Posts Tagged ‘lee breuer’

Performance Diary: THE GOSPEL AT COLONUS in Central Park

September 9, 2018

An old man seeking sanctuary is stopped at the border and separated from his two daughters, who are taken off to prison – especially cruel since the man is blind. The question of whether immigrants and refugees are welcome in this country was not in play when The Gospel at Colonus premiered in 1983, but it added another layer of sentiment to the beautiful 35th anniversary restaging at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park of Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s musical mashup of Greek tragedy and an African-American church service, which had me in tears several times.

The evening was chilly and it drizzled steadily the first half of the show, but since it was the last night of a short run, the performers were real troupers. So great to hear this fantastic score again, with one killer song after another: “How Shall I See You Through My Tears?,” “Numberless Are The World’s Wonders,” “Sunlight of No Light,” “Eternal Sleep,” “Lift Him Up.” So great to see many of the original cast still working their magic (J.D. Steele, Kevin Davis, Carolyn Johnson-White); Bob Telson at the piano alongside the original musicians Sam Butler, Jr., Butch Heyward, and Leroy Clouden; the amazing Blind Boys of Alabama with a new lead singer, Jimmy Carter, in place of the late great Clarence Fountain (the first blind man to play the blind king Oedipus); Willie Rogers channeling Sam Cooke with the Legendary Soul Stirrers. A real preacher, the Reverend Dr. Earl F. Miller, played the Messenger, the role – part MC, part minister, part shadow Oedipus — first filled by Morgan Freeman, and the terrific Greta Oglesby (whom I admired as the lead in Caroline, or Change at the Guthrie Theater) played Antigone, the part memorably filled by Isabell Monk in the original production.

It’s such a strange piece, in its way, tapping the roots of theater in spiritual ceremony both conceptually and concretely. It’s a tribute to the genius of Lee Breuer that it hangs together the way it does. One of Breuer’s great gifts as a director is to empower talented performers to create performances that are authentically their own. We saw that all over the stage at the Delacorte. And the many forces (financial and administrative) that helped create this run in the park share a commitment to theater as a utopian proposition, a place to keep alive a strong, deep, inclusive vision of humanity and love. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

From the deep archives: Mabou Mines’ HAJJ

November 10, 2013

hajj 2
Thinking about the late great Ruth Maleczech, who died September 30 at age 74, sent me back to a feature story I wrote for American Film magazine in 1983 about Hajj, the beautiful multimedia piece she made for Mabou Mines with writer-director Lee Breuer and videographer Craig Jones.

It’s funny to read today a piece about cutting-edge video technology 30 years ago. Everything that made creating Hajj cumbersome and frightfully expensive has become obsolete with digital video editing — kids can make equally sophisticated video on their laptops after school these days.

Nothing as good as this memorable performance poem, though.

The actress Maleczech sits down at a vanity table, her back to the audience. She faces a triptych of tall, ornately framed mirrors and begins to apply an elaborate makeup. When she reaches for a hairpiece, a video monitor suddenly reveals itself behind one of the mirrors and a closed-circuit camera zooms in on the hairpiece.

As she continues putting on her makeup, monitors behind the other two mirrors flicker on, picking up similarly specific images – a necklace, the smoke from her cigarette. The actress murmurs the text (picked up by a high-powered body mike) as the screen images float alongside her reflection in the mirror, and these are soon joined by another layer of imagery. Filmed sequences showing a child on the lap of an old man and a truck driving through a barren landscape are superimposed on closed-circuit images of Maleczech’s face or objects on the makeup table. As suddenly and magically as they appear, the video pictures periodically drop out altogether, leaving a woman alone at the mirror with her reflection instead of – her dreams? her memories? her soul?

You can read the whole piece online here.

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