Painting the beauty of Ireland with their words, award-winning Irish poets Theo Dorgan and Paula Meehan charmed the audience in Craig Chapel Friday evening. Sponsored by the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies’ Master of Fine Arts in Poetry and Poetry Translation program, the event featured readings by the two poets, a book signing and a reception with the program’s faculty.
About 85 attendees, composed of Drewids and members of the Madison and neighboring communities, filled the chairs and chatted in the chapel before administrators from the Caspersen School opened the event.
Associate Dean William Rogers briefly spoke of the MFA program’s success and cultural events hosted by the graduate school, like this one. He said the program is “establishing itself as a premiere program in the country. Of our students, 72 percent have been published or formally presented.”
Director of the MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation program Sean Nevin jokingly spoke to the audience about his being both a poet and an administrator. He introduced the two accomplished Irish poets to the audience citing their recent awards and publications.
In September President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins named Meehan as the Ireland Professor of Poetry. Nevin said, “This is the highest post in Ireland for poetry.” This reading was her first public U.S. reading since her appointment, according to Nevin.
Described by Nevin as “a native Corkonian and Dublin-based poet,” Dorgan, a man with thick, dark eyebrows, walked to the microphone on the stage. In a rough and cadenced voice, he said, “It is a great joy to be here in this beautiful place and feel the campus’s spirit of generosity.” The poet, novelist, translator, editor, documentary screenwriter, 2010 recipient of the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry and author of five collections of poetry captivated the audience with a selection of 12 poems.
His third poem, “Kilmainham Gaol Dublin, Easter 1991” entranced the audience from first to final words. Dorgan quieted his voice for the poem’s final words, “I do not know that I will ever be the same again./ That soft-footed gathering of the dead into their peace/ was like something out of a book. In Kilmainham Gaol/ I saw this. I felt this. I say this as calmly and as lovingly as I can.” The audience leaned in and sighed.
Between readings, Dorgan removed his glasses and spoke to the audience of his family, love, mistranslations, sailors and how he couldn’t resist the temptation to write about paintings.
Meehan stepped up to the stage next and spoke of the MFA program. She said, “This program’s dedication to poetry creates a welcoming community. Being on your campus, I’ve experienced this beautiful atmosphere.”
The poet with shoulder-length white hair and wearing a black dress spoke in a soft voice and with a pleasing lilt. Meehan read poems about her grandparents, her childhood, nature and the beauty of Irish music and culture.
Before reading her fifth poem, she explained the poem’s speaker is a blind woman finding her way home by music. Meehan wrote “Home” to honor the music tradition of Ireland. In the poem, the woman hears a familiar song wherever she travels, but never sung exactly how she remembers from home. Meehan’s completed the blind woman’s journey and said, “Where the song that is in me/ is the song I hear from the world, I’ll set down my burdens/ and sleep. The spot that I lie on at last the place I’ll call home.”
Meehan also spoke of her own experience in an MFA in Poetry program at Eastern Washington University. She said, “If I hadn’t had those two years of companionship and critical support, I’d still be in a bar somewhere talking about the books I’m going to write.
After Meehan closed her reading, the two poets sat down to sign books at a table just outside the Seminary Hall Atrium. A line formed and the poets greeted each attendee with a warm smile.
For Drewids aspiring to become poets, both Dorgan and Meehan advised young writers to read a lot and stay confident. Dorgan said, “Read everything you can, learn the craft and don’t inhibit yourself.” Meehan said, “We writers often start out as readers. Follow your instinct, self-validate and don’t be put down.” She strongly added, “Say to yourself, I have a right to be a creative person.”
Photo Courtesy of The Shakespeare of New Jersey
At a rehearsal, Director Joseph Discher works with Phillip Goodwin who plays the Stage managers in “our Town.”
According to Joe Discher (C’91), Drew theatre alum and director of the ongoing production of “Our Town” at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ), the path to life after Drew actually begins at Drew. During his senior year, he took an internship with STNJ. He said, “My directing internship senior year is when my professional theatre career began and now I’m out there directing.”
A freelance director and actor, Discher said, “It’s important to be disciplined and skilled in whatever your field is. Listen to professors, challenge them and ask them to challenge you.” Discher worked on several Drew theatre productions as a student. He said, “Get as much experience in academic theatre before leaving college and get professional experience while you’re in school to make connections.”
The theatre industry can be a tough nut to crack. “It’s a lot about networking. Making connections is just as important as being good in your field,” Discher said.
His experiences during his time at Drew helped shape his career after graduation. Discher said, “I was a theatre major and I directed a couple shows at Drew. Then I did an internship at STNJ, which was then called the N.J. Shakespeare Festival.”
He added, “I had a lot of great professors at Drew and they were very inspiring to me.”
