Student Productions, New Works

As a faculty member, I get word of lots of student productions, Here are two worth thinking about.

1. At the recommendation of a valued friend, I attended a guitar recital — “Time. Cynosure. Contortions” by Harry Park. The experience built to a striking emotional intensity. A variety of short works constituted the first “act” of the performance, arranged chronologically, more or less. In many ways, they were a traditional walk through the things that a guitar can do — the way it can sing in many voices (Fernando Sor, Francisco Tarrega, Heitor-Villa Lobos, Johann Sebastian Bach).

The middle piece was an extended performance of Bach. By virtue of exploring the single composer in a more extended fashion, I felt myself listening to something more than exercises.

Such extended exploration was only a prelude to the intimate explorations in Park’s original composition — a piece for electric, rather than acoustic, guitar, with distortion pedals turning his notes into droning noises, over which Park had looped samples of human speech. It’s as if the longer the performance continued, the more Park was pulling us into extended immersion into what the instrument can do and the way that the instrument reflects the mind of the composer. By the end of the performance, I had a sense of Park as a performer and composer that was rich and complex and maybe just a little dark.

(I understand that the music program at CSS is being shrunk or diminished in the future. This recital reminds me that the loss of a music program at a university is significant.)

2. I saw the UMD Theater Program’s production of Detestable Madness.

The play is a collaborative adaptation of the works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. Jenna Soleo-Shanks both coordinated the adaptation with the class and directed.

The play is very loosely, it seems to me, structured on some plays by one of the first female playwrights. By loosely, I mean that Hrotsvit had no knowledge of Grease, but one of the most biting scenes in the play plays with a classic scene in Grease to talk about the experience of rape. As such, a play more than a thousand years old still connects with contemporary audiences.

It’s not without its faults, from my perspective. The first act is amazing and should immediately (with minor tweaks) join the repertoire of significant feminist works performed on college campuses. The second act bothered me, not for aesthetic reasons but for political ones. I find the “media” to be too easy a target for critique. I find the complicity of the mother character in the sins of the media complicated. But maybe, most of all, as a professor, I find the depiction of sexual violence on student bodies hard to watch. So that’s my issue, one that may be a non-issue with other audiences and other productions.

Detestable Madness was thought provoking and challenging and worth seeing.

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