The Signal Tribune newspaper

Filed under Culture

Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

Ensemble+CalRep%2FCSULB+cast+in+Long+Beach+Opera+and+CalRep%E2%80%99s+In+the+Penal+Colony
Back to Article
Back to Article

Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

Ensemble CalRep/CSULB cast in Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

Ensemble CalRep/CSULB cast in Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff

Ensemble CalRep/CSULB cast in Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff

Ensemble CalRep/CSULB cast in Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






In their first collaborative effort, Long Beach Opera (LBO) and CalRep present In the Penal Colony, a Philip Glass opera, through this weekend at the Studio Theatre of the California State University Long Beach (CSULB) campus.

A macabre tale based on a 1919 Franz Kafka story, with a libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer, In the Penal Colony tells of an observer (tenor Doug Jones) visiting a prison in which a machine inscribes an inmate’s sentence directly onto his skin with needles for over 12 hours until he dies.

A rigidly principled officer (baritone Zeffin Quinn Hollis) tells the visitor that each prisoner tortured this way achieves a state of enlightenment shortly before his death.

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
Doug Jones (the Visitor, center) and ensemble CalRep/CSULB cast in Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

The visitor and officer sing in haunting minor key about the degraded nature of prisoners and the machine– or “the apparatus,” with which the officer is clearly enamored– accompanied by a five-person string orchestra perched above the stage playing Glass’s rhythmic music, conducted by LBO artistic director Andreas Mitisek.

CalRep adds a diverse and dynamic ensemble cast of eight prisoners and a guard to the original opera, composed of highly emotive CSULB students. The prisoners– male and female– interject statements over the music that were compiled and composed by playwright Juliette Carrillo from interviews with CSULB’s Rising Scholars community who’ve been incarcerated or have family members who served time.

Those statements– about how cold prison is, how they are just a last name and number, how the prison system is based on profit, how they feel alone and realize freedom means being able to think for themselves– add real-world weight to what the visitor and officer intone about the machine and justice.

CalRep’s contribution to the performance is powerful. Its significance is emphasized in the playbill and on stage before the performance as we are shown staggering statistics about U.S. prison populations that we can’t ignore, such as that total incarcerations currently amount to 2.4 million, having grown 500 percent in the last 30 years, primarily due to drug offenses.

Director Jeff Janisheski, also CalRep’s artistic director, describes the U.S. prison system as a modern form of slavery that perpetuates racism and violence.

“The goal is to listen to the voices that are marginalized, stigmatized and silenced,” he notes of the production.

During the performance, the prisoners’ chorus of voices punctuates Glass’s steady music with anger and sadness, creating a dissonance rather like how the visitor (and the audience) feels about the torture machine– we know about it and cringe but can’t object to it, thus implicating us in the prisoners’ pain.

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
The ensemble CalRep/CSULB cast in Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony

Words and images creatively projected onto the backdrop of a glassed-in prison allow us to see who is inside and who is outside, emphasizing the power disparity between the prisoners and their keepers.

Toward the end, the tables turn on the officer, leaving the visitor and us unscathed, though marked nonetheless as we see the machine’s gruesome effects when it stops working in the theoretically elegant way it was designed.

The CSULB student performers are uniformly excellent in their expression, not just vocally but physically through their visible emotional immersion. Together with the two equally emotive operatic singers Hollis and Jones, this creative collaboration is a deeply affecting highlight of LBO’s current season’s theme, #Justice.

In the Penal Colony continues through May 4, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm. Visit CalRep.org for tickets or call CalRep’s box office at (562) 985-5526. For tickets to LBO’s free community conversations on justice, or to purchase tickets for its upcoming productions, visit LongBeachOpera.org.

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Left
Navigate Right
Serving Bixby Knolls, California Heights, Los Cerritos, Wrigley and Signal Hill
Long Beach Opera and CalRep’s In the Penal Colony