Poire cocktail by the Wilder Brothers at Zola. Photo courtesy Stir Food Group.
It’s hard to imagine but it’s been eight years since Zola first opened back in the former culinary wasteland then being redeveloped around the Verizon Center. I remember being so excited about the wittily gorgeous space and enjoying a few cocktails and dinner before it fell off my radar. Last night I was invited to attend a press dinner to sample the new chef’s tasting table and beverage programs. With the other foodies at WLDC being laid low by colds, and intrigued by the release of the cocktail menu from Wilder Bros Craft, I headed over to see what has changed. I’m happy to report that the revamp is very tasty and I’ll definitely return on my own dime.
The interior space is still the same spy motif as before, a bit refreshed but left mostly untouched – and funnily enough that look seems modern again, probably because of the Mad Men influenced retro revival. Food-wise, chef Bryan Moscatello’s offerings are now split between a modern American bistro menu for the bar and front seating area, and a chef’s tasting room menu for the back. The latter features a choice between either three courses ($55) or five courses ($69), and it was this menu that I sampled last night, paired with wines chosen by the delightful wine and spirits director Malia Milstead. There’s even a new dessert menu created by pastry chef Reggie Abalos.
But of course, since it’s me, we’ll start off with drinks. Ari and Micah Wilder of Wilder Bros Craft have designed a very lovely craft cocktail menu featuring historical flair by using old fashioned techniques such as gomme syrup. You’ll often see gomme syrup mentioned in old cocktail books – Micah kindly explained the process.
Students of The Washington School of Ballet in Septime Webre's The Nutcracker. Photo by Stephen Baranovics (2009).
I’ve always thought of The Nutcracker as the gateway drug for ballet. It hooks you when you’re young, all candy confection and delicacy, with just enough undercurrent of budding sensuality and danger to appeal. Once smitten by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her tasty treats, it’s only a matter of time beforeThe Red Shoesare dancing you unwillingly to the train tracks, or the Black Swanis bewitching you to your doom.
Okay, that’s a bit much! But I was reared on the filmed version of Baryshnikov’s magical American Ballet Theatre production, before I knew the sad backstory of Gelsey Kirkland, before my beloved ballet teacher damned my dreams of being a baby ballerina with the exasperated sigh, “She simply has no turnout.” I can still hum Tchaikovsky’s score almost in entirety. So yes, even a lovely children’s dream ballet like The Nutcracker can bring me to tears.
Septime Webre’s version for the Washington Ballet and its school, playing at the Warner Theater now through December 26, is a local holiday tradition that I experienced for the first time this year. The audience was a mix of nostalgic adults like me, and children brought to experience that heady gateway drug. The visual aspect of the production is perfect – the traditional story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, their battle against the wicked Rat King and their trip to the fairy kingdom, lovingly portrayed against the backdrop of Victorian Washington with relatively uncomplicated choreography well executed by a multigenerational cast of talented dancers. It’s a great introduction to the joys of ballet.
Except for one flaw. A flaw that breaks my heart, for what is says about the future of live performance and an art form that struggles to survive in economic distress.
Paata Tsikurishvili, Irina Tsikurishvili, Sara Taurchini and Katherine Frattini in Synetic Theater's "The Master and Margarita." Photo credit: Graeme B. Shaw.
Synetic Theater is following up on their muscular rendition of King Arthurwith something a bit more cerebral. Actually, a lot more cerebral, with not one but two men losing their heads onstage. Joking aside, it’s hard for me to know how to judge The Master and Margarita, playing through December 12 at the Lansburgh Theatre. As the company revisits its 2004 production of the Mikhail Bulgakov novel with a new adaptation by Roland Reed, all the usual elements we’ve come to expect and love from Synetic are in full force – extremely beautiful design, powerful physical visuals, and dramatic intensity. Putting these talents at the service of a densely intellectual story, mostly unfamiliar to American audiences, is the kind of risky undertaking I certainly admire. Yet somehow, I felt like I was watching a diamond – exquisite, but cold.
In his director’s notes, Paata Tsikurishvili says “we have chosen to embrace the absurdist elements of his story and highlight the Master’s (and Bulgakov’s) own artistic and religious struggle.” Esoteric struggles work in literary terms – but do they translate well to physical action and is the audience able to connect?
On the surface we have ninety minutes of stunning production visuals, especially the work of Anastasia Rurikov Simes, whose set and costumes are an eerie evocation of a surreal Soviet Union – like watching propaganda posters come to life through the prism of The Red Shoes. Continue reading →
At noon on Thursday Sept 30, Emil Draitser will be discussing his latest book, Stalin’s Romeo Spy, at the International Spy Museum. The discussion and book signing is free.
In the 1930s, Dmitri Bystrolyotov was handsome, fluent in several languages, a sailor, doctor, lawyer, and artist. He was also a spy for Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union. A charmer, he seduced many women in Europe – including a French diplomat, the wife of a British official, and a Gestapo officer – to discover their countries’ secrets for the Soviets. Caught up in Stalin’s purges in 1938, he then spent twenty years in the Gulag and came face-to-face with the true regime for which he had once spied.
Author Emil Draitser was a former journalist in the Soviet Union and now a professor at Hunter College in New York. He shared a little about Bystrolyotov and some of the more fascinating facts of Stalin’s “Romeo Spy.”
In the late 1950s, during the heyday of aviation and the dawning of space flight, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) approached Lockheed to develop a new aircraft that could overfly the Soviet Union. The CIA’s current plane (at the time) was the U-2, which served admirably in its role as a high-flying reconnaissance plane but was still susceptible to being shot down by high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM). Such an incident did occur in 1960, when Gary Powers was shot down while conducting an overflight over the U.S.S.R.
The result was the A-12, code name OXCART, which ended up in a different role as the Vietnam war broke out. The CIA’s spy plane flew several black missions during the war before being phased out and replaced by the U.S. Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird. On Thursday evening at the International Spy Museum, many aspects of the A-12 Oxcart program will be discussed by several experts, including CIA chief historian David Robarge, J-58 engine inventor Robert B. Abernethy, flight specialist Thornton D. Barnes, CIA officer S. Eugene Poteat, and pilot Kenneth Collins.
For a taste of the discussion, we managed to pin down CIA chief historian David Robarge for a few minutes to discuss the Oxcart and BLACK SHIELD programs. Continue reading →
If you’re not familiar with the work – which, to borrow a joke from the hosts at Filmspotting, is “Minor Shakespeare” – All’s Well tells the story of a woman of common birth who loves a nobleman. Through plucky resolve she gets the King to grant her a boon – her choice of husbands. When she picks the object of her affection he rejects her, fleeing France to fight in a foreign war and vowing not to return so long as he has a wife to return to. There’s a very Shakespearean bit of shenanigans along the way and in the end he sees the error of his ways and he accepts her.
So we’ve got a stalker, forced nuptials, class divisions, a sleazy hymen-chaser, a sort of rape by substitution, and, as such things usually lead to, eventual love and happy marriage. How’s that working for you?
So now that the tourists are (mostly) gone, time to get out and hit our various museums and their great programs and exhibitions! There’s a lot going on this month at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and we’re going to run down the list for you. Programs are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated; the SAAM is located in Penn Quarter at 8th and G Streets, NW. Note that some programs are at the Renwick Gallery at 17th and Pennsylvania and are noted accordingly.
Intersections/Intersecciones (Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m.)
Artists Kathy Vargas, María Martínez-Cañas, and Martina López discuss the intersection of Latino culture and gender identity in their work. Moderated by Muriel Hasbun, associate professor of fine art photography at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. No tickets required; seating available in McEvoy Auditorium on a first-come, first-served basis.
Art à la Cart (Sept. 12, Noon – 3 p.m.)
Travel throughout the galleries to find interactive carts where kids can handle brushes, palettes, bison hide, bottle caps, and quilt squares. Ages 7-12. Pick up your Art à la Cart map and passport at information desks located in the F Street and G Street lobbies.
Eric Hissom and Katie deBuys in “In the Next Room or the vibrator play.” Photo credit: Stan Barouh.
Ah, the Victorians! Always keeping the naughty bits tightly corseted. Such control freaks. At least, that’s our view of them now. It might come as a shock to learn about such inventions as the “electric massager,” on the scene in the 1870’s to relieve the frayed nerves of delicate housewives suffering from mysterious bouts of anxiety. Even more of a shock to learn before the dawn of the electrical age, physicians alleviated such symptoms of their patients the um, old-fashioned way, through manual manipulation. Yet somehow the resulting “paroxysms” and the accompanying relief were seen as strictly therapeutic and not erotic. Masters of keeping the physical and the sexual realms separate, those Victorians. One side Health, the other Damnation.
