September 16th, 2015

Jimmy’s Hall

We saw the movie “Jimmy’s Hall” at the Downer Theatre. I was curious about this film, which is based on real events that occurred in an era I knew little about, the Irish Free State of the 1920’s and 30’s.

Following the conclusion of the Irish War of Independence of 1919-21, Irish self-rule was established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Disagreement over this treaty lead to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, which left bitter and lasting schisms in the country. (I had vaguely known that there was an Irish Civil War, but it bled together with the War of Independence in my mind--.)
The main character, James Gralton, as an anti-treaty republican, had been forced to flee Ireland in 1922, going to the United States. In 1932, he returned, and tried to pick up life in his home town. The movie is the story of what happened then, with flashbacks to the parallel events of 1922.

At first, Gralton wants a quiet life. But then, responding to the pleas of the young people in town, stultified by lack of opportunity and lack of cultural stimulation in Depression-era Ireland, he agrees to re-open the community hall that was built on his land in the 20’s. While intended to be a peaceful place for educational and cultural activities, the Hall draws the ire of the Catholic Church, which claims a monopoly on all education in Ireland, and the suspicion of the Nationalist government, who view it as a likely focus for IRA-related political activities. While the Church’s fears about “teaching Communism” and “immorality” (i.e., jazz) are mostly unfounded, Gralton can’t help but get drawn into strife between the Nationalist government, representing the landed vested interests, and the IRA representing dispossessed tenants. Gralton and the Hall become the targets of escalating retaliatory action, until, echoing the events of 1922, he becomes a hunted man. Condemned without trial, he was ordered deported on the grounds that he held a United States passport, and was therefore an undesirable alien. Gralton remains the only Irishman ever to have been deported from Ireland*. Even when Ireland ceased to be a dominion in 1937, he was not permitted to return.

The various actors play their roles with passion and honesty, showing us the moral, philosophical, and practical dilemmas they are faced with. Barry Ward as Gralton is very good, but he’s somewhat overshadowed by the villain of the piece, Jim Norton as Father Sheridan, the parish priest. While he rants a good hellfire sermon about saving souls, he also shows that he’s capable of a Stasi-like surveillance of his parishioners, and, in private, frankly admits that it is all about power and control.

The film is beautifully shot in the areas events actually happened, and gives some insight into a rarely portrayed time and place, although somewhat prettified for movie purposes. (Evidently, Gralton was much more of a Communist than shown--.) We found the film very interesting and were glad to have seen it.

(*I found this injustice shocking. Then, this morning, I learned that. Between 1930 and 1945, the United States summarily deported (or “repatriated”) two million persons of Mexican origin, of which 1.3 million were naturalized citizens of the United States.)

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American Players Theatre, “Othello”

On Saturday, September 12th at Spring Green, we saw an excellent and memorable production of William Shakespeare’s “Othello.”

One of the noteworthy additions to this production was the wordless prologue, depicting the wedding of Othello and Desdemona as a beautiful tribal ceremony performed by Othello’s people. (Digression: it had never occurred to me to wonder whom the pair were married BY. I’d always assumed vaguely that Othello as a “Moor” was from a Muslim background, but his remarks to Desdemona in the last act, “I would not kill thy unprepared soul” do indicate that he is a Christian by that time.)

The play proper begins with Iago’s “I hate the Moor” speech, in which James Ridge shows us his take on the character. By contrast with James DeVita’s Iago, blunt and resentful, this Iago is edgy, eaten up with his jealousy of Othello. Yes, the play is about jealousy, but it is Iago’s jealousy that is the main driver, not the jealousy Othello is coached into by him. Iago is jealous of Othello’s rank and reputation, believes he may have committed adultery with Emilia, and is jealous of Othello’s preferment of Cassio.

Chike Johnson is a fine Othello, a man of powerful passions. He loves passionately, hates passionately, is passionately possessive and jealous when lead to it. His straightforwardness makes him easy for Iago to baffle, since he suspects no wrong motives on his own.
Laura Rook as Desdemona gives us a young woman who is sprightly and willful. We get the impression that she has heretofore twisted her father (Brabantio, Brian Mani) around her finger, and is puzzled and hurt when he rejects her marriage. That she assumes her charm will win over Othello on the subject of Cassio’s rehabilitation plays directly into Iago’s hands.
Colleen Madden plays a properly feisty and bawdy Emilia, in the last act denouncing Othello’s crime and Iago’s treachery with a fine rage. If the theatre had had rafters, they would have shaken.

The other major roles were well filled with Marcus Truschinski as the foolish Roderigo, and Nate Burger as trusting Cassio, both of whom also fall victim to Iago’s masterly manipulations.
Costumes by Matthew LeFebvre were handsome and evocative, and the minimal set, distinguished by its water feature which was cleverly used, worked well for the staging.

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Great Lakes Baroque, “Io Vidi in Terra: Reflections of Florence”

On Sunday evening, September 13th, we had the pleasure of attending the inaugural concert of a new performing organization, Great Lakes Baroque, at the St. Joseph’s Chapel on the School Sisters of St. Francis campus.

I say “organization” rather than “group”, since there is no fixed group membership or ensemble. Noted harpsichordist Jory Vinikour is the Artistic Director, who will be assembling performers for each program as needed. For this concert, he put together an ensemble of truly talented and experienced musicians. The group consisted of Mr. Vinikour; Mezzo-soprano Celine Ricci; Countertenor Jose Lemos; lutenist Deborah Fox (theorbo and guitar); and cellist Craig Trompeter. All these people have remarkable recording, performing, and conducting records, and it was a privilege to have them all together in one place.

The evening’s program focused on the works of Claudio Monteverdi and approximate contemporaries of the Italian 17th Century, and opened with Occhi, perche piangete? by Agostino Seffani, a vocal duet accompanied by the instrumentalists. This piece got particularly thrilling effect from the very lively acoustics of the marble chapel. The reverberation of the singers’ voices (although not, curiously, of the instruments) made it sound more like a chorus than a duet, and, although the singers were a few paces from us, as though the voices were coming from the middle of the air.

This was followed by Su la cettra amorosa, (Tarquino Merula), a love song with quite a modern sounding moving line in the guitar and harpsichord, and then a theorbo solo by Ms. Fox, Toccata arpggiata, by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger.

Next was Se dolce e’l tormento (So sweet is the torment), by Monteverdi, and Io vidi in terra, by Marco da Gagliano. This was followed by a Spagnoletta, by Bernardo Storace, which was a solo by Mr. Vinikour on the chapel’s pipe organ.

Ms. Ricci soloed on L’Eraclito ameroso (Udite, amanti), a song by Barbara Strozzi, one of the few women who’s compositions from this period survive. Dark and passionate in tone, Georgie and I detected elements found in the fado music of Portugal, and in the tango, and suspected there were common roots.  The first half ended with Se l’aura spira, by Girolamo Frescobaldi.

Following intermission, we had Canzonetta spirituale, by Merula; L’amante segreto (The secret love), another torch song by Strozzi; and Ciaconna, by Storace, which allowed Mr. Vinikour to exhibit his virtuosic talent on the harpsichord. This was followed by works by Frescobaldi, Benedetto Ferrari, and Steffani. There was an encore, the climactic duet, "I gaze at you, I possess you" from L'incoronazione di Poppea.

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