Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #43

August 18th, 2007  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report


by Kay Bourne
(Photo by Lolita Parker, Jr.)

376 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43 The Roxbury Film Festival sometimes tickled our funny bones, other times touched our hearts.

The 9th annual event, held all over Boston, brought us happily up-to-date on filmmakers we’ve met in previous years, and introduced us to newcomers who perked our interest.

Boston women, now world-famous artists, VICTORIA ROWELL and SUSAN BATSON, graced the fest, as did scores of filmmakers of Color who labor to give us images more satisfying than the Hollywood standard fare.

The Sunday, August 5 wrap up and awards ceremony bookended a festival that started with laughs at the Comedy Connection‘s special reception. The Tuesday, July 31, party featured a sneak peek at festival’s opener, the comic film, “I’m Through With White Girls,” which got a standing ovation at the MFA and was ultimately the winner of the “Audience Favorite” Award given by the Metro Boston newspaper. (One of the Boston comics at the preview party, DEBRA FARRAR PARKMAN appears this weekend for 3 shows at Jimmy Tingles’ OFF BROADWAY Theater in Davis Square, Somerville in a line-up with other comediennes in “Color Struck: Boston’s 8th Annual Women of Color in Comedy.” )

Talk about a work out! Renowned acting coach to such stars as Nicole Kidman, Chris Rock, Sean P. Diddy Combs, and Jamie Foxx, the Roxbury-born SUSAN BATSON gave a 5-hour workshop at Hibernian Hall sponsored by StageSource, the resource for theater artists and producers in Boston.

The diminutive powerhouse stepping lively in 2-inch heels led 20 actors who’d won a lottery to be in her class. They dove wholeheartedly into physical and emotional exercises culminating in mini auditions with a script they memorized on the spot, while 30 or so observers watched from the side-lines. Should you want to read up on her approach to acting, she’s recently published an excellent handbook “Truth: Personas, Needs, and Flaws in The Art of Building Actors and Creating Characters.” Batson who operates acting studios in New York and L.A., says that she is also going into directing with a film starring Nicole Kidman already in the offing as is a film version of the recent Broadway production of “Raisin in the Sun.”

Noted actress and former ballerina, VICTORIA ROWELL also has a book, the emotionally moving “The Women Who Raised Me,” (William Morrow), a memoir of her growing up in the foster care system and the women along the way who became her champions as she found a future for herself in the arts. The book is currently on the NYTimes best seller list. Rowell, an advocate for foster children, attended many of the festival screenings. Her 15 minute documentary “The Mentor” was shown in a program of shorts at the MFA.

Youth had their session. “You have technology on your side; you don’t have to go to Hollywood to make your movies” noted CANDELARIA SILVA-COLLINS in her greeting to the room full of teen filmmakers and supporters. This is the founder of the film festival’s final year as its director; she is retiring from heading ACT Roxbury and herself planning to delve into her longtime dream to be a writer. The winner of the “Best Youth” filmmaker award, given by ACT Roxbury went to ANDRE WOODBERRY for his documentary, “What It’s Like To Be Homeless.” A number of the young filmmakers had been mentored by LANICE O’BRYANT who won this writer’s Award for “Emerging Local Filmmaker” for her story about the difficulties of being deaf in a hearing world, “Fishers of a Second Chance.”

Other awards included ANDREA C. SPENCE’s Award for “Best Short Film” went to RANDALL DOTTIN for his “Lifted.” The Lef Foundaton presented its Award for the Most Original Voice to FAITH KAKULU for her narrative short, “Open Secrets.” The Boston Chapter of Links, Inc. and the Color of Film Collaborative, Inc. presented its “Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking” to FAITH PENNICK for “Silent Choices” about abortion and its personal and political impact on the lives of African American women.

Roxbury Film Festival 07

by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Rachel Hunt and John Kuntz)

378 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43With the disturbing stage play “MR. MARMALADE,” about a child’s coping with personal trauma, COMPANY ONE solidifies its reputation for purveying soul-shaking drama.

