March 15, 2004


Talent and daring
By David Ollington

Albert Camus, European existentialist philosopher, socialist and playwright first realized in 1944 his play Caligula, detailing the possible final days of the demented, power-hungry, and sadistic Roman emperor. Minds Eye Theatre presented a production of this intriguing piece Jan. 29-Feb. 14 at the Just off Broadway Theatre. Using pastels, music, dance and explicit sexuality, the ensemble of performers and the directorial staff created a campy and risky event.

Caligula played at the Just Off Broadway
Theatre Jan. 29-Feb. 14.

The Roman senators are unable to locate the emperor, Caligula (played by Chad Solomon). Before they find him, we meet his male lover, Scipio (Matthew K. McGaugh), and his mistress Cesonia (Sara Crow). The emperor comes out of hiding and proceeds to demand the impossible: He wants the moon, literally. Camus' play delves into the human and political difficulty of power in the hands of the mad. Caligula orders the senators to disinherit their families and bequeath their fortunes to the Roman treasury. He rapes the wife of a senator. He orchestrates decadent displays despite a failing economy. The senators plot his bloody demise.

Minds Eye ambitiously mounted this important literary work with energy, enthusiasm and daring. Unfortunately, director Christopher King missed some of the deeper resonance and dimension in Camus' words. Chad Solomon's Caligula bellowed with vicious malice, but we never saw the sadist's doubts and fears. The conflict centered on the emperor's loss of political power, and a glimpse into Caligula's weaknesses would have better fueled the event.

For much of the play ambient, recorded music overpowered the actors' voices. The evocative prose necessitates audibility, and the Just Off Broadway Theatre needs acoustic adjustment. The high, bare concrete walls tower over the playing area, providing unnecessary space that sucked up the performers' elocutions. The addition of curtains, hung closer to the stage, would more effectively contain the sound.

The company stepped out on a limb by incorporating full nudity. At the end of the first act, Caligula took to his bed his mistress and his male lover, together. This proved one of the most thrilling moments of the production. Unfortunately, the director failed to connect this spectacle to the playwright's words.

A member of the city Parks Board, upon learning about the nudity in the show, called Ed Blend, business manager for Minds Eye, expressing concern. They sent a representative to view Caligula and judge its suitability (the very weekend of Janet Jackson's Super Bowl controversy). For one performance, the three leads stayed dressed.

Mind's Eye Theatre's next production will be The Rocky Horror Picture Show in October. Call 913-897-2348 for more information.

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The dancers of the Kansas City Ballet continue to define themselves as proficiently versatile and their company as world-class. Their recent Winter Performance at the Lyric Theatre, Feb. 12-22, coincided with Artistic Director Emeritus Todd Bolender's birthday. The concert included dancing that ranged choreographically from the whimsical to the provocative.

George Balanchine's "Square Dance" began the show. True to the title, the dance made use of square dance music and a live caller (Phil Fiorini).

"Square Dance" premiered in 1957, and the original caller, Elisha Keeler, now resides in Kansas City and coached Fiorini for the February performance. The contrast of hearing Fiorini make vernacular country-dance calls while seeing dancers in tights execute quick and graceful ballet moves had both oddity and charming wit. Balanchine interrupted the calling sections with pure dance segments to classical music by Vivaldi. Kimberly Cowen in the leading female role dazzled the eye. Francis Veyette executed a solo with poignancy and a stoic, deliberate proficiency.

Lila York, guest choreographer for the ballet, created two works, both exploring a war theme. "Widow's Walk" started literally with a bang. A soldier (Paris Wilcox) falls in response to a jarring flash of white light, clearly depicting an explosion. Cowen danced the role of the soldier's wife. York kept the two separate for the dance.

Though they did get physically close and even touched, they consistently gazed away from each other, clarifying the soldier's abstract absence from the wife. This dance held enormous potential for pathos, but the neutrality of the movement choices kept the piece from tugging our heartstrings.

York's second work, "Postcards from Home," used obvious symbolism to portray the imbalance of war. A bag lady stumbles about, planting herself at various points in the space. A large troop of red berets marched in and executed militaristic, ordered motion. Off to the side of the stage, a large statue of Justice, blindfolded and holding scales, slowly toppled.

William Whitener, artistic director, pieced together several dances to the songs of the sultry-voiced Peggy Lee for the closing "Change of Heart." Entertaining, sexy and lively, Whitener's choreography expressively visualized the glitzy music. DeAnna Hiett, dancing as a guest artist from the Wylliams/Henry Company, gyrated, strutted and kicked with attitude, passionately working her high, dark ponytail. Whitener featured her well.

The Kansas City Ballet will perform their Spring Program May 6 through 9 at the Lyric Theatre. Call 931-2232 X 375 or visit their website at .

David Ollington can be contacted at or



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