Sunday, May 25, 2008

What is between the devil and the deep blue sea?

Posted by John Stoehr on Sun, May 25, 2008 at 8:30 AM


It's a place that's neither here nor there. Not real and not unreal. Among the present and the then and the later. That's the terrain that 1927, the theatrical cabaret company, explores in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. We saw its opening last night. Devil a thrilling show that plays with conventions of silent film, pantomime, and cabaret. It plays with comic sensibilities and the whole notion of what's real and what's not.

Devil is like a dream in which you are dreaming of a movie, but you've managed to put yourself in the movie, something that you know isn't real, but in the unreal reality of a dream, it becomes real. That's frightening, but it's not what you expected. You thought you knew what reality was. Until now. And now that reality is turned upside down, what was once funny is sinister and what was once sinister is now funny.

The devil in question (that's the devil to the right with a helicopter strapped to his back) is a nominal cinematic character not to be taken all that seriously, but is to be taken somewhat seriously. He can materialize from a puff of smoke and turn your head into that of a pig or a rooster. Then he'll disappear just as quickly in another puff of smoke. But that's after he casts a spell on a gaggle of geese, whom you are kindly feeding with old crusts of bread, to devour you.

The devil

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

War is hell (even for toy soldiers)

Posted by John Stoehr on Tue, May 20, 2008 at 9:46 AM


Postal is about to open at the Terrace Theatre and from what I've heard, it promises depictions of violence are about a gratuitous as it gets. Which is fine. I don't mind violence. That is, I don't have an opinion about its relative merits. I don't really care for it, however, unless it leads somewhere. Unless it has some kind of purpose. The final scene of Rambo, in which the big guy obliterates everyone in the jungle with a gun the size of a howitzer, was the most violent movie I'd seen in a long time. But it was purposeful violence. It had a point. An emotional undergirding — Rambo was saving a bunch of candy-ass missionaries, among them a fetching blond graced with the power to sooth the savage beast (i.e., Rambo), from an army of genocidal psychopaths.

You be the judge about Postal (Boll was profiled in Sunday's Times), but I'm really interested in the upcoming performance by the Dutch theater troupe called Hotel Modern in which they create the War to End All Wars in miniature. They build small dioramas — with cardboard houses (above), stalks of parsley for trees, and toy soldiers (both below) — to recreate the horrors of trench warfare during the World War I. They do all this right before your eyes and then film it all and project onto a gigantic screen. So you have the feeling of being immersed into a cinematic world but also the feeling of watching the film being created. You are left walking the line between artifice and real life. While Rambo wants you to forget that you're watching a movie, The Great War doesn't want you to forget. I can't wait to see how this feels.



Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Getting forensic on Spoleto 2007

Posted by Patrick Sharbaugh on Wed, Jun 13, 2007 at 4:02 PM

The 31st Spoleto Festival USA is officially in the past tense. It’s now time to get forensic on the thing. But that’s less easy than it sounds. Part of the difficulty in summing up the festival after the fact lies in its nature; as Mayor Riley noted during the mid-festival tribute to founder Gian Carlo Menotti, the composer knew that, to be truly successful, Spoleto must be much more than merely a series of concerts. “For Menotti, the word ‘festival’ was not a throwaway term,” hizonner observed in his memoriam. “Everything and everyone must be touched by it. Menotti knew that Spoleto must become the life and the patina of the city for 17 days.” If you’ll glance at a festival calendar, it’s obvious organizers take Menotti’s mission seriously. Toss Piccolo Spoleto’s hundreds of separate events and the scores of chance encounters and random pearls of unpredictability the twin festivals generate into the mix, and you’ve got a whole that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.

This all renders the greater impact of the shebang essentially unsumuppable. Still, here goes.

Philip Glass. The commentators can harangue all they want over how the 2007 festival will be remembered going forward. 2007 will hereafter be the year of Philip Glass. It’s guaranteed by the double-whammy of the minimalist composer’s new American premiere here and the fact that his 50-foot face bookended the Gaillard Auditorium, to say nothing of the umptillions of posters, storefronts, program guides, bookmarks, T-shirts, and coffee mugs all with his own mug on or in them. Spoleto ’07 was Glass’ Being John Malkovich moment, and it’ll always be remembered that way, no matter that people thought it was Bruce Springsteen on the posters.

Blogging. It may seem like an insider’s observation, just shameless navel gazing, but the stats argue otherwise. There were five professional, local blogs keeping hourly tabs on the festivals this year, not including the occasional posts from The State and The New York Times. And people were reading — and watching, and listening to — them. Our three blogs had 308,967 hits over the three

weeks of the festival, and the streaming audio clips on the Spoleto Buzz blog were played 1,056 times. Anyone with a connection to the web was awash in commentary and reviews, random observations, last-minute schedule changes, and endless gigabytes of multimedia. The P&C’s self-appointed blogging team lugged a videocamera everywhere they went and techies Dan Conover and Geoff Marshall recorded a passel of podcasts in an ersatz studio in the newsroom there. Less inclined to the production and editing demands of video, I captured audio clips of dozens of festival performances, posted scads of field interviews, and recorded another dozen Spoleto Buzz podcasts with festival artists, as I did last year. The upshot: the way media outlets cover the festival — and the way people in the city experience it (and, to some inevitable degree, the way festival organizers promote it) — changed forever this year.

Spoleto, Italy. There were whisperings of a possible reunion with the festival’s Umbrian birth mother immediately following Gian Carlo Menotti’s death in February. This year’s opening ceremony, where both Spoleto, Italy, Mayor Massimo Brunini and our own Little Joe pitched for a patchup between the two festivals, confirmed the rumors. For the moment, reestablishing old ties is complicated by the fact that Menotti’s son, Chip is still in charge of the programming and purse strings at our European counterpart, if just barely. Barring his resignation (not as unlikely as it sounds, given that festival’s financial situation), talk of getting into bed together again is just that: talk.

The weather. Things were fine, even splendid, weather-wise until the middle of the festival’s second weekend, when tropical storm Barry swept inland south of us and pummeled the city (and Dock Street Theatre opera L’ile de Merlin) with a soaking, windblown welcome to the first day of hurricane season. No sooner had we squeegeed ourselves off than we were reminded it was also high summer, with 90-plus-degree heat through the end of the festival.

Ticketmaster. This company belongs on the same shit list as Wal-Mart and Enron. The City of Charleston needs to kill Piccolo’s contract with these West Hollywood hoodlums and handicap regional guys Etix’s bid next year. The opening weekend ticketing snafu ought to give the Office of Cultural Affairs more than enough leverage to wriggle out of a ROFR.

Left-leaning political commentary. There was no shortage in either of this year’s festivals. At the Village Playhouse, they sang, “What is Urinetown? Urinetown’s a lie, a means to keep the poor

in check until the day they die. Urinetown is here. It’s the town wherever people learn to live in fear.” (But with klezmer music.) Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny skewered unchecked materialism, and historical slave revolt leader Denmark Vesey might as well have been called an “enemy combatant” at the American. L’ile de Merlin satirized hubristic notions of utopianism (some wondered if the island was in the Red Sea), Major Bang: or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb was a Dr. Strangelove-schitzophrenic satire of post-9/11 national insecurity, and new music concert Katrina Ballads made mincemeat of Bush & Co.’s own words.

Costumes. Women swooned over the duds in the Gate Theatre’s Constant Wife — the shoes, the hats, the dresses, the handbags, even the gloves — but the rest of the ’07 festival had some notable couture, too. The multicolored day-glo suits in Mahagonny were safely observed only through s

moked glass. Mephistopheles and his angelic counterpart in Faustus were … well, indescribable (see the picture below left), and few who saw Merlin will ever forget Richard Troxell’s full-body smiley-face outfit as the “badass philosopher” (or the dance that went with it). Closer’s Pelham Spong was radiant in fuck-me heels, bra, and fishnets, bending over during a theatrical pole dance, and Julie Ziff’s inventive costuming for Urinetown was a little bit Oz and little bit Third Reich. Aurélia Thierrée’s last outfit, which opened up and allowed a model train to pass on a track through her torso, was one for the history books.

Rotting innards. I may have been the only person who didn’t care for Sekou Sundiata’s

healthcare-meets-spoken-word rumination on struggling with kidney failure, blessing the boats. Sundiata’s gifts as a performer were unmistakable, and I said as much, but the subject matter left me cold. According to several readers, though, my distaste for the theatre piece proved that I hate the organ transplant system and every person who’s ever had one. Here’s hoping I never need a kidney come Spoleto season.

