Archive | July, 2009

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING SHERLOCK

26 Jul

holmes alley

Sherlock Holmes and The Crucifer of Blood

Alley Theatre

By JOHN DeMERS

After 150 years in residence at what’s got to be the world’s most famous address – 221B Baker St. in London – the great detective Sherlock Holmes has found the perfect new home. It’s the annual Summer Chills series produced (indoors, thankfully) as hot-weather entertainment by the Alley Theatre.

The local series has been a delight for years, showing a certain proclivity for the cerebral who-done-its of Agatha Christie, while taking time off for bits of horror and the macabre, always with as light a touch as possible. In short, Summer Chills typically is to theater what summer reading is to reading.

And if there’s one name that seems to fill that bill on all counts, it’s Sherlock Holmes. After all, the Holmes yarns penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over 40 years beginning in 1887 wrestle with some of the darkest and most diabolical corners of the criminal imagination – with a nod or two to Dr. Freud over in Vienna. However, especially as interpreted and enjoyed today, the stories give off a sense of high spirits, of good humor and – dare we say – even a side order of camp. They are, in short, marvelous entertainment.

The Alley is blessed with that incredible gift: an actor who actually looks the part. Conan Doyle was generous in his descriptions of Holmes, especially since he returned to his most famous creation so often. It just wouldn’t do to have Holmes played, say, by Peter Ustinov, who made a fine Hercule Poirot in several big-budget films. No, Holmes must be tall and desperately thin (yes, by this time we all know about the opium-cocaine thing), with a hawk-like angularity to his face. And there’s hardly anybody on earth who can’t conjure up the guy, whether we see him as Basil Rathbone in black and white or Jeremy Brett in gloomy, grainy BBC color.

In the current production of Paul Giovanni’s original Holmes drama The Crucifer of Blood (the Alley adds the detective’s name to the title), Todd Wait is extraordinary. He carries the gravitas of Holmes’ intelligence with a slice of lightness and self-deprecation that breaks only when he’s telling his friend and intrepid chronicler, Dr. John Watson, how dreary life is for him when he’s not enmeshed in a challenging case. Boredom, yes – there is that. But also a kind of emptiness of the soul that Holmes wakes up each day to fill with questions and answers. And of course with his knowledge of arcane data from every culture and every corner of the earth. We believe in Sherlock Holmes as inhabited by Waite. And we laugh and applaud as he succeeds, even if we all have an inkling of the dark places that send him forth seeking the light.

Though much is made in the program notes of a single Holmes story called The Sign of Four, Giovanni essentially crafted a new drama from old, deliciously familiar pieces. The play, which opened on Broadway in 1978 and enjoyed considerable success (starring Paxton Whitehead, whom I was lucky enough to catch in the role), sets Holmes and Watson on a trail of murder and betrayal that began three decades earlier in the Red Fort in Agra. An uprising is in progress against the British colonial powers in India. Quickly: there is a treasure, there are several violent deaths, there is talk of a curse, there is a blood oath – and now, 30 years later, something is hunting down and killing the now-old men involved. Pretty delicious stuff, don’t you think?

The Alley cast does its usual great job enjoying the quirky characters, especially John Tyson as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade, the comic, always-wrong counterpoint to Holmesian  genius, and Justin Doran as Birdy Johnson, who channels Lurch from the old Addams Family TV series by way of, I don’t know, maybe Fellini mixed with Disney World’s Haunted Mansion. Chris Hutchison makes a marvelous young Watson (the story takes place early in their careers), and even gets an unlikely bit of romance with Elizabeth Bunch as the ever-frightened Irene St. Clair.  Jeffrey Bean and James Black shine as two of the three conspirators all those years ago in British India, while Philip Lehl seems to be having considerable fun lurking about in various dark shadows as the third. And… whoever plays that old Chinese guy in the opium den is a hoot!

The current Alley production deletes, dilutes or at least simplifies some of the more memorable special effects from the 1978 Broadway show, especially the bizarre cross-shaped figure on the picture window still mentioned in Giovanni’s script; but it certainly captures the essence.  And thankfully, we still get the fog-besotted Thames at night. There’s some excellent work onstage this summer by scenic designer Kevin Rigdon, lighting designer Rui Rita and especially costume designer Blair Gulledge. The characters all definitely “look” their parts.

Perhaps by the end of this year’s Summer Chills, the Alley Theatre on Texas Avenue will also be known as the address Sherlock Holmes lives.

Photo: Todd Waite as Holmes

JONATHAN LEACH – A Review

26 Jul

leach pic

Gallery Sonja Roesch

Through August 29

Minimalist art often benefits from a confluence of technique and more reality based observable quotients—a brevity is given to the stricture of methodology inherent in the genre. Jonathan Leach, a newcomer to the Houston art scene, understands this subtly as evidenced in his offering of new paintings at Gallery Sonja Roesch, a space dedicated to showcasing reductive-based visual art. 

