The Features, Why I Still Love DC

Why I (Still) Love DC: Jenn

At the end of 2013, I wrote what I thought was my ultimate love letter to DC, filled with the moments that had sustained me during my struggle with a life-threatening illness. It was a thank you to the city I’d lived in for over two decades, yet I also suspected, at the time, that it might be a farewell – not because I was losing that struggle, but because I thought I was moving. Of course, I was incorrect, life being a lesson in derailment and the power of creative disruption. My DC in 2013 turned out to be the penultimate love letter, and while I spent most of 2014 investigating another city, by the end of that year I was back where I started.

So here we are. DC, you still have me. And yet, the time to leave our beloved site has come to pass. So I find myself writing another love letter, one that’s slightly bittersweet. But don’t worry. I always rally by the end.

If there’s any lesson I’ve learned over the past three years of incredible life change and regeneration, it’s this: the story never ends. You may think you have come to the end of your journey, but it’s only a chapter, or an act in a play that continues on and on. Just as cities never stop evolving, never stop rising, only to fall, and rise again. If not in actuality, then in the mind.

Maybe that’s why there are so many discarded drafts of my Why I (Still) Love DC. They litter my mind, my desk, my laptop, piling up like sediment in an archeological site. Rather as my discarded selves litter the city itself, so many experiences, haunting this corner and then the next. I feel like Scheherazade, and worry that if I ever finish the tale, I’ll lose my head.

I began to wonder if all the difficulty writing it meant that I no longer loved DC the way I used to, and frankly, yes, it’s true. But isn’t that as it should be, after so many years? Love’s not an ever-fixed mark, no matter what Shakespeare said. He knew better, anyway. Love must change – always. Otherwise, it calcifies, and your city crumbles into dust.

There’s a narrative to my love story that’s already established here in other pieces at We Love DC. I moved here for the architecture. The cherry blossoms. The subculture politicos ignore. The fact that it wasn’t New York or Boston, the other cities which courted me, but provided an escape from my New England youth. That DC was supposed to be just a way station on the way to London. That I didn’t leave, because I unexpectedly fell in love, with its music scene, with its theaters and a thriving community of artists. Bought a house, brought it back to life. That was the first act. In another act, life went haywire. My heart stopped several times. I regenerated in many ways, but haunted my old life in others. I was poised to escape, but grounded in limbo. I wasn’t as certain about my love anymore.

We’ll talk about that chapter another time, somewhere else.

I could tell you about all my other selves wandering DC. Continue reading

The Features

Why I (Still) Love DC: Joanna

“Snow Shovel 0, Snow & Ice 1.”
“Just die already winter. I hate you. Die.”
“Winter wonderland, we good. You can go now.”

These are the updates I woke up to in February from friends in DC. As of January, I live in Los Angeles, and it was surreal to read people’s misery – to know how cold the winters can feel on the National Mall – and still miss the place. So. Damn. Much.

When my husband and I first moved to DC we didn’t know if it was temporary or permanent, but we decided to invest everything we had in the community there, just to see what happened. We weren’t expecting anything.

Scratch that – we were expecting lobbyists as our only drinking buddies. Dismal.

We left DC five years later, so I guess it was temporary. But by the time we left, our drinking buddies were actors and graphic designers and animators and librarians and, ok, a few lobbyists.

Truth is, we left right when we wanted to stay the most, kicking and screaming. Even reading those icy posts from friends, I had to hold my hands back from typing “cheap flights to DCA.”

Here are three things I miss terribly about DC:

1) Having a conversation with anyone about anything.

The city is full of experts, educated at every level and on every subject. People settle in the nation’s capital not to become bureaucrats, but because they care about stuff. That passion and intelligence is unlike anywhere else in the country, and it’s something I took for granted.

2) Getting around.

In DC, you can go outside and walk, bike, or ride wherever you need to go. Give yourself extra time for Metro, and demand better from it, sure; but never forget you have it, and other options, when so many cities don’t.

3) The village and the metropolis.

In DC, your shows go to Broadway and your Fringe is fringe. You can spend a day for free at one of the best art museums in the world right before joining the regulars at that dive bar. You know everyone and still have so many more people to meet. You can get lost in the crowd or run for president.

DC attracts some of the most creative go-getters in the world, and they still smile at each other and know how to share a proper whiskey. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived where people are as kind as they are educated, as empathetic as they are intense. DC deserves the naysayers’ gratitude, the country’s investment, and the right to vote.

So yeah, I miss it all.

I miss it all except the weather.

