The Arts in Boston: One Hit, One Miss

The Hit. For anyone who grew up in Boston, yesterday’s reopening of the Paramount Theatre on Washington Street downtown was both a trip down memory lane and an invitation to an exciting future. The theater opened in 1932 but decrepitude forced its closing in 1976. Emerson College has taken it over, invested a fortune (more than$90 million) into restoring it, and immeasurably enhanced that area. The art deco style is drop-dead gorgeous; the sparkling lights on the marquee, a wondrous beckoning.

To celebrate the opening, the Celebrity Series of Boston hosted elegant and versatile Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester, a German cabaret music presentation that – after some initial difficulty with the microphone – provided 80 minutes of pure enjoyment. The music was all from the 1920’s and early 1930’s and captured the beauty, humor, satire and complexity of relationships during the time of the Weimar Republic, with Cole Porter and other American composers thrown in.

Unfortunately, the Palast Orchester was a one-day event. But keep your eye on the Paramount Theatre and its promise of excitement in the performing arts for Emerson students and the community at large.

The Miss. An email from the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge urged the recipient to “spread the word about ‘Paradise Lost.’ So here goes. Clifford Odets’ 1935 play was written about a family’s struggle during the Great Depression. There is obvious meaning for people today in exploring the despair wrought by economic turmoil, evictions, bank indifference, mental illness, suicide, hopelessness, turning toward crime and opposition to unregulated capitalism.

But the production at A.R.T. is nothing less than directorial malfeasance. The problem is much more than the awkward and distracting integration of video shots of the acting projected in real time on the backdrop, criticized by Louise Kennedy in the Boston Globe.
Video has enhanced other productions, but not this one.
Director Daniel Fish has the actors declaiming their lines in a most unnatural way, perhaps intended to create a sense of their alienation from one another but certainly alienating the audience, removing the intimacy of the characters’ interactions, and dragging out the performance at least half an hour longer than anyone could stand it.
It’s set in an anachronistic no man’s land, with cell phones, princess phones, WWI references, and characters wearing AIG, Mickey Mouse, Enron and Kerry-Edwards T shirts. Would that the avant garde pretensions were avoided and the Odets play were done as a period piece with a modern message. This production is like root canal! Avoid it at all costs.
Remember, the A.R.T. email urged that people spread the word about Paradise Lost! Consider it done.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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