The show, titled New Work, is composed of a collection of several smartly executed paintings, some multi-surfaced, as well as two Plexiglas cubes resting on the gallery floor. All of the work is painted in intensely bright plastic hues, pushing the content away from any natural reference. The compositions are inspired by urban architecture (think parking garages) in a sort of lose way. If the Bauhaus were still alive and kicking today, Leach would definitely be a card-carrying member. 

The paintings work best large scale; the architectural influences seem to resonate more comfortably that way. The works are complex and balanced well, no small feat when your pallet is a Technicolor barrage of pigment. There are enough near misses in the alignment of the geometry to keep interest. Without these human touches, the work would come off as machine fabricated and lesser for it. The handling of the medium is strong enough to give Leach the benefit of the doubt and assume they are intentional. 

The Plexiglas boxes are similar to the paintings, but pack less of a punch. Perhaps they mimic too closely the architectural references, too simplistically. It doesn’t help that they are on the floor, either. All in all, though, the show is impressive and gives evidence of Roesch’s shrewd eye for emerging talent in Houston. – Garland Fielder

FRAGMENTO – A Review

26 Jul

station pic

Carlos Runcie-Tanaka

Station Museum of Contemporary Art

Being of Peruvian, Japanese and British heritage, Carlos Runcie-Tanaka is as diverse as his hometown of Lima, Peru, with its population of Mestizos, Asians, Europeans, Afro-Peruvians, and both North and South Americans. The potter, whose work is now on display at the Station Museum, chose his vocation after exploring philosophy and receiving encouragement at the Havana Biennial in 1994. 

Three installations make up this fantastic exhibition. As you enter, sounds of Peruvian flutes create an air of mystery throughout. “Progresion Organica” is horizontal on a pedestal. Segments fired separately at 1300 degrees were assembled and then rubbed with iron oxides and stains.  The result is a richly defined half-matte surface that reflects light on an organic log form.  Progression Organica is a work chosen as a representative example of the multiple processes this artist utilizes.   

Turning to the right, the viewer sees “Huayco/Kawa/Rio 2003-2006.” In an appropriate mixture of Japanese and Spanish, the words mean Avalanche/ river.   A tribute to Japanese ritual, this installation contains 13 large spherical forms made of shards of broken pottery.  In Japan it is tradition to throw broken pieces into the river, essentially giving them back to the earth.   Tanaka recycles these fragments into spherical works which provide a three-dimensional experience for the viewer.     

An adjacent room features a second installation containing a glass container filled with shards of stoneware. Different in shape, size and color, these fragments are intended to represent the diversity of Peruvian culture. A separate room is devoted to the installation “Tiempo Detenido/ No Olvidar 1997-2006”  Twenty- two ceramic figures stand on boxes of red light as one figure remains encased in glass at the center of the room.  Inspired by Tanaka’s hostage experience at the Japanese Ambassador’s Residence, where he was held captive in the winter of 1996, the installation conveys violence as red marbles depict bloodshed.  Hands in various formations allude to a lack of communication and are exaggerated in size to create emphasis.  

Rarely does an artist working in the medium of clay achieve such a cohesive expression of identity and culture. “Fragmento” is an exemplary exhibition, now on view thru October 18 at Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 1502 Alabama St.. Read more about contemporary art at www.visualseen.net. –  Stacey Holzer

Photo by Timonthy Gonzales: Huayco/ Kawa/ Rio

CIRQUE DE SOLEIL’S SALTIMBANCO – A Review

23 Jul

chinese poles

Toyota Center through Sunday

By JOHN DeMERS

Yes, as I remember well, The Beatles created the original notion of the “Magical Mystery Tour.” But I’ve always thought the words applied perfectly to anything and everything I’ve seen produced by Cirque de Soleil.

Somewhere in the middle of every act, every illusion, every remarkably bizarre skill on display in a Cirque de Soleil performance (including the production of Saltimbanco at Houston’s Toyota Center), there’s a basic circus trick developed in Europe or Asia over many generations. But Cirque de Soleil generally does two things with that trick. 1. It performs it better, more complicatedly and probably at a higher speed than you’ve ever seen it before. And 2. It surrounds the physical action with enough costumes, makeup, lighting and mythology that it seems to take on the deepest (if most ambiguous) of meanings. Thus, every show put on by the Canada-based troupe really is a Magical Mystery Tour.

