Modern Math

By JGB

Too many works of art miss their mark. But miraculously this summer, despite my endless cough and other minor ailments, I found three perfect things.

Often when productions try to get modern, by adding bits of video and quirky minimalist sets, they become too much about the patina and not about the depth. But Simon McBurney is so smart, he takes the story of a mathematician, includes oodles of math, video, dance, and a very clever set and still manages to make a play that is moving and deeply satisfying on every level. A clever trick indeed, he makes A Disappearing Number add up perfectly.

I felt as if I had never heard “Send in the Clowns” before. Quite a feat for a song I have been hearing forever.

Another problem with some musical productions is a tendency to drain complexity and attempt to stand on song alone. Many of the new “minimalist” musical productions make this error.   I must admit that I am one of the three people in the universe who felt that the minimalist approach was completely inappropriate for Sweeney Todd, a piece that is about a stew of life, a “great big pit,” too large for minimalism.  I saw the original Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, and the new one simply made me long for the grandeur of the original, whose power has not drained since I first saw it when I was seventeen. Just thinking of it now, can leave me drained and speechless.

The approach did work for Company a few years ago. This revival had the cast playing instruments as they sang and danced and acted in a whirl around around Bobby, a terrific Raul Esparza.  The effect works as it highlights how the friends and lovers in ones life are the notes which create your song.

The new production of A Little Night Music, featuring the genius of Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch, has a power similar to the original Sweeney Todd. This dance of life, which starts and ends in a tableaux reminiscent of the dance of life via Munch and Matisse, is more than just a peek at the young, the middle aged and the old, along with their particular longings and foibles.  It builds to such a powerful, fully realized portrait of both individuals as well as ideals, that it erases previous renditions and remakes the play into something new and unforgettable.

I felt as if I had never heard “Send in the Clowns” before. Quite a feat for a song I have been hearing forever. Bernadette Peters owns it now, completely. It now has the depth it frequently lacked. The song, like the woman, Desiree, who sings it, has finally grown up.

Everyone in the cast was terrific. Elaine Stritch can still shake rafters with a toss of her head from a wheel chair.  The songs were all well served (“The Miller’s Wife” was particularly lovely), but this is no set piece, and not an assemblage of musical highlights, this is great theatre, a night music to haunt the soul for a long time.

A very different experience from that longest running of shows, The Phantom of the Opera, which we finally went to see after it spent twenty two years on broadway.  The song “The Music of the Night” is haunting, but the play as a whole doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts. I don’t understand its popularity. Despite its attempt to seem deep, it really is merely a bit cloudy. Underground mist misinterpreted as depth.

Finally, my husband found a book, fell in love with it, and pushed it into my hands when he finished. Entitled Shadow of the Wind, this is a book about the power of books that find and capture you, so it is perfect that it came to me this way. It is a book of magical realism, that does not lean too heavily on its tricks. Despite the magicality of a cemetery of “lost books” from which the action starts, this book is about the power of books on readers and conversely the power of readers on writers, and is so real you want to go to Barcelona and help the protagonist, Daniel, find the writer of his favorite misunderstood, and under-appreciated, book.

So, it has been a great summer for new works done in new ways and old ones that hit the mark at long last. Three perfect experiences, one disappointing one. Altogether that adds up spectacularly.

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About JGB

Jenine Gordon Bockman is the founder and publisher of Literal Latte.

One Comment

  1. Heath Brougher
    Posted March 2015 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Dear Jenine Gordon Bockman,

    NICE touch with the muted post horns. I used to put them on all my mail up until a few years ago. I just wanted to say kudos for the Pynchonian nod. That was his second novel. I think these days we mind need to be a bit more worried about the Golden Fang or Gabriel Ice. This is the first publication I’ve come across that is an online-only publication yet only takes submissions though the mail. Although I’m 35 years old and have been writing ever since I can remember, I’ve only been submitting for my work for publication since March of last year. I still have not submitted to single lit mag through snail mail, if you can believe it. An entire year without any snail mail submission. Thanks for keeping the magazine fresh and, above all, alive.

    Sincerely,

    Heath Brougher

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