March 5, 2014
TENDERNESS CAPTURED: “Ternura,” the title of Miek Boltjes’s photograph showing graffiti art in Miami is intended to evoke not only the tenderness so obviously shown in the mural but also the vulnerability of the artists who painted it. A series of photographs of street and graffiti art and artists by Ms. Boltjes will go on view at Gallery 14 in Hopewell next week, Friday, March 14, alongside a collection by fellow Gallery 14 member Rhoda Kassof-Isaac. For more information, visit: www.photogallery14.com.

TENDERNESS CAPTURED: “Ternura,” the title of Miek Boltjes’s photograph showing graffiti art in Miami is intended to evoke not only the tenderness so obviously shown in the mural but also the vulnerability of the artists who painted it. A series of photographs of street and graffiti art and artists by Ms. Boltjes will go on view at Gallery 14 in Hopewell next week, Friday, March 14, alongside a collection by fellow Gallery 14 member Rhoda Kassof-Isaac. For more information, visit: www.photogallery14.com.

Hopewell’s Gallery 14 will showcase the work of the Dutch photographer Miek Boltjes in an exhibition opening next week. Ms. Boltjes is a relative newcomer to Princeton. Her “Street Art Portrait(s)” will be displayed in the main gallery alongside an exhibition of work, titled “Autumn’s Beauties,” by longtime Gallery 14 member Rhoda Kassof-Isaac in the Jay Goodkind Gallery.

Both shows will run from March 14 through April 13, with an opening reception on Friday, March 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. and a “meet the photographers” event on Sunday, March 16, from 1 to 3 p.m.

“Miek Boltjes presents eye-catching photographs that intrigue and make you smile,” said Gallery 14’s Martin Schwartz. Her 17 framed color prints record artwork as painted on buildings together with the artists who produce it; passersby and posing models are also shown in their environment. The end result is a portrait of contemporary street art painted within the past 18 months.

Taken together, Ms. Boltjes’ photographs form a contemporary portrait of street art culture. They also shine a spotlight on the significance of eyes in street art. “The focus of everybody’s immediate attention, well executed eyes are the artist’s signature and pride,” said Ms. Boltjes, for whom this work has become an ongoing exploration of the street art and graffiti writing of Wynwood, Miami. She plans to publish a book of her photographs in the near future.

Ms. Boltjes came to Princeton from the Netherlands two years ago when her husband took up a position at the Institute for Advanced Study. By profession, she is a mediator in intra-state conflicts and an editor of publications on that subject.

Her photograph “Ternura,” for example, was shot last December in Wynwood, a Miami neighborhood that Ms. Boltjes describes as “formerly a rough warehouse area that is being transformed into a hip and happening destination” primarily because of commissions to famous street artists who have been asked to express themselves on its walls.

Art Basel is the Miami event by which this transformation is being wrought and the two artists in Ms. Boltjes’s photograph, “Ternura,” are known jointly as EntesYPesimo. “They flew in from Peru for the week of Art Basel, which attracts visitors to the many galleries that have moved into the neighborhood,” said the photographer. “Ternura translates as ‘tenderness’ in English, and is both a reference to the expression of warm and affectionate feelings and to the quality or state of being vulnerable,” she explained. “It speaks to the gentleness and care with which the man holds the woman and the couple holds the bird, but it also hints at the relationship between the artists and their art, both imagined and real,” she said.

“At first sight we are taken by the contrast between the tough-looking tattooed man in the foreground and the soft loving scene in the background. A closer look at the tattoos on both establishes the man as one of the artists and reveals that he has put a part of himself into his art,” said Ms. Boltjes, whose photograph allows the viewer to see both graffiti writer and his work in a new way, not juxtaposed but connected. “Looking at the art is seeing part of the artists,” she said.

The images in her exhibition provided the photographer with a revelation of sorts. “After a week-long immersion in the street art and graffiti writing scene in Wynwood, I came away with the realization that the artists care intensely about their creations both in terms of the subject matter and the execution; they really put their heart into it, making themselves vulnerable to all of us.”

“The beauty of our brain is that it allows us to ‘see’ the woman in the mural looking affectionately at her creator, who is sweating in the midday heat. This touch, together with the reflection on the car and the way the temporary fence happens to complete the bird cage, both firmly placing the art in its environment, make this photograph stand out among others,” she acknowledged.

For more information on Ms. Boltjes’s work, visit: miek-boltjes.artistwebsites.com.

Fall Foliage

The images on show in “Autumn’s Beauties” were inspired by brilliantly colored autumnal leaves gathered by Ms. Kassof-Isaac, who is both photographer and painter. “These fallen leaves are jewels dropped,” said Ms. Kassof-Isaac in her artist’s statement. “The colors are blindingly beautiful. The reds run from blood red to glowing fire. Orange vies with red for superiority with yellow gold not far behind. The yellows move in, either turning to greens or brown.”

According to the artist, each leaf has its own finger print. She gathers and rearranges her finds into new patterns and combinations. “By turning a leaf over, we find colors faded, but still lined with delicate veins,” she said. “With light coming from above or below, the opaque or transparent quality is seen.”

The long-time resident of Princeton has been an artist for most of her life. Living in Switzerland and Italy for many years, taught her to “value the almost hidden secrets when looking at tiny veins, lines, cracks, breaks, textures and other messages in objects and things that surround us.”

While living in Europe, she graduated as a Jungian psychotherapist and is well versed in the healing values of the arts. She has worked as an art teacher, given seminars, and exhibited her art, and trained in art therapy. “Her photography is unique,” said Mr.Schwartz. “Since she paints on every photograph, each is a ‘one of a kind’ piece of art.”

“Autumn’s Beauties” is described as combining the art of the camera with the art of painting to make the lasting visions of the brilliant colors of fallen Autumn leaves.

Gallery 14 is at located at 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, N.J. 08525. Hours are Saturday, Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For an appointment, call (609) 333-8511.

For more information, email galleryfourteen@yahoo.com, or visit: www.photogallery14.com.

 

Richardson Chamber Players presented a concert this past weekend entitled “Quiet City,” named for incidental theatrical music by Aaron Copland, but devoted to the music of several 20th-century composers. The Sunday afternoon concert at Richardson Auditorium featured regular Richardson Chamber Player performers, and also included a number of Princeton University students who added great depth to the performance of the final Copland piece. In his introductory remarks, Music Director Michael Pratt commented that the five composers represented on Sunday’s program all lived at the same time, but “each could not have had a more different voice.” The musicians of the Richardson Chamber Players had no trouble finding the uniqueness in each composer.

No one is more identifiable in 20th-century American music than Leonard Bernstein, who composed some of the most recognizable tunes of the century. Bernstein composed Sonata for Clarinet and Piano on the edge of World War II and at a very young age, and the work clearly showed the beginnings of the innovative musical ideas which emerged in his musicals and orchestral music throughout the mid-20th century. Clarinetist Jo-Ann Sternberg and Elizabeth DeFelice both worked with Bernstein during his lifetime, and each had a good command of the composer’s rhythmic drive and jazz influence. Ms. Sternberg played with a mellow instrumental sound, finding direction in the very melodic lines and bringing out the tenderness in the lyrical melodies especially well.

Ms. DeFelice and Ms. Sternberg moved exactly together into the faster sections, and created quite a substantial sound in certain sections. One could hear in the piano accompaniment that Bernstein was quite a keyboard artist, and Ms. DeFelice executed well the precision required in the accompaniment, especially in the second movement.

Shortly before Bernstein wrote his clarinet sonata, Samuel Barber composed String Quartet in B minor, Opus 11. Barber intended the piece to be premiered by a string quartet ensemble from his alma mater, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, but the work was not completed in time for the designated premiere event. When the String Quartet finally was premiered, the second movement Adagio exceeded Copland’s own description of it as a “knockout” — “Barber’s Adagio” has become one of the most beloved pieces in orchestral repertoire and certainly one of the most recognizable.

Following the first performances of String Quartet in B minor, Copland arranged the Adagio for string orchestra, and it became an instant hit through a national radio broadcast by the NBC Symphony Orchestra. However, as performed in its original form, this piece offered a more intimate and personal opportunity for string quartet musicians. Violinists Anna Lim and Sophia Mockler, violist Kyle Armbrust, and cellist Alistair MacRae presented a starker and less luxurious interpretation than audiences might be used to from hearing this piece in film scores, but one could clearly discern the counterpoint and dialogues among the players. The bulk of the musical drama fell on first violinist Ms. Lim, who played consistently with a light vibrato. This piece has many resting places, and the four musicians arrived at cadences together, making these points all the more poignant.

The Players moved into a more contemporary musical genre with Roy Harris’ Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, a “Cantata of Lamentation” setting the poetry of American poet Vachel Lindsay. The 1914 poem “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” links Lincoln’s torment of the tragedy of the Civil War with the horrors of World War I, and Harris brought both of these times to life through instrumentation of violin, cello, piano, and soprano voice. Ms. Lim, Mr. MacRae, Ms. DeFelice, and soprano Sarah Pelletier conjured numerous images of Abraham Lincoln through their collective performance. Ms. Pelletier sang with a rich and clear sound as if she were setting the scene of Lincoln’s life, telling the story well and paying particular attention to the poetic details of the text. One could hear Lincoln’s insomnia in the restless strings, and Ms. Lim and Mr. MacRae particularly achieved lyrical sonorities. Effectively accompanying the players was Ms. DeFelice, allowing the piano to “walk” through the score with harmonic chords.

Ms. Pelletier also performed Elliott Carter’s song cycle Tempo e Tempi, accompanied by oboe, clarinet, violin, and cello. Carter’s tribute to Italian culture was both song cycle and quintet, with all instruments being of equal importance. Premiered in 2000 when Carter was 90 (he was active through most of his incredible 103 years), Tempo e Tempi combined Carter’s settings of varied Italian poets into a work which explored a wide range of instrumental combinations and effects. Ms. Sternberg doubled on both clarinet and bass clarinet, and Matt Sullivan played both oboe and English horn as the other players handled syncopations and ostinato well. With instruments often in competing meters, this piece was described before the performance as “redefining what it means to play together,” and the Richardson Chamber Players’ performance found the complexities within the piece.

The Players closed the concert with Aaron Copland’s Quiet City, bringing together an ensemble of both professional and student musicians. Even though no longer connected to a play in its format as a concert piece, Copland’s work was programmatic in its dialogue between trumpet and English horn, played by Wayne du Maine and Matt Sullivan, respectively. The play for which the piece was written was not successful, but Copland’s depiction of a “nocturnal cityscape” was effective in capturing the broad spaciousness of music found in other Copland works. Mr. du Maine showed his vast experience in jazz, complemented by Mr. Sullivan’s lyrical English horn playing. Perfectly matched in pitch and timbre, these two artists, accompanied by the large ensemble of strings, painted a broad palette of colors and moods to bring the concert to a close.

 

IF THIS IS SOMEONE’S IDEA OF A JOKE, IT ISN’T VERY FUNNY: Anonymous air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) receives a text message in a flight en route to London, in which the texter threatens to kill someone every 20 minutes unless a huge sum of money is deposited into an offshore bank account. Initally, Bill dismisses the text as a prank being played by his fellow air marshal, however, when the first body turns up, he realizes that the threat is very real.(Photo by Myles Aronowitz, © 2014, Universal Pictures)

IF THIS IS SOMEONE’S IDEA OF A JOKE, IT ISN’T VERY FUNNY: Anonymous air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) receives a text message in a flight en route to London, in which the texter threatens to kill someone every 20 minutes unless a huge sum of money is deposited into an offshore bank account. Initally, Bill dismisses the text as a prank being played by his fellow air marshal, however, when the first body turns up, he realizes that the threat is very real. (Photo by Myles Aronowitz, © 2014, Universal Pictures)

Police officer Bill Marks’ (Liam Neeson) life went into a tailspin after his young daughter lost her battle with childhood leukemia. He looked for solace in a bottle of alcohol, an addiction which cost him his marriage and career. 

The ex-cop was lucky to be employed as an air marshal, a job he decided to take despite a terrible fear of takeoffs. On this particular evening, he’s been assigned to protect a packed transatlantic flight from New York to London.

The trip starts out uneventfully with Bill hiding his identity while making the acquaintance of the attractive passenger (Julianne Moore) sitting next to him. However, a crisis arises soon after he receives a text from an anonymous caller who claims to be in the cabin and is threatening to murder a passenger every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into an offshore bank account.

Initially, Bill dismisses the message as a prank on the part of his colleague (Anson Mount), who is also aboard the plane, since a breach of the supposedly-impenetrable federal network is almost impossible. However, once the first victim is found, Bill realizes he has an emergency on his hands.

Who might the hijacker be? The Muslim (Omar Metwally) sporting a skullcap? The black teenager (Corey Hawkins) who is reluctant to surrender his cell phone? Somebody else? Of course, the actual perpetrator won’t be easy to pinpoint in this deadly game of cat and mouse.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Non-Stop features Liam Neeson. The surprising success of Taken, has turned the rugged Irishman into an action star, as can be seen in subsequent similar movies such as The A-Team, Taken 2, Unknown, and the upcoming Run All Night.

In this film, Neeson stays close to the Taken formula, with his character portraying a broken soul who is in need of redemption. Again, he rises to the occasion in a tough, two-fisted fashion, while also exhibiting a vulnerability that will move you to tears during the closing credits.

Besides an engaging premise and a satisfying resolution, Non-Stop has an inscrutable plot which delicately ratchets up the tension as it winds its way towards the unpredictable denouement.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for sensuality, profanity, intense violence, and drug use. Running time: 106 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

 

February 26, 2014

DVD revFabulous creations, beings whose authority and raison d’être cannot be drawn from the code of common sense, often provoke in us an insane and excessive mirth, which expresses itself in interminable paroxysms and swoons.

—Baudelaire, “On the Essence of Laughter”

It’s all there — the violation of common sense, insane and excessive mirth, paroxysms, and swoons — Baudelaire must have been looking over my 13-year-old shoulder as I watched Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows. While I may never have actually swooned over the antics of Caesar and his team, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, and, later, Nanette Fabray, there were times when I had to walk away, trying to keep down a full dinner of laughter, and now that I think of it, “swoons” comes pretty close to how it feels to be laughing so hard your forehead’s in a sweat and you’re close to passing out. 

Sid Caesar, who died February 12 at 91, seemed bigger than any other comedian. With those bull-moose shoulders, he towered over everyone; it was an instant sight-gag just to see him in close proximity to tiny mortals like Howard Morris and Imogene Coca (in his 2003 autobiography, Caesar’s Hours, he mentions making tailors rich “by ordering handmade suits with the broadest possible shoulders”). It seemed a minor miracle that our little TV with its eight-inch port-hole of a screen could contain him. He sprawled and swaggered and roared. Yet to leave it at that would be to misrepresent an artist whose touch could be as warm and human as Chaplin’s (Alfred Hitchcock, of all people, compared Caesar to the early Chaplin). His primary goal, as he puts it in Caesar’s Hours, was “to extract humor out of everyday life …. The guy in trouble is a very funny guy.”

