Theater review: “Everything is Established”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)

Part farce, part theater of the absurd, part ghost story, Hannah Kenah’s “Everything is Established,” playing now through Feb. 21 at the Off Center, will leave audiences both delighted and a little bit disturbed.

Anyone familiar with Kenah’s work, either as a company member of the Rude Mechanicals or from her devised work “Guest by Courtesy,” will recognize the artist’s signature intensity and humor in this show.

EverythingIsEstablished1
Jeffrey Mills, left, Michael Joplin, right, and Lee Eddy, front, start in “Everything Is Established.”

Produced by Physical Plant Theater and written and directed by Kenah, “Everything is Established” has a relatively simple premise: a wealthy megalomaniac with an enormous estate died before his mail-order bride arrived. Now, his two hapless and lonely servants await her arrival, desperately hoping she’ll stay and relieve the monotony.

With an outstanding ensemble of Austin’s comedic talent, the play explores the master-slave dialectic – probably in the sense of Hegelian philosophy, but that’s neither here nor there and certainly tangential to one’s enjoyment of the show.

What’s really important is that Jeffery Mills (Montgomery), Michael Joplin (Plaster), and Lee Eddy (Sally) are exceptional physical comedians and character actors, and together they form an unstoppable Juggernaut of hilarity.

Mills plays an adorably fastidious butler, whose charm shines through from the start (particularly in his awkward dancing at the top of the show). The poor Montgomery cares for his dimwitted compatriot, but he’s grown tired of letting the house fall to ruin and yearns for more stimulating companionship.

Eddy, as the baffled and blushing bride with nothing but a spatula to call her own, arrives in the midst of chaos and confusion, and she must try to make sense of the mess she’s walked herself into. Eddy’s shift into mastery over the staff and the situation is deftly accomplished, and her final moments in the spotlight are surprisingly sinister.

Joplin’s performance of an eye-bulging, manic agoraphobic footman holds traces of Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice and Heath Ledger’s Joker crossed with Zach Galifianakis’ sincere simpleton in “The Hangover.” As you might expect, that makes for a hilarious and frightening combination.

Not a moment is wasted in this one act performance.

Graham Reynolds’ music sets a deceptively upbeat tone to open the performance and the comic juxtapositions ensue from there. Even if the take-away is fuzzy, the delivery is thrilling.

“Everything is Established” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Feb. 1.

Austin choral group Conspirare wins Grammy

Austin choral group Conspirare has just won the Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for “The Sacred Spirit of Russia,” the 2014 release on Harmonia Mundi.

Glenn Miller, Craig Hella Johnson, Robert Harlan
Robert Harlan, Craig Hella Johnson, Glenn Miller

The CD was recorded in 2013 at Austin’s at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church and features Christmas liturgical from the Russian Orthodox Church and featured basso profundo Glenn Miller as a soloist. Conspirare founder and artistic director Craig Hella Johnson conducted.

Johnson was in Los Angeles to accept the award.

It was the sixth time Conspirare has been nominated for a Grammy.

www.conspirare.org

Inked Animal’s delicate balance of science and art

On Saturday, among other events as part of Print Austin’s big Print Expo + Bin Fest + Print Exchange at Canopy, 916 Springdale Road, the collective Inked Animal will be giving a demonstration of the Gyotaku-style printmaking method. The free event is from 2 to 4 p.m.

Artists, collaborators and conservation biologists Adam Cohen and Ben Labay take the Gyotaku method in a bold new direction.

Republished here is an article and video written last year in conjunction with Inked Animal’s appearance in Print Austin.

 

Hundreds of animal images fill the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave  in southern France — images dating to more than 30,000 years ago, images widely recognized as among the world’s oldest works of art.

No humans are rendered in Chauvet, just animals: horses, bison, owls, mammoths, bears, lions, a pair of woolly rhinoceroses.

And though for centuries scientific illustrations acted as means to visually describe the natural world, many transcend simple taxonomic purposes. John James Audubon’s luminous watercolors of North American birds today are regarded as much for their aesthetic imagination as for their ornithological detail.

"Grey Fox Chase" by Inked Animal
“Grey Fox Chase” by Inked Animal

Operating under the artistic moniker Inked Animal, Adam Cohen and Ben Labay, both conservation biologists with the Texas Natural Science Center, have since 2007 worked as artistic collaborators, experimenting with Gyotaku animal prints.

A traditional Japanese printing method used by fisherman to document their catch before sending it to market, Gyotaku printing involves inking a fish then pressing it against rice paper to produce an image.

Though Cohen and Labay began their collaborative artistic practice using fish (both are ichthyologists with backgrounds in art), they have since pushed the boundaries of Gyotaku, employing an ever great palette of inks and paints to capture an ever greater detail and nuance.

And the duo has broadened the scope of the specimens they use, developing methods to print bones, feathers and fur, crafting ways to reveal internal and external anatomy.

As fascinating as they are scientifically, Inked Animal’s images surprise with remarkable beauty — not just with their delicate detail, but with a reverential and even celebratory spirit. Cohen and Labay create artistic elegies to the breathtaking grace and complexity of the animal kingdom.

"Sheepshead" by Inked Animal
“Sheepshead” by Inked Animal

American-Statesman videographer Reshma Kirpalani captured Cohen and Labay at work.

“We started experimenting with different materials and different papers,” said Labay in an  interview with Kirpalani. “It was kind of a natural next step to start experimenting with different print mediums and so different animals.”

“I really like when you get an animal, looking at it up close, and seeing little details that you don’t ever notice before, or getting your hands on an animals that you would never have been able to touch before,” said Cohen.  “Like a duck —  you’ll see little details of the beak, or little interesting parts of anatomy that you wouldn’t notice otherwise.”

Acute to public sensitivities given the material they use in their art practice, Cohen and Labay offer this by way of explanation of how they collect animal specimens:

“We are both conservation biologists working daily towards the long-term persistence of the populations of animals that we print. As such we have strong feelings about the ethical treatment and use of animals. With very few exceptions (occasionally fish and invertebrates) we do not kill animals specifically for use in our art and rather rely on animals found deceased in nature. In some cases we will accept specimens from permitted hunters, wildlife rehabilitators and exterminators so long as they have been collected via legal means. When appropriate, we donate specimens to museums for long-term curation and for use in scientific research.”

Blanton Museum to build Ellsworth Kelly building

Rendering of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin" building.
Rendering of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” building.

The Blanton Museum of Art will announce Friday that it has acquired and will build Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin,” 2,715squarefoot stone building.

One of the most important figures of post-war American abstract art, Kelly originally conceived of the building in 1986 for a private collector. However the work was never realized. The artist has said it has always been his intention for it to exist in perpetuity in a public space.

The building — with luminous colored glass windows, a totemic wood sculpture and 14 blackandwhite stone panels in marble — will be sited on the grounds of the Blanton  on the University of Texas campus.

The 91-year-old Kelly  gifted his design concept for the project to the Blanton.

Austin is part of a journey that began nearly 70 years ago,” he said in a statement.

Rendering of interior of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin" building.
Rendering of interior of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” building.

“In Boston in 1947, as an art student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, I discovered a 12thcentury fresco in the museum’s collection that made a tremendous impression on me. Later, when I was living and working in Paris, I would put my bike on a train and visit early architectural sites all over France. I was intrigued by Romanesque and Byzantine art and architecture. While the simplicity and purity of these forms had a great influence on my art, I conceived this project without a religious program. I hope visitors will experience Austin as a place of calm and light. 

Construction is to begin after the Blanton raises $15 million.

To date $7 million has raised including $2 million each from Austin donors Jeanne and Michael Klein, and from Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth. The Blanton family has donated $3 million .

Beyond the $15 million project budget, UT President Bill Powers has committed $1 million to the project with funds coming from the earnings of University’s Longhorn Network.

Review: Zach Theatre’s “Peter and The Starcatcher”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)

 

 

It’s a rare gem of a play that can delight audiences ages six to 60. Usually, when the show can charm a pre-adolescent, the ticket-buying adult is making some concessions regarding quality of entertainment.

But “Peter and The Starcatcher,” a fanciful backstory for Peter Pan playing now through March 1 at Zach Theatre, manages to make the experience engaging for all ages.

Zach Theatre's "Peter and the Starcatcher." Photo by Kirk Tuck.
Zach Theatre’s “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Photo by Kirk Tuck.

This is likely due in no small part to the source text: a young adult novel written by humorist Dave Barry and children’s adventure novelist Ridley Pearson.

Rick Elice’s adapted script is peppered with Barry’s witticisms but the show nevertheless caters to both crowds: pirates and magic for the kiddos paired with all sorts of delightful pop culture Easter eggs for adults. With references ranging from cell phone commercials to pop music to Ayn Rand, those jokes will fly over the heads of the youngsters but hit home for the adults in the crowd. And the malapropisms of Black Stache (J. Robert Moore) alone are almost worth the cost of tickets.

As the dastardly and flamboyant villain, Moore couldn’t be more fabulous. With a commanding stage presence and ridiculous lip foliage, he’s hilarious and charming. Toby Minor (Smee) serves as an excellent sidekick and comic foil, and Martin Burke (Mrs. Bumbrake) shines as always (even when they’ve got him in a dress).

Michael McDonald’s costuming has everyone on stage looking good, especially in the amazingly sparkly mermaid number that opens the second act. And Jamie Goodwin’s (Lord Leonard Aster) flowing locks are absolutely marvelous, as is the talented actor’s performance.

The ensemble is excellent, with everyone pitching in to fill narrative flashbacks by donning multiple personas. Luke Lindsteadt (Prentiss) stands out in spite of his minor role as a Lost Boy, and Sara Burke’s (Molly Aster) charisma is infectious as she takes command of the boys.

It’s easy to see why the show was a hit on Broadway and won a slew of Tony’s. It offers a lot of room for hilarity and pizazz even if it only has a handful of musical numbers.

On opening weekend, however, the cast struggled somewhat to catch their stride in terms of comedic timing. The early parts of the show dragged a bit when the audience wasn’t quite in sync with the humor, but things began to mesh just before intermission, and the second act was absolutely stellar in spite of some microphone mishaps.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” continues through March 1 at Zach Theatre. Tickets $25-$73. www.zachtheatre.org

Printing on clay: Artist Jennifer Quarles

Of late, artists have started to combine the centuries-old printmaking techniques with the millenia-old ceramic traditions to create an intriguing hybrid medium.

As part of Print Austin 2015, “Print-Fired: An Exhibition Featuring Printmaking Techniques in Clay,” continues through Feb. 27 at E4 Gallery, 3307 E. 4th St. next to Armadillo Clayworks.

Jennifer Quarles, "You Like This."
Jennifer Quarles, “You Like This.”

Among the artists features is Jennifer Quarles who uses stencils and screenprints images onto her whimsical and irreverent clayworks that make plenty of good-natured comment on our digital (and non-tactile) world.

Quarles, who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, takes about her creative process and artist practice in this video by American-Statesman videographer Reshma Kirpalani.

In conjunction with “Print-Fired” there will be free demonstrations of clay printing techniques every Sunday in February from noon to 2 p.m.

Quarles will give the demo Feb. 27, showing how she applies images and text to the surfaces of her ceramic work using a mixture of stenciling and screenprinting techniques.

More info here:  http://print-fired.com/

Jennifer Quarles, "Hello World."
Jennifer Quarles, “Hello World.”

See more of Quarles art work at: http://jenquarles.com/

 

Review: “100 Heartbreaks”

Charlane Tucker’s got dreams alright. And she’s pretty sure she figured out a sure fire way to make them come true.

If she simply gets her heartbroken 100 times she’ll surely have earned the credibility as a country singer for Nashville to take her seriously and make her star.

It’s just that the problems with dreams (and their attendant plans) is that very often cloud your view of the happiness that’s right in front of you.

Joanna Garner’s charming and utterly enjoyable musical play “100 Heartbreaks,” through Feb. 14 at the Sahara Lounge, delightfully spins Charlane’s story. (Read a story about Garner’s creation of the play.)

Cleverly staged at the Sahara much like it’s an actual gig, “100 Heartbreaks” finds Charlane back in a small town Montana club, a year after she left behind Mark Larson (Heath Allyn), man number 52 of her 100 man heartbreak journey, and her one-time opening act.

Garner, who penned the songs as well as the script, has a pretty and rich-sounding voice and is superbly backed by guitarist Eric Roach, bassist Alexander Villarreal and drummer Robert Vignisson who themselves do a great turn playing the characters of the house band.

