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Posted in: Arts, Film & Culture, Global Culture

Published on May 21, 2018 by Phyllis Chesler

Published by Phyllis Chesler

A Judge in the Family and Artemisia off-Broadway

Last night was something of a milestone. My son, Ariel, was unanimously voted in as “most qualified” by the entire county to run for a Civil Court judgeship in Manhattan in November. And—I not only attended his and Shah Ali’s joint victory party, I actually climbed my first staircase since early October when I began fracturing, and eventually required surgery.

More: I was first able to attend the most enchanting opera/play: “Artemisia: Light and Shadow”), written by Nahma Sandrow, composed by Gwendolyn Toth (of ARTEK); directed by Paul Peers, who designed the set; lighting was by Chennault Spence, costumes by Carol Sherry.

The music was utterly amazing. Gwendolyn Toth played the lute-harpsichord and Daniel Swendeberg, played the stringed Theorbo. The composer excerpted arias written by 17th century composers Barbara Strozzi and Francesco Cavalli.

And there she sat—Artemisia Genileschi herself, wonderfully acted and sung by soprano Sarah Chalfy; we first meet her as she sits on a chair with her back to the audience. This gives us time to take in the set, which is composed of gracefully draped cream-white drop cloths that one might find in a great artist’s studio, and two canvas-like screens. On one, the words sung in Italian are translated into English, on the other—oh, how exquisite, Artemisia shows us her magnificent paintings, miracles of “light and shadow.”

There’s her Susanna and the Elders, her (many) Judith’s slaying Holofernes, her many self-portraits, her strong, Biblical figures: all lush, grand, detailed. Like Michelangelo, Artemisia pleads for her wages, confides in us that royalty do not always pay their bills and that she has learned she must demand payment in advance.

Artemisia is, by turns, witty, joyful, tragic, woebegone, tragic, (she lost three children, she was, famously, raped at 18, and after many splendid years in Florence under the protection of Duke Cosimo II Medici, she was exiled back to Rome and then Naples where she weathered scandal, solitude, and poverty).

On stage, Artemisia is also vengeful, but philosophical, and ultimately joyful. She sings of fate and destiny and, as she did so, I was moved, included, inspired, comforted.

For those who live in New York: There are two more performances: One on Saturday, May 19th at 7:30pm, on Sunday, May 20th, at 4pm and the last one on Sunday May 20 at 7:30pm. It’s at the Flea Theater (20 Thomas Street), a sparkling new, small jewel of a theater, very London-like, and located in Tribeca.

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