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January 13, 1995 - Image 11

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-01-13

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Piano' slightly out of tune
Engaging performances obscured by poor direction

THE SMOKIN' CUB KODA JUST KEEPS GOING AND GOING ...

By J. DAVID BERRY
In August Wilson's "The Piano
Lesson," an African-American
family's prized possession is an
ornate and expensive piano into
which their enslaved ancestors have
carved their family's legacy.
The ardor that is ingrained in the
piano's history is also integral to the
success of the show. Without the
wide-ranging emotions that come
from that tempestuous history, the
The Piano Lesson
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
January 11, 1995
play, no matter how well written it is,
doesn't click.
Unfortunately, Ann Arbor Civic
Theatre's production (running
through Saturday) fell short of grasp-
ing all of the passion that Wilson
integrated into his extraordinary
script.
For the most part, the actors are
not responsible for the problems in-
herent in this production. The two
leads, Berniece (Lakeisha Raquel
Harrison) and Boy Willie (Damon
Gupton), are brother and sister who
are as different as night and day.
Boy Willie wants to sell the piano
to buy the land which their family
had worked as slaves. Berniece feels
passionately that selling the piano
would be untrue to their ancestors'
legacy. While Boy Willie is a live

wire, ready to explode at any second,
Berniece is an unwavering tower of
integrity which will not be swayed.
This is the crux of the dramatic ten-
sion for the play.
Harrison's Berniece was the high-
light of the show. She demonstrated
arresting power and strength in her
portrayal of the widowed woman who
is holding on to the past as tight as she
can. Her performance far outshined
the other aspects of the production.
In his role of Boy Willie, Gupton
was certainly on the right track, how-
ever he lacked some of the intensity
and fervor necessary for the
audience's total belief in the charac-
ter. At times he was the perfect un-
bridled foil for Harrison's resolute
Berniece, however in other moments
he didn't quite match her intensity.
Also, some of the supporting actors'
lines were incoherent, particularly in
the first act.
Far more glaring than any of
these small acting grievances are
the problems with the set and light-
ing. Detracting from the production
is the totally inappropriate set de-
sign by Pegeen McGahn. This show
dictates a very close-knit home, and
yet McGahn opted for a wide-open
minimalist set which looks like an
industrious compound. The design
destroys any intimacy the actors
could create, and the total lack of
any furnishings makes it nearly im-
possible for the actors to appear at
all comfortable in their surround-
ings.
Also unsuitable is Thom Johnson's
lighting design. Johnson chose to
throw lights on a wide open cyclo-

rama to create the supernatural ef-
fects and the mood of the scenes. Not
only did the actors get lost against
such an expansive wash of a back
drop, but the color choices detracted
from the dramatic action. The green
and red used to create the appearance
of the ghost which haunts the piano
were hideously ugly, and did little to
create the desired effect.
Both of these technical elements
could have been caught and controlled
by director Simon Ha. Ha claimed his
mission was to emphasize Wilson's
words; however, his choices seem to
contradict that intent. Rather than a
set and lighting design that leaves the
actors lost in an expansive amount of
space, another option might have fo-
cused the audience's attention on the
dialogue.
Despite the dramatic power and
sheer brilliance of Wilson's Pulitzer-
prize winning script, many of the
moments are lost due to poor direct-
ing choices.
Particularly glaring is the fizzle
of an ending created by ineffective
special effects. What could have
proved to be a very powerful and
engaging evening of theater is lost,
and a lot of acting talent is wasted.
While strong acting pulls some
shows through in the end, the prob-
lems with this production prove
unforgivable.
THE PIANO LE$SN runs tonight
at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 & 8
p.m. at the Lydia Mendelssohn
Theatre. Tickets range from $12-
$16 and are available at the
Mendelssohn box office. Call 763-
1085.

'Thumb' and 'Life' definitely wonderful

By ALEXANDRA TWIN
Let's face it. In a time when big
Obucks, big moves, and big Belgian
muscles rule, the animatorjustdoes not
get the girl. Never mind the obscure
experimental British animator.
But that's really too bad. While this
reviewer cannot personally vouch for

The Secret
Adventures of Tom
Thumb
with Franz Kafka's
It's A Wonderful Life

"Stop-Motion Pixilation," which in-
volves filming isolated actions of live
characters frame by frame and se-
quencing them so as to give the im-
pression of distortion, Borthwick has
created a"Tom Thumb" like no other.
A squeaking, fetus-like egg-headed
thing is born to a couple of Cockney
Brits. "Lutts cawl um Thom, "says the
papa, who is a smear of greasy hair and
undershirt.Yet modern technology, in
the form of a solemn man in a top hat
comes to take the little Tom away to an
evil factory. It is at this point that Tom's
adventures begin.
Although not particularly unusual
in its story line, this dazzling, ambi-
tious and very skewed approach to
presenting a narrative is anything but
standard. It's animation at a new level
and it rarely ceases to dazzle the eye..
As technically accomplished as
"Tom Thumb" is, "Franz Kafka's It's
a Wonderful Life," is probably a lot
more fun and kooky. Picture a tor-
tured and impoverished Kafka, trying
to write his epic "Metamorphosis"
amidst a boarding house full of danc-
ing girls, misguided tenants and a

severe case of writers' block. The
story's supposed to be about Gregor
Samsa, a depressed Eastern European
who wakes up one morning to find
that he's become an insect, yet all
Kafka can think of is "Gregor Samsa
awoke one morning and was trans-
formed into a giant...banana."
What makes this cryptically amus-
ing, film noir-esque short so appeal-
ing is its dry, droll humor, its bizarre
spin on Frank Capra's "It's A Won-
derful Life" and British actor Richard
E. Grant. Grant ("Bram Stoker's
Dracula") isaphenomenal performer,
turning in afar more genuinely campy
and inspired performance than that of
his effeminate fashion designer in
"Ready To Wear."
However, unlike that disaster, these
films work. Let's face it. Experimental
animators and cynical Brits almost never
hit the jackpot. They also rarely miss
the mark. Witness the proof.
THE ADVENTURES OF TOM
THUMB and FRANZ KAFKA 'S
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE are
playing together at the Michigan
Theater through Thursday.

Undoubtedly, Cub Koda is one of rock 'n' roll's unsung heroes.
Throughout his life, Cub has lived and breathed rock 'n' roll. When he was in high school in the early '60s, he
formed the Del-Tinos, a primal garage rock band powered by the relentless rhythms of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and
the Trashmen. He was in his teens.
Cub has been recording for over 30 years and he has never abandoned his roots, whether they be brutal three-
chord rock 'n' roll or the primal rebellion of '50s and early '60s.
In the early '70s, he actually managed a #3 hit with the classic teen-rebellion anthem, "Smokin' in the Boy's
Room." At that time, he was the leader of the Brownsville Station, one of the Ann Arbor-area's finest pure rock 'n'
roll bands of the time. The MC5 and the Stooges had just imploded and Bob Seger was beginning to smooth out
his extremely rough edges - the Brownsville Station were left to carry the flame.
And Cub carried it with a flair, as well as being more faithful to the teenage-roots of rock than Michigan's other
groups. Deep in his heart, Cub Koda has always been a showman, bringing a sense of spectacle to even the
smallest performances.
Cub has never lost that edge - he can make the smallest club seem like the biggest stadium in the world. He
knows how entertain, but he also knows how to rock hard, as his latest album, "Abba-Dabba-Dabba: A Bananza of
Hits" proves. "Abba" is one of the most primitive, exciting and funny albums released in recent memory. Not only is
Cub's sense of humor better than most rockers (witness his version of Gary Lewis' "Can't You See That She's
Mine," where he sings it as Howlin' Wolf would have sang it, if he had been produced by Phil Spector), but his
skills as producer are better, too. He can replicate the sound and the vibe of the best rock 'n' roll records, creating
the actual feeling of the classic singles from Sun Studios and Chess Studios, as well as countless R&B, surf-rock
and garage-rock singles. Listen to his version of "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday" for proof. Listen to the whole
album, for that matter.
Cub Koda has carried the flame for 30 years, whether it's through his records or his regular record-collecting
column for "Goldmine" magazine. When it comes to pure rock 'n' roll, no one can do it like the Cubmaster. Check
him out at the Ark tomorrow night at 8 p.m., when he's backed by the white-hot rockers George Bedard & the
Kingpins. Tickets are $11 and they are available at Schoolkids' records; call 763-8587 for more information.
- Tom Erlewine

Dave Borthwick's sexual prowess, any-
one can attest to his impressive talent.
The Secret Adventures of Tom
Thumb" is simply fascinating -
strange, twisted, warped and a bit dis-
turbing, but definitely worth the four
bucks.
Employing a technique called
Justice System
*Rooftop Soundcheck
MCA Records
A new trend has been developing
for some time in rap music. Rap artists
now combine the sounds of rap with a
host of other musical genres. Rap
samples and remixes feature everything
from funk to R&B. Jazz is also starting
to creep into more rap songs, and the
results are often very decent.
* The six men of Justice System
have taken the best sounds from a
host of Black musical types and in-
corporated them into their rap acts.
The result is a 14-cut hip-hop/rap
album like none you've ever heard
before.
These guys are all from
Greenburgh, New York, and you can
hear a definite East Coast flava flow-

~;I

The University Musical Society's

ing throughout the CD. Jahbaz raps
and scratches nothing but East Coast
in "Dedication to Bambaataa," in
honor of one of the group's idols.
Coz, a bassist, and Mo' Betta Al on
the alto sax, intorduce a nice jazz
byline. The exact same can be said of
"Summer In The City." The word-
less, Caribbean-influenced sounds of
"Santana" hints vaguely of Sade's
characteristic music.
The musical abilities of these six
men make "Rooftop Soundcheck"
appear like much more than a fresh-
man release. These guys have an ear
for music that few (these guys are
only in their very late teens and early
20's) could ever claim at such a rela-
tively new point in their career.
These guys are already starting to
make big waves. With its lyrical and
musical talents, Justice System knows

no bounds.
- Eugene Bowen

CHART A COURSE N
FOR SUCCESS E
AT BOSTON UNIVERSITYS
S

University of Michigan
School of Music
Saturday, January 14
Korean Percussion Ensemble
Recital Hall, 4p.m.,free
Thursday, January 19
Collage Concert
The University Symphony Band and Orchestra, Percussion En-
semble, University Choirs, Musical Theatre Program Class of '95,
synthesizers, violinists, pianists, and bassoon, trombone, and
saxophone ensembles all perform. Several of Mussorgsky's
Pictures at an Exhibition conclude the program.
Seating procedure: Seats are granted first to those attending the
Midwestern Music Conference. Doors then open to the general
public at 7:55 p.m., remaining open until the hall is full. (Handi-
caned seating starts at 7:15, Thaver Street entrance.)

b0
0.
0

Saturday, January 14
10am - 1 pm, Hill Auditorium.
See the biggest and
brightest names in
classical, jazz, dance, and
opera including Jean-Pierre

Rampal, The Cleveland
Orchestra, the Lincoln
Center Jazz Orchestra,
Anne-Sophie Mutter, and

Master of Science in Management Degree
Boston University International Graduate Centers combine a
tradition of academic excellence with a rich diversity of resources

cn

I

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