Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: VAINGLORIOUS

By Toby Zinman For the Inquirer The title of Applied Mechanics’ astonishingly theatrical show is Vainglorious. The subtitle is “The Epic Feats of Notable Persons in Europe After the Revolution.” Said notable persons include, among others: Napoleon, Josephine, Beethoven, Mme de Stael, and Talleyrand. So you might want to brush up your 19th-century history. Or not -- just go and let the show carry you through 20 years of vainglory. (Besides, there’s a crib sheet on the back of the program.) Regardless: If you’re interested in experimental theatre, don’t miss this one. We enter a vast room, and wander, bemused (everyone’s got an odd little smile on), among figures dressed in period costumes, caught, apparently, in mid-gesture. They seem to be statues, but their eyes blink. Eventually the actors (there are 26) will come to life, mostly through movement and murmured lines, some in French, and our collective smile will turn to intense focus, eyebrows shooting up occasionally. Audience members are free to pursue whatever story catches their interest: Josephine (John Jarboe) and Napoleon (Mary Tuomanen); the Emperor’s commandeering the sexual favors of the Duchess of Parma (Kate Black-Regan). Or maybe you want to watch Beethoven (Thomas Choinacky who has totally Romantic hair) compose symphonies, give piano lessons, discover he is going deaf. Tallyrand ( the riveting Kristen Bailey) concocts Europe-shaking politics, while Germaine de Stael (Jessica Hurley) creates the literary salon. Characters are composed of a team of five or six accomplished actors, and then the teams morph into armies on horseback. Rebecca Wright directs this high-precision “movement opera” where many things happen at once (as they do in history). You suddenly see Napoleon exiled to the room’s high balcony, and if you blink you’ll miss the palindrome on the banner (“Able was I ere I saw Elba”). The guillotine is created by a balletic entrechat, and the cast thrillingly transforms into a silent orchestra frantically conducted by Beethoven. The costumes (designed by Katherine Fritz and Maria Shaplin) are superb, and the sound design (Maria Shaplin and Teamn Beethoven) eventually becomes a little folkloric song as all the legendary characters run off, history melts away into the past, and we’re left on the bare stage of the present. And all this in an hour. ============================ Applied Mechanics at Christ Church Neighborhood House, near 2nd and Market Sts. Through April 13. Tickets $15. Information: 215-546-7432 or PIFA.org.

Review: VAINGLORIOUS

By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
 
The title of Applied Mechanics’  astonishingly theatrical show is Vainglorious.  The subtitle is “The Epic Feats of Notable Persons in Europe After the Revolution.”  Said notable persons include, among others: Napoleon, Josephine, Beethoven, Mme de Stael, and Talleyrand.  So you might want to brush up your 19th-century history. Or not -- just go and let the show carry you through 20 years of vainglory. (Besides, there’s a crib sheet on the back of the program.) Regardless: If you’re interested in experimental theatre, don’t miss this one.
 
We enter a vast room, and wander, bemused (everyone’s got an odd little smile on), among figures dressed in period costumes, caught, apparently, in mid-gesture. They seem to be statues, but their eyes blink. Eventually the actors (there are 26) will come to life, mostly through movement and murmured lines, some in French, and our collective smile will turn to intense focus, eyebrows shooting up occasionally.
 
Audience members are free to pursue whatever story catches their interest: Josephine (John Jarboe) and Napoleon (Mary Tuomanen); the Emperor’s commandeering the sexual favors of the Duchess of Parma (Kate Black-Regan). Or maybe you want to watch Beethoven (Thomas Choinacky who has totally Romantic hair) compose symphonies, give piano lessons, discover he is going deaf.  Tallyrand ( the riveting Kristen Bailey) concocts  Europe-shaking politics, while Germaine de Stael (Jessica Hurley) creates the literary salon. Characters are composed of a team of five or six accomplished actors, and then the teams morph into armies on horseback.
 
Rebecca Wright directs this high-precision “movement opera”  where many things happen at once (as they do in history). You suddenly see Napoleon exiled to the room’s high balcony, and if you blink you’ll miss the palindrome on the banner (“Able was I ere I saw Elba”). The guillotine is created by a balletic entrechat, and the cast thrillingly transforms into a silent orchestra frantically conducted by Beethoven.
 
The costumes  (designed by Katherine Fritz and Maria Shaplin) are superb, and the sound design (Maria Shaplin and Teamn Beethoven) eventually becomes a little folkloric song as all the legendary characters run off, history melts away into the past, and we’re left on the bare stage of the present. And all this in an hour.
============================
Applied Mechanics at Christ Church Neighborhood House, near 2nd and Market Sts. Through April 13. Tickets $15. Information: 215-546-7432 or PIFA.org.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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