. Sanders.

Cousin Jubal

At the time we visited Gettysburg, I was unaware of the part my ancestor, Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, had played in the events of June 26-July 5, 1863. Described in Richard Wheeler’s Witness to Gettysburg as “misshapenly arthritic, religious but profane, snappish with his orders, and impatient of failure,” Early was “a commander who inspired little enthusiasm but had won a full measure of trust.” Apparently old Jube was there before anyone else, having occupied Gettysburg on June 26, on his way to seizing and occupying York, the largest town in the North to fall to the Rebels. Upon capturing Gettysburg, Early demanded a ransom of 1,200 pounds of sugar, 600 pounds of coffee, 60 barrels of flour, 1,000 pounds of salt, 7,000 pounds of bacon, 10 barrels of whiskey, 10 barrels of onions, 1,000 pairs of shoes, and 500 hats, or, “in lieu thereof,” $5,000 in cash. The town council turned him down and while no attempt was made to enforce the requisition, “a few houses were robbed.” Two days later, according to Wheeler, Early’s division reached the Susquehanna River (the farthest east any organized Confederate force would penetrate during the course of the war), collected a $28,000 ransom from York, and was recalled when Lee “concentrated his army to meet the oncoming Federals.” On July 1 Early was approaching Gettysburg from the northeast on the leftmost flank of the Confederate line. After defeating a Yankee division and driving the troops back through the streets of the town, he led the July 2 assault on East Cemetery Hill but was repelled by Union reinforcements, and ended his role at Gettysburg by covering the rear of Lee’s army during its retreat on July 4 and 5.

Reading and Writing

While my maternal ancestors fought for the South, the soldiers on my father’s side of the family, with the glaring exception of Jubal Early, fought for the North. If you grew up in the south, you probably read the novels of the war by southern authors, notably William Faulkner, who expressed in Intruder in the Dust the impact of Gettysburg on “every Southern boy 14 years old,” for whom “there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances.”

For a writer who grew up in the North, the Civil War is an excuse to read the poems in Melville’s Battle Pieces and the war entries in Whitman’s Specimen Days, where he writes from Washington on July 4 1863 of the weather (“warm … after last night’s smart rain … and no dust, which is a great relief for this city”) and of a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue that included three regiments of infantry, “two or three societies of Oddfellows, a lot of children in barouches, and a squad of policemen.” Then: “As I went down the Avenue, saw a big flaring placard on the billboard of a newspaper office, announcing ‘Glorious Victory for the Union Army!’” Walt is on his way to visit wounded soldiers in the Armory hospital with several bottles of blackberry and cherry syrup, “good and strong, but innocent.” Going through several wards, he brings the news from Gettysburg and gives them all “a good drink of the syrups with ice-water, quite refreshing — prepar’d it myself, and serv’d it around.” Meanwhile the city is ringing its bells, “sundown peals for Fourth of July, and the usual fusilades of boys’ pistols, crackers, and guns.”

Stephen Hero

For me, one of the great saving graces of the Civil War is the work of Stephen Crane (1871-1900), who at the age of 24 simply picked up that piece of American history, put it in his pocket, and walked away with it. So nonchalant, so New Jersey somehow, the way the Newark-born 20-something son of a preacher took possession of the subject and wrote stories, novels, poems, and essays about the War, the West and the World in the four years of life left to him.

I’ve been reading The Little Regiment and Other Episodes of the American Civil War, which came out in 1896 on the heels of The Red Badge of Courage. Crane’s literary supremacy in this field profits from his very absence from the experience of the events that began 10 years before he was born. If he’d actually been a soldier or a war correspondent, as he was in the Spanish-American and Greco-Turkish wars, he might have produced fine work but it wouldn’t have glowed with the quality of exalted visitation that makes his fiction so haunting and suggestive. He conjured the war and it appeared before him like a phantom in blue and gray. Hemingway, whose debt to Crane is enormous, called The Red Badge “a boy’s long dream of war.”

There’s a dreamlike quality to “Three Miraculous Soldiers,” which is told from the point of view of a girl who happens to live in the South. Crane makes us know and care about her as if she were our sister, or as if we’d grown up and gone to school with her. She’s no flamboyant storybook spitfire of a Scarlett O’Hara, though in her own shy, sweet, quiet, dazed way she becomes involved in the rescue of three Rebel soldiers hiding in the barn behind her family’s house. A Yankee regiment is camped in a nearby orchard and a captured Rebel is sitting in front of the barn under the watchful eye of a Union sentry with whom he’s been making small talk. At the girl’s urging, and with her help, the three soldiers had been concealed inside a huge feed box at the back of the barn — an object that Crane endows with supernatural splendor, especially when Union soldiers enter the barn and open the box. Afraid for the three men for whom by now she feels responsible, the girl watches as a Union officer reaches in; when he brings forth only a handful of feed, she is “astonished out of her senses at this spectacle of three large men metamorphosed into a handful of feed.” Now the interior of the barn is “uncanny. It contained that extraordinary feed box,” which has become “a mystic and terrible machine, like some dark magician’s trap.”

Crane doesn’t simply believe in literary magic, he practices it, and however much he may commune with his lofty, moody muse, he always keeps human truth at the core of his work, as he does so memorably at the end of “Three Mysterious Soldiers” when the girl who has been vicariously living and dying with the three embattled Rebels kneels in tears over the Union soldier who was wounded when they make their escape. After being assured that he’s all right, “She turned her face with its curving lips and shining eyes once more toward the unconscious soldier upon the floor.” The Union soldiers marvel at how a girl who seems to be “the worst kind of rebel … falls to weeping over one of her enemies.” The Union lieutenant has the last word: “War changes many things; but it doesn’t change everything, thank God!”

Crane’s Vision

I keep coming back to the idea of sleeping on hallowed ground voiced by the man on NPR. I also keep remembering those two grotesque effigies at Gettysburg looming over land that was littered with the bodies of American soldiers 150 years ago. Then I imagine souvenir shops and motels lining the Princeton Pike alongside our own serene battlefield where when we have picnics or walks, we don’t think of scenes of unthinkable carnage but the relatively picturesque death of General Mercer under the late and much lamented Mercer Oak. The wonder of Stephen Crane, who died at 28 in the first spring of the 20th century, is that he had the style and courage and vision and sense of irony and capacity for outrage to have comprehended and encompassed all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

INDIAN MINIATURE: Mana Lalji, ca. 1860, paque watercolor and gilt on paper, 13 7/8 x 9 7/16 inches was purchased by the Princeton University Art Museum from the Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund and is part of an eclectic summer exhibition there through August 18. For more information call (609) 258-3767 or visit: www.artmuseum.princeton.edu.

INDIAN MINIATURE: Mana Lalji, ca. 1860, paque watercolor and gilt on paper, 13 7/8 x 9 7/16 inches was purchased by the Princeton University Art Museum from the Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund and is part of an eclectic summer exhibition there through August 18. For more information call (609) 258-3767 or visit: www.artmuseum.princeton.edu.

This summer, the Princeton University Art Museum will offer visitors a smorgasbord of tasty morsels by way of a special installation designed to highlight the range and depth of its collections.

Faces and Facets, a multifaceted show featuring 50 works acquired since 2010, underscores the Museum’s position among the leading university art museums in the country. Since it was founded in 1882 with a gift of porcelain and pottery, the Museum has grown to include over 80,000 works of ancient to contemporary art of the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, China, the United States, and Latin America.

Exhibition curator Juliana Dweck, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Collections Engagement, faced quite a challenge when the Art Museum decided to put a selection of recent acquisitions on display. The eclectic grouping could have been arranged in any number of ways. In the beginning, the task of handling what seemed like a rather ungainly grouping, became manageable when she decided on a thematic grouping, after soliciting suggestions from her fellow museum curators.

“This exhibition is unusual in that it displays items across a broad range of materials, media, periods, styles, and cultures and it provides a rare opportunity to juxtapose an intentionally eclectic selection,” said Ms. Dweck who has been with the museum for three years and a Mellon Curatorial Fellow for less than two. Although she has managed the interpretations of several exhibitions, this is her curatorial debut.

The exhibition is arranged in four thematic sections and takes its name from the first of these: “Faces and Facets,” which traces the varying ways that “portraits” — whether of a person or an object — both shape and are shaped by the viewer’s understanding of the world. In addition to famous faces like Thomas Edison and Marlene Dietrich, this section, says the curator examines, for example, portraits of a bird and of a building.

The “Symmetry” section plays with the idea of how balance, regularity, and repetition can offer pleasing compositions or suggest the opposite — asymmetry and disorder — to achieve a particular effect. Here are examples of graphic patterns as well as textiles and ceramics.

The section titled “Assemblage” examines how the elements of a work of art can be just as meaningful as the overall configuration. It looks at collage-style items as well as spatial arrangements and images such as one that shows a network of roads in California. Another section, “Revealing and Concealing,” ponders the way in which narratives, visual layers, and data are either encoded (concealed) or exposed (revealed) in works of art. That is to say, explains Ms. Dweck, “it looks at the way art reveals and conceals the truth.

Asked to select a personal favorite, Ms. Dweck says that her favorites vary from day to day. “Today, perhaps because I’ve been spending time with it, it’s most definitely the Chimu Textile, a fragment from Peru circa 1200 A.D. that depicts a procession of prisoners. It is thought to be a record of an historical event and it’s not only historically significant it is very appealing graphically,” she says, adding “one of my other favorites is the 19th century Indian watercolor of Mana Lalji showing him in profile and wearing gold necklaces and holding prayer beads.”

THE OLD MASTER REVEALED: “Self Portrait with Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre, 1634,” etching and drypoint, 5x 4½ inches by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) was given to the Princeton University by Thomas F. and Ada Deuel and is part of an eclectic summer exhibition of recent acquisitions on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through August 18. Admission is free and hours are 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. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. For more information call (609) 258-3767 or visit: www.artmuseum.princeton.edu.

THE OLD MASTER REVEALED: “Self Portrait with Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre, 1634,” etching and drypoint, 5x 4½ inches by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) was given to the Princeton University by Thomas F. and Ada Deuel and is part of an eclectic summer exhibition of recent acquisitions on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through August 18. Admission is free and hours are 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. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. For more information call (609) 258-3767 or visit: www.artmuseum.princeton.edu.

The works on display represent a small selection of the hundreds of gifts and purchases that have recently been added to the Museum’s holdings. They include major works by Rembrandt, Robert Smithson, Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Wilke, and many other artists including Jules Olitski, Philip Pearlstein, Bridget Riley, Florian Schmidt, John Trumbull, and Hale Woodruff. The exhibition features Greek, Japanese, and Native American ceramics; ancient Cypriot and Pre-Columbian sculpture; a Korean six-panel folding screen; a French medieval architectural fragment; Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and African works on paper; and French, British, and American photography.

