Monday, July 31, 2017

…Match Girl…&…Crossing a Field—Portland Opera—Downtown Portland

“The World is Too Much With Us”

The Little Match Girl Passion (from a story by Hans Christian Anderson) and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (from a story by Ambrose Bierce) are composed for the stage by David Lang and directed by Jerry Mouawad (co-Artistic Director/Founder of Imago) and orchestra conducted by Hal France.  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, July 30th, August 3rd & 5th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1802 for tickets.

I asked myself, what do these two stories have in common, that a marriage of a production would be appropriate?  For one thing both the original tales, on which they are based, are from fantasy/fiction writers.  Anderson, a writer of classic children’s stories, and Bierce a writer, in part, of ghost stories (also a newspaper reporter, who disappeared also when doing a story on Poncho Villa).  Both episodes also deal with alienation, change, “holes” in our dimensions, evolution, and a passing over or on, into another realm.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

“…Crossing a Field” deals with a plantation owner, Mr. Williamson (Michael Streeter) in the Deep South (Selma) during the Civil War era.  As the story goes, it seems that he and a neighbor, Mr. Wren (Allen Nause), who he was to buy some horses from, were crossing one of his fields one sunny day, when he simply disappeared into thin air.

It also seems some slaves (Lisa Williamson, Martin Bakari, Nicole Mitchell, Laila Murphy, Ernest C. Jackson, Jr., and Damien Geter), who were working the fields, under his brother, the overseer, Andrew (Christian Zaremba), also witnessed this event but, because they were slaves, were not considered credible observers.  It is brought to trial to the Magistrate (Todd Van Voris), who must decide, not what happened to him specifically, but whether he is living or dead.

If dead, then his inheritors would divide the Will.  There is his wife, Mrs. Williamson (Hannah S. Penn), who over a course of time, slowly loses her reason, divesting herself of the way of life she’s known.   There is his daughter (Cree Carrico), who seems to have an uncanny connection with other forces in the atmosphere, that might have driven her father to this fate.  Then there is his brother, who would also get a nice piece of the pie.  Did all these people conspire to murder him?  Or did the slaves revolt?  Or did he simply escape to another town, another life, to get away?

There is, of course, the possibility, that he walked through a hole into another dimension.  There are a few recorded cases where similar things have happened.  But, in this case, a world was turned upside down and, although a people, a Nation, were evolving, there is “no gain, without pain.”  For this conclusion, you have to witness it for yourself.

The cast of singers is exceptional, no surprise there as Portland Opera gets the best of the best.  I was especially impressed with Penn, Bakari and Mitchell, as they added an extra dash of depth to their characters, I thought.  The voice actors, Van Voris, Nause and Streeter are also among the best, also, as I have reviewed them favorably in the past many times.  This blend of voice actors with singers is a real asset to this show.  And Mouawad adds stylized movement, as an extra touch, and a simple setting, which focuses us more on the story, acting and singing.

Crossing Over

The second selection is from one of my favorite stories by Anderson, but definitely a tragic one.  It’s about a little waif, a match girl (Max Young), during the 1800’s, who is forced during the winter months to sell matches on the street, her only source for food, to strangers.  She discovers that every time she lights a match, a scene of warmth and friendliness appears, as does her grandmother, who has passed over.  But when she does this, she is also wasting any chance of an income.  It’s a bittersweet ending so I won’t reveal it, but I think you can guess which world she chooses to be a part of.

It would be nice to think that a stranger passing by would take pity on her but when you turn on the news today and see the abject poverty world-wide that children/families must deal with all the time, one should feel ashamed that such things could happen.  This is our future that we are letting die, so take heed!

Young, as the girl, in a wordless performance, speaks volumes with her silence!  You sincerely feel for her and all that she is experiencing.  A wonderful, touching performance!  The singers (again, Williamson, Penn, Bakari, Carrico, Mitchell, Zaremba, Geter and Jackson, Jr.) also act as a sort of Greek Chorus, commenting on the proceedings, and they are super.  Some Movement Artists (Gwendolyn Duffy, Kaician Jade Kitko, Carla Grant, Nathan H. G., Fiely Matias, Sumi Wu and Carol Triffle (co-Artistic Director/Founder of Imago) are added for an additional blow to the emotions.

Mouawad also has used shadows/silhouettes for his movement people, a touch of magic that transforms a bare stage into a bustling metropolis, or ghostly presences, or scenes of gladness whenever he chooses.  An exceptional director for both these pieces!

Lang has really transformed both these stories into a nether-world of emotional and artistic pleasure/sadness/wonderment.  I recommend these productions.  If you do choose to see them, please say that Dennis sent you.

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