What Hollywood is Giving Us for Christmas
Has there been a worse year for feature films than 1976? Can you think of five films that are worth even nominating for the Academy Awards?
Well, there’s still a month left. Maybe something will turn up. Just so you can keep track, here’s a brief account of what will be arriving in the peak Thanksgiving-Christmas release season.
The biggest films – which is to say the most-hyped and probably the most expensive – are remakes. King Kong has already had Time’s cover, so you probably know that the great ape will be hauling somebody named Jessica Lange up the twin towers of the World Trade Center. If special effects really turn you on, then you’ll probably be standing in line outside the Inwood, Wilshire or Promenade in Dallas or the Wedgwood or Belaire in Fort Worth, starting December 17. The other remake is the third time around for A Star Is Born, this time with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Much depends on the music in this one – and if the previews at NorthPark are reliable, Streisand sounds in good form. Whether she won’t upstage Kristofferson into a blur is another question. If you go to movies on Christmas Day, you can catch the first screening at NorthPark, or at the Opera House in Fort Worth.
They’re still doing sequels, too. Peter Sellers does what he claims to be his last Inspector Clouseau turn in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, opening December 17 at the UA Cine I and Park Forest in Dallas, December 15 at the Ridglea in Fort Worth. And if you care, Clint Eastwood is doing Dirty Harry for the third time in something called The Enforcer. Christmas Day (God rest you merry), a multiple run in Dallas. Opening at Seminary South and Richland Mall, December 22.
Neither sequels nor remakes, there are three films that nevertheless sound familiar. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is the latest Sherlock Holmes spin-off, based on Nicholas Meyer’s witty book in which Holmes meets Freud. Certainly the most interesting cast of the season – Nicol Williamson as Holmes, Alan Arkin as Freud, Robert Duvall as Watson, and Laurence Olivier as Moriarty, with Vanessa Redgrave, Joel Grey, and Samantha Eggar. Opening at NorthPark IV December 22. And if you liked Tatum and Ryan O’Neal and Peter Bogdanovich’s brand of nostalgia in Paper Moon, you’ll probably like their teamwork in Nickelodeon. This one also has Burt Reynolds, for whatever that’s worth. A Christmas Day multiple opening in Dallas; in Fort Worth at Cine Forum, Seminary South, December 22. And every Disney film with Dean Jones looks like every other Disney film with Dean Jones. The “newest” is something called The Shaggy D.A. If the kids break their presents early, you can take them to a matinee on Christmas Day, when a multiple run begins in Dallas. It opens at Cineworld, Shady Oaks, and Forum 303 in Fort Worth December 18.
The only originals opening, then, are a film called Network, Paddy Chayevsky’s expose of TV with Faye Dunaway and William Holden, and an adventure comedy called The Silver Streak, with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, and – rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of Gable and Lombard – Jill Clayburgh. Network opens December 17 at NorthPark. The Silver Streak begins a multiple run in Dallas December 22, and opens at the 7th Street in Fort Worth the same day.
– Charles Matthews
A Listless Film About Blacklisting
Sometimes a film is so low-key it’s actually no-key. That happened with The Front, Hollywood’s well-meaning attempt – at the safe distance of a quarter-century – to take an ironic look at the sordid era of political blacklisting. But moral cowardice is a matter for sleepless nights and agonizing memoirs, not for the confrontations and plotbus-ter situations a good drama depends on. That’s why it must have seemed natural to cast in the lead a comedian who has managed to make a career of moral cowardice, Woody Allen.
But Woody is too damn lovable. He can act up a storm – nobody should have ever doubted for a moment that Woody Allen could play a “serious” role. But the movie ought to have bite – it ought to show how shabby were the actions of some people who chose career over conscience in the Fifties. Even in so glossy a film as The Way We Were, Robert Redford managed by some beautiful underplaying to show how that choice could convert hero into heel. Sadly, the script for The Front makes its heel become a hero. Woody is led off to jail looking blissfully self-satisfied, while we sit in the theater watching the credits and wondering why the movie was made at all. Even the final credits are self-satisfied – “Directed by Martin Ritt (Blacklisted 1951),” “Screenplay by Walter Bernstein (Blacklisted 1950)” and so on. I’m glad Ritt and Bernstein and Zero Mostel and Herschel Bernardi are working now, but I’d be happier if they showed us what it was really like, what they really felt about the people who finked on them – the way Lillian Hellman does in Scoundrel Time. This sanitized account of their experiences, tarted up with the nostalgia of Fifties sets and costumes, is being passed off as a tragic-comic view of history. But it has no tone, no point of view, nothing to tell us or make us feel. No wonder that the local ad campaign tried to sell it as a Woody Allen comedy instead of as a serious film.
Bernstein’s script creates the problem, but the casting destroys what remains of an idea that only theoretically had merit. Allen is a delight to watch as he plays with his stand-up comic persona and then merges it with something realer, closer to life. But he always catches the audience off guard – the one I was with never knew quite when to laugh. Zero Mostel is dreadful, as he usually is on film – we need the comfortable distance provided by footlights and proscenium to enjoy his sweaty mugging. The character he plays is supposed to be only a bit repellent. While Mostel overplays, Andrea Marcovicci, who has learned her craft on television, underplays too much. Her movements are tense and constricted, her face fixed in a rather lugubrious self-conscious mask. Only her black swan beauty involves us in the character, but as usual with Woody Allen’s leading ladies, she makes an absurd romantic foil.
In the end, the film seems only smug – look how far we’ve come since the Fifties. There’s no political, social or moral truth in that position.
– Charles Matthews
Haymarket Theatre. Feature-length films at various times. Precise booking dates unavailable for December, but the following films are scheduled to be shown. Call for exact dates and times. Olla Podri-da/12215 Coit Rd/387-0807.
The Great Ziegfeld (USA 1936). Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, with William Powell, Myrna Loy. Luise Rainer, Fanny Brice, Ray Bolger.
Silk Stockings (USA 1957). Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.
Let Girls (USA 1957). Directed by George Cu-kor, with Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gay-nor, and Taina Elg.
Kiss Me, Kate (USA 1953). Directed by George Sidney, with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, and Ann Miller.
Kismet (USA 1955). Directed by Vincente Min-nelli. with Howard Keel, Ann Blyth. and Dolores Gray.
Stormy Weather (USA 1943). Directed by Andrew L Stone, with Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller.
Cabin In the Sky (USA 1943). Directed by Vincente Minnelli, with Ethel Waters. Lena Horne, and Eddie Anderson.
Showboat (USA 1951). Directed by George Sidney, with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, and Ava Gardner.
Meet Me In St. Louis (USA 1944). Directed by Vincente Minnelli, with Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, and Mary Astor.
Tales of Beatrix Potter (Great Britain 1974). Film with members of the Royal Ballet performing in ballets based on Potter stories.
The Boy Friend (Great Britain 1971). Directed by Ken Russell, with Twiggy, Christopher Gable, Tommy Tune, and Glenda Jackson.
UT/Dallas Films. Founders North Auditorium, Floyd & Lookout, Richardson/690-2281.
Days and Nights In the Forest (India 1970). Directed by Satyajit Ray, December 1, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.
Zardoz (USA 1974). Directed by John Boorman, with Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling. December 3, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.
Zero lor Conduct (France 1933). Directed by Jean Vigo. With Simon of the Desert (Mexico 1965), directed by Luis Bunuel. December 8, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.
The Boys In the Band (USA 1970). Directed by William Friedkin. December 19, 7:30 & 9.45 p.m.
Eva (Great Britain 1962). Directed by Joseph Lo-sey, with Jeanne Moreau and Stanley Baker. December 15, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.
Quys and Dolls (USA 1965). Directed by JosephL. Mankiewicz, with Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Jean Simmons. December 17, 7:30p.m. only.
The Best of the Southwest: The DMB’s Showcase
Departing from the local tradition of importing superstars to draw a big audience, the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet used their fall program to bring us a sample of what’s happening in the regional ballet movement. Four companies – The Greater Houston Ballet, the Fort Worth Ballet Association, the Delta Ballet of New Orleans and the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet – performed October 24th in McFarlin Auditorium before a relatively good-sized and very receptive crowd.
Regional ballet might be likened to college football. This collection of mostly non-professional and a few professional dance companies maintains certain artistic and technical standards that ensure a good training ground for young dancers, and ballet performances for towns that will never be visited by major companies.
The dancers are for the most part youngsters in their teens or early twenties. They have chosen to work at ballet as many of their contemporaries choose to work at athletics, with very long-range goals in mind. Instead of long hours on the track, on the court or in the pool, these people put in hour after hour at the barre, perfecting a specific series of traditional and very unnatural movements. They’re not aiming for gold medals or TV contracts, but for starting places in the corps of a New York company – or a chance just to make a living at dance … to be paid, however little, for all those hours of acute physical exertion. Some will make it that far – most will not.
The program offered a nice cross section of styles of ballet. “Panuelitos,” by the Houston group, recalled the aristocratic origins of ballet in movements very much like court dancing, to the music of Handel. The Fort Worth Ballet’s “Sousa Forever” may be said to have reflected that period in America’s dance history when ballet was the province of the Rockettes, and “toe-dancing” was a vaudeville act. The patriotic theme unfortunately struck a sour note for many in the audience who had had it with the Bicentennial. The Delta Ballet of New Orleans did a piece called “Capriccio,” evocative of the lyrical romantic tradition in ballet. To music by Mendelssohn, dancers in draped chiffon moved at a fast pace yet maintained the softness of hands and arms which characterizes that tradition. Some of ballet’s trickiest footwork was hidden in this choreography, and it went largely unappreciated while the audience, as usual, chose to applaud simpler and showier things.
The Dallas Metropolitan Ballet was the star of the afternoon. “Suite for Fun” is chock full of choreographic gimmicks, but how could one fault them for bringing the audience such unbridled pleasure, and for dancing with such enthusiasm and energy. Every death-defying lift was here – every leap and spin that has ever drawn an “ooh” or an “aah.” In the tradition of Russian lifts and New York City Ballet speed, these well-trained young dancers bounded through a piece which can win ballet-goers from the ranks of sports fans. There is much to be said for this approach (the “first, get them into the church” principle). There is also a danger in creating an audience which is insensitive to the adagio side of ballet.
Soloist Christy Dunham displayed the same elegant purity of line that we saw last year, though she still holds back on her personality. Suzanne Wagner, Richard Condon, and Rusty Simmons were audience favorites with their comic pas de trois for very tall couple and short man. The Metropolitan certainly has more male talent than anyone else on the program. By and large, these young people have command of a wide range of technical feats and perform with the gusto necessary to involve the audience in the joy of dance.
– Victoria Lowe
with the increase in dance ’activity, The Nutcracker has become almost as obligatory a part of the Christmas season as Handel’s Messiah. The Fort Worth Ballet’s production features one of ballet’s newest superstars, Fernando Bujones. When our critic saw him in Fort Worth last year, she said “Bujones comes out of spectacular jumps and multiple turns into rock-steady attitudes and arabesques. He has a degree of control rare in male dancers and phenomenal in one of his age-20.” On December 14, Bujones and Veronica Tennant will be performing with the Fort Worth company in the Tarrant County Convention Center Theater. For ticket information call (817) 731-0879.
Dallas Ballet will present five performances of The Nutcracker starring Vera Kirova Dec 23, 26, 27 and 28, at the Music Hall. For times and ticket information write to the Ticket Office, 3601 Rawlins, Dallas 75219, or call 526-1370.
Fort Worth Ballet presents The Nutcracker starring Fernando Bujones and Veronica Tennant Dec 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the Tarrant County Convention Center. For tickets and information write F.W.B., 3505 W Lancaster, Fort Worth 76107, or call (817)731-0879.
Dallas Metropolitan Ballet presents Peter and the Wolf, Cinderella pas de deux, and Act II of Coppe-lia Dec 12 in McFarlin Auditorium. Single tickets are available at Dallas’ Preston Ticket Agency, 363-9311, and range in price from $2.50 to $10.
Women Beware Women: Three New Novels
“I’d sometimes talked about love and commitment,” says the heroine of Margaret Atwood’s new book, “but the real romance of my life was that between Houdini and his ropes and locked trunk: entering the embrace of bondage, slithering out again. What else had I ever done?” This statement of self-knowledge could serve as the motto for a trio of new novels by and about, though surely not only for, women: Atwood’s Lady Oracle (Simon and Schuster, $8.95), Francine Gray’s Lovers and Tyrants (Simon and Schuster, $8.95), and Lois Gould’s A Sea-Change (Simon and Schuster, $6.95). Varied as these three books are in method, ranging as they do in quality from flawed excellence to downright atrocity, nevertheless they all have a similar purpose: to present a heroine emergent, liberated of tyrannical lovers, standing proudly and freely in what Atwood calls “the new life, the life to come.” Their success is dubious.
Lady Oracle’s Joan Foster borrows some from Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus.” Like that earlier red-haired lady, she engineers her own death to free herself from the confusion of the several lives the script calls for her to play: fat child, compliant wife, best-selling author, adulteress, and pseudonymous writer of pot-boiling gothic novels. Readers of Atwood’s two previous novels, The Edible Woman and Surfacing, will recognize a familiar concern with the triumph of the real woman over the social mask. Thus the heroine of The Edible Woman breaks out of the conformity and sterility of a life she can’t stomach by baking and eating an angel cake effigy of herself, and the heroine of Surfacing fakes death, in part to conquer her own past.
More daring and inventive than The Edible Woman, as comic and sweeping as Surfacing is grim and constricting, Lady Oracle is jubilant reading. By turns witty, lyrical, and acrid, Margaret Atwood never abandons that unsentimental stance so necessary in a first-person narrative. One of the wittiest devices in the novel is the gothic tale Joan writes throughout, which mirrors and in Freudian fashion interprets our heroine’s own fears and fancies. Profound this book is not, but Lady Oracle never sinks into melodrama or bathos, for which we can thank its author’s finely tuned ironic sense.
Francine du Plessix Gray is a journalist, and Lovers and Tyrants, on which she worked for 12 years, is her first novel. Episodic in structure, the book consists of eight separate eras in a woman’s life, from 1935 when she is four, to 197-; three of the sections, most recently “Tribe,” were published independently in The New Yorker as short stories. Lovers and Tyrants is obviously autobiographical, and Gray’s evocation of childhood is an almost Joycean marvel of scrupulous observation and sensitive introspection. From the first sentence – “My childhood lies behind me muted, opaque and drab, the color of gruel and of woolen gaiters, its noises muted and monotonous as a sleeper’s pulse” – we are hypnotized by the life of an extraordinary woman as she seeks to comprehend her roots and her nature. Born in France of an aristocratic French father and a beautiful Russian mother who claims direct descent from Genghis Khan, Stephanie immigrates to America as a child, soon after the war. “Tribe,” the most moving section in the novel, shows her return nearly three decades later to France and to her father’s family. Tracing her own origins, she visits the family tomb where her father, a war hero who died in the Resistance, lies surrounded by his kin; in this grandly gloomy setting, Stephanie faces, with uncompromising clarity, her own life and death through understanding and acceptance of his. She is one of a “tribe.”
The first 196 pages of Lovers and Tyrants are brilliant; after that degeneration sets in. The long last “Stephanie” section is formless and self-indulgent as it seeks to capture the heroine’s difficult ascent from madness into, one supposes, freedom. You’ve read this bit before, probably for the last ten years – same old drugs, same sex scenes, same half-baked mysticism, same meandering paragraphs and abandoned punctuation. This book, this heroine, deserve better. Must freedom mean merde?
