Monday, May 4, 2015


Swami Vivakananda said it best. Abstract ancient practices must become living poetry in everyday life, that out of “hopelessly intricate myths must come concrete moral forms…”  so that even a child might grasp it!

That is exactly what the Girish Karnad, India’s most celebrated contemporary award-winning playwright, screenwriter, film actor and director has done with his play The Fire and The Rain.
 And that is what Constellation Theatre brings to the stage in a stellar production that everyone can grasp.  

What seems at first a love store between Brahman youth Aravsu  (Dallas tolentino)  and tribal woman Nittilai (Lynette Rathnam) in the seventh year  of no rain, quickly spans over many places and times, interweaving many stories of complex relationships and emotions between
friends, brothers, spouses, and parents.  

 Jealousy and power struggles, love and lust, sacrifice and vengeance are all familiar ingredients in modern plays but less so are the presence of gods and other supernatural  creatures  quite naturally walking around interacting with humans.

From the beginning there is the play within the play but as the play progresses, it follows that there are more plays within a play.  At one point, Arvasu wakes from  dreaming.  At  the end (spoiler alert) in the midst of acting in a play, the emotions of his real life overtakes his role. 

And just as the play delves into eternal issues, where time does not seem to make any difference,  the hero says many times that he is going to be half an hour late for something that turns out to change the fate of all involved. 

There it is —the mysteries of life to be sorted out. What is real and a dream in a story?  What is  temporal life that is every changing circumstances versus the meaning of the unchanging  state of eternity?     

What becomes a myth the most is that it can be translated, recycled and con-temporized so eloquently. The story is from The Mahabharata  the oldest and longest poem in human literature.  The play was also adapted into an elaborate Hindi film by the same name, Agni Varsha (2002).

 This staged version, a North American premiere, produced by Constellation director Allison Arkell Stockman and her creative team  is the  most vivid presentation yet.  It  appeals to not only the spiritual and psychological,   but to the senses of sight with the gorgeous scenic and lightings by A.J. Guban  and fantastic costume designs by Kendra Rai and sound with  Tom Teasley, composer and percussionist, of  a stunning musical score.

The show is  at Constellation Theatre until May 24. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Don Giovanni lives!

There is nothing even remotely retro about Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni.  Neither the music nor the plot gets old in this Hit Parade top ten of operas currently performed.   
So when the InSeries adopted a new setting, with the libertine noblemen re-incarnated as a 1920’s American religious revivalist,  the music and the story line were sure to work.  Other “collaborations” of composers and modern producers —despite centuries apart—have worked well in the past.   
But more than that, the InSeries production underlines that the plot of this opera is still very much with us.
Who to believe: the charismatic preacher who is a serial rapist: his diary of conquests is not unlike the files of the newspaper clippings of their victims or other trophies that police uncover that predators keep.  Or  Sister Elvira, a deserted woman:  Is she a mad stalker or a victim who no one will believe?   Then there is Sister Anna whose father has been killed by Don Giovanni who was trying to seduce her —is she a victim who does not want to testify because it will bring more pain or is she an unreliable witness who did not get a good look at her assailant?  
Sung in English, set in the great age of American evangelism, it suggests another infamous character— womanizing Elmer Gantry who also enjoyed his bootleg.   Televising evangelists as well as predatory clergy and rabbis - sort of ironically but  somehow expectedly—continue to fill the headlines.  
When Don Giovanni croons a pleading “Pretty Baby” :  Oh, have we not been charmed with that song line  before!   
There is some adjustments to the story line.  The staging is minimal but works to engage the imagination to a super ending of the eternal flames of hell perfectly— the revival tent has two mouth like gates, one with pearly whites to enter heaven and the other with fangs as befits hell.   
The stellar cast pulled it all together—what we love about this opera in an excellent performance.  While being true to the comic and the tragic mix in situations, there are  twists  that add up to a surprisingly very modern opera.  
Bottom line:  Don Giovanni—another production by the InSeries which proves that great music is never out!
The newly commissioned English adaptation  of Mozart and DaPonte's Don Giovanni  is by DC writer Bari Biern and Stage Director Tom Mallan.  Music Director and conductor Stanley Thurston lead a chamber ensemble.  The cast: Andrew Thomas Pardini as Don Giovanni, Alex Alburqueque as Leporello, Randa Rouweyha as Sister Anna, David Brundage as the Pastor (Commendatore), Daniele Lorio as Sister Elvira, Aaron Halevy as Ottavio, Laura Wehrmeyer Fuentes as Zerlina, Sean Pflueger as Masetto, with Nicholas Carratura, Melissa Chavez, Kenneth Derby, Chris Herman, Teresa Ferrara, Elizabeth Overmann. The design team: Stefan Johnson, Elizabeth McFadden, Sehar Peerzada and Brian J. Shaw. 
THE IN SERIES  Mozart’s Don Giovanni
WHERE: GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC WHEN:  March 14 -March 23, 2015
TICKETS: 202-204-7763 or visit or

Friday, February 27, 2015

Dialogues of the Carmelites

    Dialogues of the Carmelites 
The Washington National Opera:
    Nuns like you have never seen before

Conversation heard in the audience before the performance about Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards singing songs from Sound of Music, including  the anthem song, Climb Every  Mountain, with its expression of human longing for spiritual direction of the Benedictine postulant Maria von Trapp.   

There was surprise that Lady Gaga could sing so well.

There would be no surprise that the opera singers in Dialogues of the Carmelites would sing superbly.  That is a given especially when Francesco Zambello is the artistic director.   

These nuns would not be climbing mountains to reach their spiritual goals.  They would be climbing the scaffold to the guillotine to fulfill their vow.  

The production now, in an age where beheadings are video-ed across the world on the internet, of an opera written 50 years ago, post World War II horrors of annihilation, is jolting.

As a side note, the Oscar for Best Foreign Film went to Ida, the Polish film of a Jewish child hidden in the cloister from the  terrorism of the Nazis who  grows up and wants to be a nun.   It is filmed in bleak black and white, as befits a symbol of the political and spiritual devastation of the Cold War. 

The staging for Dialogues of the Carmelites is bright with golden sunlight, but the world in which it transpires, is as inhumane as ever known.

The story revolves around  Blanche de La Force, an aristocratic woman who wants to join  the Carmelites, but whose fear of everything, including shadows,  is overwhelming.  The historical facts are that  in as  the last hot summer of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, on July 17, 1794–the day after the feast of Our Lady of Mount Caramel—14 nuns, three lay sisters and two servants of the Carmelite house of Compi├Ęgne died for their Catholic faith

(BTW Ida also must examine her vocation in the aftermath of a brutal historical events—the holocaust which destroyed her family.)

While the setting and costume and singing are all great theater, there is something besides artistic merits to consider with this production. 

Carmelites are an order of silence, thus making every word in the libretto particularly meaningful about the path of the soul.   Fears and death.  The radical destructive powers of the outside world  that besiege the convent in the French Revolution are mighty but so are the interior human fears in each nun as she faces her own mortality.

One does not expect a religious experience at the opera.  But to remember that once upon a time there were no art museums or grand theaters, and in that age, cathedrals were built,  where art and story telling and music were one with the liturgical rites.  Now separated into so many places, for  us to seek our spiritual fixes, we might be repelled by Dialogues which puts it all together. It is  the confusions of our age, inside of us which we bring with us to the theater.  

You might try to sing Climb Every Mountain to bolster up.  Dialogues—a no aria operais not something you hum to perk up spirits.

The resolve is not in a god that is a department store, ready to supply all our needs for the asking.  It is not the stress free promises of yoga.  Rather it is the raw reality,  like what one of the astronauts said about being  outside the space ship to do repairs and suddenly realizing there was nothing between him and the void, but his space suit.  

This is where Francois Poulenc and all the contributors to the creation of this opera have led us.

Each nun climbs the steps —one by one to her fate, a fate that is the realization of her vow to die for her belief—each  is singing the Salve Regina.  

The music grows louder as there are less living nuns in this procession to sing their hymn on earth.  

Blanche —who has run away from the convent—now returns  to join her sisters in death.  

No need to ask the audience to come on stage and participate in the show.  

We are behind Blanche, to our end.  




Who are the Carmelite Martyrs of Compi├Ęgne? By Stephanie Mann in Our Sunday Visitor

Madame Lidoine: Leah Crocetto*
Blanche de la Force: Layla Claire*
Madame de Croissy: Dolora Zajick  
Mother Marie: Elizabeth Bishop
Sister Constance: Ashley Emerson
Marquis de la Force: Alan Held
Chevalier de la Force: Shawn Mathey
The Chaplain: Robert Baker

Conductor: Antony Walker
Director: Francesca Zambello
Set Designer: Hildegard Bechtler* 
Costume Designer: Claudie Gastine
Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough