Monday, September 29, 2014

San Diego Union-Tribune: "Review: With time, ‘Joplin’s New Rag’ will catch on"

Robert Barry Fleming in Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company's "Scott Joplin's New Rag." CREDIT: Daren Scott

Robert Barry Fleming in Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company's "Scott Joplin's New Rag." CREDIT: Daren Scott

Scott Joplin (c.1867-1917) was an African American Composer and Pianist of Ragtime and Classical Music who wrote three operas and is featured at 

The San Diego Union-Tribune

World premiere play with music examines tortured life of ragtime composer Scott Joplin

By Pam Kragen  Sept. 27, 2014

The history of music is littered with tortured artists, and one of the least-explored stories is that of ragtime innovator Scott Joplin.

The turn-of-the-century Texarkana composer’s life is creatively examined by playwright/actor Robert Barry Fleming in his world premiere one-man show “Scott Joplin’s New Rag,” which opened Friday at 10th Avenue Theatre downtown. Produced by Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, the “fierce tragedy in one act” is thoughtful, ambitious and well-designed, but it felt seriously under-rehearsed on opening night.

Hundreds of actors tour the globe with solo “trunk shows” where they play a famous figure in an autobiographical drama. Like other shows, Fleming’s “New Rag” tell Joplin’s life story, but in an unconventional way that makes it a more intriguing theatrical experience. Here, the audience meets Joplin in the last stages of syphilis-related dementia, and the flashbacks to his adolescent piano lessons, active composing years and many career setbacks are seen through the distorted and often-unsettling lens of paranoia, anxiety and senility.

Fleming plays multiple roles, including Joplin’s parents (his father warned him not to trust white men, which in many cases proved sound advice), his childhood piano teacher Julius Weiss, his business partner John Strong and a chorus of music purists and racists who abhorred the black roots of his syncopated rhythms. Although Joplin made the music form mainstream with his million-selling “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899, his efforts to earn critical respect and advance the form with operas like “Treemonisha” were failures. In 1917, the 49-year-old Joplin died penniless in a New York mental hospital.            

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