Back In Time

Sometimes even the most talented, most prepared team in football needs to punt the ball.

Because I was acting in a play to raise funds for scholarships at the time I was supposed to be gathering material for this week’s column, I made plans all the way back in November so that the seamless flow of columns could continue. And then, for reasons you don’t care about, those plans fell through, and here I am, a few hours before deadline, needing to make sudden, new plans.

Two years ago, when faced with a similar situation, I went to the bookshelf in my bedroom and took down one of the giant scrapbooks of past columns which are located there. From March of 1980, when the first ”Critical Eye” saw print, for many years, my wife took it upon herself to carefully cut each piece of writing from the pages of the newspaper and to paste the articles onto the pages of scrapbooks.

Eventually, that became ungainly, because if I need to check something I wrote in the past, even if I know the date on which it was published, it can take several hours to find on which page it is pasted. For about the past 10 years, my writing is filed by its subject matter. Thick folders bear labels such as ”Chautauqua Amphitheater,” and ”Little Theatre,” and ”People from Chau. County.”

Faced by my previous problem, I took down a scrapbook, paged through its content and shared randomly what I was thinking, those many years ago. To my surprise, that column was a favorite among many readers, who encouraged me to do it again. And so, the situation has arisen again, so I reached into the bookshelf at random and took out a large, brown scrapbook which contains reviews, columns and other features, written between April 9 of 1994 and July 13, 1995.

Some of the subjects addressed in the volume are still often seen in these pages, while others have vanished, for one reason or another. We were writing weekly reviews of area restaurants during that time, and there are giant reviews of many fine eating establishments, many of which have disappeared, while others are still popular dining sites.

Let’s ramble together for a few minutes, through 1994-95, make note of what we have lost, and see what our thoughts then teach us about 2012-13.

HEADLINERS

Two of the most significant events from the period in question were the remodeling of the 1891 Fredonia Opera House into the beautiful and useful shape in which we find it today and the opening of the second New York City musical show by Westfield-born composer Michael John LaChiusa.

As we know, the Opera House has recently acquired the ability to show both recorded performances and live broadcasts of performances in stunning high definition, which keeps the public wending their way into its beautiful auditorium.

As for LaChiusa, he has written and produced three full Broadway shows since ”The Petrified Prince,” which was the occasion for our 1994 interview with him, as well as seven off-Broadway shows, five operas – including one commissioned by Chicago Lyric Opera, named ”Lovers and Friends: (Chautauqua Variations.)” There have been song cycles, recordings, cabaret shows, chamber music, and more recently, his musical version of Edna Ferber’s classic story ”Giant,” has been performed off-Broadway, and his show ”Los Ostros,” commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum, has been playing in Los Angeles.

One of his earliest shows, ”First Lady Suite,” completed in 1993, will be produced later this year by American Repertory Theatre of Western New York, whose artistic director is the composer’s talented younger brother, Matthew LaChiusa.

I heard in a lecture, some years back, that an individual has a much better likelihood of playing with the National Football League than he does of getting a play or show he has created produced on Broadway. Yet for some reason, it doesn’t attract the same degree of admiration or respect. It’s nice to have another opportunity to celebrate a local man who has made good.

MISSING

I think it is always interesting to note what has been lost. It is a healthy thing to realize what has been and what could be, in addition to noting what is.

There are a number of reviews in my big volume of summer musical shows from the stage of the Struthers Library Theatre in Warren. There was a time when we drove back and forth to Warren frequently, especially in the summer, but all through the year. In recent years, the summer shows have been discontinued, and the local productions no longer welcome review, so we rarely go there anymore. Too bad, I think.

There was a time when we frequently reviewed plays at a number of venues in Erie, Pa. I think they were challenging and showed a great deal of initiative on the part of local artists. Sadly, many of the companies which we once reviewed no longer operate, and it wasn’t so much from a lack of public support, as a loss of creative energy. Productions began to be repeated, which was less expensive, but often failed to stimulate public interest to see the same thing again, for example.

