Blogs > The Arts Whisperer

Offering a fresh way of helping you keep up with art and entertainment happenings around the Capital District.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Greek Festival/ all Ethnic Festivals

When you speak to someone about any ethic festival usually the first topic of discussion is the food. However, the events are usually about more than the ethnic food specialties.

That said, over the past weekend I attended the Greek Festival at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Schenectady and yes the food was fantastic. The Moussaka was perfection, the Stuffed Pepper fantastic and the spinach pie (Spanakapita) was delicious. And that last comment is coming from a person who avoids his veggies. Another point is most of the above was eaten warmed up the next day. At the festival I went for the Pork Souvlaki. Mostly because it looked so good and wouldn't travel well. That and despite a yogurt type dressing it appeared the most decadent of the offerings.

As I sat a the long tables eating and listening to live musicians play music that was probably thousands of years old and watched costumed dancers offering traditional dances I realized these ethnic festivals are truly a way to express communal pride.

The food servers were pleasant and patient as they served long lines of people. Indeed, behind the counters I recognized several prominent community leaders toiling cooking over hot stoves. I'm sure they did so, willingly and graciously, because they and their families were connected to the Greek community and to the capital district community at large.

But the take-away experience for me was after the costumed dancers left the floor the dance area became filled by local people who wanted to dance.

Of course the most heartwarming was to watch the young children teaching themselves dance steps to the music. But too, watching a father with a teenage son begin a dance and see them joined by various others - men, women, grandmothers, and mothers with infants - all celebrating their culture was the most satisfying aspect of the evening. It was a sight filled with joy.

A day or so later, a warm feeling came over me as I wondered in how many countries throughout the world would a celebration of ethnic traditions be so embraced by those outside the specific culture. It made me proud to live in my community.

I'm sure I'm going to feel much the same way after leaving the Irish Festival this weekend which is at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

bravery on stage

Albany Civic Theatre is offering a wonderful production of “Big Maggie” at 235 Second Avenue in Albany weekends through September 15.  It’s a harsh play about a woman who is hard on her four adult children.  Hard is an understatement.  She is downright cruel.

At ACT Big Maggie is played by Kathleen Carey.  In my review of the play (the previous blog) I called her performance “brave.”  It is brilliant work by an exceptional actress.

Anytime an actor has to go to the darkest part of their psyche it is always an emotionally dangerous choice.   Because few actors are able to do it, it is one of the factors I use in evaluating the talent of an actor. If you cannot visit .your dark side, you will always be limited as an actor.

But this performance took even more bravery by Carey.  In local theater the final week of opening a show is torture and pressure filled.  The nights are long, tense and filled with fear, doubt and last minute adjustments.

Few people outside the acting company know that week brought added tensions to the actress, a Troy native who teaches second grade at Sacred Heart School in Troy.

The Monday before opening, Kathleen’s 85 year old mother fell and broke her hip.  They operated on Tuesday. On Wednesday complications set in she was placed in ICU.  On Friday – the day the show opened – it was uncertain if Kathleen’s mother would survive.  

She did and will be discharged to rehab within days.

On Friday night, Kathleen Carey temporarily put aside her mother’s problems and gave the performance of her life. 

Ironically, the role was a mother who in trying to make her children stronger made them suffer.  The character was the opposite of Kathleen’s mother but finding a mother’s love within this harsh, cruel woman demanded the actress understand the deepest love a mother can offer – it had to be an exhausting and emotionally disturbing experience. This is what I think defines a “brave performance.”  

By the way, it is an excellent performance by Carey and everyone else in the cast and “Big Maggie”  should be seen. 

“Big Maggie” is at Albany Civic Theatre through September 15.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3.  462-1297,

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

review Big Maggie at Albany Civic Theatre

Review  “Big Maggie” at Albany Civic Theatre

ALBANY -For some reason you are supposed to warn people about plays that do not have loveable central characters.   The same is true for plays that make you feel and think.  Too, people feel they should be cautioned about plays that force them to understand life is complicated. 

“Big Maggie” playing at Albany Civic Theatre is all of the above.  Nonetheless it is a brilliantly executed piece of theater that proves depreciating the taste level of audiences is humbug.  This is a production that deserves an audience. 

“Big Maggie” is about a woman who has been in a loveless, brutal marriage for 25 years. When her rotter of a husband (who was 20 years older than she) dies, Maggie takes firm control over the family store, the farm and, most importantly, the lives of her 4 young adult children.

She is hard to the point of being cruel as she dominates their lives.  She has no sympathy for weakness, no compassion for those with emotions and most of all, no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with her.

She not only pushes her family away, she rejects any act of friendship from the people of the town and she even rebukes one gentle man who would have her for a wife.  Eventually she chases each child away and lives in isolation in her small rural community in Ireland.

Though it is impossible to like or to even have compassion for Maggie, the magic of the play is, no matter how begrudgingly it happens, you tend to understand the woman because she believes her actions are best for her children. However, the tragedy is even when she is right, her emotionally cruel behavior negates any long term good she might do.

As Maggie, Kathleen Carey offers a smart, brave and emotionally true performance.  She creates a Maggie who cares nothing about consequences or loss.  She only cares that her will be done.  The beauty of the performance is without showing any softness, Carey creates a woman who is strangely vulnerable. Carey makes it clear no matter how much Maggie bends people to her will the woman will never be able to be happy.

Through this stoic, mean woman Carey show the John B. Keane play is not simply a play about a harsh woman.  It is also a play about raising children in a cruel unforgiving environment.  Though, its themes are not epic, in many respects Keane has written the Irish version of “Mother Courage and her Children.” And too, it becomes a play about life in a specific place, time and culture.

Though Carey’s marvelous performance is essential to the success of the play, Chris Foster’s direction is equally as important.   By setting a gentle mood for the people who live in the village, he creates and almost claustrophobic atmosphere that illustrates the oppressiveness of living life in a small world.

Foster also nurtures strong performances from his large cast. Patrick White brings a needed sense of humor to Byrne, the simple man who would have Maggie for a wife.  Isaac Newberry, though perhaps seeming a little more American than Irish, brings a believable charm to Teddy a man who has a taste for women.

Annie Bunce finds the trusting naiveté of the fragile Gert, Maggie’s youngest daughter, Amanda Martini-Hughes, could be more saucy as the oldest daughter Katie, but she excels in going head to head in a losing battle with her mother.   Patrick Rooney and Paul Dedrick are strong as the sons who are humiliated by the controlling nature of Maggie.

David Caso’s lights are an important element in establishing the mood of the play while enhancing Foster’s dramatic stage pictures.  Beth Ruman’s costumes are equally as good in establishing character and setting.

“Big Maggie” is a triumph for Albany Civic Theatre. It is a beautiful production of a play that few local companies would have the courage to produce.  It is a work that deserves an audience.

“Big Maggie” Albany Civic Theatre, 235 Second Ave., Albany  Through September 15.    Performances 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets $15  462-1297,