Discher discussed his direction of “Our Town.” Written by Thornton Wilder, the play utilizes a minimal amount of scenery and props. But this was not a challenge for Discher. “The playwright wanted to create a piece of theatre that didn’t rely on scenery. This really makes the story, the beautiful language come out stronger,” he said.
He explained this is very similar to Shakespearean theatre. “I work a lot with Shakespeare and his plays were written without huge breaks. Usually when I direct Shakespeare, I use minimal pieces. I’m used to directing this way. It’s something I’m at home with.”
However, Discher said, “The challenge becomes not having visuals to rely on to create a mood and getting great actors to draw the audience in.”
He explained “Our Town” is play you get more out of every time you see it, or in Discher’s case, direct it. “When I read the play, I didn’t really get it, and then I saw the play performed and thought it was amazing. As a director, I see even more now,” he said.
Discher added he believes Our Town is a great play for students to see whether they are theatre majors or not.
According to Discher, “The play is a lot about about companionship, life, death and the transience of human life.” Our Town centers around a woman who dies, but then gets to relive one day of her life. This allows her to re-evaluate the way she lived her life.
Discher said, “Life goes fast. We often don’t stop to notice the best things, which are people, moments, friends, lovers and family.” Written in 1938, “It’s even more relevant now with our noses in phones and computers. We wrap ourselves up in our problems, the tests to study for, plays to rehearse, but we’re missing the best parts of life,” he said.
Discher hopes Drewids see the play and use it as a chance to re-evaluate their lives. He said, “People who have been in the play or seen the play have talked to me and said the next morning they noticed the changing leaves colors and the smell of fresh cut grass.”
“Our Town” will be performed through Nov. 17. Student rush tickets are available for $15 30 minutes before the performance.
Discher said, “If you think you know the play, I’m willing to bet you don’t because every time I see it I get something new.”
A sweet and delightfully humorous production, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a must-see for Drewids and the Madison community. Produced by the Department of Theatre and Dance and Drew University Dramatic Society, the play struck the audiences’ funny bones with whimsical vocal and facial expressions.
Pierce Lo (’15) plays Algernon and Sophia Koevary (’14) plays Cecily in Oscar Wilde’s play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” (Photo courtesy of Jen Costa Photography)
Set up as theatre in the round (the stage surrounded on all four sides by audience), the play opened to two Victorian loveseats facing one another, as well as a table topped with decanter and sherry glasses in a London flat. The upper-class British accents helped define the setting, though Pierce Lo’s (’15) was questionable and inconsistent at times. Excellent dialect was only marred by the occasional challenge of seeing each actor’s face from all four sides.
The black box floor of the Thomas H. Kean Theatre had been painted to resemble marble tiles, on which appeared to be the repeated optical illusion of Rubin’s vase/face — the well-known image of a vase which can also be seen as two profiles facing each other. This suggests multiple interpretations, which is fitting for “Earnest” because the plot revolves around the juggling of different identities and lives: that of Tim Ward’s (’14) John/Earnest Worthing and Lo’s Algernon/Bunbury Moncrieff.
Tim Ward (’14) plays John/Earnest Worthing and Chelsea Imbimbo (’15) plays Gwendolyn Fairfax in Oscar Wilde’s play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” (Photo courtesy of Jen Costa Photography)
Besides the set, the costumes designed by Courtney Cooke (’14) proved aesthetically pleasing as well, particularly in Act II, when Sophia Koevary’s (’14) Cecily Cardew, Sarah Petry’s (’14) Miss Prism and Chelsea Imbimbo’s (’15) Gwendolyn Fairfax all appeared in shades of pale pink and lace. Cooke’s choice to mirror the costumes for Cecily and Gwendolyn added another layer to the play’s theme of mixed-up identities.
The minimal lighting design was unvaried but the music cheery, which played between each of the three acts.
Without a doubt, Stephanie Weymouth (’14) and Ward stole the show, breathing life into their respective characters, Lady Bracknell and John/Earnest Worthing. Weymouth utilized confident vocal control and facial expressions to successfully convey the amusingly condescending attitude of her character. Ward aptly handled the stage’s design as he scooted and jumped around the stage, giving every side of the audience plenty of opportunity to see his performance. An audience favorite, proven by the uncontrollable laughter, was a moment in Act II when in the midst of Worthing’s childish tantrum, Ward stuffed a scone in his mouth, resulting in the comedic spewing of crumbs for his next few lines.
Tyler Metteer’s (’16) reserved portrayal of Lane, Algernon’s manservant, offered a balance to the wild behavior of the Victorian aristocrats. Metteer controlled his reactions, never flinching at outlandish requests or offering more than a sigh while attending to his master. He was indeed the “perfect pessimist,” as Algernon pointed out.
Dan LaPenta’s masterful direction showed on stage and the cast played well off one another to keep the energy up. “Earnest” will be performed tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, tickets are $10. With few complaints, Drewids are strongly advised to set aside a couple hours of their weekends for a night of classically Wilde entertainment.
Company actors of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey perform a Vladimir Nabokov play (Photo by Alexander Jorgensen)
Discovered in 1997 and translated from Russian to English in 2012, Vladimir Nabokov’s play “The Tragedy of Mister Morn” came Monday to The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey for its first American reading in English. Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directed a minimalist performance as part of the theatre’s Lend Us Your Ears Play Reading Series.
This singular opportunity to be the first American theatre to perform this play, was a big draw for the theatre when Knopf Publishing approached the theatre to produce the reading. Monte said, “The privilege to do the first performance of something of a great writer, that’s great right there.” According to Monte, the theatre was approached since it is “a renowned classic theatre company with a special focus in Shakespeare.” Written in iambic pentameter, the play aligns well with Shakespearean work, which the theatre’s actors specialize in.
Monte said, “We did a stage reading, which meant that there is a minimal amount of movement just to help the audience understand what’s going on.” Actors performed script in hand and without memorizing lines. No costumes were designed. The actors dressed in street clothes and used a few spare props.
According to Brian Boyd, an expert on Nabokov, “Four years before the play’s action commences, an unnamed European country long beset by civil strife acquires a new king. Although he rules incognito, he has singlehandedly restored prosperity, order and culture. He proves to be the man the world knows as Morn.”
“It’s one of the strangest plays I’ve ever read,” Monte said to describe the directorial challenges brought on by the magical kingdom setting which shifts between reality and fantasy. She said, “It’s a combination of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Hamlet, King Lear and Kabuki fairytales, so it’s a difficult play to convey.”
Written by Nabokov at the age of 24, the play echoes his emotional response to the 1917 Russian Revolution. After the performance, a panel of Nabokov experts discussed the play with the audience. Monte said, “People were thrilled to be the first to hear these words spoken out loud. The acting company did a stupendous job dealing with the intense, emotional material.”
With several universal themes coursing through the play, audience members left the theatre with different viewpoints. Monte said, “It’s a play about the most complex issues that humans deal with. It’s a play about revolution, rage, the impossibility of a constantly healthy government, the beauty of art and the beauty and horrificness of life.”
As for the future of the play, the theatre is open to a discussion with the Nabokov Estate on developing the play’s structure.
Next in the Lend Us Your Ears line-up is Jean Giraudoux’s “The Madwoman of Chaillot” on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m
(Photo from amazon.com)
(Photo from amazon.com)
While browsing the new releases section of allmusic.com, I stumbled upon an unfamiliar band and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. Múm (pronounced “miooyyuujm” according to the members) is the name of the group. Their seventh album “Smilewound” was released September of this year. Originating from Iceland, Múm consists of eight musicians: Gunnar Orn Tynes, Orvar Poreyjarson Smarason, Olof Arnalds, Eirikur Orri Olafsson, Hildur Guonadottir, Sigurlaug Gisladottir, Samuli Kosminen and Robert Sturla Reynisson. Múm considers their sound to be part of various genres including, but not limited to, electronic, dream pop, folktronica and Icelandic glitch. If you’ve always wondered what folktronica and glitch mean, you’re looking in the right place. Folktronica combines elements from folk and electronica music. For example, in “Smilewound” the musicians will juxtapose stringed instruments such as violins and cellos with heavy digitized dance beats. Glitch, a style originating in the 1990s, consists of sounds spawned by electronic mistakes. For example, Múm uses what appears to be the sound of a CD skipping in their song “Toothwheels”.
Múm composes music quite different to any song heard on the radio today. Each song on “Smilewound” brings a brand new element or sound to consider. In various songs, the band records organic sounds, which interweave through the rhythmic electronic maze created. For example, in “Toothwheels” the artists include sounds of footsteps, and “Slow Down” incorporates sounds of crickets.
A feature unique to Múm is the vocals. In every song, the vocals used are soft and often whispery. This delicate and vulnerable sound is sometimes consumed by the heavy electronic rhythms. The vocals don’t always follow such a strict tempo whereas the electronic sounds continue steadily. This may be an overall relatable metaphor to how the musicians themselves feel in life. An interviewer from brightestyoungthings.com commented to the band, “To me, your music has a sense of nostalgia and childlike innocence to it” to which band member Smarason responded, “It just happens. I mean there is a playful quality to the music and there is tickling of the subconscious that happens in the music. I think that’s what people are referring to. The music somehow pokes and connects with things that don’t always come up…that’s what I feel myself when I listen to it”.
Múm’s music is unlike anything I’ve heard, a new genre and a fresh perspective. “Smilewound” is a great album to listen to if you are looking for an album that may challenge the way you process and appreciate music. Múm’s most recent album can be found on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and Amazon.
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