COMMENT About HAGS

by Lynn on November 27, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Part of Theatre@York’s 2020-21 virtual season.

HAGS is a one-act play written by Aaron Jan and directed by David Jansen, with performances by York University theatre students and alumni. 

From the press information: HAGS is a dark, rapid-fire comedy that explores the limits of forgiveness in vengeful millennials and Gen Zs. When a team of online activists gathers to recruit their newest member, the group is Zoom-bombed by the alt-right, leading to a night of violence and a settling of old scores. HAGS asks: how do we find satisfying justice in online spaces? When do we go too far in our pursuit of a better world?”

CONTENT WARNING: Horror elements, depictions of violence, and discussion of suicide and abuse.

Playwright Aaron Jan has written a fascinating and disturbing play about the power of the internet to sway twitchy-fingered  devotees who don’t read, think, ponder, consider, and reason before they press “send” “share” and “like.”  He also writes vividly about how the internet can be manipulated by savvy millennials and Gen Zs for their own purposes under the guise of working for a better world.  

An ultra secret group of four young people formed HAGS (Hamiltonians Against Groups of Sadism) to champion the weak, downtrodden and marginalized against those the group feels are racists and bullies. The group feels vindicated when it can ‘out’ a person they consider to be racist and mean even though the results have meant that the ‘outed’ person’s life was ruined. In some cases suicide by the ‘victim’ was the result.

It becomes clear in this unsettling ‘comedy’ that the leader of HAGS, Marina,  is herself an intolerant bully with little sense of responsibility or accountability. In going after their next victim—who showed racist tendencies 10 years ago but seems to have reformed– the group beefs up their cause by adding a racist comment in an old photo of the victim.  Aaron Jan  has created a foil for Marina’s blinkered tendencies in the character of Audrey who does Herculean work to counteract Marina’s destructiveness.

Jan has nicely illuminated the importance of ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ in this on-line world and how dangerous it all is. He adds an inventive touch of having a voice of some reason challenge the group’s ideology. It looks like there might be a comeuppance and realization of the group of how dangerous they are but then Jan continues to coil the play back on itself. The notion of finding justice in online spaces, knowing when they go too far, and even a pursuit of a better world becomes questionable. But this is early days for the play and one hopes those blips will be attended to in further exploration.  

The acting and the production as a whole are mighty impressive.  

Further information is here: https://theatre.ampd.yorku.ca

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Free Livestreaming until Nov. 30.

Produced by Nightwood Theatre.

Because The Groundswell Festival is a festival of new writing from established feminist writers I will only comment in general terms and not formally review them. All the readings deserve your attention to hear new voices in the theatre.

It was a festival of play readings, conversations, panels, etc. It ran from Nov. 10-20 and was available for free streaming until November 30.

I’ll be talking about the plays.

Refusal by Shelley M. Hobbs is about a war correspondent  overwhelmed by a career she both loves and hates. She is white and is in a war-torn country of people who are not white.  It’s about class, racial politics and seeking the truth.

Better by Rachel Mutombo is a sort of futuristic look at men tightening their reins of their control on society. Women who step out of line are sent to a sanctuary for misguided souls by their husbands, brothers or fathers. How do the women cope in such a situation is what occupies the play.

All my forgotten dreams by Erum Khan shifts between characters wrestling with isolation, silence and restlessness in the wake of a new world.

Death of Father  by Phoebe Tsang(only Act I was read). The ambitious mayor of a small coastal town sacrifices the safety and reputation of his teenage daughter for his political campaign.

And The Bridgeby Pesch Nepoose is about a young Indigenous woman who grapples with loss, love, longing and loneliness. It is a meditation on suicide and memory. Not light stuff, and certainly substantial.

There certainly is a mix of serious work as created by these gifted young playwrights. I was mighty impressed with the different voices and frames of reference. Certainly race, class, appropriation and misogyny factor. The plays reflected our world and society.

