Saturday, August 20, 2011

Four Saints and a Cop in Three Acts

"To know to know to love her so" is the first line of Four Saints in Three Acts, the 1928 opera by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein. Getting to know the opera after two weeks of daily rehearsals with Ensemble Parallele and the director Brian Staufenbiel (above center) has fulfilled the predictive nature of that opening line. Hearing this opera sung repeatedly by a superb cast of a dozen singers over and over has been an immersive education and a joy.

We moved from our rehearsal space at SFMOMA to the surprisingly lavish Novellus Theatre at Yerba Buena Center across the street this week, and opened with a sold-out preview performance on Thursday evening and an official opening on Friday. (Left to right above, Brooke Munoz, Nicole Takesono, Joe Meyers, Eugene Brancoveanu, and Brendan Hartnett.)

The production design is about as far as can be from the cellophane original but it's elegant, beautiful and fits the piece perfectly. (Dancing the tango above are Eugene Brancoveanu with Heidi Moss, and Nicole Takesono with Joe Meyers.)

I am one of two evil supernumeraries (above left, with Mike Harvey on the right and Eugene Brancoveanu as Saint Ignatius in the center) who move furniture and singers around while occasionally playing a cop and a baliff and, during the tango, an Isadora Duncan dancing male couple. Yes, I am having too much fun.

The great production rehearsal photos above are by Steve diBartolomeo.


Matthew Hubbard said...

So let me get this straight. This is a play about a dancing cop, right?

I kid. There's a famous gag about an actor playing a minor character in Streetcar telling a friend, "It's a play about a guy taking a woman to an insane asylum."

Oops. I forgot to write "spolier warning".

Civic Center said...

Dear Matty: Actually, this is an opera about a dancing cop who fries Saint Ignatius in an electric chair. Whoops! I also forgot to write Spoiler Warning.

Nancy Ewart said...

It sounds fantastic and I can hardly wait. I've seen Eugene Brancoveanu perform and he's wonderful. I haven't seen you perform but I am sure you were born to play an evil supernumerary.

Frédéric O. Boulay said...

Mike, you've got me listed as Production Designer in your blog but that's a mistake since my title is Director of Production so the credits should go to Brian Staufenbiel for Production Design and Matthew Antaky for Scenic & Light Design. It'd be great if you could update your blog with the correct information.

Frédéric O. Boulay

Civic Center said...

Dear Frédéric: I took out the reference to you, and since you've explained it so well in your comment, I think I'll leave it at that.

Axel Feldheim said...

Congrats on a job well done, especially as this staging was quite busy throughout & basically everything on stage moves. So glad you supers got to dance on stage! I was laughing when you plugged in that over-sized electric chair.

Civic Center said...

Dear Axel: It was a lot of work, especially those last twenty minutes where the cues didn't stop, and I was feeling like an old person with dementia thinking, "what the hell am I supposed to be doing next?" And I'm so glad you found our march with jumper cables to the electric chair amusing.

My favorite backstage story: The musical cue for the supers to fiddle with the electric chair and then stand up was being played in rehearsal on a piano, but the conductor Nicole Paiement told us we'd recognize the moment in performance because it was being played by a bassoon. And at one rehearsal, to help us with our cues, she sang out, "Bassooooon! Basssooooon!" which became a favorite thing for anyone to croon at any appropriately absurd moment backstage. I'll never forget it.

Nancy Ewart said...

I thought you and the "other" cop were marvelous. I especially liked your tango. I want to take St. Ignatius home with me but I understand that he is married. So the only tomatoes I could give would be as a gift for an interesting afternoon.