“The past few years have brought an abundance of stunning and distinguished new objects that complement the Museum’s comprehensive holdings in innumerable ways,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward. “While we often feature new acquisitions throughout our galleries, this seemed an auspicious moment to unveil a number of outstanding works in a special installation offering surprising insights and juxtapositions.”

 

EVEN A SNAIL’S DREAMS CAN COME TRUE: The miraculously transformed snail Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) achieves his life long dream of racing in the Indy 500 race, and even racing against his hero, driver Guy Gagne (not shown). Thanks to a freak accident, Turbo receives a dose of laughing gas which turns him into the fastest snail in the world; fast enough to compete in the annual Indianapolis 500 race.

EVEN A SNAIL’S DREAMS CAN COME TRUE: The miraculously transformed snail Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) achieves his life long dream of racing in the Indy 500 race, and even racing against his hero, driver Guy Gagne (not shown). Thanks to a freak accident, Turbo receives a dose of laughing gas which turns him into the fastest snail in the world; fast enough to compete in the annual Indianapolis 500 race.

Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is ridiculed by his friends for dreaming the impossible dream of competing in the Indianapolis 500. Even his brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), suggests that, “The sooner you accept the reality of your existence, the happier you’ll be.”

After all, Theo is a garden variety suburban snail and so slow he can barely get out of the way of a lawn mower or a child on a tricycle. But that hasn’t stopped him from painting the number “5” and racing stripes on his shell.

Theo whiles away his days dining on tomatoes that have ripened on the vine and fallen to the ground. At night, however, he retreats to his lair to watch TV and see drivers like his hero, Frenchman Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), fly around racetracks at over 200 miles per hour.

However, everything changes the day Theo is sucked into the engine of a passing automobile and accidentally injected with nitrous oxide (laughing gas). When he is deposited back on the ground, somewhere in the inner city, the slowpoke has been transformed into the speed demon, Turbo, thanks to the laughing gas that is now coursing through his body.

The snail quickly becomes the latest internet sensation and is welcomed to the ’hood by a gang of streetwise slugs led by mellow Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), trash-talking Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), and flirtatious Burn (Maya Rudolph). He also finds human benefactors in the kindly co-owners of Dos Bros Tacos, the owners of a mobile Mexican restaurant.

Not surprisingly, all of the above, including the food cart, make their way from Los Angeles to Indiana, with Angelo’s (Luis Guzman) and Tito’s (Michael Pena) life savings paying the Indy 500 entrance fee. At the track, it’s no surprise that the race ultimately becomes an exciting showdown between Turbo and his idol, Guy.

Turbo is the directorial debut of David Soren, and is a visually captivating and inspirational modern parable guaranteed to keep the kids perched on the edge of their seats. Besides its uplifting overcoming the odds message, the movie fills the screen with a menagerie of colorful characters who keep the audience laughing all the way to the satisfying conclusion.

A hilarious variation of Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare.

Excellent (****). Rated PG for mild action and mature themes. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

 

July 10, 2013

book rev proustI can be visited in bed by the brook and the birds of the Pastoral Symphony, which poor Beethoven enjoyed no more directly than I do since he was completely deaf. He consoled himself by trying to reproduce the song of the birds he no longer heard …. I, too, compose symphonies in my own way, when I portray what I can no longer see.

—Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

Proust was able to hear the Pastoral Symphony in bed with the help of a device called a theatrophone, the 1913 equivalent of streaming music. For 60 francs a month, a system using telephone wires connected the subscriber to live performances at eight Paris theaters and concert halls, including the Opéra. According to William C. Carter’s Marcel Proust: A Life (Yale 2000), “no matter how sick he was,” the novelist could place his ear “next to the black trumpet” and enjoy concerts, operas, and even plays.

One drawback to the theatrophone was the erratic quality of the transmission. Three years later Proust solved this problem by inviting a string quartet into his bedroom to play César Franck’s Quartet in D. During a performance “lighted solely by candles,” Proust lay on a divan covered in green velvet “with his eyes closed, without making the slightest movement,” and when the 45-minute-long piece had been played, he thanked the musicians and asked them to play it again. By then it was two in the morning. Proust sealed the deal by giving each man three 50 franc notes that were redeemable for gold. After they finished the second performance, Proust’s housekeeper Celeste Albaret served them champagne and fried potatoes and sent them home in four taxis shortly before dawn. A month later they returned to perform Beethoven’s 13th Quartet.

book rev beethovenMagnificent Monologue 

For more than a week now I’ve been reading Proust and listening to Beethoven’s piano sonatas. After a steady diet of various performances on CDs borrowed from the library, I bought Wilhelm Kempff’s The Late Piano Sonatas on Deutsche Grammophone. Until Kempff (1895-1991), the listening experience had been uneventful, except for reminding me how out of touch I’ve been, not just with the piano music but with Beethoven in general. What finally, dramatically, caught my attention was Kempff’s performance of Sonata number 29 in B flat major (Opus 106), known as the Hammerklavier. I was in the car when the third movement stopped the world and demanded to be heard again and then again. I had to pull over. It’s always exciting when music surprises you, comes at you, conquers you. Seven minutes and twenty seconds into the prodigious Adagio Sostenuto there’s a series of variations so stirring that all you can think is how thankful you are that you heard it before you died. At this point you’re only halfway through the movement Kempf’s liner notes call “the most magnificent monologue Beethoven ever wrote,” an adagio “unequalled in the entire piano literature.” To Andreas Schiff, it’s the “greatest slow movement” ever composed.

