“This. Play. Is. Killer.”
Such a book nerd seemed to like the show.
WBEZ’s Dueling Critics Kelly Klenman called Happiness “the most remarkable mix of poetry and drama that you are ever likely to see.” Listen to the segment on theatre week.
“If the American theater harbors a precedent for Mickle Maher’s astonishing 2011 play There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, I’ve never found it . . . “
“ . . . richer, funnier, and more heartbreaking than ever.”
— Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader
READ THE WHOLE THING HERE:
Thanks to Time Out’s Kris Vire, for including us on the teevee in his roundup of notable shows.
“one of the most emotionally stirring works in the company’s distinguished history.”
More If You’ve Got It: Five Plays From Theater Oobleck
$21 USD incl. shipping and handling. 400 pages.
Hope and Nonthings books has published a volume of Oobleck works entitled More If You’ve Got It: Five Plays From Theater Oobleck.
The book is available from fine booksellers everywhere, or online via the little yellow button at the top of this page. Yes, that one right there, that entreats you to “Buy Now!”“
More If You’ve Got It features works by five Oobleck founding members, each currently active with the company: Ugly’s First World by Jeff Dorchen, in which a singing zombie, seeking revenge against T. S. Eliot, becomes a pawn in a battle to overthrow God; Innocence and Other Vices by Dave Buchen, a half-true, half-blasphemous screwball comedy about the mildly unhealthy relationship between charity and capitalism; Letter Purloined by David Isaacson, a whodunit comedy about war atrocities and a handkerchief; There Is a Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher, a play in rhymed verse, about the poetry of William Blake and having sex in public; and Necessity by Danny Thompson, a bloody and historically inaccurate bio-drama of Thomas Alva Edison. See what audiences around the world have come to know as uniquely Oobleckian: irreverent, vexed, impossibly funny, and unexpectedly transcendent.
“For my money, there is no other theater company in America that has so consistently created original, excellent, principled theater.” – Greg Kotis, from the preface to MORE IF YOU’VE GOT IT
The Hunchback Variations Opera (re-christened The Hunchback Variations: A Chamber Opera for its stay on the East Coast) has just completed a very fun and successful month-long run at the wonderful 59E59 Theater in Manhattan. This New York run of the show was produced by Brian W. Parker Productions, in association with Theater Oobleck and 59E59. Thanks Brian! Thanks 59E59!
The audiences were wonderful, the reviews were terrific. Here are excerpts from and links to some of them.
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Adam Feldman writes in his 4 out of 5 star review in TimeOut New York
“Engrossing… Maher’s witty libretto … has been set to deliberative music by Mark Messing that draws out its mysteries in cunning shifts of style, tempo and tone… The Hunchback Variations scores a haunting success while exalting a space for failure.”
Andy Propst in Backstage
“Thoroughly riveting … A remarkably poignant exploration of the painfully ephemeral nature of the artistic process and life itself… Paul Ghica (cello) and Christopher Sargent (piano) play it with beautiful delicacy, while the graceful tenor Wolff and the commandingly powerful bass-baritone Adams glide with precision over some exceptionally tricky melodic lines.”
Trish Vignola in Broadway World
“Larry Adams as Quasimodo and George Andrew Wolff as Beethoven were great… As usual, Chicago leads the way with some of the most innovative original theatre in the United States today. The Hunchback Variations is an exploration of the artistic process and the tragic humor that often befalls an artist. I’m glad it made its way to New York.”
Susan Hall in Berkshire Fine Arts
“It is easy to understand why theaters around the world have produced revivals of Oobleck’s plays. The originality and the profound talent of the actors and musicians are alone worth a visit. That your mind tangles and dissects the fun and the conundrums as both actors sing beautifully is an added treat. In this take in New York, the absurd situation is full of touching and rollicking humor. And the opera is curiously and absurdly moving.”
Ed Malin in NYTheatre.com
…a hilarious evening… the text itself blew me away.”
And Kenneth Jones, Managing Editor of Playbill, wrote on Twitter:
“Loved Hunchback Variations … An absurd and often touching musical rumination on the sisyphean work of artists.”
We got great press for Baudelaire in a Box, Episode 4: Bad Luck, which premiered in North Carolina. Here’s links to the previews, with some choice quotes:
“You get handed a whole book of poems, of beautiful poetry about bars and opium and prostitutes and all the sins and beauties of life,” says Roberto Confresi of the New Town Drunks about adapting Baudelaire’s odes. “Each one is more incredible than the last.”
From The Herald Sun
“The illustration is all in my little world. The music is in their world, and they all meet.”
Theater Oobleck’s “Hunchback Variations Opera” is coming to NYC. The rumors are true. The ink is on the paper, the tickets are ready for sale.
Brian W. Parker and Theater Oobleck presents
THE HUNCHBACK VARIATIONS
a Chamber Opera
Music by MARK MESSING
Based on the play by MICKLE MAHER
With LARRY ADAMS and GEORGE ANDREW WOLFF
JUNE 1 – JULY 1
Our production of There Is a Happiness That Morning Is has received five 2011 Orgie Theater Awards:
Kirk Anderson (Acting, Agility)
Mickle Maher (Literary Genius)
Colm O’Reilly (Acting, Gusto)
Diana Slickman (Acting, Grace)
Theater Oobleck (Production)
The Chicago Stage Review liked The Hunchback Variations Opera so much that a second reviewer has weighed in with a second rave review.
J. Scott Hill writes:
“…The Hunchback Variations Opera is a modern masterpiece.
“The premise of The Hunchback Variations Opera is like the beginning of a joke told at a Mensa meeting. Beethoven (who is deaf) and Quasimodo (who is deaf) hold a series of panel discussions about their failed attempts to create a unique sound that neither of them could hear anyway (because they’re deaf)… This is one level of the genius of playwright/librettist Mickle Maher: combining incompatible elements in ways that are absurdly plausible, and readily accessible to a broad audience.
“Enter the musical magnificence of Mark Messing. This is not Maher and Messing’s first dance together; notably, they provided the script and the score for Redmoon Theater’s signature show, The Cabinet. Messing’s score for two voices, piano, and cello allows for the interpretive power of these four voices to be fully realized without the fetters of over-orchestration. There are the clear influences here of Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, and Philip Glass, without seeming derivative. Pianist Tim Lenihan and cellist Paul Ghica are less like musicians and more like puppeteers, making their instruments sing and emote in voice and in silence.
“George Andrew Wolff’s… tenor is round and full and robust.
“Larry Adams’s bass is sonorous yet subdued. He is pitch perfect in delivering what becomes increasingly cynical counterpoint to Wolff’s useless persistence.
“The Hunchback Variations Opera is funny and frustrating and absurd and poignant. The Hunchback Variations Opera is the most unlikely confluence of heterogeneous incompatibilities to ever work perfectly together onstage. Without doubt, The Hunchback Variations Opera is the DO NOT MISS production of the year in Chicago.
Full review here.
Oobleck’s recently extended production of The Hunchback Variations Opera continues to get rave notices from Chicago’s theater bloggers. Here we feature J.Scott Hill for the Chicago Stage Review and Rebecca Green from Chicago3Media.
Chicago Stage Review writes: “Enter the musical magnificence of Mark Messing… Messing’s score for two voices, piano, and cello allows for the interpretive power of these four voices to be fully realized without the fetters of over-orchestration. There are the clear influences here of Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, and Philip Glass, without seeming derivative. Pianist Tim Lenihan and cellist Paul Ghica are less like musicians and more like puppeteers, making their instruments sing and emote in voice and in silence.
“George Andrew Wolff’s… tenor is round and full and robust… Larry Adams’s bass is sonorous yet subdued.
“The Hunchback Variations Opera is funny and frustrating and absurd and poignant… Without doubt, The Hunchback Variations Opera is the DO NOT MISS production of the year in Chicago. The Hunchback Variations Opera should be extended and re-extended for months, but you cannot take that chance. BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW.”
Full review here.
Chicago3Media writes: “Maher and composer Mark Messing bring us the inconceivable, side-stitching story of a doomed collaboration in this gem of new musical theater… Theater Oobleck has struck gold with this absurdist romp through time and space and reality and fantasy… I haven’t laughed so hard at the theater in a long time.”
Full review here
The website ChiILmama.com (dedicated to adventures in urban-odd ball-off the wall-alternative-eco-punk parenting in Chi, IL) highly recommends Oobleck’s The Hunchback Variations Opera, saying it “is truly a masterpiece that’s been percolating for the 23 years of Oobleck’s existence, waiting to see the light of day. It’s quirky and deep, hilarious and moving… This piece is right on so many levels; intellectual without being intimidating.” (Full review here.)
ChiIL Mama also interviewed Mark Messing about his concurrent musical project, The Houdini Box, an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s book at Chicago Children’s Theater. (Selznick is also the author of The Invention of Cabret ; the production is directed and designed by frequent Oobleck collaborator Blair Thomas.) During the interview Mark discussed the experience of writing the score for both shows simultaneously. Click here for the video excerpt of that interview.
Andrew Patner, reviewing The Hunchback Variations Opera for classical musical station WFMT-FM:
“Oobleck [is] a company that works without a director — some of their shows have one or two people, and some have fifty, and yet somehow they come together as finely-tuned, choreographed, and presented as an orchestra concert led by Ricardo Muti… These guys are afraid of nothing…
“Mark Messing has created a musical world with Paul Ghica, cello; Tim Lenihan, piano; a wonderful tenor, George Andrew Wolff, as Beethoven; and an excellent mature basso, Larry Adams as Quasimodo… You will hear music that challenges and pleases, that questions and underscores the debate and discussion.”
The audio of the full review and can be streamed or downloaded here
Jonathan Abarbanel gives The Hunchback Variations Opera his “Pick of the Week” during the “Dueling Critics” segment on WBEZ’s 848 program:
“It is a dark comedy which has the delicious premise of having two stone-cold deaf people discussing the glories and wonders of sound. And the two people are Ludwig van Beethoven… and the fictional bell-ringer Quasimodo…
“Messing’s music preserves all of the wit of Maher’s original play, and deepens the characters…
“Beautifully performed: two wonderful singers, piano and cello accompaniment.”
Your link for listening (we’re discussed in the last three minutes of the broadcast).
Kris Vire writes for TimeOut Chicago:
“Mucca Pazza maestro Mark Messing, using Maher’s text as libretto, sets Beethoven and Quasi’s nettlesome forensics camp to a spiky score for piano and cello…
“The result is as serious as it is silly, with Messing’s music amping up the stakes with its contrapuntal vocals… Wolff and Adams find a remarkable range from glib comedy to soulful sorrow in their characters’ variations. Maher’s text, while reveling in its own absurdities, slowly becomes a worthy meditation on the irresistible and often frustrating character of the creative impulse—and the subsuming nature of creative failure. Though the staging is simple, the operatic sweep feels apropos.”
Albert Williams writes in the Chicago Reader:
“In The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov’s melancholy comedy about a family of Russian aristocrats who lose their estate, there appears one of the most famous passages in dramatic literature. It’s not a speech or a bit of dialogue but a stage direction: “Suddenly there is a distant sound, as if from the sky: the sound of a breaking string—dying away, sad.” This odd, abstract, almost metaphysical sound effect, symbolizing the imminent end of a way of life, has challenged directors and designers since the play’s 1904 premiere, a few months before Chekhov’s own death from tuberculosis.
“The Hunchback Variations Opera takes its inspiration from that enduring dramaturgical koan, What is the sound of one string breaking? The 75-minute one-act from Theater Oobleck posits an attempt by two well-known musical artists to produce the ultimate aural embodiment of Chekhov’s elusive noise. The setting is an academic conference at which the pair are presenting the result of their labors.
“The effort seems to have been doomed from the start. For one thing, both collaborators are deaf. For another, it’s hard to imagine how they could ever have met. One is Beethoven, the composer, who’s been dead since 1827. The other is Quasimodo, the hunchbacked, 15th-century bell ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris—and a fictional character invented by Victor Hugo in an 1831 novel.
“The setup is quintessential Oobleck—smart, eccentric, unpredictable, thought-provoking, and very funny. Since they arrived in Chicago 23 years ago, the itinerant ensemble—which takes its name from a Dr. Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck—has specialized in original works based on incongruous cultural cross-references…
“Written by composer Mark Messing and librettist Mickle Maher, and based on a 2001 play by Maher, The Hunchback Variations Opera is just what the title says it is: an opera, albeit a small one. It takes the form of 11 variations on the theme of artistic experimentation and failure, each of which Messing skillfully couches in its own musical style. The score is generally atonal and mildly dissonant, but there are some simple, lovely, melodic passages.
“The singing is beautiful. George Andrew Wolff’s bright tenor contrasts effectively with Larry Adams’s round, chesty bass, and both singers have first-rate diction so the text is always clear. The counterpoint between Wolff’s cheerful, well-groomed Beethoven and Adams’s morose, grotesque Quasimodo is mirrored by the bold give-and-take of pianist Tim Lenihan and cellist Paul Ghica…
“What’s never made clear is how exactly the experiment failed. The omission, of course, is deliberate. Maher and Messing make clear that, in art, failure itself is a failed notion. In the manner of other fringe theaters—and contrary to an increasing emphasis on competition in the performing arts, as the media celebrate the “winners” and “losers” of meaningless talent contests and mindless awards shows—Oobleck renders the concept of failure and success moot. The Hunchback Variations Opera, like The Cherry Orchard, is a meditation on futility. But Hunchback celebrates its characters’ aspirations, prizing process over product and championing the quixotic urge to create and to collaborate in a world that’s inhospitable to both.”
Full review is here — but spoiler alert, if gives away a few of the jokes.