November 26, 2014

book revA nondescript sign hanging above an uninviting door on a street in Philadelphia says ART, BOOKS. The door opens easily and what you see on the other side makes it feel like you’ve walked into a movie.

There are all kinds of interiors, some dull, some posh, and then there are vistas like the one extending into the far distance. Books and art are here, as promised. Piled on top of floor-to-ceiling shelves teeming with volumes from the era before ISBN numbers are paintings, jumbled, tumbled, balanced, constructively haphazard, as if arranged by a Hollywood set designer on a roll, canvases framed and unframed, original artworks, some of it shrill and chaotic, like hieroglyphics gone wild, graffiti that couldn’t find the right wall. As you venture farther back, past immense, picturesquely faded 19th-century French posters advertising livraisons partout gratis by Paul de Kock, you find boxes of old records, sheet music, postcards, vintage magazines and newspapers, auction catalogues, and, filling the last long stretch of the vista, antiques with enough charisma to suggest that a Maltese Falcon or Brasher Doubloon might be found on the premises.

So if this is a movie, what’s it about, where’s it coming from, and where’s it going? The genre that makes the most sense for such a murky, intriguingly disordered setting is film noir. Except that doesn’t fit with my idea of Philadelphia, even though literary historians say Poe invented the detective story here, writing “Murders in the Rue Morgue” a few years before George Lippard produced The Quaker City … A Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery, and Crime (1845), one of the wildest, weirdest Gothic mind-benders ever written. It’s also true that the City of Brotherly Love is where two bop piano geniuses suffered brain-damaging beatings in the 1940s, Bud Powell at the hands of the police, Dodo Marmarosa attacked by a gang of sailors who dumped him headfirst on the dockside railroad tracks. You could fashion a tragic noir around either man, both of whom never fully recovered.

The idea of a movie about an embattled pianist brings to mind François Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which was based on a novel by what’s-his-name, the writer of the book behind one of my favorite noirs, Dark Passage. I’m thinking of the scene where Bogart goes out in the middle of the San Francisco night to find a plastic surgeon because he needs a new face. The doctor who does the job is philosophical, telling Bogart “There’s no such thing as courage, only the fear of getting hurt and the fear of dying.” For some reason that line gives me the name I was looking for, David Goodis. Because Dark Passage was set in San Francisco, I always thought Goodis lived out there. In fact, he’s right here, right where he belongs, with these thoughts of beatings and piano players in this vast curiosity shop in the City of Brotherly Love.

Finding David Goodis

Looking him up online that night, I learn that David Goodis was born and grew up in Philadelphia, studied for a year at my alma mater Indiana University before transferring to Temple, where he graduated in 1938 with a journalism degree, moved to New York City, worked in advertising, wrote for pulps like Horror Stories, Terror Tales, and Dime Mystery, published Dark Passage in the Saturday Evening Post, sold it to Hollywood, knew the stars (there are photos of him with Bogart and Bacall). Then back to his hometown for good to become the poet laureate of Philadelphia noir, turning out Gold Medal paperbacks like The Moon in the Gutter, Nightfall, Cassidy’s Girl, Of Tender Sin, Street of the Lost, and Down There, the book that went to Paris and became Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste.

The only thing by Goodis I could find locally is a paperback of Shoot the Piano Player. Here’s the first paragraph:

There were no street lamps, no lights at all. It was a narrow street in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. From the nearby Delaware a cold wind came lancing in, telling all alley cats they’d better find a heated cellar. The late November gusts rattled against midnight-darkened windows, and stabbed at the eyes of the fallen man in the street.

That’s an irresistible opening, word-music and articulated atmosphere as mood-making as Charles Asnavour’s beyond worldweary face glooming above the piano in Truffaut’s film, which brings the melody of feeling to life much as Goodis describes it: “a soft, easygoing rhythm, somewhat plaintive and dreamy, a stream of pleasant sound that seemed to be saying, Nothing matters.” As for the piano player, he’s “slightly bent over, aiming a dim and faraway smile at nothing in particular.”

Where fiction most impressively surpasses film and makes you understand why Henry Miller said the novel was “even better” than the movie is in the love story between the piano player and the waitress. In the film Lena is played by Marie Dubois, whose charming wholesome beauty and lovely smile make it a foregone conclusion that Aznavour’s Eddie would be instantly infatuated. Gaddis’s depiction of the awkward evolution of a deeply felt relationship is so tensely and determinedly understated that it takes on a force greater than all the violence in a violent book. Dubois’s youthful charm is no match for the presence and power of Gaddis’s waitress. This is why the end of Down There has an emotional impact beyond anything in the film. After seeing the woman he was afraid to fall in love with shot dead in the snow, the piano player goes back to the refuge he found after his fall from concert hall glory, a dockside dive called Harriet’s Hut, where Lena worked. One way he tries to resist loving her is to think of her not by name but as “the waitress” right up to the moment of her death — “down there” in South Jersey.

“Less is more” is the line Gaddis follows from the cold wind of the opening paragraph to the deliverance of the conclusion, with Goodis, like a pianist himself, at his own keyboard. People in the bar are urging him to play, they all but lift him onto the stool, but he’s “got nothing to give them,” until a whisper comes “from somewhere” telling him he can try. When, with eyes closed, he hears the sound, “warm and sweet,” coming from a piano, he thinks, “That’s a fine piano …. Who’s playing that?” And as the story ends: “He opened his eyes. He saw his fingers caressing the keyboard.”

Earlier, when he heard jazz coming over a car radio, the piano player said something similar to himself, “That’s very fine piano … I think that’s Bud Powell.”

It’s said that during his year and a half confinement at Creedmore after the Philadelphia attack, Bud Powell drew a keyboard on the wall of his cell, so he could open his eyes and see it there and imagine his fingers moving on the keys.

The Writer as the Player

The cover of La vie en noir et blanc, the biography of David Goodis by Philippe Garnier (Editions de Seuil 1984), has a photograph of Goodis at the piano, a cigarette in his mouth. After reading his way through Goodis’s dark world, Garnier commented, “I find it very difficult to imagine springtime in Philadelphia.”

Julian Rackow, Goodis’s lawyer in the suit he brought against the hit TV series The Fugitive for allegedly stealing ideas from Dark Passage, found it no less difficult to put his impression of Goodis into words, at least until he saw Shoot the Piano Player: “Upon leaving the theater, my wife said that I looked as pale as a ghost. I was shaken because it was as if I had seen David Goodis.” Besides observing that the Aznavour character had “many of the personality and physical traits of David Goodis,” Rackow felt that both men were versions of “the quintessential loner.” The piano player was the writer, “all wrapped up tightly within himself … far more comfortable within his own shell.”

Streets Given Meaning

On the same day that began at the emporium behind the ART/BOOKS sign, my son and I drove to a used record store called Sit & Spin on South Ninth in the Italian market, a part of the city I’m not very familiar with and at the time had no desire to know better. On our way, we covered a lot of ground, crossing innumerable four-way-stop intersections of streets that had no particular significance for me.

At home, after discovering a fantastically informative web site called “Shooting Pool with David Goodis,” I learned just how wide a swath of urban territory his novels encompass. Those insignificant street names I’d passed earlier that day were now charged with meaning, fiction and real-life merging in an area the web site calls Goodisville: “The majority of the novels were set in Skid Row, the Delaware River docks, Kensington, Southwark, and Port Richmond. Three of these areas are truly lost to contemporary Philadelphians. Working class Southwark is now Queens Village, most of which is increasingly upscale. Dock Street, overlooking the waterfront and once the center of a sprawling and cacophonous produce market, is now the location of independent film theaters, and of the Society Hill Towers apartments. Skid Row fell to redevelopment plans over 30 years ago; the derelicts, the fleabag hotels, and the Sunday Breakfast Association have long been unlamented.”

The circumstances of David Goodis’s death at 49 in March 1967 have a noirish aspect. While the official cause is given as a “cerebral vascular accident,” the consensus seems to be that it resulted from the beating Goodis suffered while resisting a hold-up attempt.

Down There can be found in the Library of America’s anthology American Noir of the 1950s. Gaddis has a volume all to himself in Five Noir Novels.The 2nd Street emporium is Jules Goldman Books and Antiques.

movie rev

WHAT’S HAPPENING TO PEETA?: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been pressed into service to help quell the insurrection in Panem. Nonetheless, she worries about the fate of her friend Peeta, who is under the control of Panem’s president Coriolanus. (Photo by Murray Close – © 2014 – Lionsgate)


In recent years movie studios have split their adaptations of finales from young adult book series — most notably, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Twilight: Breaking Dawn — into two movies. The ploy is apparently an attempt to milk the last dollar out of the end of movies about the series of books.

The Hunger Games is no exception as it divides in half Mockingjay, the last book in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling science fiction trilogy. Unfortunately, the movie treads water while it is setting the stage for the dramatic conclusion that will occur in the final film.

Directed by Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), the movie again stars Jennifer Lawrence (as protagonist Katniss Everdeen) with a support cast featuring Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee.

At the point of departure, we find the country of Panem in chaos and on the brink of revolution. Hunger Games victor Katniss reluctantly allows herself to be recruited by the leader of the rebellion, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), to appear in propaganda videos that are designed to foment insurrection.

However, except for Katniss fretting about the mental state of her pal Peeta, who is in the clutches of Panem’s ruthless president, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), not a lot transpires in this anticlimactic film. And — we will have to wait another year for the denouement.

Fair (H). Rated PG-13 for intense violence, disturbing images, and mature themes. Running time: 123 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.


Richardson Chamber Players is moving into its second decade, and the ensemble has settled into a smooth-running chamber music machine. Sunday afternoon’s performance at Richardson Auditorium reaffirmed the ensemble’s mission to present, as co-founder Michael Pratt described, “Unique pieces that are well-known but rarely heard live.”

The Chamber Players devoted the first half of Sunday’s concert to the late 18th and early 19th century. The chamber music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is well-researched and performed, but the early 19th-century Italian guitarist and composer Mauro Giuliani (who had almost as short a life) is a little-known treasure in chamber music repertory. Giuliani was considered a virtuoso in his time, joining a rich musical tradition and history when he moved to Vienna in the early 1800s. Giuliani’s Gran Duetto Concertante for Flute and Guitar, Opus 52 was full of the light and crystalline clarity of the late Classical era, and one can easily envision listening to this work in a Viennese salon or outdoor concert. Guitarist Laura Oltman and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld maintained a consistently crisp dialog, with both instruments speaking very clearly in the hall. When accompanying, Ms. Oltman’s guitar chords were supportive of the lyrical flute melody, and Ms. Rosenfeld varied sequential passages well in dynamics. The third movement in particular resembled a youthful Mozart, with precise dotted rhythms in the flute and extremely quick fingering from both instruments.

Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major, K. 452 was called by the composer the “best thing I’ve ever written,” and came during his highly prolific decade of the 1780s. In this work Mozart experimented with innovative forms of instrumentation, compositionally pairing up oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn in different combinations to create a wide range of sonorities. Oboist Matthew Sullivan and bassoonist Robert Wagner sat across from clarinetist Jo-Ann Sternberg and hornist Chris Komer, passing musical thoughts and melodies across and diagonally to one another, all ably accompanied by pianist Margaret Kampmeier.

Throughout the three-movement work, the instrumentalists punctuated the piano phrases well, as Ms. Kampmeier conveyed fluidity from the typically Mozartean piano accompaniment. Mr. Komer provided consistently clean and solid horn playing, and duets among all the instruments were well timed and lyrical. There did not seem to be a real leader among the players; they all seemed to work together with ease. By the 1780s, Mozart had many coloristic choices in continually evolving orchestra instruments, and unique sonorities continually held the audience’s attention, especially delicate passages from the flute and upper register of the piano, and oboe and clarinet colors that were almost interchangeable.

A short but jewel-like piece allowed Ms. Oltman to show the full range of the guitar, playing Francis Poulenc’s Sarabande for Solo Guitar with every note resounding in the hall. This 1960 work, composed a few years before Poulenc’s death, incorporates early 20th-century impressionism into a 17th-century form. Using the slightest amount of vibrato, Ms. Oltman brought out both melody and poignancy. Poulenc’s Sextet for Winds and Piano, composed significantly earlier than the Sarabande but far more complex, seemed to divide the participating instruments into two forces — flute and oboe versus clarinet, bassoon, and horn, all again accompanied by Ms. Kampmeier. When playing together, the instrumentalists’ collective sound was jarring, and the players brought out a great deal of drama from the work. Both bassoonist Mr. Wagner and hornist Mr. Komer provided very lyrical melodies, while flute and oboe passages in thirds from Ms. Rosenfeld and Mr. Sullivan were haunting in sonority. This three-movement piece covered a wide range of moods, with the six players working together well to shift musical gears quickly.

Richardson Chamber Players seems to have programmed the current season around musical “treasures” and “jewels.” The roster of players who comprise this ensemble are no doubt enjoying this season’s journey into the more unknown chamber works in the repertory.

Richardson Chamber Players’s next performance will be on Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 3 p.m. Titled “Pierrot’s Stage,” the concert will feature Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” and other chamber works. For information visit



Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery, Princeton Day School, 650 Great Road, has film drawings and a continual film screening of works by Jerry Hirniak through December 18.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “Ideal Forms: The Art of Alan J. Klawans and Andrew Werth” through November 30. From December 4-February 1, the 19th Annual Holiday Exhibition will be on view. www.Lambertville

Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, has “25th Anniversary Celebration for the Princeton Artists Alliance” through November 26, and “Terrace Project: B Homes by Peter Abrams and Graham Apgar” through May 4. www.artscouncilof

Artworks, Everett Alley off Stockton Street, Trenton, has “Art all Day” exhibit through November 29.

Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, features photography by Jon Lowenstein through December 4. (609) 497-2441.

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, “Botanicals Illuminated” through January 9. (609) 924-4646.

Don’t Toss It Gallery, 204 North Union Street, Lambertville, has works by upcycling artist Steve Venuto through December 31.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, has “Splash! Promising Watercolorists” through January 18. “Ties That Bind: The Aprons of Trenton” runs through March 1. Through January 9, The Ellarslie Victorian Room Christmas is on display. (609) 989-3632.

Gallery Art Times Two, Princeton Brain and Spine Center Institute, 731 Alexander Road Suite 200, has “portraits/ 8 artists” from December through May. The reception is December 5, 5-7 p.m. (609) 921-9001.

Gourgaud Gallery, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, shows Art from the Gourgaud Gallery Committee through November 30. “Cranbury Art in the Park” is December 7-28.

