Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

For Your (Re)consideration

February 26, 2007

Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Last weekend was filled with opportunities to revisit the recent past which can sometimes be a good thing, and sometimes not. Over at the Ahmanson was the LA visit from the much-traveled Kathleen Turner/Bill Irwin production of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Despite the seemingly endless good press about this show, I was hesitant given that my exposure to this particular play was mainly through Mike Nichols' famous film version. I have never really made it all the way through the film before because at some point I always decided I I'd rather be doing something else than listening to all that yelling. I’m glad I went, though, since this production greatly rehabilitated my view of the piece. This production reinserts much of the humor in Albee’s words back into the mix, making the whole affair a little less Suddenly, Last Summer, if you know what I mean. Credit must be given to the stellar performances of Turner and Irwin who manage to keep the balance between the laughs and the profound undercurrents of loss. I am always partial to works about the lies we tell ourselves to keep ourselves functional. Martha and George know this all to well and the final act of this production burns with knowledge that is too great to bear. There is great tragedy here, not in all the shouting, but the intolerable silence it covers over.

I got a second go at the Met’s current Eugene Onegin on Saturday, this time through the great HD theater simulcast. I was excited to see Gergiev behind the podium after he called off the night I saw the production in New York. He definitely made a difference in this great production and I was still amazed and touched by Fleming, Vargas, and Hvorostovsky. However, the simulcast proved my previous suspicions about these events to be true: a multi-camera filmed version of an opera can be as a much help as a hindrance. While the broadcast of I Puritani greatly improved a boring staging, the broadcast of Onegin sucked out most of the production's visual punch. Part of the beauty of Carsen’s staging is the contrast between the stark white stage and the relatively tiny performers in their period garb and minimal props. In the HD broadcast virtually all of this is lost. For this round, the broadcast was definitely no match for the live experience.

Sunday contained two moments of reconsideration of the recent past. First, was the Oscar broadcast. As usual the Academy missed the boat on many of the year’s best films in favor of big statements and feeling good about one’s self. (In case you’re wondering the correct answer to that question, the best movies were Children of Men, Little Children, Volver, L’Enfant, Flags of Our Fathers, and Inland Empire.) As I watched Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson (try saying that without it getting stuck in your craw) warble through the C-rate numbers from Dreamgirls all I could think of was how sad pop culture has become when someone like Simon Cowell may in fact be a good judge of talent or lack thereof. However, prior to this annual disappointment, I revisited another recent one by a second viewing of LA Opera’s Mahagonny. I had extra tickets and decided to use them despite my prior experience and after reading a rather positive review from Alan Rich over at the LA Weekly. At first, I felt better about things in Act I, but then came Act II and all the mind-numbingly stoic direction came flooding back with a vengeance. Which only goes to show – sometimes it’s best to trust your instincts.

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