May 17, 2017

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel opened at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre May 12. The program notes state that Ms. Nottage, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat is currently on Broadway, has the following artistic mission: “to tell the stories of forgotten people, those whose lives did not make it into the records through which we, as Americans, chronicle the history of our country.” Inspired by a photograph of her great-grandmother, a Barbadian seamstress who lived in New York City at the turn of the last century, Ms. Nottage succeeds with this 2003 drama.

Esther Mills, a 35-year-old African American seamstress patterned after the playwright’s great-grandmother, rents a room in a boarding house owned by Mrs. Dickson. Esther creates “intimate apparel” for affluent women such as the unhappily married Mrs. Van Buren; and for Mayme, a prostitute and talented pianist. more

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) closed its 2016-17 Princeton series on Friday night with the best of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as well as an old musical friend featured in a Romantic Sibelius violin concerto. NJSO Music Director Xian Zhang led the ensemble and violin soloist Jennifer Koh in a concert at Richardson Auditorium including music of Mozart, Sibelius, and Schubert.

Ms. Koh is an old friend to Princeton audiences; she has performed a number of times with area ensembles. Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47 is an expansive symphonic work, and even after its 1905 revision by the composer, still demands the highest in technical facility from the soloist. more

May 10, 2017

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) had less than a dozen of her 1,800 poems published while she was still alive. Since her work was appreciated posthumously, it makes sense that a movie about her life would be about something other than her literary work, which was unrecognized by her contemporaries.

Writer/director Terrence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) resisted the temptation to examine Dickinson’s poems, but instead examined her tortured soul. As a result, A Quiet Passion is an exquisite costume drama that presents the protagonist as an iconoclastic visionary and a retiring recluse.

The socially-conscious production suggests that the agnostic, feminist abolitionist was ahead of her time, and that she withdrew from the world in response to being raised in an era when evangelism, slavery, and male chauvinism were the order of the day. The movie focuses on her fragile psyche that was further crippled by her cloistered existence.

As the film unfolds, we find Emily (played in her teens by Emma Bell and later as an adult by Cynthia Nixon) finishing a frustrating freshman year at Mount Holyoke. She decides to drop out in order to avoid having to conform to the pious practices that were dictated by the Christian revival movement. That pressure was being exerted on her by the school’s president, Mary Lyon (Sara Vertongen). Dickinson refused to conform because she saw her relationship with God as a private and personal matter, not one that demanded public displays of devotion in a church service.

So she returns to Amherst, Massachusetts, and lives on the Dickinson family estate with her parents (Keith Carradine and Joanna Bacon), brother (Duncan Duff), and sister (Jennifer Ehle). Unfortunately, Emily is unable to bite her tongue when visitors like the local pastor (Miles Richardson) or even a potential suitor (Stefan Menaul) make social calls.

Even though she has trusted confidantes in her sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May) and Mabel Loomis Todd (Noemie Schellens), Dickinson’s first preference is to remain in her upstairs bedroom where she can write her poems in secret. Cynthia Nixon convincingly conveys the emotional fires that simmer just beneath the surface of Emily Dickinson’s stoic countenance.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes, disturbing images, and suggestive material. Production Studio: Hurricane Films. Running time: 126 minutes. Distributor: Music Box Films.

HAPPY 25TH GFS: Grounds for Sculpture (GFS) has welcomed more than 2.05 million guests since it opened to the public in 1992. GFS celebrates its anniversary this year through a host of activities, including a festive summer gala in June, plus special programs, themed tours, and pop-up events. One of the new exhibitions for the spring/summer season is “Elyn Zimmerman: Sensitive Chaos,” an exploration of space and sky with photographic collages and pastels like the image pictured here titled, “Heavens Breath.”

In honor of its 25th anniversary, Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) opened its Spring/Summer Exhibition Season on May 7 with five new exhibitions, including a site-specific installation of glass by Daniel Clayman and an exploration of space and sky with photographic collages and pastels by Elyn Zimmerman. GFS continues the celebration with Grounds For Sculpture: 25 Years, an exhibition curated by GFS Director of Exhibitions & Collections, Faith McClellan and GFS Director of Education & Engagement, Heather Brady.  more

LESS IS MORE: “A Wonderfully Difficult Journey,” based on The ARC Mercer, is among the short films being presented May 20 and 21 at the third annual Nassau Film Festival.

It didn’t take long for word to get out about the Nassau Film Festival. In just three years, the annual spring celebration of short films has blossomed from 35 submissions in 2015 to 336 for this year’s event, which returns to the Princeton Garden Theatre May 20 and 21. more

After describing Franz Kafka’s “sharp and skeletal face” as it appears in a photograph from 1924, Philip Roth observes that “chiseled skulls like this one were shoveled by the thousands from the ovens” and that had he lived, Kafka’s “would have been among them.” He then adds, “Of course it is no more horrifying to think of Franz Kafka in Auschwitz than to think of anyone at Auschwitz — it is just horrifying in its own way.” In fact, Kafka died the year the photograph was taken, “too soon for the holocaust.” Had such a monumental literary figure actually perished in Nazi ovens it would become a horror of the horror, a legend, an historic abomination.

“Content That I Can Breathe”

According to Kafka: The Early Years (Princeton Univ. Press $35), the third and final volume of Reiner Stach’s landmark biography, Franz Kafka was “newly confronted with the problems of Jewish identity” four years before he died.

In one of the first entries in Diaries 1914-1923, January 8, 1914, however, Kafka is already asking, “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.” Content to live, a stranger in the strange land of the self, Kafka, a Jew, asks what he has in common with Jews. Ten years later, upon asking his doctor for a lethal dose of morphine, he says, “Kill me or else you are a murderer.” more

CLASSICAL DISCOVERIES: Marvin Rosen, host of the “Classical Discoveries” program, in the WPRB studios at Princeton University.

“You know, in our world today, all over our world, there is just so much incredible talent,” Marvin Rosen says as he leans back in his seat contentedly, wire-rimmed glasses on his nose, a nest of curly brown hair atop his head. “I could never air everything that I would want to air.”  more

Programmatic coincidences do not happen often in Princeton; there is so much music out there that local ensembles usually do not program the same works for the same season. Such a coincidence occurred this past weekend when Princeton Symphony Orchestra performed the same Paul Hindemith piece as the Princeton University Orchestra did last weekend. Audiences rarely have the opportunity to hear the same work twice, compare performances, and perhaps hear something new the second time around. Princeton Symphony Orchestra closed its classical series this past Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium with a concert entitled “Metamorphosis,” that not only could refer to the Hindemith work performed, but also the orchestra’s journey from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until now — a season jam-packed with concerts, educational programs, and community outreach activities. PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov led the ensemble in a performance that was both rooted in impressionistic musical style and full of precision and elegance of playing. more

May 8, 2017

A Night in Old Havana

Photography by Erica Cardenas

On Saturday, May 6, McCarter Theatre Center welcomed Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to “A Night in Old Havana” Gala 2017. The evening began with a cocktail reception and dinner on McCarter’s back lawn, which was tented and decorated with 1940’s-era old Havana flare. The musical performance was held at McCarter’s Matthews Theater. The electric after-party included more food, entertainment, and dance. All proceeds benefit McCarter’s Artistic, Education, and Engagement Programs. more

May 3, 2017

A few action films have opening scenes, that by themselves, are worth the price of admission. Taken (2008), District B-13 (2004), Super 8 (2011), and Dawn of the Dead (2004) are four that come to mind. I can now add The Fate of the Furious to this list of movies that grab your attention from the very beginning.

The film opens in Cuba, where newlyweds Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are spending their honeymoon. However, their vacation is interrupted when Dom tries to stop a man who is threatening to repossess Dom’s cousin’s car.

Dom talks him out of towing the car away and instead challenges him to a drag race to settle their differences. What ensues is a heart-stopping race through the colorful streets of Havana that ends in a photo finish at the ocean shore.

Next, we find the bride and groom back at the hotel, where Letty brings up the idea of starting a family. Dom goes for a walk to consider Letty’s suggestion and stops to help a woman (Charlize Theron) who is having trouble with her car.

However, the woman is Cipher, a cyber-terrorist who is bent on world domination by acquiring a device that will shut down electrical grids. She blackmails Dom into joining her by showing him something very incriminating on her cell phone.

That sets the stage for a high-octane battle of brawn, muscle cars, and wits that has Dom fighting against his wife and a reassembled gang composed of Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). Roman (Tyrese), their new team leader Frank (Kurt Russell), his assistant Eric (Scott Eastwood), and Deckard (Jason Statham).

Forget about trying to follow the plot. It’s messy and there are too many characters to keep track of. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacular stunts, the playful badinage between Hobbs and Deckard, and Roman’s comic relief.

In this critic’s opinion, this is the year’s first summer blockbuster.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, suggestive content, and prolonged sequences of violence and destruction. Running time: 136 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

SEA-FARING SONGS WITH TOM LEWIS: The Princeton Folk Music Society welcomes musician Tom Lewis to Christ Congregation Church in Princeton for a performance of sea-faring songs accompanied by the button accordion and ukulele on Friday, May 19 at 8:15 p.m. (doors open at 7:30 p.m.). Born in Northern Ireland, Tom’s Celtic heritage is evident in his passionate musicality. Tickets are $20 at the door ($15 Folk Society members, $10 students, and $5 children). Ample free parking is available.

Anchoring its last concert for this season, Princeton Folk Music Society presents an evening of sea-faring songs with Tom Lewis on Friday, May 19 at 8:15 p.m. at Christ Congregation Church, 50 Walnut Lane in Princeton. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are available at the door for $20 ($15 members, $10 students, and $5 children).   more

Born May 2, 1903, a household name in his time at the heart of the 20th century; a Best Actor Oscar winner, Hollywood’s top box-office attraction for five years, with 38 number-one records, more than Elvis or the Beatles — Bing Crosby was “a monumental figure,” in the words of his biographer, Gary Giddins. Yet during a 2001 book tour for Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903-1940, Giddins was surprised by the “degree of ignorance about his entire career …. It really became a question of ‘Bing who?’”

With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ monumental Sgt. Pepper album only a month away, no one’s asking “Paul who?” Not when Sir Paul McCartney, who’ll be 75 on June 18, has been filling stadiums during his One-On-One tour, finishing off the last three nights in April at the Tokyo Dome. In July he’ll be in arenas from Miami to Chicago, ahead of a September 11 concert at the Newark’s Prudential Center, followed by concerts at Madison Square Garden, and Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

How big were and are the Beatles? Crosby himself had some thoughts about the dimensions of the phenomenon: “Sinatra was … bigger than I ever was, and Presley was bigger than Sinatra, but there’s never been anything like the Beatles.” That was in 1964, three years before Sgt. Pepper lit up the 60s. Now here it comes again, “the act you’ve known for all these years” trailing clouds of bicentennial glory with a new stereo mix of the album, an expanded deluxe edition as a two-CD set or two-LP vinyl package, and a “super deluxe” six-disc box set.  more

Join McCarter Theatre on Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. for a screening of “The Princess Bride” followed by a discussion with Cary Elwes who played the heroic Westley. The screening celebrates the 30th anniversary of the film. Mr. Elwes will take audience members on a behind-the-scenes portrait of life on the set, sharing his memories of iconic scenes, and little known facts about the creation of the film. To purchase tickets, visit www.mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787. 

The Princeton University Sinfonia performs a program that utilizes the talent of Princeton University’s students on Wednesday, May 10 in Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall at 7:30 p.m.  more

Public Events, Private Lives – Literature and Politics in the Modern World

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

McCosh Hall; 6:00 pm

Acclaimed author Sir Ahmad Salman Rushdie is the author of twelve novels, as well as memoirs, short stories, and essays. A Fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature, Salman Rushdie has received, among other honors, the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel (twice), the Writers’ Guild Award, the James Tait Black Prize, the European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature, Author of the Year Prizes in both Britain and Germany, the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, the Budapest Grand Prize for Literature, the Premio Grinzane Cavour in Italy, the Crossword Book Award in India, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the London International Writers’ Award, the James Joyce award of University College Dublin, the St Louis Literary Prize, the Carl Sandburg Prize of the Chicago Public Library, and a U.S. National Arts Award.  more

Two years ago, Princeton University music professor Simon Morrison was working on an article in the archives of Yale University when he noticed the original score for a ballet by none other than Cole Porter. Within the Quota, which had libretto, scenery, and costumes by wealthy expatriate artist Gerald Murphy, premiered in Paris in 1923 and was Porter’s only commission for a ballet. more

As temperatures warm up and spring buds make their presence known, one thing is musically clear in the Princeton community — the Princeton University Orchestra will show its best in the annual Stuart B. Mindlin Memorial Concerts. The student musicians of the orchestra were not born when these commemorative performances were first established, and the Mindlin children are all grown and on to amazing careers of their own, but one thing has never changed over the past close to 30 years — the University Orchestra has taken on the most challenging works in the repertory to end its concert year in a musical blaze of glory. This past weekend’s final performances of the orchestra’s 2016-17 season featured two towering composers of the 20th century in Paul Hindemith, who spent a good part of his career in the United States, and Gustav Mahler, who never fails to disappoint those looking to hear the most complex and dramatic of orchestral writing.  more

“SUMMER HARVEST”: This painting by Debbie Piscreta will be on display alongside the work of Gail Bracegirdle in the Artists’ Gallery’s latest exhibit, “Quiet Spaces,” that runs until June 4.

Recent work by Gail Bracegirdle and Debbie Pisacreta will be on display at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville from May 4 to June 4 for the “Quiet Spaces” exhibit. The opening reception will be Saturday, May 13 from 4 to 8 p.m. Both Ms. Bracegirdle and Ms. Pisacreta’s paintings evoke a quiet and calm feeling where the choice of subjects and the use of muted palettes contribute to the sense of contemplation and reflection that both artists feel when they paint.  more

This painting by Meredith Remz is included in her solo exhibition and art sale at Small World Coffee titled, “Brave.” The artist draws inspiration from her experiences with contemporary and industrial design, as well as nature.

Joyce Carol Oates will read from and discuss her latest work, A Book of American Martyrs, at Labyrinth Books of Princeton on Wednesday, May 17 at 6:30 p.m.

Described by the Washington Post as “The most relevant book of Oates’s half-century-long career, a powerful reminder that fiction can be as timely as this morning’s tweets but infinitely more illuminating.”  more

May 1, 2017

Pops of Color and Whirls of Music

Photography by Erica Cardenas

Communiversity 2017 took place on Sunday, April 30. The streets of downtown Princeton swelled with visitors who enjoyed non-stop entertainment, food, and vendors from 1 to 6 p.m. Various stages were erected around town and performances ranged from alternative rock concerts to flamenco. Witherspoon Media Group was there, handing out the latest editions of Town Topics Newspaper, Princeton Magazine, and Urban Agenda Magazine. Witherspoon Media Group photographer Erica Cardenas made sure to capture all of the action.  more

April 26, 2017

In Eastern Turkey in 1914, druggist Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) is working and living in his half-Armenian/half-Turkish village where Christians and Muslims are living together in peace. However, the ambitious apothecary would rather be a doctor, so he courts and marries a neighbor (Angela Sarafyan), whose family is relatively wealthy, in order to get the dowry.

With the money, he is able to afford medical school. However, while studying in Constantinople, he falls in love with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a fellow Armenian who has recently returned from France. Mikael is taken with her beauty and urbane sophistication that she acquired while rowing up in Paris. Unfortunately, Ana has returned accompanied by her lover, Chris Meyers (Christian Bale), an American photojournalist who was assigned by the Associated Press to find evidence of ethnic cleansing.

When World War I erupts, Mikael is forced to flee the Turkish army’s roundup of Armenian civilians and he returns to his hometown to help rescue his relatives and friends. Ana is in a similar struggle to survive and her lover Chris Meyers does his best to take photos that document the slaughter of Armenians that is rumored to be occurring.

The Promise is a riveting documentary drama directed and co-written by Oscar winner Terry George (The Short). The movie bears a strong resemblance to Hotel Rwanda, which George also directed and co-wrote.

Both of his films depict extraordinary heroism in the face of a complete collapse of civilization. If this picture has a flaw, it’s that it appears to trivialize the ethnic cleansing of one and a half million Armenians by making that genocide a backdrop to the love story that is at the center of the movie.

Excellent (***½). Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sexuality, violence, disturbing images, and war atrocities. Running time: 134 minutes. Production Studio: Survival Pictures. Distributor: Open Road Films.

The Arts Council of Princeton is gearing up for the annual Communiversity ArtsFest, set for April 30, 2017 in downtown Princeton from 1-6 p.m. Central New Jersey’s largest and longest running cultural event will have more than 200 booths showing original art and contemporary crafts, merchandise, and food from around the globe, plus six stages of continuous live entertainment. The event draws more than 40,000 to the streets of downtown Princeton. (Photo Credit: Emily Reeves, Town Topics Newspaper) 

Beginning a column about Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday (April 25, 2017) on my mother’s 105th birthday (April 20, 2017), feels sentimentally right if only because she lived in the songs Ella sang, notably “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Whenever my father played either of those classics on the piano, my mother would be, as she liked to say, “reduced to rubble.”

In Visions of Jazz (1998), Gary Giddins makes the point that Ella “taught us something vital about joy, as Billie Holiday taught us something vital about pain.” He also observes that she was one of those jazz performers “who have become public monuments,” her “enduring authority” having “more than a little to do with an image of youthless (which is to say ageless) maternalism, sturdy and implacable.” Terms like “enduring authority” help explain why I never owned a single Ella album, never was a fan, even though she’d been magnificent the few times I’d seen her in person. Another problem was that, as Henry Pleasants notes in The Great American Popular Singers (1974), she’d “never been one for exposing her own heart in public,” preferring to share “her pleasures, not her troubles,” so that listening to her was “a joyous, exhilarating, memorable, but hardly an emotional experience.” more

“PRETTY IN PINK”: Wondrous on Witherspoon Pop Up Art Gallery at 14½ Witherspoon Street is presenting “WoW, Spring into Art! An Artist Invitational.” It will feature the works and demonstrations by accomplished and emerging artists from April 28–June 8. There will also be a reception and art walk on May 19 from 6–9 p.m. Pictured here is a watercolor by artist Sandy O’Connor.

Beginning April 28 and just two days before Communiversity ArtFest, Wondrous on Witherspoon (WoW) will once again be “popping up” to offer works of art for sale by some of New Jersey’s most accomplished artists. Thanks to owner, Jeffrey Siegel, this show will mark WoW’s fourth pop-up gallery event in the former Army and Navy Store, located just steps away from Nassau Street and the gates to Princeton University. more