Grounds for Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, has “Seward Johnson: The Retrospective,” through July. “Michael Graves: Past as Prologue” is on view through April 5, celebrating 50 years of the architect’s design firm. The International Sculpture Center’s 20th Annual Student Award Exhibition is also shown through April 5. Visit

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, has “Princeton’s Portrait: Vintage Photographs from the Historical Society of Princeton” Wednesday-Sunday, noon-4 p.m. The show is also on view at the Updike Farm location, 354 Quaker Road, every first Saturday, noon-4 p.m. $4 admission.

Hopewell Branch, Mercer County Library, 245 Pennington Titusville Road, Pennington, has paintings by Tim Parris through December.

Hopewell Valley Community Bank, 280 Route 31, Hopewell, has drawings and paintings by Paul Mordetsky and Kyle Stevenson through December.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Wendy Patton: Nuit Blanche” through December 7. “Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography” runs through February 8, and “A Sense of Place: Paintings by Ranulph Bye” is on view through March 1. Visit www.michenerart

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Bugs & Frogs & Toads! Oh My! Original Children’s Book Illustrations” by Nancy Winslow Parker, through June 21, “Odessa’s Second Avenue Avant-Garde: City and Myth” through April 19, works by George Segal through December 31, and the first posthumous show of Russian contemporary artist Oleg Vassiliev through December 31. Visit www.

Lewis Library, Fine Hall Wing at Princeton University, has an exhibit, “The Mapping of Tibet from the 17th Century” through December 31. (609) 258-6804.

MCCC Gallery, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, has “Ice Next Time,” textiles and artifacts, through December 4.

Morven Museum and Garden, 55 Stockton Street, has docent-led tours of the historic house and its gardens, furnishings, and artifacts. “Hail Specimen of Female Art!” runs through March 29. (609) 924-8144 or

Nassau Club, 6 Mercer Street, has “Color Windows,” paintings by Jane Adriance, through January 4.

New Hope Arts Center, 2 Stockton Avenue, New Hope, Pa., has “Works in Wood” weekends through December 14. www.

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, has “Princeton Underground: 2020;” an exhibit of photos by Alan Chimacoff urging the placement of electrical wires underground, through January 3.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Chigusa and the Art of Tea in Japan” through February 1. “Kongo Across the Waters” runs through January 25. Call (609) 258-3788.

Princeton University Firestone Library has “Nova Caesarea: A Cartographic Record of the Garden State, 1666-1888,” through January 25.

Rago Arts & Auction Center, 333 North Main Street, Lambertville, hosts a talk on Art Nouveau by Benjamin Macklowe on December 2, 6 p.m., during the preview week for Rago’s Great Estates, Jewelry and Silver Auctions. Visit

University Medical Center at Princeton, Plainsboro, has in its gallery “Paintings and Works on Paper by Jean Burdick” through February 28.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, has the “Off the Wall” exhibition through January 3. The opening reception and artisan market is December 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (609) 716-1931.

The Artists’ Gallery at 18 Bridge Street in Lambertville will hold its 19th annual Holiday Exhibition featuring artwork by its 16 member artists from Thursday, December 4, through Sunday, February 1, 2015. There will be a free opening reception for the artists on Saturday, December 6, from 4 to 7 p.m.

Each year, Artists’ Gallery, one of Lambertville’s longest running art galleries, celebrates the holiday season and the beginning of the new year with a group show. “Our Holiday Show is an excellent opportunity both for collectors and art lovers to meet the gallery artists and for the artists to offer a selection of work they are especially excited to present,” said gallery artist Beatrice Bork. “It is a fun event with serious artworks but at a variety of price points just in time for the holidays,” said fellow gallery artist Paul Grecian.

For the show, each gallery artist will offer personally selected pieces or work. Besides Ms. Bork and Mr. Grecian, the artists include Jane Adriance, José Anico, Gail Bracegirdle, Richard Harrington, Joe Kazimierczyk, Alan Klawans, Patricia Lange, Alla Podolsky, James Pryor, Eric Rhinehart, Carol Sanzalone, Michael Schweigart, Charles David Viera, and Andrew Werth.

Since its inception in 1995, Artists’ Gallery has exhibited the work of area artists in a variety of styles and media. This diversity of styles is a point of pride for the artist-run gallery and means collectors of all types can enjoy exploring the gallery’s many different rooms. Visitors will find paintings, photography, digital prints, sculpture, and more in media that include oil, watercolor, pastel, acrylic, ink, and ceramic.

Each of the artists on the gallery’s roster was juried by their peers based upon the quality and style of their work. Because Artists’ Gallery is run by the artists, visitors benefit from being able to speak with at least one exhibitor during each visit and may meet several artists during a group show. The artists are always pleased to speak about their materials, techniques, and motivations.

Artists’ Gallery hours are Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or by private appointment. For more information, visit:


November 19, 2014

DVD revI suggest that Hitchcock belongs —and why classify him at all? — among such artists of anxiety as Kafka, Dostoevsky, and Poe. —François Truffaut

According to a 2012 critics poll in the British film journal, Sight and Sound, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is “the greatest film ever made.” You can be sure that enlightened movie watchers around the world dispute that declaration, and with good reason. Even if I believed in the legitimacy of film rankings by “authorities” in the field, Vertigo would be nowhere near the top of my list. But when the late Robin Wood, whose writings on Hitchcock are classics of film criticism, demonstrates in eloquent and convincing detail why Vertigo is “one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has given us,” I’m moved to reexamine my feelings about it, especially when a remastered print is available on DVD.

Having now seen the film twice in a three day period, I’m less appalled by the idea that people new to the medium or with limited knowledge of it will take the poll seriously enough to assume that Vertigo somehow sets the standard for  film greatness. In the context of its era, it stands alone, a fascinating creation, ahead of its time, daring, inventive, and uncompromising. What sets it apart in addition to Hitchcock’s predictably masterful direction is Robert Burks’s cinematography, Bernard Herrmann’s score, and Jimmy Stewart’s performance as a man doomed to fall in love. Only Hitchcock could film a love story that takes the romantic metaphor to a morbid extreme. At the same time, as is frequently the case with Hitchcock, the picture suffers from the same lapses and  excesses associated with the pop culture legend he crafted for himself as cinema’s rotund “Imp of the Perverse” — excesses he shares with the “Imp’s” author, that other morbid genius and master of the macabre, of whom Hitchcock has written: “… it’s because I liked Edgar Allan Poe’s stories so much that I began to make suspense films.”

Mad Love

Freely adapted from D’entre les morts, a lame thriller concocted by Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau to catch Hitchcock’s attention, Vertigo is about a police detective named Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) who has retired from the force due to acrophobia brought on when he nearly falls to his death while pursuing a suspect. A college friend hires Ferguson to shadow his elegant, allegedly suicidal wife, Madeline (Kim Novak), who has been behaving strangely, brooding in cemeteries and communing with a museum portrait of her ghostly alter ego, Carlotta Valdes (a name that Poe would love). After saving her life when she jumps into San Francisco Bay, Ferguson falls in love with her and she with him, but when she jumped off the top of a Spanish mission bell tower to her death, he was unable to save her because of his fear of heights. The shock and the nightmares it engenders precipitate a nervous breakdown, from which he recovers with help from Midge, his former girlfriend who still loves him (a bespectacled Barbara Bel Geddes). When he meets Judy, a sales clerk without an elegant bone in her body (Kim Novak again) but with a haunting resemblance to Madeline, he’s compelled to make her over in the image of his dead beloved. This he accomplishes, only to discover that Judy had pretended to be Madeline as part of a plot involving the murder of the old friend’s rich wife. Twice deceived, taking Judy-as-Madeline back to the tower, he forces her to the top while chastising her for her duplicity and at the same time proving to himself that he can overcome his acrophobia. At the top, startled by the appearance of a nun, the girl falls to her death. Staring down at her body, Scottie Ferguson is “cured.” We know better. For Hollywood in 1958, this is a remarkably downbeat ending.

Jimmy Stewart

Of all the epigraphs that could be applied to Vertigo, the most apropos might be from Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”: “I have been half in love with easeful Death/Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,” except that for Jimmy Stewart’s love-dazed Scottie, Death is beautiful and her name is Madeline. What Hitchcock ghoulishly classifies as a “necrophiliac” romance reaches its psycho-sexual pinnacle when the shopgirl Scottie has transformed into Madeline stands before him, “as if she were naked,” says Hitchcock, who consecrates the moment with a dizzying, full-circle 360-degree-angle shot of an embrace of Wagnerian proportions (to the  Liebestod yet) between a madman and the corpse he’s created to satisfy his morbid lust (the level of discourse, again, typical of the master of the macabre). No one but an actor of Stewart’s stature, a star the moviegoing public absolutely believes in, could have preserved his integrity in so neurotic a role.

In the early scenes with Midge, in her apartment/studio (she’s an artist reduced  to designing bra/lingerie ads), you have glimpses of the familiar “waal, shucks ma’am” Jimmy Stewart whom comedians and certain schoolboys in the 1950s loved to impersonate. The actor remains at a bland remove from the character until the moment he drags Kim Novak out of San Francisco Bay. It’s surprising that for all his attention to the virtues of the film, Robin Wood neglects to mention the extraordinary medium close-up two shot of Stewart and Novak after he’s pulled her out of the cold water. The image is on the screen only a matter of seconds, but in it you see the man coming face to face  with his gorgeous fate for the first time. He’s shaking, out of breath, as he beholds, dazed, in a dream, the timeless beauty of the creature whose life he’s saved. An actor unsurpassed in believably and wrenchingly expressing extremes of anguish, Stewart makes you feel the man’s helpless plunge to the depths of his love for the unconscious woman in his arms; at this point his emotions are so exposed,  it’s as if he thinks she’s about to die at the very moment he’s discovering and adoring her. All he can say is her name. It’s his first declaration of love. It also may be Novak’s most beautiful moment, for she’s seen in profile, drenched, damply radiant, like Hitchcock’s version of the Birth of Venus. We still haven’t heard her say a word, which is just as well since she never seems comfortable speaking the language of the wealthy woman she’s impersonating. While that serves the director’s purpose well enough, you still can’t help wishing a more accomplished actress were playing the part.

Wrong Move

Probably the most famous instance of Hitchcock’s fetish for women in spectacles is in Strangers On a Train, when the strangling of Farley Granger’s bespectacled wife is reflected in the lenses of her fallen glasses. Hitchcock makes Midge’s glasses her essential feature, a way of at once defining and deglamorizing her role as the sane, sensible, loving alternative to Scottie’s fatal fascination with Madeline and the portrait of Carlotta Valdes. Aware of the power of that image over the man she still loves, Midge uses a copy of the painting to compose what Robin Wood calls “a parody portrait of herself” as Carlotta, complete with her own dark-framed glasses, which look ridiculous in the elegant period trappings of the original portrait. Wood sees nothing to complain about in the cringe-inducing scene where Midge shows Scottie the portrait; he treats  the embarrassment as if it makes filmic sense, as if she thinks she can render the obsession “ridiculous by satirizing it.” In fact, she humiliates herself, alienates Scottie by violating the image of his passion (he stalks out of the apartment), and worse yet, she violates the film’s credibility, having been forced by the Imp of the Perverse to make exactly the wrong move. When she tears her hair and berates herself (“Stupid! Stupid!”) she’s also voicing the sentiments of a large portion of the audience watching the irrepressible Hitchcock inflict a direct hit on his own creation.

Vertigo in the Perverse 

All quibbling aside, I find the presence of Poe in Hitchcock appealing because it agrees with my sense of Hitch as a 20th century phenomenon in American culture comparable to Poe in the 19th century. Like Hitchcock, Poe inflicted perverse distortions on his own work, playing games, jesting, defying the logic of his creation with ornate, bombastic, melodramatic gambits of the sort that made T.S. Eliot observe that “The forms which his lively curiosity takes are those in which a pre-adolescent mentality delights,” and that inspired Henry James to call an enthusiasm for Poe “the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.” Comparing Poe to Baudelaire, his champion in France, James found him to be “much the greater charlatan of the two, as well as the greater genius.”

Finally, it’s worth noting the employment of vertigo as a metaphor in “The Imp of the Perverse” where Poe writes, “We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain.” The notion of the perverse, of knowingly surrendering to the fatal impulse, is developed at length in the same long paragraph as Poe elaborates on this moment on the brink, as if one were tempted by curiosity  to experience “the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height … for the very reason that it involves … the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge.”

In a 1960 article called “Why I Am Afraid of the Dark”, Hitchcock recounts his discovery of Poe. “When I came home from the office where I worked I went straight to my room, took the cheap edition of his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and began to read. I still remember my feelings when I finished ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’ I was afraid, but this fear made me discover something I’ve never forgotten since: fear, you see, is an emotion people like to feel when they know they’re safe.”

As always, I found Hitchcock’s most interesting remarks in François Truffaut’s collection of interviews, from which several quotes are taken, including the one at the top.

WHAT SHALL WE EAT? The title of Judy Brodsky’s painting brings to mind the old nursery rhyme, “If all the world were paper and all the seas were ink, and all the trees were bread and cheese, what should we have to drink?” It’s not known whether the esteemed artist had Mother Goose in mind, subliminally or otherwise. Perhaps her question relates to a more contemporary environmental problem. Or perhaps she’s just referring to the glorious abundance of the peaches, pears, plums, grapes, and apples that she renders here. Ms. Brodsky’s work, as well as paintings and drawings by Mel Leipzig and Harry I. Naar, are on view in the exhibition, “Rendering, Representing & Revealing” through December 13 in the Romano Gallery of the Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts at Blair Academy in Blairstown. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or by appointment. For more information, call (908) 362-6121, or visit:

WHAT SHALL WE EAT? The title of Judy Brodsky’s painting brings to mind the old nursery rhyme, “If all the world were paper and all the seas were ink, and all the trees were bread and cheese, what should we have to drink?” It’s not known whether the esteemed artist had Mother Goose in mind, subliminally or otherwise. Perhaps her question relates to a more contemporary environmental problem. Or perhaps she’s just referring to the glorious abundance of the peaches, pears, plums, grapes, and apples that she renders here. Ms. Brodsky’s work, as well as paintings and drawings by Mel Leipzig and Harry I. Naar, are on view in the exhibition, “Rendering, Representing & Revealing” through December 13 in the Romano Gallery of the Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts at Blair Academy in Blairstown. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or by appointment. For more information, call (908) 362-6121, or visit:

Paintings and drawings by three renowned local artists will be on display at the Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts at Blair Academy in Blairstown.

The show is an opportunity to examine differences and parallels in the work and careers of Judith K. Brodsky, Mel Leipzig, and Harry I. Naar, all of whom have played significant roles in teaching and mentoring young artists in New Jersey.

Ms. Brodsky worked for many years as an artist, printmaker, and arts advocate. She is a distinguished professor emerita of visual arts at Rutgers University, where she established two art institutes — The Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions and The Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art.

For 45 years, Mr. Leipzig taught painting and art history at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) where he earned the respect and love of generations of young artists.

Mr. Naar began his teaching career some 30 years ago at Rider University, where he serves as director of the Art Gallery to which he consistently brings stellar and surprising artists and their work.

Besides their teaching roles, however, each of the artists featuring in the Blair Academy demonstrates a singular artistic vision.

“With a background in 20th-century modernism, the artists’ work also includes representational and figurative elements of a 21st-century perspective,” said gallery co-director Rita Baragona. “Though their work often reflects similar origins and motifs, Mr. Naar, Mr. Leipzig, and Ms. Brodsky create very individual artworks that often explore the intellectual, political, and social issues of our time.”

Ms. Brodsky, who has a master of fine arts from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, where she majored in art history, has organized and curated numerous exhibitions. Her work is in the permanent collections of more than 100 museums and corporations around the world, such as the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; The Stadtmuseum in Berlin, Germany; the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at the University of California at Los Angeles; the Rhode Island School of Design Museum; The New Jersey State Museum; and The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. She has also written extensively about women’s influence on the arts.

During his long career at MCCC, Mr. Leipzig maintaind his career as a painter, exhibiting his work in solo and group showings across the country, as well as in New Jersey. His paintings can be found in the White House Collection in Washington, D.C.; the Whitney Museum in New York City; the Yale Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut; the National Endowment for the Arts Gallery in Washington, D.C.; the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City, and closer to home in the the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. His work is regularly featured at the Gallery Henoch in New York City.

Mr. Naar’s work is also frequently exhibited in private and public collections throughout New Jersey, including The New Jersey State Museum, the American Council on Education, The Morris Museum of Arts and Sciences, Newark Museum, the Montclair Art Museum, Rutgers University’s The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, and The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in New York City. At the Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he won the Hassam, Speicher, Betts, and Symons Purchase Fund award and his numerous group shows include The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; The Canton Art Institute in Canton, Ohio; The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia; and The Boca Raton Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida. Currently, Mr. Naar’s drawings are in the New Jersey State Museum’s exhibition, “America Through Artists’ Eyes.”

“Rendering, Representing & Revealing” will continue through December 13 in the Romano Gallery of the Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts at Blair Academy in Blairstown. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or by appointment. For more information, call (908) 362-6121, or visit:


One of Princeton’s most resilient instrumental ensembles is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year — through all the economic ups and down over the past two decades, The Dryden Ensemble has continued to present concerts of 17th and 18th century works to Baroque music aficionados in the Princeton community. The Dryden opened its 20th anniversary season with a collaborative performance featuring more vocal music than the ensemble has presented in the past.

It is not unusual for the Dryden to feature a vocalist, and the inclusion of British counter-tenor Ryland Angel in Saturday night’s concert at Princeton Seminary’s Miller Chapel fit well into the Dryden’s mission of exploring Baroque repertoire. Mr. Angel has been making his mark in Baroque opera for a number of years, including on international stages and through more than 50 recordings. The Dryden Ensemble chose to center the performance on the music of Henry Purcell, a composer not celebrating any particular birthday, but not heard nearly enough in Baroque performance circles.

In the first half of the concert, Mr. Angel joined the ten members of the Dryden Ensemble in both free-standing songs and excerpted arias from Purcell operas. Mr. Angel used the space of Miller Chapel well to fill the hall with a well-rounded sound in the upper register and a rich tone on the low notes. Mr. Angel and violoncellist Lisa Terry brought out well the ground bass compositional style of “Musick for a While,” with Mr. Angel paying particular attention to the text. Mr. Angel seemed to find the aria “See my many Colour’d Fields” from The Fairy Queen easy to sing, communicating well with the strings.

With three strings and four winds, The Dryden Ensemble created good contrast in instrumental color in the pieces that were purely for chamber orchestra. Playing with an especially dry sound, the three strings (violinists Vita Wallace and Dongmyung Ahn and violist Fran Berge) created a great deal of tension in the music in the Chaconne from the play The Gordian Knot Untied. The wide selection of Rondeau’s and Aires played by the Dryden were conveyed with a well-blended collective sound, with solid underpinning by harpsichordist Webb Wiggins and theorbo player Daniel Swenberg, who also doubled on Baroque lute. Adding to the mellow and smooth color of the winds was Virginia Brewer playing oboe da caccia, an instrument (the “hunting oboe”) that is closely related to the modern English horn.

Where The Dryden Ensemble ventured into new territory was in its presentation of a significant portion of Purcell’s 1691 opera King Arthur, also known as The British Worthy. In the last six years of his life, Purcell composed incidental music for more than 40 plays, with many of the musical forms of the time represented in the scores. For this performance of King Arthur, the Dryden was joined by Mr. Angel and the Princeton High School Chamber Choir, which had been meticulously prepared by Vincent Metallo. Singing around the players in a semi-circle and performing mostly conductorless (Webb Wiggins led the chorus from the harpsichord in key moments), the 27-member Chamber Chorus sang with crisp diction and attention to detail, with a particularly bright sound from the women’s sections. Instrumentalists, singers, and soloists performed as a tightly-knit group, with Mr. Angel also helping lead the way.

Several soloists stepped out from the chorus, including a Shepherd duet well sung by sopranos Annika Lee and Blaine Rinehart. Soprano Alina Flatscher and bass Jai Nimgaonkar communicated well with each other as well as with the audience in their duet, with Ms. Flatscher singing with a clear and strong sound that carried well in the hall. The chorus was adept at changing style in the humorously titled “Chorus of the Cold People” in which the singers “chattered” and “trembled” effectively.

With so many performers onstage, the possibilities for new audience members were immense, and the almost full house at Miller Chapel no doubt included new potential friends to the Dryden. Artistic Director Jane McKinley and the Dryden Ensemble added a touch of poignancy to the performance by acknowledging the contributions of William and Judith Scheide over the years, including performing a Bach chorale as an encore. The type of collaboration seen Saturday night can only strengthen arts organizations, and Saturday night’s clearly successful performance will surely open new doors for all involved.

PLEASE DON’T GO DADDY: Coop (Matthew McConaughery, right) sits with his 10-year-old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) on his lap while he explains that NASA is offering him the position of captain of the spaceship Endurance. Murph is distraught because her mother is dead and now her father is going off into space on a perilous quest, and there is a good chance he may not return.(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon-© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved)

PLEASE DON’T GO DADDY: Coop (Matthew McConaughery, right) sits with his 10-year-old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) on his lap while he explains that NASA is offering him the position of captain of the spaceship Endurance. Murph is distraught because her mother is dead and now her father is going off into space on a perilous quest, and there is a good chance he may not return. (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon-© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved)

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors, and four of his pictures have made my annual Top Ten List; including Memento, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, and Insomnia. However, I had a hard time understanding exactly what was going on in Inception, an inscrutable mindbender that I found to be a little too hip.

In this critic’s opinion, the same could be said about Interstellar, an over-plotted science fiction film with too many layers. Clocking in at 169 minutes, the movie had me recalling 7-time Oscar-winner Gravity, a similar outer space adventure which resolved its loose ends in about half the time.

At the point of departure, we find the Earth devastated by drought and dust storms that have brought it to the brink of famine. With the planet almost uninhabitable, NASA decides that the last hope for humanity rests in finding another planet that is capable of supporting life.

The agency mounts a mission, code named Lazarus, to search for a world with a compatible environment for humans. The person chosen to lead the mission, Coop (Matthew McConaughey), is understandably reluctant about being brought out of retirement to captain the spaceship Endurance.

However, the veteran test pilot is eager to accept the offer, since he never got a chance to go into space during his career. On the other hand, as a widower and single parent, he hates the thought of leaving, and possibly orphaning, his two children.

In particular, his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is only 10 and is unhappy when he informs her of his plans. Her reaction is reasonable, given the blight on Earth and the possibility of never seeing her father again.

But, with his father-in-law’s (John Lithgow) blessing, Coop opts to accept the assignment, which affords him an opportunity to realize his lifelong dream. Joining him is a crew comprised of scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway), astrophysicist Romilly (David Gyasi), and intergalactic cartographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), all of who are assisted by two sophisticated robots (Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart).

After blastoff, they head for a distant wormhole near Saturn that is supposed to provide a portal into a parallel universe. At this juncture, the picture relies upon pseudoscientific dialogue to explain such phenomena as black holes, unusual gravitational pulls, and time slowing down. Eventually, Endurance connects with a NASA space station that is stranded on a remote planet where they rouse the sole survivor from a cryogenic sleep and discover that it’s Matt Damon.

This critic is not too proud to admit that I couldn’t follow the convoluted storyline from about this point forward. However, the panoramic visuals are breathtaking.

Good (**). Rated PG-13 for intense action and brief profanity. Running time: 169 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.


November 12, 2014

book revAs Princeton resident and professor emeritus Samuel Hynes demonstrates in The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War (Farrar Straus and Giroux $26), the romance of being a fighter pilot in the Great War was viewed by young men, many of them from Ivy League schools, as “wonderful sport,” “a glorious sport,” “the best game over here,” “the sporty side of war.” Hynes, who flew 68 combat missions as a Marine pilot in World War II, goes along with the notion before grounding it in reality: “They’re right …. Only in the air will small groups of players acting together oppose other small groups — like two football teams. But to make the big game analogy really work, you’d have to imagine a Harvard-Yale game in which both teams are armed with lethal weapons. In that game the players would not simply be athletes; they’d be gamblers, taking risks with their own lives.”

Princeton in the Air

The big game idea is extended in Hynes’s account of the day flying came to Princeton, November 18, 1916, as the Tiger football team took on Yale, with a fleet of 12 planes flying in from Long Island, the lead aircraft piloted by Old Nassau’s star athlete Hobey Baker (Class of 1914). When America entered the war in 1918, Princeton organized its own flying corps, financed by well-heeled alums, with a pasture south of town on the Princeton Pike leased as an air field. Hynes nails the Princeton connection by quoting an exchange from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise in which Fitzgerald’s fictional alter ego Amory Blaine says “aviation’s the thing for me.”

Fitzgerald’s own feelings on the subject are presented with characteristic flair in a November 14, 1917 letter to his mother from the Cottage Club informing her that upon getting his commission he went to Brooks Brothers to order some of his “equipment” (“my uniforms are going to cost quite a bit”); he goes on to say that he “went into this perfectly cold-bloodedly” and doesn’t sympathize with the “hero stuff,” having made the move “purely for social reasons” [his italics].

Had Fitzgerald actually become a pilot, he’d have had his shot at society, for, as Hynes points out, “Wherever they trained, in England or in Scotland or in France, the young Americans found the local gentry hospitable and eager to invite them to their country houses for dinner or weekends. The pilots were impressed by the style of the lives these people lived” (think Downton Abbey) “and wrote home about the country-house life.” One pilot tells “a Princeton friend” about attending a dance at “a large estate” in Scotland “with a history dating way back somewhere,” being invited there again “for an afternoon of tennis and tea,” and concluding that he has “quite broken into the high society of Ayr.”

Personal Effects

Early chapters of Hynes’s book like “Driving the Machine” reminded me of being taken up in a Piper Cub by one of my maternal uncles, a career soldier in the Army Air Force who performed, much to my delight, certain aerial maneuvers. Such antics with an eight-year-old aboard must have appalled my mother, and for good reason, since her other brother, a B-47 bombardier, had been killed in a mid-air collision. Brother and sister had been very close and the wound left by the senseless crash (a training mission in Nevada) never healed. After her death, I found a small box containing a dog tag, a dented cigarette lighter, and a mangled, half-full pack of Camels. She received these things and other “personal effects” along with a letter from an Army chaplain telling her that her “loved one’s body” had been found at a distance from the wreckage “remarkably intact.”

The chaplain’s comment came to mind in Hynes’s account of the death of Raoul Lufbery, “the most revered American aviator in France,” according to Eddie Rickenbacker, who called him an “Ace of Aces.” It was Rickenbacker who described the scene after driving to the village where Lufbery “had struck the earth … the body had fallen on a white picket fence surrounding a peasant’s garden.”

In addition to various suppositions about the loss of a pilot immune to the bravado that brought down inexperienced fliers who saw combat as a sport, there was the question of whether Lufbery had jumped or fallen, this being before pilots had parachutes. In one eyewitness account “from the village shoemaker,” Lufbery “had flown so close to the enemy plane that they seemed to touch and had fired four or five shots. The German did not reply. Again he approached and fired, and this time the German replied with a few rounds. The American plane pulled away and rolled over, and what looked like a sack full of something fell out.”

After paraphrasing the village shoemaker, Hynes quotes Billy Mitchell, “the great cheerleader for war in the air,” who describes “the terrible thing” that is the “burning of a pilot in the air as his ship catches fire from the hostile flaming bullets …. He is there suspended in space, with no companion to share his misery, no man at his elbow to support him, as in the infantry on the ground. When he is wounded and falls, it is for thousands of feet instead of two or three, as a man on the ground does.”

Touching and Terrible

Another association roused by Hynes’s book that has some additional bearing on the chaplain’s letter to my mother can be found in a scene from William Wellman’s silent film Wings, which won the 1929 Academy Award for Best Picture. “Wild Willy” Wellman was the first American to join the Lafayette Flying Corps and is said to have achieved three recorded “kills,” along with five probables. Though Wings includes some spectacular flying scenes (not to mention the unwholesomely wholesome charms of Clara Bow), the scene that has stayed with me is illuminated by Gary Cooper, then on the brink of stardom. Playing an air cadet named White, Cooper is on the screen a mere matter of minutes, just long enough to greet the two rookie pilots (Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen) before leaving “to do a flock of figure eights before chow.” Telling the boys (one minute in the Cooper Presence and the two male leads have become puppies) that he doesn’t believe in good luck charms (“Luck or no luck, when your time comes, you’re going to get it”), he gives them a look that says everything there is to say about such things as life and death and fate. It’s the epitome of Last Looks and Last Words, in medium close-up, effortlessly expressed by one of the great faces of cinema. Almost before you have time to recover from that moment, the fate alluded to is delivered, as an officer tells the stunned rookies to gather White’s belongings for sending home. While they are predictably moved by the photograph of White’s mother, the object that commands their attention is the half-eaten chocolate bar he’d shared with them, a token of camaraderie. Suddenly that mundane object has become touching and terrible in its very ordinariness — like such things as white picket fences and gardens, village shoemakers, “a sack full of something,” and, for me, my uncle’s dog tag, dented lighter, and the package of Camels, with a dozen cigarettes inside, still intact. Usually I keep the dog tag hanging from a push-pin on the bulletin board above my desk; at this moment, an hour after midnight, November 11, I’m wearing it.

A Puff of Smoke

In Hynes’s penultimate chapter, not all the pilots at the front are “rejoicing” at the rumors that the war might be ending; the possibility of an armistice is passed off as “the peace scare.” As Hynes explains, “peace will mean the end of the game they entered when they enlisted, the game that would change them from college boys into older, different people.” In one letter written within a month of November 11, a 23-year-old flying ace with eight confirmed “kills” says he’s “done a lot of figuring” on what he’s “worth or good for.” He’d thought he had his life “all fixed” and had pictured himself “as a spectacled City Manager. That has gone like a puff of smoke.” The flying life has given him “a terrible wanderlust.” As Hynes phrases it, the young man’s future seemed “wide open and full of options,” including “careers in engineering, geology, forestry, aviation, automobiles.” On October 27, 1918, two weeks short of the Armistice, Hamilton Coolidge, the great-great-great grandson of Thomas Jefferson, was killed in action by a German anti-aircraft shell near Grandpré in the Ardennes.

Art and Armistice

And so comes the Armistice, but “after the cheering and the flags and the bright city lights, the new peacetime seems,” in Hynes’s words, “a vacancy: the sky is empty now and so are their lives.”

Like nature, however, art “abhors a vacuum.” Thus Shakespeare swallows a storm and creates King Lear, which gives Samuel Hynes a title for his own contribution to the cause: “Welcome, then,/Thou unsubstantial air that I embrace:/The wretch that thou hast blown unto the worst/Owes nothing to thy blasts.”

Finally, who better to articulate and redeem the vacancy than William Faulkner, who could fly, in reality and rhetorically. In mid-June of 1918 he was accepted by the Royal Air Force and though he never got off the ground (“the war quit on us before we could do anything about it”), in the next decade he would write masterworks like The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying and “Ad Astra,” a story that takes place on November 11, 1918, as does “All the Dead Pilots,” where the narrator’s task, not unlike Hynes’s in The Unsubstantial Air, is going through the mail “of all the squadrons in the Wing.”

Although Hynes does more than justice to the subject, it takes a flier like Faulkner to set it soaring in “All the Dead Pilots,” with “a flash, a glare … preserved and prolonged only on paper: a picture, a few written words that any match … can obliterate in an instant,” and in “Ad Astra,” where, like Hynes, he channels Lear: “Out of nothing we howled, unwitting the storm which we had escaped and the foreign strand which we could not escape; that in the interval between two surges of the swell we died who had been too young to have ever lived.”

The quote from Fitzgerald comes from Andrew Turnbull’s collection of the letters.


NEW JERSEY NATIVE: As a member of the artist’s group Art+10, local photographer Tasha O’Neill was among a number of artists asked to focus their attention on the native species of the Garden State for a stunning show at the D&R Greenway, opening this Friday, November 14. In addition to her photograph “Wild Columbine,” shown here, Ms. O’Neill captured the beauty of state treasures such as Trout Lily, Royal Fern, Beach Plum, and the tiny orchid with the big name, “Dragon’s Mouth.”(Image courtesy of Ms. O’Neill)

NEW JERSEY NATIVE: As a member of the artist’s group Art+10, local photographer Tasha O’Neill was among a number of artists asked to focus their attention on the native species of the Garden State for a stunning show at the D&R Greenway, opening this Friday, November 14. In addition to her photograph “Wild Columbine,” shown here, Ms. O’Neill captured the beauty of state treasures such as Trout Lily, Royal Fern, Beach Plum, and the tiny orchid with the big name, “Dragon’s Mouth.” (Image courtesy of Ms. O’Neill)

If you haven’t been to the D&R Greenway Land Trust’s galleries of late, a new exhibition opening this Friday, November 14, is sure to entice old friends and new visitors to the Johnson Education Center’s lovingly restored barn, circa 1900, off Rosedale Road.

Titled, “Botanicals Illuminated,” the exhibition is designed to show just what there is in New Jersey that is worth the work of preserving. The works on display have all been inspired by native species that can be found on lands preserved by the D&R Greenway.

The exhibition opens this Friday, November 14, with a reception for the artists from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. To register for the free reception email It takes place during the D&R Greenway’s 25th Anniversary Year, which has seen continued preservation and protection of natural lands, farmlands, and open spaces throughout central and southern New Jersey, including most recently, preservation of the former Norma Pratico property in Trenton for use as an urban community farm. The site was acquired by the City of Trenton through a partnership organized by D&R Greenway.

The multi-media show features work by members of the Princeton area artists group Art+10, as well as work by award-winning botanical illustrators and sumptuous pieces by three regional artists selected for the show by curator Diana Moore, who has been curating shows at the Greenway for four years now. A fan of the Land Trust and its programs, she started out as a volunteer, but with two degrees in art, one in medieval art from Princeton University, she has found a niche in curating for the organization.

“I have always loved botanical illustrations of the past such as you see in early herbals,” said Ms. Moore. “The work by the artists in this exhibition is exceptionally fine and it is a treat to be able to present these images.”

Known for championing art as an effective means of highlighting the serious work of land preservation and stewardship, President and CEO Linda Mead and her staff have turned the Johnson Education Center into a focal point for conservation activity with inspiring programs, art exhibitions, and related lectures. “Botanicals Illuminated” is one in a long list of singular exhibitions that they have put on in service to their conservationist mission.

“As always, our exhibits are mounted to demonstrate the importance of preservation of New Jersey land and species,” said Ms. Mead. “I am delighted to share the results of a year-long process, which began with lists of native plants of New Jersey and the D&R Greenway preserves where they are most likely to be found.”

Along with botanist emeritus of Rider University Dr. Mary Leck, a D&R trustee, as well as staff members Emily Blackman and Diana Rachel, Ms. Moore asked the artists participating in the exhibition to select specific D&R Greenway sites and plants on which to focus.

“Diana is brilliant in bringing artists of the area together under one roof,” said participating fine art photographer Tasha O’Neill. “I admire her calm in the midst of a storm and the always gracious D&R staff have done a tremendous job in pulling together information about the subject and from the artists.”

In addition to the work of eight botanical illustrators: Chiara Becchi, Carrie Di Constanzo, Fran Henig, Ann Hoffenberg, Robin Jess, Lanis Monfried, Carol O’Neill, and Carol Woodin, the work of regional artists from the Art+ 10 group is being featured.

Collectively titled “Native Plants of New Jersey,” Art+ 10’s members (there are 11, incidentally) Priscilla Algava, Heather Barros, Jim Bongartz, Betty Curtiss, Katja De Ruyter, Suzanne Dinger, Jeaninne Honstein, Ryan Lilienthal, Meg Michael, the above mentioned Ms. O’Neill, and Gill Stewart offer a diverse and pleasing collection of creative and colorful photographs and paintings of plants from the familiar to the rarely celebrated.

Art+ 10 offers its members an artistic home and provides opportunities for solo and group shows. Being a member, “challenges my creativity,” said Ms. O’Neill, who expressed admiration not only for the Land Trust’s efforts but also for the use to which it puts its gallery space. “The Land Trust is the only gallery in Princeton where the themes of exhibitions consistently deal with nature. Buyers of the art support the mission to preserve New Jersey farmland.”

The theme of preservation was not a hard sell to members of Art+ 10. “We are grateful to D&R Greenway Land Trust for their deep commitment to stewarding and preserving nature and also for the many opportunities we have as artists to exhibit and share our work,” said member Priscilla Algava, who described the D&R galleries as “a magic space where community members come together to meet and appreciate the worlds of art and nature.”

The three regional artists selected by the curator are Karen McLean, Carol Sanzalone, and Madelaine Shellaby.

Each artist found their subject in plants across a broad spectrum of beauty and scientific interest. Thus you will find Columbine, Trout Lily, fern, and orchid. Even poison ivy has its place here.

All the art on display is for sale with a percentage going to support D&R Greenway’s preservation and stewardship mission. According to Ms. Moore, there is an attempt to be as inclusive as possible and have prices that range from $100 up into the thousands of dollars.

“Botanicals Illuminated” will be on display through January 9 in the Marie L. Matthews Galleries, Johnson Education Center, D&R Greenway Land Trust, One Preservation Place, off Rosedale Road, Princeton. The gallery is open during business hours of business days.

For more information and to be sure Galleries are open on day of visit, call (609) 924-4646, email, or visit:


STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: Romeo (Robby Keown) and Juliet (Rachel Stone) put on their masks before the Capulets’ ball in rehearsal for Theatre Intime and Princeton Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Hamilton-Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through November 15.

STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: Romeo (Robby Keown) and Juliet (Rachel Stone) put on their masks before the Capulets’ ball in rehearsal for Theatre Intime and Princeton Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Hamilton-Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through November 15.

Near the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Duke Theseus offers his bride Hippolyta a witty and wise critique of the play-within-the-play that they are watching. “The best in this kind are but shadows;” he says, “and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them.” The Theatre Intime — Princeton Shakespeare Company collaborative production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, at Hamilton-Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through November 15, takes on the daunting challenges of Shakespeare’s early romantic tragedy with energy and intelligence, but at times makes inordinate demands on the audience’s imagination and ability to suspend disbelief.

The production features some strong individual performances, consistently high production values, and clear, effective staging of the numerous scenes and the complex action of the play. The difficult lines — richly poetic, full of figurative language, colorful imagery, paradoxes and puns — are mostly well memorized and seemingly well understood by the actors, but the audience’s imagination is indeed strained, as performers often fail to communicate those lines and their characters with clear and dramatic expression and meaning.

Charlie Baker’s Mercutio, Sean Toland’s Friar Laurence, Robby Keown’s Romeo, and Justin Poser’s Tybalt provide strong, lucid, captivating characterizations, but other actors at times do not credibly and clearly deliver the Shakespearean language and engage the audience. In this play, clashing attitudes and concerns between adults and youths are crucial issues, but the age stretches for the six of these fourteen mostly undergraduate — one graduate student — actors playing adult roles are formidable. With luck, demands on the audience’s imagination to fill in credibility gaps may diminish as the play moves into its second weekend; these performers should settle more comfortably and confidently into their roles, diction and projection should sharpen, and the chemistry between the title character lovers should warm up.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, early in his career, before the great tragedies, in the same years (1595-96) as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both plays are concerned with how the “course of true love never did run smooth,” and they share similar comedic elements until the tone of Romeo and Juliet darkens half way through and the play turns to the tragic mode.

Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story in Western literature, perhaps in all literature. Over the 420 years since its creation it has inspired thousands of productions and hundreds of different adaptations for stage and screen around the world. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 movie with its beautiful Italian settings and unforgettable musical score, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and the action updated to present-day Verona Beach, Florida, the great 1957 musical West Side Story, set in the streets of New York City, and Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet come most readily to mind, but there has also been a gnome version (“Gnomeo and Juliet”), a feline version, a sea lions cartoon version, a martial arts version — is there a time period in history or a place on the globe that has not served as a setting for the retelling of this powerful tale?

“It is too rash, too unadvis’d, too sudden, too like the lightning, which doth cease to be ere one can say ‘It lightens,’” Juliet (Rachel Stone) warns Romeo after they exchange their first vows of love. And soon afterwards, from Friar Laurence, Romeo receives another warning, similar in its dramatic imagery and urgency: “These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which as they kiss consume.”

Of course, the nature and intensity of their passion make it impossible for Romeo and Juliet to heed these warnings, impossible for them to do anything but self-destruct in pursuing their desires. Amidst a bitter feud between their powerful families, Romeo and Juliet suffer a combination of bad luck, feckless adult influences, and mocking, impetuous friends to help speed them on their tragic trajectory. From Romeo’s first glimpse of Juliet (“Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!”) at her father’s masquerade party, to their shyness and first kiss, Juliet’s realization that their families are dire enemies, through the balcony scene and their first declarations of love for each other (“My bounty,” says Juliet, “is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”), their secret marriage, Romeo’s banishment, and their final encounter, their romance is enthralling, the poetic language is rich and moving, but their doom is inevitable.

Mr. Keown’s Romeo is worthy and convincing as both fighter and lover. Dressed all in white, a strong costuming statement, he and Ms. Stone are set apart from their more darkly clad peers. All are in contemporary attire, although the language and other elements of the play remain traditional. Ms. Stone is an appealing Juliet, though her words and her shifting emotions do not always project with sufficient clarity and impact. Too much of the rich language is lost here.

Mr. Baker as the eloquent, ebullient Mercutio, ill-fated comrade to Romeo, is the most successful of the company in communicating character, dramatic movement and the rich poetry — so sad, for many reasons, that he does not survive past intermission. Mr. Toland, as a bespectacled, side-burned Friar Laurence, presents the most convincing of the older generation characters, while Mr. Poser’s “fiery” cousin Tybalt proves a suitably fearsome adversary for Mercutio and Romeo.

Jessica Li as Juliet’s nurse is entertainingly playful, talkative, bawdy and meddlesome, though less than convincing as a maternal figure. Miranda Bolef as a female transformation of Benvolio, Sam Kessler as an authoritative Prince Escalus, and Christian Gray as Juliet’s hapless fiancé Paris all present sound characterizations and deliver the 16th century prose and poetry with understanding and intelligibility. T.J. Smith and Kristin Coke as the Capulets, irascible father and fretful mother, Lydia Watt as Montague and Joseph Labatt and Jacob Zweiback, each in a variety of different roles, lend support throughout the evening.

Rachel Wilson, Princeton University junior, has directed this challenging production with skill and sensitivity. The action moves swiftly from scene to scene, and the plot — though not always all the lines — flows smoothly and dynamically from start to finish of this two-and-a-half-hour production. Wesley Cornwell’s unit set, constructed entirely of hundreds of wooden pallets stacked from floor to ceiling, provides the smell of a lumberyard and a bit of the look of a ramshackle shantytown, but the simplicity is effective in staging the action economically, providing the requisite entrances, exits and multiple levels for more than twenty different scenes, including balcony, bedroom, ballroom, street, underground tomb and others. Hannah Yang’s creative, nuanced lighting design contributes significantly in establishing the changing venues and in communicating the ominous shifts in mood as the action darkens from comedy to romance to tragedy. Savannah Marquandt’s contemporary costumes and Matt Smith’s portentous sound contribute further to the creation of the intense, dangerous, shifting world of the play.

“More light and light, more dark and dark our woes!” Romeo observes as he leaves Juliet at sunrise to serve out his sentence of banishment. As the stage lights darken for the final time at the end of this play, the Prince intones his final tragic pronouncement on the proceedings: “For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Despite some lapses in this production, the audience reaps abundant reminders of the greatness of the Bard (even so early in his career), the beauty and richness of his poetry, and the power of these two lovers to remain, more than four centuries later, our enduring model of true love.

The Theatre Intime’s and Princeton Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” will run for one more weekend, November 13-15, with performances Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. in the Hamilton-Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus. Call (609) 258-1742 or visit for tickets and information.

In the past two weeks, two very different piano soloists have tackled very different works on the Richardson Auditorium stage. Last week, 19th century musical pathos and drama was shown by Russian pianist Natasha Paremski in Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto. A more delicate sense of drama was featured last Friday night as the young French pianist Lise de la Salle joined the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major. Led by guest conductor Eugene Tzigane, Ms. De la Salle and the orchestra played a well-balanced and stylish concerto, full of sparkling musical dialog between pianist and instrumentalists.

As piano soloist, Ms. de la Salle showed nicely contained flair, with very flexible trills, strong hands, and the totally right effect for 18th-century piano-forte music. Principal oboist Robert Ingliss was kept busy throughout the night with small solo lines, but particularly in the Mozart work, in which he frequently answered the pianist with completions of phrases or the same lines in a different instrumental color. Especially in the first movement Allegro, Ms. de la Salle demonstrated a great deal of fun in playing, with a very lyrical closing cadenza.

Conductor Tzigane also kept the orchestra nicely contained in 18th-century style, bringing out the martial character of the first movement contrasting against the solemnity of the second movement. The players of the NJSO maintained a particularly effective intensity in the second movement, as Ms. de la Salle brought out the lyricism and sensitivity in the concerto. Both orchestra and soloist emphasized the humor in the third movement Rondo, with the winds adding to the courtly minuet. Throughout the concerto, Ms. de la Salle demonstrated great poise, showing herself to be musically wise well beyond her years.

Mr. Tzigane created an “Evening of Vienna” in combining the Mozart concerto with works by Johann Strauss and Franz Schubert. Both of these composers are known for melodic lyricism and capturing the lightheartedness of late 18th-century and early 19th-century Vienna. The two Strauss works performed — Artist’s Life Waltz and the overture to Die Fledermaus — are inherently lively and spirited. Mr. Tzigane led Artist’s Life Waltz, which opened the concert, in a surprisingly slow tempo, and the work felt like it wanted to speed up throughout the performance. The closing Fledermaus overture was more in the sense of a high-energy operetta excerpt, with Mr. Tzigane well in control of the Viennese flavor.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D Major is rooted in the Classical tradition of the 18th century, and the significant amount of nimble wind activity added to the character. Mr. Ingliss, as well as flutist Bart Feller and clarinetist Karl Herman, carried the flair in the galloping, dotted-rhythm opening movement. Conducting from memory, Mr. Tzigane clearly enjoyed himself during this work, as themes chased each other in tag-team style around the stage among the players. The second movement Allegretto was particularly graceful, with Mr. Ingliss and Mr. Herman playing sensitive melodies against pizzicato celli and double basses. Mr. Ingliss was joined by principal bassoonist Robert Wagner for a graceful duet in the third movement.

Throughout last Friday night’s performance, Mr. Tzigane showed himself to be very comfortable with audience interaction, as well as the repertory selected for the concert. His familiarity with the music no doubt facilitated his guest conducting role, communicating well with the players throughout. Based on the audience response to Friday night’s performance, Mr. Tzigane would be a welcome guest in Princeton anytime.


IS THIS THE WAY TO CARNEGIE HALL?: Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) burns the midnight oil in hopes of pleasing his cruel professor, Terence Fletcher (not shown). Andrew drives himself mercilessly and practices so much that he breaks up with his girl friend and wrestles with bouts of depression.(Photo by Daniel McFadden - © 2013

IS THIS THE WAY TO CARNEGIE HALL?: Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) burns the midnight oil in hopes of pleasing his cruel professor, Terence Fletcher (not shown). Andrew drives himself mercilessly and practices so much that he breaks up with his girl friend and wrestles with bouts of depression. (Photo by Daniel McFadden – © 2013

Nineteen-year-old Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) got more than he bargained for when he entered mythical Shaffer Conservatory. The prodigy had expected that the best music school in the country would be the ideal place to pursue his ambition of becoming a celebrated jazz drummer.

However, he ends up under the thumb of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an impatient perfectionist who has a twisted teaching method. The Machiavellian professor’s approach involves not only belittling his students, but pitting them against one another by making them compete for spots in the school’s elite performance band.

In Andrew’s case, he has to compete for the drummer’s chair against an upperclassman (Nate Lang) and a fellow newcomer (Austin Stowell). Meanwhile, Andrew finds himself ducking chairs thrown at him while being called everything from a “retard” to a “tonal catastrophe” by Fletcher. The professor is a taskmaster who rationalizes the abuse of his students by invoking the tough love theory that his job is “to push people beyond what is expected of them.”

As a result, Andrew breaks up with his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) and surrenders any semblance of a social life in order to “practice! practice! practice!” for the sake of his coach. However, such a narrow, self-negating path takes a toll on his body and soul, as evidenced by his bloody calloused hands and bouts of depression.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench), Whiplash is an electrifying drama that might be thought of as a variation on the protégé-mentor theme typified by movies like The Emperor’s Club, Dead Poets Society, and Mr. Holland’s Opus. As a result of universal critical and popular acclaim, the movie has generated considerable Academy Award buzz. Look for J.K. Simmons to land a nomination, and don’t be surprised if his co-star Teller, and director Chazelle are invited to Oscar night too.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity and some sexual references. Running time: 107 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.


November 5, 2014

People are so in love with Richard, but he’s killed like 89 people!

—Terence Winter on Boardwalk Empire’s Richard Harrow

What’s haunting me this Halloween season is the singing of Jack Bruce (1943-2014), who died October 25, and the acting of Jack Huston as Richard Harrow in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (2010-14), which ended its five-season run on October 26.

My first thought on hearing of Bruce’s death wasn’t for his bass playing and songwriting with the power trio Cream but the uniqueness of his voice and the mood he creates as he moves from raw, bluesy passion to a subtle, tensely hushed, almost ethereal place in the same song, his singing both soft and searing above Eric Clapton’s virtuoso guitar and Ginger Baker’s rolling and tumbling drums.

Once I got beyond the high-profile obits stressing Bruce’s skills as a bassist, I found responses that came closer to my Halloween-based impression of his singing: “the uniquely haunting falsetto,” the “ghostly falsetto,” “Jack’s haunting high voice,” his “haunting operatic style,” his “voice that we all remember, soaring hauntingly,” the voice that adds “a haunting element” (my italics).

DVD rev2Having long ago traded my original copy of Disraeli Gears (1967) to the Princeton Record Exchange, I had to go to YouTube for immediate access to the album that put Cream on the American map. Their debut, Fresh Cream was clearly a product of the British blues scene. Beginning with “Strange Brew,” and its “kill what’s inside of you” refrain, Disraeli Gears took the blues into a strange new neighborhood. On YouTube there it was in all its gaudy glory: one of the psychedelic era’s most evocative album covers. At the time, even if you didn’t know the music, you had to own that record, that fabulous image, and you soon found that not only did the music live up to the imagery, it delivered a fiery equivalent of the complex aesthetic excitement of the cover montage, the newness of it, the design of the time, like the work of some genius of graffiti before Banksy was a gleam in England’s eye. So much of the musical chemistry depended on the way Jack Bruce put those quirky, edgy, blues-haunted songs across. Later singers like Jon Anderson of Yes and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin might approach or exceed his intensity, but few could equal his nuanced command of a voice that was as formidable an instrument as his bandmates’ guitar and drums. No surprise when you learn that Bruce was classically trained, studying cello and composition at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, and so talented a singer that as a six-year-old he once sang for Paul Robeson.

Listen to songs like “Strange Brew,” “World of Pain,” “Dance the Night Away,” “We’re Going Wrong,” or “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and you hear Bruce exploring, discovering, and sustaining a fine emotional line that in his composition, “We’re Going Wrong,” actually seems to be entering some brave new world of rock between the art song and the blues.

Ghosts of the Boardwalk

“We’re Going Wrong” is one of several numbers from Disraeli Gears that could be played as a commentary on Boardwalk Empire’s fifth and final season. While the show’s most obvious claim to fame may be the visual brilliance of its depiction of the Prohibition era, every episode except the last one begins with a hard-rocking blues-inflected blast of sixties energy by a group that takes its name from a fallen rock star of the period Jack Bruce and Cream helped define. The music accompanying the opening credit sequence, which shows Atlantic City crime boss Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) lighting a cigarette as the froth of the incoming tide oozes over his elegantly photogenic shoes, is performed by the Brianjonestown Massacre; in fact, the title of the wordless track “Straight Up and Down,” prefigures Nucky’s fate.

Harrow’s Blues

You could say that Jack Huston’s scarred ex-army sharpshooter Richard Harrow sings a darkly poignant blues of his own in Boardwalk Empire, though his lament is effectively muted because of the mask molded to replicate the disfgured half of his face. In a skyatlantic interview, Huston describes how his speeches were typed in the script, the sentences “broken up with periods in very strange places” to show that the character “obviously didn’t speak in the right way.” That Huston calls the ellipses “full stops” lends a hint of musical notation to the mix (you can also hear it in the way Jack Bruce spaces the words of the title in “We’re Going Wrong”). Huston says he created the effect by putting cotton gauze in his mouth and speaking in low, halting, throaty tones, as if his voice-box had also been damaged. “It’s quite difficult and painful to speak with the mask,” he says, “but when I put that mask on I’m him.”

In almost every scene he shares with another person (not counting the ones he kills), Harrow has a special aura, an element of hushed, hesitant, emotionally charged poetry that haunts the moment. It’s there in his first scene with his eventual soulmate Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt). The two combat-scarred soldiers (Darmody has shrapnel in his leg) exchange questions and answers about the books they’re reading as they wait in a Chicago hospital to be interviewed about their post-combat mental state. Richard’s book is one from the Tom Swift series, but what he says about it and the halting way he expresses the words goes deeper; it’s his theme, Richard’s blues: “It occurs to me … that the basis of fiction … is that people have some sort of … connection with each other … but they don’t.”

From Season Two of "Boardwalk Empire," that's Jack Huston as Richard Harrow on the right, with Nucky Thompson's brother Eli (Shea Whigham).

From Season Two of “Boardwalk Empire,” that’s Jack Huston as Richard Harrow on the right, with Nucky Thompson’s brother Eli (Shea Whigham).

Originally slated for only a handful of episodes, Harrow went straight to the heart of the audience — as Terence Winter says, viewers fell in love with this gentle, civilized  killing machine, until a few episodes became four seasons. There’s a fair chance that my wife and I are not the only ones who might have given up on  Boardwalk Empire if Terence Winter hadn’t dealt the wild card of Richard Harrow. What ultimately sets Boardwalk Empire apart and makes it not only worth watching but as much a credit to HBO as The Sopranos is the sense that the whole show is an elaborate high-stakes gamble taken by a daringly imaginative team led by Sopranos veterans Winter and Tim Van Patten, along with Howard Korder and Martin Scorsese.

Omar and Richard

In spite of the fact that the fifth and final season of Boardwalk Empire looked to be its weakest (Harrow was gone, for one thing), series creator Winter and his crew pulled it together in the closing episodes. In addition to the seasons with Harrow, what continued to hold us was the casting-against-type tour de force of Steve Buscemi’s performance as Nucky Thompson; the appeal of Kelly Macdonald as his second wife; the fascination of the Dostoevskian extremes encompassed by Gretchen Mol’s anti-heroine Gillian Darmody and of Michael Shannon’s no less morally twisted epic portrayal of fallen FBI agent Nelson VanAlden. Then there was Michael K. Williams as the stoic African American crime boss Chalky White. It was Williams’s name in the cast list that made us curious about the series in the first place. Like many other viewers, we’d been captivated by his portrayal of Omar in HBO’s The Wire, where his murderous actions, like Harrow’s, were somehow tempered if not redeemed by the heart and humanity Williams gave to the performance. Omar’s blues was only a tougher version of Richard’s.

Still, Richard Harrow had more to lament. With Omar, menace was always present. With Richard, humanity and the yearning for love and family and connection always underscored the menace. There he sits in more than one scene clipping images of families from magazines and newspapers and pasting them in a scrapbook that he puts together as quietly and methodically as he arranges his weaponry, a veritable showcase of artillery, before his biggest kill, the massacre of a brothel full of gangsters in the last episode of the third season.

Buscemi’s Coup

Surely Boardwalk Empire’s biggest gamble was choosing to center the series on Steve Buscemi, a character actor known and loved for playing losers in iconic films, like Shut-up-Donny to John Goodman’s Walter in The Big Lebowski; the thorny, nerdy Seymour in Ghost World; the hapless director in Living in Oblivion, the hapless hood in Fargo, and Charlie the hapless barber in Mystery Train. This is a funny-looking guy with a funny-sounding voice, his affect and accent just this side of Bugs Bunny, and he’s my favorite actor because he brings something special to every movie he’s in. Judging from some reviews and blogs, this piece of casting was perceived as so perverse, so flawed, that some people unfortunately either bowed out of the show or never gave it a chance. It’s the mother of all makeovers to turn the lovable loser into a crime boss up to his ears in money and women, mayhem and murder.

What a challenge for Buscemi. Five seasons with never a chance to revert to type (the closest he comes is when Nucky hits bottom in Season Five and gets silly drunk with and rolled by a couple of hookers). Not only does Buscemi nail the part of a lifetime, his triumph is ultimately equal to and symbolic of a triumphant series, in spite of moments early on when the final season seemed to be searching for itself, exposition in reverse. But the day was saved with the appearance of young Nucky (Marc Pickering) and young Gillian (Madeline Rose Yen), both played with eerie accuracy in speech and manner and movement in a ghostly evocation of the Original Sin that set everything in motion. As young and old appeared and disappeared, moving past into present and present into past, it brings up the word of the season for a show haunted by its past.

Meanwhile all it takes is a YouTube seance and you can conjure up Jack Huston and Boardwalk Empire and Jack Bruce and Cream.

Listen to Bruce singing “there’s a world of pain in the falling rain,” and “no time for pity,” and look at Richard wistfully gazing down at the images in his scrapbook. There’s a blues beyond singing, to be full of love for some abstract of humanity and know that your vocation is to kill people.