There are a number of reviews of performances sponsored by the Reg Lenna Civic Center. It’s still a beautiful facility, but when we go there now, it’s virtually always because some other organization such as Chautauqua Region Youth Ballet or the Jamestown Concert Assn. is sponsoring a performance.

Among the many performances discussed from there is a world premiere of a film ”Where the Rivers Flow North,” where filmmaker Jay Craven introduced his most successful film to date, with a cast which included Rip Torn, Michael J. Fox and Treat Williams.

In 1994, the Lucille Ball Little Theatre was marking their seventh year of the creative artistry of scenic artist Ron Gasparinetti. He was a native of New Jersey who found his way to Jamestown and put sets onto the LBLTJ stage which were truly works of art. This is not to say that what other designers have done aren’t good, but his were literally breathtaking.

The Buffalo Opera Company performed a production of Richard Strauss’ biblical opera ”Salome” in 1994. There are a couple of small opera companies in Buffalo at the moment, though the BOC has folded, but they don’t send news releases beyond the city, even though the Southern Tier has many opera fans who have been nearly deprived of their artistic pleasure in recent years.

Theatre of Young Artists was active in Jamestown in 1994 and put on a production as part of Lucy Fest. We have some excellent performance opportunities for young actors and musical artists, but TOYA is no more.

We still have performances connected with our city’s place as Lucille Ball’s hometown, although the home folks often pass them over, leaving them the domain of visitors to our city. There were celebrations, in those days, on both Memorial Day weekend and on the first weekend in August, which marks as closely as possible, Ms. Ball’s birth, which was Aug. 6.

We had the Smothers Brothers that year and a familiar guest Paula Poundstone, who regretted having to sit on her flight to Jamestown next to a mother with a young child named Ashley. ”When you’re sitting next to a woman who has named her daughter Ashley or Courtney, you’re sitting next to a woman who doesn’t even know how to pronounce the word ‘no,'” she told the Civic Center audience.

Artpark, perched on the lip of the Niagara Escarpment, at Lewiston, made me feel better about paying my state taxes in those days. Live performances by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Pilobolus Dance Theatre and of operas such as ”Satyagraha” and an actual Ring Cycle made me feel as though I lived in a cultural Mecca.

There are reviews in the volume of performances by the Westfield-based, professional puppet troupe Das Puppenspiel, now gone.

There are reviews of Studio Arena Theatre, once the anchor of the entire Buffalo theater scene.

The Fredonia Chamber Players were often reviewed and covered with interviews and features in 1994. The ensemble morphed into the Western New York Chamber Orchestra a few years back, and their publicity virtually always arrives after my deadline for publication, so you don’t read about them here.

There is a feature about Trail’s End Gallery, which was once located on Route 394, just past the Chautauqua Lake Bridge.

The Rochester Philharmonic was the orchestra whose performances at the Civic Center were part of the Jamestown Concert Assn.’s season of offerings that year. It was a brief interim between presenting the Buffalo Philharmonic and the presenting of the Syracuse Symphony, which morphed into Symphony Syracuse and may be sporting yet another new name by now. All have good things to be said about them and possible drawbacks to presenting them.

The 1995 season of operas at Chautauqua Opera was the first to be administered by Jay Lesenger, who has been in charge of the company ever since. I did an interview with the poor man, that summer, but spelled his name wrong. Oops. That year, they performed ”Tales of Hoffmann,” ”Cosi Fan Tutti,” ”Tosca” and ”Falstaff.” What do you find which is now missing from that memory?

Reviews from the Stratford Festival in 1994 contain celebrations of performances by the great actor Nicholas Pennell, whose obituary is found in March of 1995.

In June of 1995, the Conservatory Dance Ensemble of Jamestown ceased to exist, as Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux accepted the directorship of the newly formed Chautauqua Region Youth Ballet.

I understand the dangers of dwelling on the past, but I am absolutely certain that a person who never looks back on what he or she has done, has no idea whatsoever, of where he is.