Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Shoplifters

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, September 5-October 19, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, September 5-October 19, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

If I ever decide to steal groceries, I want Morris Panych and Jayne Houdyshell with me. The former, the playwright and director of Arena Stage’s current production, The Shoplifters, concocts such a solid and sympathetic justification for stealing that I found myself rooting for the latter, who plays Alma, an amateur career grocery thief, so convincingly and wonderfully that I really wanted her to get away with their crime.

The Shoplifters is a humorous and endearing glimpse into the lives of two supermarket security guards and the two would-be steak stealers they nab in the meat department of their store. Without making shoplifting look glamorous or fun, Panych has written a compelling script that examines why some people are wanting to continually commit criminal misdemeanors and why others let them get away with it.

At the heart of the play are Alma (Houdyshell) and Otto (Delaney Williams) as robber and cop, respectively, each trying to figure out the other, while simultaneously trying to deny that both their career paths have led them down the same emotional road. When the two are able to come to a mutual understanding and respect for one another in an amenable, but not unexpected conclusion, it is heartwarming. Contrast that with the roles of the younger bandit, Phyllis (Jenna Sokolowski), and officer, Dom (Adi Stein), where the traditional emotions, logic, and conclusions of both criminal and captor are more obvious. Eager to fight crime, and scared of getting in trouble, both Dom’s and Phyllis’ journeys are simpler than Otto’s and Alma’s, which makes their conclusions much more predictable, but no less satisfying for audience members who expect the bad guys to get their comeuppance and the good guys to prevail. But for those of us in the audience who value reason over justice and who like to see norms defied, the end of the journey for both Dom and Phyllis seemed anti-climatic and expected, although still amusing.

In order to remain varied and lively, the plot needs two different conclusions for the two different law-enforcement couplings. Yet the more expected path of Phyllis and Dom—spoiler alert—with Phyllis’s guilt and fear overriding her sense of adventure, leading to her repentance and restitution and Dom’s righteous indignation at those who break the law and his refusal to yield his Judeo-Christian ethic of “Thou Shalt Not Steal”’ to even the humblest of criminals, ended up being far less interesting simply because it was predictable.

What this meant for actors Sokolowski and Stein was that their performances, too, were less interesting and predictable from those of Houdyshell and Williams. When offered up an expected emotional arc, Sokolowski and Stein provided little surprise or depth to their Phyllis and Dom. Williams was likeable and sensitive as Otto, and I found myself rooting for him to succeed, although I wasn’t sure what I wanted that success to look like since succeeding at his job meant nabbing the criminals and succeeding as a person meant being compassionate to them. More obvious in her intentions, but no less complex, was Houdyshell’s Alma who, from the beginning, lets the audience know that she intends to not only get away with shoplifting but refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing in it. Not only does she see no wrongdoing, she actually sees value in what she is doing, even declaring to the security guards at one point “If a person steals something, try to show just a little appreciation. If it wasn’t for shoplifters, you wouldn’t have a job.”

Although Alma’s motivations seem simple enough, Houdyshell’s depth in inhabiting the character so effortlessly and flawlessly was nothing short of brilliant. I didn’t feel like I was watching an actor, but believed I was witnessing an actual criminal, down on her luck, who was just trying to survive. And I wanted her to. To so fully embody a character that seems so simple on the outside, and to bring in great complexity and such warmth, sympathy, and understanding was exceptional.

Houdyshell’s performance, alone, is reason to see The Shoplifters at Arena Stage. Add to it a talented supporting cast and a compelling character study as to the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want, combined with a lot of understated, but hilarious dialogue, and a ticket to the show may just be worth stealing.

The Shoplifters performs at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater now through October 19, located at 1101 6th St SW, Washington DC 20024. Tickets start at $45. For more information, call 202-554-9066.

The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Sunday in the Park with George

Brynn O’Malley (Dot) and Claybourne Elder (George) in Sunday in the Park with George at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Brynn O’Malley (Dot) and Claybourne Elder (George) in Sunday in the Park with George at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

For persons wholly unfamiliar with the musical theatre canon of Stephen Sondheim, the Neo-impressionist artist George Seurat and his famous painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, or the work of DC-area director Matthew Gardiner, Sunday in the Park with George at Signature Theatre is worth seeing. For fans and admirers of Sondheim, Seurat, or Gardiner, seeing Signature’s production is absolutely essential. In fact, it’s vital. In the 97-year history of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, only eight musicals have won the coveted award and in 1985, Sondheim and book writer James Lapine’s fictionalized story of Seurat and his pointillist creation of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte became the sixth musical to achieve such an honor. Inspired by Seurat’s technique of applying a series of tiny, individual colored dots to form an image, Sondheim not only mimicked the style musically and verbally– through the use of staccato phrases, simple melodies, and clipped conversation—but he even named his female protagonist Dot. More than that, though, Sondheim and Lapine, in studying Seurat’s painting which depicts random people relaxing in a park on an island in the Seine River, wanted to give a voice to the one figure that seemed to be missing from the canvas: the artist himself. Sunday in the Park with George is written as two separate acts, whose individual stories merge at the end of Act II, to complete a thematic journey of art and love. Act I explores Seurat’s creation of the art and his struggle between passion for the work, and passion for his relationships, most notably with his lover, Dot. Three generations later, Act II features Seurat’s great-grandson George, an American artist trying to find his own passion, who eventually visits the island on the Seine River, depicted in Seurat’s painting, for inspiration, and ultimately ends up finding himself through his ancestry. Because the two acts are set nearly one hundred years apart, with completely different characters, styles of music, and seemingly unconnected plots, trying to seamlessly merge the two acts and complexity of the show’s themes is difficult. Particularly challenging is doing this without losing the pointillist nuances and simplicities in the script and musical score, all the while trying to give voice to the artists of the piece. In less than capable hands, Sunday in the Park with George can easily become droll, lackluster, and completely uninspired, rendering audiences bored, confused, and unmoved. Fortunately, Signature Theatre placed their production in the extremely capable hands of director Matthew Gardiner and the end result is breathtaking and awe-inspiring enchantment. Without adding too much unnecessary embellishment or frills to the piece, Gardiner flawlessly leads the audience through the complex world of the show by focusing on the show’s basic theme of allowing one’s passions to come from the heart and using that passion to make something beautiful. Gardiner seems to understand very well that those making this piece are, in essence, their own characters in Sunday in the Park with George and Gardiner’s heart and passion for the work are very evident in every aspect of this show. In fact, one of the reasons why Signature’s production is so beautiful is because everyone involved in the production seems to bring their full heart and passion to it. Claybourne Elder, in the title roles, first as George Seurat and then as 1980s artist George, carries the show gracefully, finding the perfect balances between artist and lover, relative and friend, passion and person, and tormented versus inspired. Never allowing his Georges to become sullen, moody, and unlikable, Elder remains sympathetic and heartfelt, even when his on-stage behaviors are self-destructive and disagreeable. To be able to do that, while creating two separate and distinct Georges, and then find a way to merge them together at the end of Act II is nothing but brilliant when done well and Elder’s portrayal is sheer genius. Similarly, Brynn O’Malley, first as Seurat’s lover, Dot, and then as 1980s George’s grandmother, Marie, (Seurat and Dot’s daughter), is incredible. As Dot, O’Malley remains grounded and keeps it simple, which is imperative for a character who, like the pointillist style she is named after, allows for the audience to see her fuller range of tones, from her solid comedic chops to her fine dramatic work. As the aged Marie in Act II, O’Malley’s transformation into a centenarian Grandmother is spectacular, wonderfully adopting the geriatric behaviors and nuances without allowing herself to become a caricature. No less impressive than Elder and O’Malley is a talented ensemble of actors who, like Gardiner and his team of gifted collaborators, clearly bring their full passion and love to this production. To see a show with such heart from all sides is truly special and rare, which is why Signature’s production of Sunday in the Park with George is so moving and so spectacular. It is the quintessential love letter to Sondheim, Seurat, theatre, and to art. Sunday in the Park with George performs now through September 21, 2014 at Signature Theatre, located at 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA 22206. Tickets start at $40. For more information, call 703-820-9771.

We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Stupid Fucking Bird, redux

(l-r) Rick Foucheux, Brad Koed, and Darius Pierce (Photo: Stan Barouh)

(l-r) Rick Foucheux, Brad Koed, and Darius Pierce (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Woolly has restaged Aaron Posner’s take on The Seagull, which since we’re an online outlet we can name without its asterisks: Stupid Fucking Bird. Jenn raved about it last year to anyone who would stand still or walk slower than she could, so I was excited to catch it for myself.

