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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.

Featured Photo

Featured Photo

There’s nothing quite like a spectacular sunset. The only problem is the day you go out and set up your tripod hoping to take a sunset photo is the day that the sun just kind of sinks into the horizon in a very blah manner.

You’ve got to have equal parts skill and serendipity to capture an amazing sunset like the one John J Young did here.

One of the most important factors (the most important?) is that you need  clouds in the sky but not just any clouds — you need clouds that sit just above the horizon so that they’ll catch the light as the sun sets. On the evening that John took this picture, a fast moving storm had just swept through the area. The clouds it left behind were amazing.

He wasn’t the only one who got a great picture of the sky Wednesday night. Check out our Flickr pool to see more, including this one and this one.

Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Jesse Miller of Bar Pilar

Jesse Miller of Bar Pilar

Jesse Miller of Bar Pilar

We’re revisiting our Capital Chefs feature with a series by music reporter Mickey McCarter. A lot has been happening recently in kitchens in D.C. restaurants, and Mickey takes a look into them from his usual seat at the bar in this series, which runs weekly on Thursdays.

Out of art school, Jesse Miller sized up his prospects and took a job at the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Elkridge, Md.

The restaurant has one of the best wine programs in Maryland, offering gourmet French food to hungry customers as well as hosting weddings and catering.

At first thankful for a job, Miller ended up staying there for seven years.

“I was lucky enough to get a job there and that’s how this started,” said Miller, now chef at Bar Pillar and its sister establishment Café Saint-Ex. “Otherwise, I would still be trying to paint and living in the street someplace.”

He learned a lot at the Elkridge Furnace Inn that he applies to Bar Pilar, where his friends and customers hail him as an innovative chef.

“I was taught that a chef should accommodate anything at any time for anyone,” Miller said. “If you don’t like our options, we can always do something.

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The Daily Feed

Nats Win Ninth Straight in 3-2 Walk-off Victory Against Arizona

Four walk-offs in five days, a nine-game winning streak, and first place in the National League East – that’s where the Washington Nationals currently stand after their 3-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night. After a strong seven-inning shutout appearance from right-handed pitcher Tanner Roark for Washington, reliever Tyler Clippard blew the save, but the Nats came back in the form of an Anthony Rendon pinch-hit RBI-single in the bottom of the ninth with one out and two on base to win it.

“It’s a little stressful,” Rendon said of the situation, “[I’ve] probably got some grays coming in now but it’s actually [it’s] good to be on the winning side of these walk-offs for sure.”

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The Nationals

Nats win a wild one, notch seventh straight win

Jordan Zimmermann had thrown 39 pitches through 4 innings. It took just an hour and a half to make it through six frames of baseball on Monday night. The Nationals were moving with expediency through the Arizona lineup. And then it happened. With the Nats having just retaken the lead in the bottom of the seventh, 2-1, Zimmermann was left in just one batter too many, and the tables had turned again.

Diamondbacks’ Shortstop Didi Gregorius, having a stellar night on the infield, rocketed a pitch into the bullpen and that was that for the Nats hurler. While Steve McCatty had worked to give Zimmermann’s relief time to get warm, and a baserunner provided ample opportunity for throws to first to stay the game’s progress, manager Matt Williams let Zimmermann stay out there one batter too many on Monday night.

If you had to find fault with Matt Williams’ first year as a skipper, and with the team 6 games up on the Division and 17 games over .500, you might be stretching to do so, it would be with his bullpen management. Tonight was no exception to that occasional issue, and the rest of the pen would give him reason to continue that doubt. Though Matt Thornton would retire all 3 batters he faced after relieving Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard would blow his fourth save in the ninth, and Craig Stammen would have to pitch himself out of a massive jam (self-inflicted) in the eleventh inning.

The Nats’ offense came alive late on Monday, having been silent through six innings, and facing a 1-0 deficit, relied on their power to generate some runs. In the seventh, Wilson Ramos absolutely crushed a home run to the deepest part of the park to put the Nationals up 2-1, ahead of Zimmermann’s melt down. That wouldn’t be the end of it for Washington, though, as the 1-2 combination of Span and Rendon smacked a stand-up double followed with a head-first slide triple to tie the ballgame at three. Jayson Werth would sacrifice Rendon in to give the Nats back the lead in the bottom of the eighth.

