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A Message of Love

As I prepare to write about an upcoming production of The Laramie Project, I find myself thinking about a great quote from an interview I did for a blogpost a couple weeks ago.  In response to a question about the concept of “preaching to the choir,” Jon Selover, of the Western Stage, replied that the choir doesn’t necessarily know all the words to the song.

That is so true: There are some plays that everyone would benefit from seeing, whatever their political or cultural persuasion.  Documentary plays like Dustin Lance Black’s 8 and Moisés Kaufman’s Laramie Project, which is being presented for one weekend only at the Indoor Forest Theatre, in Carmel, expose us to a range of opinions, experiences and emotions that are rooted in the rawness of real lives, and encourage us to think deeply about important issues, more deeply than we would if our only understanding came from snippets on television or the Internet.  Even if you’re already part of the choir, even if you strongly believe in the rights of same-sex couples to marry and the rights of gay men and women to enjoy dignity and respect and full equality in the eyes of both the law and their communities, you still may not know all the words of the song—in this case, a complex song, with many voices, about a community’s reaction to the brutal death of a young gay American in their midst.  (Photo of Matthew Shepard above)

This production of Laramie Project is presented under the auspices of the MPC Summer Director’s Project, a program that gives young, upcoming directors who have taken directing classes the chance to mount a full show, not just a scene.  Director Renee Infelise has been wanting to do Laramie Project for awhile.

“I have a personal connection to the play,” Infelise says.  “The play is over ten years old but is still relevant.  The issues in the play are representative of what’s being discussed in society right now—topics like hate crimes and gay rights—and as someone who is gay and is struggling for her own rights, I wanted to bring these issues to my own community.”

Infelise, who has taken theatre classes at MPC and directed The Vagina Monologues at CSUMB, says she envisions the play as a kind of dance.

“The actors are creating a lot of different characters,” she says.  “I see it as this one giant flow of movement, very fluid and movement-based, as if the audience were in the middle of a town square, and this powerful community story is flowing around them.”

The notion of community is what drives Infelise’s approach to theater.  “I want to get more than entertainment out into the community,” she says.  “What will get people to come out of their comfort zones?”  Her goal is to pursue graduate studies in theater arts, with an emphasis on bringing theater to the community as a means of positive change and social transformation.

Certainly much has changed since the Magic Circle Theatre, in Carmel Valley, mounted a stellar production of The Laramie Project ten years ago.  (You can read my story about that production here.)  In 2002, few dreamed that, in a handful of states at least, gay men and women would be saying their loving vows on American soil, with the blessing of an American president.

Yet despite the incredible progress of these ten years, gay children are still not safe from bullies, nor from the terrible feelings of shame that may infiltrate their minds and cause them to harm themselves.  And the gay civil rights that have thus far been established are still subject to the uncertainties of the ballot box, the politician’s vote, the preacher’s condemnation.  So much sorrow still exists, all because some people cannot accept the beautiful complexities of human desire.

“I really feel passionate about this play,” Infelise says.  “It has such a strong message about love.”

The Laramie Project, at the Indoor Forest Theatre, Mountain View Avenue and Santa Rita Street, Carmel, August 9-12, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm.  Admission is free, with a $5 suggested donation to support Rainbow Speakers and Friends.

Midsummer Arts Roundup

Last Saturday I went to CSUMB for an afternoon of student monologue performances.  It seems that almost every time I drive on the the CSUMB campus I get lost, or, if not exactly lost, then driving on a road that leads me into the old abandoned section of Fort Ord—decrepit buildings, shattered windows, broken slabs of concrete, waist-high weeds—until either instinct or dumb luck prevails and I turn right or left and then am suddenly back on campus, with its attractive buildings and excellent programs.

One such excellent program was this year’s first Summer Arts season, a series of masterclasses and performances in the visual, literary, media and performing arts.  It is a statewide CSU program and will be hosted by CSUMB for another four years.  Next year I will go to more events.  Unfortunately it coincides with the Carmel Bach Festival, and this year I went to many Bach Festival concerts, but for the next four years I think I may spend more time at CSUMB.

The event I attended was the culmination of a two-week Solo Performance class.  For a little over an hour I watched in admiration, awe, and, at times, deep emotion, as thirteen individuals, one at a time, got up on stage and performed, most of them from memory, an original four-minute piece.  Many of the pieces were an exploration of self-doubt and self-acceptance.  What impressed me was how the instructors had clearly worked with the students to turn the performances into real performances, with expressive movement, the use of gesture, vocal inflection, judicious use of props, and command of the stage.  Some of the pieces were humorous, as when a woman turns her encounter with a mugger into a flirtation, others quite dark, but all in the service of transforming the moments of a life into art.

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Of the many Carmel Bach Festival concerts I attended, my all-time favorite was one I almost missed.  (Thanks, Marty!)  It was the last day of the Festival, the Saturday morning “Viennese Concertante” showcasing music by Mozart and his father Leopold.  Emlyn Ngai performed Mozart’s delicious Serenade in D Major, the “Haffner,” with extraordinary artistry and virtuosic ease; I felt completely taken over by the energy of the piece and my body was abuzz and humming with musical effervescence all day.  (It was the same day I went to CSUMB, and I also attended that evening’s smashing Best of the Fest concert.  The next day I was exhausted.)

