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Fool’s Gold

blog mikadoCabrillo College Theatre Arts Department taps zeitgeist with revised opera classic

Though it is tempting to compare the comedy of “The Mikada”—Kathryn Adkins’ lissome, literate, lavishly daffy redesign of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s “The Mikado”—to that of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, it would be a stretch of both the truth and the production’s very intention to do so.

For starters, the opera, presented by Cabrillo College Theatre Arts Department, is frillier and more good-natured than anything from the Comedy Central school of satire, despite its scattering of sharp-tongued verbal witticisms and morally topsy-turvy society. But for all its parodic 21st century nudges, it’s also an authentic adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular opera—arguably the most popular opera ever written—faithful in spirit, and avoiding the trap of off-putting smugness.

Pundits of political and popular culture in their day, Gilbert and Sullivan first staged “The Mikado” in 1885, when Queen Victoria held the throne and the heir apparent was Prince Edward. While “The Mikado” poked fun at the monarchy and class distinctions, “The Mikada” skewers the upper one-percent and present-day economic disparity.

Framed by the fascination with Japanese culture that characterized the period in which it was written, the story unfolds in the mythical land of Napaj, a strange mélange of multiple cultures and time periods. Following a cast of ridiculously named characters, the opera focuses on the somewhat passive-aggressive showdown between Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko (also known as The Lord High Executioner) for the love of Yum-Yum.

The title change is due to the casting of a female in the title role, who incidentally does not have as much stage time as you might expect. When The Mikada is on stage, however, she is played by Lizz Hodgin Anderson, and often accompanied by a wonderfully spry Mindy Pedlar as Katisha. Meanwhile, Nanki-Poo (Carl Dawson) is ostensibly the audience’s primary rooting interest, as he and Ko-Ko (David Jackson) participate in a love triangle with Yum-Yum (Suzanne Wood, gifted with a crisp alto). Yum-Yum is typically in the company of Pitti-Sing (Teagan Trautwein) and Peep-Bo (Janie Dusenberry). Rounding out the primary cast is Mike Stark as Poo-Bah and Tyler Perez as Pish-Tush.

It is worth mentioning all of the main players because they happen to be at their best in tandem, filling in the gaps of one another’s voice, accompanied by instrumental support under the musical direction of Don Adkins. As a whole, they have a nifty penchant for saving the best for last, closing each of the two acts with a respective peak, “With Aspect Stern and Gloomy Stride” and “For He’s Gone and Married Yum-Yum.”

The production’s first half strikes the occasional false note—not of the literal sort, but rather changes in dialogue or lyrics; easy targets such as Wall Street and Margaret Thatcher are name-checked, not to mention a handful of too-cute meta asides.

These are reasonably clever quips, ones that gently hint at a contemporary perspective. But even as they get the requisite chuckles, this blithe interruption of 21st century irony sets up prickling concerns that Adkins is content to merely preach to the choir. While there is nothing inherently wrong in doing so, the satire comes across rather baldly. Though “The Mikada” openly intends to address current affairs, the original text does the majority of the allegorical legwork—meanwhile, the changes to said text feel a bit like overkill.

While such concerns linger, they are happily alleviated by an exquisitely choreographed interlude that involves the majority of the cast wielding thundersticks like swords, clashing against each other in perfect rhythm. Largely defying explanation, it’s a knockout sequence in isolation. More crucially, however, it sets up the fanciful indicator and heightened visual fancy that are to be the cornerstones of this adaptation; even when it shifts into frenetic comic riffing, “The Mikada” hangs on to its je ne sais quoi.

The production’s panoply of culture-clashing motifs, its bright multihued palette, and its fetish for showy hair and hats are splashed liberally across Skip Epperson’s set design, which articulates the narrative’s mythical setting with open, theatrical economy. And Maria Crush’s diverse costumes—touching on everything from Commedia dell’Arte burlesque to gilded Orientalism—is creative within the limited budget of a collegiate production.

With so much visual noise, it is a relief that the cast should be so comfortable with the frivolous farce that makes up much of the narrative, its unapologetic silliness cresting with a potentially catastrophic, but finally endearing absurdism. Even if “The Mikada” is inconsistent when it comes to selling irony—a challenge in any work of satire—thankfully it does not cheapen dramatic sincerity.

The Mikada runs from April 21-May 6, at Cabrillo College Crocker Theater, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Tickets are $23/General, $21/Students & Seniors, $18/With Activity Card, $13/Children under 10. For more information, call 479-6154, or visit cabrillovapa.com.

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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