The New York Times obituary, which listed Albert Einstein as well as Hitchcock among Caesar’s fans, rightly called him “a comedic force of nature.” There he was, week after week, performing live, without a net, thriving on the tension that infused his style: it was in his nervous cough, the constant clearing of his throat, you could almost smell his sweat; he didn’t just clown, he struggled, fought, lived, and died, throwing himself on the mercy of the audience. At times it was as if he and his accomplices were beating the laughs out of you.

He implies as much in Caesar’s Hours: “I was a very physical comedian and I needed a sidekick who was not only funny but was a person I could pick up with one hand.” Cue the imp of perverse delight Howard Morris; when Morris “first came to audition,” Caesar “reached out, grabbed him by the lapels, lifted him up, and did the scene.” The comedy of scale was played no less effectively with hulking Sid and petite Imogene. “Working with her,” Caesar recalls, “was like working with somebody you’d known your entire life from moment one …. Our instincts and timing were so well aligned that it was as if Imogene knew exactly what I was thinking.” The feeling was mut-ual, as the unholy ghost of Show of Shows Mel Brooks would put it decades later in Young Frankenstein (the old show lives on in Dr. F. and the monster’s song and dance rendition of “Putting on the Ritz”). Years after they went their separate ways, “Immy” is quoted by Sid to the effect that she “would run twenty miles in sheer joy” for the chance to work with him again.

Shared Laughter

When people remember the shows, they not only remember the comedy, they remember their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. They remember a time when everyone was together and everyone was laughing … whatever was going on at home, for at least an hour and a half on Saturday night, people got to laugh and they got to see their parents laugh.

—From Caesar’s Hours

When I read about Sid Caesar’s death, my first thought was of my father and his proclamation that he would never allow a television set to darken our apartment doorway. We were living in New York that year in a second-story walk-up in the 200 block of East 53rd Street. I finally wore out the austere, above-it-all professor by devising a mantra based on Hickory 6-4000, the phone number of Sunset Appliances in Brooklyn, which I knew by heart from commercials aired during radio broadcasts of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games. I chanted the mantra several times a day throughout the month of August (“they’re giving it away! they’re giving it away! free delivery! Hickory 6-4000!”) until my dazed father picked up the telephone, dialed the magic number, and ordered the smallest, cheapest set Sunset offered. Because the “useless” object was not allowed into the living room, it was duly situated on a shelf at the foot of my bed, the idea being that no rational adult would come near it.

One Saturday night soon after the set’s arrival, the antics of Sid and his cohorts had me laughing so hard (think “paroxysms and swoons”) that my parents had no choice but to come make sure I wasn’t in need of emergency care (remember the Monty Python skit about the joke that kills?). From that point on, I had company. My father and mother  weren’t getting along all that well at the time, but at least for an hour and half on Saturday night “everyone was together and everyone was laughing.”

My mother’s laughter was a pleasantly familiar sound, mellow, throaty, redolent of whiskey and cigarettes. But to hear my buttoned-up father laugh was a revelation. Here was the stern professor my friends found so intimidating, with his dark-framed spectacles and severe expression. Here was a man who, to all appearances, kept his distance from life. But when Sid Caesar was on, whether it was Your Show of Shows or Caesar’s Hour, the professor would be shaking, sweating, giddy with glee, besieged by a passion of laughter. Those were precious, amazing moments, my father and I laughing together, laughing ourselves silly to Sid Caesar.

Happy Birthday, Jackie

Part of the fun of watching television that year in New York was knowing that programs like Your Show of Shows originated just a few long blocks west of us at Rockefeller Plaza. I used to walk past the RCA Building and Radio City Music Hall on my way home from school, fondly hoping I might catch a glimpse of Sid or Imogene. In fact, my only celebrity sighting happened when I was walking up Central Park West from the subway one schoolday morning and encountered Sid Caesar’s most formidable rival Jackie Gleason, who was born 98 years ago today. As soon as he saw me recognizing him, he smiled and said, “Hiya, kid!” When I saw The Great One   at the CBS Theatre doing Ralph Cramden and Reggie van Gleason and “Awaaay we go” live on The Jackie Gleason Show, I was sitting so far back, he looked even smaller than he did on that pint-sized set. Since there’s not room enough in one column for two such giants, I’ll just say the obvious, that if Gleason had done nothing else (and he did a great deal, including giving Elvis his New York television breakthrough), he created and inhabited Ralph Kramden, one of the truly enduring characters in show business America’s human comedy. And don’t forget his dancing. If you ever need immediate cheering up, just google Gleason Dancing. As a tripper of the light fantastic, no one can touch him; tear up the list, it’s Jackie.

Some Highlights

Since The Sid Caesar Collection DVD at the Princeton Public Library has been checked out ever since February 12, my watching of Caesar and company was done on YouTube, where a goodly assortment of key episodes is available. Probably the most celebrated of the lot is the all-out, no holds barred take-off on the Ralph Edwards sobfest, This Is Your Life. The challenge was to satirize something that’s already the epitome of sentimental overkill. Some of the comic passion driving This is Your Story may be due to its being among the last programs before Show of Shows closed its run on June 5 1954, after almost 160 episodes. Call it what you will — the cast gone wild, emotional pandemonium, Carl Reiner the flailing, embattled host — it’s beyond “insane and excessive” when Howard Morris’s Uncle Goopy leaps into the arms of Caesar’s Al Duncey to be hugged and kissed and lugubriously manhandled by the reluctant guest of honor who had be dragged out of his seat and carried bodily to the stage by a troop of ushers; the madness keeps coming in waves, they can’t tear themselves away, as the howling little man and the roaring big man grovel and grope and slobber on one another and then Aunt Mary and Mr. Torch, the kindly fireman; it’s in your face, take it or leave it, there’s really no resisting the relentless bludgeoning assault on complacency, sobriety, and the code of common sense.

After a YouTube tour, I find that the topical parodies of films like From Here to Eternity, Shane, and On the Waterfront are less fun now than the skits featuring Sid and Imogene as a couple dealing with “the humor of everyday life,” like the battle of wills that develops after the wife cooks her heart out and the husband arrives bearing Chinese take-away. Since he refuses to eat her steak and she won’t touch his chow mein, the outcome is pure lunacy with Imogene offering her meal to the neighbor directly below and tossing the steak out the window, followed by the trimmings, while Sid counterattacks by inviting the next door neighbor (Carl Reiner) to dispatch the Chinese take-away, which he does in a gross delirium of gluttony, stuffing his face, chopsticks flashing.

Some of Caesar’s most ambitious and extended work is on Caesar’s Hour (1954-1957), featuring Nanette Fabray, who talks about her Emmy-winning years on the show online at the Archive of American Television (www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/nanette-fabray). Her favorite number was “The Shadow Waltz” and anyone looking for insights into how it was to do live comedy with Sid Caesar should Google her account of all the things that went right and wrong with Sid and his disappearing mustache. Oddly enough, Fabray can’t remember doing one of their most celebrated numbers, the husband-and-wife argument mimed to Beethoven’s Fifth. The way they react to each nuance of the music is extraordinary — Chaplin would have tipped his bowler hat.

Although Imogene Coco died in 2001 and Howard Morris in 2005, two of Sid Caesar’s partners have outlived him: Fabray, 94, and Carl Reiner, who is 92, and calls Caesar “the ultimate … the very best sketch artist and comedian that ever existed.” 

 

OH TO BE IN MAINE IN SUMMER: This pristine summer image by Tasha O’Neill, titled “Branching Out,” is part of the exhibition of her work, “Mainely Delights,” opening at the Nassau Presbyterian Church on Nassau Street this Sunday. The exhibition will be on display in the Conference Room during business hours, Monday to Friday. There will be a reception for the artist on Sunday, March 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. For more on Ms. O’Neill’s photography, visit: http://tashaphotography.com.

OH TO BE IN MAINE IN SUMMER: This pristine summer image by Tasha O’Neill, titled “Branching Out,” is part of the exhibition of her work, “Mainely Delights,” opening at the Nassau Presbyterian Church on Nassau Street this Sunday. The exhibition will be on display in the Conference Room during business hours, Monday to Friday. There will be a reception for the artist on Sunday, March 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. For more on Ms. O’Neill’s photography, visit: http://tashaphotography.com.

Since 1993, fine art photographer Tasha O’Neill has pondered the beauties of coastal landscapes on annual trips to Maine, where the Down East home she shares with her husband sits on the quiet wooded side of Mt. Desert Island in an area that is part of Acadia National Park.

“Mainely Delights,” an exhibition of iconic images, subtle and intimate, opens at the Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street this Sunday, March 2 and will be on view through March in the Conference Room. The exhibition will be open during business hours, Monday to Friday, and there will be a reception for the artist on Sunday, March 9, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Curated by Sue Rodgers, the show is a selection of some of the photographer’s best work and the images will be available for purchase. “The Nassau Presbyterian Church is pleased to open its space to local artists and the community at large and takes no commission on any of the work sold,” said Ms. Rodgers.

Ms. O’Neill is a member of the group Art+10 and it was a word-of-mouth recommendation from fellow member Meg Michael that led to the current exhibition. A 20-year resident of Princeton, Ms. Rodgers has been curating shows at the church for some 15 years and had previously mounted an exhibition of acrylic paintings by Ms. Michael. After viewing Ms. O’Neill’s images online, she unhesitatingly contacted the Princeton-based photographer to suggest a show.

Exhibitions at the Nassau Presbyterian Church change monthly from October through May and feature local artists working in a variety of media including oil and acrylic painting, pastel, watercolor, and photography.

With these shots of Maine, the photographer presents a distillation of summers spent exploring such places as Seal Cove. As soon as Ms. O’Neill and her husband arrive, they make for the rustic Bass Harbor restaurant, Mainely Delights, “where the warm welcome always makes us feel immediately at home,” she said. Hence the title of this exhibition.

Delight is clearly the hallmark of Ms. O’Neill’s time spent Down East where the artist speaks of finding certain moon phases that bring about extreme low tides and grant access to beaches otherwise inaccessible. Unique arrays of seaweed and rocks create natural abstractions which the photographer invites viewers to explore, alongside evocative images of gardens and seascapes.

The artist taps a poet’s sensibility for the titles of her images: Entwinings, Wending, Ripening, A Whispering of Sloops, Pasta of the Sea and Vanished Guests, to name but a handful.

“Mainely Delights” will feature 22 pieces in two sizes, 16 x 20 inches and 20 x 24 inches. For more on Ms. O’Neill’s photography, visit: http://tashaphotography.com, or http://tasha-oneill@artistwebsites.com.

 

COMMUNICATION GAPS: Mary (Erin O’Brien, left) leaves anonymous notes about “the fragility of their marriage,” as she prepares to leave her husband, and George (Chris Littlewood), a linguist, can’t find the words to convince his wife to stay, in Theatre Intime’s production of Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive” at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through March 1.

COMMUNICATION GAPS: Mary (Erin O’Brien, left) leaves anonymous notes about “the fragility of their marriage,” as she prepares to leave her husband, and George (Chris Littlewood), a linguist, can’t find the words to convince his wife to stay, in Theatre Intime’s production of Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive” at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through March 1.

The central dilemma and reigning irony of Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, is that George, a linguist, scholar and preserver of dead and dying languages, can’t come up with the words he needs to say to his wife Mary to keep her from leaving him. 

Currently playing at Theatre Intime on the Princeton University campus, The Language Archive, a 2010 off-Broadway hit, combines farcical humor with emotional depth, absurdity with poetry, and some thought-provoking reflections on love and language, eating, and Esperanto.

The five-member Intime undergraduate ensemble, under the direction of Princeton University junior Annika Bennett, is capable and, for the most part, up to the challenges of this wild, 20-scene play, but some problems with staging and diction need further attention in order to make all these whirlwind scenes clear to the audience.

As George (Chris Littlewood) struggles to deal with the sudden departure of his wife Mary (Erin O’Brien) he shares with the audience his despair and bewilderment. He also speaks eloquently of his dedication to recording and saving languages before they disappear. He is devastated by the loss of his wife, but until this point in his life, the death of languages — “we are talking about a whole world, a whole way of life. It is the death of imagination, of memory.” — has affected him much more deeply than any human loss. The playwright, the child of Korean immigrants, grew up in Los Angeles and never learned Korean. Ms. Cho has stated that this play was inspired by her sense of loss at never having learned the language her parents spoke.

Meanwhile in the language laboratory, the Language Archive, George remains oblivious to the fact that his young assistant Emma (Emily Hornsby) has fallen deeply in love with him. Amidst these serious emotional tensions, enter Resten (David Drew) and Alta (Abby Melick) from somewhere overseas, long-time married couple and last surviving speakers of Elloway. This duo, in the tradition of the bickering Bickersons, the Honeymooners and Al and Peg Bundy of Married with Children, threaten to steal the show with their hilarious verbal sparring. To George’s chagrin, they insist on speaking in English, claiming that the language lends itself most effectively to the expression of their hostile sentiments towards each other.

As the plot proceeds in absurdist, rollercoaster fashion, it develops a sharper focus on Emma — in her Esperanto lessons with her histrionic instructor/confidante (also Ms. Melick); in an encounter with Mary, who has become a baker; in a fantasy meeting with the founder of Esperanto (also Mr. Drew), an eye doctor who tries to persuade her to fall out of love; and in her ongoing, unbalanced relationship with George. The plot also continues to follow Resten and Alta, and George and Mary.

Though at times difficult to understand with their heavily accented lines, Mr. Drew and Ms. Melick create vivid, larger-than-life characters in Resten and Alta and deliver the boisterous humor that carries this show. Their comic timing is excellent, as is their versatility in creating an array of additional supporting characters.

Mr. Littlewood portrays a convincing academic, passionate in his linguistic pursuits and mostly detached, becoming even pitiful, in his personal relationships. Ms. O’Brien’s frustrated, unhappy wife wins some sympathy in her separation from George and later fulfillment in her bake shop.

Ms. Hornsby’s Emma, despite some diction lapses when lines run together, develops as an interesting, appealing character, pursuing her true love with courage and dedication.

Set design by Michaela Karis proficiently provides six different playing areas to accommodate the multiple scene shifts during the course of the evening and to represent different locales: language lab, George’s study, train station (later becomes the bakery), hospital room, and language instructor’s office. The upstage areas, however, office and hospital room, are too far removed for optimum character projection and comprehensibility.

Ms. Bennett has directed this sweet, funny, intelligent play with understanding and sensitivity. Balancing humor and serious feeling is difficult here. The coolness of the protagonist, the multiplicity of scene shifts, and the often dominant farcical element do compromise the best efforts of this promising young playwright and the dedicated Intime ensemble to establish significant emotional depth. It is difficult to care as much as the play wants us to about the passions of George and Mary and even Emma, but The Language Archive provides an entertaining, stimulating evening, with some first-rate humor. 

“The Language Archive” will run for one more weekend, with performances Thursday and Friday, February 27-28, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 1 at 2 and 8 p.m. For tickets and information visit www.princeton.edu/utickets or www.theatreintime.org or call (609) 258-5155.

