Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Bicentennial Bash at Ford’s Theatre

Ford's Theatre new orchestra seating

Renovated Ford's Theatre

On Monday, February 16, the folks at Ford’s Theatre celebrated their Grand Reopening with a birthday bash for Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial, and DC Metblogs was invited to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the sparkling new theatre.

Warren Brown prepares some CakeLove for Lincoln's Birthday Bash

Warren Brown prepares some CakeLove for Lincoln's Birthday Bash

The renovation took 18 months to complete.  The theatre itself was renovated and generally spruced-up with new painting, lighting, carpets, and seating; and a new lobby/museum/gift shop was added, with new restrooms and elevator access.

The experience starts with entry into the spacious new lobby, next door to the old box-office lobby which opened right from the seats to the street.  The new lobby has artifacts on display, including the coat that Lincoln wore to the theatre on the night he was assassinated (April 14, 1865).  It was made by Brooks Brothers, just for the President to wear, and has fancy shields-and-eagle stitching in the lining.  Neat!  Just beyond the display is the gift shop, which offers far more books than kitsch, I’m pleased to report.   (Kitsch can be found just across the street at the Old Town Trolley depot.  Trust me.)   And why not?  Lincoln is apparently the most popular subject of biography in the universe.  OK, maybe that’s a little strong, but he’s pretty popular.

For this special occasion, Warren Brown and the folks from CakeLove were on hand to offer Presidents’ Day patrons some of their delicious cupcakes as a complimentary grand-reopening  treat.  Since I was already getting pretty special treatment, I left my cupcake for another kid to enjoy.   (More on my visit after the jump.) (more…)

28,000 Acres of the Richest Land

David Vargas and Dan Yount

David Vargas and Dan Yount

*Updated

This month, The Arlington Players are producing Tennessee Williams’ melodramatic classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.   The theatre doesn’t hide the production’s set and lighting design behind a curtain, and they expertly convey contrasts of glamour, wealth, and decay.  We expect Maggie the Cat to just stroll in from the gallery at any moment, and once she arrives, she delivers.  Cassandra Hodziewich takes control of the house upon her entrance, delivering her soliloquy of frustration with her family of Pollitt in-laws, layered with a desperate longing for her distant and alcoholic husband, Brick.  Maggie explains the situation in the house on this, the last of Big Daddy Pollitt’s birthdays in her soft delta drawl while casually deciding on a dress.  Of course, there’s nothing casual about it.

David Vargas as Brick is as sullen and removed as one could hope, and he draws Hodziewich across the stage to him without seeming to care at all.  He progresses from near-silence, to shouts of rancor, to soft singing, all the while taking long draughts from his bottles of whisky (yes, bottles – midway through the show I had lost count).  In his single-minded search for the elusive “click in [his] head that brings peace”, the injured Brick manages to expose his internal struggle to each member of the Pollitt clan, as they come in groups and by ones and twos to his room.

The production’s most powerful performance comes from Dan Yount as Big Daddy.  His loud, bawdy, and emotional portrayal of the Pollitt patriarch holds the whole of the play in its grip.  The long scene between Brick and Big Daddy is one of my favorite in literature, and I was very pleased with what I got from the two actors.  By turns they discuss Brick’s faded glory, his alcoholism, his dead best friend Skipper and the latent homosexuality of their friendship, Big Daddy’s marriage to a woman he never loved, both men’s contempt for the elder son, Gooper and his family (especially his passel of “no-neck monster” children and scheming, bitter wife Mae – played wonderfully by Karen Batra).  Vargas and Yount expose the anxiety and despair in both men’s lives, gradually and painfully working their way to the truth and a new bond between them.  Their agreement to no longer tolerate “lies and liars” all around who exude “the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity” is wonderfully undermined when Maggie spontaneously lies to Big Daddy, saying she is pregnant in order to secure her husband’s future and her own marriage, and Brick confidently backs her in the face of Mae and Gooper’s utterly scornful disbelief.

Director Blakeman Brophy’s choices play up the fifties melodrama at work in the show, to great effect.  With a wonderful leading cast and a beautiful set design, the show is a pleasure to watch.  Catch the final weekend performances through February 14 at the Thomas Jefferson Theatre.