Joanna Garner and in "100 Heartbreaks." (Steve Rogers Photography)
Joanna Garner and Heath Allyn in “100 Heartbreaks.” (Steve Rogers Photography)

Garner and Allyn have a convincing chemistry as the stumbling lovers.

And the Saraha does a fine job of being the friendly dive club that it is, the strings of Christmas lights draping from the low ceilings and odd decorations are all authentic beyond question.

Director Jess Hutchinson makes great use of the site-specific staging and the action is fluid whether it’s the band playing and teasing each other on stage or Charlane and the play’s bartender (Sean Moran) are chatting it up over a whisky offstage.

If the story trajectory in “100 Heartbreaks” is expected, that doesn’t make the show any less enjoyable. With clever songs and a sweet story “100 Heartbreaks” is a sheer honky-tonk charm to watch.

Continues 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday; Feb. 8, 10 and 7 p.m. Feb. 14, Sahara Lounge, 1413 Webberville Road. $15. http://www.100heartbreaks.com

Review: “Three Zisters” at Salvage Vanguard Theater

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)

 

Theater practitioners and scholars delight in dredging up the vestiges of times gone by, rehashing the classics and keeping them alive through incessant repetition.

But it can be taboo to question why in the world anyone needs another production of Chekhov.

"Three Zisters" at Salvage Vanguard Theater
“Three Zisters” at Salvage Vanguard Theater

“Three Zisters” by Lola Pierson, playing through Feb. 14 at Salvage Vanguard Theater, asks that very question by turning Chekhov’s original into a mash up of every imaginable taboo (from necrophilia to self-flagellation) set in stark contrast to the polite society of 19th-century Russia.

And the sisters are zombies. And it’s seriously amazing whether you like Chekhov or not.

The show is a beautifully holistic piece of theater. director Yury Urnov draws on all the available production elements to create an ominous world for the play that delights and startles at every turn.

Designer Iä Enstera brings us another amazing (and dynamic) set and Natalie George’s lighting gives it additional life.

Robert Fisher’s sound design casts the creepy overtones that plunge us into the haunted house aesthetic, and Jessica Gilzow’s costumes offer just the right amount of weird and threatening (surgical masks and latex gloves are inherently sinister on stage).

The show starts on a mischievous  note when Robert Matney (Andrei) appears on stage to tell us the back story – using a series of vegetables, kitchen utensils and nesting matryoshka dolls to illustrate the tale of Checkhov’s melancholy characters.

It’s a whirlwind of information, but that doesn’t matter much since this isn’t (in any way) a standard re-telling of Chekov’s play. Especially if you know enough about the original to dislike it, you’ll love this show, as it seems to be both an homage and a send up of the canonical work.A3Zisters-6328

Heather Hanna (Olga), Jenny Larson (Irina), and Caroline Reck (Masha) are fabulously creepy as the bedraggled trio, brought to life yet again to be hauled through the motions of Chekhov’s tragedy.

Jay Byrd (Tusenbach), Zac Crofford (Vershenin), and Noel Gaulin (Soleny) round out the cast and put up with an amazing amount of abuse in this raunchy revision.

The short 65-minute show keeps you on the edge of your seat, though if you’re sitting in the front row, you might want to watch your toes as they’re just on the edge of the splatter zone.

It may be Chekhov (sort of), but it’s Chekhov with zombies, so of course there’s going to be blood. And it’s great.

“Three Zisters” continues through Feb. 14 at Salvage Vanguard Theater. www.salvagevanguard.org

Review: Austin Opera’s “Romeo & Juliet”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Luke Quinton.)

 

Austin Opera’s current production of Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliet” — which plays through Sunday at the Long Center — is a return to form in the new year, a work that offers the things opera fans expect. Austin-Opera---Romeo-and-Juliet---2015---Photographer-Lynn-Lane-

It captures your attention from the start with waves of sound, as a rather gloriously full chorus lines the stage to greet us, dressed in a collection of rich pastels under moody lighting. (Costumes are designed by Susan Allred.)

Soon we meet Romeo (tenor Stephen Costello) roughhousing with his Montague buddies, play fighting and sneaking into the Capulets’ ball where, of course, he meets Juliet (soprano Joyce El-Khoury).