MORE: The history of humans sexual fantasies and exploration is a rich subject. The use of sex toys has been recorded hundreds of years ago, which makes dildos and vibrators available today on local stores and even online from sex shops like Plug Lust is not surprising. Read more on the topic with articles published by Fiona Petree.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company‘s 2010-2011 season is titled “A Striptease for Your Subconscious” – and if the first play out of the gate is any indication, this is going to be one wild ride. In the Next Room, or the vibrator play explores this acutely private dance between the physical and the sexual, between control and release. Yes, it’s a play about a male scientist/physician using a primitive vibrator on his female patients (and one male) to bring them to orgasm in order to restore the bloom in their cheeks, and yes there are several scenes depicting this, but there’s a lot more going on. Playwright Sarah Ruhl dances on the edge of fairy tale, weaving the mythology of feminine awakening with just enough sweetness to win over any prudish audience member. The final moment of reveal and revelation might still shock some, but its daringness is rather beautiful.
In the Next Room or the vibrator play presents us with a seemingly ill-matched couple – the practical man of science Dr. Givings (a briskly authoritative Eric Hissom) and his wife, the charmingly impulsive Catherine (a radiant Katie deBuys). Sense and sensibility, these two. The doctor plies his trade in the next room, protecting his wife from his work and denying her the deeper affection she craves. The love they share is blocked, just as the unseen walls separate the doctor’s operating room from the drawing room, as the society separates the physical from the erotic. Into their circle weave other blocked lives, some comical, others heart-wrenching. Continue reading →
American Craft Masterpieces – Kim Schmahmann, Bureau of Bureaucracy, 1993-1999, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
August promises to be chock full of events at many museums around town as the summer heat continues to build. Check out what’s going on down at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) during the dog days of August; all programs are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted. The SAAM is located over in Penn Quarter at 8th and F Streets, NW.
Conservation Clinic (Aug 4; by appointment only)
Questions about the condition of a painting, frame, drawing, print, or sculpture? American Art conservators are available by appointment for consultation about the preservation of privately-owned art. To request an appointment or to learn more, email DWRCLunder@si.edu and specify CLINIC in the subject line.
Book Talk & Signing: “Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera” (Aug 5, 6:30pm)
Many of Rockwell’s most memorable characters were friends and neighbors who served as amateur models. Author Ron Schick discusses how Rockwell acted as director — carefully orchestrating models, selecting props, and choosing locations for the photographs that served as the basis of his iconic images. Book signing follows. (This is a part of the SAAM’s comprehensive Rockwell & the Movies exhibition.)
I love throwing dinner parties. In my head, they always turn out like the cover of Bon Appetit and there’s always enough delicious food and the wine is perfect and everyone is happy. But in actuality, the food is pretty okay, it never is all ready at the same time, and I usually forget to put forks on the table. I always just assumed that the perfect dinner party was in the same category as unicorns and leprechauns, but Poste Roast proves that is not the case.
Poste Roast is a genius special event put on by the fine folks at Poste Moderne Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco. It’s part pig roast and part elegant dinner party. I admittedly didn’t really know what to expect when I forced seven of my closest friends to give over full control of their dinner and wallets to me that night, but I thought it was bound to be something memorable.
The exhibition – only being shown here in DC – is the first to plumb the depths of the connections between Rockwell’s images of American life and the movies. Between Rockwell’s work and the movies of Lucas and Spielberg, the themes of patriotism, small-town values, children growing up, unlikely heroes, imaginations, and life’s ironies are portrayed between canvas and film. “Ultimately, looking at Rockwell in terms of the movies opens a whole new way of understanding his work for the public,” said senior curator and exhibition organizer Virginia Mecklenburg, “but also for scholars interested in American popular and visual culture in the middle of the 20th century.”
Tim Getman and Gabriela Hernandez-Coffey
photo by Stan Barouh
After the final curtain call, complete with standing ovation from several audience members, Jenn said to me “I’m going to have to let you take this one entirely.” I tore my eyes away from the audience member who was directly opposite us, across the theater in the round, who seemed to finally be slowing down in her tears, and looked at Jenn. “This is just too much like a situation I’ve seen in reality for me to write this up.”
