Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Carlisle Floyd

The 17th Century Actor Edward Kynaston

Review | Prince of Players | Opera by Carlisle Floyd | New York Premier | Little Opera Theatre of NY

… what a difference a king makes …

In Prince of Players, a private, personal and intimate story – that of an actor thrown out of work by a King’s decree — plays out against a canvas of broad historical meaning.  Although I’ve seen thoughts to the contrary, I found it monumental, and Carlisle Floyd’s swelling, varied music, performed by a cast of fine singer-actors supported by a full orchestra fulfills and amplifies the strong emotions and large resonances.

We are in 1661, in the period of the restoration of King Charles II of England after the dictatorship of Cromwell and the Puritans – with both a capital and a small “p”.  The theater-loving King Charles II – following the latest French fashion — decrees that women’s roles must no longer be played by male actors, as they had been, but must now be played by women.

The 17th Century Actor Edward Kynaston

The 17th Century Actor Edward Kynaston. Mezzotint, R. B. Parkes, engraver, R. Cooper, artist, perhaps after an original painting by Sir Peter Lely. From “An Apology for the Life of Mr Colley Cibber, new edn. by Robert W. Lowe, 1889

This may seem like a step in the direction of naturalism and perhaps of fair play, but it sure pulls the rug out from under the career of Edward Kynaston, a male Shakespearean actor of androgynous beauty who built his fame playing women’s roles, such as Desdemona.  A victim of collateral damage, he loses everything – career, livelihood, status, and love.  He’s thrown to the lowest levels of degradation but he claws his way back to triumph again on stage – to play Othello.

A particularly complex character, Margaret Hughes is an underling who comes to the fore, starting off as Kynaston’s dresser in the years of his success in playing women’s roles. She holds in her heart two passions impossible of fulfillment: a desire to act on stage, forbidden to women, and desire for Kynaston, whom she’s in love with while knowing he’s erotically drawn to men.  Charles’ decree turns her desire to act on stage into a real possibility:  seizing the day.  she rises  to become a fine and important actress, her success paralleling Kynaston’s fall from grace.  And, still in love with Kynaston, she uses her new empowerment to empower him.  She enables him to revise his great acting talent now to play successfully the roles open to him — male roles.  From having once played Desdemona, he now plays Othello.

The heart of the matter that comes with a surprise and gives this narrative an inspiring character is what we, and Kynaston, learn about Kynaston’s talent for acting.  It’s gender independent.  The question which at first seemed fundamental — will he play a female or male role? — turns out to be incidental in the face of his great artistic gift.  I found this moving in its operatic development (although I didn’t find Kynaston’s fundamental personality upheaval that came along with it convincing.)

I’m struck by close parallels in the story of Prince of Players and that of the Academy Award winning film, The Artist, of 2011, discussed here below.   While The Prince of Players takes us the world of 17th century British theater, The Artist takes us to the world of movie-making in 1927 when the new talkies were taking over from silent films. Valentin is a great silent film actor, but he’s over-confident of his star power and lacks confidence in his ability to use his voice as an actor so he refuses, like Kynaston, to even try to relearn his craft. Failing to adapt, he’s swept to the bottom of the barrel, as Kyaston had been, and is eclipsed by the success in the talking films of the young actress, Peppy, who had always loved him.  Peppy, like Margaret, in love with the great artist that she knows Valentin to be, finds a way around his pride, enabling him once again to rise and fulfill his great artistic gift.  (Unlikely, but worth mentioning – since the best known source for modern adaptations of the story of Edward Kynaston is Samuel Pepys, one wonders if the name Peppy in The Artist is an elaborate if obscure in-joke, pointing to sources.)

Larger roles in this production were double cast.  The cast in the performance I saw Saturday, February 25, 2017 were for the most part fine singers and always tone-perfect actors. Edward Kynaston was played by baritone Michael Kelly whose rich voice filled the ample Kaye Playhouse, and magnetic stage presence filled the full range of emotions in the part.  Soprano Maeve Hoglund was thrilling as a dramatic singer in the intricately drawn character of Margaret.  These two played off one another with crackling excitement, above all in the final intensely dramatic, suspenseful and cathartic final scene.

Prince of Players is based on a play made into a movie, The Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffrey Hatcher, both drawn loosely upon references to characters and incidents of the period, and on references to Edward Kynaston in Samuel Pepys’ diary.  The opera premiered at the Houston Grand Opera March of 2016, and, produced by The Little Opera Theatre of NY, played at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, in Manhattan, where I saw it, February 23 – 26, 2017.

Bray Wilkins and Sarah Beckham Turner in SLOW DUSK. Photo Buckman

Opera Review | Slow Dusk and Markheim by Carlisle Floyd | New Chamber Arrangements by Inessa Zaretsky and Raymond J. Lustig | Little Opera Theatre of NY | 59E59 Theaters

What a wonderful evening of theater.  Two short American operas, narratives set to dramatic music, superbly performed.  One leaves thrilled and elated.

L-R Jennifer Roderer, Sarah Beckham-Turner, Alexander Charles Boyd in SLOW DUSK. Photo Buckman

L-R Jennifer Roderer, Sarah Beckham-Turner, Alexander Charles Boyd in SLOW DUSK. Photo Buckman

Slow Dusk takes us from commonplace to ecstatic, to tragedy, from afternoon to dusk.  Aunt Sue is shelling peas on the porch of a farmhouse in the Carolinas when Jess comes in from the fields, we learn of their concern about their niece, Sadie, who’s seeing to much of Micah — his family belong to the Truelights and they belong to the Disciples, and anyhow she’s smart and he never finished eighth grade.  They’re wild for one another and agree to marry but — not family as in Romeo and Juliet — accident intervenes, as fast as it can in life.

This is Carlisle Floyd’s first opera based on his own short story:  the language is at times over simple but the

Bray Wilkins and Sarah Beckham Turner in SLOW DUSK. Photo Buckman

Bray Wilkins and Sarah Beckham Turner in SLOW DUSK. Photo Buckman

music is bold, strong, apt, and intensifies the drama, and the characterizations are both archetypal and realistic.  (I thought, Eugene O’Neil’s Desire Under the Elms could use Carlisle Floyd’s music.)

The voices might not have carried to the last rows of the Metropolitan Opera house but in this medium sized theater they were overwhelming and very moving.  The acting, direction, costuming and setting are superb.  The impact is powerful.

Wow, am I glad I’m here!  I thought, almost dazed — what’s next?

Next came one of the most impactful performances I’ve ever seen.  Again it’s short, a lot happens , and you’re left breathless and elated.  Markheim, based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, takes you to London 1880, and

L-R Scott Six and Jeremy Milner in MARKHEIM. Photo Buckman

L-R Scott Six and Jeremy Milner in MARKHEIM. Photo Buckman

Christmas Eve, when an elegant man, Markheim,  who has squandered his family fortune enters a pawn shop to raise cash — drug dealers will kill him if he doesn’t pay up.

Here, again, characterizations, narrative and music form a gripping whole.  A confrontation between the pawn dealer and Markheim doesn’t end well as Markheim, who’s spent his life digging himself into a hole goes in deeper.  A mysterious Stranger in evening clothes enters.  Now, I’ve seen some wonderful Devils in theater, from Don Juan in Hell to Faust:  this

L-R Jeremy Milner and Marc Schreiner in MARKHEIM. Photo Buckman

L-R Jeremy Milner and Marc Schreiner in MARKHEIM. Photo Buckman

is the Devil whose Hell I’d really consider.  He’s sly, smart, sophisticated, articulate and choreographically active.  With a Devil likethis, redemption’s a tough sell, though there is a kind of redemption …. with an awful lot of collateral damage.

The night I attended Marc Schreiner played the Stranger and he was so seductively charismatic I’d be reluctant to see anybody else in the part — what sheer fun! — and that goes for all the cast of both operas.   Yet, at the same time I’d like to see the other cast since every aspect of this production is so completely fulfilled I imagine they are equally outstanding.

Because there are two casts, I’m listing here the cast the night I attended:  Slow Dusk:  Aunt Sadie was mezzo-soprana Jennifer Roderer, Jess was baritone Alexander Charles Boyd, Sadie was soprana Sarah Beckham-Turner and Micah was tenor Bray Wilkins.  Markheim:  Josiah Creach (the pawnbroker) was tenor Scott Six, Markheim was bass-baritone Jeremy Milner, Tess (the shop girl) was soprano Marie Masters and A Stranger was tenor Marc Schreiner.  There are ensemble Christmas carolers.

Richard Cordova conducted the lavish fifteen-piece orchestra:  the richly inventive and dramatic music heightened the emotional content and filled the theater with beauty.

The human scale, the authenticity in the costumes and ambiance as well as in the acting, the set and lighting create an extraordinary “you can’t get enough of it” visual appeal.

Just listing the performers brings back their vivid characterizations and the joy of the entire production – the joy of excellence.  These operas and others of this Carlisle Floyd’s works are available on audio media but I haven’t located any videos of them.  I’d sure like to see as well as hear his two-act opera Susannah.

Slow Dusk and Markheim play at 59E59 Theater, in midtown Manhattan (yes, that’s the address) in a limited run through December 14, 2014.

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