The liberation motif in Lois Gould’s A Sea-Cnange is much more explicit and a lot less savory than in either of the other two books. Lest the point be missed, this novel opens with a literal representation of bondage. The reader plunges into the mind of a rape victim, trussed and bound beside her bed, playing dead as “B.G.” (Black Gunman) plunders the house before coming back to her. A mere 160 pages later, said victim is herself a rapist and plunderer, with the help of storms and hurricanes through which the transformation is accomplished, as bad Greek plays used to be resolved by god in a machine. It helps, too, that all of the characters in this trashy little work are stereotyped or allegorical figures, so nobody really puts up any resistance to the miracle, least of all the heroine herself. In spite of the title, the thesis of a book which is mostly thesis doesn’t hold water: it is that women love male brutality so inordinately that their highest dream of liberation is to become successfully brutal themselves. Bosh.
Odd that all three books should end so lamely. Atwood tries a surprise ending, far too abrupt and unwarranted to come off; Gray’s intelligent and stringent heroine settles for the panacea of pop culture; Gould’s book comes to rest uncomfortably on the conclusion of a syllogism faulty to begin with. Freedom achieved is, on the evidence offered here, a draw, with as much lost as gained. Though Gray tries to suggest exhilaration and possibility – “I shall live alone, or with others, for myself. I’ve done it again, kiddo, I’ve done it better than ever, this time I’ve exorcised myself of one hell of a bunch of oppressors. . . . Here, at last, is a beginning,” the cliches alone tie her up. How can freedom exist without a language ample to describe it?
– Jo Brans
Season’s Readings: Stocking Stutters
What? A Riddle Book by Sarnoff and Ruffins (Scribners, $6.95) has over 500 riddles such as: “Why is a lion in the desert like Christmas?” “Because of its sandy claws,” or “When is a black dog not a black dog?” “When it is a greyhound.” Along with the riddles are beautiful full-color illustrations by the authors. Readers range from children to parents to grandparents.
If Eggs Had Legs – Non-Sense and Some Sense by Lisa Weil (Double-day, $5.95). Silly riddles, rhymes, stories, and puzzles. Ages 5 to 9.
Four Frogs in a Box by Mercer Mayer (Dial Press, $5.95). Four tiny (31/2 by 4 inches) picture books (no reading material) titled Frog on His Own, Frog, Where Are You?, A Boy, a Dog and a Frog, and A Boy, A Frog and a Friend.
666 Jellybeans! All That? An Introduction to Algebra, by Malcolm E. Weiss (Crowell, $5.95). The author of this inventive and amusing introduction to algebra shows than the “unknown” or X can be the contents of a paper bag or pocket, or just the number you are thinking of. Ages 8 to 10.
Angles Are Easy as Pie by Robert Froman (Crowell, $5.95). This book offers the opportunity to learn quite a lot more about angles: how to tell the difference between big ones and small ones, how airplane pilots use them, and how they figure in such shapes as tri-angles and rect-angles. Ages 7 to 11.
How to Turn Lemons into Money – A Child’s Guide to Economics, by
Louise Armstrong. (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, $4.95). Without ever leaving a lemonade stand the author takes young readers through a whirlwind course in economics. The funny but accurate text and the hilarious illustrations give readers 6 to 9 years a book to chuckle over while at the same time learning vital lessons in economics and private enterprise.
The Tyger Voyage by Richard Adams and Nicola Bayley (Knopf, $6.95). Two young and inexperienced Tygers, having bought a small boat, set sail from Victorian England into the timeless unknown. Funny and beautiful, The Tyger Voyage is all the storm-tossed voyages to far places we have dreamed of since childhood. Ages 8 to 12.
The Story of Bip, written and illustrated by Marcel Marceau (Harper & Row, $6.95). “Born in the imagination of my childhood,” Marceau writes, “Bip is a romantic and burlesque hero of our time. His look is turned not only towards heaven, but into the hearts of men.” For all ages.
Conservationists will delight in a new book for the 5 to 9 age group: Only Silly People Waste by Norma Smaridge (Abingdon, $4.25). These humorous verses explain why it is so silly to waste – and show how we can keep from doing it.
For the very young child (pre-school) Margot Zemach illustrates Hush, Little Baby (Dutton, $6.95), a lullaby that has both soothed and amused countless small children. Her Victorian setting and robust characters make the most of distractions offered the tearful “little baby” from a mockingbird that won’t sing to the horse and cart that fall down. Singing or reading, the book offers a joyous experience in sharing.
How to Make a Dinosaur by Sigmund Kalina (Lothrop, $5.95). This book tells you how to make not one, but three of the mightiest dinosaurs that ever lived: Stegosaurus, the covered lizard; Brontosaurus, the thunder lizard; and Tyrannosaurus Rex, king of the tyrant lizards. Clear, step-by-step directions, illustrated with diagrams, showing how to make papier-mache and how to build your model. Ages 6 to 12.
The Lemming Condition by Alan Arkin (Harper & Row, $4.95). This distinguished actor, producer, and film director, writes about Bubber, a young lemming, who has second thoughts about the instinctive annual migration and his ability to participate. A parable on conformity. Ages 9 to 12.
Be a Winner in Horsemanship by Charles Coombs (Morrow, $5.95). Harmony between a horse and its rider is what constitutes good horsemanship. In simple, informal language this basic guide describes the skills and equipment needed to achieve such a cooperative partnership. Primarily intended for the beginner rider, the text also includes the more advanced specialty of jumping. Ages 10 to 14.
Dangerous Sea Creatures (Time-Life, $7.95). Color illustrations and text about sharks, rays, electric eels, octopuses, squids, poisonous and venomous fish, sea snakes, sea monsters. Based on the television series, Wild, Wild World of Animals. Pre and early teens.
– Mary Ward
Eduardo Mata: The DSO’s Musical Messiah?
Eduado Mata’s coronation as the DSO’s future principal conductor had practically all the trappings of a visit by a candidate for President. A busy heir, he was here for a few days and then gone again, off to unfinished campaigns elsewhere. Media coverage of Mata was confirmation – he was already a winner, and we had to look over the celebrity in our midst who would put us on the world music map. If conductors aren’t exactly given to stoking controversies, they are (like politicians) prone to hazard Visions of the Future which, like a fugue from a prelude, of course emerge from the Tradition of the Past. Thus, admitting that unlike Boston and Berlin, the Dallas Symphony has no hundred years of heritage to build on, Mata told us we could see a start under his direction of a “world-class orchestra,” a proposition the 34-year-old conductor qualified by adding that this might not happen “in our lifetimes,” that it was “more a wish.” Well, we don’t look to our conductors to make rash promises.
But beyond all the media attention, the full-page feature stories and radio and television interviews, whom did we get on the podium? Mata apparently has preternatural musical gifts, has complete mastery of the classical repertoire, has at a tender age an international reputation as guest-conductor, and even has some fame as a composer. He also seems to have a large, and on its face, a justifiable confidence in his ability to develop the Dallas orchestra. Everyone’s knowing all that made his debut at the Music Hall the more spectacular. After the probably obligatory introduction by a voice sounding like either God or Bert Parks (“Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the man who…”), Mata stepped out and conducted works by composers from the two ends of the Austrian-German school, Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat and Mahler’s titanic Symphony No. 1 in D.
Each of these works is in its own way the test of a conductor, and he was brave to select them. Mata is a demonstrative conductor, dramatic in the sense of favoring large gestures (a style obviously different from though by no means necessarily superior to Louis Lane’s greater economy of movement). The Mozart is known for its transparency of form, a quality that was there under Mata’s baton, without, I think, a consequent lightness. Until the fourth movement his rendition of this Symphony struck me as displaying too little variety in its parts, though nevertheless some fine moments in each movement gave the whole piece an edge: the telling details Mata brought out in the fluteviolin interplay at the end of the Allegro, the lovely string choir at the opening of the Andante, and the vigorous concluding Allegro, whose inner woodwind parts got unexpected prominence, and which redeemed the whole piece brilliantly, lifting it out of deepening waters. My quibbles – that the violins swallowed the arpeggios in the Andante, or that the Trio disappointed by being played too broadly, or that the work as a whole lacked sufficient contrast in dynamics – might be accountable to the changes in seating and in the position of the acoustical baffles Mata ordered, changes that may have created a rather homogeneous effect.