*Update: Fellow Metblogger Patrick Pho is on the crew of this production and graciously provided tickets for this review. Thanks for reminding me, Patrick!

Breeze it, Buzz it, Easy does it

West Side Story album cover by flickr user exquisitur

West Side Story album cover by flickr user exquisitur

As theater buffs already know, there’s a production of West Side Story in town.  It’s been at the National Theatre since last month on its way to Broadway, in a reprisal of its path 50 years ago.

Other reviews have made note of the decision by director Arthur Laurents to allow the Sharks and their girls to sing and talk amongst themselves in Spanish.   A love-it-or-hate-it decision, it endows the dialogue between characters with an authenticity and intimacy that hasn’t been seen before, and provides an instant update and relevance.  I know I hear conversations that I don’t understand (not just in Spanish) around DC every day!  Strategic sprinkling of key English phrases allow the non-Spanish-speaking audience members (like me!) to know where we are. (more…)

Get your creative juices flowing on Saturday at the 2008 Arts on Foot

On any given day, if you’re craving a little art and culture, there is always an exhibit or performance or demonstration to quench your appetite.

Well this Saturday, plan to venture to Penn Quarter for an extravaganza of art and crafts and performances.  Bombard your senses with 2008 Arts on Foot, a one-day visual and performing arts festival that kicks off the DC fall season.

In addition to the outdoor festival on F street between 6th and 9th Streets, the following venues will also feature activities, exhibits and performances:

Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery: The museums will host booths at the street festival that offer hands-on activities for children.

National Theatre: Come to the inaugural performance of Saturday Morning at the National. Carrie’s Dream is a true story of an African-American girl growing up in the rural south. This interactive show features sing-alongs and reflects the humor and struggles of a family coping with life in a segregated society. Performances are at 9:30 and 11:00 am. Though free, tickets are required and will be distributed 30 minutes before the show on a first come, first served basis. The Helen Hayes Gallery at the National Theatre is located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

Warner Theatre and Woolley Mammoth Theatre: Take a back stage tour of the theaters. See the Arts on Foot events schedule.

Old Post Office Pavilion: Enjoy live performances by the Levi Stephens Band (alternative soul), Phaze II (smooth jazz), Uncharted Waters (smooth jazz funk), and Kirk Lamkin & Pulse Level (smooth jazz). Performances take place on the Pavilion Stage and are free to the public.

Canadian Embassy: Picture enthusiasts will enjoy a collection of 330 images entitled – 50 Years of American Photojournalism. The photos capture moments from the civil-rights movement, the various wars from 1939 – 1989, and famous people.

Landmark E Street: The DC Shorts Film Festival presents free family films with genres ranging from animation to sci-fi to comedy to experimental. Free tickets will be distributed at the DC Shorts booth at 10:00 am on a first come, first served basis.

National Gallery of Art: At 12:30 pm, catch “O Dia do Desespero (Day of Despair),” a documentary style film about the final hours of Camilio Castelo Branco’s life. The movie speculates on the creative process of the 19th-century Portuguese writer.  Then at 3:00 pm watch “The Last Conquistador ” which follows the  controversy over sculptor John Sherrill Houser’s most important commission, the world’s largest equestrian bronze of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate. Filmmaker John Valadez will be present to lead a discussion after his film.

National Museum of Women in the Arts: Visit the NMWA booth on 8th and F Streets to create your own unique artist’s accordion book.  All materials provided for you to create a masterpiece.

In addition to all the arts activities, don’t miss the wine tastings and culinary demonstrations. A fun-filled day for all ages!

Hysteria & Hypochondria

It may seem a cliche to use adjectives like “witty” and “frolicking” to describe a performance of a Moliere play, but those are precisely the proper words for Shakespeare Theater Company’s “The Imaginary Invalid,” now at the Lansburgh Theater through July 27.

Helmed by a wonderfully expressive Rene Auberjonois and a sparkling Nancy Robinette, this is one of the strongest ensembles I’ve seen at STC in a long time, with so many hysterical key moments for the cast it’s unfair to detail any in particular. But Auberjonois’ rendering of the hypochondriac Argan and Robinette’s saucy maid Toinette set the comic pace, playing off each other perfectly. A showpiece for the intimacy of the Lansburgh, it’s also exquisitely designed, with sets and costumes evoking the period without being slavish (Simon Higlett and Robert Perdziola respectively). Director Keith Baxter chose to reinstate the masques and commedia interludes that often get cut, with the result that audience members truly feel transported to Carnival 1673, right down to an appearance by Le Roi himself.

“The Imaginary Invalid” has the distinction of being the last play Moliere performed in, as he expired after the fourth showing. Written at the end of his struggle with tuberculosis, it contains a scathing indictment of the ignorance and arrogance of the medical profession of his time (with pertinent echoes to our own era’s uneasy dalliance between pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and their nervous boomer patients). And yet it is a supremely enjoyable piece – as all great comedy comes with a sting in its tail. Definitely worth it.

Caesar, Antony, and Cleopatra : together at the Harman

Photo courtesy of Me

What can I tell you about The Shakespeare Theater Company‘s productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra? You don’t come here for Shakespeare criticism and I’m not up to the challenge. There’s some things to say about the players on stage – Suzanne Bertish is spot-on, Andrew Long, Aubrey K. Deeker, Dan Kremer and all the other locals are good as well – but so what? We know STC isn’t going to put any stinkers up on stage and truth be told, if you’re inclined to go see either of these plays you’re probably not going to see any one person. These are not the avenues to catch a tour de force blow-the-doors-off piece of acting – the roles don’t lend themselves to it and they’re both huge ensembles – I stopped counting during the Julius Caesar curtain call when I got to the thirtieth performer.

Photo courtesy of MeSo then, what can I tell you? Odds are good you read one or both of these in your high school careers, and they haven’t changed. Nor has STC altered their placement in time or location: these are the Roman plays as they were written; no movement to World War I or modern day New York City. Both have the same problem for us as modern audiences as they did for us then – it’s hard to find someone to root for in Julius Caesar, as full of connivers and killers as it is, or Antony and Cleopatra, with person after person making foolish and impulsive decisions.

Photo courtesy of Me

You either are or are not the kind of person interested in seeing one of these plays, so what I say won’t sway you on the merits of the text. What I can tell you is that if you’re inclined to go, you’re going to be satisfied. If you’re not inclined, there’s not going to be something new or unusual there to overcome your reluctance. Somewhere in the world someone is going to stage Julius Caesar in a way to draw the parallel to American preemptive Middle-Eastern intervention, with Brutus and most of his cohorts being prodded into making a well-meaning decision by an arrogant and petty Cassius who’s been spending too much time on the New American Century website. Once they go down that bloody road they’ll discover that the aftermath isn’t as easy and painless as they expected and not everyone is convinced that their reasons were sound or sufficient.

Photo courtesy of Me

This is not that production of Julius Caesar.

Neither is this Antony and Cleopatra evocative of a modern married government leader who thinks with parts south of the border and makes decisions that endanger his position to the point where he finds himself at odds with his peers and fighting to hold on to his power.

What these are, instead, are faithful classic productions set in the Harman’s lovely spaces with fairly minimal but highly effective staging. Caesar goes little beyond tapestries and hangings, where Antony and Cleopatra add some tables and pieces that more evoke a ship than represent it. The costuming is stunning and the music near perfect. There’s only two quibbles I’d make, both with the production of Julius Caesar, but they’re minor.

Photo courtesy of Me

The boxes at the back of the Harman’s stage are a nice location for semi-hidden participants like percussionist Martin Desjardins normally, but during parts where performers are on the upper level he’s a little too prominent. If you’re not an actor I don’t feel like I should be able to discern your facial expressions during the production – it’s distracting. More bothersome but come and gone more rapidly is the bit of foolishness that someone felt they needed to pop into the scene where Brutus and Cassius face off across the battlefield from Octavius and Antony. While Antony is supposed to be a bit cavalier and light-hearted, it’s jarring to see him good around while eating and apple while Brutus and Cassius determine if they’re going to enter into a bloody battle. Having him wordlessly and goofilly offer the man who they’ve just determined to fight a bite before walking back to his own camp is just grating, particularly so short a time after we’ve seen him deliver an impassioned speech about his friend who was murdered by the very person he’s trying to share his snack with.

