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MUSIC: Measure for Measure

This article shared 4195 times since Wed Mar 29, 2006
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Say 'viol da gamba' and most musical cognoscenti will think of cod pieces, doublets, farthingales and music of the European Renaissance. Very few, if any, will think of Japan. Yet the Chrysanthemum Empire has a long history of stringed musical instruments, and quickly took to the European viol when it was introduced by Portuguese sailors in the mid-1500s. The first report of a viol da gamba actually made in Japan dates from 1603.

It's precisely this long and rich fusion of Eastern and Western traditions that's celebrated by the Yukimi Kambe Viol Consort from Yokohama, Japan, who perform in Milwaukee at 5 p.m. April 8 to close the 19th season of Early Music Now. The program, 'European Roots and International Flowerings,' traces the influences of early European composers on the development of music in Japan with works ranging from 7th-century Japanese court music to works of Bach, Banchieri, Conceiçäo, Purcell and other Europeans, plus music by Japanese composers Ryouhei Hirose and Yoko Sato. After the revival of the viol in the 20th century, Japanese composers wrote some of the best contemporary music for viols. The Yukimi Kambe Viol Consort performs on a set of four matched viols built especially for them by Kazuya Sato.

The concert is at Wisconsin Lutheran College, 8815 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee. Tickets, $25 each, can be purchased from Early Music Now by calling ( 414 ) 225-3113 ( Milwaukee area ) or ( 877 ) 546-8742 ( outside Milwaukee ) , as well as at . The concert will be preceded at 4:30 by remarks from Consort director Yukimi Kambe.

The Lakeside Pride Symphonic Band once again will prove that it knows a marimba from a mouth organ, a clarinet from a licorice stick and a slider from a slide trombone as it offers a spring concert April 8 at 8 p.m., entitled Cruisin'—Adventures on the High Seas. The program of music on nautical themes will feature selections from HMS Pinafore by Gilbert & Sullivan, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Disney animated film The Little Mermaid. The concert by Chicago's 80-piece gay and lesbian symphonic band will be presented in the theater of Northside College Preparatory School, 5501 N. Kedzie. Tickets are $12 at the door, $10 in advance; .

A new Web site devoted to classical music has been launched by The Arts & Business Council of Chicago as a collaboration between eight of the Chicago area's finest serious music organizations. The internet Web site,, provides the first online community for classical music enthusiasts in the Chicago metropolitan area. The eight founding groups are: Chicago Chamber Musicians, Chicago Opera Theater, Chicago Sinfonietta, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Grant Park Music Festival, Music of the Baroque and the Ravinia Festival. Development of was made possible with funding from The Boeing Company. explores what's going on behind the scenes at Chicago-area orchestras and chamber music groups and provides tools for visitors to learn more about classical music, publish their own reviews, swap concert tickets and discuss music with other listeners. Executive staff members of some of the region's most prominent classical music organizations contribute to a daily blog on music and the arts and discuss and debate issues with readers. The site's principal features inclue an interactive blog; forum; articles and reviews; chat room; calendar; and links to many other classical music organizations and Web sites.

The Museum of Contemporary Art offers high art as cabaret this weekend ( March 30-April 1 ) with a seldom-seen/heard performance of Arnold Schoenberg's 1912 song cycle, Pierrot Lunaire ( loosely translated as Moonstruck Pierrot or, better, Loony Pierrot ) , performed by the eighth blackbird ensemble, virtuoso soprano Lucy Shelton and puppeteer Blair Thomas & Company. Contemporary works by Jennifer Higdon and Jacob Druckman ( a marimba solo ) also will be performed by eighth blackbird. Call ( 312 ) 397-4010; $22 ( a good deal ) .

Other upcoming performance highlights: Symphonic Hollywood, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays music from Lord of the Rings, Wuthering Heights, Spiderman, Forrest Gump and other flicks beneath projected film clips, March 31, 8 p.m. at Symphony Center; Music of the Baroque celebrates the women who influenced Mozart's life and work ( chiefly his mother, wife and sister-in-law, the latter two both singers ) , with estimable Jane Glover conducting, April 3, Harris Theater; Cesaria Evora, the earthy and profound Cape Verde Islands vocalist of Creole-Portuguese popular music, in concert Tuesday, April 4 at Symphony Center; and the Vermeer Quartet in music of Beethoven, Benjamin Britten and Schumann, April 10 at the Harris Theater.

Oh Holy Allen Ginsberg ...

Playwright: Nicholas A. Patricca

At: Bailiwick Repertory

Phone: ( 773 ) 883-1090; $25

Runs through: April 30


'Life is so interesting. It must be the handiwork of a mad poet,' remarks the English lit professor suddenly confronted with all his dreams come true. His assessment is accurate. Who would ever have expected a play with such an ecstatic title to be so intellectually satisfying? Must be the work of a mad playwright, huh?

But it is not Allen Ginsberg's Dionysic celebration of Bodies Electric that permeates Nicholas Patricca's brainy romantic comedy—no, that's not an oxymoron—so much as it is the delicate tension found in the verse of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Victorian homosexual Jesuit priest poet. Unsurprisingly, our play is populated with literary enthusiasts—the aforementioned academic, a sybaritic performance poet, a dying dramatist and, most significantly, a gay HIV-positive priest torn between duty to his church and the very human affection he pours into his own poems. With the assistance of a peppery housekeeper, a pragmatic monsignor and a disillusioned doctor, however, love conquers all—WITHOUT compromising its theological dimensions—to bring everyone to a happy resolution.

Premiering in 1993, Patricca's text has been updated to include cell phones, e-mail, crystal meth and—inevitably—the ongoing scandal surrounding pedophilia among the clergy ( though the Melrose café and St. Sebastian's parish still provide the setting for much of the play's action ) . Under David Zak's expert direction, a likewise intuitive cast led by Danne W. Taylor as the ambivalent Father Gerry Gallagher navigate Patricca's scholarly discussions—among them, the 'vow of friendship' sworn by 11th-century monks and the distinction between celibacy and chastity—with sensitive insight while never sacrificing the humor inherent in their contradictions.

The play, scheduled to appear at the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival later in the spring, is not yet entirely finished. The identity of the characters and their relationships to one another need to be established sooner, and potentially-confusing references to extraneous personnel reduced. At the preview production I attended, however, the foundation for an answer to the conflicts of love viewed as a problem versus love embraced as a joy was already in evidence.

The Devil's Disciple

Playwright: George Bernard Shaw

At: ShawChicago at the Ruth Page Center For The Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn

Phone: ( 312 ) 409-5605; $10-$30

Runs through: April 15


Over a century after the American Revolution, its events provided George Bernard Shaw an irresistible opportunity to lampoon both upstart Yankees AND his fellow Englishmen. The first is done by recounting how circumstances spur an avowed pacifist to turn fire-breathing, gun-toting rebel insurrectionist, while a self-proclaimed outlaw suddenly discovers in himself the stuff of heroic sacrifice. The second is accomplished by attributing the occupying army's defeat to a bureaucratic bungle.

The plot employs the familiar mistaken-identity trick: The amoral Dick Dudgeon's rejection of his rock-ribbed family's values has earned him the sobriquet of 'the devil's disciple.' But when British soldiers surprise him at tea with the minister's wife, he allows himself to be arrested in her husband's stead, though it means he will certainly be hanged as an example to the unruly colonists. Upon learning of this noble deed, the Reverend Anderson promptly sets forth to rescue him from the gallows with the aid of guerrilla troops. The deus ex machina that saves them both, however, is a drone in the London war office whose vacation delays the order for reinforcements, forcing the outnumbered redcoats' surrender.

