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Seeing Today in Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

When Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes premiered in 1991, it won a smattering of awards for its intense exploration of pressing, contemporary topics. A bit more than a quarter century later, the social issues and themes explored in the play are ever-relevant, and as the first show in their 2017-18 season, Ithaca College presents the first part of the play, Millennium Approaches, directed by Robert Moss. Angels in America is set in late 1985 in Manhattan, and follows a large cast—a gay couple, Prior Walter (Will Thames) and Louis Ironson (Josh Wilde); a Mormon couple, Joe (Ryan Ballard) and Harper Pitt (Steph Seiden); and Joe’s mentor Roy Cohn (Keenan Buckley), a lawyer with extremely questionable ethics (based on the real-life Roy Cohn). Their stories and lives overlap and intersect in weird and sometimes fantastical ways as the story moves through experiences of the AIDS crisis, homophobia, racism, and political tension and corruption. As revelations of illness and secrets come about, relationships deteriorate and an overwhelming fear of the future seems to cripple the characters.

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Metropolis: Alloy Orchestra Come to Cornell Cinema

Created in 1927, Metropolis (dir. Fritz Lang) is a classic urban dystopian tale — we follow the story of Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of the wealthy Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel), whose power and influence essentially keep the city running, and Maria (Brigitte Helm), a young woman who is a saint to the poor underground workers who keep the city’s essential machinery running through long, tiring shifts. With the class struggle as a core driving force of the plot, Metropolis was initially criticized for communist themes — and shortly after the premiere, the film was heavily edited and shortened. On Saturday night, Cornell Cinema played the most recent restoration of the film, done in 2010, which, amazingly, has restored 95% of the original film. Despite the length of this restoration (over two hours), the film is well worth it — filled with the Art deco themes that are so indicative of the twenties, Metropolis feels strangely modern; it’s visually pleasing, even in black-and-white.

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Charismatic Commitment: Company at Ithaca College

Company (written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth; director, Catherine Weidner; musical director, Christopher Zemliauskas) as a play itself doesn’t have a particularly dramatic plot the way a Greek tragedy or a Shakespearian comedy might — set up as a series of vignettes, the play focuses on exploring the topic of marriage through the eyes of Robert (Liam Snead), or “Bob/Bobby” as his friends affectionately call him, a 35-year-old man who just can’t seem to get married. Despite that Robert is well-liked, attractive and well-established, Robert’s friends are disheartened that is he still isn’t married by the time of his 35th birthday; on the other hand, he mostly works hard to deny that he is completely terrified of committing. In looking at the very different personalities and marriages of Robert’s friends, Company seeks to explore how marriage changes and affects people. In the eyes of ever-unmarried Robert, the premise leads to a fun look at the dynamics of a group which Robert is always third-wheeling his married friends. While the vignette set-up of the play itself might make some find the story stale or less dynamic, Ithaca College Theatre Arts’ Company does an excellent job in creating a colorful and engaging story through an incredibly distinctive cast.

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Seoul Searching: Stereotypes, Authenticity, Diversity

Seoul Searching (directed by Benson Lee) starts in black and white, old reels and footage of Korea as a narrator gives a quick historical background to give us the setting for the film. After a devastating war, many Koreans left the peninsula in search of a better life, bringing their young children to America and Europe. As so often happens in immigrant stories, the children inevitably experienced a distinct loss of heritage and understanding of Korean culture. In an attempt to mitigate this, the South Korean government implemented a program during the ’80s to bring children of immigrants to Korea for a summer camp to learn about their Korean heritage. This movie revolves around a set of these kids — Sid (Justin Chon), Klaus (Teo Yoo), Sergio (Esteban Ahn), Grace (Jessika Van), Kris (Rosalina Leigh) to name a few — going to this camp.

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A Story of Selective Remembrance: Angkor Awakens at Cornell Cinema

Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia (directed by Prof. Robert Lieberman, physics, M.S. ’65 ) starts with a rush of motion, the camera speeding up a flight of stairs with increasing momentum, panning out to reveal lush hills, stone steps and a vibrant earth that stretches on and on. Ambient music fills the theatre; the screen slips to a red backdrop, with the shadows of traditional dancers gliding about; a voiceover extracted from one of the many interviews speaks, introducing us to an eighty-minute documentary probe into Cambodia. Following independence from France, the Cambodia of the ’60s and ’70s was sucked into the Cold War when its neighbor Vietnam fell into civil chaos, despite efforts to stay neutral. What eventually emerged from the din and struggle for national survival was the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, an extremist Communist group led by Pol Pot, which proceeded to commit one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century, claiming up to two million lives. Angkor Awakens is a poignant, revealing documentary in how it chooses to look at this highly volatile and violent time.