Four-year-old Lucy, given a virtuoso performance from RACHEL HUNT, has invented a mysterious friend, as malevolent as he is companionable. Actor JOHN KUNTZ is chilling as the coke snorting specter Lucy has called up that expresses the memories and feelings the child can’t articulate directly but which, to our eyes, has to do with her single mom’s unfortunate male relationships and, perhaps, TV shows the baby sitter fancies and the goings on with the boyfriend she invites over.

All ends more or less on a hopeful note for Lucy by the conclusion of the involving play by NOAH HAIDLE, which has been directed astutely by SHAWN LaCOUNT for its hilarious moments, as well as its poignancy.

Even after the curtain call, however, “Mr. Marmalade” isn’t over.The memories of the drama linger on as you contemplate how vulnerable small children are to the lives of the adults who are their caretakers. Another bravura performance in a cast that is outstanding all around is from GREG MARAIO, also a child with emotional issues.

The recent production at the Boston Center for the Arts, which concluded August 11, gives assurance that Company One is the theatrical outfit to take on its 2007-2008 season opener – a stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s “THE BLUEST EYE.”

Playwright LYDIA R. DIAMOND, a Huntington Theater Playwriting Fellow last year, has said of her endeavor, so like Haidle‘s writing that “Toni Morrison would never sit down to write and say, ‘My themes will be. . . . Her writing is much more elegant and purposely, never didactic or thematic.”

As Diamond has described the novel that introduced Morrison to the reading public, “The Bluest Eye” is the story of a little African American girl and her family who are affected in every direction by the dominant American culture that says to them, ‘You’re not beautiful, you’re not relevant; you’re invisible; you don’t even count. That is what is painful in the novel – the way our country has dealt with race.”

As with “Mr. Marmalade,” the marrow of the drama is hurt rubbed raw. How inner turmoil plays out in a person’s behavior. That is a huge challenge to stage going far beyond the pedestrian requirements.

“We’re getting older, so our scripts are becoming more sophisticated,” LaCount says of the company, entering its ninth season (and its first as a resident company at the Boston Center for the Arts). LaCount adds that “as we get more established in the theater community we’re able to apply for the rights we were unable to get before.” He notes that the company “had to fight” to get the rights to do “After Ashley,” “Mr. Marmalade,” and “The Bluest Eye.”

As to the Toni Morrison adaptation, LaCount says that they “prodded and pushed. We called the literary agent every single day for two straight months. Finally the agent said, ‘Yes, yes. You can have it. Just stop calling.’” Company One founding member SUMMER L. WILLIAMS will direct “The Bluest Eye.” which opens in October.

book review by S.L. Hemingway
377 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43The only thing I can think of after reading Stephen L. Carter‘s new novel NEW ENGLAND WHITE is, if W. E. B. Dubois was still alive, would he be riding around in an Escalade? After all, Professor Carter is the one who was given four million bucks by Alfred Knopf, in advance, to pen the Emperor of Ocean Park and other future ‘reads ‘chronicling the lives and secrets of the scions of the ‘Talented Tenth”.

In other words, his task was only to report to the reader the comings and goings of America’s rich, bright and powerful families of “the darker nation” without flipping through the pages of Jet. As you get into Carter, you realize that you are not just looking at the Huxtables on steroids, but a clan of human beings whose existence has been complicated by an unusual weave of history, blood and circumstance. Like many great literary revelators, Carter, a social investigator, as well as,Yale law professor, has deftly applied the murder-mystery form to examine this fascinating Ellingtonesque society.

In his first novel, Emperor of Ocean Park, Carter creaks open the closet door to let out the secrets of a venerable, black Jurist whose off-springs fall victims of the Jurist’s convictions and integrity. In his second novel, New England White, it is just the opposite. Carter attempts to push dangerous secrets back into the closet of Black Consciousness as if White company is coming with dictionaries.