The Saltimbanco visiting Houston after a whistle stop in Cypress is something of a first for Cirque de Soleil – or at least a first for Houston. In Las Vegas and handful of other high-end casino destinations around the country, Cirque has created shows within a defined permanent space. But as far as Houston has been concerned, Cirque de Soleil was a show in a tent. Well, not just a tent, mind you, but a solid blue-and-yellow fantasy that appeared overnight in fields and parking lots, wherever the producers could find to put it. The tent was, for all lovers of Cirque de Soleil, an essential part of the show. At the very least, it was a “pre-show” in the Disney sense, a clear announcement that we were passing from one level of experience to another. Perhaps at a level we’d never experienced before.

This is not to say Toyota Center does a poor job of hosting Saltimbanco – quite the contrary. Any venue that can host Madonna in the past and Britney Spears in the future can host Cirque de Soleil. In fact, from a production standpoint, the shows probably aren’t all that different. It’s simply a matter of seeing magic in a place most in the audience have been before – surely for a Rockets game, if for nothing else – held up against seeing magic in a place explicitly designed to seem magical. Perhaps the “arena show” Cirque de Soleil is the version of the future. I will always be there, but they can’t make me like it.

Also, unlike other Cirque shows in memory, Saltimbanco lacks a storyline, or at least a theme. These storylines were always purposely vague – except maybe for Corteo, in which a man who’s dying revisits the people and places in his life, to discover (of course) the magic and meaning he’d missed the first time around. As best we can tell, Saltimbanco carries no such storyline. It’s simply an excuse for a company of amazingly talented and almost universally buff men and women to do things we can’t imagine humans being able to do. They do these things, as always with Cirque de Soleil, to live music, including one or more operatic-ish singers performing in a tangled language unknown to mortal man. Someone should do a study of this “Cirque language” someday – and count just how many versions of the word “dream” turn up. Any song that talks about il sogno and le reve in the same sentence must be, well, pretty dreamy.

Considerable magic weaves its way in and around the live music and the endearing efforts of an Italian-style clown/mime (Amo Gulinello) to make us laugh till we cry. He is especially effective in ACT I as a man who gets stuck in a restroom stall as it fills till the water’s above his head. Other Saltimbanco highlights include juggler Terry Velasquez (who handles more balls more quickly from more directions than can possibly be good for him), “boleadoras” Elisabetta La Commare and Luis Lopez (who use South American bolas in ways no Texas cowboy who values his masculinity would ever dare swing a rope) and the two-man muscle act called simply Hand-to-Hand. In this excruciatingly slow showcase of physical skill and strength, two men lift and turn and extend each other’s full weights in a kind of ultra-macho yet beautiful pas de deux.

Photo of Chinese Poles: Olivier Samson Arcand

 

THE DEFECTOR – A Review

20 Jul

THE DEFECTOR high res

Hard Lessons From Daniel Silva

By JOHN DeMERS

Some years ago – though not quite as many as it’s been around – I picked up a used paperback thriller with an intriguing title and a strangely familiar-sounding author. The book was called The Kill Artist, and the author was Daniel Silva. That first experience of what’s come to be known as the Gabriel Allon Series is one of the reasons I plan to be there at Murder by the Book this coming Sunday, asking Silva to sign his ninth and latest, The Defector.

That first title was intriguing to me for the most obvious of reasons. The juxtaposition of two words – “kill” and “artist” – was eye-catching, since at least in the popular mind, artists don’t kill and killers don’t make art. Yet the hero I met in The Kill Artist was a juxtaposition of those two things and a whole lot more. He was indeed an artist, an amazing one apparently, gifted in the ways needed to restore the greatest Italian paintings of all time. And yet, for all that precision – no doubt because of all that precision – Allon had become one of the deadliest hired guns the state of Israel had ever known. An assassin, if you will. A hit man.

Such a collision of skill sets was hard to ignore but, in a lesser writer than Silva, also hard to believe. In book after book, Silva has filled in the colors of Allon’s past with brushstrokes worthy of the artist himself. As for many Israelis of his age, and for many Jews all over the world, there were dark echoes of the Holocaust. These concerned Allon’s mother, a victim of the Nazi concentration camps.

And there were even darker echoes of the modern wars involving Israel, including the battle to survive surrounded by Arab states. These wars had struck even more closely in Allon’s life – killing his only son and ruining his wife with a car bomb. “A Death in Vienna” (to borrow the appropriate Allon title) would be the single moment that haunts every effort he will make this side of the grave: to find justice, to find forgiveness, to find love, to find salvation. Light summer reading, indeed!

