Spy Minute: For the Love of Pippin with WC’s Ernie Green

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For anyone who fondly remembers the Broadway musical Pippin as they were growing up in the 1970s, it is tough to imagine a bad version of that classic. Filled with memorable songs, a relatively simple plot, and lyrics that seemed universal, Pippin was, and is, the kind of theater production that any would succeed anywhere if given the opportunity.

And one such opportunity comes to Chestertown fast and furious this week. As a project of the music department at Washington College, a very limited production of the such will be performed next Thursday and Friday in the Gibson Center for the Arts on campus.

This bit of news made the Spy curious about a few things about this “pop up” production and we tracked down the director and Washington College faculty member Ernie Green about this short-lived student effort.

While Ernie, a Peabody-trained conductor, lecturer in music, and director of Live Arts Maryland, is comfortable in the academic canon of classical music and other diverse, and sometimes very challenging, forms of music, he admits in the Spy interview of his lifelong love for Pippin. The project also connects him back to a former career when he often was a frequent collaborator with the late Marvin Hamlisch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, and Broadway talent.

As his cast of students prepares for their free performance on Thursday and Friday night at the Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts we talked to Ernie about the role of student productions, the magic of musical theater, and the endearing and enduring impression it can make on all ages.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Pippin please go here

 

Art Review: Joanne S. Scott at RiverArts by Mary McCoy

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Visiting Joanne Scott’s show, Elements, at RiverArts is almost like visiting her studio. On view through February 25, it’s a chance to see what this accomplished Chestertown artist is working on currently, but you also get a fascinating taste of her work over the past five decades.

Half the show presents recent work, intriguingly mixed with an equal number of works dating back as far as 1965. It’s a teasing glimpse, kind of a half retrospective, of Scott’s fresh and engaging work, and it makes you wish you could see more.

Deeply influenced by her many years of living near the water, both in the Chesapeake region and on Maine’s Monhegan Island, Scott is primarily a landscape painter. She explores both open vistas and intimate views of the living world, always experimenting with color, composition and ways of capturing the mood of each moment. Throughout her work, there’s a sense of awe at the beauty and pure aliveness of the natural world.

“Orme’s Buy Boat,” watercolor 1972

The broad marsh flooded with light in “River Marsh,” an acrylic painting from 2017, hums with vitality as the billowing, heat-hazed trees beyond lean inward as if in conversation with two luminous white clouds. In her close-up paintings of flowers, such as “Eight Poppies” from 1985, each blossom is an individual, full of energy and character. The effect is even more so in her three new poppy watercolors painted in 2017 where each flower is animated with sketchy pencil lines and crisp washes in delicate shades of pink casually but succinctly defining their papery petals.

In work that is all about close observation, Scott explores how shadow sculpts the deck of a buy boat, how leaves spread out to catch sunlight, and how the weightlessness of a luminous moon underscores the quietude of the nocturnal earth below. Her work has always hovered between realism and abstraction. Sheets of ice around a boat dissolve into washy fields of textured color, while the clouds towering over a flat Eastern Shore landscape become a study of color and radiant energy.

Part of the pleasure of Scott’s work is that she celebrates the things we love so much about the outdoors. There’s a warm, familiar feeling about her water-rounded pebbles, graceful boats and rippling water. Without pretension or romanticizing, she paints them in a clear, forthright way.

But while her work may seem effortless, there’s a great deal of skill and planning behind it, and it’s fun to scout out her methods in the underlying sketches and the layers of brushstrokes describing shimmering light and water. Through decades as a working artist and teacher of drawing and painting, Scott has honed her process, and there’s a sense throughout this show that she revels in finding both bold and nuanced ways to convey her experience of each scene. Perhaps that’s why she included “Belfast Series #3 Study and Print” from 1986. It offers a fascinating look at how the study, a confident pencil sketch of light and shadow falling across a gabled house, served as a planning tool for the print, an inviting aquatint etching.

“Heron Point Look Out,” a watercolor from 2011, says a lot about her skill in conveying her deep affection for our watery landscapes. In this snow scene, she captured a grove of slim trees glimpsed in a slow, graceful dance as if mimicking the marshy creek below as it winds out to the river. Masterfully simplifying her forms, a few strokes of gray wash convey a distant riverside house and the merest suggestion of Chestertown bridge beyond.

“Heron Point Look Out,” watercolor, 2011

There’s something about the work of an elder artist that is spare and radiant—look at de Kooning’s late paintings or Matisse’s cut-outs. Scott, too, has found this uncomplicated simplicity, and it’s a pleasure to share in her appreciation as she reveals our familiar world in pencil and paint.