The Features, Why I Still Love DC

Retrospective: Why We (Still) Love DC

Since our founding in 2008, every writer who joined We Love DC was asked to pen a love letter to the city. Our original Why I Love DC series became a running manifesto for how we wanted to engage with our readership and our lives beyond the capitol. We were unabashedly cheerleading for the District, with no agenda other than to challenge the dominant opinion at the time that DC wasn’t worthy of abiding love. The litany we fought against was: “It’s a transient city;” “No one wants to stay here;” “It’s just a political city;” “It’s boring.”

We felt differently. We still do. All those myths we set out to bust.

Over the subsequent years, we’ve asked nothing more of our writers than to speak the truth about their experiences living here, to be positive, and to write about what they loved. Now that we’re winding down the site, it felt appropriate to ask alumni to revisit their Why I Love DC pieces and take their current pulse on the city’s heartbeat.

While many of the articles written the first time around focused on what it meant to find yourself in love with a city unexpectedly, a city at the time maligned and misunderstood by many, our revisitation comes at a different time for DC. It seems almost overnight the District went from punchline to cool, but of course, it was a far more organic process than the hype would lead you to believe. Those of us who’ve directly experienced the waves from murder capital to millennial chic are thrilled by the District taking its rightful place as a cosmopolitan nexus, a gateway to the world, its beauty fully appreciated, while at the same time some can feel a conflicted nostalgia for those other days.

Like all great love affairs, it’s complicated. That’s what makes passion interesting.

So please join us as we launch our retrospection on Why I (Still) Love DC with articles by past writers over the next several days. Sift through the original Why I Love DC archive for some memory lane action. Join the dialogue #WhyIStillLoveDC and let everyone know your own pulse.

We’re still curious. And that’s as it should be.

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, Special Events, The Features

A 2014 Helen Hayes Awards (Drama Prom) Diary

Helen Hayes Awards 2014

Last night marked the 30th anniversary of the Helen Hayes Awards, and theatreWashington spared no expense in creating a blow-out bash. The annual celebration of Washington DC Theatre, aka Drama Prom, sported a new format and venue. Moving from the Warner Theatre to the National Building Museum gave the awards ceremony a much more casual feel as patrons mingled about throughout the three-act show. Victor Shargai received the Helen Hayes Tribute and Woolly Mammoth’s Stupid Fucking Bird, Ford & Signature’s Hello Dolly!, and Olney Theatre Center’s A Chorus Line went home with Best Resident Play and Musical honors.

However if you want a complete list of the winners you can find those here. Instead I offer you a tradition now four years running: my complete breakdown of my day (and night) with Helen (and others).

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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 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, 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

Food and Drink, We Love Drinks

Friday Happy Hour: Café Saint-Ex

I haven’t frequented Cafe Saint-Ex for very long, but to be fair I haven’t frequented anywhere in DC very long. But in the time that I’ve spent at Saint-Ex I’ve noticed their slow and steady change from a great neighborhood bar to one of the tops spots to get a drink in DC.

Let’s be real, we all know Saint-Ex. We’ve all been there for more than a few unforgettable nights and, of course, a few that we can’t remember. The 14 street staple opened in 2003 and since then the upstairs bar has been the go to spot for an afterwork drink, whether you’re 9 to 5 or stopping by for last call after a night behind the stick, and downstairs Gate 54 has taken on iconic status for its late night dance parties. While Saint-Ex may already be a DC standard, they prove with their new food and bar menu after all these years they’re still good enough to go round for round with the biggest names in the industry.

Driving the new bar menu is Ben Wiley, formerly of Jose Andres’ Think Food Group, and Noah Broaddus. One look at the menu and you can tell they took a serious, no frills approach to making good, simple drinks. Nothing too crazy, nothing too complicated, but all ridiculously good. Each drink is flavor-driven, with a focus on quality while still being approachable. As Noah puts it, “it’s all about bringing people into the fold.” Saint-Ex is and will always be the spot to drink a beer and get a shot on 14th, but now you can be sure to get a killer cocktail too. 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

Food and Drink, We Love Drinks

Friday Happy Hour: Malört at Bar Pilar

Even if you don’t know what it is, you probably already hate malört. It is the most bitter, disgusting, offensive thing I have ever tasted in my life. But you can bet that if I see a bottle behind the bar, the night’s going to end sipping that stuff out of a rocks glass. Malört is near impossible to find outside of Chicago, but there it’s an institution (full disclosure: I’ve never been to Chicago). Practically every bar has a bottle of Jeppson’s brand tucked away somewhere. Lose a bet? Want to impress your friends? Winding down the night? You’re likely drinking malört. I don’t know how it started, I don’t know why people do it, but they do.

Outside of Chicago, malört is much harder to come by. It’s far more common in Scandinavia where this style of liquor originated. Italians have their bitter amari, Deutschland has its herbal kräuterlikör, but they’ve got nothing on the bracingly bitter digestivi that come from the land of ice and snow. It’s no surprise then that bäsk, this wormwood-infused style of liquor, is so intensely bitter when you think of where it comes from. Take a shot of this before you leave the house and those harsh Baltic winds won’t seem that bad. It works great on a snowy day in DC, too. Continue reading

People, The District, The Features

My DC in 2013: Jenn

If 2012 was the year of upheaval, then 2013 was the year of recovery. I had a seemingly simple goal: to take time to pause, reflect, and allow my body to heal after a traumatic experience of complete heart block and two operations. I sold my house in Logan Circle, and moved temporarily to Petworth, hiding away in a Batgirl Cave on a street where sweet kids played on their bikes and friendly neighbors cooked out on the sidewalks. It felt like another city, one of families, far away from my usual frantic mid-city pace.

It felt like exile, too.

I’d lived in the same house for twelve years. It seems a luxury in urban living to have had the same address for that long. Then there I was, holding the splintered remains of my former life, feeling raw and broken and alone. Only I wasn’t. My city was still there for me. Eventually I would leave my little sanctuary and move back to Shaw, able to walk by my old house without flinching, happy it was loved by someone new. My mind can now be filled with snapshots of my DC in 2013: of a sunny patio, an audience’s gasp, passionate conversations, and much happiness over friends’ successes. Art, cocktails, and coffee. A lot of coffee. And late nights. Too much, probably, for someone struggling with major arrhythmia. For every moment I tried to rest and heal, I also pushed my body to deny it had failed.

Until finally, I forgave it. Continue reading

People, The District, The Features

My DC in 2013: Esther

At the ripe old age of still under 40, I felt like I had a mid-life crisis of sorts in 2013.  This was the year my outside frustrations and internal conflicts collided and I found myself becoming a bit cynical, bitter, and angry at things I couldn’t control and at complete strangers who I assumed were total jerks because they refuse to use their turn signal when switching lanes. Mid-year, it began to dawn on me that I was becoming the very person I was used to showing the middle finger to, and that scared me. I didn’t like being “that” person and I began taking steps to change. As 2013 comes to an end, I am pleased to announce that my mid-life crisis has ebbed and I am on the road to an existential recovery.  And DC itself has been a great therapist in helping me sort out my personal predicaments and move forward towards a more positive me.

I spent the first three months of 2013 outside of DC. I had been cast in two shows at a theatre in a different city and was very excited to leave the winter weather, the hustle and bustle of the beltway, and enjoy some time in a place where the weather was warm and the pace of life a lot slower. And to be honest, I really did enjoy my time away. A break from the rat race of the District was a nice change of pace. The people I met were lovely, the food was amazing, and the lack of traffic was heavenly. But being away also helped me gain perspective on the city in which we live. Continue reading

People, The District, The Features

My DC in 2013: Paul

All of my fondest memories of 2013 have happened in a bar. Whether I was on the good side or the better side of the bar, I’ve loved every minute. I got offered three jobs (including this one!) just going out for a drink. And I took all of them, along with one more, because I want to see as much of this city as I can. Sometimes it can be exhausting and emotionally draining, and it beats the crap out of your body (what’s that, four AM yoga so my neck isn’t stiff as a board tomorrow?), but it’s the best job I’ve ever had

On bad days, tending  bar can feel a bit like lion taming–at least I wish I had a whip whenever someone orders half a dozen mojitos (back, you animals!). And I may have developed bartending-induced ADD. Continue reading

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

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Elf

Noah Marlowe and Will Blum in Elf at the Kennedy Center

Noah Marlowe and Will Blum in Elf at the Kennedy Center. Photo credit: Amy Boyle

There is something about the holidays that brings families to the theatre. People who don’t see live theatre the other 364 days of the year seem to revel in one annual trip with the children and in-laws to see actors sing and dance to melodies rife with sleigh bells and falling snow. Although there are a number of movies about Christmas, stage options until recently were very limited. There was A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas. Whether it was because repeated viewings of these shows is extremely monotonous or just because other movies leant themselves to being musicalized, Broadway has recently introduced three new shows into the holiday canon. Now families across America, in taking their annual jaunt to the theatre can also see How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story or Elf. For DC area residents, this year’s musical offering is the latter, based on the 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human raised as a Christmas elf who goes to New York City to meet his father, a high-powered book publisher with no holiday spirit. Although closely following the cinematic story, the musical stage version of Elf, playing at the Kennedy Center, doesn’t try to imitate the film, but provides its own take on the story and makes for a very fun family outing.

Being a fan of the film, but not wanting to just see a stage production mirroring the same thing I can see on DVD, I was pleasantly satisfied that Elf was able to keep the integrity of the plot, characters, and humor while, at the same time, giving each of those elements a fresh lift. Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

A-Funny-Thing-Forum-STC-11-13-102The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson

In graduate school, I spent an entire semester of theatre history studying Roman comedy, as this ancient art form continues to be seen in contemporary farce today. One of my favorite musical comedies, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, is the perfect descendent of this form, since it not only utilizes 2,000-year old comedy conventions, such as puns, mistaken identity, physical humor and absurdity, but also because its plot is taken directly from three plays written by Plautus, the Roman father of farce himself.

Forum tells the ribald story of a slave named Pseudolus who attempts to win his freedom by assisting his youthful master win the heart of the beautiful courtesan next door. Using the classical elements of farce and punctuated by fun melodies with clever lyrics, Forum is such a well-written show that even the most amateur of productions can be excellent. I have, in fact, seen Forum a number of times, ranging in scope from its Broadway revival in 1997 to a 40-seat community theatre production with virtually no budget, and thoroughly enjoyed it every time. This is why I was so excited to see Forum at The Shakespeare Theatre Company and why I was so disappointed in their production. If a community theatre of amateur actors, directors, and designers can take a nearly perfect script and present farcical magic, I expected one of the greatest theatres and directors in the DC area, combined with a cast of actors with numerous Broadway credits, to be incredible. And it wasn’t. Continue reading

Life in the Capital, People

Why I Love DC: Paul

Oh DC, how I’ve loved keeping you my little secret. But unfortunately, it couldn’t last. The odd weekend rendezvous was fun, but it’s time to get serious. It’s no secret anymore, I do love you. For a long time DC was my secret little weekend getaway. Hop on a train, bus, plane, anything to get me away from sleepy Rhode Island for a few days. Of course, there was a girl too. That didn’t last but I fell in love with DC, at least. Or more specifically, the drinks.

I’ve always been fascinated with spirits and cocktails. The culture, the camaraderie, the artistry, I’m completely intoxicated with it. Cocktails are the language that I speak and I learned to speak it in DC. We have an incredibly talented food scene in Providence and I’ll fiercely defend my home turf to the end, but I’ve got to hand it to DC, it’s my favorite place to get a drink in this country. No surprise really, The Gibson was the first cocktail bar I had ever been to. I would’ve sold my soul after a few bitter slings under that sultry low light. No surprise then that after that night my top priority was to move to DC and tend bar.

The rest is a short story. Tidy up a few tiny details: finish college, say goodbye to all my friends, family, and beloved co workers, jaunt around Europe a bit, try to make a name for myself on the competition circuit, and then it was straight to DC. And oh my, that’s when things got interesting Continue reading

Food and Drink, We Love Drinks

Friday Happy Hour: How to Make a Knockout Punch

I’m going to let you guys in on a big secret about cocktail bars: we love batching. Got a delicious drink recipe that calls for half a dozen esoteric spirits and liqueurs? Great! Do I want to run up and down my bar trying to find them when I’m getting crushed during Saturday dinner service? About as much as you want to wait ten minutes for that drink. So we batch ahead of time. Like everyone else in the industry, I’ve got mixed feelings about batching. But sometimes it’s not just necessary, it’s preferred. And by that I’m talking about punches.

Punches are a host’s best friend. Easy to serve, better prepared ahead of time, and taste great; proper punch will earn you some serious colonial-era cocktail cred (maybe not that important to everyone… but check out Benjamin Franklin’s punch recipe). Try a punch at your next party and you will forever sing the praises of batching.

My recipes always follow the same format: 750 ml spirits, 375 fortified wine, 1000 ml tea, 250 ml citrus juice, 250 ml sugar, and 250 ml water. That’s roughly equal to one bottle of hooch, half a bottle of fortified wine, a pot of tea, a cup of citrus, a cup of sugar, and a cup of water. As far as actual ingredients goes, I’m a stickler for tradition (when it suits me) so I like to use colonial-era ingredients like applejack and maderia, two of the most consumed alcoholic beverages during foundation of our nation. Other than that, it’s dealer’s choice. Similar to boozy nogs, punches can take a mixture of multiple spirits; bourbon, rye, rum, brandy, genever, it will all blend in the end. You can even do a vodka-based punch. The ladies of LUPEC served one up at the Repeal Day Ball and it was so delicious, I was ready to cry witchcraft. Generally though, I avoid using vodka in my punches because we can’t all have skills like its creator, The Passenger‘s Alex Bookless. The exception being zubrowka; bison grass-infused vodka, that is. Mixed with apple cider, manzanilla sherry, and chamomile tea, a zubrowka punch is a beautiful thing. But that’s another post.

Final punch pro tips: don’t get fancy with the spirits, go fancy with the other ingredients. Continue reading