ANNUAL ART ALL DAY: ArtWorks third annual Art All Day event will take place at sites all over Trenton this Saturday, November 8. Last year’s event saw artist Steven Morris (above) painting at Gallery 219. This year’s event promises to be bigger and better than ever before. Activities begin and end at Artworks, located at 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, N.J. 08611 (off South Stockton Street, across from NJ Motor Vehicle Commission building). For more information, call (609) 394-9436, or visit: by Jeff

ANNUAL ART ALL DAY: ArtWorks third annual Art All Day event will take place at sites all over Trenton this Saturday, November 8. Last year’s event saw artist Steven Morris (above) painting at Gallery 219. This year’s event promises to be bigger and better than ever before. Activities begin and end at Artworks, located at 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, N.J. 08611 (off South Stockton Street, across from NJ Motor Vehicle Commission building). For more information, call (609) 394-9436, or visit: (Photo by Jeff

Trenton is reinventing itself through art as visitors can see for themselves this Saturday, November 8, when the city becomes a huge outdoor gallery courtesy of ArtWorks, the visual art center at 19 Everett Alley in Trenton, which hosts its third annual “Art All Day” (AAD), a companion to the ever popular 24-hour Art All Night event each year in June.

Aptly described as the Capital City’s own open studio tour and creative showcase, Art all Day transforms Trenton into a vibrant arts destination and if other ArtWorks-organized events are anything to go by, Art All Day will be well-attended. Over a thousand visitors are expected to enjoy free art, music, and entertainment at some 30 sites across the city.

To facilitate access to the many studio tours and performances around town there will be docent-led trolley, walking, and bicycling tours to the art studios and exhibition sites as well as numerous activities for art-lovers.

Three new art-oriented venues have been added this year. The Hive Community of Art & Design is among the city’s latest collective spaces for local artists. The New Trenton Store & Studio is a combination collectibles shop, photo studio, and gallery. Both join The College of New Jersey’s CommunityWorks Art Gallery and Art All Day’s existing roster of 27 other Trenton sites showcasing the work of more than 80 artists and craftspeople.

“What I love about Art All Day is that every year there is so much that is new to see and do,” said Art All Day Director Lauren Otis. “Trenton is just bursting with new ideas, new ventures, new art. It is a city with a lot of history, some of it not so great, so it is really gratifying to show people how Trenton is reinventing itself right now before their very eyes,” he said.

Visitors will find some of their favorite activities from last year with artists like Mel Leipzig painting for all to see at the New Jersey State Museum from noon until 4 p.m., and Trenton muralists doing their stuff around town. The city’s latest public murals will be featured on the Art All Day public art tour.

In addition, the S.A.G.E. Coalition’s Gandhi Garden and Gallery 219 will be open and members of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen’s A-Team artists will be showcasing their work.

Cast iron sculpture by members of the AbOminOg International Arts Collective will be on view at the Old Barracks Museum.

All of the activities are free with suggested donations for tours (see below). Don’t forget to pick up a free map showing all the sites around town where art will be on view throughout the day.

Tours and Activities

Events begin with a group exhibition from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Artworks main gallery. From noon through 5 p.m. there will be open studios and pop-up galleries in unexpected places throughout Trenton.

Special trolley tours guided by Art all Day staff will leave from the ArtWorks parking lot at noon, 1:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. The tours operate on two separate loops (Northeast Loop and Southwest Loop). Each loop features three tours and each tour takes approximately one and one half hours. There is a suggested donation of $10 for one tour, $15 for two, and $20 for three.

For those who prefer to walk, there will be one hour docent-led tours of the downtown and central Trenton sites leaving at 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m., for which the suggested donation is $5.

And if bicycling is your preference, you can bring along your own bike and be guided by Wills Kinsley. These tours will operate continuously throughout the day from noon to 5 p.m., returning to the Artworks site to pick up new riders approximately every hour on the hour. A donation of $5 is also suggested for participants.

Throughout the afternoon from noon until 5 p.m, there will be live painting/demos at multiple AAD sites. Dean “Ras” Innocenzi and Jonathan “Lank” Connor will be at TerraCycle; Will Kasso will be at Gallery 219, Leon Rainbow will be at Zienowicz Signs, and Kenneth Lewis and Julia “Kito” Kirtley will be at the Conservatory Mansion.

Also from noon to 5 p.m., there will be a JuJu Crossing World Music & Art Fete with live drumming and dance featuring DanceSpora, Akoma House, and Ahmed Davis, at the Conservatory Mansion

At the New Jersey State Museum, Curator of Fine Art Margaret O’Reilly will lead a gallery tour of “American Perspectives: The Fine Art Collection,” at 2 p.m. on the museum’s third floor.

Classics Books will host poetry readings from 2 to 4 p.m. and a reception in celebration of the day, kicks off in the ArtWorks main gallery at 5 p.m.

The evening will conclude with a showcase of work by local filmmakers at the Mill Hill Playhouse from 7:30 until 9:30 p.m. when the Trenton Film Society in conjunction with Cinema Thursdays presents “Trenton Makes Movies.”

A comprehensive map showing all the sites can be viewed at:

Free parking all day will be available at Artworks, which will serve as Art All Day headquarters, where visitors can obtain information on sites and activities, view on-site studios, take in the “Artists of Art All Day” group show, sample from food trucks, and gather before embarking on trolley, bike, and walking tours.

Artworks is located at 19 Everett Alley, Trenton (off South Stockton Street, across from the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission building). For more information, call call (609) 394-9436, or visit:

When studying in Bulgaria, Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov likely found Russian music and culture abundant. Judging from Sunday afternoon’s Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert at Richardson Auditorium featuring music of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, Mr. Milanov has clearly developed an affinity for the music of that part of the world. Another side of 21st-century Russia was presented in pianist Natasha Paremski, who was featured in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.

Ms. Paremski is part of a new generation of Russian performers who have combined the solid classical musical training for which Russia is known with the flair and elegance of contemporary fashion and style. From the opening piano chords of Tchaikovsky’s monumental concerto, Ms. Paremski played with supreme confidence, showing both astounding technique and consummate musicality. Following the very clean horn fanfare that opened the first movement, Ms. Paremski played the concerto as if she owned it (she recorded this work two years ago with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), perfectly timed with the orchestra and sensitive to musical dialogues with instrumental soloists.

From the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, the soloist was accompanied by a variety of well-executed sonorities, including a smooth wind quartet of clarinets and bassoons in the first movement, clarinet and oboe duet in the second movement (played by Pascal Archer and Nicholas Masterson, respectively) and flutist Chelsea Knox playing graceful solos against fiendish passages from the piano. Mr. Milanov kept the three movements of the concerto moving along, adroitly traversing the abrupt changes in mood.

Mr. Milanov kept a Russian theme in the concert by pairing the Tchaikovsky concerto with a Stravinsky work which was more abstract but just as Russian in flavor and background. Stravinsky’s 1947 orchestral suite Petrushka was as intricate as the Tchaikovsky concerto was dramatic, with quirky solos and driving rhythms foreshadowing the more revolutionary later works of Stravinsky.

Petrushka is a set of four tableaux, originally composed as a ballet and later adapted by the composer as an orchestral suite. As one might expect from a Stravinsky work, there was a great deal of activity for the winds, with sonorities that were surely unique for the time. Clarinetist Pascal Archer was joined by bass clarinetist Rie Suzuki Huebner in octaves against pizzicato strings and light percussion, and throughout the suite, edgy solos from English hornist Nathan Mills provided an element of spookiness to the performance. Solo bassoon, played by Brad Balliett, added to the quirky musical palette, especially when combined with a well-played pair of muted trumpets from Jerry Bryant and Thomas Cook. Percussion played a significant role, with drum rolls bridging the tableaux. Timpanist Jeremy Levine and percussionist Phyllis Bitow (playing xylophone) were especially key in keeping rhythms precise.

Although the concert was titled “Classically Russian,” the subtheme was a tribute to the 18th-century commedia dell’arte tradition, and Mr. Milanov introduced this theme with a bit of musical détente — American composer William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra. Linked with a current Princeton Art Museum exhibit, this work suited the Princeton Symphony well with its unique orchestration. Mr. Milanov used the space of Richardson well, placing horns on either side of the stage and in the balcony to create an antiphonal effect. Bolcom’s music was as quirky as Stravinsky’s orchestral suite, but in a different way — passages of 18th-century refinement were contrasted with dissonance and percussive effects from the instruments. This work, combined with the Tchaikovsky concerto and Stravinsky suite, showed the Princeton Symphony Orchestra to be off to a good start with musical precision this season.


THIS ONE LOOKS LIKE IT COULD BE A WINNER: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) gave up stealing stolen scrap metal and selling it to junkyard owners in favor of making videos of accidents or crime scenes that had grisly images of injured people. He realized that selling the videos to the local network news programs, besides being legal, was also much more lucrative.(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

THIS ONE LOOKS LIKE IT COULD BE A WINNER: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) gave up stealing stolen scrap metal and selling it to junkyard owners in favor of making videos of accidents or crime scenes that had grisly images of injured people. He realized that selling the videos to the local network news programs, besides being legal, was also much more lucrative. (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Petty thief Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) was eking out a living selling stolen scrap metal to junkyards until the day he stumbled upon a legitimate line of work when he assisted a driver who was trapped in a fiery car crash. He was surprised to find that freelance journalists were flocking to the scene in hopes of shooting graphic video footage that they could sell to the network television stations.

He quietly observed them in action and then asked a reporter some probing questions about what the job entailed. After listening intently, Lou — a quick learner — visited a pawn shop and purchased a camcorder and police scanner; the only tools, besides the car he already had, that were essential to enter the business.

The next thing you know, he’s roaming the streets of Los Angeles and joining the cutthroat competition to be the first to arrive in the aftermath of a gruesome murder or highway pileup. Understanding the TV news credo, “If it bleeds, it leads,” he starts picking which emergency calls to pursue based on their potential for providing the sort of captivating pictures that would be popular with viewers.

After some early successes, he hires a homeless person (Rick Garcia) as his navigator. He also develops a mutually beneficial relationship with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the veteran news director at Channel 6, the local station that also has the lowest ratings. Lou’s uncanny ability to get grisly shots coincides with Nina and KWLA’s desperate need to attract a wider audience.

Thus unfolds Nightcrawler, a riveting thriller marking the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy. Jake Gyllenhaal is better than ever here in the title role, eclipsing both his outing last year in Prisoners as well as his Oscar nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain.

As the film unfolds, the plot thickens when Lou decides to make news rather than merely cover it. The potential financial rewards become so tempting that he begins to orchestrate events for the sake of the almighty dollar. Conveniently, Nina looks the other way even though there is mounting evidence that her star stringer is crossing an ethical line.

Excellent (****). Rated R for violence, profanity, and graphic images. Running time: 117 minutes. Distributor: Open Road Films.


October 29, 2014

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

—Dylan Thomas

I was in the corridor, ten feet away.

—John Berryman, when asked about the death of Dylan Thomas

John Berryman and Dylan Thomas were born two days apart, 100 years ago this month, Berryman on October 25, Thomas on October 27.

In Dylan Thomas in America, after a harrowing account of the poet’s last days at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, John Malcolm Brinnin, who had brought Thomas to the U.S. for a series of readings from 1950 through 1953, describes the moment he received the news he’d been dreading: “As I stepped from the waiting room into the corridor, I saw John Berryman rushing toward me. ‘He’s dead! He’s dead! Where were you?’”

Berryman’s biographer John Haffenden excused the accusatory “Where were you?” as “a manifestation of shock,” but it must have galled Brinnin, who had been faithfully in attendance for four days while Berryman was out of town. There’s a melancholy “poetic justice” in the notion that Berryman, Thomas’s birth-week brother poet, would be there at the end, the first among those who knew him to witness and report the fact of his death. When he had word that Thomas might be dying, Berryman was at Bard College giving a lecture on Shakespeare. According to Haffenden’s 1982 biography, his reaction to the news was “notably dramatic and drunken.” After announcing “Poetry is dead with Dylan Thomas,” he continued “melodramatizing his concern” during a “country walk,” saying, “as he took long gulps of air, ‘I’m breathing for Dylan, if I breathe for him perhaps he will remain alive.’” Another biography, Paul Mariani’s Dream Song (1990) has Berryman drunkenly reciting Thomas’s most quoted poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Paul Muldoon cites “Do not go gentle” in his introduction to the 2010 reissue of the original edition of Collected Poems (New Directions $14.95), observing that it is “not only vital in itself but also of some value to us in our day-to-day lives” as a poem read “at two out of every three funerals.”

The notion of battling death, so forcefully sounded in the line, “Rage rage against the dying of the light,” is reflected in the move Thomas made at 2 a.m. at the Chelsea Hotel when, after telling the woman he was with that he wanted to die, he came out of a fitful sleep, “suddenly reared up with a fierce look in his eyes,” said he had to have a drink, and hurled himself into the New York night and the White Horse Tavern where he claimed to have downed 18 straight shots of whiskey; as legend has it, that’s what precipitated the fatal coma.

Berryman’s Passagebook rev1

Some 20 years later, Berryman made his own ungentle move, following the scenario he’d half-seriously outlined in a letter to his wife Eileen in fall 1953, days before Thomas’s death. As related in Dream Song, he imagined himself planning to jump off the George Washington Bridge “by climbing over the rail and staring down into the Hudson River until he became so dizzy he would finally let go.” If his body was recovered, he wanted it planted “as cheaply as possible in Princeton.” The facetious reference at the end gives an idea of his complicated attitude toward the town and university where he’d been living and teaching ever since R.P. Blackmur’s offer of a job in 1946 saved him from teaching Latin and English at a prep school in New Rochelle.

Berryman finally performed his vision of suicide on January 7, 1972, when, as related in Dream Song, he walked along the upper level of the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, climbed “onto the chest-high metal railing and balanced himself,” and while several students watched, “made a gesture as if waving …. Then he tilted out and let go.”

Princeton Hospital

My thoughts on these two October poets might have taken me somewhere more cheerful than St. Vincent’s had I not been preoccupied with the large building on Witherspoon Street currently being relieved of its outer layer prior to death by demolition. The process is hard to ignore, particularly when it’s taking place within view of my work place parking lot. For days now I’ve been watching the facade of the hospital being stripped of its “skin,” as it’s called, a suggestive term for a building so intimately associated with the human body. It’s likely that someone as familiar with hospitalization as Berryman (for exhaustion, epilepsy, and detoxification) had first-hand knowledge of that building during his turbulent, adulterous, hard-drinking, productive years in Princeton. The man who brought him here, the great poet-critic Blackmur, died in that building in 1965, one among numerous celebrated residents (like Albert Einstein in 1955 and 50 years later George Kennan) who breathed their last in the original structure that has been expanded vertically and horizontally over the years with the help of many fund-raising Fêtes.