Mary McCoy is an artist and writer who has the good fortune to live beside an old steamboat wharf on the Chester River. She is a former art critic for the Washington Post and several art publications. She enjoys kayaking the river and walking her family farm where she collects ideas and materials for the environmental art she creates, often in collaboration with her husband Howard. They have exhibited their work in the U.S., Ireland, Wales and New Zealand.

 

The Little Prince Set for the Garfield this Weekend by Lanny Parks

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In 1943, Antoine de Saint Exupery published his novella entitled The Little Prince. It’s length – or lack thereof – and the age of its central character pushed it into the realm of ‘children’s literature’, although the subject matter is certainly more serious than was usually considered age-appropriate for children. Loneliness, love, loss, despair, and death are wrapped in a fable about a downed pilot and a mysterious little boy in the middle of the Sahara desert. It has become one of the most translated books in publishing history, and has been adapted for stage, screen, ballet, opera, television, radio, and recordings. On Friday it opens at The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theater in Chestertown for two weekends only.

This timeless fable is played out in front of a stage set that is every bit as original as the story itself. Bryan Betley, the newly named Theater Manager of the Garfield, has created a stunning backdrop for his mostly youthful cast, emphasizing the story’s narrative that living in reality pales in comparison to life in the world of the imagination.

The cast features Paul Camberdella, no stranger to the Garfield stage, as the pilot, and Alden Swanson, a novice, as the title character. They are each more than capable of carrying their roles; it is Camberdella’s strongest performance to date, and young Miss Swanson shows a real affinity for the stage. Backed up by a cast that includes seven veterans of the summer Playmakers camp, some familiar more adult actors, as well as a few newcomers, the play makes the book come alive as the author intended.

Despite much directorial imploring and harping during rehearsals, young performers sometimes have difficulty remembering to project their voices and slow their speeches, so be advised that your seat should reflect your ability to hear. However, you should certainly put yourself in the audience for The Little Prince.

Performances are February 16-18 and 23-25. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 senior and military, and $10 for students of all ages. To purchase tickets please visit www.garfieldcenter.org or call the box office at 410-810-2060. The Garfield Center for the Arts is located at 210 High Street in Chestertown.

Mid-Shore Arts: Heather Harvey and her Trash

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There are very few better examples of the remarkable art community axis that exists on the Mid-Shore between Easton and Chestertown than visual artist Heather Harvey. By day, Heather commutes to Kent County from her home on Hanson Street to assume the role of the Chair of Washington College’s Department of Art and Art History. But other times,  she can be found at the Davis Art Center in Easton working on projects in her massive second-floor studio with everyday materials to make the familiar strange and renewed.

Academically trained as an archaeologist, Heather came to realize that her greatest passion centered more around the philosophical questions that emerged as a result of an archaeology dig, or the “poetry,” as she puts it, that was found. And that search for poetry was found  with old materials, even trash found around Easton, that have spanned different moments in time and human memory.

The Spy sat down with Heather a few months ago to talk her most recent work which was inspired by her recently being awarded the highly prestigious Maryland State Arts Council individual artist award in 2017.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Heather Harvey’s work please go here

 

Tess Hogans Named as Executive Director of the Garfield Center of the Arts

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The Garfield Center for the Arts Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the selection of Tess Hogans as the Garfield Center’s new Executive Director. Tess has done a fantastic job as Theatre Manager since she joined the Garfield in 2014 and is ready to take on the challenge of the Executive Director position.

“As the Garfield Center for the Arts enters its second decade, the Board is thrilled to have Tess as its Executive Director.  Her enthusiastic leadership assures us that the next decade will be filled with exciting events for everyone.” – Judy Kohl, Vice President, Garfield Center for the Arts Board of Directors

Tess Hogans with daughters, Marian and Ronan.

The board voted unanimously to offer the position to Tess during their regular meeting at the end of 2017.

A life-long resident of Kent County, Tess attended Kent School and graduated from Gunston Day School. Tess went on to major in Theatre and Dance Studies at Wheaton College and was the recipient of the college’s 2010 award for Excellence in Acting. Tess returned to Chestertown and began teaching drama part time for grades 6-12 at The Maven Academy in Annapolis as well as running an after school acting workshop at the Garfield.

Along with her Executive Director responsibilities Tess will continue to spearhead the Garfield’s highly regarded Playmakers’ Summer Theatre Camp. She oversaw the Playmakers’ productions of The Hobbit, Peter Pan & Wendy, Charlotte’s Web, The Princess Bride and is looking forward to working on this summer’s production of Alice in Wonderland.