These are little things, however, and won’t ruin your experience if it’s one you want to have.

Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra
Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004
through July 6th, 2008.

Upcoming: Antony and Cleopatra

The Shakespeare Theater Company has two works just starting which will run on alternating days (that’s in repertory to you theater nerds): Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. That’s the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s Suzanne Bertish there as Cleopatra.

 

I had the pleasure of going to a quick reception on Friday, complete with a tour of the Harman and a few minutes of watching rehearsal – when I took this picture. As you can see they’re in full dress, what with their first performance for the public happening on the following day.

 

Aside from the fun of getting a little behind-the-scenes look at the production, I got to meet several other local bloggers, one of whom I’ll tell you about later in the week.

Argonautica

Today’s the 28th, which means there’s but 6 more performances of Zimmerman’s Argonautika at the Shakespeare Theater Company. Tonight, tomorrow, and two shows each on Saturday and Sunday. If you’re trying to remember whether I recommended the show or not, well, good luck with that – despite getting to see it opening week I never did a writeup.

Perversely, that’s not because I didn’t like it – I did – or because I had nothing to say about it. In fact, I had too much to say about it and couldn’t decide on an effective tack. So I’ll tell you in short: if you think you might like to see it, you should go – I suspect you probably will.

If you’re interested in a few of the tidbits that made me so conflicted, look below the fold.
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More theater options for the wee ones

This Saturday the Shakespeare Theater is going to join the distinguished crowd of local theaters offering material for families interested in taking their kids out for some something a little different than Alvin and the Chimpmunks Get Neutered 7: Totally Nuts. On the Eve of Friday Morning is a play written by local Norman Allen that’s meant for audiences 8 and up. It sounds like a good story regardless of your age, in fact, and I’m sorry that getting Wayan married off is going to keep me from going to see it.

In Iran, Nassrin’s father has been imprisoned for teaching banned books. While Nassrin waits for word of his release, her mother tells the ancient Persian tale of Mushkil Gusha, one customarily told before the Friday holy day. Through the magic of storytelling, Nassrin steps into the story, where she meets Bahad, a boy from a thousand years ago. Together they meet unusual characters, visit worlds beyond the clouds, and learn the ways of the mysterious Mushkil Gusha. On her adventure, Nassrin discovers the importance of passing on good fortune to those in need.

The show’s going to run from the 12th through the 19th with school performances during the week. The shows for the public will be on January 12 at 11 a.m and January 13 and 19 at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and tickets will be $15.

If you’d like to go a little above and beyond, there’ll be an opening celebration at 1:30pm this Saturday for $75 which will “include a performance of On the Eve of Friday Morning and a special post-performance reception featuring food and activities that celebrate Persian culture.”

Sidney Harman Hall
610 F Street NW (at the corner of Sixth and F Streets NW)

Interested individuals should call the box office at 202.547.1122. Interested school groups should contact Group Sales at 202.547.1122, option 5.

Three Masters

If you haven’t seen Scena Theatre’s well-received production of Jean Genet’s “The Maids” yet, you have just three chances left. Final performances are tonight and Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 3pm at the Warehouse Theater, whose stage is beautifully transformed into a Parisian flat filled with a golden bathtub and opulent flowers. That beauty, however, is masking a rotten core, the truth of which is mesmerizingly revealed over the course of the play.

“The Maids” has always been one of my favorite plays, a tragic drama about two maids and their fascination/repulsion relationship with their mistress as they act out their roles in both fantasy and reality. It mines the meaning of fetish, of possession, of acting itself, and what it means to be an artist both against and beholden to the ruling class. When the hated mistress finally appears, like a keen-eyed bird of prey, she dooms the maids to an inevitable conclusion.

Heady stuff, and the three actors in Scena’s production – Jenifer Deal, Nanna Ingarvasson, and Danielle Davy – are giving top-notch, truthful performances that strongly deserve to be seen.

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