Performance diary: GROUNDED and THE NIGHT DANCE

April 27, 2015

It was one of those only-in-New-York weekends of performance-going. Saturday night Andy and I went to the Public Theater where we sat 20 feet away from Anne Hathaway performing George Brant’s Grounded in a spectacular production staged by the great Julie Taymor. Hathaway plays a female pilot who, after many missions flying over Iraq and Afghanistan, meets a man on leave and gets pregnant, which means getting reassigned from “the blue” to the “chair force”: sitting and watching a high-definition black-and-white screen as the remote operator of a missile-mounted drone tracking targeted individuals in…Pakistan? Iraq? The play isn’t great literature; it arrives at a moral point of view most of us walked into the theater already holding. But it is an honest, dense, skillfully crafted performance poem that Hathaway handled with impressive skill (despite a wandering Wyoming accent).


And the production surrounding her is intensely dazzling, thanks to Taymor and her stellar team of designers (Riccardo Hernandez sets, Christopher Akerlind lighting, Will Pickens sound design, Peter Nigrini’s projection design, Richard Martinez electronic music design , with original music and soundscapes by Elliot Goldenthal). As my friend Jeremy Gerard wrote in his review, “this master of spectacle is just as imaginative and ingenious working on an intimate scale as she is on larger canvases.”


Then Sunday afternoon I went by myself to the Park Avenue Armory to see The Night Dance, an hour-long recital with Charlotte Rampling reciting poems by Sylvia Plath and Sonia Wieder-Atherton playing Benjamin Britten cello suites. It was a beautiful, elegant, austere, and — you can imagine — fierce performance. Wieder-Atherton bowed, plucked, and strummed her way through Britten’s pieces, by turns keening, lyrical, and brooding, usually on their own but occasionally overlapping with Rampling’s simple, inhabited recitations of familiar poems (“Daddy,” “Lady Lazarus”) and less familiar ones. “It is a terrible thing/To be so open: it is as if my heart/Put on a face and walked into the world.” The rapt audience in the cozy Board of Officers Room at the Armory (capacity 200?) was full of women Rampling’s age and temperament who grew up with these poems, felt all the rage and confusion and feeling contained in them, and still survived, miraculously.


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