Tess is also an active volunteer director for the Garfield’s theatrical productions. Her past efforts include Mister Roberts, My Fair Lady, A Christmas Carol, and Inherit the Wind. She especially enjoys working with community members who are new or returning to the stage and would like to encourage anyone with an interest to make a New Year’s resolution to audition for one of the Garfield’s 2018 theatrical productions. When she is not working at the theatre you can find Tess in the wizarding world where she has served on the Chestertown Harry Potter Festival Board since its inception in 2014 and is the current President of the festival board.

Tess lives in Chestertown with her husband Matthew and their two daughters, Marian and Ronan. Her parents, Jonathan and Beverly also live in the area as does her brother Ben Jones and sister Marva Jones.

If you haven’t had a chance to meet Tess, please stop by the theatre during the week and introduce yourself. She has already begun her work as the new Executive Director and invites the community to stop in and see what’s happening next at the Garfield.

“My main goal is to make this a space that everyone in the community feels like they have ownership of – like it is a part of their home. I am really hoping that we can do more partnerships with the community and community organizations. We are in the middle of the Arts & Entertainment district and we want to be a hub for creativity!”

“I really want this to be a home for artists – whether you are an aspiring actor or a painter or a director or a playwright – we have opportunities for you! I want to get the word out that if you have something you want to try –this is the space to try it!”

Tess is pleased to announce that Bryan Betley will be stepping up to take on the role of Theatre Manager. Bryan has been a member of the Garfield staff first as an intern starting in 2013 and was soon promoted to Production Assistant in January 2015.

Bryan Betley

Bryan has assisted Tess in the Playmakers’ Summer Program and looks forward to taking on more responsibility with the youth camp and production. A talented actor in his own right, Bryan delighted audience members with his portrayal of Freddie in My Fair Lady and showed off his range and comedic timing playing three different characters in Sylvia. He has directed several 10-minute plays in Short Attention Span Theatre the Garfield’s signature 10-minute play festival. Don’t miss Bryan’s production of The Little Prince a performance-art piece based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exuperey. The Little Prince opens February 16 and kicks off our theatrical productions for 2018.

After having been homeschooled, Bryan went on to receive his GED and diploma at age 16, and shortly after began classes at Chesapeake College. Bryan currently studies photography and fine arts privately through several online programs including acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz’s master class. Bryan currently resides in Chestertown but spent much of his upbringing in Kent County with his family on Colchester Farm in Galena, and prior to that, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Delmarva Review: Hospital Visit Number 19 by Kristina Morgan

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The doctor will try to shake loose my shadow and fail. My schizophrenia is in full bloom. I seek sleep in the hospital gown and am left with wrinkled cotton creating patterns on my back. The hospital gown is not flattering and catches breeze from the movement of other people. I stand still as a hinge. I am told the elephants have moved. The teeth of the comb have been cleaned. It is another calendar year and I am again in the same place protecting my heart from the suddenness of a light snowfall. The snowfall will wait as it is summer in Phoenix. The hospital is the same as I remember; a series of doors the same color marching down a long hall.

When my hands are locked at the knuckles I cannot plant alfalfa. I am told alfalfa is good for arthritis. I need to let my grandmother know this. Her knuckles are tinged by muscle ache. I can’t tuck the charm bracelet she gave me into velvet. Instead, the elephants with their ruby eyes get tossed beside the comb on the tiny nightstand. Strands of hair now wrap around the teeth of the comb.

It is cold in my skin. In two hours my shadow will appear obvious. It will reach the knob of the door before I do. The door does not lock. The psych techs need to be able to enter on a whim. They are in place to protect me from myself. I didn’t realize I was in danger until it was almost too late. I thought back to yesterday. The bottles of Tylenol and Ativan lined up on the counter begged for my attention. Had my grandmother not walked in, I would have swallowed mouthfuls and then laid down to leave. I have no idea who is on the other side to greet me, if anyone.

I am at the end of the long hall in front of the nurse’s station, in front of the desk where the psych techs spend most of their time. The telephone is on the wall across from them. They can hear whole conversations. No words leave my mouth. How will they know my heart has stopped since noon? I protect it the way a child does her first hat.

There is not enough room in the hall for the tall man to shout, but he tries. It does not get him the cup of cocoa he craves.

I do not enter the rec room on my left. The voices I hear are louder in there. They compete with the television which is only still from midnight to five a.m. The nurse says she sees me talking to myself. She is wrong. I respond to the voices in a friendly way so as not to irritate them into calling me names. Slut. Cunt. Beanstalk. Irritant. Fucker upper. Slut is my favorite one as I am rarely sexual. I remind them of this. They don’t care.

