Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Theatre Review: Doug Vincent’s A Day for Grace

To call playwright Doug Vincent’s show A Day for Grace harrowing is an understatement. Exploring the events of a hardscrabble Virginia childhood that culminated in his alcoholic father’s suicide, along with those events’ many ramifications, Vincent plays himself as well as a Greek chorus of family members whose take on events don’t always sync with his own: those multiple perspectives shed considerable light on the kind of baggage he brought into the delivery room the day his daughter Grace was born. We know beforehand that despite what could have been an equally harrowing scene at her birth, Grace survived, but even that knowledge doesn’t spare the audience from an emotional roller coaster ride. After a sold-out run at New York’s Stage Left Studio, Vincent is returning it to his native Colorado at a venue still to be determined.

Vincent is a gifted and extremely entertaining storyteller. Early on, his depiction of his childhood emulation of the future Hall of Fame catcher from the Cincinnati Reds is delivered suspensefully, with a deft touch not unlike a baseball broadcaster recounting events as they happen in real time. But even more than he wants to be like Johnny Bench, the young Vincent wants to be like his dad. With one problem: dad’s “medicine” for a persistent physical ailment comes in a can labeled Pabst Blue Ribbon. When grandma comes over with her 40-ounce Colt .45, dad requires even stronger medicine, in the form of Canadian Mist. Vincent’s description of family interaction at moments like these is surprisingly elegant, without the least bit of the kind of mawkishness that typifies so many autobiographical works. Much as this must have been problematic, to say the least, Vincent never lapses into cliche, nor does he play the blame game. Instead, gallows humor is what pulls him through, something he no doubt picked up from his doomed father.

As the show’s segments shift, Sam Llanas – former frontman of popular Wisconsin roots rockers the BoDeans – does his part as Greek chorus with his acoustic guitar and warm baritone voice, singing excerpts from songs including the BoDeans’ brooding classic Far, Far Away from My Heart as well as several numbers from his 1998 cult classic cd A Good Day to Die, by the short-live side project Absinthe [#629 on the 1000 Best Albums of All Time list here – ed.]. Written to memorialize the teenage suicide of his older brother, the pieces from that song cycle used here have had their lyrics tweaked to fit the new context, and add considerable depth and gravitas to the overall ambience.

While Vincent’s father’s suicide is described in graphic detail, it’s the emotional impact that resonates more shockingly. Certain sounds and behaviors become Post Traumatic Stress Disorder triggers for Vincent, culminating with his wife’s struggles as his unborn daughter’s life hangs in the balance. At this past Saturday’s show, as the suspense reached breaking point, Vincent was literally moved to tears recalling how events unfolded: several audience members were overcome by emotion as well. Sometimes the drama of real life surpasses anything contrived for the stage.

One tantalizing aspect of the show, one which sadly won’t be missed by anyone who doesn’t know Sam Llanas’ more obscure catalog, is that his songs sometimes get cut short. Like Vincent, Llanas is also a first-rate storyteller, and there were points where songs like the haunting, down-and-out saga It Don’t Bother Me and the majestically angst-driven, Orbisonesque anthem Messed Up Likes of Us were about to reach their denouement…and then they were over. On one hand, Vincent deserves considerable credit for making such an apt pairing of music and monologue: on the other, those familiar with the Absinthe record will be left longing for more. During the New York run, Llanas played a series of intimate club dates; perhaps the same could be done the next time the show is staged. Otherwise, it couldn’t hurt to extend the work by, say, fifteen minutes, to let Llanas’ grim sagas sink in as impactfully as Vincent’s narrative.

September 17, 2012 Posted by | drama, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Gil Morgenstern’s Reflections Series at the Rubin Museum of Art, NYC 1/24/10

Violinist Gil Morgenstern‘s imaginative multimedia Reflections Series is one of the most original and interesting cultural events bubbling around the surface of the radar here in New York. Beginning at the Rubin Museum of Art a couple of years ago – with this season’s series continuing there through April 25 – Morgenstern’s vision was to create programs that semi-thematically blend chamber music with theatre, visual art and/or literature. Since the Rubin Museum is currently hosting the first-ever public exhibit of Carl Jung’s legendary Red Book, it only made sense to put together a bill that linked to Jung, even if tangentially through the work of Sylvia Plath – who as it turns out was a rather enthusiastic advocate of the archetypal archetypist.

As memorably as Morgenstern and pianist Donald Berman played their dream-themed mix of Schubert, Sibelius, Cage and Enesco, it was Elizabeth Marvel who held the crowd rapt with a powerful, vivid and strikingly nuanced evocation of Plath. Reading from a diverse selection of prose, sometimes solo, sometimes over the music, Marvel’s portrayal gave the doomed writer an energy that bordered on manic-depressive, a brightness and unselfconscious joie de vivre that made her darker moments and the foreshadowing thereof all the more ominous. From rapt, early morning connect-the-dots dream interpretation, to divaesque yet genuine alienation brought on by the nightmare to end all nightmares, to a delectably deadpan reading of a Plath story about a woman jousting with her husband’s overactive imagination and its brutally ironic consequences, Marvel was…well, you guess the word. She’s no stranger to theatre devotees – she’s won Obies and done everything from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams to tv, so it’s hardly a stretch to imagine how easily she could springboard this role into a one-woman show. It would bring down the house.

The musicians were no less inspired in what was essentially a dusk-to-dawn sequence. Both Morgenstern and Berman are best known as advocates of new music, yet they sank their teeth just as avidly into the pre-Romantic material on the bill. Morgenstern’s incisive staccato right before the coda of Schubert’s Fantasie Suite beautifully reprised the understated portent of Berman’s chords opening the first movement, and his subtle vibrato added glimmer and warmth to the composer’s nocturne Night and Dreams. Georges Enesco’s Impressions of Childhood got an appropriately varied treatment: an uneasy country dance; a nervous lullaby; the brooding beauty of Wind in the Chimney, and a couple of pastoral miniatures. The most nightmarish moment was John Cage’s Dream, Berman’s piano casually colliding with Morgenstern’s effectively acidic textures.

Fortuitously, the Reflections Series has expanded across the United States and beyond, with performances from Florida to Italy – the next one here is April 25 featuring music of Poulenc with readings from Dante’s Inferno. And the Red Book continues to be on display at the Rubin Museum through February 15. The other current exhibits are also worth a look, notably the Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan religious and mystical paintings, mandalas, sculptures and miniatures. Free day is Friday starting at 7 PM.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment