Entertainment, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Swampoodle

Rachel Beauregard in Swampoodle by Tom Swift, presented by The Performance Corporation and Solas Nua. Photo credit: Ciaran Bagnall

“Warning: Swampoodle may contain eye-popping feats, roller derby smackdowns, big-track machinery, brass band music and scenes of a spectacular nature.”

It’s been two days since I’ve seen Swampoodle, the joint production by Irish company The Performance Corporation and DC’s own Solas Nua, a site-specific piece at the historic Uline Arena. I think the warning above that appears on all the press materials needs to be revised as follows:

“Warning: the Uline Arena may contain extreme mold spores, dust mites galore, pitted concrete, peeling paint, and the olfactory remnants of its days as a trash transfer station.”

Joking aside, my allergies are still in an uproar after ninety minutes inside the Uline, and if you suffer from mold allergies, I really do think you should know that it will affect you. But as fellow WLDC author Brian noted earlier, the arena has an amazing history and Swampoodle aims to bring that to life with its promenade style theater experience. It succeeds occasionally with scenes of evocative beauty that take advantage of the arena’s haunting decay.

When the doors roll open and you enter the darkened arena, its majestic demise is both shocking and breathtaking, like a Grecian temple gone to seed. In its heyday the arena could seat some 9,000 people – just glimpses of the bleachers remain as concrete steps in the corners. No wonder it was also at one time called the Washington Coliseum. As your eyes get accustomed to the dark you notice the peeling paint on the immense vaulted ceiling above, as a man in the distance (Michael John Casey as a Greek chorus-style janitor) calls you forward, his voice echoing across the gloom. It’s an impressive sight that will stay with me for a long time.

But as the performance went on and actors raced back and forth shouting about “the show must go on!” and “it’s a wonderful show!” portraying a forced anxiety over the lack of a script, well, I started to turn away from them and look to the Uline itself, its massive decline more evocative than anything else. Perhaps that’s the point, a friend remarked as we walked away afterwards to the gleaming New York Avenue metro, new office buildings and a shining Harris Teeter sprouting up around the dying concrete cavern. Perhaps there’s no point at all. Continue reading

Entertainment, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Irish Book Day

Photo courtesy of
‘a book for the commute’
courtesy of ‘maria jpeg’

Tomorrow is the 6th Annual Irish Book Day! Chances are you’ll run into one of the hundred volunteers Irish arts organization Solas Nua will place at metro stops around the city, giving away free books from the wee hours of the morning commute into the evening rush.

Current Irish literature ranging from The Master by Colm Toibin to children’s author Eoin Coifer will be yours for the asking as DC’s only organization dedicated exclusively to promoting contemporary Irish arts celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. Last year they distributed 10,000 books. This year, they’ve got 20,000 on hand! I’ll be on the lookout for a copy of Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – which sounds like a completely bawdy, brutal tale of an 18th-century red-light district (slammerkin is slang for “loose woman”).

Volunteers will pass out free books from 6am-7pm or until they run out. To find out what metro stops they’ll be at Thursday morning, follow @solasnuacht.

Entertainment, Music, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Improbable Frequency

John Tweel and Madeleine Carr in Solas Nua's "Improbable Frequency." Photo credit: Dan Brick

A spanking new office building behind Union Station’s train tracks is a strange place to find oneself for a night of theater. Ushered through a blindingly white lobby, up the elevator to the sixth floor, greeted by a charming Irish lass asking you, “What’s the password?” Well, that’s the sort of night it was – equal parts improbable, uncomfortable, delightful, and unfinished.

Solas Nua is one of my favorite theater companies in DC. Known for their fearless dives into the Irish underbelly, Improbable Frequency is their first musical foray. There’s an enthusiastic cast backed by a live band in a space best described as cavernous. Sadly, preview night was unable to deliver the promised atmosphere of Todd Thrasher cocktails, vintage costumed extras and burlesque dancers working the crowd to create a 1940’s speakeasy – but when these elements are added (cross your fingers on that liquor license) it could help immeasurably to liven up what’s essentially a concrete skeleton.

Our guide through the musical action is Tristram Faraday, a cruciverbalist whose enthusiasm for and ability to solve crossword puzzles lands him a position as an unlikely spy in Ireland. He’s British, it’s World War II, and though the Irish are professed to be neutral there’s some suspicious codebreaking to be done. That alone could cause serious mayhem. But even stranger things are afoot – people randomly acting out bad puns, songs played on the radio weirdly affecting the weather. Throw in a mysterious double agent, a mad Austrian scientist, and the IRA!  Tangling out the plot beyond that would spoil the big reveal, so suffice to say it all begins to resemble a parody of a Doctor Who episode. Continue reading

Entertainment, Penn Quarter, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Johnny Meister + The Stitch

Chris Dinolfo and Rex Daugherty in Solas Nua's production of "Johnny Meister and The Stitch" Photo credit: Aoife Mckenna

The “black box” theater is a tricky environment. Actors and audience, being so close to one another in a tight setting, enter into a kind of silent agreement – we see them sweat, they hear us breathe. Actually, it’s a bit like a date. We start out eager for it all to go well, maybe laughing a little too hard, being charmed. But it can end awkwardly. Or go brilliantly.

Solas Nua has the black box date down. In a tiny square nestled in the Flashpoint Gallery (properly known as the Flashpoint Mead Theatre Lab), they keep things sparse and simple, focusing on brutally provocative plays featuring actors who relish the meat of contemporary Irish drama. It works. I’ve yet to see a lazy or self-indulgent piece performed here (last year’s startling Disco Pigs was the first play in a long time to punch me in the gut so hard I cried).

On a given performance of Johnny Meister + The Stitch, the immediacy of live theater is strongly evident as you watch the beads of sweat slowly trickle down Chris Dinolfo’s face as he stands (briefly, it’s a fast clip) lit by long flourescent bulbs. Or the dangerous crackle of Rex Daugherty’s eyes as he makes momentary eye contact with an audience member. This is the thrill of the black box theater, and it’s highlighted by this American premiere of Rosemary Jenkinson’s play about two rough Belfast boys and one wild night.

Continue reading

The Features, We Love Drinks, We Love Food, We Love Music

St. Patrick’s Day: What’s the craic?

Irish banneSign of the times at Bottom Line by Corinne Whiting

St. Patrick’s Day seems to fall at a good time of year—just after we’ve groggily “sprung forward” and just as we’ve been teased out of our winter hermit holes by the sweet promise of spring. Winter vacation seems a lifetime ago; Memorial Day beach treks couldn’t feel farther out of reach. Truth be told, we’re ready for some good craic.

This holiday always seems an ideal time to check in with Irish mates I haven’t properly caught up with since my last trip to Éire. I write friends based in happenin’ Dublin and off “busy” getting sunburned in fabulous places around the globe to wish them a happy Paddy’s Day. (Note: if you accidentally let slip “St. Patty’s Day,” prepare to be scolded for incorrectly feminizing the legendary saint!) This year I surveyed my friends’ March 17 plans, knowing that the night before would be the big night out thanks to a national holiday on St. Patrick’s Day. Over there March 17 seems a day, at least for my friends, to take it easy—catching up over pints and coffees, cycling into the country and, most importantly, avoiding the chaos of city centre. The downtown Dublin parade, it seems, can be saved for the kids and tourists.

So what then does March 17 (unfortunately not a holiday here) mean for Washingtonians? Perhaps the Obamas will dye the White House fountain green again (touch wood). And while the holiday will no doubt give venues an excuse to charge covers to droves of bar goers on a random Wednesday night, it will also give bar goers an excuse to spend a Wednesday night clinking glasses of green beer, downing Irish car bombs and flaunting real or feigned ancestry (“Kiss Me, I’m Irish” buttons, anyone?). It’s also a day when cultural traditions get a wee bit muddled here in the “melting pot” of America—Scottish and English customs become Irish; anything Celtic goes….

Continue reading

Entertainment, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Free Irish Film Fest Tickets!

Gabriel Byrne in "Stories from Home." Photo courtesy Capital Irish Film Festival.

Gabriel Byrne in "Stories from Home." Photo courtesy Capital Irish Film Festival.

The good folks at Solas Nua are giving our readers a chance at free tickets to the Capital Irish Film Festival’s closing night screening! The first 20 readers who order tickets using the code “welovedc” will be comped the regular admission fee (limit 2 tickets per person).

Gabriel Byrne: Stories from Home is a “revealing and evocative” documentary detailing Byrne’s public and private life, showing this Sunday, December 20 at the E Street Cinema at 6pm. Byrne is probably best known for his current role on HBO’s In Treatment, but my personal favorite will always be The Usual Suspects…

Entertainment, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Capital Irish Film Festival

Gabriel Byrne in "Stories from Home." Photo courtesy Capital Irish Film Festival.

"Gabriel Byrne: Stories from Home." Photo courtesy Capital Irish Film Festival.

The Capital Irish Film Festival starts tomorrow, with 18 screenings of more than 60 new Irish films. Running December 10th through December 20th, at various locations including the E Street Cinema, it’s presented by Irish contemporary arts organization Solas Nua.

Tomorrow’s opening night features The Eclipse (one of my all-time favorite actors, the amazing Ciaran Hinds), with other screenings throughout the 10 days including Hunger (the riveting Michael Fassbender as IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands) and Gabriel Byrne: Stories from Home (a documentary about the actor’s life and process).

With a ton of great films to choose from you can’t go wrong exploring the wide range of Irish talent in film today.

The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Disco Pigs

Madeleine Carr and Rex Daugherty in Solas Nua's "Disco Pigs." Photo credit: Dan Brick

Madeleine Carr and Rex Daugherty in Solas Nua's "Disco Pigs." Photo credit: Dan Brick

The joy of being so entwined you can finish each other’s thoughts… the pain when those thoughts become dissonant.

For one hour in a small black box theater, Madeleine Carr and Rex Daugherty command your attention with these extreme emotions, in Solas Nua‘s production of “Disco Pigs.” It’s rare that I cry at the theater – having a drama background sadly numbs your reactions sometimes – but this was such a visceral experience I found myself deeply moved. Or perhaps it hit me on a profoundly personal level. Whatever the case, I urge you to spend the hour with them.

Enda Walsh’s play is densely verbal and the Irish accents are thick. This means for the first five minutes or so your brain is processing fast and wild, just like the characters. Pig and Runt are born at the same time at the same hospital and connected by the strong bond of outcasts. They celebrate their seventeenth birthday by terrorizing Cork (which they call “Pork,” snorting and eating like little pigs), their parents, pub denizens and disco dancers – until slowly they become terrorized themselves, by new emotions and challenges to their bond. Continue reading

Downtown, The Daily Feed

Free Irish Books Tomorrow!

Photo courtesy of
‘Day 93 – Reading, For Once’
courtesy of ‘gotplaid?’

If you happen to be around one of a handful of popular metro spots in town tomorrow beginning at 7 a.m., you may see some of the lovely individuals of Solas Nua, the only organization dedicated to contemporary Irish arts, handing out books. For free! For the 4th year running, Solas Nua will pass out contemporary Irish tomes to passers-by in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

It’s sort of a first-come first-serve, in that, when the books run out, that’s all folks. So keep an eye out if you happen to be around Metro Center, Tenleytown, the U St. Corridor, Dupont (north exit), Chinatown (7th street) or Archives/Navy Memorial.  Volunteers will be taking a wee break (see what I did there?) around 10 a.m., if you don’t see anyone out around that time. 

Books and St. Paddy’s day – what could be better?? Well… maybe some Irish whisky…