Parking. It was a quick way to give yourself an ulcer last year, if your destination was anywhere near the CofC’s Simons Center for the Arts — or the Cistern, or Theatre 220, or the Sottile Theatre. And it was just as bad this year, with the formerly spacious parking garage at St. Philip and George streets now a faded memory and whatever’s going up there still under construction. And that damned bicycle-riding CofC parking cop was the bane of my existence. God forbit any of those spaces actually be used by anyone at night, while school’s out…

Charles Wadsworth. The 78-year-old host of Spoleto’s Chamber Music is as much a fixture of the Big Festival as the Dock Street itself, but his brand of suggestive, self-deprecating humor — or “corny palaver,” as New York Times blogger James Oestreich put it mid-festival — isn’t for everyone. His age makes him mostly immune to criticism. But any man 20 years younger letting loose with the same off-color remarks about the female musicians in his employ would be sued to within an inch of his innuendo.

Theatre 99’s Piccolo Fringe. They’re going to have to start their own festival soon. Waitaminnit, they already have. (See the Charleston Comedy Festival.) Point is, the inventory of top sketch, improv, musical, and other comedy-esque acts in Theatre 99’s ginormous Piccolo Fringe could have occupied their own zip code this year. Funniest material: Upright Citizens Brigade, as per usual. Biggest surprise hit: a tie between the surrealistic sketches of the Cody Rivers Show and the whip-smart Harvard Sailing Team, none of whom went to Harvard. Biggest letdown: Human Giant, who phoned in a show that was more an appearance than a performance, little more than clips from their show and back-patting banter about being semi-celebrities in Charleston.

Cellphones. Are people whose cellphones ring in the middle of performances evil, stupid, thoughtless, or simply minions of the Devil? And for punishment, should they be a) forced to eat their phones, b) drawn and quartered, c) buried alive with a phone whose ringtone is Beyonce’s “Irreplacable”? My solution: pack ’em off to Urinetown.

Magic. Between the wonderfully unpredictable Major Bang: or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb and Aurélia’s Oratorio, there was more illusion on the Emmett Robinson stage this year than at a David Copperfield fan club convention.

Festival foxes. I worried that my “Most Boinkable Artist” category in last year’s wrap was too, shall we say, indelicate. But a conversation with Spoleto admins and organizers at the festival finale convinced me it had to go in again. The top honors went to:

1) Heather Buck. The angel in Faustus was indeed a hottie, and a sweetheart to boot. Plus she exploded and burst into flames at the end of the opera. That’s just badass.

2) Keith Phares, who played Pierrot in L’ile de Merlin (and appeared in both of the two recent Don Giovannis here). It must have been the Keanu Reeves Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure impression.

3. Rubberbandance’s Lila-Mae Talbot. Cute as a button, limber, and with a French accent. What more need be said?

4. Andrew von Oeyen. Youthful blond virtuoso pianist von Oeyen is a veteran of last year’s list, and if he seems a little too fond of his own picture, where’s the harm in that?

5. The Constant Wife’s Jade Yourell. As Constance’s best friend Marie-Louise, who’s not so secretly knocking boots with Constance’s husband John, Jade was a beautiful, brainless bonbon. As a beautiful, brainy actress, she’s even better.

Nihilism. This $20 word got bandied about a lot in the wake of the premiere of Pascal Dusapin’s Faustus, the Last Night. Unless you’re a fan of either Neitzsche, Heidegger, or The Big Lebowski, you may be unfamiliar with its philosophical ramifications for that opera. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. It’s probably nothing.

Kudu. That’s Kudu Coffee, for those of you who missed finding this urban slice of the African subcontinent — and the unofficial watering hole and sunning spot for herds of Spoleto Festival artists — on Vanderhorst Street across from St. Matthew’s Church. Great coffee, free wireless, plenty of comfy seats, live entertainment, a spacious enclosed courtyard, and within spitting distance of a handful of festival venues, Kudu was the place to go if you wanted to hang with the festival in-crowd.

Underground art. At the last minute, after much urging on my part — and coming just one week

after the city’s Very Important Announcement of a renewed crackdown on graffiti — graphic artist Johnny Pundt sent me this year’s best subversive slant on the festivals, taking down Spoleto and the graffiti crackdown in one fell swoop. Keep Charleston Beautiful, Motherf#@cker!” it read, around a stencil of the mayor. “Spoleto 2007: Say ‘No’ To Unapproved Art!” I didn’t see many around town, but it’s the thought that counts.

Controversy. Spoleto wouldn’t be Spoleto unless it chapped a few asses with its programming, and so it was. Most of the debate, however, took place within the rarified circles of music theorists and connoisseurs, not among the plebeian masses, sad to say. Faustus, the Last Night was either groundbreaking genius or unlistenable tripe, depending on which critic you asked. Glass’ Book of Longing was either a delightful melding of music and literature or a nose-dive into shlocky, saccharine pap. L’ile de Merlin was a gut-bustingly sharp satirical updating of an otherwise unremarkable opera to some, a crass, unsubtle piece of pandering that sacrificed music to silly spectacle for others. Neither did Dood Paard’s spare, postmodern medEia do anything to mollify the unquiet gripers. It was a banner year for “challenging” art at the festival. Menotti, rest his soul, would be proud.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

So two comedians walk into a ballet studio...

Posted by Patrick Sharbaugh on Thu, Jun 7, 2007 at 11:35 PM

My 90 minutes with Philip Glass’ Book of Longing is now already almost 27 hours past, and on top of that I have to distill some thoughts on today’s final Music in Time concert and this evening’s encounter with the extraordinary (get a ticket now at any cost) Aurelia’s Oratorio. But first, a word on Human Giant, since they’re the most recent post in this space. And also they’re on the cover of the paper this week. (Which, having seen both of those two shows tonight, I feel is a criminal pity.)

Rob Huebel and Aziz Ansari are funny guys, of this I have not just no doubt but empirical evidence. They work with Paul Scheer, and they have a weekly MTV program they created for which they’re paid good money. I’ve seen Aziz in person for the 2006 Charleston Comedy Festival, where he packed the American Theater with a side-splitting stand-up act. It’s not a matter for debate. Rob + Aziz = Professionally Funny.

Their Human Giant show for Theatre 99’s Piccolo Fringe at Charleston Ballet Theatre this evening was entertaining, in the same way sitting around the house and shooting the shit with two of your funniest friends and watching TV is entertaining. But it was not Professionally Funny. Is this their fault? I dunno. More importantly, I don’t care.

To be fair, the show wasn’t billed as anything that was going to change your life. (Oh, wait a minute: yes it was. Maybe that was them just being “funny.”) I’m sure Ron and Aziz are busy guys. Or maybe this is a vacation for the two of them, and they dropped in a couple of shows for their good friends at T99 for some beer money. At the CBT studio, they stood beside a portable projection screen and chewed the fat with the audience, cracking a few jokes about being recognized from the show and, this week, from the fact that they’re on the cover of the paper. There was no sketch, there was no improv, there was just ... casual conversation with F-bombs and jokey commentary thrown in. Every 10 minutes or so they’d break to show 10 minutes of stuff from their program on MTV. That was mostly pretty good material – creative and clever and, yes, professionally funny. But it was also stuff we could see (and have seen) it any given Thursday night on MTV for the past two months.

Rob and Aziz are talented guys, and they’re going to go a long way. But Theatre 99 and Piccolo audiences deserve a little more for their dollar than just the chance to bask in semi-celebrity. Spoleto is no time to come into town as the biggest billed act of the Piccolo Fringe – in which every other act is busting their tails to bring the absolute best comedy they have to give – and coast on some hungover chitchat and a few clips from last season’s television series. We love these two guys. But we oughtta be getting more than this.

Human behavior

Posted by Patrick Sharbaugh on Thu, Jun 7, 2007 at 6:19 PM


It’s something of an understament to say that a lot of people have been looking forward to seeing newly minted MTV celebs and Comedy Festival/Piccolo alumns Human Giant in Theatre 99’s Piccolo Fringe this week. The comedy trio’s overnight success hasn’t landded them on the cover of Rolling Stone yet, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, the way things are going for them.

So it’s a little surprising to hear from several sources that the gang’s opening show at Charleston Ballet Theatre last night was a disappointment. Word from a random selection of audience members has it that Aziz Ansari and Rob Huebel (third member Paul Scheer was in town for a run with pal Jack McBrayer, but had to jet earlier this week) showed clips from their MTV program of the same name … but apparently offered little else besides some behind-the-scenes commentary. I’m witholding judgment until I see the show myself, possibly tonight after Aurélia’s Oratorio. And there’s no official review in the City Paper yet. But I’m personally expecting these guys to bring their A game.

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