Much Ado About Nothing at Tulane’s Lupin Theater through June 30
If you’ve never seen Much Ado About Nothing, you might want to head to Tulane’s Lupin Theater for the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival’s opening production of their 26th season. As is often the case at NOSF, Director Burton Tedesco gives us a mostly straightforward rendering of one of the Bard’s most sophisticated comedies. You’ll certainly get the basic plot of two star-crossed pairs of lovers for whom everything, by and large, works out in the end.
Tedesco has reset the story in some middle American town of the 1950s, using songs of that early rock era to establish the mood and comment on the action. For a play in which the sexes are in a constant battle, however, there’s little interpretive relevance for our #MeToo times.
Tedesco, an actor and fight director, here helms a show for the first time, so we might want to overlook some of his production’s shortcomings. Still, enough of them add up to prevent this show from being wholly satisfying. By coarsening things up, he takes much of the charm and lightness out of this most airy of scripts. Slapstick is favored in scenes that would benefit from a more subtle approach.
While his cast always conveys the script’s proper meaning, no small achievement, the readings tend to be superficial without plumbing the psychological depths of Shakespeare’s complex characters. Scenes featuring the bumbling constable Dogberry and his hare-brained associates, which can be hysterically funny, here come off as merely tedious, their humor blanched out. And actors arbitrarily break the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly for no good reason.
Despite this, some actors give affecting performances.
Jes Podewell not only displays Beatrice’s requisite wit and intelligence, but also a disarming joyfulness upon unexpectedly discovering love. One wishes there had been more chemistry between her and her Benedick, Graham Burk. He’s successfully played clowns, villains and clownish villains, but the suavity and romantic sparkle needed to capture and bond with Podewell’s Beatrice escapes him.
Leicester Landon, unlike other Don Johns I’ve seen, forsakes snarly outward shows of this villain’s evilness but, rather, imbues every word he utters with a subtle malignity. It’s a tremendously intelligent approach, one that augurs well for an Iago in his future.
Whether in love-struck, indignant, or repentant mode, Nate Jones speaks Claudio’s lines very well, but moves stiffly throughout, his body rarely matching what he is saying. Tirol Palmer, as Hero, the object of Claudio’s affection, does well overall but one wonders why she takes him back in the end.
Tedesco has cast women in a number of men’s roles, reversing their gender, which is fine. Yet when one man says “I think this is your daughter,” indicating a young woman he hasn’t met, and the response becomes “Her father [rather than ‘mother’] hath many times told me so,” the sting is taken out of one of Shakespeare’s most brilliant lines, an appropriate metaphor for this Much Ado.
Cinderella at The Orpheum
Seeing the New Orleans Ballet Theatre’s glorious production of Cinderella at a recent matinee made me realize how much I’ve missed classical ballet as, due to some technical glitch when NOBT updated its email list a while ago, I apparently stopped getting their notifications; unfortunately, this vital company then somehow slipped off my radar. I can only imagine how much wonderful ballet I lost out on.
With new choreography by Gregory Schramel, Carlos Guerra, and Marjorie Schramel to Sergei Prokofiev’s gorgeous music, Cinderella was consistently beautiful to look at and, in its retelling of this classic fairy tale, even touching as we observed its heroine’s liberation from her oppressive home life. The choreographers employed clear staging to advance the story while filling it out with elegant dance.
Gabriela Mesa, as Cinderella, seemed lighter than air; her amazing extensions only added to her innate gracefulness. Partnered with Marjorie Schramel as her dignified but sadistic Stepmother, the two sizzled in a thrilling duet.
As the princess-seeking Prince, Fabian Morales, engaged to Mesa in real life, proved a sensitive partner and provided some awesome leaps of his own. With his boyish mien, Kevin Hernandez’s Squire, however, nearly stole the show as his scissor-like legs displayed outstanding technique.
You have to be very talented to dance “badly”; as the Stepsisters, Gregory Schramel and Carlos Guerra made it clear that they are, as they brought comical ugliness to their roles and made each Sister funny in her own way. Despite the instruction of Trey Mauldwin’s superb Dance Master, these “ladies” remained magnificently klutzy.
Felicia McPhee marvelously metamorphosed from a mysterious old crone into the Fairy Godmother and then led a dance of the Fairies with apt choreography for each season. Shayna Skal’s coltish Spring Fairy contrasted with Mei-Ling Murray’s more refined Summer one. Lisa Keller McCurdy was an exquisite Autumn Fairy while Claudia Lezcano’s Winter Fairy epitomized joyous holiday celebrations. These five dancers then came together for a ravishing finale.
Sophie Coudrain, Mazzy Hansel, Victoria Nelson and Giselle “Gigi” Thomas were adorable as the Mice who would soon be transformed into Coachmen. Summer Fairy Attendants Lucy Brown, Simone Brown, Grace Crain, and Anna Gordillo demonstrated clearly budding talents. And Sunny Benziger shined in her few moments as the lead Firefly. It truly was heartwarming to see these and all the other youngsters perform at such a high level. The Schramels deserve our appreciation for training so wonderfully, through their Conservatory of Dance, the next generation.
Alas, due to a wedding I was attending on the North Shore that evening, just as Cinderella had to leave the Prince’s Ball early, I had to depart right before the ballet’s brief final act. I wish I could’ve stayed, but I had a pretty good idea how things would turn out. And now that I’m back on NOBT’s e-list, I hope not to miss any future presentations (next up, The Nutcracker in December) of this prime company.
