Search This Blog

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Very Model of a Most Unpleasant Review

Hall of Shame Dept.: You need to check out the new plays that will be presented this weekend at the Capital Rep-Proctors Next Act festival. Supporting live local theater means supporting new, unfamiliar work, keeping mind that getting angry at something you see on stage is a valid and important response, and ideally encourages dialogue with your friends and with the artistic community. I’ll be part of the Critics Circle discussing our craft at 1 PM Sunday, Nov 4 at Cap Rep, and am eager to share my warts-and-all history. To whet your appetite, here’s one of nastiest, least helpful reviews I ever penned, a vitriolic screed that was all about me being grumpy and went for cheap laughs at the expense of thoughtful commentary. Even worse, I left at intermission and boasted of it. After it was published, I spent a lot of time pondering the critic’s role in the community, and have since used this as a benchmark of where it can go wrong.


MANY YEARS AGO I saw Rudy Vallee in a dinner-theater performance that featured him alone. He lacked even an accompanist. He brought his piano tracks on a cassette and played it through a horrible-sounding machine. When he flubbed, he had to rewind and re-start. There was a desperate sense of unintentional humor about it all.

This came to mind while watching the Lake George Opera Festival’s “Pirates of Penzance” cast struggling to stay synchronized with an orchestra that’s hidden backstage. This took place during yesterday’s matinee premiere. It was a production that wore its humor in all the wrong places, and the absent orchestra only added to the chaos.

Adirondack Community College is the new venue for this group, and the small stage evidently necessitated the musical relocation. Based on this production, a happier alternative would be to fold the company. The LGOF has set far too high a standard in the past to stoop to such poor behavior.

We’ll let the kids who sing so bravely in the chorus off the hook right away: you worked hard and did a good job with what you were handed, but you were forced to follow the whimsy of a stage director who should be issued a court injunction keeping him away from the works of Gilbert & Sullivan.

Much of Jack Eddleman’s business surfaced at his Glimmerglass Opera “Pirates” a couple of seasons ago; now we were treated to a production further fouled by a senseless updating. The action was set in the year 2025, “somewhere along the Milky Way.” Apparently this was a move to save on the expense of costumes and setting, with the result that it looked as if a high school production of “Li’l Abner” wandered onto the set of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

Of course, we can suppose that director Eddleman and conductor John Balme both accepted money for what they did on that stage: the Lake George Opera probably could have found some talented kids who’d have done it, and done it well, for next to nothing, and thus been able to afford what was needed. In any event, if the so-called professionals involved have any kind of conscience, they’ll turn their salaries over to a worthy cause.

But a lack of conscience is evidenced by the poor quality of performance they allowed to bounce around the stage. The chorus was unable to carry a tune and had worse luck with dialogue. The principals at least could sing, but there was no sense of cohesion about them. Just as every person sported a different mangled pseudo-British dialect, so too did they sing with complete disregard of the vocal styling of one another.

Hero Frederick (Stephen Plummer) is a clever Gilbert caricature of, as the opera’s subtitle suggests, a “slave of duty.” But Plummer was so wooden that he seemed more like a robot of duty.

The premise, revealed early on as we meet Frederick and the chorus of women (from which he meets true love Mabel, sung by Michelle Fountaine), is that he protect them from an assault on their modesty: he is spying on them as they’re about to remove their shoes.

But when the chorus of women is costumed like a road-company of “Barbarella,” where is this propriety to consider? They entered like a bunch of Amazons to launch into a song explaining their daintiness. Perhaps Eddleman thinks that’s funny. It’s doubtful Gilbert would.

There is little use going point by point through what I saw: just when the action settled into a groove of predictable atrociousness, some new low was reached. My favorite was when Ruth (Donna Bruno, the best singer of the bunch) was late for her “Hold, monsters!” entry.

Walter Dixon played the Major-General with the usual level of silly-ass simpering. Do these guys belong to a union or something? Is this now the only way to play the patter-song parts? 

He boasts in his well-known song of knowing what is meant by “mamelon” and “ravelin,” but I wonder if Eddleman ever goes through the bother of checking such things. If he did, he might understand that the humor of the piece – like most of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas – lies in a juxtaposition of the satire intrinsic to the opera against the society in which they were written. To cut them loose is to destroy the credibility of their comedy.

This production trashed the built-in comedy in favor of the gooey sauce of hobbledehoy “business” he ladled over everything. Bad enough to do so with a credible cast and production values: this one looked not much better than a lousy high school group might come up with.

The first act was supposedly set on “the sun.” The second act promised to take us to “the moon,” but before it began, I heard Space Central calling me back to Earth and I blasted off.

“The Pirates of Penzance” will be performed, heaven help us, in repertory throughout the summer with “Madame Butterfly,” “Don Giovanni” and “La vie Parisienne.” Call for showtimes and attend one of the other operas.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, July 18, 1989

No comments: