Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's a Wonderful Art Form

Posted by Bruce Miller
I confess. I’ve never enjoyed opera. I take no pride in admitting this. I consider it a grave shortcoming.

It’s not from lack of trying. I’ve seen great opera. In the early 1970s, I trekked northward with a group of fellow theatre students from U of R to see Norman Treigle’s legendary performance at New York City Opera in the title role of Boito's Mefistofele. The fires of hell left me cold.

I’ve attended Verdi’s La Traviata at the Met; Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann at the Baltimore Opera Company; and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Tosca and La Bohème, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Virginia Opera. Others in the audience were enraptured and on the edge of their seats. I was the brain-dead imbecile fighting to stifle a yawn.

All hope is not lost. I loved Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors on TV as a child. I was dazzled and captivated by the scenes from Mozart’s The Magic Flute included in the film of Amadeus. Stephen Sondheim is called “operatic” by many. I hang on every note he’s ever written.

I’ve come to believe the reason I don’t cotton to opera is because, to me, it goes against so much of what I love about theatre. Great theatre seems “real” to me. Great opera frequently seems “fake.” I hear others say this about musicals and I think they’re insane. I guess it’s all about where we come from. So don’t yell at me. I’m admitting to a dearth of intelligence, taste and sophistication. It’s not opera’s fault; it’s mine.

I write this confession, this mea culpa, as prelude to this: I know there will be some in the world who are so enamored of action/adventure and spectacle that Scotty Wichmann’s one-man performance in This Wonderful Life, which opened last night at Barksdale Willow Lawn, may seem "slow" or "small" or "tame." I suspect these same people won’t watch the original Frank Capra film unless it is colorized and even then keep waiting for the car chase and the explosions.

I suppose they're entitled to their opinions, but I really don't share them.

I’m a terrible cry baby and I’m ashamed to be. No matter how hard I try to keep my cheeks dry, it gets worse the further into my dotage I advance. I’m easily and instantly overcome by sentiment. My one consolation is that my father, a.k.a. “the greatest guy who ever lived,” was the same way. He couldn’t make it through a blessing at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table without becoming so feklempt he was unable to speak.

Last night I’m not sure which made me cry more—the heartfelt sentiment of one of my favorite Christmas stories, or the one hour and 50 minute glimpse I had into the utter majesty of this art form to which I have devoted my life. I don’t want to overstate things so as to build up unreasonable expectations, but in this case I don’t see how overstatement is possible. Scott’s performance is brilliant. He should be on Broadway. He should win a Tony. Richmond is unbelievably fortunate to have him in our midst.

And to be just, it’s not solely about Scott. John Moon’s direction is invisible and outstanding. Every detail--and it’s all about the details--is just right. The pacing is perfect and the ebb and flow of emotion couldn’t be better. Lynne Hartman’s light design is world-class and adds immeasurably to the art. There must be 150 light cues illuminating Adam Karavatakis’s tasteful, evocative and effective set and Sue Griffin’s spot-on costume(s).

Which brings me to Rick Brandt, our stage manager. Do you know how hard it is to call a show that has a different sound or light cue every few seconds? And the irreplaceable Linwood Guyton, our sound and light op. Do you have any idea how crazy you can get trying to focus on and perfectly execute that many rapid fire cues?

Last night went off without a hitch and EVERYONE involved should be intensely proud. This is masterful storytelling at its very finest. I feel so gratified and grateful. Christmas is here; theatre is wonderful and life-changing; all’s right with the world.

I know. My passions are out of control and over the top. Talk about operatic. I’ll stop writing now.

Hope to see you at the theatre! I’ll be the one with the handkerchief poised and ready.

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

I finally made it out to see Scott. Richmond has three or four actors who fall into his category of excellence, and I agree with you that we are so fortunate. I'm so sick of hearing people say they only go to New York or the Kennedy Center to see plays. Or those frequently awful Broadway Under the Stars shows. I hope they all come see Mr. Wichmann in this beautiful show and learn the errors of their ways. Sometimes people are just stupid.

Anonymous said...

You will leave this play uplifted and ready to go home and make the best of your holidays with your friends and family. Scott Wichmann as George Bailey (and every other character in the play) was fabulous; he obviously enjoys his work. The direction, lighting, sound and scenery were very good given what I can only imagine is a limited budget for a short run event. For Richmond to have such a gem in its midst is a coup. Adam Karavatakis' work with regard to the scenes where George Bailey is on the bridge is nothing short of genius; I felt like I was there on the bridge with George / Scott. My confession is that most of my play going experience of the last 30 years has been in the large northern cities, especially New York. This should could easily be an off-Broadway production with a little tweaking. If you live in the Richmond area --- this show is an evening well spent.

David said...

Wish I could have been there, Adam.