Tyler Clippard, in his first save situation in months, was doing just fine, right up until he left a fastball right down Broadway for David Peralta, who responded by clubbing the ball off the fascia in right. Clippard would recover and give up no more ground, but Nats fans can be forgiven for clutching their chests on Monday for the third straight day as the bullpen worked. 

Nats fans can be doubly forgiven for pouring an extra bourbon during the top of the 11th. Craig Stammen was on in relief, and the bases ended up juiced on a pair of walks and a single. Steve McCatty sauntered to the mound to have a word with his pitcher, and whatever he said worked. Stammen got Lamb and Gregorius on gutty strikeouts, and forced a ground out from the pinch hitter Pennington.

It looked like the game was destined for more than 11 innings, as Span and Rendon were retired in order to start the bottom half, but Adam LaRoche delivered his first career walkoff in the form of a 407 foot shot off the second deck in right. 

The Nats had a high-leverage night for their bullpen, and it’s the third straight day they’ve had more than just mop-up work to do. Here’s hoping that Strasburg can turn in a good night, and the bats strike early for the Nationals, giving the relief crew a bit of a respite.

The Nationals

Theatrics not revelatory of drama, Nationals on a roll.

Twice this weekend, the Nationals won in dramatic late-inning fashion. Saturday night, they put a late rally together, having been shut out for the first seven innings, forcing a blown save against the Pirates’ setup man. Adam LaRoche picked up a clutch home run in the eighth, and Bryce Harper’s hustle was crucial in the 9th to cement the victory.

Sunday, the Nationals would repeat the come from behind routine in a game where the win probability chart looked more like a rollercoaster at Six Flags than your typical WPC. What began as a pitchers’ duel, would turn into an intense tit-for-tat. The Pirates would force some errors from the infield, before the Nationals would do the same just an inning later. The Pirates would get to closer Rafael Soriano, working his fourth appearance in five days, and go up 5-4. 

Ordinarily, the story here is “local sports team can’t overcome lousy performance by key member of the lineup.” 

Had the game ended there after the ninth, that would’ve been the narrative device employed by a lot of the media, complete with quotes absolving that performance from coaching staff members, and supportive quotes from teammates. This is how things would have gone had the Nationals not turned it around in the 9th to force extra innings, where they played clutch baseball and eked out a win over the Pirates 6-5.

These late-inning theatrics show a team that’s capable of overcoming the adversity of a 162-game schedule, a team that’s ready to face the grueling challenges of August, September and everything after. 

Some may lament a team that needs to come back from a deficit; no one likes it when a team with high expectations has to battle to live up to them. I would suggest that those fans are living in some sort of peculiar mirror world where baseball is a simple game like checkers or parcheesi, not a grueling sport where three hours games require laser-like focus, and where even the most talented of athletes fail more than they succeed in given situations.

Come from behind wins are the hallmark of a team that has come together into a cohesive whole, cognizant of the every day challenges of the game, and who find reasons and ways to succeed amid the difficulty. This Nationals team is so deep that it can beat you in so many different ways it may not matter if they’re not batting 1.000 and striking out the side with impunity. It’s hard for me to find the excitement in a perfect team the way you find it inone that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

To borrow language from Bull Durham, “Strikeouts are boring, and beside that, they’re fascist.” This isn’t a team that will beat you the same way every time, dominating you in every situation, they’re going to be the team that beats you when you make even the smallest mistake, and the Pirates learned that the hard way this weekend.

Look for these late inning theatrics to continue, and revel in them, Nats fans, for they are the hallmark of a team ready for the postseason, and a team that treats their success not as a given, but as something they must work for, must strive for, and achieve through strength of will and perseverance. Don’t find fault because they weren’t perfect, find success in overcoming that fault, and triumphing regardless.

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