Saturday, October 10, 2015

"Where Is Love" and "The Touch of Art"

Time to catch up again.

The last two performances I saw at Round House Theatre had nothing to do with each other; one was produced by Adventure Theatre MTC, the children's theater training camp at Maryland's Glen Echo park, and the other was RHT's entry in the regionwide Women's Voices Theater Festival. And though they had nothing to do with each other, Oliver! and Ironbound had more in common than the latter did with another WVTF entry at Ford's Theatre, The Guard.

[I interrupt this brief recap to report another RHT-hosted production I saw a few days before Oliver!, evidence of which is a xeroxed list of the 11 "clumps" of one-minute plays in the obviously named One-Minute Play Festival. The audience seemed to be composed mainly of authors of the 50 or 60 "plays," who laughed and cheered noisily in support of each other's art. I can recall almost none of this now, not even the date of the production, which failed to make it onto the one-page info sheet.]

Adventure Theatre's Oliver! happened to be my first exposure to the stage version of one of my all-time favorite movie musicals. My 12 1/2 year-old within is still in love with Jack Wild's Academy Award-nominated performance as the Artful Dodger, so my biases on movie versus stage were pre-formed. I loved the dancing in the AT show, and I thought the little actor playing Oliver (Franco Cabanas, per my program) had a gorgeous voice. The failure to cast a like-sized Dodger, as in the movie with Wild and Mark Lester, proved a big disappointment to me, and their voices never blended in that chummy way they should.

The next RHT production, season-opening Ironbound, was a world premiere play by Martyna Majok, focusing on the struggle of a single immigrant mom, statically positioned at a bleak New Jersey bus stop, poised between failed romances.

As far as women's voices go, this was one I couldn't really relate to, and it was yet another one of those stories about people I simply don't want to spend time with. Yet, upon further review, I found the story had a lot in common with Oliver!. Like the orphan begging to be fed more of even the worst gruel, ironbound Darja (Alexandra Henrikson) hungers. That ill-defined hunger exposes her to a cruel lover or two, a cruel life, and a cruel yearning, "Please, sir, I want some more."

I think what Darja wants is to matter. Her "where is love" plea is a demand for respect. Things seem to turn around for her when she meets her own "Artful Dodger" in the form of a random kid (William Vaughan as Vic), who finds her at the bus stop one night, badly beaten up, and reaches out to help her.

Ironbound's William Vaughan and Alexandra Henrikson. Photo by Cheyenne Michaels, RHT/Facebook

Moving along on the Women's Voices series, The Guard actually had less to do with "women's voices" and turned out to be the kind of play I wish I could write: witty, touching, philosophical, a portrayal of what art means to us (me). It was a bit smutty, though, so I'm happy to leave it to more sophisticated talents.

Playwright Jessica Dickey's story starts and ends with a museum guard (Mitchell Hébert) goaded into touching Rembrandt's painting, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer.

The Guard's Mitchell Hébert, Katherine Tkel and Josh Sticklin. Photo by Scott Suchman, Ford's Theatre/Facebook

This "touch" takes us back in time to Rembrandt's (Hébert again) daily life, and then further back to Homer (Craig Wallace) complaining about people wanting to write down his poems. They're meant to be heard, he says, so people can zone out if they want (says Homer/Wallace, glaring at the audience). Back to the guard's present, he has been fired for touching the art. He then devotes himself not to art, but to life, caring for his partner (Wallace again), a dying poet, tenderly touching his head as Rembrandt's "Aristotle" touched the bust of Homer.

love, hosaa
touched by art

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