I’m not prepared to part with as many superlatives as she did, but I found it to be a very enjoyable play on its own merits and an interesting attempt to modernize and Americanize a classic piece of Russian literature. I’ll confess, I’m a bit of a sucker for fourth wall shenanigans, so when Brad Koed’s Con says “of course I know I’m in a play,” they are throwing me a bone. On the flip side, I’m more on the “don’t mess with it without a good reason” camp when it comes to adaptations. So how do my warring sides make peace on this?

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: West Side Story

©Amy Boyle Photography

(Maryjoanna Grisso and Jarrad Biron Green. Photo: Amy Boyle)

The “Tonight Quintet” in West Side Story, the song that ushers in the show’s first act finale, is one of my all-time favorite ensemble numbers. It is second only to “One Day More” from Les MiserablesWhen I first heard the opening brass vamps of the Quintet song I bounced a little bit in my seat inside the National Theatre. However there was something different about this particular performance of the song. The verses sung by the Sharks were in Spanish, like many other numbers throughout the show that were sung by Puerto Rican characters. Those changes, new to me and perhaps those that haven’t seen the West Side Story apart from previous versions or the iconic 1961 film, were originally incorporated into the 2009 Broadway revival of the show for which the current tour is based off of. The result is a West Side Story that is more modern and offers something different to audiences who think they know the Bernstein and Sondheim masterpiece.

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Entertainment, The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Threepenny Opera

Polly Peachum (Erin Driscoll) and Lucy Brown (Rick Hammerly) vie for the love of Macheath in “The Threepenny Opera,” now playing at Signature Theatre through June 1, 2014. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Polly Peachum (Erin Driscoll) and Lucy Brown (Rick Hammerly) vie for the love of Macheath in “The Threepenny Opera,” now playing at Signature Theatre through June 1, 2014. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Meh. That’s the best way to describe Signature Theatre’s production of The Threepenny Opera. But I can’t blame them for it. After all, it was written to be that way. Sort of.

Playwright Bertolt Brecht, who lived in Germany through the mid 20th century, believed that theatre was meant to be a forum for political ideas, in the hopes that it would result in actual social and bureaucratic change. Most notably authoring plays such as The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Mother Courage and Her Children, he is also credited with establishing the genre of Epic Theatre, of which almost all his plays, including The Threepenny Opera, are a part of.

Epic Theatre is based on the idea that a play should not create any type of emotional cartharsis or cause the spectator to identify emotionally at all with the characters or action on stage. By denying the audience any type of impassioned feeling, he believed it would instead allow them to adopt a critical socio-political view designed to provoke self-reflection and be moved to effect real change in the world.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

Hot Ticket: Awesome Con @ Washington Convention Center, 4/18-4/20/14

ACDC_Billie_PostWith the success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and other movies storming out of the Marvel Studios stables, there is little question that comic books and associated media have definitely been embraced by mainstream audiences.

Which may leave us to question why hasn’t D.C. had its own comic book convention, particularly with Wizard World popping up in almost every other major U.S. city these days?

Well, we don’t have to wait any longer, as D.C. now has the locally produced Awesome Con, scheduled for this weekend, Friday, April 18, through Sunday, April 20, at the Washington Convention Center!

Awesome Con will feature guests from movies and television, most notably Billie Piper, well regarded for several seasons of Doctor Who; Cary Elwes, always memorable for The Princess Bride; Sean Astin, who played a hobbit in the trilogy Lord of the Rings; and many others. I personally may be most excited by Dirk Benedict of the A-Team and the original Battlestar Galactica.

Representing the literary world, Awesome Con will host guests such as award-winning science fiction author Timothy Zahn, who is responsible for 10 Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, including seven novels featuring Grand Admiral Thrawn: the Thrawn Trilogy, the Hand of Thrawn duology, Outbound Flight and Choices of One. Awesome Con also will feature more than 200 artists, including the likes of George Perez and John K. Snyder III.

Of course, Awesome Con will feature a large floor of more than 100 dealers and exhibitors, serving up a large amount of comic books and science-fiction merchandise. It also has an impressive number of panel discussions, including Q&A sessions with your favorite celebrities and chats on everything from tabletop gaming to improv comedy to surviving the zombie apocalypse (honestly).

Check out the full schedule to see all of your options, and hit the exhibitor floor between sci-fi speed dating and quizzing Doctor Who creators about the show. (I’d rather queue up for Ms. Piper myself!) Some VIP tix are still available!

Awesome Con
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center
801 Mount Vernon Place NW
Washington, DC 20001
Friday, April 18-Sunday, April 20
Friday 3-8pm; Saturday 10am-7pm; Sunday 10am-5pm
$30-$200
All ages

Food and Drink, Interviews, Music, People, We Love Arts, We Love Drinks, We Love Food, We Love Music

Spotlight: Carlie Steiner and Tea Time DC

Hey DC, it’s time for tea with one of my new favorite bartenders, Carlie Steiner. I first met Carlie a few weeks ago, and after a few coffees and a rather short meeting, we were already scooting all over town in her new Vespa, Sophia, shooting back and forth about classic cocktails, and quickly becoming fast friends.

If there’s one piece of advice I can give about the food and bev scene in DC, is don’t follow places, follow people. No matter where you go and what you like, I guarantee that if you develop a relationship with a bartender, server, manager, barista, whatever, you will love wherever it is they are working or whatever it is they are doing. Try to get less caught up in what new bars are opening and instead try to make connections with industry people that you like and respect, because if I follow them wherever they go, you’ll have the same great experience every time. And Carlie is one of those people to follow.

Fairly young to the DC bar scene, Carlie started in New York at culinary school, where she honed her skills as a chef, learning valuable techniques to put to use behind the bar and in the kitchen. It’s no wonder then that she was hired right out of school to work the bar at José Andrés’ Minibar, where she made such an impression that she was moved over to his new, experimental cocktail lab, Barmini. Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The cast of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Photo by Scott Suchman.

The cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Photo by Scott Suchman.

Although Broadway musicals throughout history have been written about a tireless myriad of topics and events, few plot lines seem weaker or less full of suspense at the onset than The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. With the entire storyline centering on the events at a Midwest American spelling bee, the only initial enthusiasm for the show seems to be in wondering who the winner will be. Yet despite the fact that the entire plot really is exactly what it seems to be—contestants competing in a small-town spelling bee—The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a work of musical genius and one of the most amusing and entertaining shows I have ever seen.

The cleverness of the show lies in its complex simplicity. The plot is simple, with the audience knowing that as the show progresses, each of the contestants will be eliminated from the competition until there is only one winner. But book writer Rachel Sheinkin and composer/lyricist William Finn have added a wonderful layer of complexity to the show by leaving the audience asking more than just “who will win,” but also “what will cause the others to lose”, “how did the contestants come to be at the spelling bee in the first place”, and “how will this one event shape the remainder of the contestants lives (if at all)”. To be answered through short musical vignettes woven in between the actual bits of competition, and to all be done in a way that is uproariously hysterical is sheer brilliance. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Loveland

Loveland at Arena Stage

(Ann Randolph in Loveland Photo: Teresa Wood)

As she struts up and down the imaginary aircraft cabin on the stage of Arena’s Kogod Cradle, Franny Potts (Ann Randolph) achieves a level of adorkable that dates back before Zooey Deschanel put on a pair of plastic frames. I’m not talking about today’s awkward yet cute look, I’m talking about an unfiltered mouth passionately spouting out factoids about America’s National Parks. I’m talking about a mouthful of adult braces and the lisp it causes. I’m talking about proudly and unabashedly being a dork because you love it and you don’t care what everybody else thinks.

The protagonist in Randolph’s Loveland reminded me of Molly Shannon’s Sally O’Malley character on SNL, down to Franny’s black stretch pants. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Potts spoke about her love of kicking, stretching, and kicking while shouting, “I’m 50!”

Loveland is a semi-autobiographical tale of humor, love, and loss. In this one-act, one-woman play, Randolph is awkwardly hilarious, occasionally endearing, and is very comfortable in her pair of stretchy pants.

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Exposed DC Opens Tonight!

There’s no question that the District has its photogenic side, from the federal-style buildings, to the landmarks that dot the landscape, to the incredible urban environment that we all know and love. DC is a city that shows its good side more than most I’ve known, and tonight the photographic community celebrates its best at Exposed DC, a show that runs from tonight through until April 6th at Longview Gallery.

