Patience & Sarah at Danny Kaye Theater
Paula Kimper's Folktale of Love Come True
By: Susan Hall - May 14, 2019
Patience & Sarah was one of the first same sex love stories produced in the United States. It was radical subject matter in the 20th century. It hardly seems daring today, as Brokeback Mountain has stormed opera houses and a transgender work, As One, will have a New York premiere later this month.
Mounted by the Hunter Opera Theater in association with American Opera Projects, Patience & Sarah captures the feel of early 19th century New England in the projected backgrounds designed in the style of Mary Ann Willson, the artist whose character of Patience is based on. The watercolors may be primitive, but they are also full of color and evoke the changes of seasons and the rough-hewn life of the period.
Susan Gonzalez directs with a perfect sense of pacing. Gestures are frozen at key moments to arrest our attention. The beat of Sarah chopping with her ax often gives a key to her mood. David Fulmer conducted the Talea Ensemble to enhance the music and support the singers.
Boston marriages was the euphemistic term often used when two women lived together life long. This couple is quite different from the usual meeting of social equals. Patience comes from a staid and proper New England family. Sarah is from a more raw and undeveloped family. Harsh hits from father to daughter may have typified that relationship, and drive Sarah out into the wilderness.
Kimper composes to reflect the different backgrounds from which the coupling emerged. She also weaves in folk tunes of the period and church music. While the music is not as daring as many new operas composed since 2000, it has a lovely lilt to the line and gives great pleasure as sung by Kurie Kiyohara and Carol Szwei in the principal roles. There is no question of the love that is shared between the two women.
The arc of the story begins with the women's meeting and the instant attraction that they feel. Sarah leaves her abusive home in Act II and meets up with a man who has left his wife in search of love with a boy. Sarah is dressed in customary male attire, and as long as the two are friends the relationship works and both 'men' can survive. When Pastor Peel tries to seduce Sarah disguised as 'Sam' she is appalled and declares herself woman. The relationship ends.
Back together in their home town, they re-unite and with the blessing of their families, leave to become pioneers in the West and in new-found lesbian love. The production was perfectly achieved and highly satisfying.