Review: 10th Anniversary PROTOTYPE Festival in NY Blasts Off with Du Yun's IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES

Monodrama Directed by Michael Joseph McQuilken with His Own Libretto, Features Blazing Performance by Nathan Gunn

By: Jan. 06, 2023
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Review: 10th Anniversary PROTOTYPE Festival in NY Blasts Off with Du Yun's IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES
Nathan Gunn.

There's more contemporary opera in New York these days than there used to be and I'll drink to that. But there's nothing that does it with the panache of The PROTOTYPE Festival, the brainchild of Beth Morrison Projects and HERE.

The Festival just opened for business again on the 5th, with the East Coast premiere of the Du Yun-Michael Joseph McQuilken IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, after some unplanned years off for Covid. It runs through the 15th, with a wide range of offerings.

Review: 10th Anniversary PROTOTYPE Festival in NY Blasts Off with Du Yun's IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES
Nathan Gunn in his man-cave.

Oh, sure, the Met just had Kevin Puts's THE HOURS and, a year ago, there was the Terence Blanchard-Kasi Lemmons FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES; next season starts with the modern Jake Heggie-Terrence McNally classic DEAD MAN WALKING (and promises three other new-ish pieces).

The off-again-on again New York City Opera and BAM always have an interesting new piece or two for those of us who don't believe opera ends with Puccini (okay, Strauss). Even Broadway is chiming in, with a new production of SWEENEY TODD, though it's getting more of the theatre rather than opera treatment. (If you want to travel a bit more, I'd rather be in Philadelphia, for its annual festival, for something like the Mazzoli-Vavrek BREAKING THE WAVES.)

Review: 10th Anniversary PROTOTYPE Festival in NY Blasts Off with Du Yun's IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES
TRADE/MARY MOTORHEAD double bill.

But there's something about going to a PROTOTYPE production--which run the fine line between edgy and inscrutable, in a variety of venues that calls for a special version of the Metrocard just to keep up.

An example? One needn't go farther than the opening of DAUGHTER'S EYES, written for and with baritone Gunn. Don't check your brains at the door for this one, either. The music by Du Yun--rich and cool, blaring and startling, performed by a small, edgy ensemble under Kamna Gupta--and the storyline will give you a workout, not to mention break your heart. (My only complaint: The amplification is sometimes overboard.)

Some seem to say it's about a modern look at modern masculinity while others might wonder if it's a comment on today's touchstone issue of abortion. Whichever the case, baritone Gunn comes out pistols blazing in his man-cave workshop, as he awaits the birth of his child who surely will suffer from catastrophic birth defects. He's figured out it's time to grow up and put away childish things--or not-so-childish, in the case of alcohol--and put on his big-boy pants.

Gunn has shown a lot of guts in his choice of material, whether by Du Yun or David Lang (THE LOSER), Mozart (ZAUBERFLOTE) or Andrew Lloyd Webber (upcoming SUNSET BOULEVARD at Kennedy Center).

Review: 10th Anniversary PROTOTYPE Festival in NY Blasts Off with Du Yun's IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES
THE ALL SING ("HERE LIES JOY") in Times Square.

I don't think he's ever let himself be so naked on stage as in this, going wherever Du Yun's breathtaking music and McQuilken's vigorous text demand--a journey to become the man his daughter would be proud of (knowing full well that she'll never have the opportunity to do so): an "honest reporter" who wants to be seen as worthy, keeping a journal of what he sees of his family's lives and not just being a handyman who can put together a crib.

Oh, sure, he knows his flaws, often getting by as "a charming boy," rather than put in the time to be something more. Now, he's sworn to support his wife and her needs and decisions, whether it means making a circuit to stores for her particular yens to quell her morning sickness or let his child be an organ donor.

Gunn's the real thing, the quintessential performer who lets himself be subsumed by the composer and librettist and his own elements to the painting coming to life in front of us: a kind of "Sunday in the Park with Gunn."

McQuilken's direction is smooth as it can be, whether Gunn is putting his hand through the ice as he imagines saving his daughter's life or the film footage that puts us up close to the singer as he works his magic in various acts in his workshop. His libretto works well in tandem with Du Yun's score as it does for sucking us into the journey of this wretched soul who's the center of the story.

What else is on the PROTOTYPE dance card? Look to the website to see what's happening where and when on the calendar but here's a short rundown:

• January 6 is the world premiere of MƆɹNɪŊ [MORNING//MOURNING] by composer/writer Gelsey Bell, exploring the legacy of an Earth devoid of humans.

• A world premiere, the O'Hallorans' double-bill, TRADE/MARY MOTORHEAD, opens on January 7. TRADE, the story of working-class Dublin, with a rent boy and his closeted client (Broadway's Marc Kudisch) both trapped in their own lives. MARY MOTORHEAD, portrait of a convicted murderer, pushed to the edge by circumstance, now finding the road back to herself.

• THE ALL SING ("HERE LIES JOY"), with a world premiere in Times Square on January 8, produced by PROTOTYPE in partnership with Times Square Arts. Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain; librettist and creative director Marc Bamuthi Joseph, with music directed by Damien Sneed and featured soloists Eve Gigliotti, Chauncey Packer, Morris Robinson, and Brandie Sutton.

• The world premiere of MARCHITA on January 12 by Silvana Estrada with music arranged by Roberto Verástegui, music direction by Laura Itandehui, choreography by Clara Pampyn, and the vocals of Ka'y Ha' Quartet.

• Also opening January 12 is NOTE TO A FRIEND by David Lang, directed by Yoshi Oida, and featuring Theo Beckmann, in a promotional partnership with PROTOTYPE, and co-produced by the Japan Society and Tokyo Bunka Kaikan.

• The animated opera UNDINE by Stefanie Janssen, Michaël Brijs, Sjaron Minailo & Richard van Kruysdijk, which can be streamed digitally through the run of the festival or experienced in person at a Live Screening. UNDINE is about a mermaid who is addicted to hard plastic, and a lonely wife and philosopher who become seduced by her.

THE PROTOTYPE FESTIVAL always keeps us guessing: What boundaries will they be pushing this time around? From the opening of IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES, there's a lot for the rest to live up to.



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