NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
This year Tulane's summer theatre programs, Summer Lyric Theatre and
Shakespeare Festival, boast two local budding stars on the cusp of major
success. Let's hope that when their stars burst forth on the world stage they will remember, fondly, their New Orleans beginnings. Melissa Marshall, soon to be seen in Lyric Theatre's production of Brigadoon (July 10-13) is the budding diva while Lara Grice, currently energizing Aimee Michel's compelling production of Shakespeare's second to last play, The Tempest (thru July 25), is the budding thespian. Both are not only satiated with fast-developing talent, but endowed with almost ethereal youthful beauty.
I was indeed fortunate recently to be invited to a private graduate recital by Ms. Marshall (this spring she received her Master's in music from the Mannes School of Music in New York) given for her by one of her patronesses, Anne Rice, in Ms. Rice's fantastical, allegorical mansion on Napoleon Avenue-the old St. Elizabeth's Home.
Although the extensive remodeling included stripping all walls and ceilings of their plaster, down to raw brick and beams, the orphanage's enormous 2nd floor chapel retains its plastered, stained glass, iconned Catholic aura. In place of an altar there is a grand piano. There are 300 red velvet covered arm chairs set upon a highly lacquered hard wood floor. Besides the 90 minute recital which included selections from Mozart, Rossini, Duparc, Strauss and Wagner, there were also operetta numbers by Duke and Romberg. Ms. Marshall was accompanied by fellow Mannes students Pamela Gilmore on Piano and baritone Julien Uhlig. The room's acoustics are so bright (think bathroom) that concerts of this nature, although grand and exciting, can also be rather hard on the ear-but the ambience and the specific locale contribute so much more that one would surely be surly to carp.
Ms Rice, one of Ms. Marshall's many admirers and patrons, was most generous, extending most of the 200+ invitations to the Marshall family and friends, opening her fabulous doll collection for viewing, and supplying an elegant spread of chocolate strawberries, cheeses, sandwiches and drinks.
After Brigadoon, in which she plays Fiona, the girl who appears, along with the village, once every 100 years, Ms. Marshall is off to study in Italy, before returning in December to make her second appearance with the New Orleans Opera in Lakme. It is only a matter of time and learning roles that keeps Ms. Marshall from beginning to realize her incredible operatic potential.
Ms. Grice plays the nimble-footed, agile-minded puckish Ariel in Tulane Shakespeare Festival's airy, jet-propelled production of The Tempest, aiding, abetting and confounding her Magician master, Ron Gural's no-nonsense Prospero, the Duke of Milan, whose position was usurped by his brother, Antonio (Jerry Lee Leighton) twelve years before the play begins.
Prospero was cast out to sea in a boat with his infant daughter, Miranda (Lisa Childers) saved from starvation and dehydration by his faithful friend Gonzalo (Darryl Harris) who had secreted food and water in the small boat that eventually brought them to this enchanted isle, where the play is set.
Prospero's command of magic has brought him not only Ariel the sprite, but also Calaban, his savage and deformed slave who, as portrayed by Danny Bowen, makes his first entrance from the a hole in the stage, strewing it with real and symbolic earth.
A ship approaches which carries Prospero's unfaithful brother Antonio, Alonso, the King of Naples (a corkscrew curled foppish cavalier portrayed by Robert Pavlovich) and his son, Prince Ferdinand (Michael Downing) as well as Gonzalo. Prospero commands Ariel to create a storm, or tempest, and make the above inhabitants be washed ashore apart from each other. He will now seek his revenge.
By conspiring to have his beautiful daughter, Miranda (who is innocence itself, having never seen another man before) and Ferdinand fall in love, he sees the way to recapture his title and make his daughter the queen of Naples. After many machinations this ending is indeed effected and Prospero, having had his hard heart melted by the charm and purity of these young lovers and by the love of his dear friend Gonzalo, loses his stern pedantry and becomes a kindly, and compassionate master, releasing Ariel and Caliban from their spells and granting them their freedom: the storm before the calm.
Aimee Michel, the imaginative director of the Tulane Summer Shakespeare Festival, has pulled this difficult, wordy allegory from the musty dust of academe and presented it in a highly imaginative way, with her phalanx of equally innovative collaborators aiding and abetting her at every turn.
Ron Gural, as the central character, dressed in a sober pin striped Nehru suit, invests this Prospero with a misanthropic charm and vocal acuity beautifully illuminating Shakespeare's immortal cadences. Elizabeth Chaney's abstract setting, placed in a arena configuration, is a most appealing dais upon which the play unfolds. The large, round drum of a stage is bridged with a curving, roughhewn walkway and capped with three triangular sails which serve as screens upon which Hugh Lester's sensitive lighting periodically projects provocative images. I was especially affected by the images of the storm evoked by the wild manipulation of the sails and Caliban's first entrance, crawling through a hole in the drumlike stage, upsetting a sand castle miniature of the island setting and, in the process, strewing the stage with sand-a tangible image of his dirt-like character. Kaye Voyce's costumes deliberately commingle various historic periods using contemporary accessories for both decoration and practicality serving as concrete metaphors for the individual characters: (Caliban-reptilian; Ariel: airy; the men from the mainland-cavalier excess; Prospero-the Man, etc.)
Shakespeare's immortal iambs often soar, melodically underscored as they are by Brendan Connelly's original score.
There is much burlesque buffoonery supplied to titillate the groundlings with Mark McLaughlin's drunken butler, Stephano, who controls and cajoles and confounds Gavin Mahlie's double-jointed jester, Trinculo.
But it is Lara Grice, with dirt on her nose and a bird's nest for hair who commands your attention and respect; especially the guttural, stuttering quality of her speech-as fresh and as charming as a daisy. We wish you good luck in LA-break a leg...and maybe a heart or two.