Saturday, March 28, 2020

The voice of GPS: If only we could humanize it more (An Automotive/Theatrical Fantasy)

Adam Crowe and Lauren Briggeman
I don't know how many of you have had trouble with the GPS voice, but I have, and it's become a cryptic companion whose word is mum. I feel dependent on it when I'm going to a new place and need navigational help. If I'm traveling alone, it's an especially essential tool. But I have to hear it.

In my new car, I can only get it to work on the first step of the directions I've entered. Then it clams up, and I must steal glimpses  of the screen to see where I am.

Fortunately, we took Susan's car on a trip to Dallas to see our son Theodore about a month ago, in what now seems like another world. Her vehicle has a larger, mounted screen on the dash and presumably reliable voice support.

But in leaving the city from our hosts' home, we got turn-by-turn vocal directions that took us through urban-sprawl hell. We must have entered an instruction to avoid highways. We faced the prospect of driving a thousand miles back to Indianapolis on two-lane roads, with occasional four-lane relief.

Obviously, we had to override the original itinerary, and in the process we thoroughly confused GPS. Supposing we had now stipulated a speedier way home that would give us plenty of freeway time, we were corrected several times in a row by the GPS voice: "Proceed to the route."

You know the voice, perhaps: sturdy, self-possessed, emotionally neutral — a program designed to represent the objectivity of the ever-changing map on the screen. But after several times of being corrected, I was muttering: "I'm on the damn route!" And I was sure that the neutral tone of Ms. GPS had changed. On each repetition, there was something a little sharper about it, an unmistakable timbre of reproach, it seemed to me.

It's true, I still appreciate the voice's pronunciation of "route" to rhyme with "flute." My spoken language was shaped by formative years in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where "route" never rhymed with "out," as it does in the Midwest. In the pre-interstate era, the word was heard a lot from my driving parents, and always sounded like the start of "Root, root, root for the home team."  Besides, everyone knows the song "Route 66," written by a fellow Lancastrian, Bobby Troup. You don't get your kicks on ROUT 66, even in the Midwest.

But I digress. Shortly after returning home, my arts blog assigned me to cover "The Agitators"' at Phoenix Theatre and "The Cake" at Fonseca Theatre Company. The cast of both productions featured actors whose voices I've long admired. I don't like lists of favorites, but I will say that I've always relished the voices of Lauren Briggeman and Adam Crowe. Over the years in a number of roles, they are alike in my experience in displaying firm projection, good diction, and emotionally rich voices at the lower end of their gender ranges.

Neither early March production was the best I've ever seen these two actors in, but it didn't matter. The unwarranted "Proceed to the route" scolding still stung, so an idea jelled in my head. With the choice GPS offers of a male or female voice, why not have both? And why couldn't they be Crowe's or Briggeman's? They would be programmed of course to match what the GPS voice already gives me, like "In a quarter-mile, turn left at Lee Strasberg Parkway" (or whatever). But the added benefit would be an authoritative, low-register voice with a touch of human warmth, a gift for achieving instant rapport via the most straightforward, practical text — a rapport I already treasure in their onstage performances of more engaging words spoken in character.

Then, in addition to most of the time when my driving matches what GPS has
in mind for me, I would never hear "Proceed to the route" the same way again. It would be more supportive, dagnab it, without a hint of disdain. Or so I imagine it.

And if I deliberately chose to override it, in my mind's ear I could hear, right after I had ignored Lauren's or Adam's "Proceed to the route," something like "Oh, OK, I see what you're doing. That'll work. Safe travels!"

That's all I have to say on this odd subject in this difficult time of limited travel.

 Proceed to the route, everybody.

If the relaxation of COVID-19 guidelines gets real specific, freedom may promote love on the street where you live

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Dayna Stephens, a saxophonist with a personalized advance on mainstream

The Dayna Stephens Trio gives itself inviting room to live up to the title of its new CD. A cherished American word is summed up by that Lady in the Harbor. Her face and headgear are gently mocked in the cover art of "Liberty" (Contagious Music).

With astute colleagues Ben Street, bass, and Eric Harland, drums, the saxophonist ranges over a stimulating set of original compositions, each of them showing how expansive three musicians without the bedrock of a harmony instrument can be.

Dayna Stephens: Exploring wry eddies off the mainstream
The leader sometimes sounds like a man seeking direction but determined to find his own path. This is all to the good, because the quest turns out to be  well-founded. "Lost and Found" is a track that obviously sums up the journey, with the leader setting aside his usual tenor to take up the baritone.

Stephens' sure-footed phrasing, sometimes surprising in its odd balances, inevitably makes sense once the listener gets the feel of the contexts the trio is laying out. There are varied rhythmic patterns that manage to cohere in the cartoonishly titled "Kwooked Stweet," a contrafact on John Coltrane's "Straight Street."

With affectionate parody, in "Loosy Goosy" Stephens the composer sometimes toys with the 32-bar convention of American popular song. More common is for him to lead his trio in forms more personal and harder to pin down.

An example is "The Sound Goddess," which sounds like an essay masquerading as a narrative. Long saxophone phrases dominate the performance, yet Street and Harland always sound as if there's room for them in the foreground, too.

"Wil's Way" ends the infectious program (don't be spooked by the label name!) with a perky tribute to a friend of the bandleader. The account features a particularly witty Street solo, followed by fruitful exchanges between the ever-imaginative drummer and his bandmates.

The Dayna Stephens Trio indeed seems at liberty to do just about anything it wants, and bring it off. In this time of confinement, that's something to celebrate.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"Two Cigarettes in the Dark" glows in the tenor partnership of Keith Oxman and Houston Person

A shrewd one-tenor, two-tenor dynamic gets handsome display in a new Keith Oxman CD featuring veteran Houston Person. And there's the added variety of two juicy guest appearances by vocalist Annette Murrell.
Annette Murrell sings two songs on Keith Oxman CD.

"Two Cigarettes in the Dark" (Capri Records Ltd.) starts off by showcasing the saxophone dialogue with the evergreen Frank Loesser song "I've Never Been in Love Before."  At 84 when this recording was made in late 2018, Person contributes the wisdom of the ages, balancing Oxman's buttersmooth phrasing with a more pungent sound.

The partnership always sounds natural: The tenormen share space compatibly, and the way Person sets the tone for Murrell's sojourn through "Everything Happens to Me" speaks to his fruitful experience over many years with singer Etta Jones. Murrell spreads her wings in "Crazy He Calls Me" as well.

Houston Person feeds wisdom of the ages into Oxman quartet's mastery.
When the hornmen work at length together, as in tenor giant Hank Mobley's "Bossa for Baby," there are no blips or jerks along the way. Oxman's nicely floating solo, reminiscent of Stan Getz's landmark bossa nova splash into pop stardom, yields to a Person showcase featuring a brief, rare quotation ("Sunny"). When the tune comes back, Person displays his adeptness with brief fills between the leader's phrases.

On this track, Jeff Jenkins' deft, fluttery piano solo complements his boss' approach. Oxman typically sounds relaxed, and even when he imparts some intensity to his solos, he keeps them on a low simmer that suits his style. He inevitably sounds comfortable throughout his instrument's compass. The producer left in an apt remark of Person's at the end: "Yeah, that's just raggedy enough to be good." Precisely!

Oxman's originals are bracing and have a little bit of that appealing raggedyness to them as well. "Murphy's Law Impacts L.E.A.P.," a title with no doubt an interesting story behind it, has a consistent, conventional focus with some interesting turns to it. Paul Romaine's drum solo, concentrating on toms and cymbals, invigorates the peroration.

Jenkins contributed a tune, "Wind Chill," with an unforced boogaloo vibe that's meat and drink not just to guest star Person, but also suits the whole group. The pianist seems to have fun tweaking his own melody. Person is also in his element in Johnny Griffin's "Sweet Sucker," in which bassist Ken Walker takes his only solo, a comfortably grooving excursion that sets up a series of tenor exchanges before Person and Oxman ride through the outchorus in smart style.

This is a release that shows the continuing strength of imaginative mainstream jazz, and rewards close listening.

Come rain or come shine, we must all stay true to our loved ones as we constantly complain of COVID


Monday, March 9, 2020

APA presents Alessio Bax: 'Italian Inspirations' from a pre-COVID-19 peninsula

Alessio Bax conveyed "Italian Inspirations"
Substituting for the previously announced recitalist, Alessio Bax quickly whisked away any shadow of replacement status in a brilliant piano recital Sunday afternoon at Indiana Landmarks Center.