I miss you. I have been days tucked away. The days slope near weeks like a long slide on the playground. How does it happen that you are always who you are? At least to people like me who have not seen you naked. Lights out. Bare skin. Toe nails. I see you in your favorite boots—black, cowboy, loose soles. I don’t wish to see you naked. You are too strong for me to do so.

You always wear a pressed black shirt with enough girth to disguise the belly you say you have. Black pants, smooth pockets. Empty? No. I think not. Maybe an odd tissue waiting for you to sneeze. And a peppermint. My grandmother carried peppermints in her pockets. The Tibetan prayer beads you wear hint at color. In the right light they are blue. Your long white beard is warm. Your white hair, wisdom attached to roots like a small hand on a Radio Flyer.

You touch lives.

The earth rotates so slowly that I imagine we remain standing still in a rush of daisies. You see wind in breeze and send it on to hurricane across young pages the color of wheat. I am lucky to have you as a writing professor. The first time I met you, you touched me like lightening striking a tree that had been asleep even with wind. Nothing rustled in my branches. It is like now. Nothing rustling in my branches. The air is so still in the hospital. If I weren’t breathing, I would think I was living in a capsule on a mission to Mars. I send you a letter telepathically. The water you drink has a tinge of sweet this day. Thank you for blessing my life. I am brushed by your kindnesses.

The hail has yet to completely crack the lens of my glasses. I know my case manager is trying to make this happen. Where is Kristina? She is lost in the prison of her own thoughts. I try to explain to him that my thoughts don’t belong to me. They extend past the length of my arm, through my outstretched fingers. I am lost in sentences that remind me of mud. Schizophrenia is nothing to write home about. The hospital has too often been my home. I am not allowed to cook hamburgers with onions and mushrooms.

I miss my boyfriend, Guy. It is not easy to touch anyone in here. Even a visitor. He has become a visitor. I don’t feel his arms around me in a tight embrace, matching that of Santa Claus at Christmas. Am I being a good girl even when I am in trouble? The hospital staff considers me good but sick. I don’t feel sick. I feel tired. A flat tire with no donut available. It becomes necessary to tow. I am moved here to watch the tall man beg for cocoa. I am moved here to catch up with myself. The marathon is over. I am learning only now how to untie my shoelaces. They were knotted to my ankle. It didn’t matter that they had sturdy soles. I needed to feel the carpet between my toes. It is hard to be this vulnerable.

The hospital staff and Guy remind me that I have schizophrenia. It is something that does not go away. Not like the pain of a pulled rotten tooth. I cannot pull this from my mind. I am wired, attached to hallucinations. Why do they feel so real? I am the extension of the antennae on an old-fashioned television set. Aluminum foil. Yes, it is rigged. I am rigged. Through medication and support of people, they are trying to make the rigged part go away. They are trying to help me stand even when I sense that I am falling. Not falling into sickness, but falling into a different me, one I can only understand with the help of medication and clean people.

I will fall asleep in the hospital once again. I will be awake for medication and meals and the occasional conversation with the doctor and staff. I will be awake for my boyfriend. Sadly, I will be awake for the voices, too. They are with me like loose sleeves on a jacket that is to tight across my chest. Occasionally, they drop through the wrists of the jacket. It is in these moments that I exalt. I can count ten fingers and ten toes. I can make peace with my God. And most importantly, I can feel the love from those who touch me, warm like a wet washcloth used to remove the dust from my cheek. I am loved and I do love. This slides into my thinking like a person sliding into home plate, scoring the winning run, beating out the baseball sent from the outfield.

My mind slowly gets better. A cake bakes at 400 degrees for twenty minutes. Eventually, the toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Eventually, my mind comes out clean. I am able to communicate in simple sentences not requiring a great deal of thought from the listener. My silence is no longer the result of a sickened mind hiding from the florescent bulbs of the hospital.

It is breakfast time. All of us gather in the main area and receive a tray. I am able to enter the rec room and claim a seat at one of the round tables. French toast and sausage. Cereal and a carton of milk. The voices are soft. They no longer berate me. Pick up the fork, they say. Eat, they say. It tastes good, they say. I’m okay with them repeating what it is I’m doing. It is so much better than being told to die or told to call the fat man obese and the skinny girl anorexic. My voices can be cruel, can ask me to do cruel things.

After eating, I return the tray to the cart. John, the psych nurse, approaches me, clipboard in hand, like he does every morning.

“Good morning, Kristina.”

“Morning.”

“Are you feeling suicidal today?”

Only in a psych hospital would a person start the conversation with this question.

“No,” I respond.

“And the voices?”

“Still there, but not bad.”

“How was breakfast?”

“Good. I’ll be going home soon, I think.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe so. Maybe so. The doctor should be in soon.”

John leaves me with this parting thought. It is up to the doctor as to whether or not I get to go home. Dr. Purewal really listens to me. When I am able to hold a conversation with him and let him know I’m ready to go home, he usually agrees. He knows me well. He has been my doctor in the hospital for years.

It is cool in the hospital. I am glad for my thermal shirt, jeans, and thick socks.

Bobby approaches me and says hi. I say hi back.

“Wow,” he says, “You can speak.”

I give him a smile.

“And smile.”

“Don’t get too use to it,” I say with a grin the size of the Cheshire Cat’s in Alice’s Wonderland.

Dr. Purewal arrives at noon. We meet for twenty minutes in which time he determines I am good to go home.

I am on the patio of the hospital. The Phoenix sun is strong, wood thrown onto an already burning fire. The heat reaches my bones. I will be released in an hour. John will go over my medications and aftercare plan.

My mind is a slow hum. The sound is soft like a T-shirt being dropped on a tile floor. Today, my mind is my friend. My mind is something to pay attention to. It is a waterfall. Thoughts dropped entering into a pool of calm water, the ripples smoothing out and again returning the pool to calm.

I will go home today and feed my cats. I will sit in a straight-backed chair at the kitchen table with my grandmother and eat soup with rye bread. My depression has lifted. I am able to wash the dishes in the sink, dry them, and place them in the cupboard. Exhaustion has lifted. I am no longer surrounded by dust. Life has become clean again, not just a mirage in the desert. I press my hand to my chest. My heart beats strong again. I will protect it, but not to the point of eliminating all relationships. I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.

I am happy to have my psychosis end. It’s not me that is horribly affected by my loss of reality. It’s the people around me. I am oblivious. I am lost. Those outside myself are well aware. Are present. I am glad to hold hands with my loved ones again. We wish on the stars together and delight in the moon. My wish is simple, stay home and love.

“Hospital Visit Number 19” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Author Kristina Morgan lives in recovery from two diseases, schizophrenia and alcoholism. Her full-length memoir, Mind Without a Home: A Memoir of Schizophrenia, was published in 2013 (Hazelden Press). She received an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetry, from Arizona State University. In addition to Delmarva Review, her writing has appeared in LocustPoint, Open Minds, and The Awakening Review.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal discovering outstanding new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. Celebrating its tenth year, the nonprofit Review is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Profiles in Philanthropy: The Brief but Spectacular History of Kent County’s Kenny Award

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It would seem in retrospect that the idea of honoring a volunteer in Kent County who has given their time and energy to help promote the arts in this small part of the Eastern Shore would have been a long-standing tradition. Almost from the day Chestertown and its surroundings formed in the 18th-century, there has been an extraordinary history of art, performing arts, music, creative writing, dance, and all other forms of artistic expression to enrich the County’s quality of life. To give an award to knowledge this unique part of the region’s collective DNA would seem inevitable.

Nonetheless, this special award (and program) is only now entering its 13th year thanks to the support of the Hedgelawn Foundation.

Started after John Schratwieser (then the director of the Prince Theater) and the Kent Council Art Council began to notice other Maryland counties were honoring their best arts movers and shakers, the Kenny Awards became a reality when they compared notes with Ben and Judy Kohl of the Hedgelawn Foundation who were seeking to do that same thing. And in 2005, the first award was issued to Vince and Leslie Raimond.

The Spy sat down with John and Judy Kohl of the Hedgelawn Foundation to talk about the history of the Kennys and recalling this brief but spectacular arch for the arts in Kent County in those thirteen years.  They also gave the Spy a sneak preview of this year’s winners, Diane and Jim Landskroener.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Kenny Award please go here

Past Kenny Award Winners

Vince and Leslie Raimond
Senator Barbara Mikulski
Tom McHugh
Carla Massoni
Andy Goddard
Butch Clark
Judy and Ben Kohl
Keith Wharton
RiverArts
Lester Barrett, Jr.
Jazz Festival – Mel Rapelyea
Marc Castelli
John Wilson
Lani Seikaly
Red Devil Moon

 

Spy Review: The Caprichos: Goya and Lombardo by Mary McCoy

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In a burst of curatorial inspiration, the Academy Art Museum is presenting The Caprichos: Goya and Lombardo, on view through February 25. The exhibit not only inaugurates the Museum’s new Artist-in-Residence program with Brooklyn printmaker and sculptor Emily Lombardo but also offers the rare chance to see a complete set of “Los Caprichos” by the famed Spanish artist Francisco Goya.

Pointedly taking on the traditional role of apprentice to the master, Lombardo set herself the daunting task of creating a set of 80 etchings, “The Caprichos,” matched one-on-one with the 80 in Goya’s series. On loan from the Art Gallery of Ontario, “Los Caprichos” is a dark, acerbic commentary on the follies and depravities of Spanish society of Goya’s day. Late in the 18th century when most artists were busy pleasing their aristocratic patrons, Goya made the radical move of creating art as social commentary. The new genre, aimed at raising social awareness, smoldered along for a while, then from the 1960s onward spread like wildfire through all the arts.

In “Los Caprichos,” Goya explored every human foible from vanity and lust to abuse of power and the pitfalls of superstition. There are salacious bridegrooms and their avaricious brides, nannies terrorizing children with blood-curdling tales, vain and pretentious aristocrats, and strange animals and hobgoblins torturing people in their dreams.

Francisco de Goya, Fran[cis].co Goya y Lucientes, Pintor, Plate I from “Los Caprichos”, 1799, Art Gallery of Ontario, Gift of Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, 1999.
Emily Lombardo, Emily Lombardo Printer, Plate I from “The Caprichos,” 2013, Etching and aquatint, Academy Art Museum, 2016.

Lombardo’s version is equally as dark as she explores a dizzying variety of issues. Far from getting bogged down in this enormous task, she approached it as an opportunity to develop an extraordinary range of cultural and personal commentary. Basing her compositions more or less on Goya’s, she put a contemporary spin on some of the very same issues, including the cultural norms of marriage, child-rearing, fame, and politics (Trump appears three times). With others, she makes broader leaps referencing the ever-present dangers of long-range missiles and nuclear war, the aggrandizement of celebrities, the Ku Klux Klan, and specifics such as the use of animals in scientific experiments, the vacuous nature of the art market, and the politics of gender in restroom use.

Given that there are 160 etchings in the exhibit, each with its own caption, it takes quite a lot of work to view and digest this show, but the art is fascinating and highly entertaining. And it’s amusing (or telling) to realize partway into it that both artists are manipulating a favorite human pastime. By nature, we love to gossip and gripe about the failings of our fellow humans.

Francisco De Goya, Spanish, 1746–1828 Might not the pupil know more? Plate 37 from “Los Caprichos,” 1799, Art Gallery of Ontario, Gift of Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, 1999.
Emily Lombardo Does the pupil know more? Plate 37 from “The Caprichos,” Academy Art Museum, 2016.

We know perfectly well that gossiping is a bad habit, but these two artists turn this guilty pleasure on its ear with their unflinching cataloguing of the darkest and nastiest elements of human life. In the process, they force us to honestly confront the reality of human weakness.

It’s long been the role of the artist to step back and consider the human condition. Throughout the history of art, artists have sought to awaken understanding of it whether through celebrating the beauty and tragedies of life, the uplift of religious inspiration, or the complexity of human experience so compellingly revealed in such transcendent portraits as Rembrant’s paintings of his own face.

The Academy’s Artist-in-Residence program was designed as a time of concentrated “reflection, research, engagement and artistic production” free from the obligations and concerns of the artist’s everyday life. In awarding Lombardo this month-long opportunity, including the daily use of its printmaking studio, the Academy gave her the chance to focus her energies on her exploration of how art can shed light on the deep issues of the human condition. It was also a remarkable opportunity for visitors to get to know an engaged working artist both in her studio and through the printmaking workshops that she taught. In an era when artists are stereotyped as being aloof and disconnected, this kind of personal contact is especially valuable.

Almost as an antidote to the darkness of “The Caprichos,” Lombardo is also exhibiting “The Soothsayers,” a series of pale-hued, floating orbs spread across the walls and ceiling of the Museum’s atrium. Modeled on the 20-sided polyhedron that floats inside the familiar Magic 8 Ball toy used for divining the future at teenage sleepovers since the 1950s, these geometric orbs are made of folded marbled paper embossed with updated answers such as “Reset,” “Winter Is Coming,” “You Are Biased,” “You Are Needed,” and “The War Is Not Over.”

In these chaotic and discordant times, we could all use the wise advice of an oracle, but as none actually exists, we’d do well to follow Goya’s and Lombardo’s warnings. However we like to think of our time as enlightened, freed from racism, sexism and superstition, recent events prove that it may be every bit as corrupt, discriminatory, inequitable and fear-ridden as Goya’s more than two centuries ago.

Dark as both “Caprichos” are, both offer glimmers of hope. In Plate 43, where nightmare creatures taunt a sleeping figure, Goya’s caption reads, “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders.” In a culture which insists, as most cultures do, that it’s heretical to question the status quo, it’s actually the most important thing to do. Knowing full well that we can’t rely on oracles or on politicians, it’s vital to use the arts and every other means to question, hone awareness and cultivate clear and honest understanding. This process is the only thing that will keep history from continually repeating itself, that is, the only thing that will save us from ourselves.

