May, 2008

When Men Were Women

“Talk you of killing?” asks Shakespeare’s doomed Desdemona of her murderous Moor, Othello.

“Ay, I do!” her husband replies, as he smothers the life out of her.

The death scene of Shakespeare’s edge-of-your-seat thriller, Othello, is at the center of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty, in Rogue Machine Theatre’s inaugural production, onstage now through June 15 at Theatre Theater, 5041 West Pico Blvd.

Set in Restoration England, the play chronicles the demise of Edward Kynaston, the last and perhaps greatest male actor of Shakespeare’s women’s roles. Prior to the reign of Charles II, Shakespeare’s queens and courtesans — indeed, all women’s parts — were the exclusive property of an illustrious coterie of “boy players” trained from early childhood in the art of female impersonation. With the proscription against women on the stage lifted, the drag queens suddenly found themselves unemployed.

The court of King Charles II was a stark contrast to the 20 years of Puritan rule by the notorious Cromwell. Following the return of the monarchy from exile, England’s royal palace became a de facto international salon, attracting and supporting a kaleidoscopic array of working artists and scholars including Sir Isaac Newton, architect Christopher Wren, composer Henry Purcell, diarist Samuel Pepys, and actress-comedienne Nell Gwynn, the King’s own mistress.

Under founder and artistic director John Perrin Flynn, Rogue Machine Theatre’s sumptuous mounting of Hatcher’s bawdy comedy features a large ensemble cast, led by Michael Traynor as Edward Kynaston. “The part is so challenging, I got cold feet and left the theater before auditioning,” Traynor tells FineArtsLA. “But the director caught me when I came back to get my jacket.”

“Michael wasn’t the Kynaston I had originally imagined,” says Flynn. “But he blew me away during his reading. I had wanted a comedian, of course. That, he was, and so much more.”

A former dancer, Traynor worked “from the outside in,” he says, experimenting with postures and gestures to find his character’s grace and femininity. His tour-de-force Kynaston is rarely off stage, running the gamut from hilarious to heart-breaking.

The set and costumes by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz are a show in themselves, combining elements of Restoration and modern couture. A live musical ensemble – led by Music Director and FineArtsLA.com managing editor Penny Orloff -underscores the action with authentic Dowland and Purcell.

Originally scheduled to run through June 1, the production has been extended for two weeks. Information and tickets are available online at http://www.roguemachinetheatre.com/.

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Grumpy Old Man

It was inevitable: FineArtsLA’s Forty Unders program, which was created to get more young people into the audience of performing arts events, has been accused of discrminating against people over 40.

The following is a recent e-mail exchange with a disgruntled reader, who wrote:

I saw a friend had joined your group on FB. Then I saw that you give free tickets to your 40 unders club. What a turn off. That’s one of the things that makes LA such a shitty place to live. Everyone is so age obsessed here. Who cares how old someone is when it comes to the fine arts? Just wait till you’re over 40 and you’ll see how stupid it sounds to promote such a ridiculous idea. Why would you discriminate against anyone because of their age or race or sexual preference or anything else? Hey, what about a whites only club. That sounds like a good idea. ( I hope you realize that was a sarcastic comment).

Forty Unders manager Sam Mendizabal responded:

Ageism is indeed a problem in Los Angeles. But I’ve felt its effects strongest in the pop cultural framework. We do not deal in that. I understand your plight completely, but I believe you misunderstand the nature of our program. The aim of 40 Unders is not to merely “score” free tickets. It is an educational program of sorts aimed at enlightening younger people who otherwise would not have the financial resources or, if they do, the cultural impetus needed to seek out classical performances in Los Angeles.

We at FineArtsLA.com enjoy many of the arts showcases in Los Angeles and are finding it distressing that so many are attended by so few young people. From what many of the artistic directors and performers, as well as my own eyes, have told me, it is indeed a sad state of affairs when you attend a performance of great caliber and find that you are one of only two or three faces among hundreds that are under 40. Where will the audience of tomorrow come from?

The majority of our participants are college students who are more used to top 40 radio than to Beethoven or Liszt. We hope to make regular theater and concert goers of them someday. I can attest that as a young man myself it has done the same for me.

Grumpy Old Man then responded:

I appreciate your response however I’m not impressed with your reasoning. Of course I realize you are trying to attract a younger crowd to your performances, however that does not erase the fact that your program discriminates against people over 40. (the very ones, according to you, that currently support your performances). Your program is in very bad taste and I for one will not support any programs affiliated with www.fineartsla.com from now on.

I would challenge you to come up with another idea to attract a younger audience without alienating people based on their age. Additionally, all age groups suffer financial burdens especially with the current economy, gas prices, etc. Think about it. Your program indeed supports ageism. Until you come up with another way to attract a younger audience by making free tickets available to all age groups I intend to spread the word of your blatant act of discrimination starting with Facebook.

Moral of the story: No good deed goes unpunished.

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Let’s Facebook the Music and Dance

FineArtsLA.com has found another way to help build a community of younger and hipper music and arts fans in Los Angeles through the acquisition of a Facebook account. For those interested in keeping up with the latest Forty Unders concert and ballet giveaways and beating the rush for free tickets, there is a new weapon for your hyperactive media arsenal.

In addition to being our BFF, by joining us on Facebook you’ll have the chance to view a mini-version of our site with smaller text and the occasional “subscriber-only” bonus material: lengthier descriptions of Forty Unders events, fancy images, trolls, and the dubious pleasure of watching us fight spammers in an effete manner. You’ll also find yourself on the same friends listing with some great music ensembles and some of the music world’s sung and unsung talents.

Now we’re well aware that great numbers of our readers may not be inclined to align themselves with anything requiring a password (our forum, for example). Rest assured: All of the main content is still only available here.

To connect with us via Facebook, go to: http://www.facebook.com/people/Fine_Arts_LAcom/1197714618 and meet your peers.

No word yet on when we’re moving to Silver Lake.

Sam Mendizabal

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Seeing John Malkovich

Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra presents an original multi-media event, “SEDUCTION AND DESPAIR,” directed by and starring Academy Award nominee John Malkovich on Saturday, May 3, and Sunday, May 4, at Barnum Hall Theatre, 601 Pico Blvd, in Santa Monica.

From a libretto by Michael Sturminger, Malkovich enacts the true story of poet, author, journalist, and convicted serial killer Jack Unterweger. The costumed melodrama is underscored by Gluck’s “Don Juan” and works by Boccherini, Vivaldi, Handel, Weber, Haydn, and Mozart, performed on original period instruments under the baton of the orchestra’s music director and conductor, Martin Haselböck. Andreas Hutter’s atmospheric video serves as the stage set and a visual representation of events in Unterweger’s life.

Haselböck tells FineArtsLA that he looks forward to “the coming together of one of the great actors with the very best baroque musicians of Southern California in a new form of art.”

The 90-minute performance opens as Unterweger reads from his new novel before drifting into memories. Sopranos Celine Ricci and Robin Johannsen represent a variety of characters with whom Unterweger interacts. A promotional press release says, “Each scene and aria represents an emotional expression — Joy, Hatred, Love, Grief, Desire, and Admiration — illustrating Unterweger’s connections to women.”

Tickets, info, and season brochures are available at www.MusicaAngelica.org, or by calling (310) 458-4504.

Penny Orloff

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