I thought The Bridge by Pesch Nepoose was a fearless play—unflinching in showing an Indigenous woman spiraling down in her life. The writing is so vivid and even poetic that you can’t say “I’ve heard this story before.” Pesch Nepoose prevents anyone from saying it because it’s a story of a woman alone, without support to guide her. If there is a word to describe the world of this play that word is “brutal.” You don’t look away. The play did stay with me a long time.  

All the playwrights have a vivid imagination and beautifully created the worlds of their characters.

I thought Death of Father by Phoebe Tsang was particularly impressive because Tsang was giving a modern twist on the dysfunctional family; and an unscrupulous father willing to do anything for success, including sacrificing his daughter. Tsang is putting a modern twist on the Greek myth of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.

I loved how the play was described in the press information: “The ambitious mayor of a small coastal town sacrifices the safety and reputation of his teenage daughter for his political campaign.” Nothing about Greek drama is mentioned but those of us who had to study the Greeks know.  Very clever. The acting in all cases was terrific.  The voices of these playwrights are strong and I look forward to seeing the finished plays.

For details on the Groundswell Festival go to:

www.nightwoodtheatre.net

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young centre logo

Solitary Refinements

holiday flash market

Due to increased health restrictions, the artist market has moved online at Sidebiz Studio.

From Thursday, Nov. 26 to Midnight on Sunday, Nov. 29, please visit our online shop to support local theatre artists. All purchases will be available for in-person pick-up at the Young Centre on December 5.*

Shop now

Hanging clay pendant with word LOVE carved into it in front of cedar branches, created by Michelle Monteith

Theatres may have closed, but Creativity has Prevailed

You’re invited to a festive online holiday flash market featuring cooking, sewing, beading, and many more treasures created by members of Toronto’s theatre community. Find out how your favourite artists have been staying creative, and lend your support by getting an early start on your holiday gift buying!

Featuring stunning work from Oliver Dennis, Jenna Harris, Marcia Johnson, Melanie Leon, Arwen MacDonell, Michelle Monteith, Lisa Nighswander, Jordan Pettle, Kim Purtell, Maria Ricossa, Brenda Robins, Brigitte Robinson, Tara Rosling, Keira Rydeard, Hallie Seline, Jessica Severin, Sarah Strange, Michelle Tracey, Anna Treusch, and Mariuxi Zambrano.

Hosted by Soulpepper and the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

*Alternative arrangements may be made by contacting: boxoffice@Youngcentre.ca

COVID-19 Protective Measures at pick-up

To ensure the safety of patrons, we ask everyone to comply with public health guidelines. This includes: wearing a mask or covering at all times, keeping a two metre/six feet distance from others, washing/sanitizing your hands often, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and staying home if you are sick. We will be limiting the number of guests in the Young Centre at one time. 

We will be ensuring all protective measures are followed in order to keep everyone safe.

I’ve bought and savored Arwen MacDonell’s baked goods, Oliver Dennis’s eye-watering hot sauce, Jordan Pettle’s sublime ice-cream, Brenda Robins’ wonderful pillows and Tara Rosling’s eco friendly products. I’ll check out the others too, and so should you. Artists branching out….Brilliant!!

https://www.youngcentre.ca/pages/artist-market

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Part of the streaming on-line 2020-21 Theatre@York Season.

Streamed from York University, Toronto.

The Antigone Play by Tabia Lau and Directed by David Jansen.

From the press information: “The Antigone Play  is a contemporary adaptation of Sophocles’ ANTIGONE. Tig is distraught to find that her Uncle Chris is making drastic changes to her family’s restaurant, which her beloved grandmother opened years ago as a recent immigrant and refugee. Outraged by what she sees as a betrayal of the family, Tig starts an online campaign to stand up to her uncle, save the legacy of the restaurant, and restore her family’s honour. As the campaign catches fire, Tig considers just how far she must go.”

In Sophocles’ version of his play Antigone is fighting to honour one of her brothers by burying him against her uncle’s decree.

Tabia Lau, a PhD candidate in Theatre & Performance Studies at York University, imagines Antigone’s story as one for our time. There is reference to the power of the internet for transmitting information, both correct and misleading, for its addictive, seductive power to engage and hold its audience, and often how shallow its followers can be—(the quickness in clicking “like”, “share” and “send” even before a person has read a message or seen a video).

