Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Earth, freaky, tragic Shakespeare set to song

When I used to cover Connecticut for The New York Times, I did a story once about an oddly visionary Irishman who purchased churches that had been shuttered, chopped them up, then transported the chunks to the U.S., where he reassembled them as pubs.

I used to stop at his flagship pub, The Playwright in New Haven, every time I was driving north up the Eastern seabord. It was like being inside a church at the end of time - a church where they serve Guiness and shepherd's pie.

I thought about crazy Denis Guilfoyle's pub last night while listening to Ensemble Chaconne perform at The Edison Theatre. I thought how much better I would have liked the show had I seen them perform at The Playwright.

They were performing a program of music associated with a playwright - with the playwright - with William Shakespeare - but that wasn't why I was dreaming about The Playwright. I just wanted to be somewhere other than a slightly stuffy campus theatre. As I listened to the earthy, tragic, freaky poetry set to rhapsodic song and performed soulfully on luscious-sounding period instruments, I could think of no setting more fitting than a pub that has a DJ booth sculpted from a pulpit and an entire wall fashioned from chopped and changed confessional lattices.

The music was that good and that strange, delivered on a lute (Olav Chris Henricksen), viola de gamba (Carol Lewis), flutes (Peter H. Bloom) and a powerful set of vocal chords (Pamela Dellal).

I also found myself longing for this earthy, freaky, tragic poetry to be sung by someone a little more earthy and freaky than Pamela Dellal. Look, this lady is better at singing than I am able to do anything, but I just don't favor the arch approach of art song for the poetry of William Shakespeare or the common ballads he used in his plays, which also appear in the ensemble's repertoire. I wanted Norma Waterson, Linda Thompson, Neko Case.

But the music was sublime - and their CD Measure for Measure, which I took home with me (and which seems to capture the entire program they performed), is actually even better. If you have a loved one with a thing for Shakespeare, and you know you do, here is a thoughtful gift.

The rude sketches of the players are by me. I wanted to get them to sign them, as is my wont, but they disappared too fast from the stage and took too long to return to retrieve their vintage axes.

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