While I can find no references to the Hammerklavier in Proust’s work, he must have appreciated what the Adagio Sostenuto does with time, or rather what it allows the pianist to do. At the end of the final volume of Terence Kilmartin’s translation of Remembrance of Things Past, time is “a very considerable place compared to the restricted one which is allotted to [men] in space, a place … prolonged past measure.” How far is the Hammerklavier’s third movement prolonged past measure? The same territory that Kempff traverses in 16½ minutes takes Christoph Eschenbach 25. The wikipedia listing for Sonata number 29 suggests a duration of 16 to 30 minutes. In his attempt to describe “the wonders of this movement,” Kempff refers to “the immense area in which the imagination is free to roam untrammeled” following a “principal subject, whose nocturnal sigh extends over 26 bars.” Spreading his rhetorical wings, Kempff pictures the theme shining through “like a distant star piercing luminous clouds.” At his most inspired (“I, too, compose symphonies … when I portray what I can no longer see”), Proust accomplishes comparable wonders within the prose equivalent of “such an immense area” by filling a single paragraph or even a single sentence with a variety of tones, turns, colors, reversals, metaphors, and associations like the subjects, themes, variations, intervals, inversions, transformations, themes, and recapitulations in Beethoven’s “unequalled” adagio.

Beethoven and the Baron

Almost all of Proust’s references to Beethoven in the seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past relate to his most complex and ambiguous character, Baron de Charlus. Like Proust, the Baron brings musicians into his home. In the drawing room, “one could hear the first chords of the Pastoral Symphony, ‘Joy after the Storm,’ performed somewhere not far away, on the first floor no doubt” by an orchestra. Asked the musicians’ names, M. de Charlus, who refers to Beethoven as “the Deaf One,” says he doesn’t know. “One never does know. It’s invisible music.” Earlier in the same scene from The Guermantes Way, the Baron’s mood-swings are compared to “those symphonies which are played without a break between the different movements, in which a graceful scherzo, amiable and idyllic, follows the thunder-peals of the opening pages.” In The Captive, when a musician named Charles Morel is being scolded for keeping company with Charlus, “a tainted person no one will have in their house,” he is described “sweating more abundantly than if he had played all Beethoven’s sonatas in succession.”

Charlus inspires a movement in the opening pages of Cities of the Plain, where, much as Beethoven does in the monumental adagio, Proust sounds a theme, recapitulates it, and brings it to fruition, all in the space of six pages and two immense paragraphs (the first being four pages long). The gist of what happens is that Marcel, or the Narrator, after peering like “a botanist” at the “offered and neglected pistil” of a “precious plant” in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Guermantes, watches M. de Charlus eyeing and then approaching and in effect picking up an ex-tailor named Jupien, who “strikes poses with the coquetry that the orchid might have adopted on the providential arrival of the bee.” What makes Proust’s orchestration of the moment particularly fascinating is the part Beethoven’s music plays in the development of his motif, a dumbed down version of which would be “the birds and the bees” or in this case, the bee and the “offered pistil” of an orchid in the Guermantes garden.

Five pages into the passage, Proust devotes the greater part of the second paragraph to the way the Baron is looking at Jupien. In the the great adagio, the equivalent would be a series of variations on the theme of the look, detached, attentive, “infinitely unlike the glances we usually direct at a person we scarcely know,” with a “peculiar fixity” as of someone about to tell you “you have a long white thread hanging down your back” or about to employ the pretense that you both come from Zurich and must have seen each other there. At this point, the ways in which the same question seems “to be put to Jupien” through M. de Charlus’s “ogling” are compared to “those questioning phrases of Beethoven’s, indefinitely repeated at regular intervals and intended — with an exaggerated lavishness of preparation — to introduce a new theme, a change of key, a ‘re-entry.’”

Here you might want to catch your breath but the music of the paragraph continues with “the beauty of the reciprocal glances of M. de Charlus and Jupien,” an echo of the Zurich look: “In the eyes of both of them, it was the sky not of Zurich but of some Oriental city, the name of which I had not divined, that I saw reflected.” Aware by now that he has your head spinning, Proust admits the “multiplicity of these analogies.” Speaking of man in general, “if we examine him for a few minutes,” he “appears in turn a man, a man-bird, a man-fish, a man-insect” and before you know it Charlus and Jupien have become “a pair of birds, the male and female,” the female “preening her feathers” as Jupien goes out “through the carriage gate.” The Baron, “trembling lest he should lose the trail,” hurries “to catch up with him,” disappearing “through the gate humming like a great bumble-bee” while “a real one this time” flies “into the courtyard.”

When the Baron made his exit as a bumble-bee, I had to put the book down in order to reflect on Proust’s audacity, much as I had to put the CD player on pause after Beethoven pushed “past measure,” taking me up and up and up the stairway of wonders with those spinechilling variations halfway through the Hammerklavier’s Adagio Sostenuto.

———

The beauty of virtual technology is that you can hear the music for yourself on YouTube (such an ungainly word for so fabulous a resource) and you can zero in on the equivalent word music in Proust through any number of online venues. Finally, it’s a shame that one of the best films ever made about a writer, Percy Adlon’s Celeste, where the scene with the string quartet is enacted, has yet to be released on DVD.

The quote at the top is from a letter to Madame Geneviève Bizet-Straus written around March 1913 from the Letters of Marcel Proust edited by Mina Curtiss (Random House 1949). Barry Cooper’s The Beethoven Compendium (Thames and Hudson 1991) provided a helpful overview of Beethoven. Stewart Goodyear’s June 25 one-day marathon at McCarter (all 32 sonatas in 11 hours) helped spark my interest in exploring Beethoven’s piano music.

