Thursday, February 29, 2024

Bravi to Reese

Reese Parish, right, looks on as at Marlene Fernandez and Keanon Kyles. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

     I've never begun observations about a performance by commenting on a particular actor's expression. But drama classes should teach the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile that Reese Parish deploys to open "The Matchbox Magic Flute," currently on stage at the Goodman Theatre. Or better, bottle it, so everyone can project that same state of benign grace. I won't say it was the highlight of the show — it's impossible to point to a single delight in director Mary Zimmerman's chocolate box of whimsical wonders — but it certainly set the tone for one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had at the theater in many a year.
     Or rather, the tone was set before the rich red curtain even went up, by the dear little stage, with its faux side boxes, trio of chandeliers, stars shining against a cerulean sky, and the quintet of musicians, in their Turkish mawlawi hats and Empire dresses, fussing before the fun begins. Then Parish comes out, as winged Spirit, delivering her wordless benediction of a smile, and seals the matter with periodic re-applications throughout the performance.
     "The Magic Flute" is the frothiest opera ever written, with Mozart's score among the most beloved music in the Western canon. Trimming it down to two hours, performed by 10 performers on a 15 by 20 foot stage condenses and amplifies the magic. For instance, Parish's character, Spirit, is traditionally played by three cherubic boys; let's just say Spirits II and III are not missed. I remember the Lyric Opera productions getting bogged down with all the stentorious Masonic hoo-haw in the second act, excess fat which Zimmerman deftly trims away, leaving the audience with just the lean highlights.  By making "The Magic Flute" smaller, Zimmerman enlarges it.
     I could rave more. Bill Rude's brings a handsome, Dudley Do-Right charm to Prince Tamino, Shawn Pfautsch is a hoot as birdcatcher Papageno. Emily Rohm's Queen of the Night nails her classic aria, a showcase I refer to as "The worst maternal advice ever" ("Here," she sings, in essence, "take this knife and kill your boyfriend or we're through.")
     Yes, in "The Matchbox Magic Flute" we're not quite sure why she's saying it — that part must have gotten cut — but nobody goes to operas for the plot anyway.  Honestly, I don't mean to re-review the performance — Kyle MacMillan captures it precisely in the Sun-Times, with "charming, zany, fun and abundantly imaginative."
     But "The Matchbox Magic Flute" buoyed my wife and me when we needed a boost. And the actor who is going to linger with me longest didn't get mentioned at all in the Sun-Times review, so I thought I'd do so here.  After the show, being of a generation that likes to put people in boxes, I was curious about where this particular actor belonged — is a bravo or a brava in order? — so immediately turned to the Profiles section in my Playbill and checked on Parish.  In the place where other cast members choose up sides with a "he/him" or a "she/her," this actor's ID reads "Reese Parish (The Spirit) is a Reese." How perfect is that? Very fitting, given that it's a role in which the DePaul senior, debuting at the Goodman, excels.

   The Magic Flute is on stage at the Goodman Theatre until March 24. You can order tickets here.


  1. Nice article. Sounds like you really enjoyed the performance. Just one tiny carp, and I know I sound like the grammar police. But ... "buoyed my wife and I" should really be "my wife and me". Just an oversight, I'm sure.

    1. I just flashed back to high school English when the I spilled my guts in essays and the teacher ignored the content and eviscerated my paper’s minor grammatical errors. It hurt - and hindered my love or writing. Great article Neil, followed by a reminder that some folks never learn that a thought can remain in your head without being expressed.

    2. Oh, I don't mind that. There are readers who ONLY point out grammatical mistakes, and never comment on the material itself. Honestly, I wish they'd confine themselves to birddogging the errors, and not then add commentary. Such as the above: "Just an oversight, I'm sure." Ya think? As opposed to ... making the mistake intentionally, for the fun of being corrected?

  2. There are no minor grammatical errors. Only minor parts of speech.

  3. My kindergarten teacher, the late Mrs. Bleeden, turned us on to this and a few others. I’m sure it wasn’t in the curriculum. I got really lucky when it came to teachers… I had some real dynamic instructors.

  4. Thanks for writing about this! I love me some Mary Zimmerman and would have been so disappointed to have missed it.

  5. The Goodman is a treasure-have seen many terrific plays there over the years. Wonderful piece today


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