Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 4, 2019

REVIEW: Theaterworks, A Doll’s House Part 2

Theaterworks, Hartford, CT

through February 24, 2019
By Stuart Gamble

 In 1879, Henrik Ibsen’s revolutionary, pro-feminist play “A Doll’s House” stunned its middle-class audience when the play’s heroine Nora Helmer opened the door and walked out on her husband and three young children. Now, 140 years later, playwright Lucas Hnath’s sequel, “A Doll’s House Part 2,” speculates on what happens after that iconic moment of a women’s battle against an oppressive existence.

It is now 15 years later and a middle-aged Nora returns. She is greeted by the Helmer’s faithful housekeeper/nanny Anne Marie. Understandably shocked by Nora’s sudden appearance, Anne Marie expresses both disbelief and a distant relief upon learning Nora’s reason to return. Soon, Nora also confronts her controlling husband Torvald, who is also visually shaken by Nora’s unexpected homecoming. Finally, Nora reunites with her daughter Emmy in a rather ironic mother-daughter first meeting.
Tasha Lawrence, Photo by Lanny Nagler

Tasha Lawrence’s Nora is a multi-layered characterization. Filled equally with fire and ice; her Nora is unafraid to let her feelings be known. Both sympathetic and frank, Lawrence shows the sound and fury of a woman who has boldly survived in a truly Darwinian way. Both warm and harsh, she confronts her accusers like a wrongly persecuted victim on trial who must defend her reputation and even her very reasons to exist.

The supporting cast performs equally as well with Lawrence. Amelia White’s Anne Marie nervously tries to quell Nora’s anger and newly-found freedom with disapproval and guilt for deserting her family. She even drops a few F-bombs that put Nora’s ego in its place. Sam Gregory’s Torvald at first appears rather doltish, but soon evolves into an equal sparring partner with Nora. Finally, Kira Player’s cold as ice Emmy, would have been better named Torvald Jr. for her passive aggressive insidious plan to silence Nora for good.

Director Jenn Thompson’s simple staging place actors merely confronting each other about Big issues. The production’s austerity is further emphasized by Alexander Dodge’s set consisting of two elegant chairs and three framed light panels that zap on and off at scene changes (courtesy of Phillip Rosenberg and Broken Chord’s respective lighting and sound design). Alejo Vietti’s elegantly simple costumes depict the rigidness of Victorian life.

One question lingers in this reviewer’s mind: Is a sequel necessary? And can it ever compare to the original? The answer is an unqualified Yes. The most relevant evidence is in Nora’s line to her daughter: “I’m not going to follow these bad [societal] rules, this is my chance to change the rules..”

A note to theatre-goers: This is the last Theaterworks’ 2018/19 play to be staged at its Pearl Street location. The remainder of this season will be performed at the Wadsworth Athenaeum’s Auditorium, while renovations take place at TW in anticipation of its 2019-20 season.

PREVIEW: Mt. Holyoke College Jazz, The Big Broadcast!

Chapin Auditorium, Mt. Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
Saturday, March 2, 2019

Brian Lapis, Photo by Dori Gavitt
The Jazz Ensembles of Mt. Holyoke College present the 14th edition of The Big Broadcast! on Saturday, March 2 at 2PM & 7:30PM. Created and directed by Mark Gionfriddo, the concert is a re-creation of a live 1940's radio show featuring the Mt. Holyoke College Big Band, Vocal Jazz, and Chamber Jazz Ensembles performing well-known tunes from the swing era and the American songbook. Once again, WWLP-TV meteorologist Brian Lapis is emcee.

Mt. Holyoke College music faculty member Mark Gionfriddo originally created this performance for a small cabaret group he directed, and incorporated it into the concert season. It has since been designated as a Signature Event at the College. Gionfriddo has worked at Mt. Holyoke since 1986. In 2006, he conducted the MHC Big Band during two episodes of the popular NPR radio quiz show Says You!. Gionfriddo is also well-known in the region as music director of the Young@Heart Chorus.

Music will include memorable pieces written in what is referred to as The Golden Age of Radio; i.e. Glenn Miller and others of that ilk. Accomplished fiddler Zoe Darrow will join the concert as a special guest.

General admission tickets are $25 premium front and center seating, $20 regular seating. Senior and student discounts apply. For information call 413-545-2511 or 800-999-UMASS. For online tickets, visit Doors open one hour prior to each performance. Snow date is Sunday, March 3.

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Scheherazade and American Women Composers

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, Massachusetts
February 2, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

Watching Maestro Kevin Rhodes conduct is always entertaining, and on Saturday night, he and the orchestra provided a program rich in musical texture and artistry.  Rhodes’ articulate and sometimes humorous introduction to each of the pieces helped connect the evening’s selections to cultural history and the evolution of women composers’ influence in composition and musical expression.

Joan Tower’s “6th Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” opened the program with a pulsating, bright sound.  Though her six Fanfares collectively became known as a feminist retort to Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the “6th Fanfare” was written as recently as 2016, making Tower one of the two contemporary composers featured in the concert.   Tower’s “Sequoia” was a lovely contrast to the earlier piece, with its rhythmic expression of the majestic sequoia tree growing toward the sky.

A stunningly ethereal “blue cathedral” by Jennifer Higdon completed the contemporary works with a musical story created as a response to the grief she had about her brother’s untimely death.  Performed throughout the United States over 1,000 times last year, this piece integrated Chinese bells and musicians playing water-glasses (a glass harmonica) for a stunning sound that uplifted the heart.

Bal Masque, Opus 22, by Amy Beach was composed in 1894, and provided a link to the romantic style of Rimsky-Korsakov, featured in the second part of the evening’s fare.  In all of the evening’s offerings, many of the extraordinary musicians of the symphony had lush solos and demonstrated the exceptional quality of musicianship so prevalent in the SSO.

Based on the symphonic poem Scheherazade, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed a musical telling of the story of the Arabian Nights. Scheherazade, the concubine of a Khalif who slept with each wife and then killed them, told a story every night to forestall her own killing. In this piece, Maestro Rhodes energetically conducted as Concertmaster Masako Yanagita and her violin “told” the story while different sections of the orchestra picked up the theme for each of the four tableaux in the Suite.

The well-deserved standing ovation showed that the audience appreciated the artistry of the evening.  Notable too, was the number of very young audience members who seemed excited by what they had just heard, as well as the murmurs of audience members who were clearly moved by the evening’s entertainment.