Mata proved himself an unusually personal interpreter of the Mahler First. After a languorous introduction, he conducted the first movement of this piece so slowly I thought he took the teeth out of it. The periodic accelerations that nervously lift this movement out of its prevailing gravity came unprepared-for, and the ending especially seemed rushed and lacking in spontaneity. But Mata obviously has a sympathetic ear for Mahler’s sensibility, and in this section he tapped the somberness and the grand and elemental, almost Wagnerian drama.
If Mata had some trouble getting the piece under way, he clearly knew what to do with the rest of it. The second movement had a brilliant brass-topped execution, and here the orchestra, in the spirit of the Landler dance tempo, and despite some sluggishness in the strings, caught the Mahler wit to a turn. Mata conducts deliberate retards at transition moments, commendably calling attention (as he did in the Mozart) to the contrasts in instrumentation and color in the whole work, but at times musically stitching unnecessary seams into the fabric. This technique worked to greatest effect in the triumphant last movement, where he systematically added more instrument sections to each other for a vigorous and monumental acceller-ation at the end: his wide gestures embraced the orchestra as one instrument executing a single phrase. Mata, I realized then, had duplicated in the whole symphony the very slow to very fast sequence of the first movement. It worked, yes, but intellectually only. This baggy monster of a symphony rejects tidying up, impressively clear as the results might be.
Mata conducted broad performances of each work, but he showed that he will conduct with originality, and will give us personal though not unorthodox interpretations. He likes the big last movements that bring audiences out of their seats, and why not? Mata will be back in February with The Rite of Spring, another work that “reads” its conductor, and then next season he’ll be back for good to begin putting the DSO on the world music map.
There’s only a slight exaggeration in observing that a twelve-foot Steinway grand, placed before Lazar Berman, is a toy in the hands of a giant Russian bear. The image is trite, but suggestive of the man’s relationship to the piano. In his performance of the grandest of all the romantic piano concertos, Tchaikovsky’s First in B-Flat Minor, Berman dominated the piece by rejecting some of its abandon in favor of its lyricism. So it turned out more restrained than what Richter, the pianist he’s most often compared with, might have done, approximating more closely his own recorded version (with von Ka-rajan and the Berlin Symphony on DG). What the climactic movement lacked in volcanic power, the rest of the performance dazzlingly redeemed with a technique that dug down to the roots of the musical possibilities Tchaikovsky makes available to the piano. Even in the back of the Music Hall Berman’s dynamics equalled the orchestra’s, and his bass octaves cut through the ensemble’s crescendos. Berman’s relentless and austere opening went on to an Andantino semplice full of self-absorption and swelling power. It was a calm followed by a rousing conclusion in which orchestra and soloist seemed to trade each other’s modes, the ensemble playing as a single voice, the pianist producing orchestral volume and coloration.
The Orchestra gave us Prokofiev’s First Symphony in D Major, the “Classical,” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in the first half of the all-Russian evening. The first seemed uneven (with especially ragged violin intonation) until the third movement Gavotto, which they played for all its farce and whimsy in the subtlest playing technically of the whole performance. The Scheherazade was lost on me; it’s just the same damn thing over and over, but a minimally expert rendition should make you forget the overkill; here, neither conductor nor orchestra could pull it off. The single touch that saved the whole work was the new concertmaster Eliot Chapo’s stirring and lovely solo violin cadenzas. Only solo instrumentalists have recently been able to bring the DSO to any sort of peaks in their performing. This genuine virtuoso among the strings should inspire the whole group to couple passion and precision.
At the recital earlier in the week, where a knowledgeable audience heard Berman open his second American tour this year, it might have been easy to be simply captivated by the sheer technical virtuosity and not hear the depth of feeling Berman brings out of the music. Amid a blizzard of notes in the Schumann Sonata No. 2 in G-Minor, he projected the most delicate melody line. The mastery with which he structures dynamics levels is miraculous, with the right hand responding antiphonally to the left. One of Berman’s great strengths is timing, a skill given ample play in his Six Preludes of Rachmaninoff. He had to take a bow in the middle of the sequence for the famous G-Minor, whose racing climax he matched with carefully timed crescendos.
The eight Liszt Transcendental Etudes Berman played gave us an illuminating contrast to the recorded versions released this year on Melodiya (reviewed elsewhere in this issue). Eight years ago his style was flashier, and had more bravura; now he’s more subdued, and he burrows more self-consciously into inner parts looking for the emotional depths. If such profundity is not to be found in the Tchaikovsky Concerto he played here in Dallas, Berman succeeded in drawing it out of these hair-raising pieces of Liszt’s.
– Willem Brans
The Legendary Lazar Berman Plays Liszt (Columblia Meloiy)
The two LPs noted here may represent the first steps toward a complete recording of Liszt’s piano music by perhaps the only pianist currently up to doing it, Lazar Berman. Each recording contains two seven-league strides toward what may anyway be an unrealistic goal, but there’s no doubt that his B-Minor Sonata and Transcendental Etudes are going to hold their own for decades. The Etudes, which take up three sides of one two-LP set, are pieces to listen to one at a time; the kinds of pianistic effects Liszt was trying for here seem even more astonishing when you realize he wrote most of them before 1830. They are compositions that set snow plows and horse-rides to music, show two-fisted enthusiasm for heroic bombast, and rumble on in the bass about ghosts and eerie nights – just the kind of programmatic stuff you’d think must have given Liszt his bad-boy-lowbrow reputation. Actually, these pieces threw the gauntlet both to composers far into even this century, as well as to Liszt’s virtuoso contemporaries (for years only Liszt himself could play them). Berman performs the lot with a flexible sympathy for the character of the individual pieces, and with an apparently effortless skill that seems equal to their prodigious demands.
The B-Minor Sonata on the other side, together with a fiery “Mephisto Waltz,” represents the contemplative obverse of the Lisztean passion. The Sonata is the composer’s unqualified masterpiece; the improbable mixture of wild pyrotechnics and lyrical control are here sharpened by a traditional form without giving quarter to the pianist. Horowitz in his version worries over it, makes it sound as difficult as it is, but Berman seems to toss it off coolly, more like Rachmaninoff, though without rushing. Berman’s B-Minor Sonata will be the one pianists and audiences must now measure all the others by.
In the Sonata delayed climaxes don’t simply tease; they intensify expectations with each new variation until the fractured staccato fugue falls in on itself and the piece returns to its original musical idea. However, if this is the writing of Liszt the proper European artist, we have to mention the perhaps more representative, the schlocky Liszt, the side of this composer only the titanic Berman could dignify. Who else could have turned into high art the Spanish Rhapsody, a banal, derivative, perfectly droll shaggy dog teaser, where umpteen endings are continuously waylaid by changes of key, where your panting after closure is maddeningly never gratified, where this bizarre, comic, boisterous composer treats you like a child turning the pages of a fantastic picture book in which each plate is more colorful and crazy than the last, until in delighted exhaustion you throw the book down? Berman knows the crazi-ness Liszt was after, and more, and he delivers the goods on two indispensable recordings.
– Willem Brans
Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder (Motown)
A decade or so ago everyone waited around for each new Beatles album; that was our pop avant-garde. And in much the same way, for the last three or four years, Stevie Wonder’s releases have produced the same sort of anticipation: what’s he up to now, what’s he going to do next?
The last package is especially long-awaited. It has been two years in the making and surrounded by all sorts of mysterious delays. Well, the wait has been worthwhile – there are two LP’s, nearly two dozen songs, a bonus record and a booklet.
I made the mistake of reading the booklet before I listened to the music. Avoid that, because the lyrics – cold on the page – are childish, sentimental and often embarrassing. The tunes, though, are vintage Stevie and, behind the melodies, the words disappear into grunts and groans, cries and whispers. I keep hearing almost literal musical quotes from Stevie’s past, the sounds of “Fingertips,” “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,” “Cherie Amour,” “Living in the City.”
