Sunday, May 24, 2009

More knockouts from Kneehigh

The most-anticipated Spoleto show has to be "Don John" by Kneehigh Theatre. The company first appeared at the festival two years ago with "Tristian and Yseult" and expectations for "Don John" have been, to say the least, high. More than kneehigh. And if it isn't quite as magical as "Tristan and Yseult" it pushes both the company and the audience into new areas.
"Don John" is of course based on the old Don Juan tales about the man who bedded
hundreds of women - and raped
some of them.
The company places the story in late '70s England on a set that includes night club lighting, a dance floor, cargo ship containers, one of which contains a full band. The
production is loaded with music and dance and while most of the time it's rock, at times Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" pours from the speakers. There's also a lot of sex and it's pretty graphic.
Like "Tristan and Yseult," "Don John" is both funny and tragic. If this story isn't quite as moving, well that's this story.
The cast does just about everything. Dances, acts, sing, a bit of acrobatics. Gisli Orn Gardarsson as John and Mike Shepherd as his sidekick Nobby are the center of all the action. The tall, dark Gardarsson is perfect as the cad you hate to love; he's a very bad guy, but you can see why he charms - although his charm in this version appears based on raw, animal chemistry more than anything else.
All the eight actors, most playing multiple roles, are excellent.
Amy Marston is both funny and pathetic as spurned lover Elvira who will not give up and can she sing up a storm. Patrycja Kujawska as the Polish maid Zelina is sexy as hell, and funny AND she plays the violin and Carl Grose as her short, chubby boyfriend is a great actor and physical comedian (he's also one of the writers of "Tristan and Yseult.) But this is very much an ensemble effort.
Those who like Kneehigh's style will find "Don John" another entertaining and really quite educational production.
The show runs through the festival.

New music in the afternoon

The first Music in Time series started with a bang - from one of the founders of Bang on a Can all stars. Members of the festival orchestra performed BoC founder Julia Wolfe's "Cruel Sister" an unrelenting piece that keeps building and building and building for 30 minutes. Just when you think it can't go on, it goes on.
The concert opened with the decidedly mellower"The Bulls of Bashan" a violin concerto by Gavin Bryars, a lyrical piece for string orchestra and solo violin.
Both works received their North American premieres at the festival. In a series often filled with lots of small pieces, these two large, contrasting works was one of the best concerts the series has put on.

Loud, jarring, strange - brilliant

I'm pretty open-minded about art.
But after sitting through the first 10 or so minutes of Hiroaki Umeda's movement, sound and light performance - during which there was little movement, sound or light - my patience was running out. Especially since I'd run out on the St. Lawrence String Quartet just as they were preparing to play at piece written for them by John Adams so I could make it to Umeda's show.
Then things started happening. Light. Distorted sound. Movements that felt like a man being jammed with information and trying to process it. This went on for a while. Then the light went blue. The movements changed as if he was traveling through space. More of this. It was pure magic and not just about his technical brilliance as a dancer, but for the strangely pure emotional message it sends.
This is the kind of really edgy performance (especially on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Charleston) that often loses half its audience at intermission. That didn't happen at Umeda's performance which says something terrific about that audience as well as Umeda's talents.
His final performance is Tuesday.

"Rabbit' missed by a hair

"Story of a Rabbit" is a one-man show by a man who goes with Hugh Hughes. It starts out being a play about a play and putting on a performance during which Hugh explains that since it includes an actor, a musician and a flip chart it is a "multi-media show." The set is scattered with simple but odd props - a rabbit sculpture, a telephone, a model of a residential area, and an action figure in a plexiglas box, the last of which is used to demonstrate what happens when a floor sander doesn't contain sawdust well.
The story is not really about a rabbit, but about the death of Hughes' father's death. The show is imaginative and engaging - until it really becomes a play about the death of his father. Then it becomes a much-more conventional one-man play about something very personal, which is not all that engaging.
"Rabbit" continues with two performances Monday.

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