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March 1st, 2009

Heroes On a Desert Island

We always push the boat out a little when we have a guest from out of town--in this case, 1crowdedhour. Friday night, it was Heroes, a French play translated by Tom Stoppard (when does that man sleep?), at the Clurman Theatre. Last night, it was a Mark Morris (when does he sleep?) production of Hayden's chamber opera L'Ilsola Disabitata (The Uninhabited Island--which is a complete misnomer, because it's inhabited by two sopranos, but still).

Heroes is about three WWI veterans whiling away their last years in an old soldiers' home somewhere in the French countryside. They are all barking mad, more or less, caught in their memories of past battles and opportunities lost, bored with the present and afraid of the future. This makes it sound depressing or, at the very least, earnest as all get out. But it's not. It's very, very funny, in a dark sort of way. John Cullum (Holling on Northern Exposure) is in it, and Ron Holgate and Johnathan Hogan, who are the kind of veterans of screen and stage whose faces look familiar, but I can't remember what they've been in.

What we saw was a preview, and it showed a little. Nobody was absolutely firm on his lines, although Cullum did his best to turn his uncertainty into part of his character. But I loved the play, and the production.

Isola Disabitata is a completely different kettle of fish. The plot is phenomenally silly. The lyrics are, if possible, even sillier. The old lovers do nothing but sigh, weep, moan, and generally drip all over the set. The young lovers are innocent and noble to the point of idiocy. But the music. Oh, the music. Hayden couldn't write an ugly or unpleasing (or unpredictable) line. It has to be said that Constanza (the mezzo) sang entirely without consonants, and Enrico (the baritone) was a little muddy in the article of trills and runs. But he had a lovely tone. Also (how to put this?) a very toned torso. See, he was dressed only in a natty green calico sarong, and we were sitting in the front row, so we really got to see exactly how hard his diaphragm and chest had to work to sustain those notes. Silvia (the soprano) was also exiguously clad in something that looked as if it might be meant to be seaweed and kept threatening to slither off her shoulder, but never quite did. She was also armed with a white inflatable deer which I found incredibly distracting, especially during the love duets with Enrico, who seemed to be distracted by it, too. We laughed. Well, it is a comic opera, directed by Mark Morris. You know he knew it was funny.

Sadly, there were only 5 performances of L'Isola Disabitata, and we saw the penultimate one. Heroes, on the other hand, hasn't even officially opened yet, and can only get better. Go see it if you can. It's the Keen Company on 42nd Street, and TDF has cheap tickets. And in a 99-seat theater, there are no bad seats.

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