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Friday, October 7, 2016


While the rain falls outside, attendees of the 2016 Tacoma Film Festival won't even notice. Nothing distracts from what's happening outdoors like the indoor pleasures of flickering movie screen and the smell of hot, buttered popcorn. Then there is the excitement of being part of the exclusivity, the chance to meet the filmmakers in person, and being among the first to see independently created films that might go on to become legendary. From Oct. 6-Oct. 13, you can choose from a delicious smorgasborg ranging from serious drama to humor, from flights of fancy to breathtaking documentaries. Take a look at this trailer for the film Ocean Stories: the Halls— 

Some of the films you will see have been hits at other film festivals, domestic and foreign; some are complete surprises; some even involve virtual reality. You can see local selections, shorts, and children's films, like the best films gleaned from the New York International Children's Film Festival. 

My dictionary defines "independent" as "not subject to control by others," and in the world of film, that translates to artistic freedom, the unleashing of creativity. Now more than ever, our society needs fresh voices and more honest ways to look at life, our world, and the real human experiences hidden behind headlines. This event, however, is a challenge for the indecisive. How does a person selection from 150 films and 13 special events? I'm going to see as many as I can.

You can start by looking at this online version of the program. Then, buy your tickets. You don't want to miss this!

Monday, October 3, 2016

"JOYFUL NOISE" at Taproot Theatre — a review

Jim Gall in Joyful Noise at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug

Christmas is still nearly three months away, but if you are one of those people who love Handel's Messiah and can hardly wait to sing along with the Hallelujah Chorus, you can do something right now to make one of your favorite holiday experiences more meaningful. Attend the play Joyful Noise at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre, running now through October 21. It reveals the dramatic story most people do not know about the creation of this particular piece of classical music.

Under the guidance of Producing Artistic Director Scott Nolte, Tim Slover’s book, lyrics, and music bring the history of George Frideric Handel’s most famous and beloved musical composition to life on the Jewel Mainstage Theatre’s stage. While being entertained, you will discover things about Handel your childhood piano teacher never taught you. Perhaps you will even find yourself motivated, as I was, to research not only Handel’s life, but also the lives of the other historical characters portrayed by this talented cast. 

Jim Gall in Joyful Noise at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Born in Germany in 1685, Handel was a child prodigy. By the age of 10, he could compose for several instruments. As a young adult, already devoting his life to music, he produced his first opera, Almira, which immediately became a great success.He spent three years immersed in the Italian opera scene before leaving Venice in 1710 to move to London. There he composed his opera Rinaldo in two weeks’ time and saw it performed during the 1710-1711 opera season. It, too, was a major success, launching his career. He became a citizen of England in 1726, composing music for royalty and generally enjoying his status as a celebrity. However, he would soon face struggles, and Joyful Noise opens in the middle of this chaos. 

The play is set in London and Leicestershire, England, in the time frame of 1741 through 1743, during the reign of King George II (Frank Lawler). The glitter of Italian opera, and the previously brilliant career of Handel (Jim Gall), had begun to tarnish. He lacked financial backing, caused himself embarrassment by ranting publicly about the rejection of his operas, and an ongoing feud between two women singers, Kitty Clive (Molli Corcoran) and Susannah Cibber (Allison Standley) made life more than stressful.

Jim Gall, Molli Corcoran, Chris Shea and Allison Standley in Joyful Noise at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

It was also during this time that a wealthy fan, the librettist Charles Jennens (Kevin Pitman) asked Handel to compose an oratorio about the life of Jesus Christ based on Jennens’ carefully arranged passages from scripture. This composition, finished in a few weeks, was as unique as it was brilliant. Although based on religion, it was to be performed not in a church but a concert hall, (for Easter, not Christmas).

As if the issue of performing a religious work in a secular setting did not raise enough controversy on its own, scandal surrounding Cibber, an accused adulteress, fueled moral outrage as well. However, when Messiah debuted in Dublin, Ireland, her emotional singing endeared her to all. The oratorio dazzled audiences, who were deeply moved by the powerful music that recognized the truly human side of religion. Things did not go so well back in London however. Bishop Henry Egerton (William Kumma) had his own career goals in mind when he became a force that nearly destroyed Messiah’s chances for success in London. The ugliness of church politics contrasted with the uplifting quality of Messiah was a striking point in this play.

William Kumma in Joyful Noise at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The play examines this intertwining of subplots in an arresting way in a short two-hour time span, although at times some of them felt too condensed. The acting was excellent in all cases. Gall gave Handel so much personality. You come to see how his passionate nature and determination to do things his own way might have enabled him to create such a masterpiece. I loved his attitude about God not being remote and inaccessible to human beings, but out in “the mud” of their existence. Lawler was a delight as Charles II who, like Handel, contributed humor and humanity to the story. Kumma’s performance as Bishop Egerton showed us a character with a calm, pious exterior hiding typically self-serving human motivations. Pitman, as Jennens, succeeded giving an edge to the real tensions that can result in situations of collaboration. Actor Chris Shea was wonderful in his role of John Christopher Smith, Handel’s copyist and secretary, but also a composer in his own right, I learned.

Nolte, too, brought humor and smiles to the stage with her portrayal of Mary Pendarves, Handel’s greatest fan. A poet, music patron, and kind benefactor, she is overly dramatic and probably too nice for her own good. She protects and sympathizes with Cibber, who always portrays herself as a victim, even though obviously opportunistic and manipulative. Standley develops this character with such skill that the viewer sees both sides of her personality. While we feel for her over her separation from her child, we watch her physically assault competing songstress Clive, who, in real life, was considered London’s most popular woman actress and singer at the time. One weakness of this play is the rapidity of the eventual reconciliation between these two women, after being bitter rivals for so long. It felt unbelievable. I also wished the script would have revealed more about Clive, a role Corcoran played so well, instead of a mere glimpse into her side of the story.

Jim Gall, Molli Corcoran, Chris Shea and Allison Standley in Joyful Noise at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The versatile set design, by Don Yanik, made a perfect framework for this play, allowing it to move quickly and smoothly from one situation to the next. (Actually, dates and locations projected onto a surface above the stage, for our enlightenment, flashed on and off a bit too quickly for me to jot down in my notes, which was frustrating.) Nanette Acosta’s beautiful costumes added so much with their historical accuracy and attention to detail. Kudos to everyone on the production staff for a job well done. Another aspect of the production that was especially effective was the way some scenes split into different bits of dialog, where some actors froze in their exchanges while, on another part of the stage, we could eavesdrop on a separate conversation.

I highly recommend Joyful Noise. Go see it, and next time you hear Handel’s Messiah, you will have a greater appreciation for the near miracle of its existence, in spite of human dramas, politics, and all else that would have squelched creativity in anyone less amazing than Handel. 

Here is your link for tickets: