Seen & Heard in the Country:
Want to guarantee a sold-out performance? Cast an actor that has star power and a commanding stage presence. Using her connections, artistic director Joanne Woodward somehow convinced her husband to take his first stage role in nearly 40 years. Westport Country Playhouse chose Our Town, starring Paul Newman in the role of the stage manager, as its first production to kick off the summer theatre’s 72nd season. Westport has done a bit of stunt casting for Our Town before, in 1946, when Thornton Wilder played the role of the stage manager. The current limited run was sold out almost immediately after the cast was announced.
Directed by James Naughton, the play paints a picture of small-town America in the setting of Grover's Corners, NH, in 1903. The story explores the classic themes of life, love, and loss, appreciating every day, and the pleasure of simple things. Newman’s stage manager was a commanding presence and led a very capable cast including Jayne Atkinson, Frank Converse, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Jane Curtin. One of the great moments was when Newman ruminated about being 20 years old and then bam: you are 70 and wonder where the time went. One thing that has not been lost over time is Newman’s extraordinary presence and true acting talent.
The simple yet effective lighting was designed by Richard Pilbrow, his first time designing in the barn theatre at Westport. Richard laughs about the “awful sightlines” that the barn has. It reminded him of the kind of theatre where everyone starts out. He was brought into this project by set and costume designer Tony Walton, whom Pilbrow says "has been giving me two-thirds of all my work since 1961. I think Tony is my mentor." Walton’s costumes were excellent examples of the period, very simple and plain, with the exception of Emily’s wedding dress, which appeared lit from within via one of Pilbrow’s subtle ETC Source Four followspots. There was a bit more scenery than the script calls for, including a scrim rear wall of a theatre where the forced perspective threw me off for a while. Pilbrow also used a dozen of the Rosco ImagePro projection units to represent sunrises, sunsets, and the church. The sound design by Raymond Schilke was very interesting and successful in supporting the miming actors with screen doors, rotary mower, and a milk horse among many sonic enhancements. A production that I would highly recommend, but if you don’t already have tickets, you are out of luck.--Michael S. Eddy
Seen Off Broadway: Those of you born after 1960 may fondly recall Free to Me…You and Me, the book, record, and television special put together by Marlo Thomas and Friends (including Mary Rodgers, Carl Reiner, Herb Gardner, and Sheldon Harnick) to teach small children how to transcend society’s sex roles. If so, you can drop by the Drama Dept., which is presenting Free to Be… as its summer offering. But be warned: even in 1972, this was pretty elementary stuff, offering the breaking news that boys can own dolls and girls don’t necessarily have to be housewives. Thirty years on, it makes for a rather wan evening of songs and sketches. Under Douglas Carter Beane’s direction, the production coasts on the charm of cast members Robert Ari, Debbie Gravitte, Keith Nobbs, and Daphne Rubin-Vega. (Gravitte, who could turn “Ave Maria” into a torchy 11 o'clock number, scores with her bluesy rendition of “Let’s Hear It for Babies.”) Allen Moyer’s backstage setting is attractively lit by Kirk Bookman and Gregory Gale’s costumes are the requisite lineup of boots, macramé belts, and tie-dyed shirts. Productions like this make me nervous—I worry that, somewhere, someone is developing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a vehicle for Hugh Jackman. But, based on the audience response, there are apparently plenty of nostalgic Gen-Xers who will enjoy live renditions of “Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron,” and “Parents Are People.” Personally, I’ve moved on.--David Barbour
Seen in Philadelphia: The Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 2001-2002 season with a double bill inspired by French artists. The first piece, Dancing With Monet (Gathering at Argenteuil), with a score by French composer Claude Debussy, recalls Claude Monet's Impressionist style. The five women in the piece (partnered by five men) wore frilly long dresses by costume designer Judanna Lynn. The fruity color palette for the dresses ranged from pale plum and grape green to peach, apricot, and lemon. The dresses moved gracefully to the elegant choreography by Kirk Peterson, who imagined Debussy writing music for the Impressionist painters' gatherings in Argenteuil, France, in the late 1870s. The lighting, by the company's production director John Hoey, was soft and cheerful. But Hoey was really able to show off his talent in the second work, a revival of the 1974 piece Rodin, Mis en Vie, with powerful choreography by Margo Sappington and score by Michael Kamen. The concept for the piece is that the works of the French sculptor--who was inspired by the human body--come to life in the form of the dancers. The close-fitting costumes by Willa Kim evoke the materials Rodin worked with, from metallic bronze to cool marble and patina green. Kim also created a dramatic, multi-level scenic element on which the dancers perch, crawl, and climb as they create Rodin's massive Gates of Hell. Hoey used the lighting to sculpt the bodies of the dancers, embracing them with light as he carved their shapes from the dark background. Even the pure ballet fans in the audience were moved by the power of this contemporary piece (a program note indicates that shards of two Rodin sculptures were found in the rubble of the World Trade Center following the attacks of 9/11).--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Seen at the Cunningham Dance Studio: The Merce Cunningham Dance Company held an informal showing and luncheon to kick off its 50th anniversary. The company was founded in 1953 at Black Mountain College. In the many years since, the prolific Cunningham has choreographed nearly 200 works for his company, which had its first New York season at the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel) in late 1953. The 50th anniversary season of the company will kick off with performances July 24-27 at the Lincoln Center Festival 2002, including the New York premiere of Cunningham's newest work, Loose Time, with decor by Terry Winters. A frequent collaborator with leading visual artists, Cunningham will revive works throughout the season with decor by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and sets inspired by the work of Marcel Duchamp. A world premiere is planned for London's Barbican Center in September, in collaboration with digital artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar, costumes by James Hall, and lighting by Jim Ingalls. Following a US tour that begins in January 2003, the company will close this 50th anniversary milestone with performances in the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (where the company first performed in 1967). The BAM program will include two of Cunningham's seminal works, RainForest, with designs by Warhol, and Walkabout Time, with the Duchamp decor. Congratulations Merce, on a great 50-year run!--ELG
Seen at the Movies: The Bourne Identity, based on the 1980 Robert Ludlum espionage thriller, is a very satisfying summer movie, directed with energy and at least a modicum of intelligence by Doug Liman, the talent behind the indies Swingers and Go. Matt Damon stars as the amnesiac who eventually figures out—with the aid of his effortlessly recalled linguistic flexibility and prowess with Kali, a Filipino martial arts discipline—that he is a CIA assassin. Hopping across Europe, from the Italian coast to Zurich (doubled in Prague) to Paris, picking up a German drifter (fabulous Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run) and her Austin Mini Cooper along the way, and continually trailed by other, equally lethal, CIA operatives, Bourne goes in search of his identity.
The film is expertly shot by action maestro Oliver Wood (Face/Off, U-571), though Liman, as is his wont, operated throughout. A wintery Paris is beautifully used, especially in a car-chase sequence that finds the tiny Austin Mini Cooper zipping through cobblestone alleys and along the banks of the Seine. Production designer Dan Weil makes the atmospheric most of the movie's locations, and Pierre-Yves Gayraud's costumes for the two leads manage to be understated, with a fairly monochromatic palette, yet vividly attuned to character. The film is also well served by the vigorous beat of John Powell's score. In some ways, The Bourne Identity, like The Sum of All Fears, is an updated Cold War relic, but I responded to it on the level of pure entertainment.--John Calhoun
Heard For Your Ears Only: London's Science Museum will play host to "Bond, James Bond," an exhibition of 007 gadgets, vehicles, costumes, and other items, including the secret agent's DB5 Aston Martin and villainous Oddjob's deadly bowler hat from Goldfinger. The exhibition, which marks the 40th anniversary of Bond films, will open in October, during an event that should feature the appearance of former Bond stars. Memorabilia on display will include the Q-boat from The World Is Not Enough, Bond's Omega laser watch, and recreations of M's office and Q's workshop. The 20th official Bond film, Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan, will be released in November.