tim blough

Atticus, tried and all too true

Lakewood's sharp and moving "To Kill a Mockingbird" does justice to an American classic that reverberates in a curious time capsule

To Kill a Mockingbird is a cherished time capsule of American literature and culture, a concise and moving statement about childhood, innocence, courage, and race. Its main characters – feisty tomboy Scout Finch, her brother Jem and friend Dill, the mysterious and frightening Boo Radley (much talked about but rarely seen), and above all that towering figure of decency and strength, Atticus Finch – are genuine American icons, up there within shouting distance of Huckleberry Finn and Captain Ahab and poor besmirched Hester Prynne. Scout and Jem and Dill and Boo and Atticus, of course, are all white Southerners, and it’s telling that the novel’s major black characters – Scout’s substitute-mother cook and housekeeper, Calpurnia, and Tom Robinson, the honest laborer who is falsely but fatally accused of rape – are not nearly so well-etched in the public consciousness.

Mockingbird doubles, maybe triples, in time. Harper Lee’s novel was published to acclaim in 1960, in the midst of the civil rights movement, after Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Parks’ bus rebellion and the Little Rock desegregation crisis, before the Selma marches and the rise of the Black Panther Party and the assassinations of Medgar Evers and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. It was both a repressive and an exciting time, when liberal hopes and expectations, in spite and perhaps in part because of the naked resistance they faced, ran high.

Kate McLellan as Scout, Monica Fleetwood as Calpurnia, Bram Allahdadi as Jem in “Mockingbird.” Lakewood Theatre photo

The novel is set, however, in an earlier time – the early to middle 1930s, during the depths of the Great Depression, in small-town Alabama, a seat of rigid segregation and no small amount of mob violence. From that viewpoint the actions of Atticus and the lessons Scout learns are truly heroic: resolute stands against the corruption of the place and culture they knew and loved. Tom Robinson loses his life. Scout loses her innocence, but gains something much larger: an understanding of the moral universe, and an emerging ability to cope with its demands.

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Broadway Rose takes flight

The off-Broadway musical "Fly by Night" glows in the company's smart and funny new production

Broadway Rose and director Isaac Lamb are bringing the fleeting magic of stardust to the stage with their new production of the 2014 musical Fly by Night.

A potent mix of youthful optimism and struggle marks this dark comedy. From the opening, Joe Theissen’s narrator (one among many parts he plays), decked out in brill-combed hair, thin tie and small-lapel suit, takes us back to the kind of dirty but creative streets of Greenwich Village in 1965. The musical has the feel, look, and smell of a dusty early Simon and Garfunkel album, if it were co-written by Rod Serling: plot twists around learning through loss, and how to channel it with some catchy riffs.

"Fly by Night": coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

“Fly by Night”: coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Fly by Night is an off-Broadway musical by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, and it has the layers, heavy crafting and emotional insight that Yale mafia graduates are known for. From the first number, Circles in the Sand, the audience is hooked. You want to buy the soundtrack. It’s updated folk music that came out of the coffee shops and underground taverns in the early Bob Dylan-worshipping days: simple, syrupy, good pop with clever lyrics. John Quesenberry leads the band’s performances over two and a half hours with energy, enthusiasm, and charm. Connolly and Mitnick’s music is like a good Indie record; it’s Vampire Weekend and the Shins pared down to groovy elements. There is a seamless transition into every song and it’s amazing to watch dialogue slide into song. The “now they’re going to sing” abrupt monologues are missing, and as the cream separates, the dearness of the story rises to the top.

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Dainichia Noreault and Tim Blough, rehearsal photo/David Kinder

Pushed, I’d have to say that “King Lear” is Shakespeare at his very greatest—I just don’t have the stomach for it sometimes. (The great Polish critic Jan Kott called it “a high mountain that everyone admires, yet no one  particularly wishes to climb.”) It reveals too much about my own conceit, blindness, failure, weakness. It captures my rank calculations and measurements. It mocks my defense, that I am more sinned against than sinning. It is horrible.

Which may be why it became so central to the 20th century (and yes, I suppose the 21st, too). It strips us down to a quivering jelly of madness, like Lear, where we alternately scream for the annihilation of the world and just a moment’s pity for ourselves.

The Portland Shakespeare Project and director Jon Kretzu (the associate artistic director of Artists Repertory Theatre) set their “Lear” in a nursing home, and its opening shudder into consciousness by an old man in a wheelchair is the beginning of an audacious gesture before Shakespeare’s play really begins.

The old man must have been dreaming Shakespeare, because he mutters, “Oh that this too solid flesh would melt away,” from “Hamlet,” but then he settles on Lear, mumbling the opening lines and calls for his map. It must be a frequent  dream because his daughters sitting around him respond when he asks them, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most…,” by stumbling over the first few lines of Goneril and Regan, before returning to their seats. They are playing along, but barely. The third sister, Cordelia, knits in her seat.

And then with a deep audible click from the offstage sound gods (meaning stage manager Tyler Ryan, I presume), the old man really is Lear, old but energetic, and we begin the play in earnest, though with this “meta” beginning, maybe we return to the old man’s dream because we spend the evening in his room, on and around his bed and a table filled with sheet cake, party favors and balloons that say, hilariously, “Happy Father’s Day.”

Dear Lear, This is NOT going to be a happy Father’s Day.

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