September 13, 2006
Last year, the Hudson Reed Ensemble announced its presence in Aspen with a production of “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s play, set in 17th-century Salem but with clear designs on the McCarthyism of the 1950s. This week, the company stages another play with ties to Sen. Joe McCarthy, but the tone and intentions are far different. “Red Herring,” written by Michael Hollinger in 2002, is set in 1952. And McCarthy’s shadow is cast over the action; his daughter is a main character. But “Red Herring,” directed by John Goss, is a murder mystery, and presented largely as broad comedy. The central characters are a pair of detectives ripped out of the “Dick Tracy” comic strip, and the “pinko commies” who pop up are used for comic effect. There are also romance angles and nuclear espionage. Kent Reed, director of the ensemble, explains his fascination with the McCarthyism by noting he grew up in that era. The group gets away from the ’50s with their next production: Harold Pinter’s examination of an extra-marital affair, coming in December.
After a summer of crap, dreck, junk and worse (“Beerfest,” anyone? “Talladega Nights?”), the stuff aimed for adults of at least moderate intelligence is starting to trickle our way. Leading the way is “The Black Dahlia,” Brian De Palma’s drama based on the true story of the murder of ’40s starlet Elizabeth Short. James Ellroy, from whose novel the film is adapted, has a fine track record with L.A. crime mysteries; “L.A. Confidential” was also based on his writing. Oddly enough, “The Black Dahlia” follows on the heels of another film-world murder drama, “Hollywoodland,” about the mysterious death of George Reeves, a notable actor best known for portraying Superman on TV – and being found dead, under strange circumstances, in his Hollywood home. And deservedly hanging on in local theaters is “Little Miss Sunshine,” the deadly hilarious, sweet-tempered road movie that captures the tone of family dysfunction that is all too familiar.
It may not be a picturesque ski village, but Kingston, Jamaica, could well be added to the list of Aspen’s sister cities. Kingston and Aspen have at least two things in common, one of which is an abundance of, and fondness for, reggae music. Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival closed on a high note, as the crowd connected with the Hebraic stylings of reggae rapper Matisyahu. This week, Belly Up brings in a pair of top reggae stars. Israel Vibration plays Sunday, Sept. 17. The group’s singers, Skelly and Wiss, met as kids in a Jamaican polio rehab center; their disease hasn’t stopped them from making one of the lovelier sounds in reggae. Buju Banton, perhaps the most notable current Jamaican singer not named Marley, plays Thursday, Sept. 21. Banton excels at both the roots and dance-hall styles, as he will demonstrate in the months ahead. “Too Bad,” a dancehall CD, is set for release next month, and Banton already has a roots reggae follow-up, “Rasta Got Soul,” due next year. Also coming to Belly Up: Abijah, with Dub Station (Oct. 8), and the Jagermesiter Music Tour, with California reggae-ish band Slightly Stoopid, Oct. 26.