The third program in American Pianists Association's "Grand Encounters" series this season adhered to the theme "Italian Inspirations."  The recital was rooted in Italian musical sources or generated from the the legacy of two notable Italians, St. Francis and Dante.

A theme made famous by Arcangelo Corelli but not originating with him has nearly pan-European provenance. "La Folia," as applied after the model of the Italian baroque composer's violin piece of that title, was worked into a masterpiece for solo piano by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The result, Variations on a Theme of Corelli, brought Bax's recital up to intermission.

It was characteristic of Bax's playing that he used the sustaining pedal in masterly fashion. He had control over a variety of colors in the course of  the 20 variations. There was an evocation of bell-ringing dear to Rachmaninoff's muse and there were evanescent passages suggesting mist rising over the Russian steppes. A bounding "hunt" variation hinted at Schumann, but the idiom was clearly the Russian composer's own. A more familiar work, his piano-orchestra Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, was brought to mind in several places: There was even an adept lyrical manipulation of the theme, though its magic is far from the indelible beauty of the Rhapsody's 18th variation. Bax conjured every bit of it, however.

Both his limpid phrasing and the organization he brought to complex textures were hinted at in J.S. Bach's version of Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor. The second-movement theme had the lift of well-supported singing, with the left hand subordinate but never in danger of vanishing. Counterpoint in the Presto finale always displayed a clear outline.

Italian modernism, in the form of a set of miniatures by Luigi Dallaspiccola, opened the recital's second half. In Quaderno musicale di Annalibera, fragmentary and disjunctive melodies unfolded with unerring connectedness. Linked voices in different registers consistently cohered. Near the end, shading of tone color conveyed the painterly effect of chiaroscuro. The final movement, subduing some of the composition's rigorous profile on display earlier, was haunting and subdued.

Bax linked two programmatic Liszt works to bring the recital to a rousing conclusion. "St. Francis of Assisi's Sermon to the Birds"  offered a view of saintly absorption in nature's wonders. The delicate chittering and chirping at the start was soon underlaid with mid-range melodicism. Unsurprisingly, Bax showed his affinity for characterization of both winged and earthbound characters alike. The pulpit is more like a round table: birds and man seem more in colloquy, praising their Creator.

"Apres un lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata" is one of the Hungarian composer's major lengthy works. It focuses mainly on the story of the adulterous Francesca da Rimini in the Inferno portion of Dante's epic poem, "The Divine Comedy." There are episodes that bring in the work's other two parts as well, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Bax offered an interpretation that used lots of pedal, but as was already evident from his performance up to that point, he always knew what to subordinate and what to emphasize. Nothing was messy; there was no empty grandstanding. His articulation was so commanding that the most intense torrents of sound never came off blurry, even with the extra resonance he applied. Bax made the work's occasional silences stunning in emotional effect. As memorable as the recital had been before the Liszt diptych, it attained particular luster at the end.

Both his well-focused energy and his knack for exquisitely proportioned tone painting were confirmed by two encores: Brahms/Cziffra/Bax's Hungarian Dance no. 5 and Scriabin's Prelude for the Left Hand.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

In Fonseca Theatre Company's 'The Cake,' one of the fronts in today's culture wars is examined on a private battlefield

Della dreams of success with her cakes in "The Great American Bake-Off."
Two clashing aspects of American freedom receive scrutiny in "The Cake," a hard-wrought comedy by Bekah Brunstetter currently on the Fonseca Theatre Company stage. If your religious views incline you to reject homosexuality, you may not want your business to endorse its expression. If your identity cries out for free exercise, you are not likely to accept barriers placed in its way.

The show avoids the legal side of the struggle around gay marriage, famously sanctioned by the Supreme Court but subject to pushback from businesses catering to weddings when their owners object. Is religious freedom at stake, or simply the privilege of bigotry? More than that question is aired in "The Cake": Private struggles with identity, friendship, and down-home versus big-city values are woven into a tight fabric by the playwright. The cast negotiates the issues with speed and fervor under the direction of Jordan Flores Schwartz.

