Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Voice/Hotel"

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note: entire contents copyleft 2003 by Will Stackman

"The Sound of a Voice" & "Hotel of Dreams"
at American Repertory Theatre

Reviewed by Will Stackman

text by Henry David Hwang, music by Philip Glass
directed by Robert Woodruff
Scenic Design .... Robert Israel
Costume Design .... Kasia Walicka Maimone
Lighting .... Beverly Emmons
Music Director.... Alan Johnson
Sound Design .... David Remedios

"The Sound of a Voice"
Suzan Hanson (soprano) - Hanuko, the witch
Herbert Perry (baritone) - the Samurai
"Hotel of Dreams"
Janice Felty (mezzo-soprano) - Michiko, the Madam
Eugene Perry (baritone) - Kenji Yamamoto

The finale to Robert Woodruff's first season as Artistic Director at the ART is the most palatable performance of the lot, and a fitting conclusion to a series of shows which explored the consequences of human attraction (with the possible exception of Peter Sellars' meta-political effort.) Opera purist may balk at Glass' score, which is largely recitative, and Hwang's texts, among his earliest works, are not especially subtle, but the two resulting pieces can be engaging. Certainly the four excellent performances by Suzan Hanson, Janice Felty, and the Perry twins, Herbert and Eugene are compelling both vocally and as character-creations. The obscurity of some of Glass' other works is abandoned for this evening. The two pieces concentrate on rather unique relationships between powerful women and men with a tendency to vacillate. Suicide is the result.

These two music theatre creations are not directly related, except as they share Glass' scoring, heavily influenced by music from China and Japan.
It's rather like watching a double bill of cinema consisting one of Kurasowa's samurai period pieces followed by one of his lyrical modern dramas, both acted by Mifune. The identical appearance of the Perry brothers plays a part here, of course. Even the vocal tasks they're given reflect the contrast, with lower, more forceful tones required in the period piece, and a slightly lighter conversational sound for today. The feeling of loneliness and its complex effects on the psyche is deeply moving at times. The instrumentaion in the musical ensemble, which features the Chinese pipa(lute) is quite haunting. Various flutes also add their "voices."

As dramas, both "The Sound of a Voice" and "Hotel of Dreams" might work better in a smaller theatre on a less consciously designed set, but the effect at the Loeb is generally pleasing, particularly as set off by Beverly Emmons' lighting. The costumes work better in the period piece as does Robert Israel's somewhat abstract set, which combines the idea of Japanese paper houses and lanterns. There's a contemplative air to the whole event, reinforced by Woodruff's unpretentious direction. The more varied action in "The Sound of a Voice" keeps it more visually interesting. It will be interesting to see how these pieces are received in Chicago where they're to be performed next.

"Sound of a Voice" (World Premiere in Repertory thru Jun 29)
Loeb Drama Center, 60 Brattle St., Camb
1(617) 547 - 8300

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide