I was sitting at home on Sunday afternoon, wondering whether I should try to get out a FAPAzine this quarter, when Len Bailes phoned. "Would you like to see an amateur performance of "Trial By Jury" tonight? Tom Gilbert just phoned me that a church group in Pasadena is putting it on at 6 o'clock. Now I know it's only a church group so it probably won't be very good, but..." Neither Len nor I had ever seen "Trial By Jury" performed, and we weren't about to miss this opportunity to add it to our list of Gilbert and Sullivan operas seen, despite the daunting phrase "church group". Half an hour later, I picked Len up at UCLA, and we were off to Pasadena.
The production, which was at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, was a part of its "Family Night" program, and brought back memories to me of my days in the Boy Scouts, fifteen years ago, when I used to attend such planned programs with all of the other kids and all our parents, invariably taking place in some local church or meeting hall auditorium, with regularity. It was just turning 6 when we arrived, to find that the opera itself wouldn't start for another hour, a "church dessert" coming first. Neither of us were hungry, so we killed time by wandering around the streets and browsing through a record shop for about 40 minutes. We fortunately arrived back at the church just before the doors to the auditorium were opened; people poured in, and if we'd been five minutes later, we'd've been luck to get separate seats at the back of the hall. As it was, we arrived in front of the doors about two minutes before the opened, and we were among the first into the hall, grabbing seats in the third row front. We looked around in vain for Tom Gilbert (Len remembered that he hadn't said that he intended to come, he'd just wanted to notify us in case we wanted to see it), finally settling back to watch the opera by ourselves.
"Trial By Jury" was Gilbert & Sullivan's first big success, and is the shortest and simplest of their operas, consisting of only one act lasting about 45 minutes, with all the dialog sung. The plot is the one about a breach of promise suit, in which everybody acts most outrageously in court, and the Judge finally marries the pretty Plaintiff himself. Len and I both knew the plot -- I, vaguely; he, thoroughly -- and had heard the music, but it's the seeing of an opera that cements it in your mind and gives real meaning to what you've read about it. We were crossing our fingers that our first live view of "Trial" would be a pleasure to remember.
Optically, the performance wasn't very good. Acoustically, we were for the most part happily surprised. The "Fellowship Hall" in which the production took place was like most auditoriums in old churches: basically a long, empty hall in which chairs had been placed for the audience, facing an impromptu stage at the front. The set was roughly built and bare of any decoration, consisting only of the Judge's Bench at the back, the jury and visitor's boxes on the two sides, and the courtroom floor at stage front. Aside from a man playing the Judge, the performers were all juveniles; junior high or high school students from the look of them. The costuming was atrocious (except for the Plaintiff and bridesmaids); the occupants of the visitor's box looked particularly bad, wearing ill--fitting old clothes that were supposed to be "period" but which were so scruffy that it made them look like little children playing grownup in their parents' old castoffs. But -- everybody knew his part, the performance was vigorous, the singing was on--key and lively, no lines were muffed, and, with only two exceptions, everyone (including the chorus) enunciated so clearly that not a word was lost -- and one seldom gets this even in professional performances. (The two exceptions were the Counsel for the Plaintiff, who couldn't sing or act and had a Bronx accent besides, and the Plaintiff, whose only flaw was that she didn't enunciate clearly enough.) The musical accompaniment was provided by a pianist, who played spiritedly and without missing a note. The only acoustic flaw came when the visitors and jury were supposed to laugh scornfully at the Defendant; their voices weren't deep enough, and it sounded too much like giggling and tittering. (If this had been a children's production, it might have passed, but it was a jarring note in what was otherwise a good adult production -- except that most of the voices were high tenor, of course.) Since the music and the acting is more important than the scenery or costuming, we were satisfied and quite pleased that it hadn't looked pretty and sounded poorly.
The production got an extra cast member when a little girl, 4 or 5 years old, walked out into the aisle about a row ahead of us and tried to put on her own show along with the other performers. Fortunately, her parents managed to stop her from trying to sing along with the chorus. But she was fascinated by that funny man waving his arms about (the conductor), and she proceeded to wave her arms up and down in as close an imitation of his movements as she could manage. Whenever anybody on the stage would bow, she bowed back to the entire cast. She was a little nonplussed when all the bridesmaids burst out from behind the Judge's Bench and rushed to the front of the stage, directly in front of her, but she soon recovered her composure and began curtsying and waving to the jurors along with the rest of them. As long as she was quiet, I thought she was extremely cute. Len was pained and kept wishing she would go away.
Now that I've seen "Trial By Jury", that leaves only "The Sorcerer", "Iolanthe", "The Yeomen of the Guard", and "The Grand Duke" (and, of course, "Thespis") that I haven't seen at all, and I should be seeing "The Sorcerer" before too many months have passed. How long before I pick up the others, I wonder?
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It occurs to me that it's been quite a while since we've seen an issue of THE MENACE OF THE LASFS. I realize that both Bruce and Flieg have their hands full with other fanac, but it would be a shame if the LASFS' Minutes stopped being published for posterity. Has publication definitely been suspended, or is it on a Real Soon Now basis? If the Minutes aren't going to be printed anywhere else any more, why don't someone start publishing them in Apa L regularly, along with the Xeroxed Sign--up Sheet? They are certainly a lot more valuable than Dist'n handout records and a lot of other regular features like we've gotten from time to time just to give someone something to publish (like golf scores.)
I'm sorry that I don't have time to cut a couple more stencils this week, because there's a lot of commentable material in last week's Dist'n. For the first time in a long time, we've got a large number of new contributors, who I hope will become regular fixtures. I wish that I had more time to welcome John Ryan, Margaret Gemignani, Kip Morgan, and Stu Hobbit (and it's about time, David Pollard) with more than just this one line, but, alas, I don't. More next week, I hope.