Monday, February 25, 2008

Caveman and vaudevillians

My wife and I saw the one-man show "Defending the Caveman" at the FAC this weekend.

What a fun date night. Cody Lyman did a great job in what is essentially a stand-up routine about the battle of the sexes. We laughed all the way through it. But it kinda bugs me that this isn't Cody's piece. It was Rob Becker's. It's been preserved like a museum piece and farmed out to various actors.

It had me longing for something fresh. I felt the same way after seeing TheatreWorks' "Blithe Spirit" last weekend. Wonderfully talented cast. But some Noel Coward has gotten tired. Again, some fine laughs. But ....

Then, last Saturday, I found something fresh: "10 Minutes Max" at the MAT. The sixth annual outing of this vaudeville show based on short bits was the best ever. The comedy, the dancing, the magic ... there wasn't a weak link here.

I especially loved actress Ashley Crockett's poetic monologue, "Hair" about her relationship with her hair from the time when she was a kid to when she lost her locks to cancer.

But it was the enormously versatile Emily Keller as the ticket girl who pulls a Lucy and tries to sneak into the show who ended up stealing it.

House concert recap

Gazette columnist Barry Noreen caught his first house concert last night. Here are a few of his thoughts:

Patty Larkin was well received Sunday night as she gamely performed while suffering from a bad cold. Because of that she did only one long set and there was not the customary intermission. Her cold robbed her of a few high notes but did not hurt her performance on some songs, such as "Johnny was a Pyro," which is done in sort of a talking style anyhow. She did a really nice job on "Mary Magdalene" and I would say that her guitar work has matured a bit since we saw her 7 or 8 years ago.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Our House" at the Denver Center

The 3rd annual Colorado New Play Summit began tonight with "Our House," Theresa Rebeck's dramady about the increasingly thin line between news and entertainment on television.

The first hour of this new 90-minute play is excellent. The characters, who range from relatively unlikable to cringe-inducingly loathsome, are memorable and sharply drawn - including a cynical, profit-minded network head, a beautiful and ambitious news anchor, and four roommates with serious issues. Rebeck's dialogue sizzles. The characters often talk over one another, heightening the sense of realism. The situations are cleverly handled, especially a meeting of the roommates, which takes a reality-TV twist. As life imitated reality TV - pulling together some of the play's most important threads - it looked as though "Our House" might be a great contemporary play.

But as is often the case in real life, everything went awry with a gunshot. With Jennifer, the news anchor, on the scene to cover a hostage situation, Merv, the passive-aggressive TV-addict, suddenly begins spouting articulate criticisms of the medium.

It's not bad dialogue at all, except that it doesn't even remotely sound like Merv. It sounds as though Rebeck - who's written extensively for television - really wanted to say some things about the medium, but lacked a character who could give them voice. The final few minutes are a grab-bag of interesting lines, spoken by whoever happens to be available. Even Wes, the virulently anti-intellectual network head, turns philosophical.

Rob Campbell as Merv and Kate Nowlin as Alice, the household antagonist whose hatred of Merv reduces her to incoherent stammering, deliver particularly strong performances. But as the writing falls off near the end, so does the acting, and several actors were reduced to mugging.

One decision by director Daniel Fish works so well that I'm surprised I've never seen it elsewhere: At times, two spaces spaces exist simultaneously on stage - for instance, Jennifer, in the TV studio, walks past Merv slumped in front of the TV in his house. It's wonderfully theatrical and prevents set changes from slowing the TV-like pace. Of course, it's only possible because Andrew Lieberman's unfinished plywood set is completely non-naturalistic.

"Our House," which opened January 11 and closes Sunday, is the first of three world premiers on the Denver Center season. The New Play Summit continues Friday with two staged readings and a full production of "Plainsong," which runs through Feb. 23. Saturday will feature two more readings and a full production of "Lydia," which runs through March 1.

Kudos to the Denver Center Theatre Company and its artistic director, Kent Thompson, for making the commitment to new work. There's no way to know how a play is going to work until you see it, and to see your work for the first time in such a polished and thoughtful performance must be a playwright's dream.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Saturday in the FAC with "George"

Another profound waste of talent at the FAC. Sure, the sets and staging are brilliant. Sure, the orchestra sounds great. Sure, the leads have strong voices.

But what a horrible, horrible show. Mark tells me Sondheim was working his way through a midlife crisis and searching for something original as the rest of Broadway was growing stale. The result was "Sunday in the Park With George," a musical about the artistic process.

Whatever the reason, he came up with a musical that's cold, dull and off-putting. I hear a lot of people have been leaving after the first act. They're lucky. It gets worse in Act II. I absolutely hated the artist schmooze reception scene.

The show gave me nobody to really care about. I suppose I had mild interest in Georges' girlfriend, Dot. But when she leaves George for the baker, it was a big so-what.

The cast is mostly fine, but there's one supporting player who just annoys the heck out of me.

Am I missing something? Are people loving this show?

Friday, February 08, 2008

FAC Modern gets weird

Weird is good, especially for what had been a rather stodgy institution.

I checked out the new "Altered Spaces" show at the FAC Modern on Friday, and I wasn't blown away by it. I liked the artificial camping scene, with an interesting use of projection. But much of it, I felt I just didn't get.

I appreciate it more since I've seen the You Tube interviews with the artists. Check them out here:

Gwen Laine

Matt Barton

Christina Marsh

The FAC folks also put together some beautiful wallpapers:

Here's a look at opening night (No. 117) from Springs Culture Cast:

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bernhard comes loaded for bear (and Oprah)


Sandra Bernhard strutted onto CC's Armstrong Hall stage Wednesday night, saying how happy she was to be here, in the shadow of NORAD, home of the Air Force Academy. She was thrilled about getting back to her conservative roots.

Of course, the sassy uber-liberal icon was here to take on the conservatives, spitting her playful venom at Rush Limbaugh, President Bush, Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney and others.

But what really blew me away was that she was the first white comedian I've ever heard take on liberal black icon Oprah Winfrey. She made fun of how Oprah, when campaigning for Obama in the South, developed more ghetto in her voice. Only Berhard could get away with mocking Oprah.

This free stand-up show, compliments of CC's IDEA program, would have been worth at least $60 a head. Berhard was hilarious, and her musical interludes were like Jack Black's ... done with a half-satirical tone, but displaying an intensity and commitment that shows she could tour on the stength of her music alone, if she wanted to.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Institutional Memory at the Fine Arts Center

On balance, I view Michael De Marsche's tenure at the Fine Arts Center as a spectacular success. His achievement in getting the expansion built - and in getting such a wonderful expansion built - will be an enduring legacy.

But it's undeniable that in at least one area, he left the center immeasurably poorer than when he arrived in August 2003: Institutional memory. The creative staff turned over entirely during his tenure. Curator Cathy Wright went to the Albuquerque Museum, librarian Rod Dew was fired, performing arts director Sandra Womochil Bray left without explanation. (I've given up even trying to worm it out of her, but she's returned to the Colorado Springs School.) And that's just three names out of many.

Between them, Wright and Dew had about 50 years at the FAC. Bray wasn't at the center that long, but she'd been part of the local theater scene for at least two decades. In contrast, the new department heads are all from out of town, and have no long-standing connection either with the FAC or with the region's arts in general.

That's not entirely a bad thing, especially when you're dealing with an arts community that's accustomed to struggling. Sometimes it takes outsiders to break out of long-entrenched patterns.

But it leads to occasional gaffes. When interviewing curators Blake Milteer and Tariana Navas-Nieves about "Altered Space," both seemed unaware that edgy, contemporary installation art is nothing new at the FAC. This installation isn't as provocative, for instance, as the summer 2002 exhibit of Larry Kledzik's "Diet: The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker," and Cory Mahler's "On Longing: The Physicality of Absence." just one of several contemporary exhibits brought in by then-curator of visual art Scott Snyder.

And when the center re-opened in August, nobody on the staff seemed aware that the Frederick R. Weisman collection, one of the re-opening's centerpieces, had been exhibited at the FAC in 1988 - albeit a smaller selection of work.

If there's a point to this rambling post, it's that the De Marsche era was a revolution, not an evolution - a change as great or greater than the gutting of the art school in the 1950s. The new director, when he or she arrives, will have what's as close to a clean slate as is possible in an organization of this size. It's an exhilarating but not entirely comforting thought.

I practically grew up in the Fine Arts Center. I often posed - usually for hands - for my father in his studio: Everything else he could paint effortlessly from memory. I fell into the pond in the courtyard, back when there was a pond; I was aghast at the gory wooden sculptures of the Crucifixion. (TV was a lot tamer then.) I loved the old FAC, but it's gone. Long live the new FAC.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Christo update

Christo, Over The River, Project For Arkansas River, State of Colorado
Drawing 2007 35,2 x 38,7 cm (13-7/8" x 15-1/4”)
Pencil, pastel, charcoal, enamel paint and wax crayon.
Photo: Wolfgang Volz, ©Christo 2007

We ran a story a few days ago that the BLM has asked Christo and Jeanne Claude to submit some more info before they do their big environmental impact study.

Here's a response about that from the project director:


Thanks for your interest, Mark. In answer to your question, no, this was not news to us. We met with BLM in December and they explained that they needed additional information before the EIS could get underway. We are in the process of gathering that additional information and plan to submit to BLM in the coming weeks. We have already taken this into account in our schedule and are still aiming for Over The River to be exhibited in a two-week period between mid-July and mid-August, 2012.

With regard to the report itself, we are pleased that BLM has released this. There is a significant amount of important analysis and information in the report and it will help inform the discussion and analysis during the EIS process. It is important to point out that this is preliminary information that will be thoroughly evaluated by the contractor that BLM selects to prepare the EIS. We look forward to getting that process underway and are committed to working with the local communities and the governmental agencies to address the issues and concerns and ensure that Over The River is a positive cultural and recreational experience for all involved.

Attached are 3 fact sheets on Over The River that you might find helpful when reporting on this. Thank you for your questions - providing accurate information to the public is a top priority for the OTR team. You may also address inquires to Steve Coffin or Megan Lane at GBSM, a communications firm we working with in Denver. Thanks again for your interest in Over The River.

Jonita Davenport