"El Cimarron" is one of those "oughta" events.
Like a Packer playoff game, going to the dentist or giving a homeless person a buck or two on a day of freezing temperatures.
Things you "oughta" do. People tell you about them all the time. And Viswa Subbaraman, the artistic director at Skylight Music Theatre, talked about how people ought to see "El Cimarron." In one video piece, he said the play would "change you forever."
I don’t know about changing me forever, but it’s probably as close as the next best choice for changing me forever.
"El Cimarron" is the stunning, unique and excruciatingly powerful story of Esteban Montejo, who was born a slave in Cuba, escaped to the woods, fought in the Cuban War of Independence from Spain and lived to be 113 years old before dying in 1973.
The tortured story of how Montejo’s life became the sparkling star for a book, a libretto and some of the most incredible music you’ve ever heard, is far too complicated for this review. So, let us just concentrate on the production, which opened Friday night and runs through January 12 at the Skylight.
A quartet of talented music professionals under the guidance of Subbaraman himself, who also takes a turn as an auxiliary percussionist, tackles a score by Hanz Werner Henze that will never be mistaken for "My Fair Lady" or "The Music Man." Michael Lorenz (percussion) Scott Metilcka playing a variety of flutes and piccolo and Nathan Wysock on guitar carry this story along on wings of some kind of musical angel.
Nobody sings along to this music, and nobody really dances to it, although a rhumba rhythm or two rears its head now and then.
This is music designed to do one thing: tell us a story as one of two characters on the stage.
The other character is Montejo himself, played by baritone Eric McKeever who has both a vocal and visual command of a stage that is stunning in both its complexity and its simplicity.
These two characters, the actor and the music, equally share in the telling of a story that is uncomfortable at times, thrilling at others and, in the end, an emotional ride full of joy, sorrow and passion.
The contributors to this production all carry their share of an incredibly elastic load, but special mention must be paid to Eugenia Arsenis, the stage director who breathes life into this story as a shot of helium fills a balloon.
She exudes confidence and passion as she explains her attraction and her clarity of vision for "El Cimarron." She has a special bond with this play. I can imagine dozens of directors being offered an opportunity to direct this piece, only to turn away and look for "Our Town."
Directing this play takes courage, grace and a deep desire to set free the flights of fancy that best tell this story. It is certain that this piece requires exquisite discipline, but that discipline without freedom would fall flat. This is about the story of a slave, but it is also about being free from convention when you tell a story.
The astounding thing about her gentle guidance of this production is how remarkably calm the evening is. She has taken the most uncomfortable and turned it into a warm blanket to snuggle in before a raging fire. The marriage of this music and this story needs to have a steady, soft and fearless hand at the tiller, and she brings all of that.
Subbaraman, who can still be called the new artistic director, has a background in classical music. He has shown with his program for this year, featuring everything from "Les Miserables" to "Hair," that he is well attuned to the intrinsic value of the big show.
With "El Cimarron" he has served notice that he is not going to march through this musical world with fear on his shoulder. This is a brave choice. It is not a play for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a gentle evening out, don’t bother with this.
But if you are brave enough to be challenged both intellectually and emotionally, if you are brave enough to face something new and unexpected, and if you are brave enough to wonder how in the world man could do some of these things to his brothers, then see this play.
It is, most clearly, something you all "oughta" do.
Information is available at http://www.skylightmusictheatre.org/
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published May 29, 2015
Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker give the University of Wisconsin two players in history who will go in the first round of the NBA draft. Both are projected to be picked in the middle of the first round, with Kaminsky just a little ahead of Dekker.
Published May 28, 2015
There's a proposal to make it a requirement for high school graduation for students to pass a 100 question civics test. The proposal is controversial but if it can help kids learn about the world in which they live, it's an idea worth exploring.
Published May 27, 2015
Odds against Wisconsin being national NCAA hoops champion are pretty strong according to a Las Vegas sports book. And the Packers pro shop has some exciting and unusual new offerings this year for Green Bay fans.
Published May 27, 2015
Milwaukee has a lot of spectator sports for a city its size, but that doesn't mean things couldn't be better. Here are five sports events that would add a lot to the landscape.
Published May 26, 2015
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has resurrected the Green Sheet after an absence of 30 years. It's a desperate cry that the paper has given up trying to lure younger people to read it.
Published May 26, 2015
Being a top flight athlete requires a lot of different stuff. But certain sports place a premium on certain skills or traits. This article matches up qualities of athletes with the sport where it matters most.
Published May 25, 2015
The Milwaukee area has something for every level of golfer, from the almost pros to the just getting started. And there is a range of prices for courses within an hour of the city.
Published May 23, 2015
Creating authentic pho, the Vietnamese dish that you can eat for any meal, is not easy, especially since to be real it has to contain tendon meat, which is chewier but adds flavor to the broth. Buddha Lounge on North Avenue, has a pho that is just like that served in Vietnam.
Published May 23, 2015
Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" is a fitting final production for Skylight Music Theatre this season. The production is absolutely magical from start to finish.
Published May 22, 2015
The Packers are one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl next year, but that doesn't mean they have a perfect team. As they get set to start their first OTA, here are the top three needs facing Coach Mike McCarthy