Tickets to the opening are $15 until 1pm today, so act quickly before they’re all sold out, it will be $20 at the door. There will be food and drink starting at 6pm from Bluejacket Brewery, Tel’Veh Wine Bar, Boxwood Winery, Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers, Everlasting Life Vegan Restaurant, and Cavanagh Family Imports. There’s even an After Party at The Passenger with specials from El Buho Mezcal and Rhum Clément. The opening runs until 10pm, and the After Party starts at 8, so plan your attendance appropriately.

Many of the photos you see on We Love DC are by DC Photographers who will likely have spots on the wall at Longview, so be supportive of the amazing photographers that power the visual aesthetic of this and so many other DC websites that you know and love.

The exhibit runs until April 6th, but don’t dally and miss it.

Congratulations to Exposed DC for all their hard work, and make sure to get out to the exhibit!

Entertainment, The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Beaches

Alysha Umpress as Cee Cee (left) Mara Davi as Bertie (right).  Photo by Margot I. Schulman.

Alysha Umpress as Cee Cee (left) Mara Davi as Bertie (right). Photo by Margot I. Schulman.

For a number of years, Broadway musicals based on their respective movies have been a staple on the Great White Way. In fact, more than one-third of the musicals currently on Broadway were films before they were ever stage productions. While some of these live adaptations fare very well with audiences, producers often find that taking a beloved film, musicalizing it, and then putting it on stage is a risky venture. One of the major reasons new productions are put through a series of workshops and premieres before opening on Broadway, in fact, is to gauge the potential success it will have and to edit and make changes along the way.

Signature Theatre has been instrumental over the years in assisting these budding new shows find footing by producing their world premieres in its Arlington facility, with almost 40 productions to date, including their current musical, Beaches. Based on Iris Rainer Dart’s 1985 novel, which the 1988 film with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey was adapted from, Beaches follows two friends through a 30-year friendship. One a brash performer, the other a WASP-y blueblood, these seemingly different women forge a powerful companionship when a chance meeting on the beach as young girls in the 1950s leads to a lifelong friendship that tests the bonds of sisterhood and shows the strength of friendship. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Yellow Face

Yellow Face Theatre JStan Kang, Al Twanmo, Rafael Untalan, Mark Hairston, Tonya Beckman, Jacob Yeh (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

Correction: This article originally referred to the closing date of Yellow Face as March 9. The production ended on February 23. We apologize for the mistake. 

I had Theater J’s production of Yellow Face in my crosshairs ever since they first announced it would be a part of their 2013-2014 season. It sounded like a natural follow-up show to Signature’s Miss Saigon which I reviewed this past fall. The David Henry Hwang piece is a “based on true events” biographical tale of his life advocating for Asian American actors in the wake of the “yellowface” casting of Jonathan Pryce in the Broadway production of Miss Saigon in the early 90s. With that premise I knew that racial themes would be a big part of the piece, especially when Theater J invited me to speak on a panel about the subject.

However the show was much more than I originally expected. It’s a highly entertaining yet poignant story about the Asian American struggle as an invisible minority despite their reputation as a model minority. Just as films like 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station are being touted as important films of the past year for their racial themes, I feel that the exploration of race in Yellow Face is important enough to say that this is one of the most important shows to see right now.

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Entertainment, The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. Photo credit Joan Marcus

Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone onstage. Photo credit Joan Marcus

If a musical theatre lover were to create a bucket list, it would be a very safe bet to assume that seeing Patti LuPone or Mandy Patinkin perform live would be on the list. Both of them are Tony-award winners and legends of the stage and screen, with numerous credits to their names, so the opportunity to see LuPone and Patinkin individually on stage is enough to send shockwaves of excitement through any artistic community. To see them perform together, though, is tantamount in the theatrical community to the winning of the powerball lottery or finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. And if a person were lucky enough to see them perform together at a venue like the Eisenhower theatre in the Kennedy Center, and if it were not only every bit as good as you imagined, but even better (if that were possible), it would be a very safe bet that the bucket list would then have be retired completely, as the chance to see anything like it ever again is as rare as Haley’s comet.

