Wednesday, May 16, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY SISTERS' FIRST 100 YEARS NOW THRU JUNE 10

VETERAN RESIDENT DIRECT CHUCK SMITH SCORES HIT WITH MAJOR REVIVAL OF EMILY MANN'S STAGE ADAPTATION








by Dwight Casimere

Goodman Theatre veteran Resident Director Chuck Smith's revival of Emily Mann's Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, is the triumph of the Chicago theatrical season. The play, starring Ella Joyce (Goodman's Jeff Award-winning Crumbs from the Table of Joy) as Bessie. and Marie Thomas (Broadway's Don't Bother Me I Can't Cope, TVs L.A.Law, Amen, Knots Landing) as Sadie, is an historical time-travelogue, narrated by the two sisters who speak to the audience from a  magical set by 30 year Goodman veteran Set Designer Linda Buchanan. It recreates the living room and kitchen of the Delaney's Mount Vernon, N.Y. home. The back story of how they managed to purchase the home in 1957 in the then-segregated lily-white suburb is one of the play's many  narrational gems. Goodman's veteran Costume Designer Birgit Rattenborg Wise also deserves praise for her spot-on designs as does the creative work of Lighting Designer John Culbert and Sound Designer Ray Nardelli. The artful use of historic photographs projected on screens above and around the stage, by Projection Designer Mike Tutaj, further enhances and advances the story-telling.

The history books don't really tell you a lot about what life was really like for blacks who lived in the south in the years after the Civil War and the end of slavery and about the early years of the black migration to the north's urban centers. We hear the names of W.E.B. Du Bois, Bookler T. Washington, Mary McCleod Bethune, and others, but the Delany sister's acccount, as authored by Amy Hill Hearth, who did the original article on the Delany sisters in the New York Times in 1991 and co-authored the subsequent book which became the foundation for Emily Mann's stage adaptation, gives verbal flesh and blood and a vivid pictorial image of those turbulent years. In those times, America saw the emergence of the black middle class and the resulting backlash of Jim Crow.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Delany's New York Times bestselling memoir, and as co-author Hearth and playwright Mann have pointed out in numerous interviews, its a pity how little has changed in terms of race relations. Particularly striking is the fact that Bessie and Sadie, were the daughters of a father who was raised as a slave, and a mixed-racial mother who was the daughter of a free African American woman, and a father who was a white Virginia farmer. The two lived a common-law marriage in separate houses for fifty years because mixed-racial marriages were outlawed in the entire country.

The Delany sisters lived a privileged life as children, even by today's standards. Although they grew up in North Caroline, they were raised on the campus of St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina where their father, the first African American Episcopal bishop, was the vice principal and their mother worked as a matron. The  sisters then moved to New York as young adults to pursue higher education and careers; Bessie to become only the second black woman to become licensed to practice dentistry in New York City, and Sadie to become a school teacher, the first to be certified to teach high school-level domestic science (at a white school, no less) also in New York City. 

Their story of the impact of Jim Crow laws, which began in their home state of North Carolina when the girls were grade school aged, is particularly telling and frightening. Seen from a child's perspective, the two relate how they were suddenly ordered to the back of the streetcar that they rode regularly while sitting in the front ("so the breeze could catch Sadie's long hair!", and forced to drink from a separate drinking fountain at the park they frequented as children on family outings without any prior restriction. Sadie's recounting of her childish act of defiance (I'm gonna drink me some of that white water!) is one of the play's funniest, yet saddening, moments. 

Their narrative also depicts the dawning of the segregation movement, which spread like wildfire, particularly with the premiere of the film Birth of A Nation (Originally titled The Clansman) by D.W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish in 1915. The film fanned the flames of racism and brazenly displayed beatings, lynching and untold brutalities against blacks, which fomented similar acts around the country. W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP mounted protests at the films' premiere and sparked a national movement against Jim Crow laws and lynching. The sisters had their own tale of Bessie's brush with a lynch mob, while she was traveling North to attend college. The story is conversely funny and chilling.

The Delany sisters recount their stories with a great deal of pride and joy, proudly presenting family sepia-toned photos from a tattered family album, brandishing them as if they were priceless historic objects, which are artfully reproduced in overhead screen projections.The photos act as footnotes to their stories of racial pride and prejudice.

 Its amazing how thoroughly actors Joyce and Thomas inhabit the personas of the Delany sisters. They literally become submerged in their characters. I found myself reflecting on my own late mother and aunt who, in their later years, lived as an inseparable couple, much like the Delany sisters.

During the two-hour performance, with one intermssion, the audience feels as if they are actually sitting in that house with them as they sip tea and prepare a celebratory meal in honor of their revered father's birthday. Just rattling off the menu of sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pound cake and other soul food delicacies is enough to make your mouth water, just as the sister's at times loving and at others, heartbreaking recounting of their trials and triumphs, will have you wanting to hear more. These two remarkable  women who survived the odds and whose  lives straddled two defining centuries in the history of America. Through it all, they held their heads up, to paraphrase Henley's Invictus, "bloodied but unbowed," and emerged proud, and fiercely loyal to their race, their heritage and their country.

BELOW: SCENES FROM HAVING OUR SAY-Photos Courtesy Goodman Theatre







Friday, May 11, 2018

MOUNTAIN DEPICTS IN WORDS AND MUSIC HEROICS OF WORLD'S MOUNTAIN ADVENTURERS NOW IN THEATRES


MOUNTAIN AVAILABLE IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE, ALSO IMAX AND ALL VIDEO


 WILLEM DAFOE WITH DWIGHT CASiMERE AT THE NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE

DIRECTOR JENNIFER PEEDOM AND NARRATOR WILLEM DAFOE- PHOTOS: DWIGHT CASIMERE
DIRECTOR JENNIFER PEEDOM DISCUSSES MOUNTAIN WITH NARRATOR WILLEM DAFOE AT THE NEW YORK NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE



by Dwight Casimere

MOUNTAIN, the sweeping cinematic and musical journey among the world's highest peaks, opens this weekend in theaters everywhere and is available on all video platforms. Narrated by three-time Academy Award winning actor Willem Dafoe and directed by British Academy Award (BAFTA) nominated director Jennifer Peedom, renowned for her documentaries SHERPA, MIRACLE ON EVEREST, LIVING THE END and SOLO, it also features a musical "narration" scored and played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Showing in IMAX and other large screen formats in a number of theaters, MOUNTAIN is a complete sensory immersion in the world of big-league mountain climbing.  Large screen format is the most-recommended form of viewing for this particular film.

The film had its North American Premiere at the Australian International Screen Forum in New York City.

Willem Dafoe lends his dulcet tones to create a spell-binding narrative. Based on the words of novelist and mountain climbing adventurer Robert Macfarlane from his book, "Mountains of the Mind," the film traces the fascination with mountain peaks from the dawn of time.

Filmmakers, led by Cinematographer Renan Ozturk , who is recognized as one of the world's foremost professional climbers and a team of cinematographers armed with Go-Pros, drones and helicopters, to take viewers to the highest altitudes and extreme locations in Tibet, Australia, Alaska, Norway and beyond to experience their death-defying exploits. Ozturk's claim to fame is the BAFTA nominated documentary SHERPA which chronicles events before and after Mt. Everest's most devastating tragedy, the 2014 climbing disaster that left 16 Sherpas dead. Although no lives were lost in the filming of MOUNTAIN, viewers experience an astonishing visual symphony of mountaineers, ice climbers, free soloists, helicopter skiers, wingsuiters, snowboarders and, the most unlikely and breathtaking spectacle of all, parachuting mountain bikers cycling among the world's highest peaks and careening down the sides of steep mountainsides.
MOUNTAIN is about as close to the real thing as anyone of us will experience. In terms of a filmgoing experience, it will have you gripping the armrests of your seat and gasping at the mind-boggling perspectives of the precipitous landscapes seen from the point of view of the climbers and camera operators. Willem Dafoe's hypnotic voice and the atmospheric music of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, which combines classical favorites interspersed with original music, makes for an engrossing cinematic experience unmatched by any of the epic space fantasy and action films currently dominating the market. The mountain adventurers depicted in MOUNTAIN are the true superheroes of this age and display capabilities that stretch the boundaries of human capability to the fantastic.

IMAGES FROM MOUNTAIN

 WILLEM DAFOE REACTS TO A QUESTION AT THE NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
 IMAGES FROM THE FILM MOUNTAIN

THE AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA IN LIVE PERFORMANCE WITH THE FILM

A "HELIBIKER" BRAVES THE STEEP TERRAIN

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE UNTIL THE FLOOD GIVES VOICE TO RAGE OVER FERGUSON SHOOTING

UNTIL THE FLOOD LAYS BARE THE SOUL OF RACISM IN FERGUSON/U.S.









by Dwight Casimere


Dale Orlandersmith's Until The Flood, playing in the intimate Owen Theatre at Goodman Theatre now though May 12 is exactly what the Greeks had in mind when they invented theatre. It brings together strong words and nuanced characterization that are both symbols unto themselves and representative of a larger truth. The play uses the words of actual Ferguson residents compiled from moths of in-person interviews conducted in and around the now infamous  Missouri city  where 18 year old Michael Brown was gunned down by a young, white police officer, Darren Wilson, on the night of August 9, 2014. The incident became, literally, the racially charged shot that rang around the world, sparking international protests, and a wave of rising cynicism and outcry over similar incidents of police over-use of force in black communities around the country. The most recent manifestation is this stage production by Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Dael Orlandersmith. 

Until The Flood was originally commissioned by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in 2016 and debuted there in a theatre just blocks from the scene of the tragedy. Since then, the play has played to rave reviews Off-Broadway. After its limited Goodman engagement, it continues its journey to Seattle's Contemporary Theatre and Portland Center Stage.

Playing eight composite characters based on her extensive research into the moods of actual residents in the years following the Ferguson shooting, Orlandersmith inhabits each of the personages with an uncannyy and often unnerving accuracy. Watch as she dawns a shawl (one of the lone props in this minimalist production by Set Designer Takeshi Kata) and slumps into an old wooden  chair as the 72 year old retiree Louisa Hemphill, whose poignant words paint  vivid verbal image of what it was like to grow up in segregationist Ferguson in the 1950s.  She refers to the  racial sword of Damocles that hung over every black person's head; "Don't let the sun go down on you in this town." The threat  implies a violent result for those who dare not comply with its decree.

We then hear from Rusty,a retired white Ferguson career policeman who defends the right of police to use force when there's the slightest doubt, to Hassan, a 17 year old street kid who dares the white establishment to point a gun at him and fire. Next, there's Connie, a well-intentioned young white teacher at an all-black school who finds solace in a glass of Chardonnay in the area's only upscale wine bar.  There, she unburdens herself by alternately boring and offending her one black friend, a fellow teacher, who listens to her guilt-ridden racial platitudes with chagrin.Then comes  Dougray, a young white self-made man who is perhaps a symbol of those upwardly mobile young whites who are gentrifying black neighborhoods around the country. He makes no bones about harboring a deep animosity toward  blacks who are his neighbors and sociological kin. So deep is his resentment that he says he'd just as soon line up all young black men and shoot them down. In his twisted logic, he's making the world "Clean. White. Purified!"

Orlandersmith uses words like a sculpture etching indelible images into a piece of stone. She moves seamlessly from character to character, not giving us so much as a psychological breath.  The cumulative effect is a psychological tsunami that leaves one emotionally drenched, yet wanting more. We're drawn to Orlandersmith's characters like moths to a flame, only the flame is the smoldering embers of a racial Armageddon, both ignited and sanctified by the blood of Michael Brown. Until The Flood is a haunting piece of theatre with words that reverberate far beyond the parameters of the Owen stage. They are a clarion cry of conscience that rightfully echo deep in the subconscious long after the theatre lights have dimmed. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2018 MOMENTUM GENERATION HONORS LEGENDS OF SURFING




MOMENTUM GENERATION CHRONICLES THE RISE OF SURFING FROM A DANGEROUS HOBBY TO A WORLD CLASS EVENT

by Dwight Casimere

From an Executive Producing team led by Robert Redford comes one of the best sports movies in a generation, Momentum Generation, which is screening in the final days of the 17th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival. The film tells the story of a rag-tag group of surfing enthusiasts from some of the unlikeliest coastal backwaters and socio-economically starved communities and some of the unlikeliest places (try Chicago) to spawn an interest in the then-unlikely sport of surfing. Their various backgrounds were all but ideal. In fact, most of them grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. More than one of the subjects might well have spent a lifetime of dodging the law or in jail, were it not for the love of surfing. 

Surfing is probably one of the most dangerous endeavors you can engage in, but it has spawned a following of cult-like enthusiasts around the world. All that's needed to participate is a wooden surf board, not much bigger than an ironing board, and a steel-willed daring to brave the elements and possible death at the hands of an unforgiving sea. Using archival footage, much of it shot by the participants themselves, the film traces the rise of the sport from a mere personal interest into the big moneyed international phenomenon it has become today, complete with sponsorship, corporate endorsements and big money. 

The core subjects of the film are its presumptive progenitors, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Taylor Steele, Kalani Robb, Paul Roach, BenjI Weatherly and Pat O'Connel, who by happenstance all came together in their early teens in the home of Weatherly's mom on the north shore of Oahu in the early '90s. Over the next 20 years, they nurtured their dreams of becoming the world's premiere surfers. Field by their camaraderie and fierce competitiveness, the hapless crew managed to rise to their top of their sport on the world stage. Their growth in expertise mirrored the rise of the sport from a mere amateur endeavor for daredevils, to a big money proposition, which brought with it rivalry and broken friendships. Just as the Beach Boys rose to fame romanticizing the surfer lifestyle in song, so did the careers of these young daredevils. Their ascent was not without tragedy. The specter of death arose just as the zenith of surfing was on the horizon. The previously tight-knit crew unraveled under the weight of fame and fortune. Directors Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist weave a masterful cinematic journey combining archival footage, private photos, personal interviews and early TV film and video to create a comprehensive survey of the sport that is both informative and inspirational. Much of the early unedited  and some of the most poignant and telling material in the film is supplied by the unedited footage by surfer Taylor Steele, then a burgeoning amateur filmmaker and one of the original surfing posse.  MOMENTUM GENERATION earned second place in the Audience Award Documentary category at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Its a film that merits more than a single viewing as a testament to what sincere commitment and loyalty to an ideal and to one's comrades can accomplish.



 



Friday, April 27, 2018

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE-TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2018



TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2018-WORLD PREMIERE BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES

FEATURE DOCUMENTARY TRACES HISTORY OF MODERN JAZZ AND SOCIAL CHANGE-WORLD PREMIERE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2018

 A young Thelonius Monk (c) 1947
 Blue Note Principals, the late Bruce Lundball, then President and CEO, current Blue Note President Don Was and Founder Alfred Lion
Cover art from a recent Hip-Hop recording

 Director Sophie Huber
Pianist Herbie Hancock, Blue Note artist and interview subject in the film



by Dwight Casimere

The history of American Jazz, social movements and evolving cultural landscapes are inextricably twined in the carefully constructed Feature Documentary Blue Note Records; Beyond the Notes by Director Sophie Huber. The film had its World Premiere screening at Tribeca Film Festival with a post performance by Common and some of the movie's principals Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott and Derrick Hodge at Spring Street Studios.

Blue Note Records was born in the maelstrom of the Holocaust. Founders Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff fled their native Berlin as German-Jewish refugees and arrived in New York. The two had already developed an early interest in jazz and set about recording the stride piano and early jazz artists such as Sidney Bechet, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. That trend continued for a while until Blue Note musician, and Alfred Lion's confident Ike Quebec took Lion on a trip up to Harlem in 1947 to meet a young pianist named Thelonius Monk. His music was like nothing heard before. It was unorthodox, to say the least, but with a captivating and haunting power to enthrall the listener. It was indefinable, yet it inspired other musicians to reach for their creative heights. Interview subject Robert Glasper describes Monk as "the first Hip Hop pianist" in the film. His words are prescient as we will later see the socio-musical thread that would later spawn the burgeoning form in Blue Note's later years.

For the next half century and more, the film charts Blue Notes rise as the most important jazz record label in history. From its humble beginnings in the living room of Chief Engineer Rudy Van Gelder's parents' home in Hackensack, New Jersey, to its cathedral-like sound studios in Englewood Cliffs, the label would bring together the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter, among many more. 

The recordings are landmarks in modern American music and marked defining moments in the nation's history, from the early days of Jim Crow, through the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of gang violence in the nation's ghettos and the rise of Hip Hop as the younger generation's  backlash against crushing poverty and violence of the inner cities.

The film also covers the low points and transitional periods of the label, when it was sold to a larger company, Liberty Records, in 1965, which was more interested in profits than artistry. Ironically, the move marked yet another chapter in the label's revival and the parallel rejuvenation of audience interest in jazz with the arrival of new artists such as Norah Jones.

Interviews are carefully woven with historic footage and archival photos taken by founder Alfred Lion, which were also used in the label's iconic album artwork, designed by Reid Miles, who also worked with Esquire magazine. The album covers were an integral part of the listening experience and are considered as stand-alone works of art just as much as the music inside.

Blue Note: Beyond the Notes is an arresting piece of cinematic work by Director Sophie Huber who is best known for her unconventional documentary on the actor and filmmaker Harry Dean Stanton, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction in 2013. This is a singular body of work that will go down as a definitive record of one of the most enduring contributors to the vitality and relevance of jazz in American culture.

Early Blue Note Jacket Covers Designed by Reid Miles




17th EDITION OF TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL OPENS WITH PREMIERE OF LOVE, GILDA




SENSITIVE BIO-PIC CHARTS RISE OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE'S FIRST AND MOST FAMOUS STAR





DIRECTOR LISA D'APOLITO



17th Edition of Tribeca Film Festival Opens with Premiere  CNN FILM'S LOVE ,GILDA

by Dwight Casimere

Dwight Casimere on the Red Carpet Opening Day Tribeca Film Festival


Tribeca Film Festival's 17th Edition could not have opened with a more appropriate film, the exuberant portrait of Emmy and Grammy-winning comedian Gilda Radner, Love, Gilda. Director Lisa D'Apolito, best known for Goodfellas (1990) and Gynotician (2013) carefully constructs a documentary tracing the brilliant performers' rise from a Jewish middle-class upbringing in boom-time Detroit to her destiny-changing matriculation in Toronto, where she failed to complete studies at the University, but found her real calling in the burgeoning comedy scene. Largely told in her own words from rediscovered audio tapes, diary excerpts and archival footage of comedy sketches, the film also includes the words of her collaborators from her earliest days in Toronto,where she cut her comedic  teeth at Second City, to her ground-breaking days at Saturday Night Live. On camera voices include Lorne Michaels, SNL founder, who selected her as the show's very first cast member, to original cast members and writing staff  Chevy Chase, Martin Short Laraine Newman, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy and a host of other cast members, writers, family members and close friends. Awash in vivid photographs, home movies and performance footage, the film gives an accurate 360 degree examination of her meteoric rise to fame and the crushing whipsaw episodes of ovarian cancer that later claimed her life.


This CNN film is one of the most thorough documentaries you will ever see. In addition to highlighting the career of a brilliant performer, it leaves behind a lasting message  for those confronting women's health issues. Gilda's Club, a support group and resource program for women, remains as her legacy and continues as a beacon of hope for women across the nation.


Gilda Radner with husband and film collaborator Gene Wilder