Thursday, October 21, 2010

Les Feuilles Mortes


"HOW TO SUCCEED" OFFICIALLY OPENED OCTOBER 20! REVIEWS TO COME, PLUS PHOTOS, ETC. AS THEY ARE AVAILABLE. WE ARE OFF AND RUNNING AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE!

While I am sad not to be in Manhattan to enjoy the autumn, this best of all possible times of year in the city, I am comforted by the joys of fall in New England here in the Connecticut River Valley. We are at peak foliage time here, and the countryside is ablaze with reds, oranges, golds. I enjoyed a picture postcard of a Columbus Day with apple picking at sprawling Lyman Orchards in nearby Middlefield, bringing home pies and pumpkins to fill my actor's digs with seasonal delight. Bundling up and shuffling through the leaves, poking into the many antique shops that populate this quaint area; enjoying sunsets over the river that would make Maxfield Parrish jealous: pinks and lavenders reflecting off the water as the Opera House rises against the crazy quilt of fall foliage, a fantasy place that seems carved from ice cream. Truly there are many blessings that accompany this autumn sojourn with the rollicking joys of "How To Succeed," if one can put up with the lunacy of Connecticut drivers, who have made me christen this "the tailgate state."

We opened our show officially this week, with a warm and raucous first night audience. The show has found its legs, and all of us are enjoying our eight shows a week. My creative energy is not reserved only for my performances at Goodspeed. I am also teaching several classes for area high schoolers via Goodspeed's educational outreach programs, and am working on the details for the Audition Intensive I will be co-conducting at the beginning of December; a weekend of coaching for high school seniors preparing to try out for college theatre programs. In addition, I am also enjoying being a part of another artist's creative process by commissioning a piece from an extraordinarily talented local sculptor, Kara Knobelsdorff. I discovered this artist's work while working at Goodspeed over the summer, and have asked her to do a portrait of me as a birthday gift to myself. Some of my friends feel this to be a slightly narcissistic enterprise, but I see it as a way of celebrating this moment in my life while being on the inside of an artist's creative process. My first sitting was this week and I find the whole thing fascinating.

Speaking of fascinating... I must devote some of this post to rhapsodize about the current production at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre, a new musical version of the Roald Dahl classic "James and the Giant Peach." Our company was invited to attend the final dress rehearsal of this workshop of a promising new piece, and I have to say it completely captivated me.
The music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, a bright, witty contemporary score; the book is by Timothy Allen McDonald. The piece truly captures the simultaneously comic, macabre and touching aspects of this classic story. The cast is energetic and talented, with standout performances by Denny Dillon and Ruth Gottschall as the deliciously nasty Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. The revelation in this production is the incorporation of the elegant, gravity defying dancers of Pilobolus, who succeed stunningly at bringing to life everything from a man eating rhinoceros to a flock of seagulls, to the peach itself. Graciela Daniele, the visionary director behind this adventure, has returned to the essence of what theatre really means. Using a bare stage and the most rudimentary of props and costumes, she blends the musical and acting talents of her cast with the glorious movements of her dancers to create a world inhabited by insects, carnival creatures, paparazzi, sharks, swiftly moving clouds... the audience's imagination fills in the rest thereby engaging us in the creation of this world and never letting us go. Theatre is storytelling, at it's essence, and it is about the sharing of stories that illuminate the human experience and that touch our souls and our dreams. This show is doing just that. I couldn't stop thinking, as I watched this magical piece, about the daily reports coming in from the multi million dollar behemoth, "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark"--the technical tangle of incorporating high tech CGI and other technologies with dangerous stunts that have produced injury after injury amongst the cast. Julie Taymor's vision for this new musical is pushing the limits of financing and technology, but only time will tell if her trademark creativity and inventiveness will shine through. Personally I remember Taymor's work at American Repertory Theatre when I was in college; productions that relied upon classic storytelling, shadow puppetry, mask and Commedia dell' Arte--the simplest effects created moments that sent chills down the spine. Graciela Daniele has given us a creative jewel that needs no fancy pyrotechnics or elaborate sets; she trusts the material and she inspires her performers to lead us into Roald Dahl's fanciful world. At the heart of "James and the Giant Peach" is a small and universal story of an orphaned boy searching for a family. I alternately cheered, gasped and wiped away tears as I witnessed this wonderful work. See it if you can!!

It is ironic to me that at this season, most often thought of as a time of decay and dead leaves, that I find myself a part of, and surrounded by, so much art and creativity. Truly, I feel very, very blessed. Fall passes so very quickly and soon we will hunker down for the long winter. Mull some cider, break out those fabulous layers and something spooky for Halloween, and savor this time, wherever you may be.

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