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Thunder in Guyana

The story of Janet Rosenberg is almost too fantastic to be believed. This nearly-50-year-long story of romance, politics and international intrigue is all too true, however, and is chronicled in the documentary film Thunder in Guyana, which will have its world premiere in Schenectady—new home to a growing community of Guyanese—at Proctor’s Theatre Saturday night.

It’s the love story of two idealistic young radicals, the Chicago-born Rosenberg and Cheddi Jagan, a native of what was then called British Guiana on South America’s northern coast. They met in Chicago in 1942, fell in love, married against the stiff opposition of their Jewish and Hindu families (Rosenberg’s grandmother had a stroke) and set off for the British colony to make a socialist revolution.

Folks who called themselves socialist were persona non grata during the Cold War. While Jagan and Rosenberg (and their multiracial People’s Progressive Party) became the most important political figures in Guyana—and were elected to power under the colonial system twice—they also faced arrest, repression and the active opposition of such world figures as Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy. (At one point, the British press tagged Rosenberg the “Second Eva Peron.”) A happy ending finally arrived with free and fair elections in the 1990s. (You read correctly, the 1990s.) First Jagan, and then Rosenberg served in turn as president of Guyana. (She was the first American-born woman to be elected president of a foreign country.)

The film was made by historian Suzanne Wasserman. Wasserman is the still-living Janet Rosenberg’s cousin; she’s also associate director of the Gotham Center for New York City History, and is considered an expert on the Lower East Side. (She’s a consultant on Russell Crowe’s latest project, a period film set in 1930s New York.) Thunder in Guyana is Wasserman’s first film.

Thunder in Guyana will be presented at Proctor’s Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady), Saturday (May 3) at 8 PM. There will be a 7 PM “Theatre Talk” session with the filmmaker. Wasserman will also lead a question-and-answer session with the audience following the screening. Admission to both the screening and the talk is free. For more information, call 346-6204.

Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur, who will read from his work at the Spencertown Academy on Sunday (May 5), has received a generous armful of awards and accolades over the course of his career. But as a young man, it was by no means certain that the future U.S. poet laureate and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner would be so lauded. In fact, the same country that later named him poet No. 1 busted him as a youthful serviceman. Wilbur was training to be an Army cryptographer when his interest in leftist organizations got him demoted to an infantry position—which, in turn, got him sent to the front lines in Italy, Germany and France during the second World War.

The experience, however, didn’t derail or embitter the poet. After returning to the States, he resumed his studies at Harvard, completing his M.A. in 1947, the year his first book was published. From there, Wilbur went on to Wellesley and then to Wesleyan, where he founded the Wesleyan University Press poetry series, which featured new work by such important poets as Robert Bly, James Wright and James Dickey. Interestingly, Wilbur’s connection to such strong voices of the postwar era (whose styles were often dynamic, unstable, shifting things) did nothing to alter his own idiom, which had been established early on: Wilbur was consistently praised in the ’50s for his ability to make sophisticated formal structures and exuberant diction an easy read. Wit and playfulness taken into account, Wilbur was still regarded an ambitious and accomplished poet. Randall Jarrell declared that Wilbur’s poem “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra” was “one of the most marvelously beautiful, one of the most nearly perfect poems an American has written.”

Richard Wilbur will read from his work and from the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay at the Spencertown Academy (Route 203, Spencertown) on Sunday (May 5). Tickets for the 2 PM reading are $12, $10 members, $8 students under 18. For more information, 392-3693.

Brian Patneaude Quartet

Area jazz saxophonist Brian Patneaude needed a band last spring for a weekly Sunday-night gig at Justin’s, and assembled a local crew of talented jazz musicians to make up the Brian Patneaude Quartet. The foursome quickly gained a following, and they amassed a slew of original songs for the live shows. Nine of those originals have finally made their way onto a CD, the recently released Variations, and Brian and his quartet will celebrate this fact with two shows at the Van Dyck tomorrow (Friday).

George Muscatello, who also hosts a weekly Monday-night jazz jam at downtown Albany’s Savannah’s, is the quartet’s guitar man. According to Patneaude, “George brings a unique sound and compositional approach to the quartet with his many musical influences ranging from free jazz to contemporary classical.” The band’s drummer, Danny Whelchel, relocated to our area from Lafayette, La., in ’97 and has provided rhythm for various area notables, including singer-songwriters Amy Abdou, Jeff Gonzales and Carl Landa, and also has worked with the popular horn bands Out of Control and the Refrigerators (Patneaude recently departed from his longstanding Refrigerators post to spend more time on his own pursuits). “Whelchel’s Southern music roots play an essential part in the sound of the quartet,” says Patneaude. Bassist Ryan Lukas, who is also a member of Tom Burre’s Bone Oil, is the band’s newest member. “At just 23 years of age,” says Patneaude, “Lukas brings a vibrant energy to the quartet on both acoustic and electric bass.”

The songs on Variations range from post-bop jazz to funk to 20th-century classical melodies, and Patneaude, Muscatello, Whelchel and Lukas all contribute songs. With the release of Variations behind him, Patneaude continues to keep up his rigorous gig schedule—performing and recording with Alex Torres and the Latin Kings as well as co-hosting, along with pianist Adrian Cohen, the popular Tuesday-night jazz jams at the Van Dyck—and the quartet have begun amassing material for their next release.

The Brian Patneaude Quartet will play two shows (7 and 9:30 PM) tomorrow (Friday, May 2) at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady). Tickets are $5 for each show. Call the club, 381-1111, for further information.

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