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A New Look: Eva Hesse at Cornell Cinema

Watching Eva Hesse, I felt almost certain that I had seen artist Eva Hesse’s work somewhere. The latex and fiberglass sculptures, the thrown-about ropes and the arrangement of her shapes seemed to me incredibly modern, given that Hesse had worked primarily during the sixties. Perhaps it’s just that by now, Hesse is well-known in context of the modern art movement, with several posthumous exhibitions. For example, following her death in 1970, Hesse’s work was displayed in a grand exhibition at the famous Guggenheim Museum — weird, absurd sculptures that had never been quite been seen before Hesse were gathered together and in the exhibit, five years’ worth of her work completely filled the floors of the Guggenheim, a remarkable feat given the size of the museum and Hesse’s deteriorating health prior to her death as her friends note in the new 2016 art documentary Eva Hesse. Eva Hesse does more than simply recounting the life of an artist, or discussing an art movement — it explores and examines the complex interconnections between Hesse’s art and her life, detailing the development and fluidity of her times.

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Contemporary Sensibilities and Progression: Blood Wedding at Ithaca College

Article updated. 

Even before the show begins, the set at the Clark Theatre in Dillingham Center of Ithaca College is striking — clean lines, neat delineations of space with blues and whites, and solid colors immediately give a modern tone to Blood Wedding, the famous tragedy of Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Set in twentieth century rural Spain, Blood Wedding tells the story of an on-going curse of a family feud and deception as it explores the story and aftermath of a young woman who abandons her own wedding for her former lover. Though such a story could easily slip into the realm of cliché, the clean aesthetic and direction of Ithaca College’s “Blood Wedding” keeps the narrative fresh and enthralling. Director Norm Johnson’s Blood Wedding remains contemporary in great part due to the set and costumes. The creative team (Scenic design: Emily Weisbecker; Costume design: Victoria Pizappi; Lighting and projection design: Steve TenEyck, assisted by Teddy Kosciuszek; Sound design: Don Tindall) does an incredible job with a nod to Lorca’s surrealist links — the look is simple but timeless.

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Kindergarten to Architecture School: Homo Ludens at the Bibliowicz Family Gallery

I guess I’m still feeling the grip of summer on my mind — I find myself taking spontaneous visits to exhibits, laying on the grass to bask in the sun and procrastinating until stupidly late times. And with the new school year reliably starting off in a daze, I (unsurprisingly) forgot to re-read the description of Homo Ludens: The Architecture of Play online before heading over. When I made my way to the Bibliowicz Family Gallery where the exhibit is located, I was surprised to find the brightly-lit space full of the classic children’s playthings: wooden building blocks, miniature buildings and Legos. Of course, it makes perfect sense — the title Homo Ludens, Latin for “playing man,” is indicative. Jenga, Legos, a wooden block set for a Prairie House and alphabet blocks are arranged in a colorful menagerie that invokes déjà vu of one of those classic childhoods filled with dollhouses and toy trains.

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Surreal Slaps of Reality: Night Vale at the State

The stage at the State Theatre had a simple set-up — four microphones set up across the stage, a portion partitioned off by an arrangement table for music, a simple curtain as backdrop and speakers strategically placed to reverberate in the eardrums of the audience. Simple, neat and sensible for the live show “Ghost Stories” of the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Welcome to Night Vale is a bi-monthly podcast — usually airing the 1st and 15th of every month — which follows the happenings of the fictional desert town of Night Vale through a community radio show hosted by a man named Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin). Started in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the podcast is extremely charming and has a dark, deadpan sort of humor. It constantly plays with the subjects of the surreal, as Night Vale is filled with the unreal and the very, very weird, from the Sheriff’s (not so) secret police to a recently discovered civilization underground, accessible via the town’s bowling alley.

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The Rise and Fall of Buildings in The Dollhouse

There are some pieces that are instantly fun to look at — The Dollhouse by Heather Benning, though only viewed through photographs by us, is one of them. With its whimsical nature of retro and vintage furnishings and solid pastel paint jobs, the larger-than-life exhibition piece is what its name indicates: a dollhouse, though perhaps much bigger than the ones we used to have as children. Built from 2005 to 2007 from a narrowly shaped abandoned building on the plains of Manitoba, Canada, Benning’s house stood starkly alone for six years before being burned down by her. On one side, the building seems entirely normal — old, slightly derelict and covered in dark and worn shingles. But on the other side, a transparent wall replaces the entire side, giving a clean cut view into the home, which was refurnished and renovated with care to resemble a dollhouse.