Thursday, June 11, 2009

Puppets, pianos and not many paintings this weekend

During the past decade or so puppetry has really come into its own. Oh sure, there were the occasional odd ducks doing serious adult art with puppetry, but they lived in the basements of Milwaukee and West Hollywood. (Or they were movie characters who took over the body of John Malkovich who played a character named John Malkovich in the movie “Being John Malkovich.”)

While Columbia is one of the few cities that has its own puppetry theater (the Columbia Marionette Theatre) it’s mainly for kids. A couple of the people who work there are among the most talented theater artists in the area and this week are mounting an independent show of two puppet plays, “The Crane Wife” and “Junk Place” aimed at adults.

Kimi Maeda’s “The Crane Wife” is based on a Japanese fable. “Junk Place,’ by Marionette Theatre artistic director Lyon Hill is inspired by the lives of two brothers in New York who filled their apartment floor to ceiling with stuff.

“The Crane Wife” tells the story of a farmer who saves a crane. Not long after he free the bird from a trap, he falls in love with a beautiful woman who weaves beautiful cloth. But she insists that he never watch her weave.

Maeda, an award-winning theater designer who studied at USC, has brought the story up the today, setting part of it in an airport and using the old story to examine new complications of love. She does all the puppetry and voices, mostly from inside a confessional-like contraption using shadow puppetry. The show starts with Maeda writing across a screen “This is a story your grandmother carried in her suitcase when she flew away from home.”

The first part of the play “is pretty much told as I heard it from my mom,” said Maeda who is of Japanese heritage.

”I’ve been working on this story for about eight years now – call it an obsession,” she said.

Hill’s wife Jennifer stumbled upon the New York brothers story while reading about the Georgia crematorium operator who never managed to get around to cremating bodies.

“The story stuck with me and I’ve been developing it off and on since then,” said Hill, who holds a degree from the USC art department.

It was created for a puppetry festival in Savannah last year and he’s developing a video version which will be done by the years’ end.

Performances are at the USC Lab Theatre, on Wheat Street between Main and Bull streets, Thursday, June 11 and Friday, June 12 at 7 and 9. $10.

I wish I could tell you what Larry Hembree told me while we were driving to Union, S.C., a few years ago to see a play. (That’s another story I’ll spare you.) It would probably offend you, Larry and all the mobile home dwellers in Winnsboro.

But you can hear some stories about Hembree, director of the Nickelodeon theater (and formerly with the various other arts organizations and a theater director) at Larry’s Family Reunion.

The event, complete with covered dishes involving canned vegetables, lots of salt and a sprinkling of marshmallows is a fund raiser for the Nickelodeon. It will involve various local talents singing and acting the fool and Hembree may even show how he won the title of Hula Hoop Champion of Ware Shoals.

Such entertainment does not come cheap, but neither does renovating an old Main Street theater for a new home for the Nick. Its $25 and takes place Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13 at the future home of the theater.

The Southeastern Piano Festival concerts continues tonight (Thursday) with Christopher Taylor playing Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” and “The People United Will Never Be Defeated,” a 1976 work by Frederic Rzewski.

In 1993, Taylor won the bronze medal in the Van Cliburn competition, the first American to do so since 1981. The New York Times called him “a demonically intense artist with a stunning technique and searching intellect.”
If you’re really into the piano you can also spend the entire day and most of the night (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.) Friday listening to the 20 students who have come here to learn and compete.

The three winners play Saturday night at 7:30.

Can’t say there’s much more going on. But if you haven’t been yet, head to City Art for “Perceptual Painters,” the Robert Courtright collage show and the historic ceramics show at the S.C. State Museum.

It might also be a good time to hit the road for art.

If you have the misfortune of being in Myrtle Beach, you can at least take in the last series that Georgia native Benny Andrews created. These collage/paintings are based on the life of John Lewis, the Civil Rights pioneer who has been a Congressman for two decades. The show is a tribute to two great men – and to the museum, which has done some amazing shows lately.

The show is at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum through Oct. 4.

Paintings by the late Larry Connatser, who lived in Georgia most of his life, can be seen at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta. Connatser created paintings with an intricate design composed of hundreds of tiny dots. It’s up through Aug. 16.

Connaster earned a degree in literature, but was a self-taught artist. The Morris Museum’s considerable holding of work by self-taught artists is on display in Stories to Tell, Memories to Keep: Folk Art in the South.” In the show are pieces by some of the giants: Lonnie Holley, Bessie Harvey, Nellie Mae Rowe and Bill Traylor.Through Aug. 30.

The Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte has borrowed a batch of works by the likes of Degas (at left "Dancer in Green"), Gauguin, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Matisse, Monet, O'Keeffe, Picasso, Pissarro, Rodin and others who need only one name from the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The show which covers a couple hundred years of European and American art is on display through June 21.

An exhibition of figurative wooden sculptures by North Carolina artist Bob Trotman are also at the museum. He’s a really remarkable craftsman who does some very strange things with old trees and people. This is also a timely show titled “Business As Usual Takes On Corporate Culture.” Perfect for the home of Bank of America, or as I always call it, Big Ass Bank. Through Nov. 14.

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