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Sea, sails, and jazz; 'Midsummer Night's Dream' under the stars

There's always a healthy tug of war between the music and the scenery at the the Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I. (now sponsored by the Japanese electronics company JVC). The mise en scene itself threatens constantly to take center stage , as wind, sun, sails, sea, and all the polymorphous mass of humanity vie for one's attention.

For too much of the afternoon on Saturday, the scenery won out over the music.

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This is only partly the fault of the artists on hand. It takes a pretty magnetic talent - like Ray Charles, who had his inimitable way with old standards at the end of the day - to hold that open-air amphitheater. But it takes a real genius to fill the total ether with musicmaking that moves your heart, even while it engages your mind.

In a very real sense, then, the actual musicmaking this year didn't start until Dizzy Gillespie showed on the scene, bringing in tow the prodigious talents of James Moody (tenor sax and flute), Ron Carter (bass), Louie Bellson (drums), and Walter Davis Jr. (piano).

That's not to fault Flora Purim and Airto, who filled their time with a happy free-for-all kind of music full of island breezes and tropical innocence. Michel Petrucciani, the French pianist who preceded Miss Purim, offered articulate and resourceful jazz playing. The David Sanborn Group, however, seemed lost in a trough somewhere between rock and jazz.

All of this became highly irrelevant, however, when Diz took the stand. ''We are delighted with your presence,'' he told the assembled multitudes. ''It moves me.''

Then he proceeded to reciprocate with ''Con Alma,'' a number that moved gracefully in on Walter Davis Jr.'s whispering piano, took definite form as Gillespie gently stated the theme, and finally found full-sailing freedom in a James Moody solo. With each successive number, it became abundantly clear that what we were hearing was a kind of music that most of these groups don't even aspire to: something fashioned out of logic and inspiration, a composer's kind of music.

Gillespie has put together a quintet that rivals any I've heard in recent years for sheer magnitude of musical strength. Moody was forceful and literate. Carter turned bass walking into a kind of balletic tour de force. Bellson's drumming was heart-stopping. Davis played with understated brilliance.

And Diz. He has schooled himself so thoroughly in the lexicon of a language he and Charlie Parker fashioned together decades ago that today he handles the language like his own signature.

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Their set seemed short, about six numbers in all, each featuring one of the players, and one bringing them all together. But it said more than the rest of the afternoon all put together.

- Christopher Swan

Fickleness and frolic in the forest

One place where the surroundings enhance, rather than conflict with, the performance is The Mount, in Lenox, Mass. Home to Shakespeare & Company, it's got the best site imaginable for its production of ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'': several playing areas nestled in a forest, with the audience perched in lawn chairs on a hillside.

''Dream'' has something to please everyone. Purists will love the company's commitment to nuance in text, clear diction, and hearty projection (though they may wince at the Americanisms thrown in). Youths will appreciate the black leather-clad Oberon, the fairies' furry ''Cats''-ish costumes, and the electronic music. Kids will adore the gooney humor and a piratelike Puck who flies around buzzing like an airplane.

So why was there a shred of disappointment? Perhaps because in trying to appeal to each audience member's socially perceived needs, the production neglected his or her deeper desire for a unified concept and for adherence to the message - as well as the words - of the play.

One small example occurs as Hermia tells Lysander to sleep farther off, ''for love and courtesy.'' He does so, but with gritted teeth, even though the lines indicate considerate acquiescence. The audience chuckles. But this pandering to contemporary sensibilities has a seismic effect on the moral pinions of the play - when he's almost immediately smitten by Helena, the impact is muted because his fidelity has shown to be a tad lukewarm.

But I wouldn't stay away because of this. There's much good in it, and the surroundings are wonderful. Even if the production were awful, seeing it here would be a treat.

- C. F.

The last of the big screens

Remember when you went to a movie as much for the giant screens and all-encompassing sound as for the movie itself?

It's a dimming pleasure - most theaters have succumbed to current economics and either have gone multiplex or closed, as Back Bay's Exeter Street Theater recently did.

But there is some recourse. The still-intact Somerville Theater in Davis Square preserves the ambiance of a neighborhood movie house with an eclectic mixture of classic and recent films. This weekend, the theater shows ''Gunga Din'' and the large-screen epic ''The Man Who Would Be King.''

Several theaters have created smaller theaters out of their balconies while still retaining a large screen on the main floor. And in them, one can still experience the roar of a large audience, rather than the timid chuckle found in theaters the size of screening rooms. The Harvard Square Theater in Cambridge has saved its main theater for daily double features. The Sept. 10 show of two James Dean classics, ''East of Eden'' and ''Rebel Without a Cause,'' should not be seen on anything smaller, if you don't want to lose a third of the picture.

Brookline's Coolidge Corner house is now showing on its main screen the newly restored version of Fritz Lang's ''Metropolis.'' The difference between seeing the movie here and on a small screen is the same as that between hearing an orchestra and a chamber quartet.

Films like these require a broad canvas to paint their pictures. Alas, large screens may no longer be practical - which is all the more reason to treasure the ones we have.

- Dan M. Kimmel

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