 

FACULTY SHOW AT WEST WINDSOR: “Airplane” by Donna Payton features in the West Windsor Arts Council’s second annual summer exhibition of two-dimensional works in paint, pen and ink, and multi-media, by teaching artists, including Priscilla Algava of Princeton; Hong Lu of Morrisville, Pa; Donna Payton of Millstone Township; Aparajita Pooja Sen of West Windsor; and Adam Recktenwald of New Brunswick. The works will be on view Sunday, July 21 through Friday, September 6, with an opening reception Sunday, July 21, from 4 to 6 p.m. and gallery talk at 5 p.m. West Windsor Arts Council, in the historic Princeton Junction Firehouse, is at 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction. For more information and gallery hours, call (609) 716-1931 or visit: www.westwindsorarts.org.

FACULTY SHOW AT WEST WINDSOR: “Airplane” by Donna Payton features in the West Windsor Arts Council’s second annual summer exhibition of two-dimensional works in paint, pen and ink, and multi-media, by teaching artists, including Priscilla Algava of Princeton; Hong Lu of Morrisville, Pa; Donna Payton of Millstone Township; Aparajita Pooja Sen of West Windsor; and Adam Recktenwald of New Brunswick. The works will be on view Sunday, July 21 through Friday, September 6, with an opening reception Sunday, July 21, from 4 to 6 p.m. and gallery talk at 5 p.m. West Windsor Arts Council, in the historic Princeton Junction Firehouse, is at 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction. For more information and gallery hours, call (609) 716-1931 or visit: www.westwindsorarts.org.

Two artists with strong affinities for color are presenting a joint show of their work, titled “True Colors,” at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville.

Alla Podolsky of Philadelphia is a Ukrainian-born artist known for her dog portraits and for narrative paintings that show people in their environments, at home, in bookstores and cafes, often in city or town settings.

“I paint memories,” says Ms. Podolsky, “moments plucked from experiences, and in my mind, they are all bathed in very specific colors. Not necessarily the colors I saw at the time, but rather the colors I felt, the colors of the moods and emotions I remember. If the moment was sad, I paint it in a cooler, more subdued palette. If it was happy, the colors will be brighter. If it’s a distinct memory, the colors are sharper. It’s often not so much a deliberate choice but rather a natural, instinctive one.”

For Charlie Katzenbach of Hopewell, primary colors hold particular attraction. Inspired by the prisms of light falling on the floor of her Hopewell studio, Ms. Katzenbach paints boldly in blue, red, and green oils on glass planes in various geometric designs and constructions. Rainbows are often the result and Ms. Katzenbach could be said to chase the rainbow for this “True Colors” show, which includes vibrant primary colors on glass panes in various geometric designs that are often reminiscent of Amish quilts. One such is her “Equal Rainbows,” 20” by 18”, oil on glass and stained glass.

“I’ve been painting the spectrum for some time,” says Ms. Katzenbach. “I try to capture the brilliant colors that I see as the crystals in my studio window break the light into its components. There is an exuberant joy in the cascade of colors and the rainbow is also a cultural and political symbol celebrating unity despite diversity for both the civil rights and LGBT movements. As a person affected by both this means much to me,” she says, alluding to her own transgender history.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of works on display in “True Colors” will be donated in support of The Trevor Project, a leading national organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.

Since the late 1970s, the rainbow has been a symbol of Gay Pride and has come to represent the diversity of the LGBT movement.

“Artists are storytellers. And colors are our words. And all I can hope for as an artist is that my words speak to people the same way they speak to me when I paint,” says Ms. Podolsky, who describes color as both universal and personal, capable of invoking visceral reactions of love and hate. “To an artist, color is a language. It’s how we communicate. It’s how we compose. It’s how we translate. It’s what connects all artists, no matter what the medium, or style, or form,” she says.

The Artists’ Gallery is a partnership of 18 established artists with national and international reputations. Ms. Katzenbach and Ms. Podolsky are both members of the group that includes such accomplished artists as Beatrice Bork of Flemington, Gail Bracegirdle of Bensalem, Jennifer Cadoff of Princeton, Joe Kazimierczyk of Hillsborough, Patricia Lange of Hopewell, Carol Sanzalone of Lambertville, and Andrew Werth of Princeton Junction. The Artists’ Gallery attracts collectors and art lovers from all over New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

ANTIQUARIAN OF THE WORD: This 20" by 16" oil on canvas painting by Alla Podolsky is among a selection of her works on view in a joint show with Charlie Katzenbach at the Artists' Gallery in Lambertville. "True Colors" continues through August 4. Part of the proceeds from sales benefit The Trevor Project for services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. For more information, call (609) 397-4588 or visit: www.lambertvillearts.com.

ANTIQUARIAN OF THE WORD: This 20″ by 16″ oil on canvas painting by Alla Podolsky is among a selection of her works on view in a joint show with Charlie Katzenbach at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville. “True Colors” continues through August 4. Part of the proceeds from sales benefit The Trevor Project for services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. For more information, call (609) 397-4588 or visit: www.lambertvillearts.com.

“True Colors,” opened Friday, July 5, and will continue through Sunday, August 4 when the artists will host a closing reception from 4 to 6 p.m.

Located at 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, the gallery is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and by appointment. Printed 5×7 inch cards featuring selected artwork by Ms. Podolsky can be purchased from the Artists Gallery for $2.25 each or 10 for $20.

