BUFFALO - Classics are called classics because they have appealed to large numbers of people through a long progression of time periods.
One of contemporary culture's greatest failings is that we have allowed profit-based popular culture to convince a very large percentage of people - especially our young people - that if something is classical, that it is unfashionable, boring, unworthy of attention. A few years ago, some of us would have labeled that a Communist plot.
Halloween is a period of the year in which we ponder issues such as life beyond the grave, the influence upon us of other people, especially other people who don't intend good, and the like. By one of the great ironic twists of fate, many of the people who most scorn classics, are wild enthusiasts of Halloween and its genres of scary stories.
Actors Carolyn Baeumler and Vincent O’Neill portray all the characters in Henry James’ ‘‘The Turn of the Screw’’ at Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre, through Nov. 13.
And yet, one of the great classics of Halloween literature - and one of the scariest - is Henry James' novella ''The Turn of the Screw.''
Not only has the plot of the novella been adapted for the stage by numerous writers, and made into films and television episodes with the same title, the exact same plot has been made, using titles such as ''The Nightcomers,'' ''The Haunting of Helen Walker,'' ''Presence of Mind,'' ''The Others'' and ''In a Dark Place.''
Now through Nov. 13, you can see a very small, stripped-down version of the famed plot at Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre Company. I've recently attended a performance in the company's Andrews Theatre, at 625 Main St., in the downtown Buffalo Theater District. Let me tell you about the performance which I saw, and then share with you some information about Henry James and his classic tale of terror.
On Nov. 20, at 7 p.m., at Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, I hope the community will turn out to hear the Chautauqua Regional Youth Symphony Chamber concert.
The church is located at the intersection of Cherry Street and Sixth Street in downtown Jamestown, directly across from the James Prendergast Library.
The concert has no admission charge, although a freewill offering will be taken. It's an opportunity to hear beautiful music in a beautiful location, and to support our young people's talent and hard work at the same time.
I would have loved to have written a full column about the young musicians and their talents, to draw additional information to their program and their performance, and have been wracking my brain for an angle to write about them without repeating most of what I wrote in a previous column. I've come up short of a full page of additional information, but I still want to add my voice to those who are urging you to attend the concert.
There are three different orchestras under the umbrella organization of the Youth Symphony. One is primarily for young musicians, in the earliest grades, the second for middle school, and the third for those in high school, with a few musicians who are enrolled in Jamestown Community College, continuing to exercise their gifts, beyond high school.
All three are conducted by Bryan Eckenrode, well-known in this area as a cellist and artist on the bagpipes, in addition to his conducting skills. I have nothing but admiration for his musicianship and his gift as a leader - and as a leader of young people, which is not necessarily the same thing.
Friday, internationally celebrated pianist Roberto Plano comes to Jamestown to perform a concert for the Jamestown Concert Assn.
The concert will take place at St. Luke's Episcopal Church at 8 p.m. The church is located at the intersection of Main and Fourth streets in downtown Jamestown.
Tickets are available for purchase at the door. Season tickets get you into each of the organization's season of fine performances at a reduced price, and serve to support and preserve the entirely volunteer efforts of the friends and neighbors who form the organization's board.
While you're marking your calendar, JCA will also be presenting a concert of light, holiday music at the Reg Lenna Civic Center on Nov. 30. No doubt you've read about the much-lamented demise of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, which has performed in our community so often and so very well.
If you didn't know, all too often when arts organizations fall victim to economic pressures, supporters finally realize that they need to speak up and take action for what they value. The orchestra has been reorganized, under the name Symphony Syracuse, and they'll be back on Nov. 30.
If you're looking forward with some uncertainty about the coming holiday season, because Aunt Beulah is so hard to buy for and shopping is such an exhausting experience, Shea's Performing Arts Center in Buffalo is offering you an opportunity to find something really special as a gift for your loved ones, while supporting artists and crafts people from around our area, and getting yourself a pleasant outing, all at the same time.
Nov. 16, between 5:30 and 9 p.m., the beautiful interior of Shea's will be filled with booths, exhibiting the handiwork of those artists and crafts people. There will be complimentary food and a cash bar, to lubricate your efforts.
Admission is $10, if purchased in advance, or $15 at the door. Purchase tickets at Shea's box office, during regular business hours, or during intermissions at Shea's programs, or through Ticketmaster phone lines, computer sites, or in person, at their outlets. For more information, go by computer to www.sheas.org
Shea's is located at 650 Main St., in the traffic-free, downtown Theater District.