Lau also examines the important ideas of respect for tradition, family honour, gentrification, money-laundering, food, character and legacy. There is a fascinating conversation by a panel of characters talking about fusion food. Lau has Antigone’s Uncle Chris wanting to take his late mother’s traditional recipes and ‘fuse’ them with other cultures to attract a larger base. The panel sees nothing wrong with this. Antigone (and those who respect and know food) see a deep tear in the fabric of tradition and appropriation.

Lau has such a compelling voice and vision in taking this mythic Greek story and applying it to our modern world. She has a dandy sense of dialogue. In one case a character says of his late grandmother: “I still see her face when I smell paprika.” Gorgeous and vivid. There is also a tip of the hat to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard I thought regarding a beloved heirloom of a quilt and what the uncle planned on doing with it. I loved that Lau makes her audience feel smart when they recognize her clever clues. I so look forward to seeing more of Tabia Lau’s work.  

Director David Jansen wrote before the streaming that they wanted to find a way to present it so that it was not just a group of squares with people talking. The imagination, the use of animation, multiple images and other techniques as background and the use of sound and music certainly accomplished  this. The actors are students so it’s unfair to call this a “review.” Suffice it to say, they are committed, compelling, emotional and bring the viewer right into that world.

Looking forward to Hags by Aaron Jan tomorrow also part of the Theatre@York season.

https://theatre.ampd.yorku.ca


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Heads Up for the week of Nov. 23 to Nov. 29

Mon. Nov. 23, 2020.

Until the Flood.

Live streamed:

Written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith

Interviews of the people of Ferguson, Missouri after the killing of Michael Brown by the police,   conducted and performed by Orlandersmith.

She interviewed Blacks and whites for the piece, alternating their voices. The result is devastating, compelling theatre. I can’t find an end date for the availability, but please check it out.

https://www.centertheatregroup.org/digitalstage/digital-stage/until-the-flood-streaming-on-all-arts

Mon. Nov. 23, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Live Streamed from The Show Must Go On channel.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

The film showcases all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, read by a cast that includes David Tennant, Dominic West, Stephen Fry, Kim Cattrall, and more.

Click here to access The Shows Must Go On.

Tues. Nov. 24, 2020   7:30 pm

The Antigone Play

Live Streamed from York University.

From the new and reimagined 2020-21 Theatre@York season

The Antigone Play by Theatre & Performance Studies PhD candidate, Tabia Lau, directed by David Jansen. A contemporary adaptation of Sophocles’ ANTIGONE. Tig is distraught to find that her Uncle Chris is making drastic changes to her family’s restaurant, which her beloved grandmother opened years ago as a recent immigrant and refugee. Outraged by what she sees as a betrayal of the family, Tig starts an online campaign to stand up to her uncle, save the legacy of the restaurant, and restore her family’s honour. As the campaign catches fire, Tig considers just how far she must go. 

The Antigone Play opens on Tuesday, November 24 at 7:30pm 

Tickets are free of charge. Online reservations  can be made at: 

The Antigone Play: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/the-antigone-play-tickets-128502884587?aff=erelpanelorg 

Wed. Nov. 25, 2020 at 7:30 pm

Live Streamed from York University.

Hags

The second opening of the new and reimagined 2020-21 Theatre@York season

HAGS by York Theatre alum, Aaron Jan, directed by David Jansen. A dark, rapid-fire comedy that explores the limits of forgiveness in vengeful millennials and Gen Zs. When a team of online activists gathers to recruit their newest member, the group is Zoom-bombed by the alt-right, leading to a night of violence and a settling of old scores. HAGS asks: how do we find satisfying justice in online spaces? When do we go too far in our pursuit of a better world? 

HAGS opens on Wednesday, November 25 at 7:30pm 

Tickets are free of charge. Online reservations  can be made at: 

HAGS: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/hags-tickets-128505546549?aff=ebdssbonlinesearch 

For full program details and bios, please see: https://hagsantigone2020.wordpress.com/

Wed. Nov. 25, 2020.