For more information or to arrange a visit outside of regular hours, call (609) 397-4588, or visit: www.lambertvillearts.com.

 

SISTERHOOD SOLIDARITY: Maeve Brady, Holly Linneman, and Sarah Paton (clockwise from the top) play the three MaGrath sisters, struggling to get through “a really bad day” in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comic drama “Crimes of the Heart,” running through July 14 at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus.

SISTERHOOD SOLIDARITY: Maeve Brady, Holly Linneman, and Sarah Paton (clockwise from the top) play the three MaGrath sisters, struggling to get through “a really bad day” in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comic drama “Crimes of the Heart,” running through July 14 at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus.

“But, Babe, you’ve just got to talk to someone about all this,” Meg urges her younger sister in Princeton Summer Theater’s (PST) production of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart (1979). “You just do …. Because it’s a human need. To talk about our lives. It’s an important human need.”

That human need to communicate with others, to talk about our lives, to share our stories, to relive with others the joys and sorrows of our human existence — is not only essential to our humanity. It’s the primary impulse for creating theater, from its roots in ancient Greece to the present, and a pervasive central theme of this tragic comedy.

Crimes of the Heart is the story of one “really bad day” in the lives of the three MaGrath sisters in Hazelhurst, Mississippi in the fall of 1974, five years after Hurricane Camille, and there is enough tragic material here — many different “crimes of the heart,” loves lost and loves abandoned, Granddaddy suffering a stroke, beloved horse struck by lightning, mental disorders, a suicide and other subsequent suicide attempts, domestic abuse, and murder attempts — to overload a classic tragedy. But this play is very funny, in its particularly, darkly humorous way. This masterpiece, which may have exhausted most of Ms. Henley’s best ideas and wildest family stories, is one of the best loved, most frequently produced plays of the last half of the 20th century,

The reunion and bonding of the three sisters, ages 30, 27, and 24, seems to make life bearable, even hopeful, even funny, despite all its distressing calamities. The soul of this play lies somewhere in that powerful sisterhood, that strength of family, that shared past, that opportunity to sit down together and “talk about our lives” with listeners who understand and, in spite of everything, love unconditionally.

The talented, energetic, young PST company is up to the challenges of Crimes of the Heart, making this show a definite crowd-pleaser for enthusiastic summer audiences. Under the direction of Daniel Rattner, last summer’s PST artistic director and recent Princeton University graduate, the cast interacts as a finely tuned ensemble.

As the play opens, it’s oldest sister Lenny MaGrath’s 30th birthday, and she’s trying hard, all by herself, to celebrate with a single candle that won’t exactly stand up on top of the cookie she just bought. Her ovary is deformed, her love life is empty, her grandfather is dying, and her beloved horse has just been struck by lightning. Both parents are long gone. Father left town and mother committed a murder-suicide in the basement, along with the family cat. Lenny’s two sisters have further disgraced the family — Meg with her loose behavior before she headed west to seek fame as a singer in Hollywood, and Babe (who was having an affair with a 15-year-old) for shooting her husband because she “didn’t like his looks.”

The plot may sound more tragic than comedic, but the tone remains light and the dark humor is rich, as Meg, career in shambles, and Babe, out of jail on bail pending trial, return home and the three sisters confront their daunting predicaments.

The three sisters, played by Maeve Brady, Sarah Paton, and Holly Linneman, come to life in lovingly detailed, idiosyncratic, three-dimensional portrayals. The three supporting characters, meddling cousin Chick (Annika Bennett), Meg’s old boyfriend Doc (Evan Thompson), and the eager young lawyer (Pat Rounds), are less fully developed but definitely striking and larger-than-life in their eccentric, memorable characterizations.

The pace is swift, and the drama and humor are absorbing. You might not have ever met anyone quite like these characters, but it is impossible not to care about their odd, troubled lives, and peculiar relationships.

This PST production company is on a roll with this second of four productions in a six-week period. Jeffrey Van Velsor’s unit set presenting Granddaddy’s kitchen, Alex Mannix’s realistic lighting, and Ms. Bennett’s 1970s costumes are all realistic and on target in creating the world of lower middle class, small-town Mississippi in 1974.

In addition to talent, abundant and diverse experience in both academic and professional theater, intelligence and imagination, this company benefits greatly from their close, continuing working relationships and also from the fact that all the ages of the characters in this play are within ten years of the actors playing the roles. The performances, outlandish as some of these characters and their actions might be, are thoroughly credible. The PST actors understand these characters. Their portrayals exude sympathetic appreciation, and the chemistry is powerful among the sisters and between each of them and the other characters in the play — exciting and gratifying to watch.

Originally produced by the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979, Crimes of the Heart opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1980, then moved to Broadway where it won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for drama and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best American play. In 1986 Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek starred in a popular movie version with screenplay by Ms. Henley. Now this first-rate Princeton Summer Theater revival happily demonstrates, with moving warmth and humor, that the passions of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, and the resulting “crimes of the heart,” as well as the need to share the stories of our lives, have a timeless relevance, interest, and appeal.

 

In the 2012 film A Late Quartet, the story of a fictional string quartet’s struggles toward possible dissolution, the second violinist character suggested switching chairs with the first violinist so he could take a turn leading the ensemble. The idea was met with horror from the rest of the ensemble, suggesting that maybe there is a hierarchy between violinists in a string quartet. The Amphion String Quartet proved this theory wrong in their performance last Tuesday night as violinists Katie Hyun and David Southorn easily traded chairs for three principal works on the program. In the penultimate concert of the Princeton University Summer Concert series, the Amphion Quartet’s performance at Richardson Auditorium was a crisp and meticulous presentation of music of the 19th century.

