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Encores and Curtain Calls

Wonderfully, pathetically human

“Chaplin wasn’t the funniest, I wasn’t the funniest, this man was the funniest.”

— Classic silent film comedian, Buster Keaton,
speaking of Stan Laurel

Boys will be boys, which is why Laurel and Hardy will live as long as films endure: for these two seemingly fully fledged adults unfailingly turn out to be well-camoflaged children doing a maddening, hilarious charade of manhood.

At first glance, they seem impossibly dated ... “Who? Laurel and Hardy? You mean those two old-fashioned slapstick comics with the ill-fitting derbies? Sure, they’re alright for a few laughs, but they’re centuries behind the contemporary cutting edge. Give us the manic brilliance of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, please.”

With such fiendish cleverness as Carrey, Williams and Company on tap, why endure the primitive pyrotechnics of these two clown princes of both the silent and the sound eras, and sit through one of their scratch-ridden prints and sound tracks?

Because, like so many regions of life, art and entertainment in our day, sheer, mere humanity has been sorely abandoned in favor of flashy titillation and Laurel and Hardy are nothing if not wonderfully, pathetically human. Indeed, if we look closely enough, we’ll see signs of our and others’ foibles and follies in their seemingly all-too-obvious mischief.

Laugh, blush and titillate though you may from a Carrey-Williams routine, chances are great that, at its close, you will find yourself without any true fondness for your entertainers.

Vulnerability being very risky, it is understandable that performers avoid indulging it. Viper-like cleverness, even vindictiveness, are much safer commodities with which to amuse and shock audiences. And so we have, largely, a comedy scene rife with razor-sharp sarcasticians and intellectually voracious piranhas masquerading as comics, leaving little or no warmth or affection in their ferocious wake.

But skinny, squinting, slow-witted Stanley and obese, outraged, obstreperous Ollie we love.

Think of all the great clowns — Charlie Chaplin, Lou Costello, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen — and you’ll see exquisitely perceptive, highly talented professionals — keen observers of the human condition — who are, so to speak, willing to stick their respective professional necks out to slip on the proverbial banana peel time after time, all for the sake of a laugh or a tear, or, at the height of their art, both at one and the same moment.

Who else ever milked so much merriment out of inadvertently seating himself upon his partner’s now spiritless derby but the ever-innocent Stan Laurel? And who else in all cinematic history dared to violate the fourth wall and gaze, in desperation, directly through the camera, imploring us, out of sheer exasperation over his his partner’s bottomless obtuseness? Only the endlessly besieged Oliver Hardy.

Pothole Pictures impresario Fred deVecca rightly observes, “Laurel & Hardy were the most popular and critically acclaimed comedy duo of historic Hollywood and their slapstick routines, wonderful characterizations and wordplay hold up today. Sadly, their films are virtually unseen in theaters these days and this is a rare chance to catch them on a big screen with a crowd where the laughter should be infectious.”

The plot? It hardly matters: the age old-dissimulation between the inner bad-boy and the wife-cum-mother. The boys, with their bogus doctor’s complicity, contrive to fake a sea voyage to Honolulu for therapeutic purposes in order to actually attend a convocation — wine, women and song included — of their alma mater, the Sons of the Desert. Alas, unbeknownst to the boys, the alibi ship is reported to have sunk, plunging the wives into utmost grief. That is, until newsreel coverage of the Sons of the Desert parade, boys and all, hits the big screen.

You take it — if you have the rib-muscles for it — from there.

Pothole Pictures will be featuring Laurel and Hardy’s “Sons of the Desert,” bookended by two of their classic shorts, in its Laurel & Hardy Comedy Festival, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m. There will be live music on stage from 7 p.m. until curtain time: Co-op Jazz on Friday and ragtime pianist Dick Moulding on Saturday.

Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids 12 and under. Pre-purchased season tickets are also accepted.

The heated and handicapped accessible theater is located at 51 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls. For more information, call 413-625-2896.

PVS’ Diamond Jubilee

Get ready — in turn — for “Jubilation,” “Commemoration,” “Celebration,” “Exploration” and “Innovation,” the Pioneer Valley Symphony and PVS Chorus’ 75th year of concerts, as they continue bringing live, high-end classical music to the Pioneer Valley under the direction of Paul Phillips and choral conductor Jonathan Harvey. It’s fitting that this is the year the PVS will be spawning a youth orchestra at its seasonal Christmas concert, under the direction of Assistant Musical Director Jonathan Brennand.

In his fine feature on the PVS’ 75th anniversary, Recorder writer Richie Davis quoted the then-reigning Herald Tribune music critic and sometime-composer Virgil Thomson. “Rarely have I heard an amateur orchestral concert so glowing with musical life,” wrote Thomson, adding that any other community in America endeavoring to start an orchestra “would do well to observe the results, artistic and social, achieved by the Pioneer Valley Symphony Association.”

And it is, almost certainly, a far finer group today than the one that took Thomson’s fancy some three quarters of a century ago, in 1938, just as it has clearly come to harbor greater resonance and refinement than the ensemble I first encountered upon my entry into the valley some 40 years ago.

First up is “Jubilation,” Saturday, Oct. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Music in Northampton, which boasts a fitting “Jubilee” by Ron Nelson; a suite from “The Great Gatsby” by contemporary, 1938-born composer John Harbison; “An Artist’s Life” by Johann Strauss; and Saint-Saens’ 5th concerto for piano, titled “The Egyptian,’ with guest performer Geoffrey Burleson at the keyboard.

Happy 75th, PVS!

Gala Season opening concert, At the Academy of Music, Northampton, Saturday Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m. Adults, $18. Seniors, $15. Students/children, $5.

Season pass holders save 15 percent on these tickets. Prices do not include Academy of Music fees. Tickets can be purchased online at www.academyofmusictheatre.org, or by calling the Academy of Music Box Office at 413-584-9032.

Season passes include five concerts (the Oct. 19 concert not included). Adults, $85. Seniors (65 or over), $72. Students (with valid student ID)/children (18 or under), $25.

Single tickets, For all concerts except Oct. 19. Adults, $20. Seniors, $17. Students/children, $6.

Single tickets and season passes can be purchased online at pvsoc.org or by calling the office at 413-773-3664.

More information about soloists and programs is also available online at pvsoc.org.

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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