Speaking of Shea's in Buffalo, beginning Tuesday and running through Nov. 13, you can see the professional touring company of a Broadway hit show called ''The Million Dollar Quartet.''
The show memorializes a day in 1956, when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, all got together in the studios of Sun Records and held a jam session which was never equaled, before or since.
For additional information about the show, go to www.sheas.org.
Also at Shea's, tickets are now on sale for the coming performing by a professional touring company of the current Broadway hit show ''The Addams Family.''
The show is based on the characters from the cartoon drawings of Charles Addams who for more than half a century made one panel portrayals of the creepy family. The characters have gone on to be part of their own television program and a number of featured films. Join Gomez and Morticia, Uncle Fester, children Pugsley and Wednesday, their butler Lurch, and all your other favorite characters in a full musical production.
Purchase tickets at Shea's box office, or through Ticketmaster's phone service, computer page or local outlets.
Yesterday, Kavinoky opened their next production of the uproarious comedy play ''Gods of Carnage.'' The production will run through Dec. 4 at the company's venue, on Porter Avenue, near the intersection of Niagara Street, on the campus of D'Youville College.
The play was written by Yazmina Reza and deals with two ambitious and highly strung couples who get together to discuss a recent fist fight which has broken out on the playground, between their respective sons.
There are five performances per week: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and matinees at 4 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets are $36 for the general public, with discounts for senior citizens, students, active members of the military, and groups.
Phone 829-7668 or visit www.kavinokytheatre.com to order tickets or for more information.
The Baird Foundation has generously given a grant of up to $100,000 to the Buffalo Philharmonic. The grant provides a dollar-for-dollar match of any new donations to the orchestra, during its 2011-12 concert season.
Pledges must be paid by Aug. 31, 2012, to be matched by the grant. If you love the orchestra and have been wanting to support it, here is a chance to double your gift, through the foundation's generosity.
For additional information about the grant or to make a donation, phone Barbara McCulloch at 242-7820 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you certainly know by now, not long ago Erie County launched an economic attack on its cultural organizations, which has sent them scurrying for survival. The Irish Classical Theatre is one of the Buffalo area's finest presenting theaters, and one of the most dependable for quality productions.
''The Turn of the Screw'' is excellent quality literature, and upholds the company's claim to do the classics. However, they are doing an adaptation of the plot by Jeffrey Hatcher, which presents the plot with no scenery beyond a variety of platforms of different heights. It utilizes only two actors, one male and one female, and the actors produce the sound cues themselves. They each wear the same costume throughout the performance. We're talking theatre done cheap.
Many readers are certainly well familiar with the plot, but to make sure we're all on the same page, let me give a summary:
Writings from the 19th century are often set in old country houses, which are immensely large and located in very rural parts of the world, where there are few, if any, neighbors for the principals to approach for help, should they need it.
These old houses are often cold and damp, even in the summer, and are subject to creaking of floorboards and other mysterious sounds, and cold drafts. We're talking about a period before electricity, when the setting of the sun made everyone dependent on candles, firelight, and moonlight. These forms of lighting create deep and often ominous shadows and allow the imagination to wander as freely as they allow genuine horrors to wander.
The central character is a young woman, who has had a middle class upbringing, in the home of a cold and controlling father, who has left her no money to support herself after his death. Desperate to support herself, she has applied for a position as a governess. She is hired by a wealthy bachelor, who tells her that his brother has died, along with his wife, and left the bachelor as the only support of his two young children: Miles and Flora.
The bachelor feels responsible for the children's upbringing. He is willing to pay for what they need, but wants no personal contact and no emotional involvement with the children. He hires the young woman without much investigation into her suitability for the job, and sends her to his isolated country house, giving her total responsibility for the children. Indeed, he warns her not to contact him, for any reason.
The governess determines that she will raise and protect these children, at any cost, and she entertains fleeting thoughts of the novel ''Jane Eyre,'' in which a wealthy man falls in love with his children's governess and marries her, making her the lady of the manor.
The little girl is being cared for by Mrs. Grose, the bachelor's elderly housekeeper. Miles is away at boarding school, but is soon to arrive home for the summer.
When he arrives, it is with a letter from the headmaster of his school, demanding that he not return to the school, ever. The letter implies that the 10-year-old has done something terrible, but in true Victorian fashion, it never says what he has done. The governess dwells in her mind on what the boy might have done, on how wicked it must be to have inspired such a response from his headmaster, and what sinister influence might have caused him to do it.
The grounds of the old English manor house contain a small lake, beside which, someone had erected a tall tower, centuries earlier. The governess begins to see a young woman near the lake and on a small island in the water. The mysterious woman seems to appear and disappear, rather than to walk onto the scene in a normal fashion.
A handsome, red-haired young man soon begins to make similar appearances atop or nearby the tower. The governess describes the two figures to the elderly housekeeper, who reports that they seem to resemble the children's previous governess, a Miss Jessel, and a former servant in the house, named Peter Quint. More troubling is the fact that both people were believed to have engaged in an illicit love affair, and both suffered a violent death, shortly before the present governess was hired.
She gradually begins to picture herself in a life-and-death struggle with what she is certain are the ghosts of Jessel and Quint for the immortal souls of the children.
James' writing skillfully introduces other possible explanations for whatever has gone on. It might be a straight ghost story. James certainly wrote a number of those.
It might be that the children are playing one of those eternal games of ''get the governess'' which populate Victorian English writing, as in ''Mary Poppins.''
But especially strong, the author tantalizes us with the possibility that the ghosts are all in the crazed imagination of the governess. She has lived an emotionally and sexually deprived existence. She sees the former governess in or near a lake - the image of a body of water was identified by Sigmund Freud as a symbol of the feminine.
Peter Quint is seen on or near a tower, a symbol for masculine sexuality. Is the governess so obsessed with the fact that her predecessor had a handsome male lover, while she, herself, has never known a loving touch, that she has invented an atmosphere of horror which catches up herself and everyone near her, especially the young children?
The actors in the ICTC production do a superb job with what they're given to do. Carolyn Baeumler enables us to identify with the governess - to like her, even when we doubt her sanity.
Vincent O'Neill slips easily from playing the mysterious bachelor guardian to playing the 10-year-old Miles to playing the ancient housekeeper. He even becomes the occasional creaking floorboard or finger-nipping cold wind without ever our failing to recognize what he's doing.
The trouble is, of course, that the spare theater piece - it lasts only about 90 minutes - doesn't give us time to truly get into the reality of James' setting. We've hardly met this young woman, when she's interviewing with the bachelor. We hardly see her in the isolated country house, than Miles is sent home from school and the ghosts begin to appear.
Director Derek Campbell makes everything work, from moment to moment, but he doesn't have enough ''cloth'' to steer the production through the full, Jamesean garment.
The author relies on the governess's narrative, from a later date, to fill us in on events too important to be merely remembered, if they're going to give us a thrill. It's a bit like seeing the Grand Canyon through a knothole. If we already know the magnificence of the story, this little reminder can make it live again in our memories. If this version is all you'll see, it isn't enough.
Single tickets to ''The Turn of the Screw'' range in price from $34 to $42. Reserve them by phone at 853-4282 or by computer at www.irishclassicaltheatre.com.
Henry James was an American writer, often considered a major figure in the 19th century era of literary realism.
He was the son of a famed clergyman, Henry James Sr. His brother, William James was a revered philosopher and psychoanalyst.
James' best known works, in addition to ''Turn of the Screw'' include ''The Portrait of a Lady,'' ''The Wings of the Dove'' and ''The Ambassadors.''
He was best-known during his lifetime as a literary critic, but is now better known for his fiction.
James' gift was in presenting the narratives of his creations, through the eyes of an imperfect observer. Many writers tell you that Character X is a deceiver or that Character Y is a charming person and well to be trusted.
James' narrators frequently see only what a real person would see in the same circumstances, so they might or might not be deceived by other characters, or might misinterpret what has happened to them. The reader is left to wonder whether he should believe what he's being told, and to bring circumstances from his own life into play with the narratives.
Much of James's fiction involves Americans, coming into contact with Europeans for the first time, and confronting a circumstances in which things they grew up believing were unquestionably true, are now considered unquestionably untrue.
James would insist, especially in letters to his famous brother, that he remained celibate, all of his life, which might well explain the painful current of repressed sexuality which runs through much of his fiction, although biographers and critics of his writing cite passages from his letters to young admirers to explain a more active familiarity with the ways of the flesh.
The author died in 1916.