In New England White, Carter peers through the eyes of Julia Carlyle, a deputy dean of a divinity school of a fictitious New England university where her husband, Lemaster, is president. The couple is more than unique, they are unique, unique. They are both African-American – she’s a fruit of the tree of the Edgecombe Avenue Harlem Negroes and he, a decedent of Barbados, who happens to be a former college roommate and confident of the President of the United States. The Carlyles live in a cocoon village of three thousand with five Black families uncomfortably swirled in. Their children are all perfect, except for 16-year-old Vanessa who recently has become very obsessed with the murder, years before, of a young White girl her own age.

Her father, like many wildly successful African-Americans, cannot understand her attachment to the past. That is, until one wintry evening when he and his wife, after leaving their ditched Escalade, stumble upon the dead body of Kellen Zant, who happens to be a distinguished faculty member, as well as Julia’s former lover. Zant is a premier Black economist who has uncovered something that will influence the coming Presidential Election. When Julia is told, to her bewilderment, that the randy professor had slipped her “something of great value” just before his murder, something that might ultimately spell doom to every member of her family, she embarks upon a mission of ancestral survival.

As the twists and turns of the drama unfold, in language of unparallel beauty (and unfortunate length), the reader discovers that Carter is not only writing about finding a murderer but liberating truth. Perhaps the ‘darker nation’ has an upper hand in achieving that for America. It is a preposterous possibility that Carter brilliantly leaves to us to consider. I suppose it is as preposterous as imagining W.E.B. Dubois behind a wheel of an Escalade.

Official website of Amazon.com

by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Helen Oyeyemi)

379 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43 Cuban women. So dramatic. “Dramatico, siempre el drama,” Papi exclaims to his daughter Maya. He has immediately regretted having purposely damaged his wife Chabella’s Santaria altar. She now refuses to speak to him The contact with the Orisha spirits is her connection to her birthplace.

Their daughter Maya, the principal voice in HELEN OYEYEMI‘s impressionistic novel, cannot help but agree. “He’s not so well wrong,” she concedes.

It’s been 20 years since Maya, now 27, left revolutionary Cuba for London with her intellectual parents and she is struggling with the personal identity issues arising from broaching two worlds. Now she is a singer, in love with the African born White Jewish Aaron and pregnant with his child, but there is a memory from her childhood she cannot resurrect in its entirety which plagues her. The illusiveness to her mind has become symbolic of the frustrations she feels vacillating between her being Cuban, Black, British, Roman Catholic, and Yoruba. Among the other principal characters is Amy Eleni, a lesbian who is Maya’s best friend and while London born is fiercely proud of her Cypriot heritage.

As a mirror to the reality of Maya’s confusion is “the opposite house,” inhabited by the Yoruba spirits, which, when Maya was growing up, she thought of as her “hysterics.” The poetic conceit comes from Emily Dickinson, the 19th century Amherst Massachusetts recluse, in whose writings Oyeyemi finds a sister: “There’s been a death, in the opposite house, as lately as to-day. I know it by the numb look Such houses have alway.” (“The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson”)

“THE OPPOSITE HOUSE” (Doubleday, June 2007) follows rising star Oyeyemi‘s striking debut “The Icarus Girl,” written when the Nigerian-born English author was 19 and studying for exams which approximate the American SATs. Apparently, there can be value in procrastination as this time Oyeyemi, now a Cambridge University student, fled to Florence to write when she should have been working on her end of year exams.

She told a British publication that “I needed to get this first draft out so that after the exams I could come back to it. I was doing 2,000 words every other day and on days in-between I’d lie on the floor going, ‘Oh my God. Building up two different narratives was so difficult and I hadn’t helped myself with my reading choices. The Bible, the poems of Emily Dickinson and some Cuban legends. I was kind of going out of my mind a little.”

At a guess, drama is one of the author’s strong suits personally and she imbues her characters with lots of it, to good advantage.

Opposite House available here

by © 2007 Josiah Crowley
380 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43Reading can impart information to the reader he might otherwise never learn. Case-in-point: while reading BRUCE DERN‘s memoir , “Things I’ve Said, But Probably Shouldn’t Have: An Unrepentant Memoir” (Wiley), I had a revelation: All these years, I was under the impression that Dern was a fairly talented actor (albeit one who tends to overact) who got pigeon-holed early in his career as the villain/psycho and never developed the career he might have had minus the typecasting. All these years, while watching Dern froth at the mouth, twist his face into unfathomable contortions and sweat profusely, I was under the impression Dern was badly in need of a stern director. Or, at the very least, a fist full of valium. Turns out, I was actually witnessing a gift from the Acting Gods! According to Dern‘s book, he is an acting genius! The Second Coming! Wow – ya learn something new every day!

Some people may remember Bruce Dern as the man who killed John Wayne in THE COWBOYS; others for his Oscar-nominated turn as the mentally unbalanced Vietnam vet in COMING HOME. Jack Nicholson’s brother in the sleeper THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS. The lead in the si/fi cult classic SILENT RUNNING. The terrorist in BLACK SUNDAY.The father of polygamist Bill Paxton in the current HBO TV series, BIG LOVE. Or, in real life, as Laura Dern’s father.The point is, Bruce Dern is one of those character actors who’s been working in television and films for nearly half a century. Many viewers may not know his name, but even the most casual viewer of popular culture of the last 50 years would recognize his face.

Dern‘s memoir will stun many readers when they learn of his background. And they wouldn’t be alone in their surprise. When Dern was cast as the title character’s best friend in THE GREAT GATSBY, there was much dissent among film critics: how were viewers to believe Dern, someone who specialized in White trash hoodlums, as the rich and cultured Tom Buchanan? His casting was thought to be a huge mistake.

Ironically, this character was surely the closest to his background that he’s ever played. Dern was born into great wealth and privelege. His grandfather was a rich businessman. His father was a prominent Chicago lawyer whose best friend and law partner was US Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. His great uncle was Archibald MacLeish, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and poet laureate of the United States. Dern’s cousin is prominent Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish, one of the attorneys who sued the Archdiocese of Boston in The Catholic Church Sex Scandal that broke in 2002.

So why would someone raised in a family of lawyers and businessman become an actor? Simple: “There was no emotion expressed in my family.” Behind the doors in The Derns’ castle-shaped estate, Mom – who died of psorosis – was drunk every night at the family dinner hour. Dad never raised his voice; he died of liver disease at age 55. As a child, Dern – who has never had a cigarette or a drink of alcohol in his 71 years – became obsessed with marathon running. Eventually, that obsession was replaced by a passion for acting. When he announced to his family that he was pursuing an acting career, they cut him off financially. The need for a “connection to emotion” made it worth the price Dern paid.

Dern’s entry into showbusiness was, initially, very successful: within a year of arriving in New York, he had starred on Broadway in 2 plays ( including the original production of Tennessee Williams’ SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH with Paul Newman) and made his film debut in Elia Kazan’s WILD RIVER, opposite Montgomery Clift.

Then it was off to Hollywood to conquer the movies. That never quite happened. He spent over a decade as the villian on nearly every Western TV series and in bit parts in major films (in 1964 alone, Dern kidnapped MISS KITTY in a GUNSMOKE episode and was killed by the title character in Hitchcock‘s MARNIE and was axed to death by Mary Astor in HUSH,HUSH,SWEET CHARLOTTE). And leads in drive-in movies (PSYCHOUT, REBEL ROUSERS,BLOODY MAMA). Dern was frustrated: THE THING WITH TWO HEADS was a long way from Tennessee Williams. Director Sydney Pollack, who cast Dern in a supporting role in the classic THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? told Dern:”You are not a leading man.”

Much of Dern’s memoir consists of his resentments and bitterness about how he was never appreciated by the powers that be. He names names (Jack Lord, he claims, fired him from the TV series STONEY BURKE because Dern was upstaging him) and that’s entertaining to an extent. But midway through the book, the reader might find himself asking, “When is he going to learn compassion for his mother’s alcoholism?” (Answer: never) or “Why not be grateful for your accomplishments, rather than complaining endlessly” about how (in Dern‘s view) the studio heads failed to appreciate what Dern thinks of as his ‘acting genius.’ This sort of whining and arrogance is not attractive on 21-year-olds, let alone a 71-year-old!

