Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The House of Elliott

November 17, 2006

Kirsten Potter as Rosalind and Mark Deakins as Orlando
Photo: Craig Schwartz 2006

The fall theater season is wrapping up and while there are a lot of good productions in town, it feels like something is missing. Over at A Noise Within, the current productions of As You Like It and A Touch of the Poet are in their final performances. I caught the Shakespeare on October 29th and like everything from the ANW stable it was rock-solid with a sharp if low-budget set and strong acting. Michael Michetti’s direction added an extra touch of A Midsummer Night’s Dream elements to round off some of the play's rougher edges in the form of a mysterious animal spirit who roams the woods observing and sometimes guiding the character's actions. (Michetti is one of the artistic directors over at the very-excellent Theater @ Boston Court in Pasadena currently on loan to ANW). Kirsten Potter’s Rosalind conveyed both the requisite strength and vulnerability despite an absolutely screeching laugh that was too deafening to be endearingly anxious. Of course as is the current trend with productions of As You Like It, Rosalind in male garb ends up looking like Diane Keaton from Annie Hall. Opera has been doing pants-roles for centuries and you would think that some of these Rosalinds could reference different clichés every now and then.

Deborah Strang as Nora Melody and Geoff Elliott as Cornelius Melody
Photo: Craig Schwartz 2006
Meanwhile, somewhere in New England, Geoff Elliott gets to star as Cornelius Melody in A Touch of the Poet. Elliott is the artistic director of the company and one of the apparent perks is getting to star in a production or two each season. This is a mixed bag for the audience. While it creates an impetus to do new (for the company) and different works each season, it also exposes more audiences to his very mannered acting. Elliott has done a great job with ANW and their commitment to educational activities is one of the biggest in Southern California. However, repairing the copious bite marks from the sets after each performance must be very expensive. On the good side, this production did feature Deborah Strang, easily one of the company's strongest assets, who continues to surprise with her ability to handle a wide array of roles - here as the much maligned Nora Melody. This high-quality production did a good job of capturing the cultural and societal anxieties in O’Neill's play.

Last weekend I also finally got to see the current touring production of Lucas’ and Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza. I was looking forward to this, given that the show had received some significant coverage in the opera press, including a write up in OperaNews, due to the original score and more demanding than usual vocal parts. No doubt the music was pretty, but the whole thing was wrapped in such a dog of a story (or perhaps “concept” is the right word to use here) that in the end no one gets out alive. It’s hard to develop an attachment to a work where the dark secret of the protaganist Clara seems to be that she has poor penmanship and a very bad sense of direction. It’s almost as if the intetion was to make her mentally retarded, but not in any way that might make her unusual, unattractive, or commercially unappealing. The mother storyline is interesting, but not enough to make the rest of this really tolerable. Plus is it just me or aren't these Italian stereotypes a bit on the racist side even for a period musical? Oh well, with a happy ending I guess virtually everything can be forgiven.

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