Glenn here to discuss the latest excursion to the live stage.
It can be easy to bemoan the fate that befalls many female filmmakers. Lord knows I have often found myself lamenting the post breakthrough careers of the likes of Patty Jenkins, Courtney Hunt and others. Those filmmakers for whom a great early work somehow doesn’t permit them the same carte blanche movie projects as male directors like, for example, Marc Webb who got The Amazing Spider-Man off the back of a slight, but popular romantic comedy whereas Kimberly Peirce won her star an Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry and yet it took nine years for a follow-up. Still, as frustrating as it must be to them and to moviegoers when (I assume) financing doesn’t come to them quite as quickly or as robustly as it might another, we thankfully live in a society that doesn’t mean they have to sit around idly letting their creative juices stop flowing. One of the benefits of the expanding TV universe, for instance, is a greater opportunity for female directors like Jodie Foster, an Emmy nominee for directing an episode of Orange is the New Black, and Jennifer Lynch, for whom Teen Wolf and Psych have allowed more opportunities than film ever has.
This is basically a far too long roundabout way of getting to Kimberly Reed, the director of the fantastic 2008 documentary Prodigal Sons. That film’s autobiographical nature wherein Reed documented her small town high school reunion having since transitioned only to then be simultaneously confronted by the realization that her adopted brother is the biological grandson of Hollywood royalty was perhaps suggesting that film wasn’t always the direction she wanted to take her career. Yet it was an exceptionally good movie, and one that deserved to breed a wider voice for Reed and issues of transgender (six years later and it has finally reached the mainstream). For what it’s worth, I only cottoned on to to Prodigal Sons after having read about on The Film Experience.
While I am unaware of what Reed has been doing in the intervening years, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she was one of the names behind As One, an intimate chamber opera that played this past weekend at BAM in Brooklyn. Many artists will find any means necessary to tell the stories that are inside them and whether Reed had a hard go of it getting a second film off the ground or not, the emergence of her point of view in any creative outlet is something to cherish.
While I am not as knowledgeable about opera as I wish I was, I was still greatly pleased by As One. Its minimalist staging consists of a quartet in the middle of a near-empty stage, two chairs on either side and a patchwork of white sheets on the back wall onto which an evolving filmed backdrop (directed by Reed) unfolds. Reed co-wrote the opera’s libretto with Mark Campbell with music by Laura Kaminski and the 80-minute show features many beautiful arias. Much closer to a modern musical than opera of old, the music is divided into what sound like very clearly earmarked songs that performers Kelly Markgraf (baritone) and Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano) mine for emotional power. “To Know” takes the experience of discovering the word ‘transgender’ in a library book for the first time to unexpectedly lush places that most people who have at one point been considered as "not normal" will identify with, while John Donne’s poem “No Man is an Island” forms the surprising backbone to an aria about defiance and loneliness.
The casting of a male and a female actor to portray Hannah, a character clearly based off of Kimberly Reed’s experiences, is a smart one as it allows for the struggle of identity to play out in a way that even those unfamiliar with the experiences of gender transitioning should find illuminating. I had never seen an opera, or even any musical stage production, with these themes so I found As One to be a unique and wonderful one even if as a film some might balk at its lack of subtlety around the issues of LGBT violence and coming out. Let's face it, opera ain't subtle. With a dash of comical whimsy (the quartet of musicians at the heart of the stage are involved in some surprising ways; “Sex ed” uses old educational film stock for its backdrop) and a refreshingly openness to its complicated subject matter, As One is a welcome return for Reed. Maybe this surge of creativity will spur on another cinematic venture sooner rather than later.
Did you see Prodigal Sons and hope for the return of Kimberly Reed?