Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Taste of Ibsen

OK, here's my take on A Taste of Ibsen, a series of Ibsen vignettes hosted by Home Resource -- a defiantly modern furniture showroom in downtown Sarasota. Six segments in modern dress. Movable feast theater that shifted from showroom to showroom. Loved it. Before I get into it -- here's a quick disclaimer about Ibsen.

Ibsen was a great playwright, no doubt. But he tends to be didactic. He has points to make. His plays are clockwork machinery designed to make those points. Ibsen's machinery gets on my nerves. Sorry.

But director Dr. Louise Stinespring's production neatly sidesteps the clockwork. Brilliant strategy. By taking key scenes out of context, she makes the scenes stand alone. She rubs out the captions on Ibsen's editorial cartoons. What's left is the art -- and you're free to appreciate it.

Stinespring cuts are prime cuts: two from A Doll House (Amanda Schlacter and Kevin Rose), a slice from An Enemy of the People (Mark Konrad and Jeremy Heideman), two from Hedda Gabler (Jeremy Heideman, Schlachter, Heather O'Dea) and one from The Lady from the Sea (Konrad, O'Dea).

The selections share a theme of transformation.

The soulless little Christmas from A Doll House nicely time-shifted the scene to a modern context. To our eyes, Nora's husband is a passive-aggressive jerk. He drowns his wife in the sugary maple syrup of his sickly sweet, lovey-dovey talk. She's a squirrel, a wren -- but she's also a spendthrift and a mindless fool. Torvald's endearments put Nora in her place; create the walls of her Doll House prison. His love is a power trip in disguise. It's horrifying to watch. We catch on as Nora catches on. And we realize this can't go on. We realize the transformation she's going through.

In the first scene, Nora's waking up to her rotten reality, but still not facing it. In the last scene, she breaks free of that reality. She ain't gonna work on Torvald's Doll House no more. Nora's transformed into a new being -- a new woman -- the progenitor of many New Women to come.

In Hedda Gabler, the writer and the young woman begin an awakening -- a possibility Hedda viciously aborts.

The dude in An Enemy of the People transforms into a whistle-blower. Another new kind of being.

Stinespring's timing is damn near perfect. No dead moments, a smart use of the unconventional space. The performance flowed. The actors moved with streamlined grace. They effortlessly transformed the showrooms into ad hoc sets. (At least they made it seem effortless.) The audience was relaxed too. It's nice to get up in middle of a performance and move around. Really cuts down on leg cramps.

The acting is some of the best I've seen. Schlacter's characterizations were standouts--a heartbreaking Nora and a bone-chilling Hedda. Rose nailed the ick factor as Nora's patronizing husband. As the writer's doomed mistress, O'Dea offered a pitiable naivete. She doesn't know the score, and she's going to pay. Konrad brought a Jonathan Winters vibe to his two blowhard authority figures. He had the audience laughing at several points. I imagine Ibsen up in the clouds somewhere shouting No! Those scenes weren't meant to be funny!) But I like Konrad's choices.

While we're on the subject, I like the director's choices to. Speaking of transformations, she transformed my opinion of Ibsen. There's more to his plays than clockwork, go figure.

These excerpts show what Ibsen's good at. He was brilliant at showing how character transforms. He was also a proto-feminist, and made many strong feminist statements – mostly saying stop treating women like crap. Those statements are clear to modern audiences, though I suspect dudes in the 1880s were egging Torvald on (Yes! Put that spendthrift in her place!). Ibsen clearly took risks.

Aside from the performance itself, I liked the clever, non-traditional setting of the performance. (I wasn't alone. The people who filled the space had a nice camaraderie.) In a weird way, seeing a play in a cool furniture shop changes your appreciation of the material. It ducks the whole sitting-in-church, suffering-for-art thing. You're not sitting in a stiff theater seat. It’s some cutting-edge, ergonomic furniture, man. Couches, settees. Some woman was even lounging on a bed.

When the last scene ended, I didn’t want to leave the theater. I was actually comfy. When does that happen?

A great night of theater -- that wasn't in the theater.

More, please.

‘A Taste of Ibsen
Sept. 30 - Oct. 2
Home Resources
741 Central Ave # A, Sarasota,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Irish Play Reading Series

Here's a coming attraction y'all might be interested in --

Irish Play Reading Series at Sarasota's Irish Rover

Irish Rover Pub, 6518 Gateway Avenue in Sarasota announces a reading series of Irish and Irish-American plays rehearsed and performed by some of the area's leading actors. The initial offering will be Brian Friel's MOLLY SWEENEY on Tuesday, September 28 at 7:30. The actors will be Annette Breazeale as Molly, the woman whose sight is miraculously restored, Marc Konrad as her loving husband and Don Walker as the daring surgeon.

Brain Friel is one of the world's great playwrights, the author of DANCING AT LUGHNASA, PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME, and FREEDOM OF THE CITY. Of MOLLY SWEENEY, the NY Post has said, "What a marvelous play this is! See it -- wander in it and wonder at it." The London Times has cited the play's "...vitality and warmth, such kindly accuracy of observation."

The series -- organized and directed by celebrated area playwright, Jack Gilhooley -- will continue on various Tuesday nights throughout 2010-11. Some of the Irish and Irish-American plays under consideration are Synge's THE TINKER'S WEDDING and IN THE SHADOW OF THE GLEN, Hugh Leonard's DA, Marie Jones' STONES IN HIS POCKET, Friel's LOVERS and THE FAITH HEALER, Tom Murphy's WHISTLE IN THE DARK, Edna O'Brien's TRIPTYCH, Frank Gilroy's THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES and Samuel Beckett's KRAPP'S LAST TAPE and ENDGAME. Gilhooley -- who has dual citizenship and was recently a Fulbright guest artist at National U of Ireland -- states "We have to educate the audience before we present some of the new 'Roaring Boys' like Martin McDonough and Colin McPherson and a 'Roaring Girl' like Marina Carr. They are exciting talents but the language will melt the paint off the walls". His own Joycean dark comedy, EX-ISLES, recently produced in Co. Limerick is also a candidate.

There will be a Tuesday reading in October and about one every month afterwards. Admission is by contribution (suggested $10 each) since royalty and manuscripts must be paid for. Of course, dinner and drinks will be served. The performances will always begin at 7:30 and the Irish Rover phone is 926-1060

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bertha Palmer Then & Now

Here's another cool coming attraction for area history buffs. The talented actress and director Amanda Schlachter is doing a one-woman portrayal of Bertha Palmer presenting a famous speech at the Chicago World's Fair.

Here's the info:

Ahead of her time: Bertha Palmer Then & Now

The Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee presents

Ahead of her time:
Bertha Palmer Then & Now

Thursday, September 23, 2010
7:00 - 8:30pm
Jane B. Cook Theater at the FSU for the Performing Arts
5555 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

About the Event
Please join us as local actress, Amanda Schlachter, delivers Bertha Palmer's groundbreaking speech on the occasion of the opening of the women's Pavilion at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Following the speech, we will discuss Bertha Palmer's impact on women in her own era and assess the state of women today. How much have we evolved in more than a century and how many of the issues Mrs. Palmer addressed continue to exist today?

Moderator: Bonnie Beth Greenball, JD, Associate Director, Institute for Public Policy & Leadership, USF Sarasota-Manatee
About the Actress

Amanda Schlachter has directed with multiple companies in the Sarasota area and has performed with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Actor's Workshop, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and numerous others. She is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and holds a BFA from the University of Central Florida.
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