Best Bets: 'Merchant of Venice' opens this weekend

Posted: Thursday, August 01, 2002

Shakespeare, hot old-time music, original songs and the masked dances of entropy take the stages in Juneau this week.

"The Merchant of Venice," and "Entropic Discombobulation"open this weekend and promise to be highly entertaining. The two productions are performances by students in Perseverance Theatre's STAR program, dedicated students who are serious about theater.

The two stars of the shows are behind the scenes, Roblin Davis and Nancy Buttenheim. Both are gifted teachers with outstanding abilities to get the most from young actors. Buttenheim, a guest instructor from New England, specializes in teaching Shakespeare to kids and she's very good.

Two years ago Buttenheim produced a remarkable staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Perseverance, and last year she and the STAR actors did "The Tempest." Many of the same actors are back, building on their skills, digging into the text, the meaning of the text and exploring the larger themes and ideas.

"Merchant" will be performed at 7 p.m. Aug. 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8, with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Aug. 10.

Roblin Davis directed and helped the students to create "Entropic Discombobulation," a physical theater piece that uses movement, music and mask work all around the general theme of entropy. Students have scripted small scenes, built masks and choreographed dance. They've incorporated burkhas, the movements of Sufi Dervishes and the principles of thermodynamics into the production.

"Entropic" opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, and will have matinees at 2 p.m. Aug. 3 and 4, and additional evening shows Aug. 7, 9 and 10.

String Band 213 takes the stage Friday and Saturday nights at the Alaskan Bar. The band features a solid lineup of talented musicians including Danny Constanstine and Ray Garrity on fiddles, Bobo Bell on clawhammer banjo, Nicole Lantz on bass, John Hartle on mandolin and Jack Fontanella on guitar.

It's a treat to have these folks together in Juneau and playing music. Bell lives in Fairbanks and fishes out of Elfin Cove in the summer, Constanstine lives in Seattle and Garrity lives in Homer.

"We've all been playing music for eons together," said Fontanella. "Most of the group goes back to Fairbanks in the 1970s and 1980s. John and Danny went to high school together in New York, I think. They go back a long ways."

The band will play old-time music. Although this driving traditional American dance music is typically instrumental String Band 213 plans to have plenty of singing and harmonizing.

"It's an old-time base with a little bit of Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan thrown in for extra measure," Fontanella said.

The band takes its name from Room 213 at the Alaskan Hotel, a room that held court to ongoing old-time jam sessions for most of the duration of the Alaska Folk Festival earlier this year.

Fontanella, who has played guitar in a number of Juneau bands including the Cajun group Port Du Norde Playboys, met Constanstine in the mid-1970s in Fairbanks.

"Danny had a band, the Sidewinders, up in Fairbanks. When I first met those guys they influenced me a lot, especially their record collections," he said. "Fairbanks was a hotbed of acoustic music. Danny was also playing rock 'n' roll, but he always had old-time roots."

Constanstine moved to Juneau in the early 1980s and he and Hartle played in Danny and the C-Notes, a popular Juneau rock band throughout the 1980s.

Songwriter Michael Maas will be featured in a concert Friday night, beginning at 8 p.m. at the Back Room at the Silverbow.

Maas, 27, grew up in Juneau in a musical family and has been playing piano most of his life. He's enlisted bassist Lincoln Farabee and drummer Tom Meyer as accompanists, cohorts from Maas' days as pianist with the Thunder Mountain Big Band.

The concert will highlight Maas' original music, songs from his new CD "Speechless Again." Maas describes his music as, "Cheesy but intelligent pop," and I'd give him more credit than that. He writes catchy, strong melodies and puts together deliberate, tight arrangements that keep your ear hooked. His lyrics are engaging and clever and he's good with language and the turn of a phrase.

Virtually every song is about love - love lost, found, deserved and yearned for, all commenting on the quirks that make the subject interesting.

Maas played all the instruments on the CD, multi-tracking the parts with lots of well-used processing and effects, so it's tough to predict what a live performance will be like. His love of pop music has inspired him to sing above his range, which thins his voice out, but it's a forgivable vice given that he's written such nice parts. His piano playing is great. I'm looking forward to seeing the "debut" of this talented songwriter and musician.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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