Ms. Hyun and Mr. Southorn, joined by violist Wei-Yang Andy Lin and cellist Mihai Marica, devoted the first half of the program to Franz Schubert. Schubert’s String Quartet No. 9 in G minor alternated between drama and grace, colored by a fierce and tragic character heard in other Schubert works in the same key. The Amphion players demonstrated a youthful sound, with Mr. Southorn leading the ensemble well as first violin. The first movement Allegro, demanded intense playing from the upper strings, with Mr. Marica providing delicate cello background.

Schubert was one of the great melodists of music history, which could be heard in the second movement Andantino. The quartet overall paid close attention to subtle classical upbeats, maintaining a great deal of tension in sequential passages. The movement was marked by a graceful dialog between first violin and cello in which Mr. Marica’s bow seemed to barely touch the strings yet the sound echoed through the hall.

Like the Dorian Wind Quintet last week, the Amphion String Quartet turned to a contemporary composer for a new twist on 19th-century music, in this case American composer Bruce Adolphe. The Brentano String Quartet commissioned Mr. Adolphe in 2010 to put a 21st-century spin on the 40-bar Andante passage from Schubert’s unfinished Quartet in C minor. Mr. Adolphe’s one-movement Fra(nz)g-mentation, led by Ms. Hyun as first violinist, was more jarring than Schubert’s completed work would have been. Mr. Marica opened and closed the work with a cello soliloquy, with more heard from Mr. Lin on viola than in the Schubert original.

The Amphion Quartet gave the second half of the concert over to a not-often heard String Quartet No. 1 in G minor of Edvard Grieg, composed with significant Nordic influence, beginning with the unison “Spillamaed” song which opened the first movement. This four-movement work was both dramatic and romantic, with continual rise and fall of tension. The first movement melody played by first violinist Mr. Southorn was backed by an icy and stark accompaniment from the other three instruments. A dialog between cello and viola in the first movement demonstrated an almost indiscernible timbre between the two instruments, as Mr. Marica utilized the upper register of the cello. This work also included a number of gypsy-like passages, which the Amphion Quartet played with great flourish and uniformity in bowing and rhythm.

The relatively young Amphion String Quartet (founded in 2009) has had considerable success in its short history, including competition wins, a Carnegie Hall debut, and an overseas tour. Their performance last week at Richardson was another case of the Princeton Summer Concerts series giving audiences a chance to hear young and up-and-coming performers on their way to their destinies as top-quality ensembles.

 

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

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has works by painters Alla Podolsky and Charlie Katzenbach through August 4. Visit lambertvillearts.com.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street, has a Terrace Project by Chris Maher and Instructor/Student Work on view through July. www.artscouncilof
princeton.org.

Bank of Princeton Community Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “Fresh eyes on art” featuring young Bucks County artists, through July 13.

Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University has “Passages: Mixed Media Artwork by Ela Shah” through September 11. (609) 497-2441.

Cherry Grove Farm, 3200 Route 206, Lawrenceville, is displaying work by members of The Creative Collective throughout the summer. Visit meetup.com/Creative-Collec
tive-of-Mercer-County.

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

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents the Delaware Valley Fine Crafts Invitational and “Memories of Warsaw,” paintings and drawings by Kyle Hamilton, through July 28. “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909” is on view through September 22. (609) 989-1191.

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has a juried show July 12-August 11.Visit photogallery14.com.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has “Caithness and Sutherland Landscapes,” photos by Kelli Lynn Abdoney, through July 28.

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

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

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Form, Rhythm, Song” through September 29. “Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality” is exhibited through September 8. “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound” is on view July 20-October 13. Visit www.michenerartmuseum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Henri-Gabriel Ibels” through September 8. Works by Russian artist Leonid Sokov are displayed through July 14. “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derriere L’Etoile Studio” is on view through September 29. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music” is on view through September 13. On July 10, “Art After Hours” will celebrate a new exhibit, “Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children Illustrated by Jean & Mou-sien Tseng” from 5-9 p.m. The Cancion Franklin Band will perform; admission is $5. The exhibit runs through June 22, 2014.

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

New Hope Arts Center, 37 West Bridge Street, New Hope, has “Cut and Paste: The Art of Ruth Marcus” in its A Space Gallery July 13-28.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, has “The Re-Connection Project: Endangered Birds of New Jersey” through July 15. Visit statemuseum.nj.gov.

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, has “Trash Menagerie,” featuring art made from found objects and recycled materials by the library’s Artist Group through July 30.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” through September 15. “American Prospects: 19th Century City Views by William James Bennett” is shown through July 14. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Aaron Epstein through August 6. The opening is July 12, 7-9 p.m.

Tinicum Arts Festival, Tinicum Park, Route 32, Erwinna, Pennsylvania, has works by John Schmidtberger, who will paint at the site beginning at 11 a.m. July 13. The festival continues through July 14, 5 p.m. Visit www.TinicumArtsFes
tival.org.

Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington, has recent oil paintings and studies by Thom Montanari July 12-September 13. The opening is July 12, 6-9 p.m. (609) 737-3838.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, has “Full Circles/Painters Circle,” the work of older artists, through July 20.

