Peak Performances

By Katherine Duke '05

Amherst’s Spring 2010 season of performances is in full swing. In just the past three weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in the audience for five very different shows.

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Emmanuel Genard '10 and Tanya Jackson '10 perform in Cloud Tectonics.

Cloud Tectonics, by José Rivera, ran in the Holden Experimental Theater Feb. 18- 20 and was the senior project in acting for both Tanya Jackson ’10 and Emmanuel Genard ’10. Jackson starred as Celestina del Sol, a pregnant hitchhiker whom we first see standing at a bus stop in the rain (I was especially impressed with the way director Patricia McGregor was able to simulate the storm and the headlights of passing cars); eventually, Celestina is picked up by Anibal de la Luna (Genard). In the tradition of Latin American magical realism, the play infuses the mundane with the mystical. Anibal lives in an ordinary apartment and works at the airport in Los Angeles, but Celestina embodies what might be a miracle or a curse, or both: she is exempt from the usual flow of time, aging very slowly, unable to distinguish between seconds and seasons, minutes and months. The two characters fall in love over the course of one night—or is it two years?—and then meet again when she’s still a young mother but he is an old man. Cloud Tectonics dramatizes the ways in which our emotions can make time seem to fly or stop dead, love can feel like a force of nature and our interactions with other people can alter the very courses of our lives.

On March 1 in Webster Studio 3, I enjoyed an evening of Spring One-Acts, courtesy of students in Theater and Dance 48: “Directing Comedy.”  Diandra Partridge ’11 directed “The Best Daddy,” by the famously quirky Shel Silverstein, in which a father (Eric Swartz ’11) presents his daughter (Hampshire student Lydia Hadfield, who looked like a Silverstein drawing come to life, with her long braids and cartoonish energy) with a special birthday surprise, hidden under a sheet. But is it animal or human? Alive or dead? Even at the end, I wasn’t certain. In “Arabian Nights,” written by David Ives and directed by UMass student Lori Zimmermann, a translator (Farris Hassan ’11) takes some poetic liberties in helping a man and woman (Dylan Herts ’13 and Khalsa Kaur) communicate. Even before the first lines of “2B or Not 2B,” written by Jacquelyn Reingold and directed by Ilana Toeplitz of UMass, Gregorio Coello ’10 got a laugh just by taking his place onstage, dressed as a giant honeybee. And my favorite moment in Frederick Stroppel’s “Chocolate,” directed by Estefania Colon ’11, came when the detective (Zach Cherry ’10) pointed out a suspicious stain on the carpet in the home of a murder suspect (Bessie Young ’11): the square of carpet was flung from offstage left and came skidding across the floor, just in time for the beam from the detective’s flashlight to land on it. The class—taught by Michael Birtwistle, the Stanley King ’03 Professor of Dramatic Arts, Emeritus—will present two more rounds of one-act comedies in Webster 3 later in the semester.

I had read Romeo and Juliet and seen film versions of it, but on March 3, I finally got my chance to see it performed live. Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS), brought to the Amherst campus by Associate Professor of English Anston Bosman, presented Shakespeare’s tragedy in Kirby Theater. I was expecting a standard production, with a large cast in full Renaissance costume. Instead, I was amazed to watch only five actors, dressed in sweatshirts and jeans, play more than 20 parts and use only minimal props and music to tell the story in a way that felt alive and modern. The next afternoon, actors Geoffrey Lumb and Jennifer Higham staged scenes from Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Frost Library. Afterward, they answered questions from the audience about AFTLS and how they and the other actors developed their touring show without a director.  

Every winter for the past 13 years, Amherst students have staged a production of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. This year’s show, titled Women of Amherst and the Vagina Monologues… It’s More Than You Imagine, went up March 4-6 in the Cole Assembly Room of Converse Hall. Directed by Estefania Colon ’11 and Natasha Smith ’11, it included some of Ensler’s monologues, as well as original pieces by the dozens of women in the cast. The monologues delved into the complexities of female sexuality and identity, from the flamboyant (an over-the-top musical number by Ezzell Floranina), to the stranger-than-fiction (a list of real products and procedures available to clean, freshen, bleach and reshape various a certain body part), to the personal (an Amherst student’s story of having been molested by her music teacher as a child), to the horrific (a mother from Darfur telling her child about “your father—all six of him” who shot her husband and raped her). All proceeds from ticket sales and an accompanying raffle went to the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition.

On March 5 and 6, the annual Five College Music and Dance show took place at the renowned Academy of Music in Northampton, Mass. The lush red curtain opened to  “Not So, Alone,” a piece composed by Associate Professor of Music Eric Sawyer and choreographed by Professor of Theater and Dance Wendy Woodson in which the dancer (Akhiro Maeda) interacted with the clarinetists onstage with him (Lynn Sussman of the Springfield Symphony and Associate Professor of Music David Schneider). Three more pieces paired dance with colorful animation, with Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for Solo Violin and with selections from Bach’s cello suites, respectively. But the show culminated with a restaging of “Gloria,” the masterpiece by acclaimed choreographer Mark Morris, set to Vivaldi’s Gloria in D as performed by members of the Amherst College Choral Society and Symphony Orchestra. I listened to the singers praise God in Latin and watched the dancers, dressed in all white, crawl and leap and lurch back and forth across the stage. At first, the spectacle struck me as just plain weird, but as it went on, I grew more and more absorbed in trying to figure it out. Was I supposed to be seeing inch worms? Amoebas in a Petri dish? Bits of paper wafting on the breeze? Angels in heaven? I still don’t know, but it was remarkable to watch.  

Photo by Jessica Mestre '10

 

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