Weesageechak 33 Goes Online!   Join the 33rd annual development festival of new Indigenous work, featuring contemporary theatre, dance, and multi-disciplinary creations!
All presentations are free, online, and available from their premiere date through December 6th, 2020.
  VIEW THE FULL SCHEDULE   REGISTER FOR TICKETS     Meet Weesageechak 33 Creators   Unique to this year’s festivals are four curated streams to support the development of new performance pieces. We’re excited to introduce our latest Animikiig Creators Unit cohort, eight artists having public presentations, and fourteen additional artists receiving support to develop their work independently. Native Earth has also partnered with five Indigenous organizations across the country to support artists within their own communities.        

Thur. Nov. 26, 2020

The Early Modern Cooking Show

From the Stratford Festival

Cooking food from Shakespeare’s plays.

https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AtHome?gclid=CjwKCAiAtej9BRAvEiwA0UAWXt45kb41QFNQgzyq8KDzC6pXhLKGy434i3eu69BkfmkJcFtE–AUHBoCgvYQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

Fri. Nov. 27, 2020. At 2:00 pm our time.

Death of England: Delroy

Live Streamed from the National Theatre

Death of England: Delroy to be streamed for free on YouTube

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Michael Balogun in Death of England: Delroy. Photo: Normski Photography

Michael Balogun in Death of England: Delroy. Photo: Normski Photography

Death of England: Delroy, which was forced to end its run at the National Theatre due to the second lockdown, will be streamed for free beginning Nov. 27.

The play marked the NT’s reopening to audiences for the first time in seven months when it began performances in October, however its intended run was cut short after England returned to nationwide lockdown measures.

However, the NT had confirmed it captured the final performance on November 4, which was also the play’s press night, and will be broadcasting it on YouTube on November 27.

Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s one-man play, which stars Michael Balogun, will also return to the Olivier in spring 2021, the theatre said.

The streamed version will be available for 24 hours for free, however audiences are invited to make a donation if they watch. The NT has said it will make an up-front payment to the artists involved.

It will see the theatre return to the at-home streaming model it implemented during the first national lockdown, which broadcast 16 shows across four months, attracting more than 15 million views.

Death of England: Delroy is a follow up to Dyer and Williams’ Death of England, which ran at the NT earlier this year. The new play’s full run had been due to continue throughout November.

Williams and Dyer said: “We were hugely disappointed that Death of England: Delroy was unable to complete its full run in the Olivier theatre. The production team worked tirelessly, alongside the staff at the NT, throughout the rehearsal period and for the two weeks we were able to perform to the public and we want to thank them for their efforts.

“We are thrilled that Michael Balogun’s remarkable performance will be streamed to audiences for a limited time period of the 27 November and that we will be able to perform to live audiences once again in the spring.”

The live broadcast will be accompanied by a pre-recorded discussion, hosted by NT associate Ola Animashawun, in which Dyer Williams and Balogun will explore the experience of creating the show and how the play reflects on the Black Lives Matter movement.

It will also be streamed on YouTube from November 27.

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Hi Folks,

This is my semi-annual shameless plea for the CIUT.FM fundraiser.

We are aiming to raise $100,000 in this fund-raising session.

CIUT.FM including the radio show I do, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm, is almost all volunteer.

In this time when theatres are closed I am able to review provocative theatre in parks, on-line, in backyards and other odd places in which it takes place.

I also do interviews with people making theatre that matters. I recently interviewed  Juliet Stevenson about the impending production of Blindness.

We give voice to radio that people want to hear dealing with stories worth telling.

We don’t get government funding, hence our fundraiser.

Please go to CIUT.fm and donate and please note CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm.

Much thanks as always.

Lynn

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From Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Streamed

Written by David Yee

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Set and Costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound and broadcast designer, Miquelon Rodriguez

Cast: Natasha Mumba

A beautifully written, gripping story of faith, loss and justice. Natasha Mumba gives a mesmerising performance under director Nina Lee Aquino’s assured direction.   It’s a bold experiment in theatre for these difficult times.

