Monday, May 6, 2013

Art, Film, and Music in Milwaukee: it all rocks!

It was a good weekend for the arts here in Milwaukee. Three quick hits:

Visual art at Villa Terrace

On Friday evening the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum opened a small mixed media group show called “Chasing Horizons.”  Guest curators Nirmal Raja and Christopher Willey, who both have ties to UWM, assembled a diverse set of Milwaukee artists whose work uses the idea of landscape as a point of departure. It’s not the kind of show one typically associates with Villa Terrace.

Most of the work is installed gallery fashion in the cleared upper rooms of the historic mansion. My favorite pieces, however, were the two site-specific installations. Kevin Giese has inserted two slender, undulating trunks of stripped buckthorn into the steeply sloping, carefully landscaped “backyard,” which sweeps dramatically down to the lakefront.

Emily Belknap, whose show at the Chazen I recently reviewed, has taken wonderful advantage of the ambiance of the building. Her installation, called “Flight Zones,” is made up of three life-size bronze sculptures of robins. A precise circle of finely sifted dirt surrounds each, indicating the distance at which a person’s approach will cause the bird to take flight. The circles of dirt echo the decorative period moldings on the ceiling and the intrusion of the “wildlife” creates a curious dialogue with the portrait paintings hung on the walls.

If you didn’t get to the opening you have plenty of time. The show will be up through August 25.

The Oriental Theater offers another great movie

Since we were in the neighborhood and it was still early my wife and I checked out the Oriental. From amongst the several interesting choices we were glad we picked “The Place Beyond the Pines.” It’s being promoted as a “crime thriller,” and there are aspects of that in it. However, it’s a much more nuanced and complicated story than that genre generally implies. It would be hard to describe much of the story without ruining the many truly surprising plot twists.

It begins with a stunt motorcycle driver played by Ryan Gosling who goes on a crime spree for an unusual motivation. Things don’t turn out as planned but that’s the only thing predictable about this provocative and sensitive narrative. Go see it before it goes away. 

Read more on the official movie website.

The Milwaukee Rep and Janis Joplin

Although we are season ticket holders for the MilwaukeeRepertory Theater, we might have missed this show because it isn’t part of the regular season. But we were very happy that we took advantage of a special Cinco de Mayo offer and went to see it last night.

It isn’t exactly a concert and it isn’t really a musical play. But I’ve never seen the Powerhouse Stage rock like it did last night. The performers were outstanding and the music was as energetic as any concert I’ve seen—and then some!
I’ve never been a particular fan of Joplin. I was just a couple years too young to have gone to see her perform live. Anyone my age has heard her most famous songs (especially “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Mercedes Benz”) repeated endlessly on the radio, of course, as well as seeing video of her performing. But those don’t hold a candle to the actual experience. The show was a visual and auditory extravaganza that seemed to represent her onstage persona pretty accurately. The only thing missing was a pall of pungent pot smoke wafting over the crowd--but I only know that from heresay!

I could quibble that the attempt to add a story line to the show was flawed by the lack of any real arc to the narrative. The implications of her famous dissolution and untimely death were quite subtle and understated. Still, it was nice to see and hear the people who influenced her, including Bessie Smith, Odetta, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. Blues singer Sabrina Elayne Carten recreated all of those voices and presences and she deserves credit equal to Mary Bridget Davies, who played Joplin.

The audience was an intriguing mix and far more diverse than usual for the Milwaukee Rep. There were plenty of folks who looked old enough to have seen Joplin live—and even a few that came garbed in authentic-looking “period costumes” like dashikis, tie-dye, colorful stripped bell-bottoms, and leather vests. However, I was glad to see a wide variety of ages amongst the appreciative crowd. At first it took a bit of urging by the cast to break through the Milwaukee/Midwest reserve, but by the end of the first set the entire audience was on its feet, clapping, singing, and generally rocking the night away.

As she sings in Bobby McGee, “…feeling good was good enough for me!”

The show is called “One Night with Janis Joplin,” but you have many nights to choose from before the show closes June 2 to join in the fun.

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