 

I’M OFF TO WORK HONEY, DON’T KNOW WHEN I’LL BE HOME FOR DINNER: Successful author and psychologist Dr. Thomas Carter (Anthony Mackie, right) blithely bids his wife (Sanaa Lathan) farewell, little realizing that he would soon be imprisoned in hia patient’s basement where he would be sadistically tortured.(Photo by Patti Perret

I’M OFF TO WORK HONEY, DON’T KNOW WHEN I’LL BE HOME FOR DINNER: Successful author and psychologist Dr. Thomas Carter (Anthony Mackie, right) blithely bids his wife (Sanaa Lathan) farewell, little realizing that he would soon be imprisoned in hia patient’s basement where he would be sadistically tortured. (Photo by Patti Perret)

Therapist Dr. Thomas Carter (Anthony Mackie) has just published a popular self-help book that is about the near death experience that helped him turn his life around. He is proud of the fact that, after almost perishing in a horrible car crash in his teens, he went on to earn graduate degrees in world religion and clinical psychology and also find and wed his soulmate, Maggie (Sanaa Lathan). 

Tommy has a happy marriage and a flourishing practice that is founded on a spiritual philosophy that combines faith and positive thinking. However, his successes are the opposite of his wayward brother Ben’s (Mike Epps) life, who was just released from prison.

After Ben was paroled, he was barely back on the streets when news of a $12,000 bounty on him spread around their native New Orleans. So, when Ben asks his brother for money to keep the bounty hunters at bay, Tommy decides to raise the money by extending the publicity tour for his best selling book.

At a local book signing, he is approached for an autograph by a reader, Angel Sanchez (Forest Whitaker), who is urgently in need of counseling. Against his better judgment, Tommy agrees to see Angel as a patient, because the $300/session fee definitely will help pay brother Ben’s debt.

Unfortunately, Carter decides to meet Angel, who is devastated by the death of his mother (Adella Gautier), in Angel’s home, Unfortunately, Carter doesn’t realize that Angel is at the end of his emotional rope because, in addition to his problem with his mother, his wife and daughter have become estranged from him.

The plot thickens when Angel takes Tommy hostage, and ties him up in his basement and then proceeds to torture him.

Directed by Philippe Caland (Ripple Effect), Repentance is a psychological thriller that establishes a compelling premise but then morphs into an otherworldly horror film. Over the course of this rudderless adventure, Forest Whitaker ultimately finds himself abandoned by an implausible script.

Fair (*½). Rated R for profanity, violence, and torture. Running time: 90 minutes Studio: Code Black Films. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.

 

February 19, 2014
“DON’T WANT NO MUSH! TAKE IT AWAY! SCRAM!” No longer the polite little girl she was before she was adopted by a bunch of Damon Runyon types, Shirley Temple, as the title character in “Little Miss Marker,” is being advised on her manners by a night club singer named Bangles, memorably played by Dorothy Dell, who “burst into unrehearsed giggles, stopping the scene.” Fifty years later Shirley recalled her “special affection” for her “frolicsome cohort.”

“DON’T WANT NO MUSH! TAKE IT AWAY! SCRAM!” No longer the polite little girl she was before she was adopted by a bunch of Damon Runyon types, Shirley Temple, as the title character in “Little Miss Marker,” is being advised on her manners by a night club singer named Bangles, memorably played by Dorothy Dell, who “burst into unrehearsed giggles, stopping the scene.” Fifty years later Shirley recalled her “special affection” for her “frolicsome cohort.”

She totally disarms you — she lifts you off your feet.

—H.G. Wells, circa. 1934

Wells’s choice of words is curious, since Shirley Temple was usually the one being lifted off her feet. In her breakthrough movie, Little Miss Marker (1934), she’s lifted, held, hefted, pondered, and passed from one gambler to another as bets are made on her exact weight. When the only female present, a night club singer named Bangles Carson — played with exceptional warmth and verve by Dorothy Dell — tells the Damon Runyon sharpies to stop passing the kid around like a rubber ball, Shirley, in mid-toss, shouts “I like it!” and so she clearly does. The essence of her appeal is right there: she’s having a great time.

In Child Star: An Autobiography (McGraw-Hill 1988), Shirley Temple Black, who died at 85 on January 10, has fond memories of the fun she had with Dorothy Dell as they shared scene-stopping laughter, holding hands, “enjoying the sense of impromptu gaiety.” The 19-year-old Ziegfield Follies beauty playing the worldly Bangles treated Shirley as an equal and won her “special affection” through a positive attitude that made her feel “inches taller” than she was. In writing, however, about Adolph Menjou, who plays Sorrowful Jones in Little Miss Marker, she reports that “off-camera he treated me with the reticence adults commonly reserve for children, sometimes staring at me fixedly without comment.” When Menjou attempts to engage her in that “outgrown infant pastime” hide-and-seek, she humors him, playing the game “with only half a heart. Beyond that one instance, he spent little time directly with me, always preferring to watch me from a distance.”

Comments made by Menjou at the time of the filming and quoted in Child Star suggest why he was keeping a vigilant eye on Shirley: “This child frightens me. She knows all the tricks. She backs me out of the camera, blankets me, grabs my laughs. She’s making a stooge out of me. She’s an Ethel Barrymore at six.”

Nailing Menjou

There’s a remarkable moment early in Little Miss Marker when Menjou picks Shirley up with both hands, holds her close, face to face, and stares into her eyes. It’s his way of reckoning her value as collateral for her wretched, soon-to-be-dead-by-his-own-hand father’s $20 bet. She stares right back, no flinching, no flirting, no being cute: she’s nailing him. Seen in profile, Menjou is all business, and so is she. It’s a powerful shot. Though Sorrowful may not be visibly melting, you can tell the process has begun. It’s as H.G. Wells said, she’s lifted him up, even if he doesn’t quite know it yet.

More to the point, she’s daring him to take her on. Just before he hoists her up for a closer look, she says, “You’re afraid of me” and then “You’re afraid of something.” She observes this gently, holding him in her eyes, making it clear that she’s not the only one whose value is being weighed. As Menjou sets her down, he’s already showing signs of the slow melt. To noises of disbelief from his cohorts that the no-nonsense Sorrowful would accept a kid as a marker for a bet, he says, “A little doll like that’s worth 20 bucks any way you look at it.” Knowing as we do that the doll would prove to be a money-making phenomenon beyond all imaginable mortal reckoning makes this one of the greatest little-did-they-know lines in film history.

Far from “making a stooge” of Menjou, Shirley does what many stars, including even Barbara Stanwyck, could never do: she makes him sympathetic. The ray of Shirley’s light shining on Sorrowful enables his romance with Dell, who plays Bangles with a mildly Mae-West-like swagger that helps disguise the fact that she’s 19 and Menjou is 44. Otherwise it would be a stretch when the two marry at the end and become Marky’s adopted parents. What makes Dell so endearing in her scenes with Shirley is the way she seems at once wise dame, young mother, best friend, and loving sister.

Holding It Together

With all due credit to Runyon’s story and Alexander Hall’s direction, the person holding the film together is the child of the title. It’s not as if the grown-ups simply took it upon themselves to fashion a fantasy world as a way of distracting Marky from the loss of her father; she enlists them one by one as players in the creation she’s weaving according to the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that her mother (“who went away and never came back”) used to read her. The names she gives the characters in her play-in-progress are all derived from or based on those bedtime tales, the first coming when she affectionately dubs Willie Best her “Black Knight” as if such things as racist comic relief simply didn’t exist; the sarcastic gambler Regret (Lynne Overman) becomes Sir Lancelot, Bangles is Lady Guinevere, and Steve, the wouldbe heavy who eventually gives “good strong blood” to save Marky’s life (Charles Bickford) is “the strong knight.”

A Special Freshness

Sample the numerous Shirley Temple films available in full on YouTube, as I did, and you may begin to feel that a little of her undoubted genius goes a long way. She’s an amazing tap dancer. Just watch her busking for trainfare to the White House with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in 1935’s Littlest Rebel. I’m focusing on Little Miss Marker because in addition to its easygoing Runyon ambience and the charming chemistry between the child and the other players, especially Dell and Menjou, Shirley’s gift seems purer, more true to life. There’s a special freshness to scenes like the one where she sits on the piano singing “Laugh You Son of a Gun” with Bangles. Instead of a tapdancing virtuoso, you see a happy little girl smiling out at Depression audiences, having a wonderful time singing lines like “I may be broke/But I take life as a joke” and “It doesn’t cost a thing/To buy the sun” and going heh-heh-heh, hee-hee-hee, and ho-ho-ho-ho on the chorus like any kid anywhere

The bedtime scenes are even better. When Marky begs for a story about King Arthur, Sorrowful settles down next to her and composes an Arthurian tale out of the racing form. Later, when Bangles comes back from a night on the town with a “good time Charlie” and wakes up the child, it’s her turn to take over the bedtime duties, and like a mother spelling a father, Dell curls up next to Marky, improvises a lullaby, and ends by singing both of them to sleep. Again, here’s a scene you know warmed and charmed Depression audiences, especially parents.

Another sequence guaranteed to shoot a St. Valentine’s arrow straight to the heart comes when Sorrowful is reading Marky a bedtime story, this one from the real King Arthur book Bangles has bought her. But by now she prefers the race track King Arthur because she thinks she’s “a bad girl” after picking up some racetrack slang from her new friends, which leads to talk of asking favors of “somebody named God.” The scene where Menjou teaches her how to pray should be an unwatchable embarrassment, except that it’s played with none of the standard bogus Hollywood piety; it’s also the moment when the rapport between Menjou and the child is most poignant. The appeal of the prayer lesson is equal to the Damon Runyon punchline that caps it: “Please God, buy Sir Sorry a new suit of clothes.”

Life and Death

It’s hard to watch Little Miss Marker without becoming fond of Dorothy Dell, referred to in Child Star as the “warm-hearted gun moll” and Shirley’s “frolicsome cohort.” It’s inevitable at some point that you wonder why such an engaging performer never became a star. A Miss Universe at 15, she sang in the 1931 Ziegfield Follies (filling in for Ruth Etting), performed on Rudy Vallee’s top-rated radio show, all before she arrived in Hollywood at 18 with her best friend, Dorothy Lamour. Why haven’t we heard of her? What happened to her career? A week after Little Miss Marker’s June 1 release, Shirley’s “special friend” was killed in a one-car crash described 50-plus years later in Child Star as “a gruesome nighttime automobile accident.” Because the two had become so close during the filming of Marker — an emotional attachment you can see taking place like a real-life subplot — the news was kept from Shirley. But while she was doing a scene from her next film, Now and Forever, that required her to be crying, Shirley overheard reference to the accident and “burst into tears.” While everyone on the set “milled around helplessly,” the director, Henry Hathaway, was quick to take advantage. As Shirley Temple Black recounts in Child Star, “he quickly called for a camera to focus on me where I lay slumped, sobbing away. First a close up, then a medium shot.” Shirley’s mother “observed the splendid performance, and remained watching while the camera continued to roll. Only I knew it was more fun to shed false tears than real ones.”

———

Due from W.W. Norton in May is John F. Kasson’s The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America, in which Kasson thoroughly and convincingly documents the impact of Shirley’s appeal to a mass audience in dire need of sweetness and light. There will be an eight-film Shirley Temple tribute on Turner Classic Movies on March 9 from 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Little Miss Marker and Now and Forever are available on a single DVD at the Princeton Public Library. To find out more about Dorothy Dell, visit mmortalephemera.com/16531/dorothy-dell.

 

DREAMS FOR THE WINTER WEARY: If the storms are getting you down, what better solace than a visit to Rider University’s latest art show: “Basil Alkazzi: An Odyssey of Dreams — A Decade of Paintings, 2003-2012,” currently on view in the Bart Luedeke Center on Rider University’s campus, 2083 Lawrenceville Road. Admission is free. For more information, call (609) 895-5588.

DREAMS FOR THE WINTER WEARY: If the storms are getting you down, what better solace than a visit to Rider University’s latest art show: “Basil Alkazzi: An Odyssey of Dreams — A Decade of Paintings, 2003-2012,” currently on view in the Bart Luedeke Center on Rider University’s campus, 2083 Lawrenceville Road. Admission is free. For more information, call (609) 895-5588.

Are contemporary artists eschewing the secular and returning to the metaphysical? For the philosophically minded, that might well be the question prompted by Rider University Art Gallery’s current exhibition of watercolor and gouache paintings by the Kuwaiti-born artist Basil Alkazzi.

“An Odyssey of Dreams: A Decade of Paintings 2003-2012” features 34 vibrant abstracts that, some think, speak to renewed interest in the metaphysical in art after a period of secular involvement.

The question will be discussed this Thursday, February 20, at 7 p.m. when Michael Royce, executive director of the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) introduces a conversation by two leading art historians/critics, prompted by Mr. Alkazzi’s work.

In “From Secularism to the Mystical in Contemporary Art,” Donald Kuspit and Matthew Baigell will discuss the artist’s work within the broader context of a perceived turn from secularism to the expression of inner feeling, particularly the spiritual, among contemporary artists.

One of the most eminent art critics in the United States, Mr. Kuspit is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History and Philosophy at Stony Brook University and a senior critic at the New York Academy of Art. His writings appear in Artforum, Artnet Magazine, Sculpture, and Tema Celeste magazines, and he is the editor of Art Criticism. An influential author, his art criticism includes The Rebirth of Painting in the Late Twentieth Century; Psychostrategies of Avant-Garde Art; Redeeming Art: Critical Reveries; and The End of Art (and that just since 2000).

Mr. Baigell is one of the nation’s leading art historians. His books include A Concise History of American Painting and Sculpture, The American Scene: American Painting of the 1930s, and Artist and Identity in Twentieth Century America, which examines the work of such artists as Edward Hopper, Ben Shahn, and Frank Stella, relating their art to the social contexts in which it was created, and identifying recurring themes, such as the persistence of Emersonian values, the search for national and regional identity, aspects of alienation, and their personal and religious identities as revealed in their works.

A public reception will follow the program, which was organized by Harry I. Naar, director of the Rider University Art Gallery and Judith K. Brodsky, Distinguished Professor Emerita at Rutgers and founding director of the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions, who also curated the exhibition.

But one needn’t be an art historian or an art critic, to enjoy Mr. Alkazzi’s vividly colored large-scale works on hand-made paper.

Enigmatic and Mystical

The paintings are abstract in an organic rather than geometric way. Enigmatic and mystical, they conjure up warmth, pre-verbal memories, other-worldly landscapes; just the thing to transport the winter weary from the reality of snow shovels and slushy sidewalks.

They range in size from 13 x 18 inches to 40 x 30 inches and their titles convey a romantic and tender sensibility: Kiss of the Butterfly, Ascending Angel, Whispering Dreams, and Ascension in Beatitude II, on the cover of the full-color 136-page exhibition catalog.

Mr. Alkazzi has said that he hopes the show will inspire viewers with “a feeling of awe at the sublime soul within life and nature, and so, within themselves.”

In speaking of his work, Mr. Naar makes comparisons to Wassily Kandinsky and Mark Rothko; Mr. Kuspit, who has written two books on Mr. Alkazzi and has been observing his oeuvre since the 1960s, speaks of Jung.

“My paintings of nature are the Life-Force embodied in nature, all of nature, and that includes mankind,” said Mr. Alkazzi, who describes himself as a man of faith rather than of any particular religion.

