NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
If you hurry you can still see one of
the most intriguing theatrical productions to grace the CAC's Bank One Theater in many a moon.
Lee Blessing's insightful A Walk In The Woods, presented by A Bright Star Production and the Contemporary Arts Center and produced and directed by Perry Martin enthralls and entertains with what sounds like a thoroughly soporific theme, the now-defunct US/USSR arms race. Written in the early 80's the two character, two-act comedy/drama explores the bureaucratically entrenched intransigence that epitomized this aspect of the Cold War; that is, on its surface. But under the veneer of this classic conflict of state wills, there lies a more accessible and universal theme-friendship.
Andre Botvinnik, a career Soviet diplomat (Randy Cheramie) takes his American co-negotiator, John Honeyman (Scott Jefferson) on a stroll through the woods behind the Swiss Consulate where their respective countries have been holding negotiations. The object of this walk is to get away from the snooping press and enervating formality of the negotiations. Botvinnik wants to become Honeyman's friend. Honeyman feels that friendship would destroy their ability to negotiate dispassionately.
Their talk becomes a waltz of egos and a tango of emotions held just beneath the cold, calculating exterior both men must project. Botvinnik, at the end of his tenure, is more affable and outgoing than Honeyman, who has just taken his new post and wants desperately to succeed. Success to Botvinnik is not finding a solution, which he knows is impossible, but instead making a friend of Honeyman.
As portrayed by Randy Cheramie, Botvinnik is a great bear of a man with a lilting, beautifully realized and consistent accent. The actor is bigger than life and so is his character, which has been realized wonderfully by Mr. Cheramie.
On the other hand, Scott Jefferson's Honeyman, as the younger and less experienced of the two becomes Botvinnik's feckless straight man until he finally asserts himself, upon learning, in the second act, that Botvinnik is being transferred. Suddenly, the two men are no longer adversaries and they both realize that they can, indeed, part as friends.
Mr. Martin not only cast the play brilliantly but also directed it with care. Contributing mightily to the effect of the play is the beautifully detailed outdoor setting by scenic designer Charles Truscott lovingly bathed in John Grimsley's dappled lighting.
The New Orleans Opera Association closed its current sea
son recently with an excellent, albeit slightly wounded, production of Giuseppe Verdi's melody-laced revenge drama, Rigoletto.
Big Baritone Mark Rucker as the tormented jester Rigoletto, thrilled the full house with his impressive musical abilities and his fully-realized characterization.
But the production's perfection was marred by the faltering tenor of Tonio DiPaolo's Duke of Mantua, whose infatuation with Rigoletto's beautiful blonde daughter, Gilda, sets the jester on his tragic course of revenge.
Set in the time of Italy's intrigue-filled city states, with a libretto by Fransesco Maria Piave based on the French play Le Roi S'Amuse by Victor Hugo, this tale of deceit and lechery is told in four terse acts propelled with Verdi's exquisite music.
Gilda (portrayed winningly by Constance Hauman whose lyric soprano serves her character to the fullest) is mistakenly thought to be Rigoletto's mistress by the court; however, the duke has spied her in church and already proceeded to add her to his female conquests when another father, Monterone (played and sung majestically by Alfred Walker III) enters to condemn the duke for seducing his daughter. Rigoletto derides him and he curses both the duke and Rigoletto.
The men of the court play what they think is a joke on Rigoletto by kidnaping Gilda. When he finds her at the duke's he vows vengeance and hires the professional assassin Sparafucile (the profound basso Kurt Link, whose voice serves his diabolical character perfectly). But when the time for the assassination comes, Sparafucile is talked out of killing the duke by his sister, the whore Maddalena (a swarthily effective Suzanne Du Plantis) who has fallen for the duke.
They decide to murder the next person to knock on their inn door. Gilda, overhearing this plot and knowing now that the duke, whom she loves unequivocally, is nevertheless unfaithful, decides to give her life for her love and knocks on the door, sealing her fate and thus bringing Monterone's curse to fruition. Mark Rucker's ability to communicate a father's grief in this final scene was the highpoint of this excellent production.
Others adding to this success were Wanda Brister as Giovanna, Richard Davis as Count Ceprano and Robert Barefield as Marullo.
Directed with care and a few added flairs (a pantomimed opening tableau during the overture, lots of floor work), with excellent sets by Lawrence Schafer and lighting by Noele Stollmack, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, under the capable baton of Arthur Fagen, continues to enthrall with its excellence.
Man of La Mancha, created in
1966, is a pre-Andrew Lloyd
Webber musical play; that is, a play (or book), written by Dale Wasserman, with songs-lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh-a production of which, starring Robert Goulet, recently played the Saenger Theater in the Broadway Series at the Saenger.
This touring version boasts the original direction by Albert Marre, costumes by Howard Bay and Patton Campbell and setting by Howard Bay. Every shtick from the original production is here intact. What's missing is the original cast, which was led by Richard Kiley and Joan Diener. With Robert Goulet, playing Cervantes thrown into an Inquisition prison where he pacifies the crazed inmates by using them to stage his book, Don Quixote De La Mancha, assuming the title character himself, and Susan Hoffman as Aldonza, the whore whom he revers as Dulcinea, the embodiment of female purity, the play has been subverted, its pace and energy moderated into lethargy.
The energy level is further undermined by an unusually thin and muffled orchestra placed in the wings instead of the pit (which is used as a means of egress from the sharply raked stage).
It would take more than a fake moustache and goatee to make Mr. Goulet look "bony and hollow cheeked," as he himself describes Don Quixote. Still sporting his legendary 8 X 10 good looks, he cuts an imposing, healthy figure which no amount of squatting can mask. He is physically wrong for the part and ill-equipped for the histrionics and fevered passion of the character.
Furthermore, his rendition of the show's most renowned song, The Impossible Dream, is given a jazzed up interpretation; that is, the singer is trying to show off at the expense of his material.
More successful performers were Darryl Ferrer (Sancho Panza), David Wasson (the Padre), Jack Dabdoub (the Innkeeper), and Linda Cameron (Antonia) and Tanny McDonald (the Housekeeper). Their rendition of "I'm Only Thinking of Him" becomes the comic highpoint.
The opening night audience did not seem to be phased by this mediocrity. They gave Mr. Goulet a standing ovation. Maybe because he's still standing.