Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pickings Were Slim

Joshua’s sister visited us over the three-day holiday weekend, and we were able to take her to a few things, having saved everything on our calendars for her visit.

Pickings were slim.

The Guthrie is dark this month; all three Guthrie theaters have been closed since the holidays and will not resume operations until February. The Guthrie is having financial problems, and most Guthrie employees have been given unpaid furloughs for part of the month of January.

Most other theater companies in town are between productions or offering performances of plays we have seen too many times or have no wish to see.

The Minnesota Orchestra is not in session, Minnesota Opera is preparing Verdi’s “Macbeth", due to open later this month, and the Cowles Center (which presents mostly dance) has nothing to offer civilized persons for the entire 2013-2014 season.

Nonetheless, we managed to make it out a few times, which was better than staying home and reading aloud from Thucydides’s “History Of The Peloponnesian War”.


On Friday evening, we attended Theatre In The Round’s presentation of John Guare’s “Six Degrees Of Separation”.

“Six Degrees Of Separation” is not a strong play, and it has many faults.

To begin, the play’s dialogue lacks vividness and imagination. Clunky line follows clunky line, no rhythm develops, and poetry and high style are absent from the text. It becomes impossible for any drama or light to emerge, what with the flat, featureless writing.

The plot of the play, based upon real-life events, is not promising: a middle-aged New York couple is taken in by a skillful con artist—and consequences flow. The play might have been more rewarding (and more entertaining) if the playwright had satirized the foolish Manhattan husband and wife rather than used their gullible natures as the basis for a superficial examination of 1990s New York mores and morals.

Of perhaps greatest importance, the existential message at the center of the play—that all humankind is interconnected by no more than six degrees of separation—is both false and off-putting (as well as far too dreary to contemplate). Are there only six degrees of separation between me and North Korea’s Supreme Leader and Great Successor, Kim Jong-un? I very much doubt it.

Happily, “Six Degrees Of Separation” is a very short play—ninety minutes, with no intermission—and the play ends not a moment too soon: ten minutes more, and the audience would have been heading for the exits.

I thought Theatre In The Round gave the material a fair shot. The production was satisfactory, and the cast was satisfactory. However, “Six Degrees Of Separation” is a play that should be laid to permanent rest. It makes the plays of Edward Albee look like Shakespeare.


On Saturday evening, we went to Saint Paul to hear a Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concert.

The conductor was Matthias Pintscher, a no-longer-young German composer (Pintscher will turn forty-three in another week) based in New York the last few years.

Pintscher was, I thought, incompetent. He lacked the command and presence of a genuine conductor—and it appeared that the musicians were ignoring him as much as possible, trying to prevent Pintscher from damaging performances of music the musicians can play in their sleep.

The popular, unchallenging program: Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2; Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite; Webern’s orchestration of the six-voice Ricercata from Bach’s Musical Offering; and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 (“Italian”).

The performances, bland and impersonal, resembled run-throughs with a local répétiteur, everyone awaiting the arrival of an out-of-town guest conductor to shape the proceedings. The concert had to be experienced as an “open rehearsal”.


On Sunday afternoon, we went downtown to the Pantages Theatre to attend Theater Latté Da’s new production of the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Joe Masteroff musical, “Cabaret”. The production had opened the previous evening after three previews.

Theater Latté Da’s production was based upon the Sam Mendes version of the musical, first produced in London in 1993. The Mendes version is darker than the 1966 original, and lengthens—and emphasizes—the proceedings in the cabaret itself, at the expense of the proceedings outside the cabaret.

Last season, Bloomington Civic Theatre had presented the original version of the musical, which has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years. We attended one of the BCT performances of “Cabaret”—and, in my judgment, the original version is vastly superior to the Mendes version. Among other things, the changes wrought by Mendes unbalance the show: the proceedings outside the cabaret lose their significance, and their resonance; all that remains is a tale of seedy show business, something more appropriate for Las Vegas revues.

And, indeed, Theater Latté Da’s “Cabaret” was very much a Las Vegas show, desperate to hold the attention of a general audience. Everything was overplayed, overstated, overcooked, oversold, over-the-top. I kept waiting for Siegfried And Roy to appear.

The audience appeared to love this particular production of “Cabaret”.

The production left me depressed.


