Sunday, January 24, 2010

Moon Over Buffalo, Civic Theatre - 1/16/10

This is a funny play, written in 1995 by Ken Ludwig and set in 1953. It reminds us what live theater was like, and in a funny way it pays tribute to stage actors. I was surprised to find it was written by a modern-day playwright because he seems so attune to life on the stage in the 1950s. (He also wrote the very funny, previously-performed “Lend Me A Tenor”.) Interestingly, Ludwig uses references too obscure for most of today’s audiences and the program kindly provided information for most of them. These are references I would expect from playwrights from the 1930s but find it intriguing that a modern playwright would reference the Lunts, Katharine Cornell, Greer Garson, Ronald Colman, and Noel Coward. Most of our party of six didn’t know any of them (ouch!) but Ludwig obviously doesn’t care and includes the references for only movie and stage fans and hopes the rest of the play will be enough for everyone else.

The writing is clever, some of the humor is slapstick, but a bit of it centers around cheesy male organ jokes using Cyrano’s fake nose and then a wine bottle - not a big fan. Acting on the whole was uneven; when you start to think about the acting ability you are watching, you are pulled out of the story. Jon March in the role of George Hay (a very demanding part including much physicality and playing an extended drunk) was great and really carried the show. Margi Hanks as his wife, Charlotte Hay, and Carole McNulty as his mother-in-law, Ethel, were also outstanding.

On the whole, you will come away with an appreciation of live theater, what it was, and a sense of the impact movies and TV had on the theater. The cultural shift from vaudeville and the stage to movies and TV was huge. This is a play I will read for a fresh evaluation of the work, away from the acting. (For anyone interested in the stage to film transition, check out “Once Upon a Time” by George Kaufman and Moss Hart. From 1930 and containing even more references that may be obscure to today’s audiences, it’s incredibly well-written and hilarious.)

The Civic is a great venue, small and intimate, and there are no bad seats. And as theater goers, we all appreciate a live performance, even if all the acting is not stellar.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grand Rapids Art Museum 1/13/10

It was a beautiful, sunny day today and seeing as I had to renew my membership, I decided to do it in person and visit the museum for a few hours. You all know, or should know, how beautiful the building is, open and airy, and full of natural lighting (and Leed certified). With over 5000 items in storage, the museum rotates some of its art and also brings in other exhibits. So along with revisiting the permanent collection on the third floor, there’s always something new to see. (They are currently hanging a new photography display, and preparing a Calder Jewelry Show - yes, he did small things too.) The “guards” are ever vigilant and I always feel like I’m being stalked (I promise, I won’t touch the art). But I did find a friendly employee who was working on the new photography exhibit and was happy to talk to me.
Within the past five months, I’ve been to The Louvre in Paris, The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and The Art Institute in Chicago. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is none of these but it doesn’t try to be. Instead it’s a little treasure sitting in the middle of downtown, waiting to be discovered. It doesn’t hit you over the head with its art but asks you to explore. Turn a corner and you’ll run into a Renoir oil painting adjacent to a John Singer Sargent watercolor. Down another hall you’ll find two oil paintings depicting the Provincetown Pier on Cape Cod, one in summer and the other in winter (Gerrit Beneke). There’s a beautiful, large 3-panel oil, alkyd & graphite on linen called “Concourse 2007" by Mark Sheinkman. I call it “curling smoke” and it’s mesmerizing. Wood engravings by Winslow Homer hang together, and nearby is a very small exquisite painting by Henry Farny, “Moonlit Indian Encampment”, beautiful in its lighting and detail.
And don’t miss the “Design and Modern Craft” hall. On the other side of the entry wall, you’ll find short film offerings entitled “Modernism and Film.” Take a seat and watch. First up is “Manhatta” from 1920, a 10-minute documentary featuring a day in New York City, with texts by Walt Whitman, and produced by artist Charles Sheeler and photographer Paul Strand. They obviously loved New York City. Next up is the 3-minute “Rhythmus 21", an early abstract work by Hans Richter that features squares and rectangles changing shape, accompanied by a piano and string bass score. The score sounded ominous to me as though the film-maker was warning us about something but that’s just my take. And the last is a 1-minute excerpt from “Modern Times” by Charlie Chaplin, about which nothing else needs to be said.(The first two can be found on YouTube and the third in parts.)
Lastly, I took a final look at “Open Water”, the ArtPrize winner that is on display until the end of month, when it moves to a private collection. (As I am writing this, I see an update that Dick & Betsy DeVos are the purchasers and will leave the work on temporary loan to the museum.) (Update: it now hangs in their restaurant, Reserve). Look on the opposite wall and you will see a short video composed of photos from the larger ArtPrize event accompanied by music taken from performances by the Grand Rapids Symphony of David Lockington’s composition “Celebratory Fantasy Fanfare for ArtPrize.” I wish it had been longer because it was great fun to watch and beautifully accompanied by the music.
So go and explore, and find your own treasures.