Los Angeles Theater Review: THE LAST DAYS OF MARY STUART (Son of Semele Ensemble)

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by Jesse David Corti on July 13, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

AND NOW FOR A BRIEF INTERLUDE

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of THE LAST DAYS OF MARY STUART, Presented by Becca Wolff & Jacob Padrón for Tilted Field Productions at Son of Semele ensemble in Silverlake.What’s hip these days? It’s the old tradition of taking idiosyncratic history or historical figures and putting the stories and details to music. Sufjan Stevens produced albums about the states Michigan and Illinois to wide acclaim in the indie circuit. Electronic duo Neon Neon released Stainless Style, based on the life of John DeLorean of DeLorean Motor Company fame and infamy, and Praxis makes Perfect, about the life of Italian Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the radical, militant activist who published some exceptional, controversial works (Doctor Zhivago, The Leopard, and Tropic of Cancer, to name a few).

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of THE LAST DAYS OF MARY STUART, Presented by Becca Wolff & Jacob Padrón for Tilted Field Productions at Son of Semele ensemble in Silverlake.These are concept albums which are not bound by the more deliberate demands of drama in terms of cohesion and storytelling; they’re able to operate off their flow as a collection of songs coalescing in a singularity that satisfies a listener. Concert performances of these works, which may or may not include all the songs, are enjoyable and successful under the contract that this is a concert, not a drama. Even Pink Floyd’s great rock album The Wall sprawls in a scattered fashion without a strong conclusion, and succeeds greater as a live concert experience than it does as one long music video (this is also why it hasn’t surfaced as a Broadway musical).

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of THE LAST DAYS OF MARY STUART, Presented by Becca Wolff & Jacob Padrón for Tilted Field Productions at Son of Semele ensemble in Silverlake.Now, Son of Semele is presenting The Last Days of Mary Stuart, Becca Wolff’s electro-opera inspired by Mary, Queen of Scots. Wolff’s (serving as librettist and director) Last Days is a diverting, awkwardly staged workshop piece with a propulsive, engaging score by Byron Kahr and John Nixon which exhibits echoes of The Cure, Ariel Pink, Kate Bush, New Order, and Kraftwerk. The staging is odd because the performers have to move around the electronic trio and their instruments situated centerstage, as if they were perambulating around the perimeter of a box. While a chorus occasionally sings upstage center behind the band, the main performers have to walk around the musicians—which eerily sets the tone early on that the music was the focus, not the narrative. It’s difficult to discern how strong the piece is lyrically in its totality, because the sound mix favored the musicians over the singers. From what was heard overall, Wolff’s lyrics were exposition heavy and less focused on moving the plot forward.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of THE LAST DAYS OF MARY STUART, Presented by Becca Wolff & Jacob Padrón for Tilted Field Productions at Son of Semele ensemble in Silverlake.To call it an opera is a misnomer—not for a lack of singing or any presence of spoken dialogue—but because its drama in all fifty minutes is slight. It has ideas of a tempestuous relationship between first cousins (and Queens of the throne), Mary (Marianne Thompson) and Elizabeth (Laila Ayad), and dips its toes into the political machinations at work in the deeply religious 16th century English era. However, it behaves more like a cheeky, clever concept album sung by capable thespians and performed by accomplished musicians and programmers.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of THE LAST DAYS OF MARY STUART, Presented by Becca Wolff & Jacob Padrón for Tilted Field Productions at Son of Semele ensemble in Silverlake.The transformed Son of Semele theater now has the atmosphere of a dive bar complete with a standing room set-up and drinks sold in the back. Had I seen this at Silverlake Lounge as an hour set from a band, I would have been pleasantly surprised and intrigued. My interest is still intact for this piece in the manner it was presented. However, the contract of an opera promises a drama. Instead, I received a fifty-minute concert tone poem. Last Days faces a bold decision: Will it be a concept album performed and recorded under the auspice of advancing electro music into dramatic territory, or is it to be an opera performed and recorded under the auspices of branching out drama with electronic music serving as the catalyst? As it stands, it has sparks of kinetic potential, but requires better storytelling to be taken seriously as an Opera.

photos by Molly Erin Kahr

The Last Days of Mary Stuart
presented by Becca Wolff & Jacob Padrón for Tilted Field Productions
Son of Semele Ensemble in Silverlake
scheduled to end on July 20, 2013
for tickets, call (213) 351-3507 or visit http://www.sonofsemele.org
or http://www.tiltedfield.com

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