Fortunately for the DC community, the above hypothetical situation is a current reality, and an amazing one at that. An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, directed by Patinkin himself with choreography by yet another Tony-award winner, Ann Reinking, and musical direction by Paul Ford, is in town for eight performances only and is worth cancelling all other plans this weekend in order to see this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: American Idiot

01 American Idiot NationalThea

The company of American Idiot (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Pop hits start and finish this stage musical version of Green Day’s American Idiot. The production, in its third U.S. tour at the National Theatre, opened strong with “American Idiot” and ended with a touching cast rendition of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” However between the curtain rise and fall is a performance that certainly packs all the moody, angst-filled energy you would expect but suffers from a story that feels too contrived to be anything more than a 90-minute live-action music video.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: We Are Proud To Present…

We Are Proud To Present Woolly MammothAndreu Honeycutt, Dawn Ursula, Joe Isenberg, Holly Twyford. Photo courtesy of Stan Barouh.

The experience of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company‘s We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 starts as soon as you walk onstage. Yes, onstage. In another effort to explore integrating the audience further into the experience of Woolly’s 34th season (earlier in the season Woolly split the house in half for productions of Detroit), audience members are ushered into the house through the backstage. Drinks are served in the wings and there is a set of risers where patrons can enjoy the show from the back of the stage looking into the house. The new seating configuration for We Are Proud to Present… is very much theater-in-the-round. Placing the audience all around the actors also makes sense for a show where the actors are going back-and-forth between acting in a show and revealing the process of putting on the show. It’s a level of meta-physical that is beyond simple Frank Underwood-like asides.

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s piece isn’t really about the African history lesson described in the title but rather the process of telling that story, and how even true stories can be influenced by the people who tell them. It is within that process that We Are Proud to Present… finds both its most comedic and strikingly powerful moments.

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Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Peter and the Starcatcher

Joey deBettencourt as Boy and Megan Stern as Molly in Peter and the Starcatcher.  Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Joey deBettencourt as Boy and Megan Stern as Molly in Peter and the Starcatcher. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Before actually seeing it at the Kennedy Center, all I knew about Peter and the Starcatcher was that it was somehow tied into the Peter Pan story. A look at the cast list, however, revealed only one familiar character, Smee (Captain Hook’s legendary sidekick), but no Peter, Wendy, Nana, and certainly no Hook. I also knew the show had won five Tony awards in 2013 during its Broadway run. What I didn’t know was how brilliant and funny it was, how innovative it was, or how incredibly directed it was, leaving me only to question why it didn’t win all the Tony awards. It was certainly worthy of it.

Although it starts out a bit like a Shakespeare play, with the audience just trying to figure out the world in which the show is set, who is who, what is what and how the poetic language is to be interpreted, mere minutes are all that are required to become lost in the fanciful and magical world of creativity. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, writer Rick Elice, directors Roger Brees and Alex Timbers, and a slew of phenomenal designers including Donyale Werle (set), Paloma Young (costumes), Jeff Croiter (lights), and Darron L. West (sound) have envisioned a production so innovative that it’s hard to imagine ever having to sit through any other play without being unimpressed. Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Violet

Erin Driscoll as Violet with Kevin McAllister and James Gardiner in the Ford’s Theatre production of the musical “Violet,” directed by Jeff Calhoun. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Erin Driscoll as Violet with Kevin McAllister and James Gardiner in the Ford’s Theatre production of the musical “Violet,” directed by Jeff Calhoun. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

When the entire plot of a two-act show centers around the emotional scars present due to a very large physical scar and said scar (or even hint of it) is not actually present on the face of the leading character, who spends more than two hours on stage focusing solely on the fact that the invisible scar ruined her life, I have a hard time being sympathetic. When the same character continues to verbalize how ugly she is and then repeatedly and ignorantly insults an African-American man, who is always kind to her, for his physical appearance, I have a hard time respecting her. When she then engages in a sexual fling with his white army buddy who is cruel and disrespectful to her, and Act I ends with her naively believing that she has found love in this meaningless one-night stand, I have a hard time understanding her.

In Act II, when the protagonist’s deceased father appears to her in a vision of sorts to aid in her emotional healing and all she does is blame him for making her ugly (it was his loose axe blade that caused her physical deformity in the first place), I have a hard time even liking her. And then, after both the vision of her father and her journey to a faith healer fail to heal her physical or emotional scars, she is met at the bus station by the two servicemen who both profess their love to her. When this happens, with no explanation why the cruel man has changed his tune or why the kind man would want to be with a woman who has been so awful to him, I have given up.

Such was my experience with Violet at Ford’s Theatre. Although most of my criticism stems from blaring gaps and issues with writing team Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori’s script and director Jeff Calhoun’s failure to clarify some of these issues, the decision to not give actress Erin Driscoll, who plays the 25-year old Violet, the massive scar around which the entire show revolves meant that from the opening moment of the show, I was dismayed. Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Twelfth Night

Irina Tsikurishvili as Viola with Ensemble in Synetic Theater's Twelfth Night. Photo: Koko Lanham.

Irina Tsikurishvili as Viola with Ensemble in Synetic Theater’s Twelfth Night. Photo: Koko Lanham.

Synetic Theater has been praised for many years by the artistic community for their innovative visual theatre performance style. Combining movement and music and eschewing verbal dialogue to tell a story, their productions are unique and more eclectic than most other theatre happening in the DC area. The first time I saw one of their shows, I was blown away by the beauty, the fluidity, and the outside-the-box artistry. The second production I saw was also dazzling, but reminiscent of the first production I saw. By the time I saw my third Synetic production, I was feeling that as much as I enjoyed and appreciated what they did, they might be a proverbial one-trick pony. This didn’t stop me from seeing their shows, because I have always been impressed by the stunning design and the graceful movement of the company members, but I began to feel like I knew what I would be getting. For me, Synetic Theater was a place where the “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” adage seemed to apply.

But after seeing Synetic Theater’s production of Twelfth Night, I have to amend my former opinions. I now state with absolution that they are not a one-trick pony and have, once again, blown me away by the beauty and outside-the-box artistry unlike anything I have ever seen. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Late: A Cowboy Song

Olmsted Thomas and Wilmoth Keegan in LATE A COWBOY SONG(L-R: Sarah Olmsted-Thomas and Alyssa Wilmoth-Keegan in No Rules Theatre’s production of Late: A Cowboy Song. Photo: Second Glance Photography)

Despite the title of Sarah Ruhl’s Late: A Cowboy Song, this early work from a quickly rising playwright is about being trapped rather than being late. The show now playing at No Rules Theatre features a heroine Mary (Sarah Olmsted-Thomas) who is trapped in an abusive relationship and day-to-day bustle that is quickly getting away from her to the point where it feels like she’s living from holiday to holiday. Her exasperated observation about the litany of holidays in a year will ring true to you once you sit down and think about it. Her boyfriend/husband Crick (Chris Dinolfo) is trapped in a perpetual man-child state which involves a love for modern art that borders on unhealthy and extremely needy tendencies. Mary’s childhood friend Red (Alyssa Wilmoth-Keegan) found her escape through her life as a cowboy living outside the city setting of Pittsburgh. The show’s eclectic tastes include musical interludes, interpretive dance, and clever use of props. However, despite a captivating exploration of identity, romance, and the idea of the perfect life, Late is a production trapped in its own complexity. Its lack of polish can be attributed to a playwright’s early work.

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Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Gypsy

Sherri L. Edelen as Momma Rose in Signature Theatre’s production of Gypsy. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Based on the real-life memoirs of burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Gypsy has been a beloved musical of mine ever since I was 15 and was fortunate enough to be cast in a local production of it. I have seen a number of productions both on stage (including the 2003 Broadway revival with Bernadette Peters) and screen (with the 1993 film version with Bette Midler my favorite). I can honestly say that Signature Theatre‘s current production was, by far, the best one I have ever seen. It was breathtaking, rendering me speechless. Those who know me realize that is a huge feat.

Between an engaging script and two acts of captivating songs, Gypsy is more the story of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Rose, than it is about her. Although the account of the famous stripper (real name: Louise) and her sister, June, is told—their history as child performers on the vaudeville circuit to June’s running away from home and Louise’s transition from novelty act to burlesque performer—it is only to highlight the journey Rose takes. The quintessential stage mother, Rose foregoes personal relationships, a stable career and home life, and financial comfort so that her children may be stars. It is only when her children and fiancé leave her, their vaudeville careers washed up, and with her life in shambles that Rose realizes all the toiling and strife done in the name of her children were really about fulfilling a dream of stardom for herself that will never come true because she was “born too early and started too late.” Continue reading