This traveling exhibition started at the Bradbury Gallery at Arkansas State University and traveled to The Anne Kittrell Gallery at the University of Arkansas before arriving at Rider where it will continue until March 2. After that it goes to the Rosenberg Gallery at the Maryland Institute College of Art and then to the Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Long Career

The artist’s long career dates from 1973. He first discovered a talent for drawing and painting as a child at boarding school in Beirut. After attending art school in London, he spent time in Greece and then Crete and regularly exhibited his work at London’s Drian Gallery, from 1978 to 1987. Since 1985, he has lived on and off in New York and was granted U.S. residency as “an artist of exceptional ability in the arts.” Currently, he lives in Monaco.

A prolific and self-described “compulsive” painter, he has work in the public collections of museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

“An Odyssey of Dreams — A Decade of Paintings 2003 — 2012” is at the Art Gallery in the Bart Luedeke Center on the Rider campus, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, through March 2. Gallery hours are: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (609) 895-5588.

 

IS IT TRUE LOVE OR JUST CHEMISTRY: Bernie (Kevin Hart, left) and Joan (Regina Hall) are involved in a very passionate love affair. However, neither of them seem to be interested in forging a more permanent relationship that is not based solely on their passion for each other.

IS IT TRUE LOVE OR JUST CHEMISTRY: Bernie (Kevin Hart, left) and Joan (Regina Hall) are involved in a very passionate love affair. However, neither of them seem to be interested in forging a more permanent relationship that is not based solely on their passion for each other.

Released in 1986, About Last Night was about two Chicago yuppies (played by Rob Lowe and Demi Moore) who tried to forge a solid relationship that began with a casual one-night stand. The movie was adapted from Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a drama by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross).

Loosely based on the original, this remake is a romantic comedy that serves as a vehicle for the popular comic-turned-actor Kevin Hart. His character, Bernie, was the sidekick in the original film, and is now the leading man. Furthermore, the setting has been shifted to Los Angeles, and the principal cast members are now black.

Directed by Steven Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine), the picture co-stars Regina Hall opposite Hart as Joan, his love interest. Rounding out the principal cast are Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant as Danny and Debbie, the aforementioned couple who are deciding to give serious commitment a go.

At the point of departure we are introduced to Bernie and Danny, best friends and co-workers at a restaurant supply company. Bernie recounts an escapade he had with Joan before he introduced Danny to Joan’s roommate. Danny is immediately smitten with Debbie, and the cinematic table is set.

Bernie and Joan can’t keep their hands off each other. By contrast, Danny and Debbie move in together, buy furniture, adopt a pet, and map out a future for themselves.

The plot thickens when Danny loses his job and ends up tending bar at Casey’s, a saloon frequented by his ex-girlfriend (Paula Patton). Bernie helps the plot along by pressuring his suddenly domesticated pal to go back to playing the field.

However, the resulting relationship tensions take a back seat to the lighthearted banter in this superficial adventure. Look for cameos by NFL great Terrell Owens as well as ones of Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, via a clip from the original film.

Very Good (***). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, nudity, and brief drug use. Running time: 110 minutes. Distributor: Screen Gems

 

February 12, 2014

book revAbraham Lincoln (1809-1865) knew Shakespeare by heart. It wasn’t just that he could recite long passages from Hamlet and Macbeth and Richard III, or that he felt compelled to regale friends, associates, and secretaries with lengthy impromptu recitations, even in the White House. “By heart” is no mere figure of speech. The Bard was in his blood, and he knew when the speeches he loved had been violated or omitted, as was sometimes the case with the king’s soliloquy in Hamlet (“O, my offence is rank”) or with the glorious duel of invective between Falstaff and Hal in scene 4, act 2 of the first part of Henry IV, which was dropped altogether during a performance the president attended in March 1863.

One-hundred and fifty years ago today Lincoln turned 55. That his February 12 birth date falls in close proximity to a high-profile ceremony honoring the profession of acting — he who loved Shakespeare and died in a theater at the hands of an actor — is one of those coincidences poets, fatalists, and columnists enjoy taking note of; the same could be said of the fact that less than two weeks after Lincoln’s 154th birthday, the Best Actor Oscar went to Daniel Day Lewis for his performance in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Lewis, it’s clear, knew Lincoln “by heart,” having admitted “never, ever” feeling the same “depth of love” for a human being that he’d never met. Lincoln, he went on, probably has that effect “on most people that take the time to discover him.”

Last Days

This year the untimely February 2 death of Philip Seymour Hoffman will likely be acknowledged on Oscar night, as was Heath Ledger’s, also a month before the ceremony, in 2008.

As I write, the front section of the February 6 New York Times is on my desk along with Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book, Lincoln’s Melancholy (2005); a 1904 collection of Lincoln’s Letters and Addresses; and a copy of Alec Wilkinson’s book-length profile of Pete Seeger, who died January 27. The Times is open to an article tracking Hoffman’s movements from place to place in New York (“A Complicated Actor in His Last Days”), playing with his kids in a Village playground, leaving the 92nd Street Y, landing strung out, looking like “a street person” at LaGuardia, having a four-shot espresso at Chocolate Bar, eating dinner at Automatic Slim’s, withdrawing cash from an A.T.M. at D’Agostinos. These glimpses of the actor — possibly the most familiar face on the screen for fans of sterner stuff than action blockbusters and tasteless comedies — going about his business in a familiar locale gave me a clearer sense of his stature, particularly in the way the desperate, driven, often unattractive roles he frequently played were reflected in the various eye-witness accounts of his appearance in those last days.

Sympathy for Seeger

It’s hard to resist remarking the contrast between Hoffman dying alone in New York and Pete Seeger, a beloved folk legend, dying in his nineties surrounded by family and remembered with a two-page obituary in the Times. On the Guardian tribute site someone who had seen Seeger at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall in 1967 wonders “Was this what it had been like to see Abe Lincoln speak? Seeger’s presence was simultaneously joyous and calming. His words, both spoken and sung were an absolute balm.” The more I read by and about Lincoln, particularly in Lincoln’s Melancholy, the less I can see in common between the man whose favorite Shakespearean play was Macbeth and the man who wrote “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”

Reading Alec Wilkinson’s balanced profile of the singer, however, you find another, refreshingly less Lincolnesque Seeger. It’s hard not to like someone who can make fun of his skills as a carpenter, telling Wilkinson, “I put up some shelves to hold records and books right here, and the baby’s crib was under it. One night we heard a terrible crash, and the shelf and all the books and records had come down on her crib ….That’s the kind of stupid thing I’ve done all my life.”

You’re on Seeger’s side again when you read the transcript of his testimony during the HUAC hearings in 1955 when he took the first amendment rather than cowering in the fifth and went briefly to jail for it.

But in the context of Lincoln’s tendency for brooding and self-doubt, what most struck me about the coverage of Seeger’s death, also in connection with the coverage of Hoffman’s last days, was Jesse Wegman’s January 28 op-ed piece about Seeger protege Phil Ochs’s last night. The theme is “being there” for someone in distress. Nobody was there for Hoffman, though judging from an article in this Sunday’s Times (“His Death, Their Lives”), it’s touchingly apparent that the actor who died alone at night “with a needle in his arm” had been an inspiration to numerous others struggling with addiction. According to what Neil Young told Wegman, Seeger never forgave himself for not being there for Phil Ochs on an April night in 1976. Seeger had been in the city and was late for the train home to Beacon, an hour up the river. Ochs was in trouble, had been depressed and drinking heavily for a long time “and had reached out to Pete. ‘He really wanted to talk.’” Seeger had to choose between staying in the city to be with Ochs and taking the train home. To his lifelong regret, he’d taken the train. Ochs hanged himself that same night and “for 37 years the decision to leave that night ate at Pete.”

Brother’s Blood

Unlike you gentlemen of the profession, I think the soliloquy in Hamlet commencing “O, my offence is rank” surpasses that commencing “To be, or not to be.”

—President Abraham Lincoln,

17 August 1863

Lincoln was writing to the actor James H. Hackett, who had played Falstaff in the compromised version of Henry IV the president had seen some months before. Though he was writing to acknowledge receiving a copy of Hackett’s self-touting book on Shakespeare, he took the occasion to mention his favorite plays, with, again, Macbeth the most admired (“It is wonderful”). Meanwhile he neatly avoided mentioning his disappointment in a production that left out his favorite part, writing, “The best compliment I can pay is to say, as I truly can, I am very anxious to see it again.” When Hackett quoted Lincoln’s letter in a publicity broadside that generated negative press, the president responded more than graciously with a note saying that he’d “not been shocked by the newspaper comments” because such comments “constitute a fair specimen of what has occurred to me through life. I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule.”

Even as he was exercising his inner Shakespeare with the word play on malice, ridicule, and kindness in early November 1863, Lincoln was looking forward to the speech he would deliver at the dedication of the Gettysburg national cemetery later that month. No wonder, then, that he would favor the more fitting “offence is rank” soliloquy by the fratricidal Claudius, with its reference to “the primal eldest curse” of “a brother’s murder,” to “a man to double business bound,” to a hand “thicker than itself with brother’s blood,” and to the question, “Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens to wash it white as snow?”

Looking for some mention of Lincoln’s 55th birthday in my 110-year-old edition of his letters and speeches, I found something from January 7, 1864, written on a letter from the governor of Ohio “regarding the shooting of a deserter on that day.” Lincoln calls the case “a very bad one,” since before receiving the governor’s message, the president had ordered the man’s “punishment commuted to imprisonment … at hard labor” for the duration of the war, “and had so telegraphed.” Lincoln explained the failed act of mercy in these words: “I did this, not on any merit in the case, but because I am trying to evade the butchering business lately.”

“The Greatest General”

The photograph of Lincoln used by Shenk for the cover of Lincoln’s Melancholy was taken in 1860, a year before he became president. The troubled expression on Lincoln’s already careworn face bears out Shenk’s subtitled premise (How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness). In a prelude, Shenk recounts the story Leo Tolstoy told a reporter a year before he died. Having found himself the guest of a Caucasian chief of the Circassians “living far from civilized life,” he was telling the chief and his “wild looking riders … and sons of the wilderness” about the Czars and the greatest military leaders, with particular emphasis on Napoleon. They were duly fascinated but they wanted more. What about “the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world,” the man whose name was Lincoln.” Tolstoy accordingly told them of Lincoln “and his wisdom, of his homelife and youth,” But they wanted to know more, “his habits, his influence upon the people and his physical strength,” surprised to hear that he “made such a sorry figure on a horse.” Finally they asked for a photograph of this hero who “spoke with a voice of thunder” and was “so great that he even forgave the crimes of his greatest enemies and shook brotherly hands with those who had plotted against his life.” To find a photograph, Tolstoy went to the nearest town with one of the young riders. As he handed the picture to him, Tolstoy was impressed by “the gravity of his face and the trembling of his hands” as he gazed” for several minutes silently … deeply touched.” Asked what had so moved him, the young man pointed out that Lincoln’s eyes are “full of tears and that his lips are sad with a secret sorrow.”

Tolstoy no doubt embellished the moment, for he was as starstruck as the Circassians, telling the reporter that of all the great national heroes and statesmen of history, Lincoln was the only real giant … a saint of humanity whose name will live thousands of years in the legends of future generations.”

What a play Shakespeare might have written about such a man.

 

MUNCH AS PRINTMAKER: Edvard Munch’s woodcut “Two Women on the Shore”is among 26 works by the artist on display in a new exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum. All of the works are from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Image Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum)

MUNCH AS PRINTMAKER: Edvard Munch’s woodcut “Two Women on the Shore”is among 26 works by the artist on display in a new exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum. All of the works are from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
(Image Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum)

Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print: Masterworks from the Museum of Modern Art, New Yorkopened Saturday at the Princeton University Art Museum. The show features 26 of the artist’s most powerful and well known compositions. But don’t look for his famous 1893 painting, The Scream. Instead, look for variations of his best-known painted compositions.

Highlights from the show are his woodcut/lithographs Madonna, Vampyr II, Two People: The Lonely Ones, and lithographs Anxiety and Death in the Sickroom. As their titles suggest, the themes here are typical of Munch, whose work is distilled from memories of his own troubled past and explores anxiety, sex, and death.

Curated by Calvin Brown, the University Art Museum’s associate curator of prints and drawings and organized by MoMA curators Deborah Wye and Starr Figura, the exhibition includes some of his most arresting images from MoMA’s Collection of Prints and Illustrated Books.

The exhibition focuses on the Norwegian artist’s works on paper in a wide range of printmaking methods. The selection demonstrates the artist’s innovation as well as his singular artistic vision. Munch (1863-1944) is well known as a Symbolist and Expressionist painter. He is less well known, at least outside of museum circles, for his prowess as a printmaker and this show reveals why he’s considered among the greatest printmakers of the modern period.

Born in a Norwegian village, Munch was raised by a deeply religious father. “From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born,” Munch wrote.

The artist’s mother died of tuberculosis in 1868, as did his favorite sister Johanne Sophie in 1877. Munch was often ill and kept home from school. He occupied himself by drawing in an atmosphere where even the entertainment had a somber note (vivid ghost stories by Edgar Allan Poe, for example). It is any wonder he had macabre visions and nightmares?

One of his younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age and Munch spoke of his two inheritances: consumption and insanity. Many of his early drawings depict miserable interiors and medicine bottles.

According to Mr. Brown, who has been at the Art Museum since 1997, the Munch show is a perfect companion to the current show of Italian drawings curated by his colleague Laura Giles.

Pushed to pick a favorite item from the show, Mr. Brown singles out the woodcut version of The Kiss, of which the exhibition has two versions: an etching and drypoint in which two lovers meld into one iconic figure and a nearly abstract color woodcut, coarsely carved and printed from a weathered pine board.

“Almost all of these prints were made as reproductions of Munch’s paintings. He made them to get his work out but he also used printmaking to experiment and explore themes and ideas that go back to key early memories,” said Mr. Brown. “It’s important to remember that Munch was a contemporary of Freud; you could say that he is trying to make sense of his own life while searching for something that is universal; his creative process involves revisiting important memories over and over again; he meditated on fundamental memories like the deaths of his mother and sister and crystallized his experiences to discover the universal conditions of modern existence.”

Asked whether he might enjoy the artist’s company, Mr. Brown said: “I think he would have been a difficult but engaging fellow. He was very well-connected to poets, writers, and painters so he must have been a good companion but he was was given to depression and he drank a great deal.”

If all anyone knows about Munch’s work is The Scream, then they would be missing out, said Mr. Brown. “The Scream is just one of a handful of images he produced around the theme of anxiety, and anxiety is just one aspect of his work.”

The Scream is the best known of Munch’s intensely psychological works and a version (there are several) was sold at auction for $119.9 million in May 2012, at the time the most expensive artwork ever sold at an open auction; another version was stolen and recovered from the National Gallery in Oslo in 1994; and another version was stolen in 2004 from The Munch Museum in Oslo, but recovered in 2006.

The etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts are arranged according to the techniques that Munch explored, from the first etchings and drypoints that he made in Berlin in 1893, to the Frieze of Life: A Poem about LIfe, Love and Death that was shown at the Berlin Secession of 1902. The Frieze is a collection of works that examine the artist’s major motifs: the stages of life, the femme fatale, the hopelessness of love, anxiety, infidelity, jealousy, sexual humiliation, and separation in life and death.

Also explored are Munch’s collaborations with some of the finest printers in Berlin and Paris. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work as “degenerate art,” putting him in company with the likes of Picasso, Klee, Matisse, and Gauguin.

“The visual intensity of these prints plumbs depths that may be even greater than Munch’s paintings due to the nature and immediacy of his graphic achievement,” said Museum Director James Steward. “His profound connection with audiences over the last century is a testament to his ability to fuse our shared human experiences with his own expressive vision.”

“Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print, Masterworks from the Museum of Modern Art, New York” will be at at the Princeton University Art Museum through June 8. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.

 

SHALL WE DANCE: Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) dances the night away with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). The two met when Peter broke into Beverly’s room one night and unexpectedly encountered her. The pair fell hopelessly in love and, because she was dying from tuberculosis, began a whirlwind romance to make the most of their short time together.

SHALL WE DANCE: Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) dances the night away with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). The two met when Peter broke into Beverly’s room one night and unexpectedly encountered her. The pair fell hopelessly in love and, because she was dying from tuberculosis, began a whirlwind romance to make the most of their short time together.

Peter Lake’s (Colin Farrell) parents had hoped to immigrate to the U.S. but were turned away at Ellis Island upon their arrival early in the 20th century. Although they weren’t allowed into America, the Russian couple decided to leave their baby behind, and set him adrift in a tiny model of a ship called the “City of Justice.”

The infant was carried to the shores of Bayonne, New Jersey where he was found and raised by compassionate clam-diggers. Upon coming of age, he moved to Manhattan and became a mechanic until he was pressured into joining a gang of thieves led by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).

Peter learned how to be a thief under Pearly’s tutelage, but the two became enemies after Peter tired of taking orders from him. However, after severing his ties to the gang, Peter was fearful that Soames would avenge his defection from the group.

A moment of truth occurs when Peter is surrounded by his former colleagues but is somehow spirited away by a winged white stallion. Another turning point in his life happens the night he breaks into a mansion through a second floor window.

When he breaks into the room Peter encounters Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a sickly young heiress who is dying from tuberculosis. Despite her illness, he falls hopelessly in love with the frail philosophical free-spirited woman. Over the objections of her skeptical father (William Hurt), the lovers begin an otherworldly romance.

Thus unfolds Winter’s Tale, a delightful flight of fancy that is the directorial debut of Akiva Goldsman, who won an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of A Beautiful Mind. Akiva also wrote the script for this film which is based on Mark Helprin’s best-seller of the same name.

Does this movie measure up to the source material? Can’t say, since I haven’t read it. Nevertheless, I found this well crafted piece of magical realism quite imaginative and intriguing, though I suspect fans of the book might be a bit disappointed, given how much is invariably lost in translation when adapting a 700 page book into a movie.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for sensuality and violence. Running time: 118 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

 

February 6, 2014

record revThere was a turning point in their career, a specific date on which the breadth and scope of their future was to be altered and it was the day their Pan Am jet touched down at Kennedy International in New York to a welcome that has seldom been equaled anywhere.

—Brian Epstein

On Friday, February 7, 1964, some two months and two weeks after Friday, November 22, 1963, a jetliner from the United Kingdom brought forth upon these gloomy, blustery shores “something completely different.” Whether the four-headed juggernaut made you laugh or cry or scream or curse or roll your eyes, there was no denying it. Suddenly, the absurd name was everywhere. Beatles? What was that? Like those sudden vast weather events named Andrew and Sandy and Irene, here came a superstorm called The Beatles and a state of mind the British press called Beatlemania.

In The Beatles Anthology DVD, seconds after you hear the voice of Beatles manager Brian Epstein explaining the long-term significance of the moment, a young fair-haired girl heaves into view, almost as if she’d flung herself through the air into the rapture of that arrival, eyes closed in a transport of blind need as she’s caught and held back, like the others you later see rushing the limousine carrying the Beatles to the Plaza Hotel. In back, four celebrated tourists from Liverpool are having the time of their lives watching the unfolding frenzy they’ve created and listening to their own music on the transistor radio Paul’s holding, as the fans pound on the side of the car and mounted New York cops trot alongside.

“Box Office Poison”

A Beatles landing in late October 1963 at the airport then known as Idlewild would have been an embarrassment, to say the least, even though the first rumblings of the storm roiling England had already been detected stateside. Operating on the assumption that English performers were the equivalent of “box office poison,” executives at Capitol Records summarily dismissed the notion that a group of British musicians with a silly name could make it in the showbiz-savvy Land of Elvis. In spite of the fact that “Please Please Me,” the Beatles’ first hit single, was at the top of the charts in the U.K., Capitol had turned down their right to release it in America, a decision seemingly vindicated when the record went nowhere after a small label called VeeJay issued it. The same thing happened with “She Loves You,” which even VeeJay turned down. As for the first Beatles album, Please Please Me, a chart topper in the U.K. for 29 weeks, Capitol once again said “Nothing doing,” and, true to form, the version released by VeeJay flopped in the U.S.

Early in November 1963, Time became the first mainstream American publication to register what was going on in England with an article entitled “The New Madness.” As Jonathan Gould points out in his book, Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America (Harmony 2007), the early coverage in the American press was “playfully condescending,” with repeated references to “the stereotype of English ‘eccentricity’ and much reliance placed on metaphors of infestation and epidemic” like Variety’s headline, BEATLE BUG BITES BRITAIN. On December 1, 1963, when the nation was suffering through a post-assassination hangover, the New York Times Magazine ran an article titled “Britons Succumb to Beatlemania” showing the group with Princess Margaret along with images of mobs of fans being restrained, but barely, by the police.

What finally opened the eyes of the Capitol execs was a front page story in Variety announcing that the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” had become the first record in Britain ever to sell a million copies. According to Gould, when Capitol saw that “the Beatles had released as many million-selling singles in 1963 as the entire American recording industry,” and that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was “arguably the fastest selling single ever released in any market, anywhere,” it was “with a kind of idiot’s delight” that “it dawned on the men who ran Capitol Records that the rights to sell it,” the veritable golden goose, “were theirs for the asking.”

The plan was to release the single in mid-January, ahead of the group’s February 9 appearance on Ed Sullivan, which had come about, as fate would have it, because that charmless mortuaryesque impresario of “really big shews” happened to be passing through “the madhouse” of Heathrow Airport months earlier when the Beatles were being greeted by a mob of frenzied fans. No matter, with the record already being smuggled into the country and played compulsively by American DJs, people had began hearing “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” so Capitol rushed it out the day after Christmas. On January 3, 1964, a clip of the Beatles singing “She Loves You” was shown on Johnny Carson’s late-night predecessor, The Jack Paar Show. On January 15, New York disc jockey Scott Muni reported receiving more than 12,000 applications for a Beatles fan club. A few days later “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” was at number 3 on its way to the top of Billboard’s Top 100.

The Elephant in the Room

Last week’s CNN special on “The British Invasion” shows the great arrival and the press conference at Kennedy where reporters came prepared to have their cynical way with the Beatles and found themselves playing straight man to four bright, funny, spirited, instantly likable young men with a quick comeback for every silly question:

“What do you think of Beethoven?”

“We love him — especially the poems.”

“Are you for real?”

“Come have a feel!”

“How many of you are bald, that you have to wear those wigs?”

“Oh we’re all bald … and deaf and dumb too.”

What the CNN special leaves unmentioned, the so-called elephant in the room, was that a country in shock needed something like this, a media-powered event mad and massive enough to offset the assassination, never mind how crass and noisy Beatlemania seemed before people began to hear the music and get into the spirit of it. Gould’s book describes the way the fallen president’s “princely aura of youth and good looks and vitality had come to personify for many Americans their country’s most hopeful and flattering vision of itself.” With the intense, relentless television coverage of November 22 and its prolonged, numbing aftermath, “never before in history had the means existed by which the people of an entire country could simultaneously bear witness to an event such as this.” For the first time ever “commercials stopped” and “the living rooms of America” were witness to “a tableau of unmediated shock and grief.” As Gould shows, teenagers found it particularly hard to deal with the “sudden violent death that forced them to confront their own mortality as well.” Gould quotes Jack Greenfield, who was 15 at the time: “If he wasn’t safe, no one was.”

At first, American teenagers sensed the Beatles, in Gould’s words, “as shadowy figures on the periphery of this riveting national drama.’” College students had their first exposure to the music during the vacation week between Christmas and New Years when stations across the country were playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” At the same time, “word of the Beatles began to spread through the high schools and middle schools of America.” In the middle of January, Capitol released the album, Meet the Beatles, which became “the focal point of Beatlemania in America.” Gould points out how the incongruously shadowed and somber black and white cover photograph of the group suggested “shades of empathy, sensitivity, and, above all, an uncanny feeling of mystery.” For young viewers, the cover implied “there was another side to this music and the success that came with it. Who were these people? Where did they come from? And why should they come to us now?”

Two nights after the Beatles arrived, a television audience of 70 million, the largest ever at that time, watched them perform four numbers on the Ed Sullivan Show. Gould may be embellishing the reality when he writes, “as Paul stepped up to the microphone and sang the words, ‘Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you,’ the spell of fear and unreality was finally broken for American’s 21 million teenagers,” but if you’ve heard that joyous, infectious love song, with its chorus “All my loving, I will give to you,” and can imagine how it was to hear and see it at that moment in time, you’ll grant Gould some poetic license: “Eleven weeks after it began, the television wake was over, and the party had just begun.”

Referring to the first appearance on Sullivan in The Beatles Anthology, Ringo says, “I still have people talking about where they were that night, it’s like where were you when Kennedy was shot.”

Of course the same Paul McCartney who sang “All My Loving” would be howling “Helter Skelter” four years later and the “party” would sprawl in some historically unfestive directions before the decade was over.

 

The musical birthday accolades to scholar and philanthropist William H. Scheide just keep coming in honor of his 100th birthday; the latest was a tribute concert of the Dryden Ensemble presented this past weekend in Solebury, Pennsylvania and Princeton. Sunday afternoon’s performance at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Miller Chapel (the concert was also performed Saturday night in Solebury) was devoted to Bach, paying tribute to both Mr. Scheide’s Bach expertise and his long-time support of the Dryden Ensemble. Nine instrumentalists and four vocalists presented a Bach “CantataFest” — two complete cantatas and several excerpts from other cantatas.

Joining the Dryden Ensemble were four more than excellent singers, each with a long history of Baroque performance practice. Soprano Teresa Wakim, mezzo-soprano Kristen Dubenion-Smith, tenor Jason McStoots, and baritone Mischa Bouvier were individually featured in arias and joined together for the opening and closing chorales of the cantatas. Ms. Wakim demonstrated a glorious top register, quickly finding the optimum resonance of the space in Miller Chapel. She had a real ring to her voice within a Baroque context, elegantly handling melismas on specific words, such as “freundlich” in her opening aria. Ms. Dubenion-Smith sang with a remarkably smooth register, especially in the aria “Wie furchstam wankten meine Schritte” of Bach’s Cantata 33 — an aria loaded with octave skips. Conceived more instrumentally than vocally, Bach’s arias can be difficult for mezzos because of range and register, but not for this mezzo. Ms. Dubenion-Smith handled the tough intervals and figures with a voice as smooth as silk and her Cantata 33 aria was particularly gracefully accompanied by violinist Vita Wallace and Daniel Swenberg playing theorbo.

Tenor Jason McStoots demonstrated a lyrical and lighter sound, singing expressively with clean diction. Mr. McStoots’ aria “Woferne du den edlen Frieden,” from Cantata 41, was a complex dialog between voice and violoncello piccolo, played by Lisa Terry. In this aria the musical roles were almost reversed, with the cello taking on most of the melodic movement and the voice serving in more of an obbligato role. Mr. McStoots also provided a complementary voice to baritone Mr. Bouvier, with whom he sang a duet toward the end of Cantata 33. Mr. Bouvier had his opportunity to shine in the aria excerpt from Cantata 62, “Streite, siege, starker Held.” Mr. Bouvier clearly had the potential for a great deal of vocal firepower, with well-handled and articulate coloratura on the words “Streite” (“struggle”) and “kräftig” (“mighty”). The closing Cantata 97 featured each soloist in an aria, with Ms. Wakim’s voice like icing on the cake over the counterpoint of the other three soloists.

As instrumentalists, the Dryden players stayed true to the Baroque character of the music. The concerto-like opening Sinfonia contained delicate swells in the music with clean trills, with sequential phrases which were always going somewhere. Organist Webb Wiggins provided bell-like passages on a chamber organ and the ensemble as a whole maintained a clean texture, even when at full sound. Ms. Wallace had several opportunities for obbligato playing with one of the vocal soloists, playing especially sensitively in the tenor aria of Cantata 97. Oboists Jane McKinley and Julie Brye provided chipper playing, often in thirds, and were particularly supple in accompanying Ms. Wakim in her Cantata 97 aria. Cellist Lisa Terry, bassoonist Sue Black, theorbo player Mr. Swenberg (also playing Baroque lute) and Mr. Wiggins provided solid continuo playing throughout the performance, allowing each of the instruments to speak well in the space.

The Dryden Ensemble has devoted itself to music of the 17th and early 18th century, and Sunday afternoon’s all-Bach performance was particularly appropriate for its dedication to Mr. Scheide. On first glance, Dryden Ensemble concerts may not seem to have a great number of pieces on the program, but Sunday’s performance was well-informed with nuance, and introduced four great singers to a Princeton audience.

The Dryden Ensemble will present a birthday concert to J.S. Bach on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at Miller Chapel on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary. This concert, in honor of Bach’s 329th birthday, will feature chamber music by Buxtehude, C.P.E. Bach, and J.S. Bach. Ticket information can be obtained by visiting www.drydenensemble.org.

 

THESE ITEMS ARE PRICELESS: Two of the seven experts who were chosen to retrieve the art objects that were plundered by the Nazis during World War II are shown examining one of their finds. James Granger (Matt Damon, left) and Claire Simone (Cate Blanchettt) carefully examine some documents in the hope that it will reveal more clues about where other stolen art objects have been hidden.

THESE ITEMS ARE PRICELESS: Two of the seven experts who were chosen to retrieve the art objects that were plundered by the Nazis during World War II are shown examining one of their finds. James Granger (Matt Damon, left) and Claire Simone (Cate Blanchettt) carefully examine some documents in the hope that it will reveal more clues about where other stolen art objects have been hidden.

Most people are probably unaware that while Hitler’s army were sweeping across Europe during World War II, he had also directed his army to sieze any priceless works of art found in the course of its pillaging. The cultural rape of Europe was part of the Führer’s diabolical plan which not only included conquest and ethnic cleansing, but also turning his Austrian hometown into the cultural capital of the Third Reich.

Consequently, millions of artifacts were looted from museums, churches, and private collections and transported to subterranean sites such as salt mines where they’d be safe from aerial attacks. In addition, the scheme also called for the destruction of any treasures he deemed degenerate if they conflicted with his propaganda campaign that promoted Germany’s racial purity and manifest destiny.

