RETRO REVIEW: What Keeps a Musical Alive? 7 Stages Feeds Audiences a Dark, Fresh Take on THREEPENNY OPERA

Posted on: Sep 16th, 2016 By:
The wedding of Mackie (Aaron Strand) and Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) with cinematic insert of Mack's trio of cohorts (Jed Drummond, Tad Cameron and Evan Hynes) showcasing the all-stolen posh furniture. Credit: Stungun Photography.

The wedding of Macheath (Aaron Strand) and Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) with cinematic insert of Mack’s trio of cohorts (Jed Drummond, Tad Cameron and Evan Hynes) Credit: Stungun Photography.

THE THREEPENNY OPERA; directed by Michael Haverty and Bryan Mercer; Play by Bertolt Brecht; Music by Kurt Weill and translated from German by Marc Blitzstein; Starring Aaron Strand, Stephanie Lloyd, Kevin Stillwell, Don Finney. 7 Stages. Sept. 9-25, 2016 (EXTENDED TO OCT. 2!). Tickets here.

Atlanta doesn’t have the theatrical reputation of many comparable American cities, but with THE THREEPENNY OPERA (Sept. 9-25), 7 Stages proves once again that this city can and does produce innovative, provocative performances of the sort one expects to see Off-Broadway. This production, envisioned and co-directed by Michael Haverty and Bryan Mercer, is quite simply a must-see if you like Brecht and Weill, value drama that provokes, disturbs, and makes you laugh like Hell, and/or don’t believe Atlanta produces theater at the level of New York.

Set in working class Victorian London, THREEPENNY tells the cautionary tale of MacHeath, aka “Mack the Knife,” a brutal but charming thief and murderer, as well as the many women who love him. The rest of the cast of characters include beggars, criminals, whores, and corrupt police officers. First performed in Berlin in 1928, it was Brecht’s attempt to adapt and update John Gay’s 18th century BEGGAR’S OPERA into a socialist satire of both the profit motive and the mode of musical theater itself right down to a perhaps (or perhaps not) unexpected ending.

From the moment Nicolette Emanuelle (read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with her here) emerges, dressed almost only in an accordion, and belts out the eponymous song, “Mack the Knife” in deep, guttural tones, the visceral, unrelenting tone is set. Let’s say definitively that this ain’t Bobby Darin’s homogenized hit. One can’t help but be reminded of CABARET though that was written much later,. The comparison is appropriate given that while the setting is London, Brecht conceived THREEPENNY in Weimar Germany with a jazz-influenced soundtrack. And thanks to subversive drama such as THREEPENNY, in 1933, Brecht and Weill would have to flee their home country in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power.

Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) and Macheath (Aaron Strand). Credit: Stungun Photography.

Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) and Macheath (Aaron Strand). Credit: Stungun Photography.

This THREEPENNY shows more spunk and further establishes its 1920s setting, along with embracing Brecht’s expressionistic theory of theater, by mimicking silent film at various points, including a cast titles segment at the beginning. The characters parade live in front of a period-consistent unsteady camera with the resulting black-and-white footage projected onto the rear stage wall. THREEPENNY works better with a minimalist set and lower production values (vis-a-vis the abject failure of the big-budget 1989 Broadway revival with Sting which I unfortunately saw but mercifully remember nothing about). In this case, the camera is used a number of times during the show not only to compensate for a limited budget but also to enhance the theatrical experience in creative ways. I won’t divulge the details so as not to spoiler.

While the cast was consistently strong in the preview performance I saw, several actors stood out. THREEPENNY can be made or broken by who plays Mack the Knife. I can say thankfully that Aaron Strand is no Sting. And don’t be fooled by his pretty face. Strand takes the role of bastard by the balls and rides it all the way unabashedly, from displaying a full grasp of the nuances of the play’s dark and biting humor to enthusiastically embracing Mack’s raw sexuality, even endowing a rock n roll edge at points that makes the role feel contemporary without compromising Brecht’s vision. Brecht never wants us to empathize with his characters, but we need to sense Mackie’s extreme charisma despite his inherent sociopathy. The directors have admitted  tossing a nod towards this year’s presidential race, and it’s hard not to see some parallels in a man who can say or do anything and still be loved by many. “What keeps a man alive? He lives on others.” Indeed.

Also memorable are Mr. JJ Peachum (Kevin Stillwell) and especially his wife, played in drag by Don Finney. The Peachums run a lucrative and, to them anyway, respectable business training professional beggars and taking a share of their earnings. If Mackie is a capitalist, the Peachums could be community organizers of sorts especially when later in the play they assemble an army of beggars to disrupt the queen’s coronation. They aren’t pleased at all when their daughter Polly abandons the family business to marry Mackie and take it upon themselves to get him arrested and hanged. Stillwell is an earnest Mr. Peachum who hits all the ironic humor of his character, but Finney is a show-stealer–effusive, maternal, dominant, and absolutely hilarious. In other hands perhaps placing a man in the role would simply be a gag, but Finney sets fire to the stage and easily matches Mack as a formidable adversary.

Mrs. Peachum (Don Finney). Credit: Stungun Photography.

Mrs. Peachum (Don Finney). Credit: Stungun Photography.

For all the darkness in THREEPENNY, as noted, Brecht injected a lot of humor. A special nod should also go to Adam Lowe, who plays not only the clumsy Filch, who applies to Peachum and needs some serious education in begging, but also Tiger Brown, the esteemed police chief of London. Tiger and Mackie served together in the military, and Tiger has been, at least thus far, protecting Mackie from arrest. Their boisterous nudge-nudge-wink-wink rendition of “Army Song” is a show highlight. A call-out should also go for slapstick mastery by Mackie’s trio of henchmen–Readymoney Matt (Jed Drummond) who reminded me in voice, if not hair, of VENTURE BROTHERS’ Pete White, Crookfinger Jake (Tad Cameron), and Bob the Saw (Evan Hynes).

Among the ladies in the cast, Stephanie Lloyd is an appropriately pretty and savvy Polly Peachum, madly in love with Mackie and to whom he leaves the control of his shady business when on the run from the law. The production makes an interesting choice by having her, rather than Jenny the prostitute and Mackie’s original lover, sing “Pirate Jenny” (perhaps the play’s second best known song), a change which I am uncertain about maybe because Lloyd’s voice hits a much higher pitch than the deep-throated Lotte Lenya (composer Kurt Weill’s wife), who played Jenny in both the 1931 German film adaptation and the 1954 Off-Broadway revival which debuted Mark Blitzstein’s translation of Weill’s lyrics, the best-known translation also used in this production. However, casting Dorothy V. Bell-Polk, who resembles Grace Jones, as Jenny is an intriguing surprise. And Jessica De Maria brings the right balance of passion and disgust to Tiger Brown’s daughter Lucy, Mackie’s other “wife” who is considerably less dainty. (As a side note for those who don’t know, a young Bea Arthur played Lucy in the 1954 rendition and Lucy was played by a man, Brian Charles Rooney, in the 2006 Broadway revival which toyed with Mackie’s sexuality and featured Alan Cumming as Mack and Cyndi Lauper as Jenny).

A big hand should also go to DeeDee Chmielewski, 7 Stages’ longtime costume designer, for her monochromatic black and white designs which blend well with the expressionist cinema ambiance,, as well as the simple props and sets designed to maximum effect by Melisa DuBois, and lighting design by Rebecca M.K Makus. And of course, the band. As with 7 Stages’ DRACULA, THE ROCK OPERA (Read ATLRetro’s review here), the musicians are onstage but woven seamlessly into the action. In sum, 7 Stages shows yet again how to maximize a parsimonious assemblage of performers, with my only possible regret being that there weren’t more beggars to march on the coronation.

Move fast and don’t miss this THREEPENNY because while the characters may be perennially stuck in their low societal positions, Atlanta theater runs are always short. As with DRACULA, one wishes this production could hang around for a while and build an audience. 

Category: Features, Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shaken And Stirred Up: Petite Auberge Infuses Olive Oils and Vinegars to Flavor a Creative New Menu and Take Home, Too

Posted on: Jul 19th, 2013 By:

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

By Rachel Marshall
Contributing Writer

“We also like the addition of vinegar to our classic martinis.”

Jaimes and I exchanged a look. Much like oil and vinegar, our solutions of total fascination and doubt just did not seem to mix. They just bumped into each other, making a separation that could only be eased by actually experiencing just what a vinegar cocktail could be. Surely, we had heard Michael, our host at Petite Auberge’s  oil and vinegar bar, wrong. Had he really suggested mixing alcohol and vinegar? You may remember Jaimes from the Moe’s BBQ article, and our adventure with the Adios, Motherfucker!. Although three kinds of liquor and Powerade can prepare a girl for practically anything, the concoction could not have prepared us for the main ingredient in a vinaigrette to suddenly merge with alcohol, like Tetsuo on a bender, but with more alcoholism and less orbital lasers.  In any case, the dynamic duo from your last ATLRetro article received more than they bargained for in the best possible way at the long-standing French restaurant, Petite Auberge.

So, if you’ve been kicking around ATL since the mid-70s, you’ve heard and most likely dined at the Petite Auberge. Michael, our host, has more than amply accepted and risen above the challenge of keeping the PA relevant, fun, and with no sacrifice to its already firmly placed integrity. The newest addition to the restaurant’s entourage of gastronomy holds a nondescript, humble portion of the restaurant to itself. A guest entering Petite Auberge could miss the set-up at a glance, but a longer look – even if just for a moment! – would rampantly breed curiosity. What are those metal containers doing lined up like that? What’s in them? Michael was more than happy to show off the answer.

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

Infused olive oils and vinegars await the adventurous gourmand, fledgling and pro a-like. Infusion is a delicate process, but Michael is working with the right kind of mad scientists from Cibaria International and Olive n’ Grape to bring his guests a completely unique experience. When it comes to his collection of olive oil and vinegar, Michael is one proud poppa. He took us on a tour of your basic olive oils to start, the canisters of which will greet you in the main lobby of the PA when you arrive.  What was remarkable was the grassy start on most of the olive oils that progressed to a smoky after-bite the further removed you became from extra virgin olive oil. I always liked the floral nature of olive oil, but trying the good stuff from Michael’s aforementioned heavy-hitters not only woke up my palatte, but redefined any and all olive oil standards. He treated us to a fantastic collage of snacks that showed off just what these oils and vinegars could do in the right hands.

In this case? We were put in Chef Tom’s care. He was catching his second wind from preparing a catering order, and took the time to serve us a couple light, but flavorful meals, such as a pecan-praline balsamic vinaigrette that took a pecan-crusted trout above and beyond its simple plating. The lightness of a medium cooked salmon filet was elevated by a drizzling of lemon white balsamic. Personal favorite?  You know, the one that tested Jaimes’s friendship and mine with its ultimate rivalry-inspiring awesomeness? Yeah, that was a frozen crepe served with raspberry coulis in a chocolate sauce boasting a blood orange olive oil as its main components. As good as the crepe was, Jaimes and I kept going back for sauce, and started to fantasize about mousses and chocolate terrines.

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

We enjoyed all of these simple, but wonderful dishes with a couple glasses of Michael’s recommended Riesling. We were discussing the industry, Michael’s German roots, and the rampancy of foodies as we enjoyed some crusty bread and herby Tunesian olive oil when the whole “vinegar in the martinis” thing came up. Michael suggested a chocolate martini, probably my least favorite drink in the history of drinks that were ever drinks. They’re always too sweet, too heavy, separate and unbalanced, just a hunk of sugar with some vodka thrust unapologetically and carelessly into the mix. Why would anyone treat vodka that way in the first place? Now that you understand where I’m coming from, let’s get to the cool part – I loved the chocolate martini. The usual ounce or so of chocolate was replaced with a teaspoon of dark chocolate balsamic.

Aside from our bartender’s natural and talented knack for making a damn good drink, the balsamic definitely lightened the mix, and eliminated any burn the vodka attempted to leave behind.  When it comes to my spirits, I pretty much like anything served neat with beer, and occasionally I’ll dabble with a White Russian if I trust the bartender. The sweet-treats and “girly drinks” are just always too cloying, heavy and stomach-ache-inducing from careless, unbridled sugar. That being said, I was in love with each peach white balsamic martini and/or Bellini set in front of me. Each drink was buoyant and delicate on the tongue, sparing my tummy.  Really, think about it. The substitution of syrup or sauces for vinegar – in terms of booze – is not so mysterious. Vinegar, much like distilled liquor or barreled beer, is fermented. The ethanol both vinegar and booze share wind up dancing together in a glass, a matrimony of basic, tasty chemistry awesome enough to make Antoine Lavoisier go weak in the bloomers.

Photo credit: Jaimes Lee.

So, in an age where everyone is checking out the next wine, beer or liquor tasting, I would suggest stopping by Petite Auberge’s olive oil n’ vinegar bar for a change of pace, and a delicious meal that flirts with infusions too numerous to be enjoyed during just one visit.  Being a lover of all things chewable, slurpable and mmmm-able means  sometimes  going outside of what’s cool, trending,  tried-and-true,  and instead venturing into a new, often times unpredictable territory that supersedes any and all expectations.  You would be surprised what amazing components can mesh together so well, just like oil and vinegar.

Category: Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2017 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress