Monday, May 30, 2011

Keeping Up with Brian and Court; Revisiting "Arcadia"

Posted by Bruce Miller
Despite its size, whenever I go to New York I bump into old friends as if the streets of the Broadway theatre district were little more than the aisles of my neighborhood Ukrop's. (Saying "my neighborhood Martin's" just isn't the same.) I can't think of a single Big Apple excursion in decades when this hasn't been the case.

This trip, the first reconnection was with Brian Kalin (pictured to the left) who hollered out my name as we passed each other on 47th between Broadway and 8th. Brian was my manly scenic designer for The Little Dog Laughed, who not only delivered a terrific, stylish set, but also brought his fair share of testosterone into every production meeting. It was great to see him again.

Brian's career has been progressing nicely since his move to NYC in 2008. For the last few years, Brian has been assisting Court Watson (pictured below and to the right), a fellow VCU alum who also designed at Barksdale (The 1940's Radio Hour, 2002). A lot of their work is in Germany and Austria, such as:

Jekyll and Hyde & West Side Story
Theater Magdeburg - Magdeburg was one of the most important medieval cities in Europe; today it is the capital of the German "state" of Saxony-Anhalt

Frau Luna & Der Himmel ├╝ber Berlin
Salzburger Landestheater - the best known and oldest theatre in the Mozart town of Saltzburg, where much of The Sound of Music film was shot

Elton John's Aida & Rockville: A New Musical
Musical Sommer - a summer theatre located in Amstetten, a town on the western edge of Lower Austria. For reasons unknown by me, Lower Austria is a "state" actually located in Upper Austria, the Northeast corner, surrounding the city of Vienna

In between all these European gigs, Court and Brian have managed to fit in a healthy dose of stateside work as well:

2011 - the recently closed Liberty Smith at Ford's Theatre in D. C.
2011 - Annie Get Your Gun at the Glimmerglass Festival, with hot young director Francesca Zambello
2010 - Off Broadway, It Must Be Him
2010 - Off Broadway, Dear Edwina
2010 - The Shakespeare Theatre in D. C., All's Well That Ends Well, directed by Michael Kahn
2010 - Engeman Theatre, Run for Your Wife and Fiddler on the Roof, both directed by B. T. McNicholl

Court also posts earlier credits as Assistant Scenic Designer for the recent Broadway runs of High Fidelity, Lestat and Little Women, and Assistant Costume Designer for Broadway's Cry-Baby, South Pacific and Mauritius.

It was great to learn that Brian and Court are doing so well. One of a regional theatre's institutional responsibilities is to give work experience to its most talented hometown theatre artists, so that if and when they make their move to NYC or other larger markets, they have the professional resume credit(s) needed to get their foot in the door. Barksdale is proud to be an early credit on the resumes of both Brian and Court.

In between bumping into old friends, Hannah and I also saw a few shows while visiting the Great White Way. On the second evening of our trip (Friday), we purchased half price TKTS tickets to the show that wound up being the favorite of both of us--the brilliant revival of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.

Arcadia has been among my favorite plays since I saw the American premiere at Lincoln Center in 1995. We've never produced it at Theatre IV or Barksdale because I believe a successful production of the play requires resources that we simply don't have. More than most plays, Arcadia must be performed with the utmost artistry in acting, design and construction if it is to effective. In my opinion, this play that deals brilliantly with the sheer wonder of chaos theory must have a pristine acuity in its presentation if the audience is to fully engage with the mystery and the magic. I've never had any desire to produce a partially-realized Arcadia. To do so would do a disservice to one of favorite plays by a living playwright.

Thankfully, the current Broadway revival offers all that one could want from what many regard as Stoppard's masterpiece. I loved it even more than the original. David Leveaux's direction is invisible and seems to make the play more accessible than I remember it being in '95. Lia Williams (pictured above and to the left), Billy Crudup, Tom Riley, and especially Raul Esparza (also pictured) tear into their roles with zest, humor, charm, and equal measures of erudition and emotion. Margaret Colin, Noah Robbins and David Turner are perfectly suited to their supporting roles. Only Bel Powley as young Thomasina Coverly seemed heavy-handed--too brassy and brash for her upper-crust British surroundings.

The design work of Hildegard Bechtler (sets) and Gregory Gale (costumes) was sumptuous and, where appropriate, understated--right on target.

Watching the play, we sat about four rows behind Victor Garber, who originally played the role of the literary scholar wannabe, Bernard Nightingale. In this production, Nightingale was played by Billy Crudup, who took Broadway by storm as Septimus Hodge in the 1995 production. After the show, Hannah and I waited with a small handful of theatre lovers at the stage door (with no Hollywood stars, the hangers on were few). After a few minutes, Garber and Crudup emerged together, and we had the chance to talk with both of them for two or three minutes. They were gracious, and it was very fun.

If you've never seen Arcadia in a first-class production, and if you love great theatre, I recommend the play and this production heartily.

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on "Mormon"!!! :)

Bruce Miller said...

I'll wax lyrical this weekend.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen a production of Arcadia, but fell in love with it from reading the script. I hope to see it someday -- perhaps at Barksdale when you find all the right elements.
- Rosie