So, towards the end of the war, when the Allies realized what was afoot, they assembled a team of curators, archivists, and art historians whose mission was to retrieve and preserve as many of the stolen items as possible. With time of the essence, the seven experts started scouring the ravaged countryside in search of missing masterpieces.

That effort is the subject of The Monuments Men, a bittersweet adventure directed by George Clooney. The movie of the platoon’s heroics is loosely based on Robert Edsel’s best seller of the same name — a meticulously researched, 512-page opus that is encyclopedic.

The film adaptation understandably conflates events and characters as a concession to the Hollywood cinematic formula. Clooney, who stars as Frank Stokes, surrounded himself with a talented cast that is capable of convincingly executing with perfect aplomb a script which veers back and forth between suspense and gallows humor.

The cast features Academy Award winners Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting), Cate Blanchett (The Aviator), and Jean Dujardin (The Artist); and nominees Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), and Bob Balaban (Gosford Park), as well as John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for violence and smoking. In English, French, German, and Russian with subtitles. Running time: 118 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.

 

January 29, 2014

Rec Rev 1Like so many music-related happenings in Princeton, this one began at the Record Exchange. With snow on the ground and more coming, it was time to do what I should have done two years ago and buy Kate Bush’s album 50 Words for Snow, along with Paul McCartney’s new CD New, which is already three months old.

Mercy Mission

Driving into yet another snowfall Saturday, I was counting on the Bush/McCartney blend to keep me going on what promised to be a difficult journey. It was wildly irrational to be traveling to Siren Records in Doylestown under such conditions, except that this was a mercy mission on behalf of my vinyl-addicted son. Rock giveth and rock taketh away. Bathing a baby in the Beatles can come back to haunt you. The albums I was bringing to sell or trade, most of them former inhabitants of the Record Exchange, are by obscure American, British, and European groups from the late 1960s and early 1970s that owe their existence in one way or another to the four young men from Liverpool who arrived in New York 50 years ago, February 7, 1964.

By the time I was driving west on 518, the snow had taken over. Predictions had been for an inch or so. Some “inch” — how could anyone or anything measure the element that was sucking up miles and miles of the world in all directions. With the snow falling harder, the road getting smaller, and the first track on New playing, the windshield wipers were working overtime, the front ones going about half as fast as the one in back, adding a polyrhythmic effect to the song. The lyrics were timely: “In the heat of battle, you got something that’ll save us,” the wipers clacking and whooshing, the heater/AC/defroster roaring fullblast. Between Blawenburg and Hopewell, we seemed to be on a long one-lane bridge to nowhere, the shoulders gone, the center lines going, as we penetrated the relentless totality of that fabulous all-encompassing inch of snow.

On every recent McCartney album, there’s at least one song that inspires thoughts of the Beatles in their mid to late sixties prime. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005) had “Friends to Go,” in Memory Almost Full (2007), it was “Only Mama Knows.” At the junction of 518 and NJ 31, when the visibility was so poor I was thinking of turning back, McCartney delivered another winner with the title track. Like the other big songs, “New” is about the Beatles. Spiritually, musically, emotionally, all four are on board. When Paul sings the phrase “All my life,” that’s what he’s saying, and the joy of it is only a more polished, elegant, but no less uplifting expression of the same old undying rock and roll passion, whether it’s driving “Please Please Me” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “Hey Jude” and “I Am the Walrus.” Look at the video on YouTube and what you see is a group of musicians led by McCartney playing before crowds of unimaginable magnitude, an image that will always spell B-e-a-t-l-e-s.

And what d’you know, as the song plays, I find I no longer need the windshield wipers, the road’s clear, the music’s working, telling me “It’s way too soon to see what’s gonna be.” This new song called “New” soars as it dances, a buoyant marriage of rhythm and melody riding the “fine line between chaos and creation” that Paul has been living on ever since he wrote “I’ll Follow the Sun,” four years before the Beatles had their first number one.

So why not believe that you can snuff the snow with music when a singer’s singing, “You came along and made my life a song” and “I never knew what I could be, what I could do,” and “Now we’re new”? And a few miles west of 31, so we were, no more snow, we were through, over the Delaware with a clear road to Doylestown and Siren.

Snow Queen

It was thanks to my son, who was already collecting and playing records at the age of four, that I discovered Kate Bush one day when he was listening to Pat Benatar sing “Wuthering Heights.” I couldn’t, as they say, believe my ears. Right away I had to know who had the audacity to write a song from the point of view of Cathy’s ghost rapping on Heathcliffe’s window. Surely not Pat Benatar. “K. Bush” said the composer credit. It took awhile to find out that K. Bush was a woman who already had recorded two albums of her own, which I found at the Record Exchange when it was still located in a hole in the wall across from Holder Hall.

I gave an account of this discovery seven years ago in a column about Kate’s album Aerial (2005) where I refer to her as a “creature” who “does things witches, elves, alien beings, and ventriloquists can only envy.” Once, when asked who her favorite singers were, she said, “a blackbird and a thrush.” I thought of her tonight watching Veronica Lake as a delightful witch making love to Fredric March in Rene Clair’s I Married a Witch. In 50 Words for Snow, Kate is beyond witchcraft, she’s a force of nature. Bing Crosby sings about snow. Kate Bush becomes snow.

What better than a force of nature “born in a cloud” to see me through the passage home? By the time I left Doylestown, the snow was falling as fast as before and the roads were worse. On the hills outside Lambertville I passed cars pulled over and one stopped in its tracks. All the while, Kate’s hypnotic snow music is playing, she’s at the piano quietly, hauntingly creating variations on the same figure, subtle and suspenseful, just the balanced steady accompaniment you need as you strain your eyes to pick out the vanishing segments of road at 30 m.p.h., focused to the nth degree.

The voice on “Snowflake” belongs to Kate’s son, Albert, the subject of “Bertie” on Aerial, but I heard it as her, or all the voices of the snow speaking though her, “We’re over a forest. There’s millions of snowflakes. We’re dancing.”

“Lake Tahoe,” the story of “a woman in a Victorian dress” who drowned in the lake, suggests this snow-blown song cycle could be her Winterreise, though a less melancholy winter journey than Schubert’s, with that ebbing and flowing piano. In “Misty” she makes love to a snow man. Is there another singer on the planet who would take that one on and get so beautifully away with it? Like Heathcliffe’s window, hers “flies open” as her bedroom “fills with falling snow” and in he comes and “lies down beside me.” Who else could put together such a storybook moment, Goodnight Moon meets Wuthering Heights. It’s beauty seducing Frosty the snow beast, as she kisses “his ice cream lips/And his creamy skin” and wakes in the morning to find “the sheets are soaking.” He’s gone, she opens the window, can’t find him, it’s still snowing, he’s out there somewhere, so she steps on to the ledge.

The Last Stretch

There’s another car pulled over. And another. A coyote leaps across the road five slow miles east of Lambertville. The music’s working, the beat picking up with “Wild Man,” another bizarre love song from the snow queen, this time the object of Kate’s affection is the Kangchenjunga Demon (“Lying in my tent, I can hear your cry echoing round the mountainside”). As we coast into Hopewell, she’s singing a duet with Elton John, and I remember why I passed up buying the album when it came out. I wasn’t ready for that duet, but they bring it off, two lost souls singing through the ages in “Snowed in at Wheeler Street.” In the title song, the 50 words are spoken by Stephen Fry, but it’s Kate’s poem, her way of improvising on the myth that Eskimos have that many words for snow. After some playful words like “lolefaloop/njoompoola,” the last ones say it all for the stretch of road through the windy Siberia between Blawenburg and 206: “vanishing world,” “mistraldespair,” and last of all, “snow.”

Home at last, a cup of tea, some YouTube interviews with Kate with photos of her bundled up and beautiful in snowy attire, and videos from New, including the one for “Queenie Eye” shot at Abbey Road studio where the Beatles made history. McCartney is alone at the piano until the room begins filling with people   listening, mingling, dancing, some familiar faces among them. The first one you see is slumped on the floor at the foot of the piano. It’s Johnny Depp. In the video about the making of the video, he expresses his awe, to have entered the hallowed space where all that music was made: “That’s the room that changed the world,” he says.

The quotes from Kate Bush are from a Huffington Post interview. Both records are available at the Princeton Record Exchange. Strange, Paul has just won a Grammy for the Best Rock Song, recorded with surviving members of Nirvana. On the strength of one listen, “Give Me Some Slack” can’t hold the proverbial candle to “New,” not to mention “Helter Skelter.” You can see for yourself in the video from the December 12, 2012 Concert for Sandy Relief, where Paul is playing the “cigar-box guitar” given him by Johnny Depp.

—Stuart Mitchner

 
art lead 1-29

EAST WEST HARMONY: Titled “Fish,” this silk painting by Chinese American artist Shaomei Zhong Wan is on view among others of her work at the Plainsboro Public Library. An artist’s reception will be held Saturday, February 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. as part of the library’s annual Chinese New Year celebration. For more information, call (609) 275-2897.

A gallery exhibition by artist Shaomei Zhong Wan will usher in the Chinese New Year at Plainsboro Public Library later this week with a collection of watercolors and silk paintings that are influenced by both Eastern and Western traditions.

The Chinese New Year begins on January 31 and the animal associated with this year, which is not 2014 but 4712 according to the Chinese calendar, is the horse.

“I am very excited with the exhibit and very grateful for such a wonderful opportunity,” said Ms. Wan, who has featured in Plainsboro Public Library events in the last several years, regularly demonstrating the techniques of Chinese and watercolor painting.

Born in Guangzhou, China, Ms. Wan graduated from the South China University of Fine Arts there. She is a member of the Guangzhou City Artist Association and Chinese American Art Association and has lived in the United States for 11 years, at present residing in East Windsor.

After serving for many years in the creative arts and advertising design industries, Ms. Wan currently works as an independent artist and design consultant. She has entered and won prizes in various professional exhibitions, and her work was exhibited in Flushing, New York and in the Mercer County Artists Exhibition at the Mercer County Art Gallery every year for the past five years.

Of the current exhibition and its influences, Mrs. Wan said: “In my youth, I focused on watercolor, engraving, and oil painting. My education was in Western fine art, but my spirit remained in the East. After immigrating to the United States, I discovered that none of the various forms of Western fine art could provide a sufficient outlet for the emotions that I wished to articulate. Several years ago, through serendipitous chance, I was introduced to silk painting, and I have been enamored of it ever since.

“Silk-weaving is an ancient Chinese invention, and silk painting has been alive in China for millennia. However, the fine brushwork painting techniques used in the ancient periods required that the colors be added layer by layer due to limitations in pigment technologies in ancient times, making it a difficult medium for the freehand brushwork of traditional Chinese painting on paper. The use of modern Western dyes and watercolor techniques has helped me discover my own artistic language, enabling the expression of those emotions I feel while facing the conflict and confluence of Western and Eastern cultures.

“Ancient Chinese civilization made its way from East to West through the Silk Road. While I physically traveled from East to West, my creative inspiration moved in the opposite direction, from Western art forms back to my Eastern roots. This exhibition is my first step in a new artistic path, and I hope that my exploration can bring fresh sentiments and inspiration to my audience as well.”

Timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year, the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar, the exhibition has allowed Ms. Wan the opportunity to explore some of her recollections of the celebration. In China, months are reckoned by the lunar calendar. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year.

“In the city of Guangzhou, one major event of Chinese New Year celebration is the flower market and lantern festival,” Ms. Wan recalled. “It’s very much like carnival celebrations in other parts of the world and when I was little, the whole family used to go together. My father would put me on his shoulders so that I could see all the beautiful flowers and lanterns as well as the traditional firecrackers. I still remember the loud cracking sounds and the smells of the burning firework powders. The purpose of the firecrackers is to send off the old year and welcome the new year. At midnight, everybody lit them up at the same time. The noise was so loud that it seemed like the whole city was exploding. And the echoes seemed to vibrate in the air for a long time.”

Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. When twelve showed up, he named a year after each one and said that the people born in each year would have some of that animal’s personality. Those born in horse years are cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, and good with their hands. They include Rembrandt, Aretha Franklin, Chopin, and President Theodore Roosevelt.

As for Ms. Wan, she was born in the year of the snake, which puts her in possession of great wisdom, passion, and perception.

A reception for the artist will be held Saturday, February 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. to coincide with the library’s annual Chinese New Year celebration, which also features performances, crafts, and cooking demonstrations. The exhibition of Ms. Wan’s work will continue through February 26 at the Plainsboro Library, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. For more information call (609) 275-2897.

 

Arts Council of Prince-ton, 104 Witherspoon Street, shows “Terrace Project: Ayami Aoyama” until April 30. Through March 8, “Concentric Circles of Influence: The Queenston Press, Contemporary Works” is on view. (609) 924-8777.

Artworks, Everett Alley at Stockton Street, Trenton, has “Transitions,” works by Colleen Gahrmann, on view through February 15. “The False Mirror: Surrealism Forward and Back” runs through February 22. (609) 394-9436.

A Space Gallery @ New Hope Arts, 2 Stockton Street, New Hope, has “I’ll Explain Later-Works by Guy Ciarcia” through January 31.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Arts and Interactive Media Building, Route 31, Ewing, has paintings and prints by Ruane Miller through February 20. (609) 771-2633.

D&R Greenway Marie L. Matthews Galleries, 1 Preservation Place, has “Wild Creatures: 40 Years Protecting Endangered Species” art exhibit January 29-March 21. The opening is January 31, 5:30-7:30 p.m. On February 12 at 7:30 p.m., the Princeton Photography Club will present photographer Wendel White in “African American Landscape, Architecture, and Artifacts: A Photographic Journey.” www.drgreenway.org.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents “Adopted: Restored, Art, Artifacts and Books from 2012” and “Frank Applegate, George Bradshaw and the School of Industrial Arts” through February 9. The Trenton Public Schools Biennial Student Art Show runs through March 2.

Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, shows “Patterns of Nature” by Charles McVicker February 3-28. (609) 924-7206.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has “People, Places, and a Parrot Called Pancho,” photos by Richard Trenner; “One Heart One Mind” by Winslow Radcliffe-Trenner, through February 2.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has “Winter Dreams,” an open call exhibition, through January 31. From February 1-23, the A-Team Artists of Trenton present “Art from the Heart.” www.cranbury
artscouncil.org

Historical Society of Princeton, 158 Nassau Street, has “Concentric Circles of Influence: The Queenston Press Bicentennial Portfolio.” At its Updike Farmstead location, 354 Quaker Road, “Concentric Circles of Influence: The Queenston Press Ten Crucial Days Portfolio” is on view.

Hopewell Valley Vineyards, 46 Yard Road, Pennington, has “Common Threads 2,” work by five Trenton area artists, February 1, 12-5 p.m. www.hopewellvalleyvineyards.com.

Lucas Gallery, Prince-ton University, 185 Nassau Street, has work by students in drawing, painting, photography, graphic design, sculpture, film and video through February 21. The opening is February 4, 4-5 p.m. www.arts.princeton.edu.

Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown, has “Zara Stasi, Lynnette Hesser and David Bair,” an exhibit by three alumni, through February 4. (609) 944-7551.

Mercer County Community College Gallery, Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, has “Left of Central: Later 20th Century Visual Arts in the Capital City” through February 20. Visit www.mccc.edu/gallery.

Princeton Day School Anne Reid ‘72 Gallery, 650 Great Road, has an Origami exhibit through January 30. From February 10-March 6, “Metamorphosisters,” works by Liv Aanrud and Samantha Ritter, is on view. Visit www.pds.org.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Man” and “The Kite That Never Flew,” sculptures by Alexander Calder, on view outside the museum through June 15. Through May 11, “500 Years of Italian Master Drawings from the Princeton University Art Museum” is on view. “Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print” runs February 8-June 8. Call (609) 258-3788.

Princeton University Mudd Manuscript Library has an exhibit to mark the centennial of the Graduate College, “Building the House of Knowledge: The Graduate College Centennial” through June 6. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m.

Small World Coffee, 254 Nassau Street, has “Grand Blooms,” paintings and drawings by artists from Princeton Senior Resource Center, through February 4. The store at 14 Witherspoon Street has works by students from The Waldorf School of Princeton, “Sacred Geometry,” through February 4. From February 4-March 4, “The Love Show” is on view. The opening party is February 7, 7-9 p.m.

West Windsor Arts Council, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, shows “Out of the Blue” through February 28; works by 39 artists. Visit www.westwindsorarts.org.

Joy comes in many forms and has been represented in music in many ways. Joy was definitely the overriding theme of the annual William H. Scheide “Birthday Benefit” concert held last Saturday night to a full house attendance at Richardson Auditorium. What was special about this concert was its celebration of Mr. Scheide’s 100th birthday (his actual birthday was January 6). Born on the edge of World War I, Mr. Scheide has seen a century of tumultuous events, larger-than-life personalities, and great music. William and Judith Scheide brought together honorees of past Scheide birthday concerts, as well as many old friends, to celebrate Mr. Scheide’s music, philanthropy, and humanitarianism.

This year’s “Ode to Joy” concert benefitted Westminster Choir College, honoring the Choir College’s model of “how to work together in harmony for the service of others.” Featured in performance was Westminster’s renowned Symphonic Choir, which clearly enjoyed its role in the celebrations. One of the vocal soloists for the keynote piece, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, also had a past connection with Westminster.

Conductor Mark Laycock began the festive evening in a first half dedicated to Mr. Scheide’s former academic life, with J.S. Bach’s setting of Philipp Nicolai’s 1598 hymn which became Cantata BWV 140, “Wachet auf.” The Westminster Symphonic Choir, accompanied by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, set the tone for the evening with the words “Gloria to you be sung with human and angelic voices.” As Mr. Scheide’s scholarly and performing reputation has been rooted in Bach, this was an appropriate way to open the concert. The Symphonic Choir, prepared by Joe Miller, presented a serene yet majestic sound, with the soprano section singing with an appropriately light Baroque timbre. Mr. Laycock maintained a broad tempo throughout the short selection, building the orchestra and chorus to a fortissimo in the closing lines of the chorale setting.

Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture seems to characterize academic youth, especially in its closing “Gaudeamus Igitur,” a popular student song in its day. The work’s emphasis on “rejoicing while we are young” was demonstrated in the brisk tempo with which the Vienna Chamber Orchestra began the piece. The strings of the orchestra presented a smooth and unified sound, accompanied by rippling clarinets and very clean horns. The brass sections throughout the concert were as well blended as an a cappella chorus. With Brahms’ compositional roots in Vienna, this music would be in the Vienna Chamber Orchestra’s blood, and the graceful melodic lines and playful winds showed that this overture is much more than a silly drinking song at the end.

Mr. Scheide’s own compositional skills were honored by a premiere public performance of a work he composed while a student at Princeton. Pianists Marian Nazarian and Andrew Sun performed Mr. Scheide’s 1936 Prelude, clearly inspired by the orchestral concerti of Bach, with high-spirited humor and clean counterpoint. Ms. Nazarian has long been a Scheide collaborator, bringing expertise to the keyboard in other birthday performances, and Mr. Sun proved why he is an up-and-comer to watch.

Forces came together in a variety of ways for the Beethoven Symphony No. 9, a work which holds a strong historical place in Westminster’s history and surely fits well into the Vienna Chamber Orchestra’s repertory. The orchestra began the open fifths of the first movement with sharp attacks, punctuated by well-timed timpani, in a tempo that was not too fast. Mr. Laycock kept things moving steadily along, with lyrical wind parts, allowing the orchestra to reach full volume until the recapitulation of the movement.

Mr. Laycock and the orchestra began the second movement Molto Vivace in a brisk tempo, with entrances lightly handled by the players. The wind section’s rhythmic lines were especially clean, as were the melodic lines played by the horns. Mr. Laycock created numerous small builds in the music, enabling the tricky wind entrances of the third movement to seem that much more serene.

In the third movement, the players kept the long lines smooth, with particularly rich second violin and viola sectional playing. Sections of the movement sounded quite hymn-like in tranquility as the orchestra overall played with a very lean sound. The players presented the familiar “Ode to Joy” theme of the fourth movement with very little vibrato, enabling all parts, especially during the presentation by the strings, to be heard.

The Westminster Choir and Vienna Chamber Orchestra were joined by four vocal soloists with strong operatic backgrounds, which were a necessity, even with only 18 minutes or so of music in the movement. Bass-baritone Mark Doss was dramatic and forceful, and well answered by the men of the chorus. Mr. Doss was a good vocal partner for tenor William Burden, who handled the quick pace of the “Turkish march” section well. Mezzo-soprano Leah Wool and soprano Ah Young Hong rounded out the quartet, handling the demanding quartets at the end of this challenging symphony well. An equal star of this movement is the chorus, providing a solid sound in the thematic sections, while being somewhat haunting and ethereal on the text “Do you bow down before Him, you millions?” Mr. Laycock (who conducted the entire program from memory) led the orchestra and chorus through the transitions well, wisely allowing at times to let the music play itself.

As Judith Scheide noted in her introductory remarks to the concert, Mr. Scheide begins each day with music. She also shared with understandable pride a letter received from President Barack Obama congratulating Mr. Scheide on reaching his 100th birthday and commending his “unique and important contributions to American culture and society.” For those unable to attend this past weekend’s celebratory concert, it was taped for later broadcast on PBS, and it is only 342 days until William Scheide turns 101.

—Nancy Plum

 
WE’RE OFF TO FIND QUEEN ELSA AND PUT AN END TO THIS ETERNAL WINTER: Our three intrepid heroes: Ana (Kristin Bell, left), the snowman (Josh Gad, center), and the Mountain Man (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer, set out to find Ana’s elder sister, Queen Elsa, who put her country Arendelle into an state of eternal winter just before she disappeared. They hope to find the missing queen and persuade her to remove the enchanted winter spell from Arendelle.

WE’RE OFF TO FIND QUEEN ELSA AND PUT AN END TO THIS ETERNAL WINTER: Our three intrepid heroes: Ana (Kristin Bell, left), the snowman (Josh Gad, center), and the Mountain Man (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer, set out to find Ana’s elder sister, Queen Elsa, who put her country Arendelle into an state of eternal winter just before she disappeared. They hope to find the missing queen and persuade her to remove the enchanted winter spell from Arendelle.

Given the toll the polar vortex has been exacting on the continental U.S. lately, plenty of people can relate to the frigid predicament of the people living in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. Disney’s Frozen is an animated adventure loosely based on “The Snow Queen,” a classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale first published in 1845.

This delightful musical stars Kristen Bell as the voice of Anna, the young princess who takes it upon herself to save the day after her sister, recently-crowned Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), plunges Arendelle into a permanent winter before disappearing. It turns out that Elsa was born with the power to freeze things in an instant.

Complicating matters is the fact that Elsa, who became queen after her parents died, had just forbidden her sister from marrying Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). So Anna, accompanied by an anthropomorphic snowman (Josh Gad) and a rugged mountain man (Jonathan Groff) with his trusty reindeer, embark on an epic journey to find Queen Elsa with hopes of reversing the curse and reconciling the two sisters’ differences.

En route, Anna and her companions are afforded ample opportunities to belt out a tune and survive numerous perilous situations. The enchanting movie is memorable for its pleasant luminescence, catchy soundtrack (including the Best Song Oscar nominated “Let It Go”), and its unpredictable resolution.

Frozen puts a novel spin on the hackneyed nursery rhyme plotline that has the prince arriving in the nick of time to save the damsel-in-distress. Instead, the film is a touching tale of sisterhood with the message that blood is thicker than an ill-advised crush.

Excellent (****). Rated PG for action and mild rude humor. Running time: 102 minutes. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures.

—Kam Williams

 
January 22, 2014

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song, and I’ll try not to sing out of key.

—Lennon and McCartney

There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.

Sir Francis Bacon 1561-1626

With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America looming, the idea of an odd couple like Strindberg and Byron performing on the same imaginary stage isn’t so far fetched — at least not if you recall the most celebrated album cover of its day, in which the Fab Four appear costumed as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band standing with a photo montage of “infinite riches” from past and present, movie stars and mystics, poets and explorers, celebrities and occasional lesser lights. The star attractions in this page’s music hall are some literary gentlemen who share the same birthday, and it seems only right that a knight of the realm should open and close the festivities. Coming all the way from January 22, 1561, to deliver words of wisdom on the strange beauty of the occasion, Sir Francis Bacon, performing an imperfect flourish, announces the main event: “In this corner, stage right, wrapped in the Greek flag, Lord Byron (1788-1824), and entering stage left, the pride of  Stockholm, August Strindberg (1849-1912).

book rev2A Byron Treasure

Of course the best place outside the internet to find Byron, Bacon, and Strindberg under the same roof is in a well-stocked secondhand bookstore like the Old York in New Brunswick or the Wise Owl in Bristol, England. In bygone days at the Old York, when the word on the street had it that the owner would be unpacking some treasures to put out for sale, book dealers would flock like birds of prey to feed on the grossly underpriced new arrivals. In all the years I frequented the store, the one time I happened to be present when John Socia was unpacking a freshly bought lot, he pulled out a set of Byron from the 1820s, eight elegant little volumes with gold-tinted pages. It didn’t matter that I’d never bonded with Byron the way I had with Keats and Coleridge. I was gaping, dazed, in awe. Even the most generous of book dealers would have put a hefty price on that set, but when John saw the lovesick gaze in my eyes, the classic starving grad student, he quoted an unthinkably low price. As it turned out, I was more at home reading Byron in the copy of the Norton Anthology of English Literature I’d been living with during my year as a Norton college traveler.

book rev1Strindberg in Bristol          

Strindberg’s autobiographical novel, The Inferno, cost me the equivalent of 50 cents at the Wise Owl, which was located just around the corner from a 17th-century alms house. Although Bristol had a number of browsable secondhand stores in the 1970s — from the magnificent George’s at the top of the Park Street hill to the lowly George’s on the Christmas Steps — my favorite was the Wise Owl, a paradise of “quaint and curious volumes,” most of them reasonably priced. It was there that I found an illustrated set of the Brontes, a copy of the works of Milton the size of a package of cigarettes, and an equally charismatic volume from the same year (1837), Daniel Defoe’s History of the Devil. This bookshop specialized in the occult, shelves and shelves of it, which is where the Strindberg turned up, seething like a smoky red beacon amid its unprepossessing neighbors.

First published in English in 1912, the year its author died, The Inferno’s once-brick-red front and back covers were so haunted by mysterious stains and shadows that most discriminating book buyers would have hesitated to touch it let alone buy it. Being a believer in the Baconian aesthetic of strangeness, I found the condition of the leprous object fascinating in itself, and after reading a page or two I realized that I was holding one of those volumes where the medium, due to the ravages of time and misuse, had come to reflect its demented message. The thing looked as though it had been set on a hearth stone to dry after being dipped into one of the sulphurous solutions that flayed and ravaged Strindberg’s hands on his descent into the nether regions of alchemy.

Anchor or Be Wrecked

At that time I only knew Strindberg as a dramatist (Miss Julie, A Dream Play), not as a tortured mystic obsessed with “the problem of making gold” in his makeshift laboratory in Paris as he suffered through hell, purgatory, and paradise in 1896. Though tormented by demons of paranoia, he took pleasure in bizarre transformations, hunks of coal taking the shape of grotesque tableaus; the detached germ of a nut appearing on “the glass-slide of the microscope” as “two tiny hands, white as alabaster, folded as if in prayer … fingers clasped in a beseeching gesture”; a zinc bath showing “on its inner sides a
landscape formed by the evaporation of iron salts,” the latter image not unlike the stain I saw on the book’s cover.

If you wonder what the author of The Inferno can have in common with the Don Juan who wrote Don Juan you need read no farther than Byron’s Faustian dramatic poem Manfred (which Strindberg “greatly admired” for its “criticisms of society”) or the opening lines of Childe Harold, who has “through sin’s labyrinth run” and “for change of scene would seek the shades below.” More to the Byronic point, there’s translator Claud Field’s introduction to my copy of The Inferno, quoting Robertson of Brighton (“Woman and God are two rocks on which a man must either anchor or be wrecked”) and pointing out that even toward the end of Strindberg’s life, when “the storm has subsided” and “the sea is calm, though strewn with wreckage,” one bitter fact remains: “He cannot forgive woman. She has injured him too deeply. All his life long she has been ‘a cleaving mischief in his way to virtue.’”

Both men were shipwrecked on those rocks, just as both were wounded from birth, Byron literally, having been born with a club foot and sexually abused by a sadistic governess, Strindberg growing up with a fear of the “invisible powers” that “robbed him of all peace of mind.” According to Sue Prideaux’s recent biography “he could do nothing without doing wrong,” was slapped, scolded, caned, and birched (“It had been effectively dinned into him that he had no right to exist”).

Strindberg was sent to a notoriously strict school, where he fell in love with the rector’s nine-year-old daughter, the only female in his class (boys who dared to so much as look at her were whipped), and it was for the love of this girl that he threatened to cut his throat. In Edna O’Brien’s Byron in Love (Norton 2009), eight-year-old Byron “felt the attendant joys and uncertainty of first raptuorus love,” the girl, named Mary, “one of those evanescent beings, made of rainbow, with a Greek cast of features, to whom he would for ever be susceptible,” her “successor” a distant cousin “for whom he also conceived a violent love.”

No doubt Byron and Strindberg would raise their respective eyebrows if they knew that the biographies of the moment are by women: besides Edna O’Brien’s, there are Benita Eisler’s Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame (Knopf 1999), and Sue Prideaux’s Strindberg: A Life (Yale 2012), which features an author photo showing Ms. Prideaux at the feet of the Strindberg monument in Stockholm, a nude sculpture of the dramatist as a Greek god so sprawling, muscular, and immense that you can barely see the comely biographer smiling in its shadow.

Women, Women

Admitted, my knowledge of Byron hasn’t progressed much beyond the 90 pages afforded him in my frayed, faded copy of the Norton Anthology. And to be brutally honest, it wasn’t the poetry that struck a certain lonely Norton college traveler writing a freeform novel about a ravishing teen-age goddess named Susanna: it was the commentary revealing how Byron “found himself besieged by women” and the way this “period of great literary creativity coincided with a period of frenzied debauchery, which, Byron estimated, involved more than 200 women, mainly of the lower classes.”