I was taken by Gabriel Allon from Word One. I even came to love his first name, one shared with the Archangel Gabriel from Jewish and later Christian writings, a name I heard often in Catholic school. Allon is an angel, all right. An avenging angel. And in lieu of religion’s God in heaven, Allon answers to a “higher authority” named Ari Shamron. Somehow along the way, Shamron retired from the Israeli secret service. But he figures in every Allon thriller, remaining the conscience and the force of will that together keep Israel alive. Shamron, you see, is Allon’s connection to his reasons for being the “kill artist.” And he’s a modern non-Jewish American reader’s connection to why and how Israel has decided (and/or been forced) to exist.

Ari  Shamron recruited the young Allon in the aftermath of the Black September killings of those Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He understood these people who’d committed cold-blooded murder, who’d earned coverage and a kind of Arab-street hero status on international television. Without a hard lesson, he knew, such killings would have spread, and no one Jewish or otherwise would have ever been safe. Shamron chose Allon and personally trained him to administer that hard lesson.

In his new book, The Defector, as in his previous Moscow Rules, Allon takes on an even more current world evil – the extremes of the post-Soviet Russian state. Spoiler Alert: Vladimir Putin is not a very nice guy. In the bad old days, of course, Putin ran the KGB. And according to these books, he hasn’t changed one iota. Violence and the threat of violence remain the only persuasions that work in the Russia of today; and in the course of penning his fiction, Silva weaves in more than enough fact to make a strong case.

I love the Gabriel Allon novels – which Silva insists he never saw as a series at first. But I also love the remembered events that helped his name seem so familiar to me.

From 1980-1988, I was a reporter and editor for United Press International , the grand old UPI. I worked first in my hometown of New Orleans, then transferred to Washington to join a Foreign Desk that had recently moved down from New York. Wearing that hat, before becoming UPI’s national food editor, I worked only “the overnight,” finding my way to McPherson Square for my despised midnight-8 a.m. shift.  I should be forgiven for being unsure whether I  met Daniel Silva in those days. I don’t remember much, beyond falling asleep one time at my computer and bloodying my nose and chin when they smashed into the keyboard.

But yes, Daniel Silva was with UPI back then. First, I’m pretty sure, as SILVA-NX (NX meaning New York on our old UPI message wire, a precursor to email) and later as SILVA-FORN (Foreign Desk) in Washington. I wonder if he and I ever worked side by side on one of those horrific overnights, of if he worked only days, or if he’d already left for a career overseas, covering the headline-rich Middle East. I don’t know. And maybe I don’t really want to know. I’m just sure that if I could read only one book a year, I would make sure it’s the new one by Daniel Silva. My co-worker. My hero.  My kill artist. 

Daniel Silva signs The Defector, July 26 at 2 p.m., Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet St., 713-524-8597

GOOD COMPANY – A Consideration

20 Jul

 

TAMARIE_090609_0326

Jason Nodler and His Catastrophic Theatre

By NANCY WOZNY

Jason Nodler hardly acts like the theater legend the city has bestowed on him. His quiet, unassuming demeanor may be more suited to the guy in the background. Yet, for the past few decades, his presence on the scene, first as founder of Infernal Bridegroom Productions (IBP) and now as artistic director of The Catastrophic Theatre (TCT), has loomed large in theater goers’ hearts.

TCT has just wrapped up an impressive inaugural season, building a momentum that they hope to sustain during these rocky economic shores and follow up with yet another ambitious season. Launching with Mickey Birnbaum’s post-apocalyptic play, Big Death and Little Death, followed by two wildly original Mickle Maher plays, The Strangerer and Spirits to Enforce, TCT hit a stride bringing bold new voices to Houston stages. (Both Maher plays made the top ten theater experiences of the year by The Houston Chronicle.) The Tamarie Cooper Show and Troy Schulze’s original art crime thriller, The Splasher, showed off in-house talent. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s bacchanalian black comedy Hunter Gatherers proved yet another feather in Nodler’s playwright scouting cap. Rarely out of the news, TCT scored two Houston Chronicle Star section features. Without a doubt, the troupe has maintained its “it” status and shows no signs of slowing down.

Within minutes of starting a conversation with Nodler he’s talking about the people he surrounds himself with, first and foremost, his associate director Tamarie Cooper, and a slew of Houston’s most idiosyncratic talents. “Theater is a collaborative effort,” says Nodler from the Sul Ross office he shares with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts  Joined by their time together at HSPVA, running Jerry Brown’s Houston presidential  office, working at  IBP and now TCT, Nodler and Cooper have rarely been apart. “We have found this wonderful group who work their buttts off to do what it takes to make theater,” says Cooper.  “Something comes out having a history of working together, the level of trust in the room is palpable.”

For Nodler, art is made by people. “We are a company,” he insists. “And if you look at any innovation in theater history, they have all emerged from companies.” Nodler prides himself on his sharp eye for casting. Instead of the traditional audition process, he prefers conducting several readings of a particular play. It can take several before Nodler arrives at the right mix for a particular play. “I feel proud of my casting ability; I’m good at that,” he says, humbly. “Sometimes it can be frustrating, especially for new people.” Maher’s Spirit to Enforce, with its large cast of highly distinct actors playing assorted super heroes, proved a good example of Nodler’s ability to mine the talent in front of him.

