By Don Adkins

ESPRESSIVO, a group that describes itself as “a small, intense orchestra,” presented a concert on Sunday afternoon at the Colligan Theater in the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz. The program featured three works, spanning almost 200 years, which utilized eight, nine and ten instrumentalists in a variety of combinations conducted by artistic director Michel Singher. The program began with Franz Lachner’s Nonet (1875). After intermission an early, short Beethoven octet, Rondino (1795) was followed by Dixtuor (1987) by Jean Francaix. Fifteen different musicians from Santa Cruz and the greater bay area performed in different instrumental combinations.

The Colligan Theater is a wonderful venue for chamber music. The space is not too large and the seating is comfortable with excellent sightlines. The acoustics (at least for the audience) are superior with just a tiny bit of ring to the room. A bonus for this concert was the stage setting. The resident Jewel Theatre had just finished a production the week before which utilized a set that looked like an older, comfortable living room. They left the set in place, giving the impression that we were hearing chamber music performed in someone’s house. The players dressed casually, further enhancing the effect of friends sitting around playing music.

The musicians, however, were not just regular folk. The quality of the individual players was uniformly high and there were just a few rare moments when you felt things were not going as well as possible. This is the nature of live performance and the insignificance of the awkward bits was more than compensated for by an abundance of good music. Conductor Singher led the group in an understated manner, keeping things together without drawing attention to himself. The overall effect was one of skillful competence with frequent moments of individual musical playing. The most common ensemble problem was limited to a few instances of large group attacks but this is getting a bit more picky than usual.

Several players carried a larger load than others. Violinist Shannon Delaney D’Antonio (pictured above) was especially prominent in the Lachner Nonet which feels, at times, like a violin concerto. She also had a large share of work in the Francaix Dixtuor. Although the other players had their moments to shine, clarinetist James Pytko seemed to be pushed to the front more often by the composers’ choices. He handled everything with fluent technique and a good sense of musical expression.

The main problem with the concert was the choice of music. The Lachner Nonet, although written in the later 1800s was a fairly conservative and mostly uninspiring piece. The orchestration choices tended to mask the unique qualities of the individual wind instruments which is usually one of the delights of small group compositions blending strings and winds. The players made a good effort to adjust balances to let the winds stand out but were unable to overcome the fairly dull sound built into the piece. The Beethoven Octet is an extremely young opus intended for performance during a banquet and, although charming at times, had nothing in it that identified its composer as the Beethoven we expect.

The Francaix Dixtuor, on the other hand, was a delightful piece with a good sense of humor. It was definitely rooted in popular music with hints of jazz, tango, dance halls and clever movie scores. The orchestration finally allowed the listener to hear the winds’ signature tone qualities. Its upbeat ending put a nice buzz on this concert.

The Skin of Our Teeth

LydiaBy Scott MacClelland

WHAT SPOT-ON VISION! Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of our Teeth, written in 1942, is the most complete and detailed spoof of Donald Trump’s White House that has so-far appeared in the media, print, electronic, social and Fox & Friends, since Trump became president.

Yet Wilder, who died in 1975, is currently on stage in Santa Cruz—Our Town (see our review HERE)—and in a readers’ theater production of Skin this weekend in Salinas and Monterey. In The Listening Place’s Skin, produced by Linda Hancock and directed by Michael Bond, and presented at Monterey’s Museum of Art last Sunday, seven well-known local actors gave a full house audience lots of laughs at Wilder’s fantastic imagery and accelerated verbal repartee.

Michael Lojkovic was George Antrobus—Trump?—in exactly every foible, peccadillo, lie and flirtation. Like Trump, he was busy inventing the alphabet, the wheel, beer, gunpowder and the number 100. “Any booby can fool with it now, but I thought of it first!” And, like Trump, he gets elected President, at least of the Fraternal Order of Mammals. A hilarious highlight of the first act (Act II in the original) was his seduction by Lydia Lyons (pictured above) as the winner of an Atlantic City beauty contest, now constricted by a red boa.

Otherwise, Lyons is Sabina, the Antrobus family maid, roundly denounced for having let the fire go out during a subzero cold snap in the middle of August. Yes, a glacier is advancing on New Jersey; it’s really the start of an Ice Age. Mammoths and dinosaurs are roaming the Antrobus front lawn. George and Mrs (Maggie) Antrobus have been married for 5,000 years. Mrs Antrobus—Susan Keenan—is pleased to regret all of them, until she corrects herself to “no regrets.” Their two children are Gladys (Linda Dale) and Henry (Richard Boynton) whose original given name was Cain. (There were three children but only two at any one time.)

Carl Twisselman is overwhelmingly cast as Mr Fitzpatrick, Telegram Boy, Professor, Broadcaster and animals who are destined for extinction. Andrea McDonald predicts the future as the Fortune Teller.

Antrobus is derived from the Greek for “human.” George and Maggie are Adam and Eve. The whole farce is peopled with archetypes and stereotypes from the old bible and classical legends and myths. Sabina complains “I can’t invent any words for this play, and I’m glad I can’t. I hate this play and every word in it.” Trouble is that a single pass at this comedy will likely leave some audience members gasping to keep up with all the fast-moving historic references.

As in Our Town, Wilder takes down the fourth wall for moments in which the New Jersey characters speak one-on-one to the audience.

As with previous Listening Place Readers’ Theater productions—over the decades—only two of three performances remain, this Saturday at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas and Sunday at the Monterey Museum. If you really want to get every last drop of juice from The Skin of Our Teeth, you should plan now to attend both.