New (and Old) in London
Though I recently went to London to see our own Bianca Del Rio in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (see interview elsewhere in this issue), as well as to visit friends and family, there were many other things I enjoyed on the other side of the pond. And that’s in addition to the performance art event known as the Trump Protest.
Elsewhere in the West End, an extraordinary revival of Henrik Ibsen’s complex drama Rosmersholm is playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre thru July 20 starring Tom Burke, Hayley Atwell and Giles Terera. With its talk of divisive elections, the power of the press, and extremism, as well as a psychologically knotty romance, it seems like it was written yesterday instead of 130+ years ago.
I also saw two other big hits, Six (Arts Theatre thru Jan. 5, 2020) and The Lehman Trilogy (Piccadilly Theatre thru Aug. 31). The former reimagines the six wives of Henry VIII as a girl group (à la The Spice Girls) in friendly competition to see who had it worst; in 75 minutes, each wife gets her own song in the style of a pop diva (Beyoncé, Adele, Rihanna, etc.). The latter charts the rise and fall of the Lehman banking dynasty from the arrival of the original three brothers from Bavaria in the U.S. in the mid-1800s to the spectacular 2008 collapse of the company they founded. I liked both; I loved neither.
I did love Van Gogh and Britain at Tate Britain (thru Aug. 11). This exhibit first reveals how England inspired the Dutch artist when he lived there for a few years in the 1870s and then how van Gogh influenced generations of British artists. In addition to his renowned talents, what comes through in this show is van Gogh’s empathy for poor and working class people; his painting of prisoners exercising in a small courtyard is a jaw dropper.
Alas, the Tate Modern’s Dorothea Tanning exhibition has since closed, but it provided a terrific overview of her career. I preferred her earlier figurative surrealist works; a friend favored her later more abstract ones. It made for lively debate.
After seeing Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace (thru Oct. 13), there can be little debate that da Vinci was one of the, if not the, most brilliant person who ever lived. Not only are there beautiful portraits on display, but also his anatomical and botanical drawings, maps, designs for weapons and much more, all done without aid of computer or even electricity. His discoveries about how the body works would alone place him in the pantheon of greats!
While I missed the Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light exhibit at the National Gallery (thru July 7), I was able, courtesy of a last minute switch to an earlier-arriving flight, to spend two fabulous hours going through this revered museum’s permanent collection which ranges from the 1200s to about 1900.
Highlights included not only works by van Eyck, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Turner, Klimt, Manet, Degas, Seurat, and da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks, but also those by lesser known artists; a quartet of canvases from the mid-1320s documenting Christ’s death and resurrection by Ugolino di Nerio were each stunning. And a Man of Sorrows from about 1260 seemed utterly modern.
As worthy as these august institutions are, I had a lovely time with a friend just walking around Mayfair and popping into some shops that have received royal warrants. Though quite posh, everyone we met was uniformly friendly and welcoming.
Our stops included Lock and Co. Hatters (6 St. James’s St.) where, in its small museum, you can see Winston Churchill’s ledger for his purchases, the Queen’s head-block, and a letter settling Oscar Wilde’s outstanding bill; Floris parfumerie (89 Jermyn St.) where Ian Fleming and Marilyn Monroe shopped (you can sample their scents); and Paxton & Whitfield cheesemongers (93 Jermyn St.) where, in addition to offering various samples, though I purchased a mere $2.25 sausage roll, the counterman treated me like a lord.
Also on Jermyn St., at #59, is The Weiss Gallery which drew us in with its flabbergastingly splendid Tudor, Stuart & Northern European old master portraits, all museum quality. Hot guys are well-hung on the gallery’s walls, wearing outfits that make Billy Porter’s red carpet ensembles look demure.
Nearby, at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, you can partake of its free Monday, Wednesday and Friday 50-minute lunchtime recitals that generally begin at 1:10pm. I heard Michael Poll, an excellent classical guitarist, who did two pieces by Bach, which he had adapted for guitar, and then his own Variations on the Theme Vltava/Hatikva. The recitals offer a refreshing escape from the outside hustle’n’bustle in a Christopher Wren designed building hosted by a congregation that explicitly welcomes “straight, gay and transgendered people.”
For lunch itself, head to Middle Temple Hall, not far from the Thames (make an online reservation in advance), to dine in an ornate 16th-century venue with a carved, oak beam ceiling and stained glass windows that Queen Elizabeth THE FIRST officially opened in 1576. Plus, Twelfth Night had its world premiere there on February 2, 1602 with Bill Shakespeare himself probably in attendance. The menus look scrumptious though I’d happily eat there even if they only served gruel.
As for nighttime fun, on Saturdays head to XXL for its weekly dance party (1 Invicta Plaza; its website says go to the Southwark Underground station but opting for the Blackfriars one and then crossing the bridge is just as easy). One room has techno music, another features ’70s/’80s/’90s pop, and another, well, doesn’t have any music but does offer a maze. It’s a diverse friendly crowd with guys from all over the world. I had been there in 2016 and the only disappointment this time was that, unlike three years ago, a fantastic gratis array of donuts was lacking.
Only going to be in London during the week? Then you might want to visit Vault 139 (139 Whitfield St.) in the residential Fitzrovia neighborhood. Monday nights offer an atmosphere redolent of Southern Decadence; I hear Thursday nights are even wilder–let me know if that’s indeed true.
Whatever you do, however, do remember that London is a phenomenal walking city. As you amble about, you never know what you’ll see from a school named after Charles Dickens (wonder if Nicholas Nickleby or Oliver Twist go there?) to a famous cock (the name of a pub in Highbury). Or, you just might unexpectedly bump into someone from New Orleans.
Please send press releases and notices of your upcoming shows to Brian Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.