This past weekend, a few hundred lucky people had the privilege of seeing something truly special at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. I, like most people, had heard of West Side Story but had never seen it. I had hopes of being treated to an entertaining production, something a little more fun and high energy than the highbrow, somewhat pretentious theater you would usually encounter at the Schwartz. (Full disclosure: I adore that type of theatre.) But I knew that this was not an official Cornell-sponsored production, but rather a largely student run and conceived show, with students from both Cornell and Ithaca College coming together as part of Melodramatics Theatre Company to present their vision. Add in the fact that these students had but a short two months to bring this classic production from conception to the stage and, needless to say, I was not expecting anything too grandiose.
Composer Bonnie Montgomery is adorable as she quietly jokes with a noticeable southern twang, “It’s nice to perform without a bunch of beer bottles clanking.” It is clear why the company had her introduce the show with a few songs of her own, I wouldn’t want anyone else to guide me through life in small town Arkansas. She does so admirably in the world premiere of this self described folk opera, albeit through an unnecessary lens. The marketing posters boasted an iconic and gray Clinton epically gazing against an American flag backdrop. With Hillary campaigning a few hours away in NYC at the time of the performance, I was prematurely concerned the show would try to be a bit too ambitious for itself. But it turned out to be quite the opposite.
“Does anybody care?” John Adams inquires of an empty congress chamber at the climax of 1776, but he may as well ask the same of a modern, post-Hamilton audience settling for the second best founding fathers musical to grace the Broadway stage. It’s impossible to talk about 1776 today without drawing immediate comparison to the groundbreaking hip-hop musical that I have tried so hard to avoid talking about in a column but oh well, there it is. It was a comparison that City Center Encores! attempted to lean into with their latest revival of the classic 1969 musical, setting it in a modern context and boasting a “multi-racial” cast. But is that a comparison anyone should wish to invite?
“And in the luck of night, in secret places where no other spied, I went without my sight, without a light to guide, except the heart that lit me from inside.”
— St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
Cinema is a miracle. Franchises and multiplexes make us forget, but to watch cinema is to receive profound insight on the inner workings of life and to experience a meditation on the world from another’s point of view. Roger Ebert called the movies a machine for generating empathy. Ideally, you can feel your world growing when you watch a special movie.
Fairytales are fun as hell. But we rarely access the kind of childhood innocence that allows us to immerse our world completely in someone else’s. Theatre practitioner Mary Zimmerman taps into this potency in collaboration with the famous ensemble-based company, Lookingglass. The product is Secret in the Wings, which strips down six relatively obscure and decidedly strange European fairytales and jam-packs them into a script that forces its actors into highly physicalized ensemble gymnastics. Performing and Media Arts and Government double major Brian Murphy ’16 is the daredevil of a director who found this play, which, at least in terms of normative narrative structure, presents itself as a hot mess of a script.
There is no artistic experience quite like going to the theatre. Each performance of a show functions as a unique entity, and there is a challenge in recreating it night after night with consistency. Part of this challenge naturally involves exploration of the many ways in which the audience can connect with the living, breathing actors who are the true substance of the play. At its best, a show can engage with the spectator in intimate ways that no other medium can match. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] — which played on Feb.
Semele by George Frideric Handel is the tale of the affair between a mortal girl named Semele (Laura McCauley) and the immortal Jupiter (Joseph Michalczyk-Lupa), and what results when Jupiter’s vengeful wife Juno (Hector Gonzales Smith), the goddess of marriage, finds out about it. Based on one of the origin tales of the Greek/Roman gods and goddesses, the story itself is naturally wrought with drama, passion and tragedy. I honestly had no idea of what to expect from Semele, as I have never seen an opera before. Would I be seeing a fantastically mawkish tale? A complete train wreck of emotions as the three lead characters, fantastically selfish and vain, tromp around the stage?
There are many things to love about next to normal, especially the production that took place at Risley last Thursday through Saturday. The play follows the Goodman family, whose matriarch, Diana, has been living with bipolar disorder for 16 years following the death of her infant son. Each member of the family experiences dramatic ups and downs, including Diana’s husband, Dan, who wonders if he’s crazy for holding onto hope, and Natalie, who is keenly aware of her mother’s obsession with her actual firstborn child. The contemporary rock soundtrack (played live by a very talented pit of student musicians split between Cornell and Ithaca College) was dynamic, diverse and moving, and in conjunction with the staging, minimalist set and lighting, next to normal at Risley was a fantastic production. The first thing I noticed about next to normal was the overwhelming presence of students who don’t go to Cornell.
It’s hard to be 17. To be full of angst, uncertainty and covered in acne; to be stuck with some childlike tendencies; to desperately crave attention while simultaneously needing to be left alone. Although teenage years are exhausting, however, they can be a fun age too — full of excitement and possibilities. Unfortunately, as it would turn out, it’s really just tiring to watch. At least this was the case in Lauren Gunderson’s one-act I and You, opening this Thursday at the Kitchen Theatre.
Throughout your time at Cornell, you will meet a multitude of “writers”; people who are currently writing, but never seem to produce anything, or at least not enough to see their work fully actualized. But that is not the case for Anna Alison Brenner ’16, a senior who’s been penning some version of the play Twentyhood (which premiered at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts this weekend) for the last few years. According to the director of the show, Andrea Fiorentini ’16, Fiorentini has watched this show become “pulled apart, created and recreated” as it grew from “a play about painting, to a play about Italy, to a play about self-discovery and college life.” There is no doubt this play has many faces, both literally and figuratively, and that is due in part to Brenner’s identity as a logophile. Actors learned to adapt quickly as lines were changed, re-molded or discarded, even during the week leading up to the show. Yet, neither the last minute line adjustments nor the sensitive, personal material of the play Twentyhood seemed to faze any of the actors.