On Monday we went to the Museum Of Russian Art to see the current Romanov exhibition, “The Romanovs: Legacy Of An Empire Lost”, a collection of “historically significant objects” from the 300-year Romanov dynasty.

Approximately 200 artifacts were on display. Although all items were being seen by the public for the first time, I felt as if I had seen this exhibition before, a hundred times, here and elsewhere.

I believe it is time to give these endless Romanov exhibitions a rest.


  1. Your joke about Thucydides is understandable, presuming you are referring to Benjamin Jowett's translation, which is charmless and dull (Crawley's translation is marginally superior).

    If, however, you were to read this masterpiece aloud in the original Attic Greek - at least Book II, the magnificent "Funeral Oration of Pericles" - you could certainly have been able to make at least one, laughter-filled, enjoyable evening for everyone involved: The Author's ubiquitous use of Greek puns, especially of those commonly known among the Athenian military in 411 B.C., are side-splitting in their time-immune hilarity.

    Lord Macaulay, having said, "We have to educate a people [in India] who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother tongue. We must teach them some foreign language," once read aloud all seven books of "The History of the Peloponnesian War, during which time 3,000 "people of the Indus" died on their feet with laughter.

    We could use a Macaulay in our time in the USA.

  2. Erratum: "The Author's use of puns . . . IS side-splitting it their time-immune hilarity."

  3. Alas, I know not a word of Greek, and have read Thucydides only in translation. The author’s jokes were, I am sure, over my head.

    Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica will appear in Saint Paul on Saturday night, February 8. We have tickets.

    My father alerted me today to look at the program, which has very recently been changed. The new program is mostly chamber music, not music for chamber orchestra as originally announced. When you have a chance, look at the program (available at The Schubert Club website) and tell me what you think. I’m not sure we will bother to go now.

    Did you know that Beethoven wrote an “Edgemont” Overture? I was reading some moron’s blog earlier this week, and he wrote how much he liked Beethoven’s noble “Edgemont” Overture.

    This person’s idiocy reminded me of my all-time favorite blog visitor, who arrived via the search: “Who glazed the face of Agamemnon?”

  4. I would go to the concert myself, especially since there is nothing else going on in town.

    I confess that I do not think much of the Shostakovich Sonata, It was written for David Oistrach's 60th birthday, if I recall. It begins promisingly but afterwards . . . .

    The cantata, "Antiformalistic Rayok," might actually be fun. It is a satire of the Stalin period (like pretty much EVERYTHING this composer wrote); in particular of the very meaning of the Soviet invention, "Formalism." I have never heard this work, however. If I lived in your city, I would take a chance just to hear that for the first time.

    I don't know that the Britten would work for violin and piano alone.

    Kremer himself can be fun to watch. He is, let's face it, an entertainer. He is often in his most weird stylistic temperament in repertoire such as this - but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Moreover, sometimes Kremer actually has something worthy to say.

    So, I would go. The concert surely will not move you profoundly, but it may be fun nonetheless.


    No, I haven't heard Beethoven's "Edgemont Overture." I wonder if Beethoven wrote it on a commission from Edgemont, Florida, commemorating the Edgemont Homeless Center, whose history actually stretches back to 1700.

    In those days the Center was operated by a renegade family of German-born expatriates who had infiltrated a Seminole Indian tribe. Interestingly enough, it was these Schwanka-Econolachachee's who first introduced the "thing sock" to the world. This might explain why Beethoven stored his snuff boxes in "Zeugschmuechtenren," a word derived from "Shmoocheeopoochpoopsek," which means "bag."

    As suggested above, the "bag" was not a common implement among the Florida natives at that time.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts. We have two weeks to decide what to do. The program originally announced was much more interesting—even though it did not include Beethoven’s “Edgemont” Overture.

    The weather has been so bad here, even by Minnesota standards, that one goes out no more than necessary. Early next week, it’s supposed to get even worse: 25 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit), with a wind chill of minus 50 degrees (Fahrenheit).

  6. Stay warm. The cold is even affecting us. It went all the way down to 36 last night. I have experienced 20 below up north, so I know how bad that is.

    Take care of yourselves.

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  8. Thanks for your thoughts. We have two weeks to decide what to do. The program originally announced was much more interesting—even though it did not include Beethoven’s “Edgemont” Overture.

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