Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

To Shine At Last

I actually feel really bad about getting this up so late... Last Sunday I went to see my friend Peter Armetta's new play To Shine At Last, and I was completely blown away. If I hadn't been so busy last week, I would have put this post up sooner and urged you all to go see it. As it is, you have just one more chance to see this new work at Coho Productions tonight at 7 PM. Some marketeer I am, huh?

To be frank, I didn't know if I was going to like Peter's show when I went to see it. It has been billed (not necessarily by Peter) as an Opera, and I'm not really an opera fan. From the first moment of Peter's very heartfelt curtain speech, however, it was clear that this was no musty opera with characters (to quote Peter Shaffer's Amadeus) "So lofty the shit marble." I don't even know if the work qualifies as an opera per se - there's as much or more spoken narration and dialog as there is music. Wikipedia says that Opera is "a dramatic art form... in which the emotional content is conveyed to the audience as much through music, both vocal and instrumental as it is through the lyrics."

I'll leave it up to the experts and critics to decide if To Shine at Last is a proper opera; what I saw last Sunday was a magical, dramatic journey into the realms of dream and metaphor. The story Peter is telling through this piece is his own very personal journey towards self-acceptance, an understanding of his place in the world and the cosmos, and the ability to love his now-wife Kristina. This story includes music, but the cornerstone of the piece is Peter's descriptions of the landscape and feelings he experienced on this journey (the text was actually put together from a series of dreams he had while he was falling in love with Kristina).

Something this "artsy-fartsy" could have been an excruciating and masterbatory exercise. Perhaps because it's Peter and Kris playing all the roles, however, To Shine At Last became instead a very committed Orpheus-like guided tour into the subconscious world, with flying horses, golden gods, disembodied heads, and any number of other symbolic characters. Peter knows his own story and he tells it well - you never get the feeling that he's just "going through the motions."

Mention also has to be made of Amy Jo McCarville's direction and design of the piece. Because of the metaphorical and symbolic content in the play, To Shine At Last could easily require a million dollar budget to bring the worlds Peter and Kris take us into to life. They didn't have a million dollars (even with that RACC grant), and the coho space isn't big enough to hold a Lion King - sized production anyway. The feats that Ms. McCarville pulled off with masks, pvc tubing, wigs, and simple costume pieces are in many ways the epitome of theatricality. By simplifying the visual images needed to evoke the mythic beasts and locations of the story, she allowed the audience to invest themselves more fully in the ride that our narrator was taking us on. Her expertise as a mask-maker and designer were on display in full - force; I truly hope that you producers out there see this show and consider adding her talents to your future productions.

Again, I'm getting this up here so late that it's possible none of my readers in the Portland-area (what, all five of you? :) ) will be able to get out tonight to see the show. If Peter is able to re-mount it, however, you'd be doing yourselves a favor by making time for this magical little gem. It's a show unlike anything else you've seen... and one that will haunt you for days to come.