Mary McCoy is an artist and writer who has the good fortune to live beside an old steamboat wharf on the Chester River. She is a former art critic for the Washington Post and several art publications. She enjoys kayaking the river and walking her family farm where she collects ideas and materials for the environmental art she creates, often in collaboration with her husband Howard. They have exhibited their work in the U.S., Ireland, Wales and New Zealand.

 

 

 

Biloxi Blues: A Boot Camp Hoot!

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Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey (John Haas, left) addresses his boot camp squad in Church Hill Theatre’s “Biloxi Blues” –  Top Bunk – Robbie Spray & James Rank; Middle bunk – Timothy Daly & Troy Strootman,  Bottom Bunk – Anthony Daly & Morgan Jung.  Photo by Steve Atkinson

Biloxi Blues, by Neil Simon, is a semi-autobiographical play about young soldiers undergoing basic training during World War II. Directed by Michael Whitehill, it is currently playing at Church Hill Theatre.

Set almost entirely in an Army training camp near Biloxi, Mississippi, the play focuses on six soldiers in one platoon and their hard-nosed drill sergeant. Like other comedies with a military setting, it gains much of its humor by contrasting the raw recruits — a motley crew with different backgrounds and personalities — with the Army’s demand for discipline and adherence to an apparently irrational set of rules.

Originally produced at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway in 1985, Biloxi Blues ran for 524 performances. It is the middle piece in Simon’s “Eugene trilogy,” featuring a young Brooklyn Jew whose experiences roughly follow Simon’s own early life. The other two segments are Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway BoundBiloxi Blues won Tony awards for best play, best actor (Barry Miller as Arnold Epstein) and best director (Gene Saks); Miller also won a Drama Desk award. Others in the original production were Matthew Broderick as Eugene, Simon’s self-portrait character, and William Sadler as drill sergeant Toomey. 

A 1988 film adaptation, directed by Mike Nichols, brought back Broderick as Eugene and featured Christopher Walken in the role of Sgt. Toomey.

On the train to boot camp in Biloxi! Photo by Steve Atkinson

While there is a great deal of broad, often profane comedy, the play also has at its core a serious story about growing up and learning about the world. The narrator, Eugene, has ambitions of being a writer, and he keeps a journal in which he writes his impressions of his fellow recruits and their experiences. Right at the beginning, Eugene says that he has four goals for the near future – to fall in love, to lose his virginity, (not necessarily in that order), to become a writer and to make it out of the army alive.  Like much comedy, the play draws its materials from events that may seem far from amusing to those caught up in them, but that with time and experience become funny even to those involved.

Recruits Arnold Epstein, Don Carney, and Eugene Jerome are berated by Sgt. Toomey.     Photo by Jane Jewell

At the center of the play is Arnold Epstein, a gentle misfit who draws the wrath of Sgt. Toomey almost from the minute he arrives in camp. Even though he considers Arnold his closest friend in the army, Eugene can do little more than watch as Epstein is assigned endless KP and latrine duty as a result of his failure to meet the sergeant’s standards. Epstein, for his part, continues to assert his humanity, even as other recruits mock him (and Eugene) for being Jewish.

The plot, on the whole, is episodic. We see the recruits’ first reactions to the demands of Army life and learn their backgrounds and quirks. We follow them through confrontations — one soldier in particular, Wykowski, is especially scornful of the two Jews in the squad — though that attitude softens somewhat throughout the play as the six recruits go from being strangers to being a unit, soldiers together.  We see the six going to visit a prostitute for their first sexual experience. Eventually, all of them — even the sergeant, who has a plate in his head where he was wounded in battle — gain a degree of humanity and sympathy by the end of the play.

Whitehill has assembled a cast dominated by young actors —  — just right, given the age of the characters they are portraying. He said after the opening night performance that the youngest cast member is only 13 while the oldest is in his early 40s,  most are in their teens or early twenties. Almost all have some previous theatrical experience, though this is the Church Hill debut for several of them. While there were a few first-night glitches, the performance was, on the whole, up to the high standards local audiences have come to expect.  Be sure to read the Director’s Notes in the Play Bill as he gives some interesting information on the production and using memoir as a narrative technique.

Whitehill also noted that he broke in the young cast by having them do push-ups as punishment for arriving late to rehearsals — 15 push-ups for each minute late! It was all good-natured, Whitehill said, with the young actors often running in just on time, pointing at their watches and shouting “I’m here! I’m here!” Not only did it improve promptness, it got the recruits in shape to perform push-ups at the sergeant’s command during the show! 