Reading at Lake Carnegie

Princeton is where Berryman got to know Saul Bellow, a friendship that began with a walk around Lake Carnegie. After reading the manuscript of Bellow’s breakthrough novel, The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Berryman was inspired to write his own breakthrough work, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956), which Edmund Wilson called “the most distinguished long poem by an American since The Waste Land.” Berryman lived only a few blocks away from the lake and viewed it as an inspirational focal point, going there to recite Mistress Bradstreet to a woman friend he associated with his poem’s heroine. In time Berryman’s struggles with the work led to troubles at home. “As he began to ‘kill off’ his mistress,” Mariani writes, “Berryman seemed to die himself.” From his wife’s perspective, he appeared “at last to be forcing an end to their marriage.”

Dylan Rides the Dinky book rev2

It goes without saying that all Princeton’s writers and their wives, friends, lovers, and editors, Bellow, Berryman, Wilson, Blackmur, not to mention William Faulkner, Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, and John O’Hara, among many others, were familiar with the Dinky and its station. According to Dylan Thomas in America, the bard of Swansea rode to town on the little-train-that-could on two occasions in the early 1950s, first for a reading that led to “a night-long bull session with a congenial crowd of undergraduates,” and most memorably on March 5, 1952, when “a cavalcade of motor-cycled policemen … sirened Dylan to the lecture hall from his late train.”

A Vagrant Vision

Dylan Thomas came to Bloomington, Indiana, in May of 1950, and I have a vivid yet vagrant image of the sweating, red-faced poet declaiming from the balcony of a building near the Indiana University Union, the moated, battlemented castle of my childhood fantasies. My father’s closest friend on the English Department faculty had met Thomas at the Indianapolis airport and driven him the 52 miles to Bloomington, stopping at every bar or tavern along the way.

Listening to Thomas on YouTube reading “A Poem in October” on the birthday we share, it’s easy to believe that I did indeed see him that day intoning the words of a man in his “thirtieth year to heaven,” seeing “so clearly a child’s/Forgotten mornings,” walking through “the twice-told fields of infancy” to “the woods the river and sea/Where a boy/In the listening/Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy.” Listening, eyes closed, there again remembering how his sweating discomfort seemed at such a stark remove from the flow of his reading, “Oh may my heart’s truth/Still be sung/On this high hill in a year’s turning.”

Movies and Events

John Berryman’s centenary is barely on the map (you’d need to go to Minneapolis), although Farrar, Straus and Giroux has published The Heart Is Strange, a new selection of poems edited and introduced by Daniel Swift, along with reissues of Sonnets, 77 Dream Songs and the complete Dream Songs. On the other hand, Thomas, who helped ensure his claim to be the Poet of the Age by dint of those exhausting American tours, is the subject of two films, the BBC’s A Poet in New York and Set Fire to the Stars, which premiered earlier this year at the Edinburgh film festival. John Malcolm Brinnin is a character in both films; not so John Berryman. Perhaps someday someone will bring those two poets together to give the world a glimpse of the “heart’s truth” lived out by two “Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight.”

Dylan Thomas festivals abound, in Swansea, London, and New York, where the Poetry Center has organized “Dylan Thomas in America: A Centennial Exhibition,” and a new production of his radio play Under Milk Wood directed by Michael Sheen. Known best for Frost/Nixon and Masters of Sex, Sheen and five other actors will take the stage in the Kaufmann Concert Hall, where Under Milk Wood had its debut in May 1953, half a year before Dylan Thomas was rushed from the Chelsea Hotel to St. Vincent’s “good night.”

In 1483 when Portuguese explorers first set foot in the Kingdom of the Kongo located in parts of today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Angola, they discovered a sophisticated society with a strong artistic and cultural life. The exchange between the Kongo and Europe continued as enslaved Kongolese, transported to the Americas through the Atlantic slave trade, left an imprint of their cultural heritage on the development of art and music in the Americas. Presenting masterpieces of Kongo and African-American art, Kongo across the Waters will trace a journey of ideas, artistic practices, and religious beliefs across 500 years and three continents.

On view at the Princeton University Art Museum through January 25, 2015, “Kongo across the Waters” will be the single most important project ever presented at Princeton University that addresses the issues of the slave trade and colonialism through the lens of the artistic traditions of Africa and the African diaspora.

“This exhibition presents some of the finest works of African art in the world, and reminds us of Kongo’s visual legacy throughout the Atlantic world — an idea of central importance, considering the fact that nearly one-fourth of first-generation African slaves in the United States were from the Kongo region,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward. “In doing so, this represents the Museum’s most ambitious project to date involving African artistic production and culture.”

“Kongo across the Waters” features over 100 works, including numerous pieces never before exhibited in the United States. It is accompanied by a catalogue with entries by leading scholars in archaeology, history, religion, and African and African American art history. In addition to featuring rare archaeological finds, the exhibition includes sculpture, carved tusks, musical instruments, baskets, and textiles from Kongo and the Americas. Works attributed to the Kongo artist “The Master of Kasadi,” the American cane carver Henry Cudgell and the South Carolina basket weaver Elizabeth F. Kinlaw will be on view, along with contemporary art by Steve Bandoma (Democratic Republic of Congo), Edouard Duval-Carrié (Haiti and USA), José Bedia (Cuba), Renée Stout (USA) and Radcliffe Bailey (USA). A video produced for the exhibition reveals the notable influence of Kongolese music on the development of jazz.

“Kongo across the Waters” is a joint project organized by the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. At Princeton, supplementary interpretive content has been developed by the Princeton University Art Museum.

For information, visit:

As Princeton Pro Musica Artistic Director Ryan James Brandau wrote in his program notes to Sunday afternoon’s concert, his first two years with the ensemble deliberately excluded the lush choral music of German Romantic music. Dr. Brandau and the 100-voice Pro Musica Chamber Chorus took a trip through this repertory on Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium, showing the range of compositional style and musical emotion from the turn of the 19th century to the turn of the 20th.

Dr. Brandau warmed up the audience with a solo violinist and orchestra, as Owen Dalby played the Romance in G by Ludwig van Beethoven. Beginning with clean double-stops, Mr. Dalby made the intricate but lyrical melody sound easy, maintaining a graceful dialog with the orchestra. Dr. Brandau kept things within a Classical framework, conducting a well-balanced orchestral ensemble. With Mr. Dalby providing a rich lower register of his instrument and broad musical strokes from the orchestra, this Romance closed in a stately manner.

This season’s Pro Musica Chamber Chorus made their first appearance to sing excerpts from Johannes Brahms’ light and spirited Liebeslieder Walzer. The sound suffered a bit from the space differential; the chorus was at the back of the hall with Eric Plutz and James Sparks playing piano four-hands as Dr. Brandau conducted from the front of the hall. Dr. Brandau maintained the same Classical lilt begun in the Beethoven work, with nicely blended men beginning the first excerpt. The seven of the 18 Walzers performed were not sung too fast, and the men in particular showed precise singing in “Am Donaustrande.” Soprano Blythe Quelin was featured in one of the Walzer, singing with a self-assured rich sound, especially in the lower register. Conducting without a baton, Dr. Brandau elicited clean diction and precise cadences from the chorus.

Dr. Brandau has continued the Pro Musica tradition of presenting orchestral works on a choral program, but rather than a large orchestral piece contrasting with a choral/orchestral work, Dr. Brandau interspersed smaller works within the program. Beethoven and Felix Mendelssohn both composed programmatic pieces based on Goethe’s poem “Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt” (“Calm Sea and Successful Voyage”) — Beethoven for chorus and orchestra and Mendelssohn for orchestra alone. The accompanying orchestra to Pro Musica presented Mendelssohn’s Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt with the calm of the sea evident from the start in the strings. Mendelssohn added winds sparingly, with four-note solos speaking well from the wind players. Dr. Brandau maintained an effective flow to the music, as the sea rose and fell with a finality of a clean trio of trumpets.

In contrast, the calm of the sea in Beethoven’s setting came from the full chorus of Pro Musica, immediately setting the mood as more reverent. The singers of Pro Musica brought out the imaginative setting of the text about the lack of wind on the sea, and came to life as the “waves part and the distance draws nearer.” This piece contained a great deal of drama and tension which was difficult to maintain, especially with the sopranos on a high “A” for an extended period of time.

Dr. Brandau journeyed to the end of the 19th century with Gustav Mahler’s solo song, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” sung by guest mezzo-soprano Sarah Nelson Craft. Mahler wrote luxuriantly for mezzo-sopranos, and scored this song particularly sensitively with accompanying English horn, played by Nathan Mills. Mahler’s music often falls into the depths, and Ms. Craft rose well vocally out of the deep, singing reflectively yet without despair. The instrumental combination of Mr. Mills, harpist Andre Tarantiles, and bassoonist Seth Baer brought elegant sonorities to accompany the solo voice. Mahler was a master of orchestration, and the English horn was the perfect sonority to combine with Ms. Craft’s rich voice.

The full chorus of Pro Musica joined forces again to close the concert with Brahms’s orchestrally accompanied choral song Schicksalslied. The lushness of this piece was well suited for Pro Musica’s forces, and the choral sound unfolded well. Although the sopranos sounded a bit stretched in the upper registers, an a cappella cadence was well handled by the entire chorus toward the end of the piece.

This concert was somewhat unusual in that it was not totally about the whole of Pro Musica — the full chorus only sang two small pieces, with a third of the program given over to orchestral works. As this new season embarks, audiences can hopefully look forward to hearing Princeton Pro Musica at its fullest.


DON’T MAKE WAVES: Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris) is not interested in furthering the cause of black students at Winchester University. She just wants to get along with everybody and also get a part in the reality TV show that is conducting auditions on campus.(© 2014 Roadside Attractions)

DON’T MAKE WAVES: Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris) is not interested in furthering the cause of black students at Winchester University. She just wants to get along with everybody and also get a part in the reality TV show that is conducting auditions on campus. (© 2014 Roadside Attractions)

The academics are tough enough at Winchester University, a mythical Ivy League institution. It’s too bad that black students there also have to worry about making themselves comfortable socially.

That’s the predicament we find four African American undergrads facing in Dear White People, a social satire that is the directorial and scriptwriting debut of Justin Simien. Earlier this year, the thought provoking dramatic comedy won the Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the Sundance Film Festival.

The picture’s protagonists are as different from each other as night and day. Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) is gay and uncomfortable around his own people because blacks teased him the most about his sexuality back in high school. He lives in a predominately white dorm where he is still teased by his dorm mates.

Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) is a legacy admission to Winchester thanks to his  his father (Dennis Haysbert), who is an alumnus and the current dean of students. Troy is dating a white woman, Sofia Fletcher (Brittany Curran), who is the daughter of the school’s president (Peter Syvertsen).

Political activist Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) is at the other extreme — she is a militant woman who lives in the all-black dorm that serves as a refuge for the “hopelessly Afro-centric.” She also hosts the talk show “Dear White People” on the college’s radio station, where she indicts Caucasians about everything from their racism to their sense of entitlement.

Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris) wants to assimilate into mainstream American culture. She is more concerned with whether she might make the cut for the reality TV show that is conducting auditions on campus than she is with challenging the status quo.

It is clear that the four lead characters have little in common besides their skin color. However, the plot thickens when Pastiche, a student-run humor publication, decides to throw a Halloween party with an “unleash your inner-Negro” theme.

Now, at the party, the black students are stereotyped by their white classmates who are cavorting in blackface and are dressed as pimps and gangstas or as icons like Barack Obama and Aunt Jemima.

In the course of the story, director Simien pulls a couple of rabbits out of his hat to help the plot along, laces the dialogue with pithy lines (“Learn to modulate your blackness up or down depending on the crowd and what you want from them”), and touches on hot button issues ranging from affirmative action to Tyler Perry.

A delightful dissection of the Ivy League that stirs the pot in the way most folks mean when they a call for a national discussion of race.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, ethnic and sexual preference slurs, sexuality, and drug use. Running time: 106 minutes. Distributor: Roadside Attractions.


October 22, 2014

Book Oct 1964In spite of Thursday night’s season-ending loss to the Giants in San Francisco, St. Louis Cardinal fans enjoyed their share of baseball ecstasy in the 2014 post-season. With the glorious exception of Game One’s comeback win against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, the manifestations of maximum ecstatic intensity happened at home, in Busch Stadium. At such times there’s nothing between you and almost 50,000 deliriously happy strangers but the television, and thanks to the HD flat screen, the sensation of being there is overwhelming — it’s you and your vastly extended Cardinal family, singles and couples, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and kids, all shapes and sizes. If you were really there, side by side cheering Redbird heroics, you’d be submerged in a delirious love-in, all high fives and hugs. But deep down you know that such cozy, familial thoughts are delusional, Missouri’s a red state and Busch a sea of red with the hometown crowd garbed in Cardinal colors. How many of these folks you’re jumping up and down with would stay friendly should the subject turn to something other than baseball, like for instance the shooting of a black youth by a white cop in a St. Louis suburb?

At first I had no reason to think the shooting of Michael Brown had anything to do with the team I’ve been following since I was a ten-year-old. The Cardinal heroes memorialized with images and statues in Busch Stadium include black players like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. Interracial chemistry has been a key component of the Cardinals from the 1964 World Champions on through the championship teams of the 1980s. By the time the Redbirds surged into first place on their way to winning the Central Division, the Michael Brown story was all over the news, the shadow of Ferguson spreading in the direction of Cardinal Nation until a group of protestors, most of them African Americans, actually showed up outside Busch during the National League Division Series with the Dodgers. A chaotic scene developed when Cardinal supporters began yelling at the demonstrators. While some fans simply resented the inopportune intrusion, like how dare they rain on the Cardinal parade, others shouted racist cliches that were tame by Tea Party standards while one man sported a Cardinal jersey with the policeman’s name, Darren Wilson, taped on the back. At times it sounded like little more than opposing crowds at a high-school football game trading chants, “Let’s go Mike Brown!” vs “Let’s Go Cardinals!”

The Cap on the Casket

I wonder how many Cardinal fans affronted by the intrusion of racial conflict on the hallowed ground of playoff baseball knew that Michael Brown’s family had placed a St. Louis Cardinal hat on top of his coffin. Clearly the team had some personal significance for the Browns. Michael was shown wearing the hat in one of the photographs displayed next to the coffin and his father was wearing one during an interview. Various news stories also pictured people in the Ferguson crowds casually attired in Cardinal regalia, and there are fans among the Ferguson cops who show up at Busch wearing Cardinal jackets and hats, as viscerally devoted to the emblem of the redbirds on the slanted bat as the citizens of Ferguson rallying for justice in the name of Michael Brown.

Team logos are not to be taken lightly. Emerson suggests as much when he celebrates “the power of national emblems” in “The Poet,” where “the schools of poets and philosophers are not more intoxicated with their symbols, than the populace with theirs.” He mentions “stars, lilies, leopards, a crescent, a lion, an eagle,” and, why not, a pair of cardinals. In the ideal best-of-all-possible baseball worlds, the National Pastime prevails in a realm of its own, remote from the chaos outside the stadium. Of course there are skirmishes like the one in the first inning of the first game of the Division Series when Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright unintentionally hit Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, the benches cleared, players roared and pushed at one another, and Wainwright escorted Puig to first base in friendly fashion, the two men briefly arm in arm, as if in respect of that pastoral world of highs and lows, wins and losses, where people who on the outside might blunder into deadly conflict cheer and cry together, are wounded and healed, brought down and uplifted, know joy and know sorrow, all within the precincts of the game.


Fifty years ago, on the last day of the 1964 season, the Cardinals completed one of the wildest runs in baseball history to win the pennant and the chance to face Mickey Mantle’s Yankees in the World Series. That feat seems all the more special and unlikely after my rereading of David Halberstam’s October 1964 (Villard 1994), which offers a fascinating back story for both teams. One of the elements that attracted Halberstam was the importance of the interracial makeup of the Cardinals in a year that had been charged with events more cathartic than the shooting of Michael Brown. In fact, the people in the New York office of W.W. Norton, the publisher I was working for, gave serious thought to the potential risk of driving a company car with New York plates in the Deep South only months after the murder of the three Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. There was even some discussion about whether or not they could get me Mississippi plates. Halberstam, however, had no need to dwell on the climate of the times. Most readers, including baseball fans, knew what had been going on in the country during those explosive years.

“Where Are Our Black Players?”

In the course of showing how “more than most teams, the Cardinal players came to deal with race with a degree of maturity and honesty rarely seen in baseball at that time,” Halberstam writes about the onetime owner, beer baron August “Gussie” Busch, who was acutely aware that Budweiser sold more beer to blacks than any other brewery in the country. One day in the 1950s he asked his manager and coaches, “Where are our black players?” The all-too-obvious answer was, “We don’t have any,” to which Busch said, “How can it be the great American game if blacks can’t play?” And then: “Hell, we sell beer to everyone.” This burst of interracial enthusiasm roused the Cardinal scouts to action and by spring training 1964, a racially balanced championship team had been put together and harmoniously integrated. In the face of segregated living facilities, and Florida law, a wealthy friend of Busch’s bought a motel and rented space in an adjoining one, so that the entire team and their families could stay together. According to Halberstam, “a major highway ran right by the motel, and there, in an otherwise segregated Florida, locals and tourists alike could see the rarest of sights: white and black children swimming in the motel pool together, and white and black players, with their wives, at desegregated cookouts.”

Cardinal Serendipity

In the late summer of 1964 when I was in Norton’s New York office working out the itinerary for my tour of colleges from the Deep South to the Upper Midwest, I scheduled an October 15 visit to Creighton University in Omaha. I didn’t know at the time that Creighton was Bob Gibson’s alma mater. Nor did I have any reason to believe the Cardinals were going to catch up to and pass the fading Phillies in the pennant race. As long as I’d been rooting for the Cardinals, they’d never made it to the main event. I followed the Series as best I could, on motel TVs or on the car radio driving down through the Dakotas. On October 15 I landed on the Creighton campus where all anyone could talk about was Bob Gibson, Class of 1957, pitching the seventh game of the World Series (that’s him in action on the cover of October 1964). It had to be some kind of Cardinal serendipity, that on the day Gibson turned in one of gutsiest pitching performances in World Series history to win the deciding game of the 1964 Series, I was watching it on TV, cheering along with a crowd of cheering Creighton students. Somehow I found myself in the right place at the right time, a white guy in a suit feeling at home in baseball, sharing the ecstasy.


LUCKY GIRL: That’s the title of this oil-on-panel painting by renowned Bucks County artist Robert Beck, who will be exhibiting his latest works at the Gallery of Robert Beck, 204 North Union Street, Lambertville from October 25 through November 23. A free public reception for the opening will take place on Saturday, October 25, from 5 to 8 p.m.; a second reception will take place on Sunday, October 26, from 1 to 4 p.m. The artist’s work can be seen at For more information contact (609) 397-5679 or by Jeffrey Apoian)

LUCKY GIRL: That’s the title of this oil-on-panel painting by renowned Bucks County artist Robert Beck, who will be exhibiting his latest works at the Gallery of Robert Beck, 204 North Union Street, Lambertville from October 25 through November 23. A free public reception for the opening will take place on Saturday, October 25, from 5 to 8 p.m.; a second reception will take place on Sunday, October 26, from 1 to 4 p.m. The artist’s work can be seen at For more information contact (609) 397-5679 or (Photo by Jeffrey Apoian)

Bucks County artist Robert Beck, whose works are popular among local art collectors, was one of three internationally acclaimed artists to be honored by The Philadelphia Sketch Club at its 154th Anniversary Gala last week. Together with Elizabeth Osborne and Moe Brooker, Mr. Beck received the the Sketch Club Medal. The medal will join no less than 28 other major awards the artist has received over the years; past recipients include Jamie Wyeth and Robert Venturi.

Visitors to Mr. Beck’s gallery, at 204 North Union Street, Lambertville, will have an opportunity to see his recent paintings in an exhibition appropriately titled, “Open Road,” opening with a public reception on Saturday, October 25, from 5 to 8 p.m. A second reception will take place on Sunday, October 26, from 1 to 4 p.m. The exhibition will continue through November 23.

Described as “a Renaissance man,” Mr. Beck is not only an accomplished painter, he has taught other artists, curated art exhibits, and sat on numerous arts organization boards. He’s also hosted a radio show and is a columnist for ICON magazine. He’s known for representational paintings unrestricted by subject matter or genre, and for painting live events in unusual or difficult environments.

Over the years, Mr. Beck, who attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, has built a portfolio of images that speak to the American experience. His subjects show people at work and at play. They depict, he once explained, “who we as Americans are by painting what we do, where we do it, and by giving our everyday world a second look.”

“Open Road” comprises 39 oil-on-panel paintings and one sketch for Lucky Girl, shown here. Visitors will discover plein air paintings and larger studio works of subjects ranging from Maine, New York, and Vienna, as well as local images.

The paintings depict scenes of people at work, in coffee shops and bars, gathered around a table for storytelling, or playing music together as in Jam Session.

“Regardless of genre, I want my paintings to strike a chord in the viewer that gives association to something in memory,” said the artist. “I don’t want to tell you it is a lunch counter; I want you to feel what you felt when you ate at one. I want you to hear the plates.”

“Open Road” includes scenes that will resonate with New Jersey and Bucks County residents such as Stockton Inn, and Behind Phillips Mill, as well as scenes of Manhattan. Especially evocative are Mr. Beck’s snowscapes and night scenes like Night Snow, Manhattan and Broadway, above Columbus, all of which can be viewed on the artist’s website (

According to his artist’s statement, Mr. Beck has “always been fascinated by what makes things happen” and he uses painting in order to “investigate events that combine to make life’s parade.”

“I really enjoy working under the difficult and distracting circumstances that come with being in the middle of a crowded event, faced with the multiple challenges of motion, unusual lighting, limited time, and interaction with the public. Painting from life adds substance a camera can’t record. Your wet feet make you consider the puddles, and the wind on your face draws attention to the swirl of the leaves and sway of the branches. The experience is included in the artwork and felt by the viewer. I spend hours in one spot taking a good look and, in a form, creating an iconic image of what I see. Over time I observe rhythms that add to the identity of the scene, absorbing a great deal of sensory information.”

Mr. Beck has had dozens of solo shows; his representational style has won awards at the Phillips’ Mill Annual Juried Exhibition, the Woodmere Art Museum Annual Juried Exhibition, the Lambertville Historical Society Annual Juried Exhibition, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Fellowship Exhibition.

He is represented in galleries in New York, Philadelphia and extensively through the region, including the National Arts Club, and in numerous collections, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, and the James A. Michener Art Museum, which selected 37 of his paintings for exhibition in 1999. More recently, the City of Trenton Museum at Ellarslie presented a retrospective of his work in 2007.

The artist’s philosophy is expressed in this remark: “Art is the sum of our collective experience and imagination, and the most powerful way to present ideas that we have. It’s not an answer, it’s a proposition. It keeps the human conversation from going circular.”

Of his most recent work, the artist said: “This has been a year of probing boundaries for me. I’m always trying to identify a basic truth about that first moment when you engage a subject — that thing that gives it identity — and I’m still discovering new ways to describe the world around me.”

The Gallery of Robert Beck is open Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 4 p.m., and by appointment. For more information, call (215) 982-0074, or visit:


REHEARSAL WOES: Harry (Adam Green), in the title role, is surprised to find that his jilted ex-fiancee Roxanne (Danielle Skraastad) is the stage manager, running the understudy rehearsal - and that's just one of many mishaps that ensue in McCarter Theatre's production of Theresa Rebeck's "The Understudy," playing at McCarter's Matthews Theatre through November 2.

REHEARSAL WOES: Harry (Adam Green), in the title role, is surprised to find that his jilted ex-fiancee Roxanne (Danielle Skraastad) is the stage manager, running the understudy rehearsal – and that’s just one of many mishaps that ensue in McCarter Theatre’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s “The Understudy,” playing at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre through November 2.

Theresa Rebeck’s The Understudy (2008) is a comical, 90-minute, one-act depiction of life in the theater. The setting is a theater during a special rehearsal to help prepare the new understudy for a Broadway premiere of a recently discovered work by Franz Kafka. On the big stage at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre through November 2, The Understudy presents a humorous and affectionate representation of two actors and their stage manager — all under unusual personal and occupational stresses.

From the opening sound of a gunshot until the final curtain, high tension and multiple mishaps, both human and technical, proliferate. It’s a funny play, with some razor sharp wit, clever dialogue, and rich comical situations evolving as rehearsal and personal relationships progress. Ms. Rebeck is also delivering an indictment of the American Theater’s obsession with celebrity and the debilitating, dehumanizing effects of that obsession on the dedicated artists who continue the work they love as actors, stage managers, and other theater artists. The fact that the play-within-the-play is a lost work by Franz Kafka helps to ensure that the comedy served here will at times be dark and satirical.

This production, under the resourceful direction of Adam Immerwahr, in his first time directing on a McCarter main stage, merges a dynamically interesting, energetic, and talented cast of three with an extravagantly engaging set design and dazzling production values. What the script may lack in depth or development of plot and characters, this vibrant trio of experienced young actors, along with Eugene Lee’s fascinating, frequently moving set as a fourth character, provide to successfully capture the audience’s attention and interest.

The central metaphor here compares these anxious, isolated actors to characters from Kafka’s stories, particularly The Trial and The Castle — placed in mysterious, surreal situations, controlled by irrational forces in a dark, absurd world where there is no choice but to forge ahead. In The Understudy those tyrannical, invisible, offstage forces include not just the Hollywood-driven financial powers of the acting hierarchy and the whims of the businessmen producers, but also the erratic behavior of a stoned light board operator with her abundant supply of wheeling and flying scenery and special effects. Roxanne, the stage manager character, and her two actors, Harry and Jake, are, of course, also subject to the vicissitudes of human behavior in the tangles of a romantic triangle of sorts.

As the McCarter program points out, however, “everything you need to know about Kafka to enjoy The Understudy is “nothing at all …” Despite Kafka’s brooding black and white visage and a greatly enlarged page from an edited manuscript hanging over the stage, profundity, character exploration, and plot development are not priorities here. Comedy and a fascinating, quirky glimpse at the creative process of theater are the order of the day for this show, and the opening-night audience responded with abundant laughter from start to finish.

In the role of Harry the understudy, Adam Green establishes a winning rapport with the audience in his brilliantly funny, satiric, psychologically-revealing opening monologue. He continues to navigate skillfully the difficulties of the journeyman actor confronting first Jake (JD Taylor), his rival “Hollywood” scene counterpart, then Roxanne (Danielle Skraastad), his stage manager/boss, who also happens to be the woman he jilted just two weeks before their scheduled wedding. Mr. Green, who played Figaro in last spring’s acclaimed McCarter productions of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, is charming and sympathetic in his frustrations (“I mean it’s not — and it’s not that I’m bitter. People look at you; they say oh he’s an actor who’s not liked so he must be kind of bitter, and I am, I am bitter, but that doesn’t mean that movies don’t suck …”) — an ideal guide to lead us into the crazy backstage world of actors and the rehearsal process.

Mr. Taylor’s Jake, a screen star known for his roles in action movies, commands $2 million for his film roles, yet remains at the mercy of bigger Hollywood names and ruthless producers. His conventional good looks and dashing presence have gone a long way for Jake, who knows how to draw a gun with panache and apparently reached the apex of his career with his recent movie line: “Get on the truck!” Mr. Taylor persuasively embodies both the much mocked matinee idol/action movie star and also a more sympathetic actor coming to terms with a challenging stage role, two psychologically complex colleagues and the realities of life in the theater.

Ms. Skraastad’s Roxanne is commanding and larger than life as stage manager and woman scorned. She battles valiantly against the forces of fate and theatrical mischance to try to keep the rehearsal and her life moving forward. Harry explains that “the stage manager is the one person in the theater you’re supposed to be able to count on to keep her head. That’s the job description: to always have six kinds of duct tape, a pencil sharpener, Band-Aids, and a cool head” — but under the circumstances the cool head is too much to expect. Roxanne is understandably, comically flummoxed in her struggles with the intoxicated light board operator, the actors and the producers on the phone — not to mention the unexpected appearance of her ex-fiancé. With her air of authority, barely covering fierce anger and hysteria, she is funny and admirably convincing.

Mr. Lee’s set uses the immense Matthews stage and many of its accessories to full advantage, representing, and at the same time exaggerating and satirizing, the excesses of the big-budget Broadway show. With dozens of lighting instruments on all sides, a giant wind machine, melodramatic music and sound effects, picturesque onstage precipitation, a ghost light at center stage, a vast “Broadway-style” proscenium arch complete with golden-harp motif, along with a variety of set pieces wheeling on and off, and huge backdrops of a study, a tavern, and a dungeon — this animated set creates a comedy of its own. And of course there’s the face and manuscript of Kafka hanging at center stage above this Kafka-esque world. A large, well-equipped stage manager’s table in the front section amidst the orchestra seats provides Roxanne with a command post from which she vainly attempts to rein in the chaos of this rehearsal. The much acclaimed Mr. Lee, designer of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and at Saturday Night Live since 1974, has designed many Broadway shows, including the current long-running musical Wicked.

Kafka, who, supposedly, actually wrote a play that no longer exists and whose aura does pervade The Understudy and the play-within-the-play, once stated: “There is plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope in the universe — but not for us.” In the end, however, Ms. Rebeck’s indomitable characters and her comedic perspective on the underbelly of the theater world, succeed in transcending the hopelessness and leaving us with a joyful affirmation of life and theater.