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Suzanne Vega

When Suzanne Vega arrived on the scene in the mid-’80s, it was immediately obvious that she was different. Yes, Vega had a guitar, and yes, sang “folk music,” but she dressed in black and had a real pop sensibility. Her cool delivery often belied the deeply emotional content of her songs. In the intervening years, she proved her durability with a series of albums that saw her songs bent and stretched into a variety of styles, but never overpowered by the arrangements.

Oh, and she’s terrific in concert. Her last more-or-less local appearance, at MASS MoCA, was one of the best shows of the last few years.

Vega will perform Monday at what will be a bittersweet occasion: the last Second Wind Productions summer concert in Washington Park. After a decade-plus of bringing a dazzling variety of artists to the Lakehouse stage, Mona Golub is calling it quits. (Though she will still book shows for Schenectady’s Central Park, lucky them.) So, a tip of the hat to Mona for making summer fun all these years.

Suzanne Vega will perform Monday (Aug. 16) at 7:30 PM at the Washington Park Lakehouse (Albany). Melissa Ferrick will open. Admission is free. For more information, call (866) 333-8191.

Barnum

In terms of raw star-making audacity, Simon Cowell is a two-bit amateur. After all, Cowell works with people possessing obviously marketable talents to begin with. The whole process is designed to weed out the risk. Where’s the fun, the challenge in that? Now, let’s talk about the 25-inch-tall man and his 32-inch-tall wife; let’s talk about an elephant so large the national agency charged with its care is fearful for the public; let’s talk conjoined twins, shall we? Let’s talk P.T. Barnum.

Phineas Taylor Barnum, the 19th-century entertainment entrepreneur, is still widely regarded as one of the great promoters of all time. His skills at public relations, his ability to work both a crowd and the press, and his tireless energy in making a buck off a spectacle has earned him a rep that is amazingly persistent, if not always spot-on accurate historically (Barnum, for example, did not say, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” That avaricious sentiment was in fact uttered by a competitor of Barnum’s); but the great success attained by Barnum in the marketing of such attractions as the diminuitive Tom Thumb and his wife, and Jumbo the Elephant, and the original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng, and his creation with James Bailey of the circus known as the Greatest Show on Earth, means that Barnum is far more than a historical footnote. In some ways, for better or for worse, Barnum helped establish the template for modern advertising. But, don’t worry your pretty little head about all that history; the good news is that Barnum’s life has inspired more than just Madison Avenue hucksters: Tonight (Thursday), Mac-Haydn Theatre begins its run of the award- winning musical based loosely on the life of the superlative showman, Barnum.

Barnum begins tonight (Thursday, Aug. 12), at Mac-Haydn Theatre (1925 Route 203, Chatham). Tickets for the performances are $21.90-$22.90 evenings, $20.90 matinees. For showtimes or more information, call 392-9292.

Nosey Parker

There are many paths to becoming a successful filmmaker: For example, there’s video-store geek, film-school nerd or MTV wunderkind. But Harvard-grad-turned-sheep-farmer?

John O’Brien, who made a splash with the 1996 comedy Man With a Plan, will tear himself away from his lambs long enough to bring his latest made-in-Vermont picture, Nosey Parker, to the Spectrum 8 Theatres tomorrow (Friday) for a special weeklong engagement. Man With a Plan starred garrulous octogenarian farmer Fred Tuttle; in a bit of brilliant publicity for the film, Tuttle ran against (and lost to) U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, thereby gaining his Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Tuttle has a cameo in this film, but Nosey stars another of O’Brien’s neighbors, retired dairy farmer George Lyford. On screen, Lyford is just as vivid a personality as Tuttle, but he expresses himself in a charmingly dry, laid-back, Will Rogers style.

In Nosey Parker, 80-something George (Lyford, pictured right) goes to work as handyman for 30-something Natalie (Natalie Picoe, pictured left) and her 50-something psychiatrist husband. Natalie and hubby deserted suburban Connecticut for bucolic, tiny Tunbridge, Vt., building a grotesque “trophy house” that Natalie soon finds lonely and depressing. With her spouse busy head-shrinking, Natalie pals around with George: she enjoys his corny, funny jokes, and finds a friend who makes her feel at home. And they have something in common: They’re both “Nosey Parkers,” or busybodies.

Reached by telephone, O’Brien explains that “both on and off camera, they were really—they enjoyed each other a lot, so they didn’t have to fake any of that friendship. They definitely became real friends, what you see there was authentic.”

Paired with this gentle comedy is sharper-edged culture-clash humor, as expressed by genuine, non-actor, native Vermonters aghast at the spendthrift ways of the newcomers, and short-term residents who view shorter-term residents like Natalie with smug yuppie disdain. The amateurs have a zest that actors couldn’t capture. And this dialogue is guaranteed true-to-life: “All those things [they say] I’d heard from various neighbors,” says O’Brien.

The satisfying part, notes O’Brien, is that “both sides actually like the film, too.” He explains: “I’ve had old-time Vermonters come up and say that ‘George reminds me of my father,’ and new Vermonters say ‘I had a guy like George in my life, just like Natalie did.’ ”

The spectacular fall foliage is captured in all its radiance on film—no digital video here.

“The (16mm) blow-up is really beautiful on screen,” says O’Brien. Though, he notes, that while most of the film’s story scenes were shot in 1997, he had to wait out a “couple of dull falls” to get all the scenic beauty.

O’Brien’s next project, scheduled to begin shooting in a month, is “a comedy about sustainability—green issues.” A group of high school students try to turn one small Vermont town into a completely sustainable community. They “fail miserably,” O’Brien laughs. “That’s where the comedy is.”

There’s one final question that can’t be avoided: Does all this movie business interfere with the farming?

“It does, yeah,” O’Brien chuckles.

“The coyotes have been killing my lambs right and left this summer. It doesn’t really seem to matter whether I’m there or whether I’m away, though,” he sighs.

Nosey Parker will be shown daily at the Spectrum 8 Theatres (290 Delaware Ave., Albany) beginning tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 13) through Thursday (Aug. 19). Director John O’Brien will be at the 6:40 and 9:30 PM shows on Friday for an audience Q&A. For more information, call 449-8995.

—Shawn Stone


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