Among the numerous compelling illustrations in Prideaux’s handsome biography of Strindberg (including a selection displaying his Turneresque paintings), there’s a photograph of the funeral procession on May 19, 1912, when ten thousand people lined the streets of Stockholm to honor the dramatist. What stands out most among the photographs, however, are those of Strindberg’s children he took himself and the photographs of his first and third wives, both actresses, the first, Siri von Essen, costumed to play Jane Eyre, the third, Harriet Bosse, a charming Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“Her movements … were like music for the eyes”). Writing in his Occult Diary, Strindberg describes encountering 22-year-old Harriet backstage, where her “little face … assumed a supernatural beauty,” her eyes “ensnaring me with black lightning.” In the dream he had of her appearing “in her costume as Puck,” she gave him her foot to kiss, but then, inevitably with Strindberg, things took a demonic turn, the angel was an “incubus,” and everything became “quite ghastly.”

The Last Word

Although Sgt. Pepper’s “band you’ve known for all these years” kicked off the music hall festivities, and although Harriet Bosse’s supernatural beauty and black lightning glances suggest the “kaleidoscope eyes” of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” the last word belongs to Sir Francis, who tells us that “love is ever matter of comedies, and now and then of tragedies,” which “in life … doth much mischief; sometimes like a siren, sometimes like a fury.”

 

Theater rev 1-22-14

SINNED AGAINST AND SINNING: Troy Maxson (Esau Pritchett), former Negro League baseball star, confronts death and an abundance of domestic and social adversities in McCarter Theatre’s production of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fences” through February 16.

James Earl Jones was the star of the original production of Fences, at Yale Repertory Theatre in 1985 and on Broadway in 1987, where it won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play. Then it was Denzel Washington, in a 2010 Broadway revival, in the larger-than-life role of Troy Maxson, his name itself evoking the grandeur and tragic fall of the unforgettable protagonist of Wilson’s drama. But in McCarter Theatre’s searing, deeply moving production of this masterpiece, it’s August Wilson, the playwright himself, who emerges as the star of the show.

This poetic drama is set in 1957 in the early years of the civil rights movement and focuses on the struggles of a former Negro League baseball player, now a Pittsburgh sanitation worker, and his family. The dialogue is at the same time natural and poetic, and so powerful, humorous, and moving. Wilson, who died in 2005 after completing his highly acclaimed Century Cycle of plays set in every decade of the twentieth century, frequently cited the influence of the blues on his work, and Fences — in its sympathetic, suffering characterizations, in its bitterness and solace in alcohol, humor, language, music, and humanity — resonates with the rich life and tone of a blues song that sticks in the mind and soul.

Fences depicts a family in conflict. Troy (Esau Pritchett), the middle-aged patriarch, is at odds not just with the society that barred him from the major leagues through the 20s, 30s, and 40s and consigned him to a job carrying garbage, but also with his wife Rose (Portia) and sons, 34-year-old Lyons (Jared McNeill) from a failed earlier marriage and 17-year-old Cory (Chris Myers). Troy is indeed a victim of the racism of his time and environment, but he is also a victim of his own bitterness, his personal excesses, and his wary detachment from family and friends.

Early in the first of two acts Troy and Cory clash over Cory’s hopes of gaining a football scholarship to college. Troy, who hit 43 home runs in one season in the Negro League but was born too soon to break the color barrier in the Major Leagues, distrusts the white man’s enticements for Cory and also harbors his own resentment and jealousy over this opportunity that he never had. The conflict grows increasingly hostile as Cory attempts to assert his independence from Troy’s influence, and Troy, seeing his authority and control challenged, fails to accept the changing world of America on the cusp of upheaval, along with his son’s entrance into adulthood and his own aging.

The shattering of the fragile family is complete when Troy comes home, early in the second act, to announce to Rose that he has fathered a child with another woman.

August Wilson and his characters are brilliant storytellers. In the tradition of Arthur Miller — Death of a Salesman in particular — where intense family conflict plays out its tragic drama of the common man against a background of powerful destructive social forces, Fences is a story about families, a marriage and, especially, through the generations, fathers and sons, with the sins of the fathers repeatedly being visited on the sons. It is also a play about the power of speech as our greatest weapon in shaping our stories and our lives and in battling against oppression and death.

In McCarter’s production, in association with Long Wharf Theatre where it opened last month, Mr. Pritchett as Troy is convincing, powerful, charismatic — as a man past his prime, finding himself in a new world, on unfamiliar ground with wife and sons. He’s a storyteller, angry but loving his family, his friends, his life, and fighting, as a great athlete fights to win the game, his battle to turn back mortality. Mr. Pritchett, of course, lacks the physical magnitude of James Earl Jones (Rose describes Troy: “when (he) walked through the house he was so big he filled it up”) and the instant star- recognition of Denzel Washington, but Mr. Pritchett thoroughly engages the audience in his joy and loves, his frustrations, and his anguish. He radiates a gift for spell-binding storytelling, a warm humor and a virtuoso musician’s gift for delivering the music of Wilson’s rich poetic language.

Portia establishes Rose as a worthy counterpart and counterbalance to Troy. She is enormously sympathetic as she moves through the rich territory of emotions required as wife and mother in her fight to keep her family together. Troy and Rose may be the most finely, fully, and convincingly developed husband–wife portrayal in all of Mr. Wilson’s ten plays.

“Jesus, be a fence all around me every day,” Rose sings as she hangs out the laundry at the start of the second scene. The fence that Troy and Cory are building emerges on both sides of the stage as the action progresses. It becomes a symbol of the security and protection — from white America, from his own inner demons, from death itself — that Troy seeks. And it also represents Rose’s struggle to keep the family together against the forces that threaten to pull it apart.

Mr. Myers’ Cory provides the third side of the immediate family triangle, and, though not as fully developed as the character of Troy, Cory faces many of the strains, aspirations, and frustrations of his own generation. Growing up in the shadow of his formidable father, Cory, though in many ways his father’s son, strives bravely, in Wilson’s version of a classic oedipal battle, to break out and achieve manhood on his own terms.

As Troy’s friend Bono, Phil McGlaston creates an engaging, credible, and interesting character foil, a grounded follower in contrast to Troy and his high-energy rashness. He is a worthy confidant, a sharp, funny, sympathetic listener and counterpoint to Troy’s tales, and a concerned friend.

Jared McNeill’s portrayal of Lyons, Troy’s musician older son, vividly and effectively provides yet another dimension in the play, as well as another perspective on the father-son dynamic, with son fully adult and clashing with his father in both values and life style.

In the magnificent role of Gabriel, G. Alverez Reid creates this wounded World War II veteran with great sensitivity and winning, loving detail. Having lost a significant part of his brain in the war effort and often needing help from his brother Troy, Gabriel is a sort of peddler, prophet, and angel of St. Peter, making sporadic appearances at key points in the story. With the character of Gabriel, as with Troy himself in his dark musings on death and the devil, this play, though never leaving its firm grounding in particularities of time and place, does at the same time transport its audience to a realm of spirituality where devils and death, St. Peter and the angels are brought to life.

Appearing in the final scene of the play, set in 1965, eight years after the first eight scenes, Taylor Dior as the seven-year-old Raynell, delivers a spot-on characterization of Troy’s youngest offspring and an appealing hope for a new generation.

John Iacovelli’s dirt back yard, back-porch, worn house setting in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, 1957, pre-television, pre-electronics, provides the ideal locale for the action of the play. A big tree stands on stage right with a bat leaning against it and ball made of rags tied to it for batting practice. Vivid warm lighting by Xavier Pierce, realistic costumes by ESOSA, and sound by John Gromada contribute rich background and resonance to the characters and concerns of the play.

Though this production does gain great strength from its focus on the ensemble, rather than risking the distractions associated with casting a big-name star, the director of this production is indeed a big star, Phylicia Rashad. An accomplished Tony Award-winning actress, experienced performer and director of Wilson’s work (including Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean on Broadway in 2004 and at McCarter the following year) as well as the acclaimed Claire Huxtable in “The Cosby Show” on TV for many years, Ms. Rashad possesses an extraordinary list of accomplishments on stage and screen, and, in recent years, as director. Her direction here brilliantly manifests her respect for the play and the playwright, bringing out powerfully and vividly the music and meaning of Fences and its characters.

In 2007, in a foreword to Gem of the Ocean, Ms. Rashad commented on Mr. Wilson, “He understood the power of sound and rhythm inherent in words, speech and music. He worked in alignment with that power …. August’s characters are defined by speech — the rhythms of speech serve as emotional building blocks that support the progressive movement of the play.”

In this exciting production of Fences at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre, Ms. Rashad, with her top-flight design team and ensemble of seven fine actors, has faithfully and imaginatively brought to life the power, beauty, and value of August Wilson’s great drama. McCarter has just announced a one-week extension of this run of Fences, to February 16. It’s a dazzling production of one of the great plays of the 20th century. Those additional seats will fill up fast. Don’t delay.

 

 August Wilson’s “Fences” will run through February 16 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre, 91 University Place in Princeton. For tickets and information call (609) 258-2787 or visit www.mccarter.org.

 

A floral supplies store would seem an odd place to shop for musical instruments, but in preparation for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s (NJSO) recent North American premiere of Tan Dun’s Earth Concerto, members of the ensemble’s percussion section found themselves looking at planters of varying sizes and materials to serve as drums. Audience members at NJSO’s concert last Friday night at Richardson Auditorium peered with great interest at the three sets of multiple planters, not necessarily realizing that the three percussionists were creating amazing music on items available at the neighborhood gardening emporium.

NJSO Music Director Jacques Lacombe programmed Friday night’s concert of the Tan Dun concerto and Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde as part of the orchestra’s Winter Festival theme of the relationship between music and the elements of nature. Both the Tan Dun and Mahler works were “songs to earth” concerning man and nature. In a type of “chicken and egg” cycle, Chinese composer Tan Dun drew his inspiration for Earth Concerto from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, while Mahler found inspiration for this work in Hans Bethge’s poetic translation of Tang dynasty poetry.

NJSO programmed Earth Concerto as a closing bookend to Tan Dun’s Water Concerto, performed in the Winter Festival of 2011. The complete title of the work is Earth Concerto for Stone and Ceramic Percussion With Orchestra, and the three-movement work is scored for 99 ceramic and stone instruments with large orchestra. The concerto had its premiere in 2009, and what made NJSO’s North American premiere unique was its use of local instruments. The terra cotta, ceramic, and metal planters played by David Cossin, James Neglia, and James Musto provided scales, bell-like tones, and a somewhat rustic effect which Mr. Cossin noted “brings people back to a quieter and less distracting time.”

Understandably, most of the focus during the performance of Earth Concerto was on the three percussionists, as well as guest artist Zhang Meng, who played three traditional Chinese instruments — ceramic horn, xun, and flute. The most melodic of these instruments was the xun, a globular ocarina-type instrument providing a rich and mellow sound, especially when accompanied by harp. Adding to the percussive effects of the piece was the ceramic horn, which Mr. Zhang blew into, not unlike the indigenous Australian didgeridoo. The ceramic flute, used primarily in the third movement, contrasted with the ostinato played by the three percussionists and a slightly tipsy string sound to match the movement’s title: The Drunkard in Spring.

Tan Dun’s concerto was a work of innovation, as was Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in its time. Composed in 1907-08, the six-movement work straddled the genres of orchestrated song cycle and symphony, while musically addressing Mahler’s obsession with mortality. Beginning with the trademark Mahlerian horn calls, Mr. Lacombe and the NJSO kicked off the piece majestically. Mahler changes musical moods on a dime, and throughout the work the players had no trouble navigating the composer’s very complex and evolutionary imagination.

American tenor Russell Thomas, who presented the first, third, fifth and final movements, sang with bright and sometimes fierce sound which was necessary to be heard over the thick orchestration. A nice Viennese flow from both singer and instrumentalists marked the reflective third movement, and like its companion third movement of the Tan Dun concerto, the fifth movement of the Mahler was sufficiently tipsy.

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop displayed exactly the rich vocal tone and sensitivity to the text required for Mahler’s pensive approach to Bethge’s poetry. Both of these vocal soloists were necessarily operatic, and Ms. Bishop was in no hurry to rush the text, providing a bit of sauciness in the fourth movement. In the closing movement, in which both soloists sang, Ms. Bishop floated text describing the peaceful earth as Robert Ingliss’ oboe solo combined with undulating violas to depict a brook that “sings loudly through the darkness.”

The mid-19th century was a heyday for horns, and the horn section of the NJSO showed clarity and unified sound throughout. Mahler exploited almost every instrument of the orchestra in his larger-than-life musical concepts, and NJSO’s wind players in particular demonstrated both grace and strength. A pair of clarinets “wandered” through eternal love and English hornist Andrew Adelson provided supple melodic lines periodically throughout the movements. Mahler’s unique orchestration of piccolo solos, played by Kathleen Nester, added to the playfulness of the Drunk in Springtime fifth movement, and Bart Feller’s sensitive flute playing added to the pathos of the final farewell. Mahler’s underlying optimism was conveyed by the celeste, played by Elizabeth Difelice, as the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra brought the substantial yet poignant work to a close.

 

WE’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF THIS ALIVE: Marcus Lutrell (Mark Wahlberg) is one of a team of four SEALS who were caught in an ambush in Afghanistan. The unfortunate unit, who were on their way to locate a Taliban leader in a nearby village, was surrounded by over 100 Taliban fighters after their presence in the area was reported by seemingly innocuous shepherds. As the title of the film suggests, only Lutrell survived the ordeal and later wrote a memoir about the incident.

WE’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF THIS ALIVE: Marcus Lutrell (Mark Wahlberg) is one of a team of four SEALS who were caught in an ambush in Afghanistan. The unfortunate unit, who were on their way to locate a Taliban leader in a nearby village, was surrounded by over 100 Taliban fighters after their presence in the area was reported by seemingly innocuous shepherds. As the title of the film suggests, only Lutrell survived the ordeal and later wrote a memoir about the incident.

On June 28, 2005, a team of four Navy SEALs based in Afghanistan were issued orders in accordance with Operation Red Wings to locate and terminate a Taliban leader whose militia had been targeting coalition troops in the Kush Mountains of Kunar Province. The four were dropped by helicopter line into rugged terrain outside the tiny village that was suspected of harboring al-qaeida sympathizers.

Soon the soldiers encountered several shepherds and, against their better judgment, allowed the seemingly innocuous civilians to continue on their way in accordance with the U.S. military’s rules of engagement. Unfortunately, about an hour later, the SEALs found themselves ambushed by over a hundred Taliban fighters who had apparently been tipped off as to their whereabouts.

The ensuing battle is the subject of Lone Survivor, a gruesome war film based on Marcus Luttrell’s (Mark Wahlberg) memoir of the harrowing ordeal. Adapted and directed by Peter Berg (Battleship), the picture is reminiscent of Black Hawk Down, that was another film about an American, overseas helicopter operation gone bad.

Given the movie’s title, there isn’t any suspense about how the disastrous misadventure ends. Consequently, the movie amounts to little more than watching members of Luttrell’s unit — and over a dozen of the reinforcements sent to try to rescue them, perish — as well.

Good (**). Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity. Running time: 121 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

—Kam Williams