Costello and El-Khoury have a winning chemistry on stage, a virtual necessity in pulling off this physical (and intimate) work, and both come across convincingly as the youthful and uninhibited teenagers they’re playing, El-Khoury in bouncing girlish curls and Costello with boyish blond hair and uniform.

Costello — the audience was told on opening night — was fighting an illness, but thankfully it was impossible to tell from the hall. The voices of both singers made an impression.

Every high-schooler knows this story, so it was nice to see that some of the dramatic moments were played skillfully enough to draw us in. The wedding scene is funny and arouses our sympathies.

And elsewhere, fight scenes are smartly choreographed, and the swordplay — and its accompanying metallic tic-tac — is convincing.

Music is in the hyper-romantic vein, which certainly feels appropriate for the story of these star-crossed lovers. (It mostly holds up, though at the death the score takes a turn into what’s unmistakably kitschy territory.) Artistic director Richard Buckley kept a strong baton on the pulse, nimbly moving the action along and managing a beautiful balance of sounds on opening night, including a strong sense of dynamic contrast and some fabulous woodwind licks.

Designer Eric Fielding’s two-story columned set is effective, though a touch dormant. All the various balconies, stairs and mausoleums are couched between their shadows.

Scenes move along fairly quickly when the stakes are high (and they so often are in Shakespeare, after all), though a couple do nothing for the plot. After the flurry of fighting, the penultimate act slows to a crawl.

Romeo and Juliet are often isolated in these later scenes, and in part we miss the energy of quicker musical numbers and that energetic chorus.

But it’s the youthful chemistry of El-Khoury and Costello that wins the day. Their sensitive singing and strong acting carry us to the end, into a moving finale for this smartly realized period production.

Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliet” continues. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 3 p.m. Sunday. http://www.austinopera.org

Review: Aeolus Quartet

(This review was written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Luke Quinton.)

Austin seemed to take a shine to the personable, industrious Aeolus quartet early on, when, as a graduate level ensemble in residence at the University of Texas, they found themselves recruited for gigs across the city’s classical scene. A few years later, Aeolus — now in residence at Juilliard — were back in on for two shows with the Austin Chamber Music Center. AEOLUS-PHOTO-smaller

It’s was a sparkling program, with Haydn, Beethoven and an (approachable!) sextet by Schoenberg.

The theme was transfiguration and the work of each composer touched in some way on that theme. Haydn’s quartet came as he was positioning himself as a Londoner, and maybe some of that city’s vibrancy rubbed off. The Aeolus were dynamite at the fast dancing arpeggios, and the work felt warm and alive.

Like many in the crowd at a private home in West Austin (the second concert was Jan. 24 at First Unitarian Church) I’m not yet a Schoenberg scholar, but “Verklarte Nacht, Op. 4” is a work so powerfully alive that it might make a few converts yet.

As ACMC artistic director Michelle Schumann remarked in her opening commentary — lest people be frightened off by the spectre of atonality —this work appeared right at the heels of the Romantic period. It can’t even be considered 20th Century music, considering it premiered in 1899.

“Verklarte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) is a moving work that tracks multiple emotions in dense clusters that shone like diamonds, next to moments of tortured ambivalence. Children of this new millennium, Aeolus seem truly at home in this work. Rounding out the quartet’s expressive textures were the expert additions of violist Bruce Williams and cellist Amy Levin-Tsang.

Maybe it was my spot on the balcony, but the dynamic range felt a touch too narrow, especially in the intimate space of a private home, where it’s almost impossible to be too quiet for full dramatic effect. Yet near the end the came a breathtaking moment of near-silence.

Aeolus are still very young. In a field whose masters tend towards grey hair, their careers have just begun. Not that you’d necessarily know this if you close your eyes. Their skills shine in fast technical movements, the only evidence that seasoning is required appears occasionally in the slower, vulnerable passages.

Aeolus’ Beethoven quartet — “No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130” — was both technical and musical. It was hard-charging and passionate. First violinist Nicholas Tavani played with a surprising sense of style and improvisation; a few welcome touches of rubato appeared here, and in the Haydn. And the ensemble made the final movement swing.

Their programming has been mature and eclectic, always with an intelligent eye on the modern, and Aeolus continue to make it work.