The Story. It’s directed beautifully by Nina Lee Aquino.

It’s performed at the Factory Theatre by Natasha Mumba who plays Faith and she is terrific.

It starts with Faith, aged 13-years-old, living in Africa (Zambia) with her mother.  Faith is obviously precocious and a bit mischievous. She plays a trick on a friend and people believe Faith has magical powers and is a prophet as a result.  Her mother has her number and makes Faith go to confession to confess her trick. The priest is an Englishman with a tattoo (that really impresses Faith). But the priest is less than appropriate and begins to lift Faith’s skirt until she makes her discomfort known. (the confessional was a flimsy affair without the ‘wall’ between the confessor and the priest). Faith became wary of the priest and never wanted to go to church again.

Faith tells her mother who doesn’t believe her because her mother believes a priest would not act inappropriately to anyone.  Again, Faith does something that gets her mother to change her mind and the priest is sent packing. What follows is a story of determination of Faith to put a stop to this priest—who seems to go from parish to parish focusing on schools for young girls. The story also goes from Zambia, to Toronto, to Muskoka. Along the way Faith loses her faith but not her determination.

The Production. Joanna Yu’s set is simple and evocative, with a bed in the background, windows covered in white curtains with shadows behind them and shadows and silhouettes on the walls that enhances scenes.

It’s performed at the Factory Theatre by Natasha Mumba who plays Faith and she is terrific. Joanna Yu’s costume for Faith is a pair of draw-string pants and a loose-fitting sweater. Mumba gives a thoughtful, nuanced performance as Faith. I saw the sass and resolve of Faith in this bold performance.

Director Nina Lee Aquino directed this with a beautiful sense of careful movement. Rather than having lots of different camera shots, it was the performance that shifted and pivoted in the space. Often Natasha Mumba would lean into the camera for her own closeup, or she pulled away for what looked like a long shot. In all cases, she didn’t move if it wasn’t necessary.  When she did move it was effective.

acts if faith is the first performance of the Factory Theatre virtual season.

It’s a terrific beginning.

Comment.  acts of faith was written by David Yee specifically for Factory Theatre as a filmed live performance. David Yee is a nimble, smart writer. He has fashioned a story for our pandemic times without mentioning it. We have to have faith and determination to get through.

The story also references situations in which young people know an unpleasant truth about people in authority but few people believe them until they are proven right.  Faith’s story is harrowing and David Yee’s writing of it is gripping. I also loved the play on words of the title that can be taken as acts of belief and also the various acts of Faith, our heroine.

The title is in lower case—David Yee being cheeky—he writes in lower case.

This being a filming of a live production, I found there were glitches. The screen kept on freezing and I kept on refreshing. Not sure if that problem was my internet or something else. But in spite of this jumpy situation, the quality of David Yee’s writing, Nina Lee Aquino’s sensitive direction and the wonderful performance of Natasha Mumba’s performance shone through completely.

acts of faith is streamed from Factory Theatre until Nov. 28.

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Try this link for tickets to this moving concert:

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Digital edition of the annual concert from The Musical Stage Co.

Available until Dec. 6, 2020.

Musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Reza Jacobs

Video Direction by Victoria Barber

Videography by Fred Yurichuk

Cast: Divine Brown

Dillan Chiblow

Bruce Dow

Sara Farb

Eva Foote

Hailey Gillis

Raha Javanfar

Germaine Konji

Stewart Adam McKensy

Andrew Penner

Kale Penny

Jackie Richardson

Musicians: Jamie Drake

Justin Grey

Reza Jacobs

The Musical Stage Company’s Artistic Director, Mitchell Marcus, believes ‘it’s better with music.’ No argument there. You can say difficult things with music and somehow it’s easier to deal with or there is an edge that is more effective. Think of anything in Caroline, or Change (a huge hit for the company last year) and you get the idea.