I replied that I was okay with that, but it wasn’t going to be a terribly positive review.
This ruby-red, slightly sweet creation is a filtered wheat ale made with a puree of real cherries — 294 pounds of cherries total, more than 1 pound per gallon.
Said Head Brewer Barrett Lauer, “This beer is a great beer to start off with, or end with, and has a delicate cherry aroma that compliments chocolate very nicely. It also tastes great with a touch of Oatmeal Stout in it.”
Two good beers at once? That’s a combination worth trying. Cheers to the cherry blossoms!
Michael Hayden as King Henry V in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, directed by David Muse. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Now this is more like it.
From the first moments of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Henry V, there’s a feeling of power and potency that I found lacking in Richard II, playing in repertory at Sidney Harman Hall. This is a company in command, helmed by David Muse’s tight, almost economical direction which sets the play firmly on course.
Productions of Henry V can veer from pro-war to anti-war (most famously, see the contrast of two films – Laurence Olivier vs. Kenneth Branagh). Here, war is certainly horrible, but it’s simply what kings must do to reign. This exploration of duty is the key to Muse’s production, in my opinion, and to the performance that leads it – Michael Hayden’s superb Henry. He embodies not just Henry’s description of himself as “plain soldier” but also of a man whose study of humanity in his wild days serves him well as king.
He’s also a scrappy fighter and a man whose bad side you want to avoid. No matter how close or safe you think you are, cross him at your peril.
From the beginning, when Muse chooses to split the Chorus into three characters (wonderfully played by Larry Paulsen, Robynn Rodriguez and Ted van Griethuysen), we’re on alert that there’s something different in store. With enthusiasm, sadness and humor they guide us through the history play by connecting directly with the audience, controlling lights and sound as if performing a lecture. It’s a conceit already inherent in the play itself, and here it lends a sense of the magic of theater that is echoed in key brilliant choices – stirring singing, unfurling maps, ghostly helmets hanging in air, a bright red laser pointer.
Michael Hayden as King Richard II in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Richard II, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
I don’t normally write the kind of review that I’m writing today. But to be blunt, I’ve had enough. What is going on at Shakespeare Theatre Company? Inconsistent vocality, acting styles ranging all over from natural to downright hammy, condescending directorial choices, flubbed lines. With so much talent at its disposal, I can only attribute it to growing pains with the Harman Center. But even that excuse is not going to last much longer with me. I love theater and I love Shakespeare. I want everyone to succeed. But if you don’t start bringing it, STC, I’m going to lose faith.
My first hint something was not right with Richard II, now playing in repertory with Henry V as part of an exploration on leadership themes, was in reading Michael Kahn’s directorial notes. He had decided to add a prologue from an anonymously penned Elizabethean play called Thomas of Woodstock because “I’ve always been aware of how mystified the audience is for the first four scenes.” Um, what? The audience has to piece together what happens at the first scene of Hamlet too, but I don’t see anyone advocating giving the ghost’s secret away right off the bat. So this is a choice to enlighten the audience? Why, we’re too dumb to catch up on our own? The patched together prologue is interminable and unnecessary, giving us our first glimpse of Richard’s neurosis and paranoia far too soon, not to mention solidifying in my mind –
Every Friday for the next six weeks, the International Spy Museum (ISM) will be debuting a new exhibit within the museum, including the addition of several new rare artifacts from the shadowy world of espionage. These new additions (some for a limited time only) join the already-extensive collection regarding the world’s “second-oldest profession” and the new gallery dedicated to espionage in the 21st Century. Several of these exhibits will tie into special programs occurring at the museum over the next few months, covering not only the secret history of spying but also exploring today’s hottest topics that daily impact the world of intelligence. “Espionage deals with clandestine, hidden information and the best spies make sure their every trace disappears, which makes finding personal pieces of tradecraft very challenging,” says Anna Slafer, ISM’s Director of Exhibitions and Programs. “Many of our new artifacts have to come us from intelligence agencies and the families of these famous spies, giving us a detailed story of these object’s role in history.”
