Sunday, January 1, 2017

"And I said 'Well, how did we get here?'"

"A lot went on." That's one preamble to a chapter on 2016, assuming there will be chapters on 2016. I'm helping some friends pick short films for their film festival -- it's a festival dedicated to the work of filmmakers from Middle Eastern countries, and they had something like 1400 submissions this year, which might indicate filmmakers from Middle Eastern countries have a lot to say. One short is about an artist from Erbil who keeps making his art in spite of the fact that no one there cares about art anymore. I hope we never reach that pass. I wonder how thin a veneer all this is. I reckon we are about to find out.

But...the year in review. I don't generally do these, but there are a couple of things I didn't write about that I probably should have. One was The Encounter, Complicite's (well, really Simon McBurney's) one man show slash sound installation about a National Geographic photographer and the Amazonian tribe he stumbles across. It's a brilliant bit of monologue theater where McBurney is a kind of Spalding Gray on steroids. Since so much of the play is built on sound effects, the audience is required to wear headphones, and McBurney comes out and from what seems a very casual beginning starts to weave a story out of questions about reality and illusion. He begins by demonstrating how his effects pedals and props and microphones all interact to create that illusion and then we are landing on water, and there we are, somewhere up some tributary of the Orinoco. And then the plane is leaving. And then...

If you're in New York and haven't seen it, it's playing until January 8.

Probably the highlight of the year, though, was squeezing into a crowded front parlor at Hyde Hall for lutenist Hopkinson Smith's hour-long program of Elizabethan tunes. It was pouring down rain outside. It was kind of perfect.

Lake Otsego from Hyde Hall, in Dowland weather

Looking back at the calendar, it was a good year for lute-y things. January saw Paul O'Dette and Ayreheart's Ronn McFarlane teaming up for a duo show under the auspices of BEMF at First Church Cambridge.  That was a fun mad MBTA scramble and Dr T meet-up. Cambridge being perhaps the most Early Music-friendly city in the lower 48, the church was packed. And acoustically too big for a lute concert, but, as it was a more or less responsible audience, we got to hear some (unsurprisingly) phenomenal playing from two lutenists who don't often play together.

What else, what else...oh yes, Peter Brook, Marie-Hélène Estienne, and Jean-Claude Carrière's hour-long coda to their five-hour Mahabharata project of two decades ago, called Battlefield, took a short excerpt of the massive Indian epic and distilled it through four actors and some minimal props into a dense philosophical examination of power, violence, and responsibility.

Battlefield, photo via Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord

Back last spring, Arin Arbus's production of A Doll's House at TFANA tested out a new configuration of the space, with audience on both sides of a center strip stage (there's probably a technical term for this, so if anybody knows it, feel free to pitch in).  It had the benefit of a few Shakespeare & Co regulars, but was hamstrung by the choice of Thornton Wilder's vintage translation. I should have stuck around for the postgame Q&A that day, but didn't, so that choice remains a bit of a mystery. But Arbus is directing The Skin of Our Teeth at TFANA this year, so maybe all will be revealed.

Maggie Lacey & John Douglas Thompson TFANA

Beyond all that, a perplexing production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway; a handful of excellent trad stuff including Dennis Stroughmatt last spring, an Alastair Anderson/Brian Conway workshop at the Old Songs Festival that was absolute gold, and Rydvall/Mjelva this past December; and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting in the regrettable chaos of 2016.

This new year, barring political and perhaps literal fallout, should see the Donmar Warehouse Tempest, Grrrlz' Night Out at Carnegie Hall (aka Juditha Triumphans), the aforementioned Skin of Our Teeth (weirdly prescient programming there, TFANA), and a continuation of the Suffrage Project saga as we try to create an amuse-bouche version for venues afraid of a two hour program [sigh]. The motto of 2017: We should all live so long.

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