THINGS I SAID available here

by © 2007 Josiah Crowley
381 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43 CLAIRE DANES was recently in town to promote STARDUST, based on the fantasy novel by NEIL GAIMAN. In this movie, Danes plays, literally, a celestial star.

Danes herself became a star half a lifetime ago – at age 14, as the lead in the TV series MY SO-CALLED LIFE. And has had a busy career since (along with Leonardo DiCaprio, playing one of the title roles in ROMEO AND JULIET; SHOPGIRL opposite Steve Martin; the Jodie Foster-directed HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS). As evidenced by roles in everything from LITTLE WOMEN to TERMINATOR – 3, Danes has achieved her goal to work in “new territory, genres” on a regular basis. Next up is the crime drama, THE FLOCK, opposite Richard Gereand, this fall, her stage debut in a Broadway revival of Shaw’s PYGMALION.>

When asked how she’s avoided the pitfalls of young stardom – such as theLindsey Lohans and Paris Hiltons – the bright, personable star said: “I hail a cab. What is the deal? Just don’t get behind the wheel (while drinking).” She credits the two years she took off from her career to attend Yale and down-to-earth artist parents in helping her achieve stability.

In her recent trip to Boston to promote STARDUST, Danes displayed great enthusiasm for her current project. Her generosity (co-star Charlie Cox “is amazing” and Robert DeNiro “really cool”) , intelligence and charisma were on full display. Whether literally – as in her STARDUST role – or in person, Claire Danes is, indeed, a star.

Stardust official website

by Lisa Simmons
382 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43 If you have not seen Rush Hour One or Two it’s ok, you can still partake in the antics and the comedy because nothing much has changed. It still takes a little getting use to CHRIS TUCKER‘s high pitched voice but as the movie progresses and the action begins it grows on you.

Once again, falling back on the American/Asian plot line, there is no real new or innovative writing or action that hasn’t already been done in this piece. JACKIE CHAN is cool as he slides down the Eiffel Tower while Chris Tucker‘s wit tries to follow the action.

There are funny lines and great action sequences, so if that’s what you want to see it’s what you will get and you won’t be disappointed.

Personally though, I have to say, enough with the sequels Hollywood. There are so many original stories that need to be told and could be told for the $140 million dollars it took to make this movie.

RUSH HOUR 3 official website

review by Caldwell Titcomb
Local audiences were the beneficiaries of a triumphant treat with the mounting of “Psych ,” a 1678 opera by Jean-Baptiste Lully, the first great composer of French musical works for the stage.

With a libretto by Thomas Corneille, based on a scenario by Moliere, the opera had a run of six performances at the Cutler Majestic Theatre as the centerpiece in the 14th biennial Boston Early Music Festival. The experienced participants hail not only from the United States but also from Canada and Europe.

The story comes from ancient Greek mythology. Psyche is the world’s most beautiful woman, whose widespread allure and adulation causes Venus, the goddess of love, to be consumed with jealousy and anger, especially given the mutual attraction between her son Cupid and the gorgeous mortal.

In a rage, Venus does her best to thwart the romance even though her own husband, Vulcan, is on Psyche’s side. Venus obliges Psyche to journey to Hades to retrieve Proserpina’s box of beauty secrets in the face of torments by demons and the Three Furies. It takes the eventual arrival of Jupiter to put an end to Venus’s villainy and provide a solution that satisfies everyone.

Louis XIV gave Lully a monopoly over musical theater, and Lully here provided the Sun King with the most lavish and expensive court entertainment of the time. The Boston production is the North American premiere of the work, and the Festival has risen to its many challenges in almost every way.

Caleb Wertenbaker has designed handsome and versatile sets, which also permit personages to descend from or ascend to heaven, and fly through the air – thanks to machinery that the Baroque theater loved. Anna Watkins has fashioned stunning costumes and Lenore Doxsee appropriate lighting. The many surviving examples of Baroque dance notation allowed Lucy Graham to provide authentic choreography. The late Baroque era was fond of geometrical balance, so striking symmetry characterizes this production’s settings, dancing, and Gilbert Blin‘s stage direction.