The team also includes company veteran Troy Schulze who had a banner year with TCT. He  premiered  The Splasher at DiverseWorks, appeared as a wooden John Kerry in The Strangerer and as Tom the passive agressive doctor in Hunter Gatherers. “The good thing about the company model is that we get to know each other so well and have an idea of everyone’s potential, so casting is less of a puzzle,” says Schulze. “That said, we are constantly on the search for new blood. It’s an infectious thing, people are often surprised at how unpretentious we are, we are not eggheads about culture and are clued in to all forms of entertainment.”

Nova Arts Project managing director Sean Patrick Judge found himself stretched in a good way during his first play.  He first learned about Nodler from the cover of American Theater which featured IBP’s production of We Have Some Planes. He jumped into his role as Jim Lehrer full throttle in The Strangerer. Judge entered the process just slightly intimidated, but quickly accommodated to Nodler’s quiet style. “He couldn’t have been more open, relaxed, patient, and smart. There were days when he would give exact, pin-point directions. Other times, he told me to do whatever feels good,” Judge remembers. “So I got the exact direction I needed and the freedom to play.”

Nodler surrounds himself with some heavyweights when it comes to his advisory board, which includes Alley Theatre’s artistic director, Gregory Boyd, University of Houston’s director of the School of Theatre & Dance Steven W. Wallace, Dan Dubrowski, Michael Zilkha, and Stages Repertory Theater artistic director Kenn McLaughlin. TCT’s collaboration with Stages includes Cooper’s work, and the recent Hunter Gatherers. “They are willing to throw themselves into the work so there’s such excitement to the process when they are in the building. We need that kind of vibrancy here,” says McLaughlin. “Jason likes to stand a little closer to the abyss, which is critical in thinking of the entire theater community here. There’s so much about the human character that has not been explored.”

The future looks jam packed for TCT. More interested in the work than finding a permanent home, Nodler has laid out next season with a roving spirit, covering a lot of ground both artistically and literally, when it comes to the number of venues. This summer, TCT went global with a performance of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit at Mitrovica Cultural Center in Kosovo. Cooper plans to awaken the dead summer months with Journey to the Center of My Brain (in 3D!) at Stages. In the fall they are back at DiverseWorks for Obie Award-winning playwright Lisa D’Amour’s Anna Bella Eema. Daniel Johnson’s Life is Happy and Sad (adapted by Nodler) goes down in the winter. Nodler remains deeply influenced by band culture. “I’m a fanboy,” he admits. Music continues to be a huge part of the terrain at TCT. After the success of the first Daniel Johnson piece, Speeding Motorcycle, Nodler plans another, Life is Happy and Sad, at Stages next winter. “After listening to about 800 songs, which I don’t recommend, I felt there was another piece there,” he says. “This one takes place in a practice room at University of Texas where Daniel created many of these songs.” Long range plans include Bluefinger, a collaboration with former Pixies legend Charles Thompson (a.k.a Black Francis) about the tempestuous career of Dutch painter Herman Brood.

For Sixto Wagan, co-director of DiverseWorks, it made perfect sense to offer the troupe three residency periods starting in 2010. “Jason and I are both interested in the creation process over a longer period of time,” says Wagan. “We are all about developing work, not just presenting it, so having TCT in the building is a perfect fit, especially considering Bluefinger. We want our building to be busy with the creative process all the time.” Nodler has had a long relationship with DiverseWorks, where several IBP works premiered. “I remember when the then-performance curator  Loris Bradley called me,” says Nodler. “It was like Hollywood calling.” The continued liaison with DiverseWorks allows Nodler to focus on the work and worry less on the venue.

Much has shifted in both the cultural and economic climate since Nodler and Cooper first starting making theater in Houston. Nodler realizes that there is a catastrophe going on right now in the economy so he has implemented Pay-What-You-Can for the entire next season. “Make note, it’s not pay what you want,” quips Nodler. Cooper agrees that a good amount of growing up has gone on since they first started working together. “We are a little wiser, older and more experienced,” says Cooper. “I am still willing to follow him off the cliff.” Nodler, Cooper, and their devoted cadre of actors, musicians and designers remain determined to tell a story that does not get enough play on stages.  “I was 24 when I started, our concerns have changed, the world has changed,” Nodler says. “I want to do plays about life on earth; the strange condition of being a human animal.”