SO SORRY TO INTERRUPT YOUR DAUGHTER’S BIRTHDAY PARTY, BUT CAN YOU HELP US?: Attractive Agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) shows up unexpectedly at Gru’s daughter Agnes’s birthday party to beg him to help her organization, the Anti-Villain League, track down the nefarious villain who has stolen a top secret transmutation potion PX-41, and retrieve the vials before they can be put in use by the villains.

SO SORRY TO INTERRUPT YOUR DAUGHTER’S BIRTHDAY PARTY, BUT CAN YOU HELP US?: Attractive Agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) shows up unexpectedly at Gru’s daughter Agnes’s birthday party to beg him to help her organization, the Anti-Villain League, track down the nefarious villain who has stolen a top secret transmutation potion PX-41, and retrieve the vials before they can be put in use by the villains.

When we last saw Gru (Steve Carell), the diabolical bad guy had abandoned his plan to steal the moon, turned over a new leaf, and settled in suburbia to raise the three adorable orphans he had adopted. At this action-packed adventure’s point of departure, we find the new family man contentedly doting on his demanding daughters, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher) with the help of his loyal army of minions.

However, in the middle of a medieval-themed birthday party for Agnes, he is asked to come out of retirement by Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League (AVL). It seems that a research lab, where scientists had been developing a top secret transmutation potion, has vanished.

Lucy further explains that the substance, PX-41, could be the most devastating weapon on Earth, should it fall into the wrong hands. And since it takes a villain to catch a villain, it is her hope that Gru will lead AVL’s effort to track down the serum-snatching scoundrel.

Gru weighs his fatherly duties against the urgent call to apprehend a villain bent on world domination. Yet another consideration, is that he’s developing a crush on the cute spy who is seeking his assistance.

So, it’s not long before the two are on the trail of El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), a Mexican madman intent on morphing Gru’s minions into man-eating monsters. Complications ensue when the outlaw’s handsome son, Antonio (Moises Arias), starts chasing after Margo after meeting her in the mall.

Therefore, Gru’s challenging mission involves retrieving the vials of PX-41, protecting his teenager’s virtue, and wooing the love of his life.

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Despicable Me 2 is an inspired sequel. Far from a mere rehash of the winning elements which made the animated original such a hit, this episode features enough fresh ideas and funny moments to stand on its own and even warrant another film in the series.

Of course, the pat Hollywood ending is a foregone conclusion, but nobody’s complaining when the roller coaster ride is so thoroughly enjoyable.

Excellent (***½ stars). Rated PG for crude humor and mild action. Running time: 98 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures

 
July 3, 2013

In the world of chamber music, there are numerous string quartets but fewer small ensembles combining wind instruments. The Dorian Wind Quintet, founded at Tanglewood more than 50 years ago, has collaborated with a number of composers, festivals, and educational institutions, exploring and creating repertoire for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. The five members of the Dorian Wind Quintet came to Richardson Auditorium last Thursday night as part of the Princeton University Summer Concerts series, presenting works from the 18th to 20th centuries.

Flutist Gretchen Pusch, oboist Gerard Reuter, clarinetist Benjamin Fingland, bassoonist John Hunt, and hornist Karl Kramer-Johansen opened their program with an intriguing work from a composer with longevity in both age and reputation — the 1948 Quintet for Woodwinds of Elliott Carter, who died last year at the remarkable age of 103. The music of Carter can be described as intricate and complex and the Dorian Quintet achieved a smooth blend among the instruments, with crisp rhythmic figures and refreshing unisons. Mr. Kramer-Johansen’s horn playing melded well into the instrumental texture, and the quintet found particularly elegant sonorities in the second movement, Allegro.

The Dorian Quintet devoted a considerable portion of Thursday night’s concert to the musical influence of Antonin Reicha, one of a myriad of late 18th-century Bohemian composers who were overshadowed by the German and Austrian titans. Reicha’s Quintet in E-flat Major for Winds was every bit as charming as the chamber music of Mozart, but the works of Reicha and some of his contemporaries is not nearly as well known. Reicha’s Quintet in E-Flat is but a portion of his Opus 88, a large compendium of wind quintets, and the Dorian players focused on the work’s classical sophistication and characteristic melodic appeal that marked European music of the late 18th century.

The opening movement of the Reicha Quintet began with similar chords to Mozart’s opera overtures, and the Dorian Quintet made the most of every tapered phrase and appoggiatura. The players demonstrated graceful dialogs between flute and bassoon as well as clarinet and horn. The third movement, Andante, was so melodic (especially from the horn solo) it could have been an aria from an opera.

The Dorian Wind Quintet took Reicha’s tunefulness one step further in the early 2000s by commissioning five composers to write variations on the opening theme of the Quintet in E-flat Major. The grazioso theme was presented by oboist Mr. Reuter, after which the Dorian Quintet launched into five variations marked by quick and precise playing, as each instrumentalist took a turn leading the music. The variation by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett was sprightly with a quick harmonic twist and full of moving parts, while George Perle’s treatment was led by flutist Ms. Pusch (with echoes by Mr. Reuter) and contained some of the more dissonant passages. Staccato effects from hornist Mr. Kramer-Johansen marked the “Draino” variation of Bruce Adolphe and a majestic variation, complete with horn call, by Lee Hoiby closed the set with complex and intricate instrumental colors.

Thursday night’s performance, the second in the 2013 Princeton Summer Concerts series, was as refreshing as water ice in a summer which is starting off a bit on the hot and muggy side. The remaining concerts in the series will no doubt be just as energizing as Princeton relaxes into the summer music season.

—Nancy Plum