Once past the opening singing by the Goddess of Flowers, which is too weak, the rest of the singing is generally excellent. The English soprano Carolyn Sampson is a gleaming Psyche, presented as a blond in a virginal white gown. Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin summons plenty of power as the assertive Venus. Strong contributions in two roles each come from American tenor Aaron Sheehan and German tenor Colin Balzer.

Particularly memorable are the scene in which the group of one-eyed Cyclops, with their anvils, are building a palace, and there enters a quartet of tiny cupids (drawn from the PALS Children’s Chorus), and the later scene featuring the trio of Furies (black-garbed women sung by men).

The last act contains a lengthy series of dances, and the appearance of a number of male deities starting with Mercury (carrying his caduceus) and Jupiter. There follow Apollo (with lyre in hand), Bacchus riding a golden ass, Momus, and Mars (accompanied by four on-stage trumpets and timpani, the latter of which could be better tuned).

Musical directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, plucking lutes and guitars, oversee an orchestra of three dozen performers playing Lully’s largely graceful music on period instruments with admirable precision.

After the Boston run this impressive production moved to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington (June 22-24).

383 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #43Blues guitarist/singer LOUISIANA RED has lived the blues throughout his 72 years. His music reflects a life whose early years saw his mom die of pneumonia a week after his birth and his dad lynched by the Klu Klux Klan when Red was five. When Red performs his spontaneous compositions you’ll recall perhaps the original Delta Blues artists and from a rhythmic perspective, even further back, the West African griots.
Joining Louisiana Red on stage 7:30 pm ,Saturday, AUGUST 25 at the Somerville Theater for The Boston Blues Festival Legends Revival are acoustic guitarist/vocalist David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 92, and mouth harpist Lazy Lester, 74, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, Darrell Nulisch, David Maxwell, and others. For info call 617-625-4088 or click Louisiana Red’s picture to the left, to go to the Boston Blues Festival website.

Happening in Franklin Park (between the back of the zoo and White Stadium, near Playstead ballfield): Mayor Menino’s Monday Night at the Movies presents: HAPPY FEET, AUGUST 20 starting at dusk; AUGUST 21 Special Children’s Festival with face painting, puppets, music and more.

TRINITY REP tickets for the first two shows of its 44th season go on sale to the general public on August 19, at the Trinity Rep box office, by phone at (401) 351-4242 and online at www.trinityrep.com. The season starts SEPTEMBER 14 with a restaging of the bold political drama ALL THE KING’S MEN by Adrian Hall, adapted from the Robert Penn Warren novel, and directed by Brian McEleney. It will be followed by MEMORY HOUSE , opening NOVEMBER 30, commissioned by Trinity Rep, written by Kathleen Tolan, and directed by Trinity Rep Artistic Director Curt Columbus. It is the story of a woman who has always tried to do the right thing, but her dance career has been replaced by the grind of office-work, her ex-husband is across town with a younger model, and now her 18-year-old daughter is questioning everything, especially her adoption from Russia. Tolan‘s play is an intimate and incisive look into that moment just before everything changes. Memory House stars company member Anne Scurria and Brown/Trinity Rep Consortium graduate Susannah Flood.

Trinity Rep will hold AUDITIONS for adult actors 18 and over for the 2007-2008 season on SEPTEMBER 22 and 23 at Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St., Providence, RI. Saturday, Auditions for members of the Actors Equity Association only. Sunday, Auditions for members of the Actors Equity Association and non-union actors. Appointments are required. For information, call Laura Kepley at 401-521-1100, Ext. 275.

Providence Rhode Island’s Black Rep will open it’s 2007-2008 Theater Season with Jamaican playwright TREVOR RHONE‘s TWO CAN PLAY, a hilarious and revealing look at the perils of love, marriage, and the American dream, Jamaican style! directed by New York City based director MICHAEL ROGERS and featuring the talents of Black Rep Affiliate Artist RAIDGE and Boston-based Jamaican actress MARCIA FEARON. The show opens OCTOBER 12 and runs through November 11 at The Providence Black Repertory Company, 276 Westminster Street, Providence.

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