New music, old music and an "ingeniously" set stage play reviewed.
The Brothers Size
Set, ingeniously, in the "distant present", Tarell Alvin McCraney's play may tell a contemporary story, but it reverberates with the rhythms of ritual and the echoes of mythology. Two brothers, Ogun and Oshoosi Size - the first a strait-laced, hard-working auto-shop owner, the second his wayward younger sibling, fresh from prison - are reunited in Louisiana where their fractious relationship is further tested by the arrival of Elegba, Oshoosi's former cellmate.
Those familiar with Yoruban cosmology will have a head start with those names, but while it is helpful to know the African deities to which McCraney is alluding - archetypes each of responsibility, wandering and temptation - his tale clearly has the dimensions of a fable already. It is accentuated by Tea Alagic's brilliantly simple and considered production, one in which three bare-chested actors arrive to the stage, limbering up over the accompaniment of a busy percussionist, before creating a playing space with a circle of sand.
Beginning life as an economical playwrighting project, when both McCraney and Alagic were drama students in Yale, the Foundry Theatre production that arrives at the Peacock looks like a slightly more expensive version of the same thing.
Just as Alagic stripped back McCraney's text to the rudiments of storytelling - here every character is a presentation, every stage direction is spoken - so the sand, stones and wood are similarly elemental.
Here, unadorned performance is paramount. As Ogun and Elegba struggle for Oshoosi's soul, the excellent cast serve the rhythm and cadence of McCraney's dialogue adeptly, moving from punchy realism to occasionally overwrought lyricism.
As Ogun, Marc Damon Johnson delivers his disapproval with the heavy heart of someone condemned to be his brother's keeper, while Brian Tyree Henry is both mischievous and mellifluous as the endearingly wilful Oshoosi. A seductive Elegba presents a more problematic character, and, weaving through tricks and dream sequences, Keith Eric Chappelle responds with a louche and limber creation - two parts gangsta to one part serpent.
Dealing with family, destiny and the broader bonds of brotherhood, the tale is not quite as interesting as its telling. Between the dextrous percussion, snatches of slave song or the consoling soul of Otis Redding, the production gives African American experience an unforced sense of ancestry, where the bloodline of fate and redemption flows uninterrupted from gods to mortals, past to present.
It may be small scale, but this absorbing production has an epic resonance, its portrait of two brothers ultimately opening out to a brotherhood of man.
Runs until June 14.
Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin
Corrado Rojac Goga; Jani Golob Invocation; Grant Davidson Ford Helicotrema: Scala Vestibuli; Pavel Mihelcic Beams; Lojze Lebic Colour Circle.
The repertoire for solo unaccompanied instrument includes Bach in the 18th century and Berio in the 20th.
Here in the 21st century, Slovenian composer Pavel Mihelcic (b. 1937) makes a simple alteration to the solo genre and, out of the blue, subverts expectations: three quarters of the way through, other instruments start to appear. In Beams, the solo clarinet traces a lonely, lyrical narrative with tiny hints of jazz and folk, building from quiet ruminatings to a much more emphatic declamation.
Then suddenly, just when the piece appears to have made its point and is winding down, there is a fleet, distant jangle of percussion. It seems like an isolated, once-off comment, and the clarinet continues on its way long enough that you start to wonder if maybe you imagined it.
But then a cello comes to life and joins in conversation with the clarinet, followed by a flute. There is more percussion. A transition from solo to ensemble piece happens organically, gently. There is a piano solo, then one for trombone. Finally, the arrival of the viola signals the end. It's an unorthodox piece featuring what is an unorthodox instrumental line-up. But these are in fact the instruments of the Slovenian contemporary music group Ensemble MD7, named after the Musica Danubiana festival where it was formed under the artistic directorship of Mihelcic in 2001. The concert was part of an exchange project with the Irish new music group Concorde.
Most of the music they play is written specially for them and for their unusual line-up. Novelty, however, doesn't feature in every work. Instrumental colour is subordinate to message, for example, in Jani Golob's Invocation, a piece he aptly describes as representing a call that hears an answer which turns out to be only an echo.
That said, colour is the strongest feature in Lojze Lebic's Colour Circle, whose expression and technique are engagingly derived from MB7's particular sonorities in what would make a fine signature piece for the ensemble.
The red headband was back from the dry cleaners, but we couldn't bring ourselves to wear it. The denim jacket stayed in the cupboard; but then again, before the end of the week, there'll be another chance to roll it out when Springsteen comes to town tonight.
Mark Knopfler's latest album, Kill to Get Crimson, is different territory to Dire Straits. Sure, there are licks and riffs drenched in reverb that will stir up hope among the Straits faithful; but this is rootsy, folky music, a bag of rock and roll tunes that set sail for America and never got further than the Appalachians. Live, there's an old time feel with plenty of country runs fleshed out into full, rolling shuffling tracks. There's a quiet confidence in the craft, a quality to the musicians that even the soulless barn of the RDS can't evaporate. Had this been a smaller venue, it could have turned into a rollicking show. Knopfler did well to stoke the embers with his new material before resorting to the fuel of the Straits' back catalogue. But when he did, the results were instantaneous.
Romeo and Julietsidled up and caught the crowd unawares in a deft rendition, and the barn bounced back. The band appeared to step up a notch, too, with Sultans of Swing. There are many men here who can hum both solos note perfect; Knopfler takes a scenic route, and no doubt three decades of playing this track have meant some diversionary tactics are necessary to maintain his interest. It was a smooth, composed version, but not the fireworks that you might have expected. Later on, a second encore of Brothers in Armscompleted the holy trinity of Dire Straits' tracks, and ran much closer to the original, to the delight of the crowd.
There is a tendency for Knopfler to rely on elongated solo intros by his band, which cloy up the first minute of the songs. But when the tracks are let loose to roam among the choruses, there is a strength and a confidence from a band with decades of experience.
This was a polished, effective performance in a hangar of a building; the effortless, bluesy breezy swagger of Dire Straits wasn't ever present (even today the early recordings make them sound like some of the coolest cats in town), but a few flashes of Knopfler's mettle was enough. Mr Springsteen, it's over too you.