It’s a happy, corny and often frivolous record. Stevie is in love with God, with his wife, his new daughter, his childhood, his parents, nature, his past musical masters – and has written songs praising them all. Irony is rare, but when he uses it, he does so brilliantly: “Village Ghetto Land” manages to make the synthesizer sound like Haydn and describes the nastiness of urban life against a highly formal classical background. For the most part, however, the tunes are straight-ahead and celebratory. There’s a jubilant adolescent feeling about this album, and listening to Stevie sing, play harmonica., beat the drums and mess around the studio is still a kick.
– David Ritz
I’d Rather Believe in You, Cher (Warner Bros.)
It is quite difficult to recognize Cher as a personal presence on TV. Always draped in a dress or a joke, it seems that both her will and the viewer’s are being ignored in the gargantuan effort to put her across.
Oh Cher! Now they’ve put Michael Omartian between us. Omartian is the incredibly talented young composer-arranger who with associate Steve Barri is responsible for both the Happy Days and Baretta TV themes, and probably over half of all the music you’ve heard on TV and radio in the past year.
On I’d Rather Believe in You Omar-tian and Barri surround Mrs. Allman’s voice on both sides with Phil Spector-flavored arrangements that come just short of overwhelming the lady’s hard-won alto signature. The title cut is a maudlin romantic-inspirational lyric by Michael and wife Stormie Omartian. Cher pays homage to Barbara George’s old “I Know” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood.” Typical Cher vehicles include “Long Distance Love Affair,” “Flashback” and the tearjerker “Spring.” She does a good job with “Silver Wings and Golden Rings.”
Cher has a few strong points as a vocalist – a good voice and a winning vulnerability. Her ability to feign an emotion on short notice is admirable. But her biggest advantage is not a musical one at all. The lady has stayed around because she has no compunction about being shepherded by those who know her talent better than she. The result is dull Cher, but Cher nonetheless.
– Michael Pellecchia
Dallas Symphony Orchestra presents Berlioz’s “L’Enfance du Christ” conducted by Louis Lane, Dec 17 & 18, 8:15 p.m. at Park Cities Baptist Church. Dec 19 the Pops Concert will star Earl Wrightson and Lois Hunt at 8 p.m. at the Fair Park Music Hall. For ticket information call 692-0203.
Dallas Civic Opera presents Strauss’ Salome with Roberta Knie Dec 3 at 8 p.m. Elena Nunziata and Beniamino Prior will star in Puccini’s La Bohéme Dec 8 & 10 at 8 p.m. and Dec 12 at 2 p.m. Performances in the Music Hall at Fair Park. Tickets by writing Box 987, Dallas 75221, or by calling 742-1008 Mon-Fri 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fort Worth Opera will open its 1976-77 season with Bizet’s Carmen starring Ann Howard in the title role Dec 3, 8 p.m. and Dec 5, 2:30 p.m. in Tarrant County Convention Center Theater. Season tickets range from $10 to $35. Write to 3505 W Lancaster, Fort Worth 76107.
Dallas Civic Music presents violinist Ruggiero Ricci Dec 6, 8:15 p.m., at McFarlin Auditorium, SMU. For information call 369-2210.
SMU Division of Music concerts for December include Liebeslieder Waltzes and A Ceremony of Carols Dec 1 and 3, 8:15 p.m. in the Bob Hope Theatre: $2. The Legend of Befana and Wreaths of Carols Nov 30, Dec 2 & 4, 8:15 p.m. in Bob Hope Theatre: $2. Dallas Civic Symphony conducted by James Rives Jones and featuring piano soloist David Karp, performing works by Rachmaninoff. Glinka, and Prokofiev, Dec 4. 8:15 p.m. in Caruth Auditorium; $2.50 and $1. Annual SMU Christmas Choral Concert conducted by Lloyd Pfautsch with the SMU Choir and Women’s Chorus Dec 5. 4 p. m. in Caruth Auditorium; free. SMU Wind Ensemble Concert conducted by William Lively with French horn soloist James London Dec 6, 8:15 p.m., in Caruth Auditorium; tree. Guitar repertory class Dec 8. 7 p.m. in Caruth Auditorium; open to public; free.
University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Arts and Humanities presents the UTD Chamber Singers conducted by William Allen Graham Dec 11. 8 p. m.; $2 non-students, $1 students. For more information call 690-2982.
Eastfield College. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis will be performed Dec 14, 8 p.m Directed by Harrell C. Lucky, the concert will be presented by the Eastfield Choir, a full orchestra, and area professional soloists Frank Stovall and Kathy Scott; free 3737 Motley Dr., Mesquite For more information call 746-3132.
Mountain View College presents a “Christmas Happening” with a student musical ensemble, Dec 7 at 12:15 and 7 p.m. in the Student Lounge; free. Students honored in an instrumental and vocal recital on Dec 8 at noon in the Performance Hall. 4849 W Illinois.
Richardson Symphony Orchestra presents violinist Jack Glatzer Dec 7, 8 p.m. at Richardson High School, Belt Line and Coit. For information write R.S.O., Inc., Box 891, Richardson 75080. or call 235-5358 or 234-4195.
“Good Tidings of Great Joy” by J.S. Bach will be presented by the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas Dec 5, 7 30 p.m. Soloists are Jan Irving, Kathy Scott, Arlen Clarke, and Gary Minton. Admission free. Wood and Harwood/748-8051.
Community Course presents singer-actor Ray Mid-dleton Dec 8, 8:15 p.m. in Mcfarlin Auditorium, in a journey through the prose, poetry, and song of America from the mid-19th century to the present. For ticket information call 692-2261 or 692-2262.
Downstair* at the Registry presents vocalist, guitarist and sax player Jesse Lopez with a mixture of contemporary pop and Latin numbers through Dec 18. Floyd Dakil will be featured beginning Dec 27 and will do his traditional New Year’s Eve show Dec 31 in the Registry Ballroom. Nightly except Sun. Cover charge varies. Bar by membership. Registry Hotel, Mockingbird at Stemmons/630-7000.
Venetian Room. Tony Bennett appears Dec 2-11.Ben Vereen will perform Dec 31-Jan 8. Mon-Thurshows at 8:30 and 11 Fri and Sat shows at 9 and11:30. Cover varies. Reservations. Fairmont Hotel.Ross and Akard / 748-5454.
Art About Art: A Visit with Mary Frances Judge
A major problem in talking about Pop Art is finding an appropriate frame of reference. Sure, there are the Neo-Dadaists and the Assemblagists and all those Rauschenbergs, but they’re not really that much help when you’re confronted with a Lichtenstein comic strip or one of Christo’s packaged objects. Since, however, I’d been told that Sister Mary Frances Judge was doing take-offs on the work of famous contemporary artists, I assumed that the problem would take care of itself. After all, I knew the general terrain pretty well and appreciated a good joke when I saw one.
I met Mary Frances at her studio-gallery at Ursuline Academy, where she is currently artist-in-residence. The first piece she showed me was a reproduction of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” – actually an altar relief salvaged from some demolished church – done up with a dayglo ceiling and amber plexiglass frame. “Clever turn on the old found-object gambit,” I thought to myself, “with perhaps a wry comment on worship of the masters. Funky.”
To the right was a parody of Tom Wesselmann’s “Lips,” framed and looking smokier and more textured than the DMFA version, along with another piece called “Artist Takes a Bath.” “Ah, tools, trite subject matter, Jim Dine. Things are falling into place nicely.”
In an adjoining room was a color banner, “For Mr. Kelly,” which I studied sitting on a large floor cushion entitled “Artist’s Edition of the Bible.” I bounced up and down on it a few times in homage to Claes Oldenburg.
But then I noticed several pastel canvases in a corner. “Hmm, no collage, no projection into space like some of the other paintings. Minimal almost. Must be experiments. And what about that portrait of Stanley Marcus over there, glaring at me as if I were a shoplifter? Not conventionally Pop either, except maybe for the buttons off to one side. As for those children’s drawings . . .”
“My niece gave me the originals,” Mary Frances whispered helpfully. “Everyone looks at children’s art and thinks, ’Oh, my kid could do that.’ Well, much of it is very sophisticated, as I’m beginning to find out.”
At this point I had scrapped my Jan-son notes and was willing to allow Mary Frances to talk about her work any way she wanted.
“Art about art is my thesis,” she said, “my jumping-off point for commenting on society in general. The artist’s world mirrors the larger world in many ways, which enables me to explore common values, attitudes, problems.”
“And myths,” I added, thinking about the pair of fake fur and mosaic mirror bathrobes called “Apollo and Dionysus” that I had seen earlier.
“That too,” she replied. “It took me a while to realize that great artists are also part of the human race. In general, I try to avoid labels. People always want to put you in a box, to say ’She does flowers,’ or ’She does collages.’ I work in different media and different styles. I also like to think that my work is an extension or a transformation of an original, not simply a surface parody. At least that’s my challenge.”
If this type of adventurous eclecticism is good for art, it is also tough on the pocketbook. Even though Mary Frances has exhibited widely in New York City and St. Louis, she has shown only once in Dallas, a situation that she says is very common.
“Young artists without established national reputations have problems showing here, particularly if their work is in any way innovative or experimental.”
“More so than in any other city?” I asked.
“Let’s just say that the galleries and the art community in general remain rather conservative and ingrown, cliquish almost. It’s easy to get cut out. On the other hand, we’re encouraged by some of the things that have been happening recently at the Museum and want to support them as much as we can.”
“We” is a rather informal association known as “Professional Artists of Dallas” that has been created out of a need for mutual support and criticism as well as a desire to promote a freer exchange of ideas among artists, galleries, and museums. Although the group has no particular stylistic bias, it hopes to make Dallas more aware of new directions in contemporary art.
And what about new directions in Mary Frances’s own work?
“I plan to continue with the children’s art project, which is just beginning, and to experiment more in mixed media. Pure paint bores me, frankly. I’m also teaching a course in calligraphy, which has been very popular except with one fellow who thought he was going to learn how to forge checks. The other students made up a fake certificate of achievement for him.”
Later, driving along Inwood, I realized that I had somehow left my sunglasses and two complimentary tickets to a film preview back at Mary Frances’s studio. I thought about going back, then decided, “What the hell. They’ll be more useful in a painting anyway.”
– David Dillon
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Through Dec 19. works by Edvard Munch. Through Dec 26 Modern Art: A Guide to Looking; Irish Watercolors. 100 watercolors, 1700-1950, from the National Gallery of Ireland; and Texas Painting and Sculpture 1976. a competitive exhibition, with an invitational show featuring three Dallas artists, Jeanne Koch, Mac Whitney, and Steven Wilder. Near the middle of December 16th century Northern Renaissance prints will go on display. Tues-Sat 10-5. Sun 1-5. Fair Park/421-4187.
Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth. Starling Dec 9 Navaho pictorial weaving on view in the main gallery. “America” will open Dec 17 in the mezzanine. Tue-Sat 10-5. Sun 1-5:30. 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd/(817)738-9215.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth. No special shows outside of the permanent exhibitions scheduled at press time. Tue-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5. 1101 Will Rogers Rd/(817)332-8451.
Fort Worth Art Museum. The American Artist: A New Decade and Robert Irwm Continuing Responses continue through December Tue-Sat 10-5. Sun 1-5. 1309 Montgomery/(817)738-9215.
Afterimage. Platinum photographs of landscapes by Steve Szabo on display in Dec. Mon-Sat 10-5:30. Quadrangle/748-2521.
Allen Street Photography Gallery. Third Sunday shows at the gallery feature work by local photographers – anyone is welcome to display his work. Dec 5-17, contemporary tapestries and wallhang-ings by Tracy Colvill. 11-6 Tue-Sun. 2817 Allen/742-5207.
Atelier Chapman Kelley. Work by Neil Mahaffey. a new realist working in oils, acrylics, and drawings, on view in December. Mon-Sat 10:30-5, Sun 1-5. 2526 Fairmount/747-9971.
Carlin Gallery, Fort Worth. The 18th annual Collectors Christmas Exhibition on display in December. Mon-Fri 10-5. Sun 2-5:30. Montgomery at W 7th/(817)738-6921.
Chisholm Trail Gallery, Fort Worth. A Christmas show featuring regular gallery artists will be on display in December. Mon-Sat 10-5. Montgomery at W 7th/(817)731-2781.
Contemporary Gallery. Metal sculpture by Sharon Lweber and wood sculpture by Tom Piccolo on display in December. Mon-Sat 10:30-5 and by appointment. 2425 Cedar Springs/747-0141.
Cushing Galleries. The annual Christmas exhibit “The Little Picture Show” through Dec 31. Mon-Sat 10:30-4:30. 2723 Fairmount/747-0497.
Delahunty Gallery. Work by David Gilhooly and a group show will be on display in December. Tue-Sat 10-6 and by appointment. 2611 Cedar Springs/744-1346.
D.W. Co-op. Dec 4-25, 100 artists will show their work in an invitational miniature show. Tue-Sat 11-6. 3305 McKinney #7/526-3240.
The Frontroom Gallery. “Special Gifts for Special People,” pottery, blown glass, weaving, and wood-working. Mon-Sat 10-5. In the Craft Compound/6617 Snider Plaza/369-8338.
Gallery One, Fort Worth. Christmas show of gallery artists opens Dec 15. Mon-Sat 10-5. 4717 Camp Bowie/(817)737-9566.
Hall Gallery, Fort Worth. One-man show by symbolist John Phillip Wagner on display through Dec 10. Mon-Sat 11-5:30. 4719 Camp Bow-ie/(817)738-5041.
The Kieine Gallery at the Artists Courtyard. An exhibit of pottery by Buddy Curtsinger and batiks by Ann Kilby on view through Dec 3. Opening Dec 4 will be a one-man porcelain show by Yoshi Schranil. Tue-Sun 10-7. 12610 Coit/233-9472.
Macy Galleries. A tapestry show by Bob West on display in December. Tue-Sat 11-6. 2605 Routh/742-4587.
Michele Herling. A continuing show of Pre-Columbian and African art with a new shipment of Oceanic art and Santos from the Philippines on display in December. Tue-Sat 12-5:30. Quadrangle Suite 260/748-2924.
Phillips Galleries. Small paintings for Christmas by Axatard, Michel Hermel, Mima Indelli, Ginette Rapp and Jane Edwards. Mon-Sat 10-5. 2517 Fairmount/748-7888.
Stewart Gallery. Robert Nidy’s new technique of realistic landscapes done with tempera on various metals on display in December. Tue-Sat 10-7 and by appointment. 12610 Coit Rd/661-0213.
Texas Cantor lor Photographic Studies. Jerry Uels-mann opens his exhibition Nov 26 with a lecture. On view through Dec 31. Mon-Fri 11 -4 and by appointment. 12700 Park Central Place, Suite 105/387-1900.
Tuthill Gallery. Watercolors by Amado Pena, Jr. on view Dec 4-18. Mon-Sat 10-5:30, till 9 on Thur. Olla Podrida, 12215 Coit Rd/661-1204.
2719. Through Dec 11, two-man show of collage paintings and drawings by Robert Batson and paintings and graphics by John McCormick. Beginning Dec 12 paintings by Rene Haro, Robert Game, and Jack Lew on display. Tue-Sat 11-5, Sun 2-5. 2719 Routh/ 748-2094.
Williamson Gallery. Etchings and ink drawings byBetty Gates, through Dec 15. Mon-Sat 11:30-6.3408 Milton/369-1270.
A Roundup of Theater Season Openers
When, in 1927, Robert E. Sherwood was first sending The Road to Rome around to various producers, one of them turned it down with a curt “I don’t like even first-rate Shaw.” The producer was, of course, hopelessly backward in outlook, since Shaw’s plays, having been a dominant force in British drama for over 20 years, had been attracting attention in America for at least a couple of seasons. But his assessment of Sherwood’s play was discerning nonetheless, for The Road to Rome shares with many of Shaw’s near-misses the frustrating quality of being dramatically clever and thematically confused.
The idea here, as in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra and a number of other plays and novels then in currency, was to cast an irreverently modern glance at some suitably familiar slice of ancient history; in this case, it was the baffling decision of Hannibal, in 216 B.C., to turn his back on a practically defenseless Rome when he and his legions and his elephants were assembled at its very gates. The plot may be said to have taken as its motto the old maxim “Behind every great man is a woman telling him he’s wrong,” with the difference that this time he listens to her, for as Sherwood imagines it, Hannibal was not turned away from his assured conquest by a divine portent but by Amytis, the beguiling young wife of the Roman dictator Fabius Maximus.
Sherwood somewhat lost his way in the middle of their ideological conflict. At first he seems to be illustrating the primacy of individualism and reason over conformism and compulsion, but then he begins introducing elements of his favorite message, pacifism, into the proceedings. The long, circuitous discussions between Hannibal and Amytis become sprinkled with vague comments about “the human equation” and statements from Amytis such as “I’m not dangerous, I’m only real.” By the time the conclusion is reached, via a clever twist involving Amytis’s husband, one is unsure whether the point has been the discrediting of the military mind, the outlining of a Shavian kind of creative evolution, or merely an extended social commentary (the Act I portrait of what Stark Young labelled “Rotarian Rome” was, at any rate, intended in this way).
The Theatre Three production followed almost point for point the strengths and weaknesses of the script. Where Sherwood took his time getting things under way, so did Norma Young’s staging, and where Sherwood’s minor characters lacked coherence, so did Theatre Three’s performers. However, the most striking achievement of The Road to Rome, and the primary justification for its revival, is, like that of a number of Shaw’s plays, its intriguing, multi-faceted central character; here too was the accomplishment of the T3 production. Cecilia Flores’s Amytis was one of those utterly irresistible and utterly uncontrollable females who have turned up from time to time in literature under such guises as The New Woman; Flores was entirely entrancing, and very nearly acted everyone else off the stage.
Many American comedies from the Twenties and Thirties are of the conventional well-made-play sort that boldly states at the outset where it is going, proceeds energetically to get there, but arrives only just before the last curtain. Once in a Lifetime, however, having both announced its destination and arrived there during the first act, has nothing to do for the next couple of hours but wander aimlessly looking at the sights.
This casual comedy, which was the first product of the collaboration between George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, nominally concerns a trio of vau-devillians – George, Jerry, and May – who, having reached a point of diminishing financial returns on the East Coast circuit, decide to scrap their act and head for Hollywood. The Jazz Singer has just been released, and they figure on insinuating themselves into the new talking-pictures business as voice coaches. While on the train to the West they happen to run across Helen Hobart, the most powerful movie columnist in the country, who happens to be an old school chum of May’s and who agrees to exert her considerable influence toward the success of their venture. But no sooner is the trio set up in business as an adjunct to Glogauer Studios than Kaufman and Hart run out of coincidences to exploit, and in very short order their play degenerates into a mere parade. Character after character is introduced, dallied with and dismissed as the authors run down the list of familiar denizens of Hollywood in the late Twenties: the megalomaniacal producers and studio heads, the autocratic foreign directors, the playwrights shipped in from New York to write dialogue, the stars of the silent era losing their jobs because of their voices, even the painters called in at regular intervals to change the lettered-in-gold names on the office doors.
Once in a Lifetime is, in short, a mess, and about the only way to approach it seems to be to take it as an almost surrealistic cavalcade of caricatures. The Dallas Theater Center production, directed by Ryland Merkey, at least partially achieved this; five or 10 of the 40 or so supporting characters registered the appropriate degree of energetic silliness, and Ken Latimer’s George was a delightful study in gregarious goofiness. But Merkey’s major accomplishment (and, to judge from most of the performances, his major objective) was carefully orchestrating the myriad entrances and exits and the various set changes. John Henson’s sets, by the way, were in a very attractive Art Deco style, though their formal, elegant symmetry contrasted sharply with the haphazard, raucous style of the script and the staging.
Tom Stoppard’s double bill, The Real Inspector Hound and After Magritte, was, for the course of its brief run in SMU’s Margo Jones Theatre, the best production in town. That this was so owed more, however, to the irrepressible spirit of the scripts than to any felicities in the staging; The Real Inspector Hound in particular is so lucid in conception and precise in construction as to be virtually actor-proof and, more to the point here, director-proof.
Hound dates from the same period as Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guilden-stern Are Dead, and reflects a similar concern with levels of reality and questions of identity; in this play though, Stop-pard is less interested in exploring the philosophical implications of these themes than in exploiting their comic possibilities. In fact, the play begins as an outrageous but relatively straightforward parody of murder mysteries and theater critics. The mystery abounds in blatant subtleties, the radio blares forth police alerts about an escaped madman every time it is switched on, the maid answers the telephone with long expository passages describing in detail the characters and the setting (and further into the play she answers with “The same. Later that evening.”), and of course, there is a dead body under a sofa which repeatedly escapes discovery. And the critics are perversely oblivious to the foolishness of the play at hand: Birdfoot, who continually entangles himself in scandalous liaisons with actresses, has acquainted himself with one of the girls in the cast just the night before, and is set to pronounce her performance a signal event for the English stage until his fancy is taken by the other female lead; second-stringer Moon, on the other hand, who is more forensically inclined, constructs extravagantly elaborate and specious arguments from the scantiest of evidence on the stage before him, interjecting into these perorations his wild dreams of supplanting his superior. Having thus established the separate existences of the play and the critics, Stoppard then breaches the boundaries between them in one mad stroke; both Birdfoot and Moon soon find themselves trapped on stage enacting roles parallel to those they had been playing previously in life – Birdfoot as the flirtatious lover Simon Gascoyne, Moon as the inquiring Inspector Hound. Ironic twists follow one upon another, with the whole convoluted tangle ending in a deliciously anarchic revenge of art on life.
The pieces of this puzzle all but fall into place of their own accord (the same is pretty much true of the virtuosic curtain-raiser After Magritte), and the director’s task is mainly to see that they do so at the proper pace and without any rough edges left showing. Unfortunately, director Gail Smogard only partially managed to do this. Reports were circulating that another director had just been called in to doctor the production, but both plays as they were performed the second night of the run still suffered from an excess of plodding de-liberateness and a shortage of vitality; they were played andante, whereas allegro if not presto was called for. But the characterizations, at any rate, were generally in the proper key; Ken Wom-ble particularly distinguished himself as a near-fanatical Moon, as did John Na-varro as a dapper, somewhat dandy-ish Birdfoot.
– John Branch
Dallas Theater Center. Scapino will run through Dec 18 and again Dec 26-31 Tue-Fri 8 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Tickets $5 75. $6 50 on weekends 3636 Turtle Creek/526-8857.
Theatre Three presents Tom Jones’ and Harvey Schmidt’s The Fantasticks Dec 1 through Jan 9. Wed-Sat 8:30. Sun 2:30 p.m and 7 p.m. on alternate Sundays. Tickets $3-$6 with student and group discounts. Quadrangle/748-5191.
Theatre SMU. A graduate student-directed production of Butterflies Are Free by Leonard Gershe will be presented Dec 3-5 in the Margo Jones Theatre. Tickets $1. 692-2573.
Mountain View College presents Gypsy Dec 2-5, 8:15 p.m. in the Performance Hall; $1. For reservations call 746-4132.
Richland Collage. Humbug, directed by Bob Dyer, will premiere Dec 1 and run through Dec 11 in the Arena Theater. Thur-Sat 8 p.m. Sun 2 p.m. 12800 Abrams. Call 746-4554 lor more information.
TCU presents Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night Dec 1-5 in the University Theatre. For more information call (817)926-2461 ext 245, or (817)926-4051.
NTSU Theatre presents student-directed one acts and condensed plays Nov 29-Dec 7 in the Studio Theatre. For more information call (817)788-2428.
Country Dinner Playhouse. Forrest Tucker appears in Hanky Panky Nov 30-Jan 2. Tickets $7.50-$10.95. 11829 Abrams at LBJ/231-9457.
Gran’ Crystal Palace. A cabaret-style comedy musical revue is performed every evening except Thursday. Dinner 8 p.m., show 9:30. Saturdays there are two shows, with seatings at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. $12 50. 2424 Swiss/824-1263.
Granny’s Dinner Playhouse. A western musical comedy Red Dawg will open Dec 7. Tue-Sat dinner shows, Sunday matinees. Tickets $6.85-$10.75. 12205 Coit Rd/239-0153.
Casa Manana will present The Littlest Angel Dec 4-18 on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. For information and reservations call (817)332-6221. 3101 W Lancaster. Fort Worth.
Haymarket Theatre. A new entertainment complex with live performances, movies and marionette shows. In December the marionette show is The Moon Goon Christmas beginning Dec 7 Performances: Tue-Fri 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30a.m. and 4 p.m.; Sat 10a.m., 11 a.m., and noon. Saturday afternoon Heyday for Kids, a combination of clowns, marionettes, movies and live entertainment. Movies are shown Mon-Wed. a double feature, and Thur-Sat there is a vaudeville and movie combination at 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Fri & Sat there are midnight movies. Closed Dec 24 p.m. and all day Dec 25. Tickets $1. Olla Podrida/12215 Coit Rd/387-0807.
Magic Turtle Saries. Cinderella starts Dec 4. Every Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets $1.75. Dallas Theater Center/3636 Turtle Creek/526-8920.
Scott Theater. The Littlest Wise Man will be playing Dec 9-12. For more information call (817)738-1938 3505 W Lancaster/Fort Worth.
Games and Matches
BasketballISMU Mustangs. Moody Coliseum. All games begin at 7:30 p.m. Season tickets $38, all individual tickets $3. 692-2901
Dec 4 vs. Kansas State
Dec 6 vs. Long Beach
Dec 11 vs. Northern Colorado
Basketball/ TCU Horned Frogs. Daniel Meyer Coliseum. All games begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $3 adults/$2 children 17 and under. (817)926-1778.
Nov 27 vs. U. of Mississippi
Dec 7 vs. Houston Baptist
Dec 11 vs. North Texas State
Football/ Dallas Cowboys. Texas Stadium. Tickets $6& $10. 369-3211.
Nov 25 vs. St. Louis Cardinals. 2:30 p.m.
Dec 12 vs. Washington Redskins, 3 p.m.
Hockey/ Dallas Black Hawks. Fair Park Coliseum. All games begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $2 50-$5 50. 823-6362.
Nov 27 vs. Tulsa
Dec 1 vs. Oklahoma City
Dec 5 vs. Salt Lake City
Dec 9 vs. Oklahoma City
Dec 11 vs. Kansas City
Dec 28 vs. Tulsa
Hockey/Fort Worth Texans. Will Rogers Coliseum. All games begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $2 50-$4. (817)332-1585.
Nov 26 vs. Dallas
Nov 28 vs. Salt Lake City
Dec 2 vs. Tulsa
Dec 4 vs. Dallas
Dec 16 vs. Oklahoma City
Dec 18 vs. Tulsa
Dec 22 vs. Salt Lake City
Dec 26 vs. Kansas City
Dec 30 vs. Dallas
Quarter Horse Racing/Ross Downs, Hwy 121, four miles southwest of Grapevine. 481-1071. From 9 to 19 races every Sunday year ’round, beginning at 1 p.m. Adults $2/children $1.
Rugby/ Texas Rugby Union. The Texas Rugby Union includes eight teams from the Northeast Texas area, among them the Dallas Harlequins, Dallas Rugby Football Club, Wildebeeste, and Our Gang. Matches are held Saturdays and occasional Sundays beginning about 1 p.m. at Glencoe Park (Martel Ave at N Cen Expwy) and Merriman Park (6800 Skillman at Merriman Ln). Spectators welcome. For further information, call Alan Tatum at 363-9705.
Sailing/ White Rock Lake. Competitive sailing every Sat and Sun year ’round. Races begin at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays, at 1:30 p.m. Sundays. Various size classifications. Spectators welcome. For racing information, call 327-9667.
Tennis World Mixed Doubles Championship. Dec 16-20. Moody Coliseum, SMU. Defending champions Dick Stockton and Rosie Casals return to defend their titles against Cliff Richey-Nancy Gunter, Frew McMillan-Betty Stove, and three other teams yet to be named at press time. $80,000 in prizes including a $30,000 first prize. Round-robin play begins each evening at 7 p.m. Series tickets $15-$24; individual tickets $3-$6 and, for the Dec 20 finals, $5-$8. For tickets and further information, call 651-8444.
Thoroughbred Horse Racing /Louisiana Downs. Bossier City, Louisiana on IH 20 (about three hours drive from Dallas). Nine or ten races daily, Wednesday through Sunday. Post time 12:45 p.m. The 1976 season ends Dec 5; the 1977 season begins Jan 14 and runs through June 5. Grandstand $1, Clubhouse $2.50; plus $1 entrance(parking) fee. For further information or reservations, call toll free 1 -800-551 -8623.
Mountain View College Lyceum Series presents Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby in all-day seminar Dec 8 in the gymnasium; free. Dec 14 there will be an open auction of Guatemalan weavings. 12:15 p.m. inside the west entrance. Proceeds to go to an elementary school in Guatemala.
Dallas Ski Show ’76 will focus on ski fashions, equipment, and resorts. The show includes movies, live music, ski tricks, and professional tips. At Market Hall Dec 3-5. Fri & Sat 1-11 p.m., Sun 1-10 p.m. Tickets are $3 at Market Hall.
Citizens Forum for Women on Dec 7 will feature Mary Hinkebein of Neiman-Marcus speaking on “Ideas for Holiday Decorating.” 7:30-9:30 p.m. in the Community Room of the Citizens Bank Center, N Cen Expwy & Belt Line Rd/ Main St, Richardson. For reservation and information call Billye Meyer, 231-7171.
Olla Podrida. In December a “Santa’s Workshop” built from Al Kidwell’s sculptures will be featured throughout the mall. There will be two trees decorated with ornaments made by the artists. Also on display will be a private collection of Nativity scenes from all over the world. 12215 Coit Rd.
Dallas Branch of the American Association of University Women needs used books and records for their annual book sale in Feb. For pick-up call 233-1103 or 526-3544.
A Sharing of Art, Music, and Crafts, sponsored by the Oallas Society for the Classic Guitar and The AFFAR, will be held Dec 4, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Dec 5, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., at 2909 N Henderson. Adults $1 /children under 12 free.
Dallas Public Libraries present a variety of activities for kids in December. Trim a Christmas Tree at the Forest Green Branch Dec 4 at 2:30 p.m., 9015 Forest Ln; Fretz Park Branch Dec 4 at 2:30 p.m., 6990 Belt Line; Polk-Wisdom Dec 11 at 3 p.m., 7151 Library Ln; Park Forest Dec 11 at 2:30 p.m., 3421 Forest; Preston Royal Dec 17 at 4 p.m., 5626 Royal Ln; Hampton-Illinois Dec 18 at 2 p.m., 2210 W Illinois; and Dallas West Dec 21 at 3 p.m., 2332 Singleton. A family Hanukkah party will be on Dec 20 at 4 p.m. at the Preston Royal Branch. Also on Dec 20 will be a Christmas bedtime story at 7 p.m. at the Park Forest Branch. On Dec 11 Actors Anonymous will perform in “A Christmas Carol” at p.m. at the Fretz Park Branch. Christmas puppetshows will be presented at Forest Green BranchDec 21 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Jefferson BranchDec 18 at 2 p.m., 542 E Jefferson; Polk-WisdomDec 21 at 4 p.m.; Walnut Hill Dec 13 at 10:30 a.m.,9495 Marsh; Casa View Dec 10 at 4 p.m., 10355Ferguson; Audelia Road Branch Dec 18 at 3:30p.m., 10045 Audelia; and Forest Green Dec 11 p.m. For further information contact Gail Tomlin-son, 748-9071, ext. 287.