As I wrote last week, this year’s Bach Festival was filled with many marvelous concerts.  One concert did disappoint: the Friday evening “Music of Dance” symphony program.  The program included a Bach Orchestral Suite and Stravinsky’s Suite from his ballet Pulcinella, followed by Brahms’s Second Symphony.  The orchestra seemed tired, especially the strings, where intonation was frequently approximate.  Paul Goodwin conducted the last movement of the Brahms, Allegro con spirito, at a punishingly fast speed.  It was an idiosyncratic, unsatisfying performance.  Throughout the symphony, there was a detached crispness, with little of the Romantic swell and shapely phrasing that is so vital to Brahms.

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Speaking of shapely, the Olympics are on, and a beautifully athletic body in exquisite motion can be in itself a form of art.  Pacific Repertory Theatre is presenting the Olympics, Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, in the renovated Golden Bough Theatre on their new large screen.  This is from their press release:

“PacRep is proud to present the newly improved stage in the Golden Bough Theatre - now featuring state-of-the-art multimedia capabilities.  In an effort to mark the Bough’s new capabilities, PacRep is offering the community FREE viewing of the 2012 Olympics on the Golden Bough’s Big Screen.  PacRep will be screening the local NBC affiliate (channel 6).  For scheduling information, please consult your local TV Guide or call the box office for the daily line up (831-622-0100).”

Flow and Design

The Carmel Bach Festival is steeped in tradition—2012 is its 75th summer season—but this year one of its most brilliant events is a concert entitled “Baroque to Bluegrass,” featuring the astonishing husband-and-wife mandolin duo Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall.  If you are reading this before Thursday, July 26th and if you are the type of person who loves the full range of musical expression, from tender melodies to foot-stomping joy, then I highly suggest you stop what you’re doing right now and contact the Festival ticket office.  There may be a ticket left.

Or the concert may be sold out, which would be understandable, but also a shame for those left outside.  I wish every person who ever said they didn’t care for classical music could attend this concert.  They would discover an essential reason why some music is so satisfying and enduring.  It’s all about flow and design.  Baroque and bluegrass composers (as well as some jazz composers) create simple or elaborate structural designs—pulsing rhythms, skeins of harmony—over and around and through which they can pour their melodic ideas.  In the sensitive and dexterous hands of Lichtenberg and Marshall, backed by a fabulous small ensemble of core Festival musicians, all the works on the program, whether by Johann Sebastian Bach or a Brazilian jazzman or Bill Monroe, seemed to emanate from a deep well of musical spirit.  It was one of the most thrilling concerts I have ever attended.

Indeed, this year’s Bach Festival has thus far been richly satisfying, the best in years.  The opening night performance of the B-Minor Mass was powerfully conceived.  Now in his second year as the Festival’s Music Director, Paul Goodwin, from England (photo above), has a more nuanced approach to tempi and dynamics than his predecessor, Bruno Weil, who in my opinion tended to rush the music.  Goodwin allows phrases to unfold and curl like waves; the music feels organic.  Nowhere was this more felt than in the Mass’s always-stunning concluding chorus, “Dona nobis pacem” (Give us peace), in which the voices rise upward, with each fugal layer like the opening of a fan.  This is music with its feet rooted to the earth and reaching to the highest place in heaven it can imagine.

Another highlight was the Monday afternoon performance of Schubert’s “Winterreise,” featuring the superb Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson.  This treasured song cycle, a meditation on loss, loneliness, and the passing of time, is scored for voice and piano, but Dobson performed it with a string quintet, in a transcription by his friend and fellow Canadian Harold Birston.  In the original piano version, the music has a somewhat close and clustered quality, suggesting the prison of the poet-narrator’s unhappy mind.  The effect of the string quintet was to create a more spacious, enlarged perspective: one saw more clearly the poet move through the landscape of his emotions.  Here, too, the soloist was backed by some of the Festival’s finest musicians (several of whom were also on stage for the bluegrass concert).

The Festival ends Saturday, July 28.  Two remaining concerts I am especially excited to attend are “Twilight Bach,” at the San Carlos Cathedral, in Monterey, on Thursday, July 25 at 5 pm; and “Viennese Matinée Concertante,” at Sunset Center, Saturday at 11 am.  “Twilight Bach” features two works by Bach, his Orchestral Suite in C Major and his Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, in D Major, as well as three Purcell songs, performed by counter-tenor Robin Blaze.  Blaze was a featured soloist in the opening weekend's concerts.  His beautiful voice has a bell-like purity, with an occasional forced quality of urgency that detracts; I’ve been listening to his gorgeous recording of English songs that I purchased at Sunset Center’s temporary (and quite wonderful) “Bach Boutique,” and am looking forward to hearing his Purcell in the resonant space of the cathedral.

The “Viennese Matinée Concertante” offers some peppy music by Mozart and by Mozart’s father Leopold.  Both concerts feature violinist Emlyn Ngai, one of my Festival favorites, whose pre-Festival recital at the Church in the Forest, with keyboardist Yuko Tanaka, was a winner.

For information about remaining Carmel Bach Festival concerts and ticket availability, contact the Festival office at (831) 624-1521, or visit the Festival’s website.

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