ShawChicago, renowned for its chamber readings, embarks on its first full production, with actors previously confined to a row of chairs now free to move about. And move they do! If the Red Grooms-styled scenic design ( credited to the perhaps-pseudonymous 'Ambrose Chaple' ) or the dialogue-punctuating incidental music--yep, EXACTLY like a melodrama, or a parody of one--selected by Scotty Iseri doesn't alert our expectations, Martin Yurek's swaggering entrance as the Pirates Of The Caribbean-sized Dudgeon affirms the scale for this rendition of Shaw's insightful witticisms recited by personalities portrayed in Mel Brooks proportions. ( For example, why do the arresting officers, led by Dana Wall's scene-stealing sergeant, not suspect an impostor upon noting that their puritan clergyman sports a gaudy earring? )

The looney-tunes pace and substantial edits mandated by director Robert Scogin bring the show home in just over 90 minutes while never breaking stride or succumbing to shrill excess. And since, as General Burgoyne philosophically observes, 'History will tell lies, as usual,' all we need to do is enjoy the fun.

A Flea in

Her Ear

Playwright: Georges Feydeau

At: Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Phone: ( 312 ) 595-5600; $48-$65

Runs through: April 23 ( Shakespeare's b-day )

By Jonathan Abarbanel

Straight from his Broadway triumph as director of The Color Purple, Gary Griffin returns to his Chicago home base to tackle an early 20th-century French boulevard farce by Georges Feydeau, the greatest master of the genre, who wrote hit plays for, and about, the complaisant Parisian upper middle class. Invariably, a proper married couple say and do flirtatious and risqué things but never actually have sex with anyone, as a madcap door-slammer romps and twists to a happy conclusion that preserves the illusion of the sanctity of marriage.

The secret of such farce is twofold: first, the playwright, director and actors must take time to establish the characters and not be too silly too soon; second, the actors must never let on that they know they are funny. The humor is in seeing proper and probable people forced to extricate themselves from improbable circumstances.

Griffin and his troupe hit the nail on the head. Characterization, timing, comic business and device all are as they should be. What's more, the show looks great—appropriately opulent and substantial—in Daniel Ostling's towering three-story set ( in Act II ) that takes advantage of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's ( CST's ) underused proscenium capabilities.

In the pivotal central role of Victor Chandebise, the insurance executive whose wife thinks he's cheating, Griffin's unexpected but felicitous choice is Rick Hall, an actor known for sketch comedy, improv and sitcoms. Eschewing any need to overplay, ham or go for the easy laugh, Hall establishes his solid-as-a-rock character with dignity and affability. As his scheming wife, Raymonde, Linda Hart provides the right blend of Lucille Ball and Lauren Bacall.

The supporting company of cronies and eccentrics are limned with aplomb by a dozen Chicago Shakespeare veterans—among them Kevin Gudahl, Timothy Edward Kane, Ora Jones, Bradley Mott, William Dick and Michelle Graff—and a few newcomers, most notably Broadway leading man Anthony Crivello, who is dry-as-a-bone funny as a passionately jealous Spanish grandee. Chicagoan Rick Boynton, preoccupied these days behind the scenes, makes a rare onstage appearance as the ascetic-looking but not-quite-virginal Chandebise nephew with a 'slight' speech impediment.

I have some quibbles, but they don't spoil the show: the platform shoes worn by several characters in Act II are out of place and period, and Boynton is too intelligible as the young man who can't pronounce any consonants. The audience will get it even with less intelligibility.

The world premiere translation by David Ives is fresh, lively and true to details of the French original, which would have pleased Feydeau, a stickler for detail. Ives' work is funny, too, in equal measure to Feydeau's template. As always at CST, all elements of costume, wigs and whiskers are impeccably crafted and Belle Époque period perfect.

The Glass Menagerie

Playwright: Tennessee Williams

At: Court Theatre, 5525 S. Ellis


( 773 ) 753-4472, $10-$50

Runs through April 9


Never mind the soft-focus moonlight and magnolias. The world of Court Theatre's The Glass Menagerie is a jagged place of stark, sharp angles.

Traditionally, Tennessee Williams's 'memory play' is steeped in the shadows of southern gentility and lit like a silver slipper of a moon. As conceived by Court Artistic Director Charles Newell, it's something else again. The memories of Williams's autobiographical stand in Tom Wingfield are leached of all misty watercolor romance.