Della (Jean Arnold) is the proud proprietor of a thriving bakery in a North Carolina small town. She is an effervescent advocate for her craft and her cake mastery, with enough ambition to place quite a lot of weight upon her chances in culinary competition on TV. The suave on-air host, voiced by Dwuan Watson, commands respect and offers encouragement as well as correction and constant challenge to mere contestants. He's interactive to a fault. In sum, he is a kind of celebrity Jehovah, and Brunstetter uses the resemblance imaginatively as a creative prod.

We first see Della on a prideful talking jag, which we process as a soliloquy until the lights go up on Macy (Chandra Lynch), seated on the other side of the stage furiously taking notes for reasons unclear to both the audience and Della. It turns out Macy is doing some scouting of the business to assess how receptive Della may be to making a wedding cake for her and Jen (Kyrsten Lyster), a hometown girl who came out after self-exile to the big city, where she and an African-American Brooklyn sophisticate met and fell in love.

Della defends her traditional beliefs, manifested at the start as she puts finishing touches on a Noah's Ark cake with edible animal representation. But she is malleable and warily capable of honoring her deep-rooted friendship with Jen; she just can't find room in her schedule to bake the couple's wedding cake. Her susceptibility to having her mind changed contrasts with her husband, the rather stolid plumber, Tim (Adam O. Crowe). The heterosexual couple's  troubles with intimacy turn out to suggest a path forward, which allows "The Cake" to reach a positive resolution at the end of its uninterrupted 100-minute span.

I wish the playwright had resisted the sex-farce schemes Tim and Della set up to overcome their
Macy and Jen talk about plans for their big day.
difficulties; the slapstick is discordant. And she can't seem to hold back from presenting Della and Macy as polar opposites in all respects: The homespun baker reads the Bible, the prickly outsider reads Richard Dawkins. They are at fiercely opposite poles on acceptable foods and the culpability of the corporate food culture. Macy rattles off a litany of mainstream evils when it comes to what we eat for comfort and nurture. I think their apartness in all respects is overdrawn.

At least that leaves us in no doubt as to what Jen must overcome in normalizing a same-sex wedding in her conservative hometown. You get the feeling that Della would be the least of her problems in such an environment. Yet certainly not everything is smooth between the prospective brides. It would have been good to feel that the romantic ardor of Macy and Jen was as firm as the ferocity of their lovers' quarrels. Lynch and Lyster were at their best Saturday night when their characters were mad at each other. That they were also mad for each other was muted in comparison.

Some shortcomings of "The Cake" can be ascribed to the playwright. The director drew from the cast lively execution of all the roles, with the main performance flaw being an almost unrelieved rapidity. Nuance of pacing comes up now and then over the course of the action, but the norm is for lines to almost tread on each other's heels. Facial expressions are quick to register emotion, but the performance needed more breathing room.

The one place this seemed crucial was when Macy enters the shop just as Jen is breaking down emotionally over the gulf between her and Della. "Are you OK?" she asks immediately. Jen soon exits in distress, and Macy and Della get into a major airing of their differences, the bulk of hostility coming from Macy. It would have been great to have her suspicions register visually before she asks if her fiancee is OK. Taking in Jen's evident misery, then pausing to shoot a dagger-like look at Della before she utters a word, would have put a foundation under the torrential set-to that follows.

Bernie Killian's set design is quite serviceable. The plainness of the bakery feels right for a milieu out of which Della's large visions of prize-winning cookery can be launched. Through scrims on either side of a center door, bedroom scenes involving both couples can be played. Bryan Fonseca's lighting design precisely guides our views of each area. In keeping with the fast tempo of the dialogue, the production's technical aspects seemed to go smoothly.

"The Cake" affords a welcome opportunity to realize that beneath every major issue convulsing dialogue in the public square lies a host of personal difficulties that ordinary people have to work through, hoping that love and understanding will eventually triumph.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Everybody'll get the fever? Who knows? A warning in song, with historical/literary examples

IRT's 'Murder on the Orient Express' moves smartly on a snow-stalled track

Even people not enamored of detective fiction can get caught up in seat-of-the-pants sleuthing when reading or watching a carefully shaped who-dun-it. It's amateur night, and in the case of "Murder on the Orient Express," the payoff is likely to reward all guesses as to the real perpetrator of the crime.

I hope this doesn't violate spoiler etiquette, or to indicate that an unusual play-within-a-play device is involved — also, a train-stopping snowstorm in 1934 Yugoslavia as the Orient Express travels from Istanbul to Western Europe. The setting, exotic in time and place to today's audiences, is a kind of edge-to-edge red herring, as a cosmopolitan cast of characters is at length revealed to have crucial associations in common.

Andrew May as Agatha Christie's oddball detective hero, Hercule Poirot.
Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of the Agatha Christie mystery, as adapted by Ken Ludwig, rewards all hunches as it concludes. But still, everyone is likely to admire the process that allows Hercule Poirot's ratiocination to succeed. The Belgian detective, a fastidious professional prone to unpredictable flare-ups of temper and a characteristic gasping laugh, has amusing charisma and command to boot as played by Andrew May.

The Orient Express is legendary in the history of passenger railroading. Its luxurious appeal is recreated spectacularly for IRT's OneAmerica Mainstage by Robert M. Koharchik, with the action occurring across several compartments, each moving to a central position on a turntable as needed. The wintry world outside is brilliantly suggested through L.B. Morse's projections and Michael Klaers' lighting. Near the end, staging puts the suspects in isolated spots to illuminate how Poirot fits each piece into the homicide puzzle.

Devon Painter's costumes outfit all characters with an individualizing zest. We are prepared to believe anything about them even before a gangsterish American known as Samuel Ratchett (Ryan Artzberger) is found gruesomely murdered. Risa Brainin has directed the cast to inhabit every eccentricity and soul-defining trait peculiar to each character. Ken Ludwig's farcical gift is a carefully stirred-in sauce, held in check to allow the Christie flair for cat-and-mouse revelation of motive and secrecy to dominate the flavor.

The following assessments are offered on the basis on the show's opening night March 6. The train's
Countess Andrenyi, Poirot, and M. Bouc examine a clue, a stopped pocket watch.
excitable director, functioning as a sidekick for the detective, stands in for the surprise any of us may feel when jobs we are well-prepared to handle are overturned by stunning circumstances. Monsieur Bouc had the requisite brio and bubbling spontaneity in Gavin Lawrence's performance.

As Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham, Ryan Artzberger and Nastacia Guimont displayed the mutual protectiveness typical of couples pursuing a clandestine affair, with an overlay of Scottish volatility in the colonel. Katie Bradley brought mysterious pathos to the role of a medically trained Hungarian countess, and Dale Hodges embodied a more prickly kind of aristocrat — her costume and makeup both marvelous — as a Russian princess in exile, looking as if she could easily step into a more famous role, the rich old lady in Duerrenmatt's "The Visit," another Central European train drama. Her traveling companion, a nervous-Nellie missionary called Greta Ohlsson, had a suitably ingrained touch of caricature in Callie Johnson's performance.

Jennifer Joplin was alluring and brassy as the flamboyant and available American divorcee Helen
The detective has something to tell the entire group of suspects.
Hubbard; Aaron Kirby as  Ratchett's secretary Hector MacQueen vividly occupied the opposite end of the self-assurance spectrum. After his brief role as a doddering waiter in Istanbul, Rob Johansen moved readily into the nervous energy of the train's eager-to-please conductor, Michel.

"Murder on the Orient Express" is the sort of production you can breathe in as soon as you set your eyes on it. Subsequently, you will put aside your best guesses with difficulty, knowing the genre subjects the innocent viewer to tantalizing, misleading clues. In the meantime, you can feast upon characterizations in an elaborate bygone setting loaded with humor and, crucially, memories of the disturbing puzzle hinted at before any of the actors appears, the triggering event for all that follows, voiced from offstage. That will help you applaud the rare justice that emerges just before the final curtain. And there's so much else to enjoy along the way.

[Photos by Zach Rosing]

Friday, March 6, 2020

'The Agitators': Phoenix presents a history lesson that struggles to convey emotional meaning

Our ancestors who pressed for social change wielded a two-edged sword: Without social media to aid them or
A spellbound Susan B. Anthony recalls the musical passion of her fellow agitator, Frederick Douglass,
resist them, they depended on retail politics. That's all to the good, as we have been frequently reminded as our customary primary process awkwardly unfolds. 

Public lectures were a performance art in which personalities and issues fused in the public square. Activist intellectuals had to travel without conveniences and lecture without microphones. Their persuasive powers couldn't be developed and exercised without hospitable venues and outlets for the printed word. One feels that only people of extraordinary gifts of energy and focus could thus distinguish themselves and engage the public. An indignant Twitter presence was unavailable to them, and they couldn't rake in vast sums bloviating on cable TV.

That's the milieu in which Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony moved and excelled. Their sometimes combative friendship as advocates for progress over many 19th-century decades provides the material for "The Agitators," a two-act drama by Mat Smart now on Phoenix Theatre's Russell Stage.

As seen Thursday night as the production entered its second weekend, the play rests on the capable shoulders of just two actors: Jerome Beck and Lauren Briggeman. Directed by Mikael Burke, the actors have to negotiate a script heavily weighted with exposition and rhetoric. The human dimension is brought out in performance, but the mantle of educational theater is draped heavily over the action. 

It's both an opportunity and a burden, The two figures represent the American struggle to achieve equal justice under law, which continues today to vex the progress of women and black people. So Douglass and Anthony are necessarily symbolic figures, and the production honors that stature even as it reveals their personalities, their domestic arrangements and their pastimes.

By habit I resist "working up" my knowledge of historical figures who are given dramatic treatment. I think the playwright should have a certain amount of latitude to depart from strict adherence to biographical facts. The play's the thing, after all. Since seeing "The Agitators," I've simply sought to put a foundation under what the play gave me by drawing upon a few relevant scraps from my personal library.

So I confirmed that the agitation practiced by the Anti-Slavery Society with which both the white feminist and the black ex-slave were associated devolved into disagreements about mission. These came to a head after the Civil War, as "The Agitators" crisply sets before us, in the struggle to frame and pass the 15th Amendment. The right to vote was extended to ex-slaves and, by implication, all men of whatever race. Women continued to be excluded, so the price of agitation necessarily had to involve where to stake the claims of progress, and where to wait. 

Which was the fundamental block to achieving the American dream: white supremacy or male supremacy? The intensity of resolving such matters blazes forth as one scene succeeds the next in the second act. The denouement of this tension is subtly moving, and the final scene puts a blessing upon the unlikely friendship as Anthony speaks over Douglass' grave. As the lights fade, in the background the ghostly escaped slave and liberation spokesman embeds in the anti-slavery suffragist's memory his beloved violin-playing.
Frederick Douglass in 1870

Douglass had several other wrangles with white abolitionists that necessarily have to be left out of a two-character drama. I'm glad that some of his ferocity, which may still be applied to the persistence of racism today, is conspicuous in Beck's portrayal. I have a few quibbles with how he inhabits the role visually, however. I doubt the kind of haircut Beck's Douglass displays was possible before the electric razor. 

It's not that actors playing historical figures should be the spittin' image of the original, but Douglass' leonine mane is famous; so is the fact that his full head of hair had turned white by his early 50s. I think aging could have been signaled more authentically in this production, and not just by Douglass' needing to be helped up off the floor by Anthony at one point. 

Both actors conveyed a feeling for the passing years in their carriage, but I wonder if some noticeable whitening of Douglass' hair might have been possible in a brief offstage moment. I remember learning somewhere that Douglass is believed to have been the most photographed American of the 19th century. That puts an admittedly extra responsibility on producers when it comes to representing him onstage.

Speaking of representation, Inseung Park's set design is required to look like various settings, both rural and urban, both grand and modest. Lighting and sound design (Zak Hunter and Michael Lamirand, respectively) lend crucial assistance to the necessary illusion. But I was persistently puzzled by a large fluted column, conspicuously slanted, on one side of the stage. Obviously, its position challenged the realism of the story (as did the
Partially demolished building along US75 near downtown Dallas.
contemporary pop recordings heard when the stage was idle). Perhaps I was susceptible to it because I have just returned from a visit to the Texas metropolis where the "Leaning Tower of Dallas" has become a temporary sensation. But of course that phenomenon is accidental, and this show's leaning column is assuredly not.

I'm going to assume the Phoenix's tilted pillar was meant as symbolic of the classical verities, on which the American public was founded, .having acquired a precarious slant in the course of our nation's troubled 19th century. If that's the case, the way Beck and Briggeman played these two American heroes justified that gravity-challenged architectural detail in the set design.