The Musical Stage Company has always given a yearly concert devoted to the song book of an artist or two. The pandemic required that Mitchell Marcus rethink his original plans for a live concert at Koerner Hall that would feature the songs of Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. What was needed in these challenging times were songs “of change, hope, reflection and inspiration.” And so the works of Elton John, Bob Marley, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen and Billie Holiday, among others, were selected for the company’s first ever digital concert: UNCOVERED: NOTES FROM THE HEART.

Each singer was filmed at a Toronto location singing their song. (The song was also recorded in a studio). It’s fun to try and name where the location is. (The digital programme tells you where each location is). Each singer was involved in many aspects of the concert and not just singing. They were involved in the arrangements and even in the video recording. Can I assume that they also picked the place they wanted to sing the song? Sounds logical.

At the beginning of each segment the singer explains why the song appeals to them, what it means to them. These comments add a personalized  aspect to the impeccable singing and interpretation.  Andrew Penner sang “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens at The Toronto Railway Museum. His guitar accompaniment was energetic, his singing impassioned.

Bruce Dow illuminates a sense of despair mixed with hope in “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. Hailey Gillis is filmed on Centre Island, during summer. She sings Leonard Cohen meditative ballad “Hallelujah. There seems to be a story there as well: she is quickly writing in a notebook; she then wades into the water and sends the page she was writing on into the water to float away. What it means is a mystery but Gillis sings the song beautifully with plaintive emotion. Jackie Richardson lends her larger than life, joyful personality to Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” as she walks around the Barry Zukerman Amphitheatre.

The whole cast and musicians sing Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” obviously on a chilly fall day in front of The Royal Conservatory of Music—the concert would have been held there in Koerner Hall.

Perhaps the most poignant interpretation of a song is by Sara Farb beautifully singing Jann Arden’s “Good Mother. Farb begins to sing the song in what looks like a tree house in a large backyard. A woman stands in the yard as Farb approaches her. This is obviously Farb’s own mother. Then Sara Farb does what all of us are aching to do to someone we love but can’t because of pandemic precautions, she hugs her. In a sense Farb is hugging her for all of us.

Mitchell Marcus is such a gifted, creative artistic thinker. He has successfully guided the Musical Stage Company to produce many provocative, challenging live musicals and the Uncovered Concerts. It’s to his great credit that he adapted to the new (temporary?) technological world and worked to create the UNCOVERED concert as a filmed work. He engaged Victoria Barber, Video Director and Fred Yurichuk, Videographer, both of whom have created trailer videos to publicize the concerts and musicals for the Musical Stage Company. Here’s where I have a problem.

I can appreciate that a trailer, be it for a film or a concert etc., has to grab the audience’s attention quickly and give them a sense of the film or musical event etc. The filming is complex, often cutting away from shot after shot to create the effect. I appreciate it’s artful filming. But when all that jumpy filming then goes into creating  the film of the event itself, then something gets lost. In too many cases what got lost with UNCOVERED: NOTES FROM THE HEART was in fact the song or at least the message of it.

Rarely was the camera still and focused on the singer. It seemed always to be moving. Divine Brown played her guitar and sang “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley with the camera circling her, leaving the background of Riverdale Park East a blur teasing us to wonder where we were. One wished the camera would just focus and let us listen to her sing.

Raha Javanfar sang “The Times They Are a Changing” by Bob Dylan walking in Graffiti Alley.  At one point Victoria Barber directed Fred Yurichuk to film Javanfar as if he was bent over at 90 degrees and looked sideways at her. And then followed that shot with one in which Raha Javanfar looked like she was upside down. How does this in anyway serve the song or the singer? Too often I was aware of the efforts of the filming because it pulled focus from the singer and the song and not enhanced them. Again, the most effective example of the power of simple filming was Sara Farb singing “Good Mother.”

I appreciate the effort, attention to musical detail and the musicianship of the whole endeavor of UNCOVERED: NOTES FROM THE HEART. But the busy, focus-pulling camera-work was maddening. I found I listened to a lot of this concert with my eyes closed. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Produced by The Musical Stage Company.

The concert is available for streaming until December 19.

Tickets: https://musicalstagecompany.ticketspice.com

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