Ben Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili in Synetic Theater's "Antony & Cleopatra." Photo credit: Graeme B. Shaw.
If you want to know why Synetic Theater has been nominated for 13 Helen Hayes awards for its productions last year, go see Antony & Cleopatra. Now.Everything this robust and vibrant company is beloved for is here on stage at the Lansburgh’s beautiful proscenium, as part of an alliance with Shakespeare Theatre that I hope means more Synetic productions at the Penn Quarter space. Their glorious athleticism, sensual energy and biting humor are all here, framed by what founding artistic director Paata Tsikurishvili calls their “art of silence.”
The characters of Antony and Cleopatra are full of lust – for life, for power, for each other. It’s a play highlighting the contradictory battle between masculine and feminine desires inherent in both sexes, and at its heart is the human ambition to seize the moment even at the risk of total loss.
Stakes are pretty high here, as director Paata Tsikurishvili makes clear by adding a prologue to the actual Shakespearean plot – the meeting of Caesar and Cleopatra, their ambition no less than to rule the entire known world together, uniting East and West. As they stand together, a map of the world splits up and swirls about them in an orgy of power. This is the ultimate gamble, player beware. Continue reading →
Robert Parsons as Abraham Lincoln, Rick Foucheux as Stephen Douglas and Sarah Zimmerman as Adele Douglas in the Ford’s Theatre Society production of Norman Corwin’s The Rivalry, directed by Mark Ramont. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service celebrates Abraham Lincoln’s birthday with special February programming. On February 5th, 12th, and 19th, Washington-area youth will present a selection of Lincoln’s greatest speeches as part of the Target Oratory Festival. On February 12th at 8:45 a.m., National Park Service Park Rangers will commemorate President Lincoln’s birthday with a Wreath-laying Ceremony on the historic steps of Ford’s Theatre. On February 13th, 15th, and 20th, visitors are invited to explore the many legends surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s life in Tales of the Lincoln with storyteller Jon Spelman.
Visitors can tour the recently renovated Ford’s Theatre Museum and experience an interpretive program about the events that led up to and include the assassination of President Lincoln. Visitors can also visit the Petersen House (the “House Where Lincoln Died”), dependent upon schedule. Through February 14th, check out a performance of “The Rivalry,” which explores the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. And to further enhance the visitor experience, park rangers and volunteers will be dressed in Civil War-era period clothing throughout the month of February.
The Neo-Futurists in "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" at Woolly Mammoth. Photo credit: Colin Hovde
Thirty plays in sixty minutes. That’s the goal, anyway – a race against the onstage clock for five performers to present pieces based on their own life experiences. The catch? They have no idea what order the mini-plays will be performed. A long clothesline of hanging numbers lines the stage, and it’s up to the audience to determine the order by calling out the number on the spot. Frantically running into place, the actors launch into piece after piece as the clock ticks on. Some nights they make it, some they don’t. And at the end of every night, an audience member rolls a die to see how many plays get subbed out for new ones the next night.
The cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Maria Aitken. Photo by Scott Suchman.
For the first thirty minutes of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “As You Like It,” I was entranced. The characters were on a journey through the history of American cinema, and the first scene’s send-up of a silent film had the audience delighted. Director Maria Aitken’s evocation of that era was perfect, from the stylized acting and Basil Rathbone-ish villians to the exquisite design elements. Then, we jumped ahead in time. She still had me with the move from Puritan England to Valley Forge America, the exiled duke and his men becoming George Washington and his ragtag soldiers.
But when we arrived at Tara and saw Scarlett O’Hara, my eyes began to hurt. By the end of some three hours of constant location and time changes through the Reconstruction, Wild West and up to a Busby Berkeley musical, I had a migraine. There was a faux movie director on stage occasionally calling “cut!” – but what this production really needed was a better editor.
I normally don’t object to Shakespeare productions that take sweeping liberties or use radical conceptualizations. After all, these are plays that have been done repeatedly for centuries, and they need a face-lift sometimes. But I do object when concepts don’t serve the purpose of the story. And this one, as beautiful as it is, does not.
It also must’ve cost a bundle, as one audience member muttered under her breath when a large neon sign shone for just one scene.
I don’t fault Aitken’s ambition, merely the execution. It’s a testament to her skill that the acting is top-notch. Continue reading →