Troy Strootman, who has appeared at the Garfield Center and with Shore Shakespeare, makes his CHT debut as Eugene. He effectively strikes the balance between the character’s youthful naivete and his innate intelligence and insight into his fellow recruits — this is, after all, someone who is going to grow up to become Neil Simon. A good job in an important part.

Robert Spray takes the role of Arnold Epstein, in many ways the focus of the play’s main drama. He brings out the awkward recruit’s genuine distaste for the dehumanizing aspects of military training, and makes his confrontations with the sergeant appropriately comic.

John Haas, a CHT veteran, is well cast as Sgt. Toomey, who turns out to be a more complex and sympathetic character than the stereotypical drill sergeant he appears to be when the soldiers arrive at boot camp. Haas is convincing as the hard-nosed drillmaster, but when the opportunity arises for the character to demonstrate genuine concern for his men, he makes the switch believable – not an easy thing to do!

Daisy and Eugene dance at the USO. (Kendall Davis & Troy Strootman with Carney (Morgan Jung) and hostess Scarlett Chappell dancing in background)    Photo by Jane Jewell

Daisy Hannigan, Eugene’s love interest, is played by Kendall Davis, a 2o16 Washington College graduate who is appearing in her fourth CHT production. She convincingly projects the sweetness and innocence of the Catholic school girl who meets the soldier at a USO dance, winning him over with her knowledge of the literary world he aches to become part of. A very warm performance, given an extra dimension by Davis’s dancing.

Brothers Anthony and Timothy Daly play Roy Seldridge and Joseph Wykowsky, two of the recruits in the squad. The sons of Jeff Daly, who has many CHT credits in his own right, they give solid performances. Timothy’s character, at first a somewhat dim-witted anti-Semite, comes to recognize that he is part of a team, and all the members need to work together if they are to survive the coming ordeal of wartime. Anthony’s character thinks of himself as the comedian of the bunch, though he’s not as witty as he thinks.

Morgan Jung and Jeffrey Rank fill out the boot camp squad with portrayals of Don Carney and James Hennessy. Carney sings — off key! — in his sleep, to the annoyance of his bunk mates. and Hennesey, who is the oldest recruit and who claims to be part African-American, comes across as slightly more attuned to Army life.  Good jobs by both.

The boys are initiated in the mysteries of sex by the local prostitute Rowena , played by Christine Kinlock. Biloxi Blues Photo by Jane Jewell

Christine Kinlock, who has become a regular in the local theater scene, has a meaty if brief part as Rowena, a prostitute. Again, the character, who might have been a stereotype, turns out to have depths that Kinlock nicely brings out.

Scarlett Chapell appears as another USO hostess, dancing with the soldiers. The character is not in the original script, but Chapell, who is in her first show at CHT, makes good use of the opportunity to create a character without speaking a word.  Beautiful dancing in a shadowed background.

Given that the majority of the cast is in uniform for the entire length of the play, the only real chance for costuming flash is in the three women’s outfits — which nicely distinguish the three characters.  Both USO girls are wearing distinctive 1940s dress styles. Note that the recruits are all wearing realistic, WWII “dogtags” around their necks.

The sets are quite effective, creating a believable 1940s army camp and surrounding scenes. The main set is a surprisingly realistic two-sided unit with the soldier’s three-tiered bunks on one side and a latrine on the other. The set not only swings around to give two different scenes, it rolls offstage when a less specific scene is needed — for example the open floor of the USO dance.  A side portion of the stage is used for a train car, Toomey’s office, and Rowena’s bedroom. While not as spectacular as some of CHT’s past sets, it does an excellent job of creating the atmosphere of the time and place. Kudos to Whitehill and Brian Draper, who designed and built it.

Not surprisingly, given its subject and setting, Biloxi Blues has its share of adult situations and language — and a good number of the characters share the prejudices of the time and express them in the language of the era. Parents might think twice about bringing very young children to the production. But adult audiences, or even teens, will appreciate the larger message of the play — how growing up involves surviving harsh experiences and making something bigger than any one individual’s feelings or abilities. And there is plenty to laugh about, along the way.

Biloxi Blues runs through Feb. 4, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, with special prices for groups of ten or more. The audience was packed on opening night and there were also  sizable crowds for the Saturday evening and Sunday matinee of the opening week.  For reservations, call the theater at 410-556-6003 or visit the theater website.

Photo Credits: Steve Atkinson and Jane Jewell

Biloxi Blues second side of reversible, rolling set.         Photo credit: Jane Jewell

At the USO dance.         Photo by Jane Jewell

Biloxi Blues – curtain call on opening night. Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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