A Kurt Weill cabaret.
Why do serious movielovers have such trouble appreciating thater? Partly it's because they've grown accustomed to the extravagances of the screen. They want hoopla and big effects, these serious movie-lovers, though they'd never admit it to themselves. They go to theater looking for fireworks. They find them at the opera. Grand opera, above all the performing arts, is in fashion. Meanwhile the art of theater, when it flourishes, does so on tiny stages in remote theaters, with minuscule r in no play at all, just a revue. No extravagance. Merely the spark of life--if anyone's noticing.
I thought of this watching Martha Schlamme present her evening of Kurt Weill at the tiny Harold Clurman Theatre. Schlamme has been singing Weill for years. Not long ago she was doing it with Eric Bentley. Currently she's with Alvin Epstein. Certainly there was nothing vast about the production, except the use of microphones, which rattled one's ears. There was much to be criticized. Schlamme and Epstein seemed overdirected at times, underrehearsed at others--a bad combination. Epstein is a fine actor and has a good voice, but he gets lost in song rhythms or gets trapped by them. Yet the night I was there, something caught fire. Maybe it was Schlamme hamming it up in her Spandex pants and purple blouse, conjuring the great dives of Bilbao. Maybe it was Brecht's lyrics to Weill's music--those lyrics that make Ira Gershwin and Maxwell Anderson and Ogden Nash, the American writers who teamed with Weill, look flat and tinselly. Schlamme's rendition of Brechtian women throwing themselves away for the wrong man, of German war widows who never stopped to think what war means until their husbands were killed--these performances were at once rueful, angry, ironic, sexy, bitter, tragic. Like life, no? At least it was like something you don't, can't, find at the movies.