Short Takes: Mingus' 'Epitaph,' 'Diary of Anne Frank'

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Nate Guidry, Post-Gazette
Gunther Schuller, left, directed more than 30 musicians, including tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, for "Epitaph."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Arts & Entertainment writers offer capsule comments on this, that and the other thing ...

'Epitaph'

CLEVELAND -- Charles Mingus finally got to hear "Epitaph," a grand symphony he scored but never heard before his death in 1979. He smiled from above as the music unfolded in grand fashion, performed by a double jazz orchestra equipped with two pianists, two bassists, two drummers and a contra-bass clarinet and a bassoon, swinging to his music with veritable ease.

Standing center stage in Cleveland's Allen Theatre, conductor Gunther Schuller talked about the importance of the work and how it will be remembered when the next history of jazz is written -- not among Ken Burns' jazz distillations, it is hoped.

"This was Charles' grand symphony," Schuller said at the concert, part of the 28th annual TRI-C Jazz Festival. "This is truly a pioneering work in terms of its scope."

The word "scope" only begins to define the magnitude of "Epitaph." Directing 31 musicians, Schuller conducted a program that ran more than 21/2 hours (not including intermission) and featured more than 3,400 bars of music. The music ranges from simple to chaotic, dissonant to soulful. It was epic and well worth the cost and the drive from Pittsburgh.

The first part of the evening featured nine movements, beginning with a piece titled "Main Score," which was followed by "Percussion Discussion" and "Started," which took on some of the elements of Vernon Duke's "I Can't Get Started."

Mingus was a student of all kinds of music, not the least of which was mambo. He wrote "Inquisition" as an homage to the crazed dance style. The most extended piece, "Chill of Death," was also the most haunting. It was a chilling self-portrait of the bassist.

There's little doubt that Mingus was extremely intense, but he could be hilarious, especially when it came to writing song titles.

Although the orchestra didn't perform "All the Things You Could Be by Now if Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother" and "The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive-Ass Slippers," it did play "Please Don't Come Here for Love, Man."

-- Nate Guidry, Post-Gazette jazz critic

'The Diary of Anne Frank'

With "The Diary of Anne Frank," Prime Stage Theatre once again brings to life a literary classic in a thought-provoking and entertaining manner.

It is a well-known tale: Anne Frank's family and four other Jews in Amsterdam hide from the Nazis in a small annex of an office building. The group of eight spends two years in cramped quarters, living in fear, longing for the outside world, growing up and trying to hang on to hope, with all of it recorded in teenage Anne's diary.

The play is an ensemble piece, with especially moving performances from Alan Solter and Deborah Wein as Anne's parents, Otto and Edith. Thomas Kurt Fuchel Sr. and Patricia Samreny as Mr. and Mrs. van Daan, Charlie Wein as their teenage son, Peter, Ronald Fernandez as Mr. Dussel, and Renana Fox as Anne's sister, Margot, all give unwavering portrayals of confusion, fright, anger, pettiness and regret.

But it is the character of Anne that will make or break the famous story, and Olivia Meyer carries the title role with aplomb. Also 13, she not only resembles Anne, but she also captures the girl's spirit, one minute being a headstrong and irritating teen and the next showing maturity beyond her years, trying to still believe in the goodness of people. Meyer has little acting experience, making her naturalness as Anne even more noteworthy.

The two-hour production never drags, thanks to the deft direction of Wayne Brinda. The material is familiar, yet Brinda is able to insert some unpredictable moments, and the discovery scene is still climactic. Set designer Gianni Downs takes full advantage of the New Hazlett Theater, creating an authentic space that restricts the characters without limiting the acting. During scene changes, Meyer's narration of passages from Anne's diary and projections of Anne's photos on the back wall add to the setting.

Chat sessions featuring local members of Hidden Children of the Holocaust follow each performance. It is Prime Stage's continued effort to encourage discussion and show how Anne's story is still relevant.

Performances continue 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $15, $13 for seniors, $8 for youth; 412-394-3353, www.proartstickets.org or www.primestage.com.

-- Karen Carlin, Post-Gazette staff writer

rEvolve Dance Theatre

As the buds came up with the promise of a real spring on Sunday afternoon, so did a new dance company filled with its own promise. Marissa Balzer's rEvolve Dance Theatre made its debut at the Carnegie Library of Homestead's beautifully refurbished hall.

Balzer said it all in the title of her ensemble. As she set out to evolve as a choreographer, this program revolved around a nucleus of Point Park University students and alumni.

The result was refreshingly clean and thoughtful dance, although, like the first year of a marriage, the dancers were still getting to know each other and, in their eagerness, tended to rush the movement.

The program included alumni Alicia Cutaia's "Impact," where the movement fluidly bumped from one dancer or group to another, Krista Schollaert's "Forza," with its exotic, almost Bollywood overlay, and Annie Nowakowski's pensive solo, "Peripheral."

Point Park sophomore Luke Murphy's dancers reverberated like the bells in the gamelan score and often peeled off movement like the painterly title of his intelligent work, "Palimpsest."

Balzer had three pieces: the rather slight trio, "Semblance," but two wonderfully substantial works in "Beautiful ... Still" and "Tabula Rasa."

Balzer showed a real eye for placing her dancers on stage and forming interactions from smart vocabulary choices. She has a grand vision without much waste, which will be intriguing to watch evolve at rEvolve.

-- Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette dance critic



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