Instead of washing over the audience in gentle waves, sorrow comes in fierce, piercing bolts. It's a powerful, jarring and potentially alienating take on the tale of the Wingfield family, and one that's got Newell written all over it. That's not a bad thing: The director has a gift for radically re-imagining well-worn classics. I'm still reeling ( in a good way ) from his breathtaking vision of Man of La Mancha.

Those who prefer their Tennessee soaked in the gentle sweetness of mint juleps best skip this production. Never mind the juleps—this Menagerie scorches like moonshine to the gut.

At its broken heart, The Glass Menagerie tells a simple story. Tom Wingfield ( Jay Whittaker ) is haunted by his sister Laura ( Chaon Cross ) , a physically and emotionally crippled young women he abandoned in a flight of desperate self-preservation. The escape was from Amanda Wingfield ( Mary Beth Fisher ) , a succubus of a woman who, like the stench of decaying jonquils, suffocates all within her reach.

Unable to face her ugly, impoverished present in the decaying home her husband fled years earlier, Amanda lives for a distant ( perhaps imagined ) past filled with wealthy gentleman callers, lace gloves and swirling flirtations.

Laura also lives in lives in her own world, one of fragile glass animals. Like a unicorn that would perish if taken from an enchanted wood, Laura will be forced out into a world of capricious, killing cruelty.

Tom's memories tell the story, and set the stage. Strikingly, Tom recalls the Wingfield home as a cage of eye-hurting yellow that vividly accentuates the pain of his haunted thoughts. Credit John Culbert's bold set design for manifesting Tom's painful remembrances.

If the set is bold, the acting is overbold—the one place that Newell's direction falters a bit. Jay Whittaker is a panther of an actor, both charismatic and menacing, but as Tom, he delves over deep into histrionics. A little more subtlety, a little less my-head-is-about-to-explode frenzy would serve him well. The same goes for Fisher, who is sometimes so manic that humor inappropriately replaces pathos. With Cross, we get a Laura of ethereal beauty that will never be able to cope with the world around her.

Yet despite its flaws, Glass shatters the heart.

Voyeurs de Venus

Playwright: Lydia R. Diamond

At: Chicago Dramatists,

1105 W. Chicago Ave.

Phone: ( 312 ) 633-0630; $20-$25

Runs through: April 5


What's a brilliant young female social anthropologist to do? Dr. Sara Washington has no problems with recounting the history of Miss Saartjie

Baartman, the South African woman brought to London in 1910 for exhibit as a novelty in a carnival sideshow. After all, research restricted to a community of fellow academics is above accusations of prurient interest—right? But when a commercial publishing house offers her a lucrative contract to tailor her findings for a popular market, the tensions engendered thereby begin to display an eerie similarity to those arising between the so-called 'hottentot venus' and 19th-century European culture—specifically, the alleged Men Of Science who preach lofty principles while projecting their sexual fantasies onto the exotic 'specimen.'

How far will Sara go to render her topic attractive to a public immersed in the prejudices of their own lives and times? How much loyalty is owed Saartjie, helpless in life and even more so in death? And is the biographer's natural propensity toward identification with the personality commanding such attention, what, ironically, renders Sara unfit for her chosen project?

This is a timely question, coming as it does on the heels of Lonnie Carter's recently produced biodrama of Philiss Wheatley, which portrayed the 18th-century African-American poet as a rapper-video Hot Mama. In an effort to determine the point at which explication becomes exploitation, and the extent of the scholar's responsibility in distinguishing between the two, playwright Lydia R. Diamond doggedly explores the boundaries where facts give way to speculation and to outright fiction, wording her discussions in long Socratic sentences dense with intelligent inquiry.

These are deftly interpreted by a heavy-lifting cast, featuring Tania Richard as the ambivalent Sara, under Russ Tutterow's likewise muscular direction. And if Sara's self-doubts sometimes tax our patience as much as they do her colleagues', and if we are occasionally nagged by suspicions regarding the ubiquity of music-and-dance 'dream' sequences, however well-crafted and staged, in plays of this genre, then Voyeurs de Venus has fulfilled its purpose of forcing us to look in the mirror, there to confront the origins of our own assumptions.

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