The Catastrophic Theater presents The Tamarie Cooper Show: Journey to the Center of my Brain (In 3D!), July 31-August 31, at Stages Repertory Theatre. Call the Stages box office at 713-527-8243  or visit www.thecatastrophictheatre.com

ART HOUSTON 2009 – A Whirlwind Review

20 Jul

 

Bonnie and Linda Lynch

By STACEY HOLZER

An annual event aimed at increasing gallery exposure in summertime, ArtHouston premiered July 11 with an additional missionthis year of supporting the reconstruction of the Galveston Arts Center.   While the figures are not yet in and there is still time to donate, Houston galleries have already collectively contributed more than $5,000 to this most worthy cause. 

Since Hurricane Ike in September 2008, the Galveston Arts Center has been actively involved in the most difficult task of rebuilding. Much progress has been made but additional support would not only be greatly appreciated, but would assist in the recovery of damaged or lost art, restoring the facility, and attracting patronage.   

I geared up my running shoes to attend the event and toured three major hubs of art activity on opening day, yet all of the galleries represented will have exhibitions on view through the month of July.  My first stop was Wade Wilson Art at 4411 Montrose, which gives Dick Wray center stage.   Wray’s colorful paintings reflect his desire to always see things different than the day before.   The gallery alternates his work well, mixing his black and white works that play on positive and negative with colorful abstractions full of movement. A celebratory mood was in the air as the artist turned 75 and recently married, coinciding with the opening of this show.     

Climbing the stairs revealed a magnificent surprise at Barbara Davis Gallery located in the same building. James Surls sculptures play with shadow and light inviting the viewer to interact with them.   A combination of expressive, emotive ink drawings, stainless steel sculptures, and wood,  metal constructions beautifully illustrate a passion for nature and an understanding of the three dimensional world.      The works in this show invite the viewer to interact on their own terms.  Spin me, climb inside me, and explore me to know me better, they say with a simple honesty that is exquisite.   This is a show not to be missed.    

My afternoon progressed with a drive to Colquitt Street to explore Gallery Row in the Upper Kirby district. The street was packed with people and there was a lot to see.   Some memorable works are introduced at John Cleary Gallery Fine Art Photography featuring the works of Josef Hoflehner.   Hoflehner is an award-winning nature photographer traveling the world capturing images one photograph at a time.   Minimal and varied almost always in black and white, see for yourself these images resonate.  

Sisters Bonnie and Linda Lynch team up for a show at Betty Moody Gallery entitled Form and Pigment: Two Views from an Arid Space.  Linda’s richly dark pastel drawings on paper are influenced by the works and writings of Robert Smithson.   Elegantly rendered, clear mark making, and full raw expression, they combine perfectly with Bonnie’s refined clay vessels which grace the floor with Linda’s drawings.   The show creates a dialogue between two and three dimensional space that is a joy for the viewer.   

Continuing on, my whirlwind tour of openings ended with galleries in the Heights.   Apama Mackey Gallery on 11th Street  is showing Leslee Fraser, In the Absence of Empathy, a sculptural installation, G Gallery a fantastic group show entitled Sea Shift, and Redbud with Leon and Molly Bee Collins.  

Rebud’s show is a first gallery opening for Leon and Molly Bee Collins, thanks to David Waller and Gus Kopriva for discovering their work in Navasota.   Naïve flat folk paintings depict stories of days gone by with a colorful aliveness that stays in your mind.  Leon says “Life is Art,” so he paints what he knows from his own experience.  Find out about more gallery shows in July and how you can support the Galveston Arts Center by calling Mariah Rockefeller at (713) 522-9116.    Read more in depth interviews about Houston Art and artists at www.visualseen.net

Photo: Detail by Bonnie and Linda Lynch

DISGRUNTLED DEVELOPMENT

20 Jul

roadside attraction by kevin curry

Three Artists at Anya Tish Gallery, Through Aug. 8

Anya Tish Gallery is presenting Disgruntled Developments, a three person show curated by Houston based artist and critic Garland Fielder – a regular contributor to Houston ArtsWeek – bringing together three emerging artists whose work explores the conspiring yet complex nature between urban dissatisfaction and current events.

The international dialogue between the richly layered multi-media works by Indian-American, New York based Baseera Khan, the homegrown graffiti and publicly sprawled works of Chicago based Jeff Mueller, and the locally sourced assemblages of abandoned Hurricane Ike signage by Houston artist Kevin Curry, produce an excitingly global and visual frenzy of fantastical and political sensibilities. Together they question the fundamental need for the personal versus the homogenized public, alongside a desire for Constructivist aesthetics over consumerist pathologies.

Baseera Khan’s delicate works on paper explore a cultural hybridization interpolated between experiences of growing up in a Dallas suburb along with embodying her inherently Muslim Indian heritage. Her works indulge several ambiguous landscapes that magnify themes of alienation and integration, appropriated from both her native and immigrant perspectives.

Jeff Mueller’s textual based works candidly reflect and interpret the uncensored scrawling found in the everyday American bathroom. Mueller re-interprets the complex messages as the true voice of America, an important personal proclamation which, through a sense of playful physicality, allows the viewer to engage the usually inaccessible.  The works act as a didactic filter straining the truth from the satire, and ultimately offer a rich engaging visual and cultural conversation.

Kevin Curry’s sculptural works explore complex themes of a multidisciplinary language and culture through the recycling of forgotten societal detritus discarded after Hurricane Ike hit Houston in September 2008.  Curry often works intuitively with his surrounding environment and since moving to Houston as an artist-in-residence at Lawndale Art Center, has continued to extend his topographical sensibilities between contemporary landscapes and traditional object and mark-making, as a means of chronicling our cultures looked-over history.  

Disgruntled Developments conspire through the complex merging of a personal utopia and a societal depression, to describe and identify a more relevant zeitgeist for today’s anxiety driven and kitsch fuelled culture. The works of Baseera Khan, Jeff Mueller and Kevin Curry all aim to create a contemporary codification which both challenges and chronicles the ever increasing monopoly of language and cultural information that dwindles and flows throughout our lives.   

Photo: Roadside Attraction by Kevin Curry

TOMORROW’S STARS TODAY

13 Jul

young liam bonner

By HOLLY BERETTO

There’s something wonderful that happens when you see a star being born right in front of your eyes. It’s much more than an “a ha!” moment; it’s a sense of pulse-racing excitement, a moment where you go “Wow!” and you just know that whomever you’re watching on stage will someday be someone that everyone will be talking about. 

Night after night, in show after show, in halls all over Houston’s Theater District, Houston audiences have that chance, thanks to the young artist development programs offered by some of the District’s heavy hitters. 

“I would simply not be where I am today without Theatre Under the Stars,” says Michelle De Jean emphatically. A graduate of TUTS’s Academy program, she’s currently touring the country as Roxie Hart in Chicago, having performed that role – and others – on Broadway. 

The Academy at the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre is TUTS’s by-audition-only training program, designed for young people with a talent for – and interest in – performing. Typically those receiving training are between the ages of 12 and 18, although some adults with theatrical experience have also auditioned and been accepted. 

“We’ve been able to place our Academy students in BFA programs at some of the to universities in the country, and many of them have gone onto professional careers in theater,”says Roy Hamlin, associate artistic director for Theatre Under the Stars. 

That sentiment is echoed by Shelly Power, associate director of the Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy. “We’ve had great success in placing our (Houston Ballet II) Academy dancers with either the main corps of dancers with Houston Ballet or with other companies in the U.S.,” she says. 

Like TUTS’s Academy at the Humphreys School, admission to the Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy’s Houston Ballet II, the top-level pre-professional development program offered by the Ballet, is through an audition process. Power routinely travels around the country to see dancers perform and offer spots to ten of them to train for two or three years here in Houston. Also like TUTS, the Ballet’s program is aimed at young performers; Power says the average age of a dancer in the Academy is around 17. 

Contrast that to the Houston Grand Opera Studio young artist development program, where many of the singers have already completed a Master’s degree or have done some time in other, smaller young artist programs. Laura Canning, director of the HGO Studio says HGO looks for singers “with a great voice combined with real communication.” Each of these programs focuses on technique training and affords participants the opportunity to perform in mainstage productions. 

“Our dancers learn key roles in the repertoire,” says Powers. “And that’s both roles they may be studying for productions we’re mounting or just roles that they’ll need to learn for later in their careers. For example, our Houston Ballet II students learn Snow and the Flowers for Nutcracker. Whether they perform that here or somewhere else later on, they need to know those roles.” 

Young singers within the HGO Studio routinely perform on the main stage and study roles from operatic repertoire. “It’s a completely custom-tailored environment,” says Laura Canning, director of the program. Singers are offered a slot in the Studio program through a national audition process that culminates every February in Houston with the Eleanor McCullom Competition for Young Singers, Concert of Arias. Ten finalists perform in the concert and are judged on their vocal performance, musicianship and dramatic ability. The winners receive cash prizes; any of the finalists may be offered admission to the Studio, where they will become immersed in Houston Grand Opera’s day-to-day routine.

 “Our singers find out what it means to go to work every day and be part of a great opera company.” 

That’s also the routine for dancers in Houston Ballet II who, says Power, spend their days in technique and repertoire classes as well as in rehearsals. In between, there are high school classes, which they are required to attend. Power says it’s a formula that’s worked well for the Ballet. 

“At least fifty percent of the company has come through the school in some form or fashion,” she estimates, pointing out that Lauren Anderson, one of the Ballet’s most beloved principal dancers, rose through the ranks of the Academy and Houston Ballet II. Now retired from professional dancing, Anderson does outreach for the Ballet. 

At TUTS’s Academy, participants take classes in acting, singing and dance, and can audition for roles on the main stage, offering them the chance to build their resumes. “We had 45 kids audition for roles in last season’s A Wonderful Life,” says Hamlin. TUTS cast ten of them. Last season, three Academy participants sang in TUTS’s production of Les Miserables

Stage time, say graduates of these programs, makes all the difference in the world. 

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“There’s no better training than to actually do it,” says Broadway’s De Jean, who estimates she performed in at least fifteen productions with TUTS. “One of the great things is the high caliber of artists that TUTS brings in. I made so many New York contacts, and when I moved there in 1992, I got work almost immediately and I’ve been working ever since.” 

“I was a part of the TUTS Academy for one season, and I played the MC in The World Goes ‘Round,” says Manuel Santos, now performing as Indio in the Broadway production of West Side Story. “I learned a lot about stage presence, which I’ve incorporated in each performance that I have.” 

“My time in the Studio has been immeasurably valuable to my furthering as an artist,” says Jamie Barton, who is completing her second year with the HGO Studio and recently made her Carnegie Hall debut and later this spring will sing Giovanna in HGO’s Rigoletto and is entertaining offers from opera companies on both sides of the Atlantic. “I can see and hear the change in my artistry from the time I entered into the Studio.” 

There’s something else Houston’s young artists receive when they enter these programs: an enthusiastic hometown audience, who root for their success and genuinely enjoy watching these young performers succeed. “Any of us TUTS alumni know we can always come home to TUTS,” says DeJean. “It’s a real family atmosphere.”

Canning heartily agrees. “Our Studio artists are so well-loved by the community,” she says. “And the community tells us they just love watching them grow from seeing them in something like Concert of Arias to major roles.”

Photos: (top) Liam Bonner of the HGO Studio, (within story) TUTS’ Michelle DeJean, now of Broadway.

TUTS’ 42nd STREET – A Review

13 Jul

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Who doesn’t want to hear “We’re In the Money” right about now? OK, so we’re not, but that’s no reason to skip out on such buff fluff as TUTS’ snazzy production of 42nd Street at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Judging from the endless mob occupying the hill above Miller, Houston is showing up. What’s not to like in listening to classic tunes under a rather pleasant-for-Houston summer night, and all for free. Optimism is seldom better packaged than in B’way musicals. 

Based on the 1933 Warner Bros film, 42nd Street is the quintessential backyard, let’s put in a show, chorus girl rises to stardom in 24 hours, musical. And if that’s not enough, there’s an unapologetically thin love story and a hefty dose of sensational tap numbers. Plus, Henry Warren’s memorable songs such as “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” and the bluesy show-stopper “42nd Street” are always worth revisiting. 

TUTS does a fine job with this production as director Norb Joerder plays it close to the legendary Gower Champion’s epic choreography and direction. (Tragically, Champion died hours before 42nd Street opened on Broadway in 1980.) The cast—terrific all—is headed up by Loretta Swit (“Hot Lips” in the TV series M*A*SH) as the reigning B’way diva Dorothy Brock. Swit, albeit not a natural songstress, still has a luminous presence. With her wide smile, still-svelte frame and throaty voice, she adds a shiny Hollywood touch.  

Shannon M. O’Bryan is 100% fresh air as Peggy Sawyer, the small town girl who gets the guy (two of them, to be precise) and the leading part when Brock breaks her ankle. Houston native and TUTS alum Austin Miller gives Billy Lawlor, the know it all boy about backstage, enough spunk to put on the show all by himself. Miller’s smooth tenor combined with his savvy chops on the boards, make him one to watch. (And watch you did. You might remember him as the kid that should have won on NBC’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want.) Miller and O’Bryan are especially mesmerizing in the smokin’ hot tap sequence in “42nd Street” number.

Steve Blanchard adds a suave polish to his portrayal as the tough and sexy director Julian Marsh, totally rocking the house in his rendition of the triple Oscar-winning song, “Lullaby of Broadway.” Denise Nolin conjured a young Ethel Merman in her performance as the gypsy veteran Maggie Jones. The ensemble delights in their ace tap skills and over-the-top glam. Sitting in Miller’s comfy new seats, whirling fans above cooling the night air, slurpee in hand, taking in a smash vintage show set during the Depression (you know, the other one)—what better way is there to forget the fact that we’re not in the money? – Nancy Wozny

Theatre Under The Stars presents 42nd Street through July 14th at Miller Outdoor Theatre. www.tuts.org.