April 21st, 2008

"My Boy Jack"

I don't very often write about television, partly because I watch so little of it. However, I must remark upon the deep feelings sparked in me by last night's "My Boy Jack," on Masterpiece Classic, the current incarnation of PBS' Masterpiece Theatre. The program, written by David Haig, deals with the Kipling family in 1914 from before the declaration of war with Germany, into 1915, and is distinguished by very fine performances by all the principals.

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Wisconsin Cream City Chorus, "Safe Harbor: Signs of Compassion."

It's been a good period for rather harrowing entertainment: on Saturday, April 12th, we went to the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield for the Cream City Chorus performance. The Chorus has been making stides toward making their concerts more of an integrated whole than a mere set of songs, and "Safe Harbor: Signs of Compassion" was their most ambitious effort yet, combining a multimedia presentation with an extensive script and action besides the music.

"Safe Harbor" was divided into three acts, the first of which, "Forgotten in the Bayou," dealt with Hurricane Katrina and its impact on ordinary people. The performance of ten-year-old Neil Haas as a child made homeless and separated from his mother (real-life parent Char Haas) was simple but affecting. The chorus gave us songs such as Randy Newman's "Louisiana, 1927," and the traditional "Wade in the Water."

The second act, "In the Name of Your G*d," attacked intolerance. It was shocking to hear chorus members spouting the rhetoric of Fred Phelps, "God hates fags!" only to be countered by Tim Ruf, reading Dennis Shepard's charitable remarks to the court on the sentencing of the murderers of his son. Holly Near was well represented in the songs for this section, which included "The Great Peace March," and "I Ain't Afraid."

The third act dealt with personal issues, showing us a young child's mother awaiting a kidney transplant, and the efforts of others to make a difference in the health field: "I Run for Life," "Love Heals."

All told, one of the chorus' most impressive efforts. Fittingly, this was the annual concert at which they have signers for the deaf, and it is always interesting to see how the language of eloquent gesture fits in.

If there was a drawback to the performance, it was the hall. The UU church sanctuary is what an old professor of mine called an "all-purpose/no-purpose room." The acoustics are far from ideal for music, and, as we were seated on the side nearest the grand piano, sometimes had trouble hearing the singers.