In all the excitement of my life of late, I’ve neglected to mention here in this forum a couple of our cultural outings to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A week ago Saturday it was with Mother Dillon to the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre to see Mame starring Christine Baranski.
I had the idea after talking to my mother that Mame was originally played by Rosalind Russell. This turns out to be true but also somewhat confusing. Apparently first there was a novel called Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis, published in 1955. Then there was a play in 1956, on Broadway, starring Rosalind Russell, who went on the star in the movie version in 1958. But then there was a musical version, called simply Mame, which ran on Broadway from 1966 to 1970, and was again revived in 1983, starring Angela Lansbury as Mame. Got all that?
So anyway, we get Christine Baranski in the musical version. And it seems like a Christine Baranski kind of role, actually. I’m a little underwhelmed in general by the whole thing, as it’s really to me such a threadbare plot, more like just a lot of songs stitched together by an afterthought of a story. I’m shocked to learn that there’s an actual novel as the basis for all this. But by the second act I’ve grown a little fonder of the thing, and I end up enjoying myself.
And it’s fun during intermission, in a Washington DC as both big city and small town kind of way, that we see and chat with a friend from St. Matt’s, on the Adult Formation Committee with me, Pat Durham. And sitting near us, whom we chat with briefly later, is Nancy Lutz, another St. Matt’s person. She’s on the Hospitality Committee.
Our seats are nominally terrible, up in the balcony, all the way up against the back wall, but the Eisenhower Theatre isn’t really all that big, so it’s not a problem. And at these prices, we aren’t going to pay the tons more to be much closer. And we can generally hear just fine, as the performers are miked, although there are a few audio dropouts here and there. And at one point, one of the actors, giving Christine Baranski/Mame a hug, speaks his line right into her lavalier, his voice hugely booming out so as to be heard I swear in the whole tri-state area.
And then just Saturday last Dawn and I go to see the Kirov production of Giselle in the Kennedy Center Opera House. I’ve seen Giselle before, and I’ve seen the Kirov before, but I’ve never seen the Kirov’s Giselle before. They’ve renamed Hilarion in their version as simply Hans.
I think Leonid Sarafanov as Count Albrecht is a tad girly, until the second act where his tour jete is spectacularly high, like his back leg practically brushes the Opera House chandelier. Viktoria Tereshkina as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, (scary!), is the same, leaping ridiculously high. And those Wilis are awesome. There’re 27 of them, counting Queen Myrtha. Beautiful and haunting, and all of the dancers in amazingly exacting precision. Dawn says that Olesya Novikova as Giselle is praiseworthy for not hamming it all up during her mad scene.
And more small town-ness, we meet Dawn’s old dance St. Mark’s partner Francis during intermission. He apparently has just come from being in the first act, during the hunting scene, when the servants enter bearing the day’s kill hung upside down on poles. (The scene was noteworthy to me because the dead animals were so clearly stuffed animals. It was kind of funny but then also reminded me of the time we saw that man carrying his poor dead dog in his arms a month or two back. These stuffed animals’ heads didn’t hang down right, like that dog’s head did.) We hadn’t recognized Francis, sadly, during his star turn on stage.
And a quick word from the architecture critic in me, although I know really so little about architecture. The Kennedy Center itself is one of the few more modern buildings that I actually like, although I only like it to a certain extent. I think from far away it’s great, but I think that I think that because it’s somewhat deceptive as far as its scale. Far away it looks like a smaller building. Up close it’s just yet another modern example of huge expanses of way way too much plain façade. Or at least I think so.
And this coming weekend we’re going back to the Opera House to see the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty on Saturday. Then Sunday it’s the Washington Ballet at their studio theater.