Sunday, April 01, 2012

Three passions

Palm Sunday, and a third passion in three days! The Palm Sunday service is one of the most powerful of the year - remember, we assigned it for students in Religion & Theater? - and this year the Passion narrative from Mark was performed by a group of lay people at church. No trained voices, no method acting, no histrionics, it was very moving. This isn't a story that needs human embellishment.

Quite different from the consummate beauty and professionalism of the Collegium Vocale Ghent who, under their brilliant director Philippe Herreweghe, performed Bach's Matthäuspassion at Alice Tully last night (with the text supertitled above the ensemble). Herreweghe's recordings pretty much define Bach's choral works for me (I have both of their recordings of the Matthäuspassion!), and this was exquisite... but I confess I found myself missing the intimacy of the Jonathan Miller production I was lucky enough to hear at BAM a few years ago, which was more informal - not something one might have thought appropriate but in fact closer to the heartbreak of this most human most divine story.

And then on Friday night, barer bones even than Miller, the first theatrical production I've seen in a while that I can emphatically recommend (if their run, which was to end yesterday, is in fact extended): Bedlam's presentation of George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan." Three actors cover all the many male parts and the astonishing Andrus Nichols plays the title character with a force and tenderness which might make you recall Dreyer. It all takes place pretty much without props in an upstairs room of a rundown building south of Canal Street: pure theater. I don't imagine Bedlam planned to put it on during Lent (or that Shaw would have!), but it works well in this season.

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