Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Mary T. & Lizzy K.

Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris and Naomi Jacobson in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of Mary T. & Lizzy K. Photo credit:  Scott Suchman.

Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris and Naomi Jacobson in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of Mary T. & Lizzy K. Photo credit: Scott Suchman.

It’s hard to imagine in these days of cheaply manufactured clothes that there was once a time when getting a new outfit was a laborious and artistic process. Only in the worlds of high fashion or in the theater is the art of dressmaking still practiced to that level (and even there, machines have almost eradicated the particular craft of hand sewing). In the prudish Victorian era, no one knew your body more intimately than your dressmaker, from the crafting of a muslin mock-up perfectly fitted to your body to the execution of a dress that suited you alone.

Giving yourself that intimately to another person requires absolute trust, and that ultimately is the subject of Tazewell Thompson’s new play Mary T. & Lizzy K. The world premiere of a work commissioned between Thompson and Arena Stage, as the first production of Arena Stage’s American President’s Project its primary subject is the relationship of Mary Todd Lincoln (Naomi Jacobson) and her dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris). It can’t entirely escape the long shadow of the president, but it attempts to give two women who both suffered from marginalization (in two very different ways) their due.

It’s both gorgeously written and acted with a cool intellectualism that counterpoints the deep emotions that permeate any work to do with the Lincolns. Though the overall conceit – a prelude to that dreadful assassination night at Ford’s Theatre – may feel contrived, so indeed is a beautiful dress. Continue reading

The Features

Toward Better Communication

After ten years of living in the greater DC area, I became a District resident in 2010. In those three years, I’ve grown to see more complexity in many different subjects, but most clear to me is how this city eyes the politics of race and of affluence. The front lines of DC’s gentrification are not a comfortable place, for the new or the old. And yet, they’re inescapable for a city in the midst of change and growth.

Tiffany and I moved to Monroe Street NE in the Brookland neighborhood, a part of DC that is both old and new all at once. Brookland is one of DC’s most diverse neighborhoods. There are new residents (white, black, hispanic), old residents (white, black, hispanic), poor residents, rich residents, the childless and families, and all are well represented in Brookland. I won’t call that coexistence easy or flawless, but I will say that this is a neighborhood that, for the most part, gets along despite their differences. The meetings can be contentious – see the 901 Monroe development for a good example – but this isn’t a place where all decorum is thrown out the window, making it an exception in Ward 5, known for its online drama.

On Sunday night, thirteen people were shot in front of their homes at Tyler House on North Capitol Street. The 284 units of Section 8 public housing at Tyler House are the site of a $25M renovation planned for the near term, separate from a necessary $100M commitment from Mayor Vincent Gray for the expansion of affordable housing for the District. Continue reading

We Love Arts

Michelangelo’s David-Apollo at the National Gallery

Michelangelo. The name is instantly recognizable. When a person hears it, images of the David, the Sistine Chapel, and the Pieta come to mind; the name itself is associated with the heights of artistic excellence. With this in mind, when it was announced that the government of Italy was lending a Michelangelo statue to the National Gallery of Art, I jumped at the chance to see the master’s unfinished “David-Apollo” statue. Continue reading


A Perfect Show: Punch Brothers at 9:30 Club

The Stage at 9:30 Club

When I saw the load-in last night for Punch Brothers, I knew we were in for a treat. I’ve been there for shows like GWAR where the load-in takes hours and hours and the whole club is covered in plastic, and there’s a crew of a few dozen people to make it all go together. Those shows can be fun, but I love it when it’s the opposite. There were five mice and five pedals and one mixer on the stage and a curtain behind them.

My favorite shows are often the ones where there is the least between the band and their audience, both effects-wise and distance-wise, and the show from Punch Brothers delivered on both counts. Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge and Paul Kowert are very possibly the most instrumentally precise group that I’ve seen live. I was doing some thinking last night after the show, searching my memory for a group that I could compare them to in that regard, and about the only group that fit the criteria were the Kronos Quartet.

Switching styles with grace, the quintet moved between traditional and progressive bluegrass last night, from new stuff to old stuff without so much as a flawed pick or missed note, and when you consider the complexity of the music they’re working with, from its manic picking to its dense harmonic structure, that’s the sort of thing you don’t hardly hear from a group that small.

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Business and Money, Downtown, Education, Essential DC, History, Life in the Capital, Opinion, People, The Features

A Conversation on Culture and Change Regarding the Washington [blank]s

Photo courtesy of BrianMKA
FedEx seats
courtesy of BrianMKA

By now, local Washington media has covered the internet with their summaries of a timely – yet still largely ignored – issue involving a particular football team located in this area. While Racial Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports spoke to the broader issues regarding Native American culture and peoples and their use as sports logos and traditions, make no mistake: the local NFL team’s moniker was a lynchpin in the discussion. The topic was subject of one-third of the day’s symposium, and itself is well-covered elsewhere. (You can watch the recording online in its entirety.)

I couldn’t attend in person, so I settled for the live webcast. And I’ve spent time re-watching the panels as well, because there was so much information and passion involved I couldn’t catch all of it the first time around. I could probably write several blog posts about the topic, and may yet in the future.

But what I wanted to really comment here and now, since other outlets are more focused on the local team aspect, is some key comments made by Director Kevin Gover at the start of the day. Thanks to NMAI, I received a full copy of his remarks; they provide a context that is important to the background of the overall discussion. While I won’t simply copy them all here – you can listen to Dr. Gover online for that – I did want to point out some relevant comments. Continue reading

The Mall

That Day Molly Smith Led a Protest on Gun Control

Molly Smith at Gun March on DC

It wasn’t hard to spot the gun control crowd marching on Washington last Saturday. They were the ones all the tourists were pointing at.

OH: “Who are all those people over there?”
OH: “You think something’s wrong?”
OH: “Oh it’s one of those anti-gun groups.”
OH: “Get out of the picture, Fred!”

In fact, the March on Washington for Gun Control was not one group but a few – groups like One Million Moms for Gun Control and folks from the mayor’s office, plus Arena Stage’s Molly Smith, who organized the whole thing (unaffiliated with the theater).

I ran into the march while headed toward the National Gallery of Art for my birthday. So obviously I took a detour; because nothing says celebrate like partisan politics and national tragedy.
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Entertainment, Inaugupocalypse, Life in the Capital, Night Life, Special Events, The Features

Inaugural Ball Flashback: The We Love DC Crew Hits The Town On Inauguration Night

We all know Washington, DC is a city that likes to drink and party. Add The President and you have a good reason to grab a tux or gown and brave the cold. That’s what many of our We Love DC crew did as they hit up the Official and Unofficial parties celebrating the  Inauguration of Barack Obama. Here’s what they saw and heard.

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Entertainment, Inaugupocalypse, Life in the Capital, Night Life, Special Events, The Features

The Inaugural Parade: Photos, Drinks, and Empty Metro Cars

Four years ago I trudged down to The Mall and stood in the cold to see Barack Obama get sworn in as President of the United States of America. This time around I avoided The Mall and checked out the Inaugural Parade instead. I still ended up waiting outside in the cold but it wasn’t that bad.

Read on for lots of photos from the parade route.

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Music, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: Morrissey @ Strathmore Music Center — 1/16/13 (or “Moz Not Moz”)

Morrissey, courtesy Morrissey

Morrissey, courtesy Morrissey

Some fans of Morrissey have a problem letting the man grow old. Certain blogs will heap upon their readers pictures of him from 25 years ago with his shirt open and flowers sticking out of his pockets. And even the most conscientious Morrissey fan will at some point in the conversation wistfully say, “I really looooooove The Smiths,” as if the powerful but fitful start of Morrissey’s music career was all there really ever was of it.

In a way, these fans can be forgiven. In his appearance at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday night, Morrissey opened his show with “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and closed it on “How Soon Is Now?” He played several other songs by The Smiths along the way in the 20-song set. But make no mistake — this is not the Morrissey that folks have under glass, frozen in their minds. He’s older, wiser, and dare I say, happier?

I’ve seen Moz in concert a whopping eight times in the past five years thanks to the charming Yasmin, who hooks me into following him around on short arcs when he’s in the area. Although it was more obvious in his performances of four years ago, it still seems plain as day to me that Morrissey is much more content and confident, as a person and an artist, than he was earlier in his career — at the time when people would freeze him for posterity. And it’s quite becoming, I would say. The older Morrissey is eloquent and erudite. His passion for causes really flares up only in his ongoing partnership with PETA, where he protests the eating of animals as cruel, particularly in an elaborately staged rendition of “Meat is Murder.” (Sorry, Steve, but I’m going to eat chickens no matter how many times you show me a video of their admittedly terrible treatment at the hands of some farmers.) But outside of his vegetarian activism, Morrissey seems to know when enough is enough.

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Sports Fix

A Thank You to Michael Morse

This evening, it has been widely reported that Michael Morse has been traded to the Seattle Mariners for prospects A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen and a player to be named later in a three team that also featured the Oakland Athletics.

This deal had likely been in the works since the Nationals completed the contract for Adam LaRoche. With LaRoche re-signing, the opportunity for Morse to play every day was largely gone, as the set outfield of Harper/Span/Werth didn’t have a place for Morse that would give him the playing time that he deserves.

Before he goes, though, I need to tell you what he meant to me as a Nationals fan.

Michael Morse was involved in my two favorite moments of the 2012 season, both of which I observed as a fan from the stands (or in front of the TV), and not as a credentialed blogger.  The first was the phantom grand slam from September, which saw Morse hit a long ball off the second wall at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis, which caromed back onto the field. With the bases loaded, they threw the ball back in and tagged out Morse on his way back to first as the runners were forced back into position.

On review, the umpires declared the ball a home run, but, as they wanted to make sure everyone touched ’em all, Morse took a phantom swing – no bat in his hands – to start the whole play anew and set the runners in motion so they didn’t pass one another on the base paths. Instant classic there as Morse stood with Yadier Molina as the umpires waited to set things in motion.

The second was probably the best moment of the regular season: As the Nationals were playing the Phillies on October 1st at Nationals Park, the team clinched the Playoffs with a Braves loss in the middle of the 9th inning. After a pause to celebrate, Michael Morse stepped into the batters’ box as the PA played A-Ha’s Take on Me, his signature late-innings walk-up music. As had been the case for most of 2012, and much of 2011, the crowd joined in the chorus. It was one of the most joyous moments I’ve seen at Nationals Park, or since baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital.

There was, in that song, whenever it was played, something that belonged just to Washington sports – just to the Nationals – that wasn’t something that was transplanted or orchestrated or outright stolen.

It was ours.

Morse, in so many ways, represented the built-up strength of the Nationals. He was a misfit from the Seattle organization. A talented player who needed a place that could work with his skills, and that was definitely the Nationals. While he wasn’t a defensive wunderkind the way someone like Ryan Zimmerman or Bryce Harper was, he did have that offensive spark that just came to life in the humid summer on the shores of the Potomac.

Morse embodied the moxie  that the Nationals built. His confident approach at the plate paid off through 2011 (.303/.360/.550) and 2012 (.291/.321/.470), in which he combined for 49 HRs and 157 RBI, and won the hearts of Nationals fans across the city. There was much lamentation, first when the Nationals re-signed LaRoche (and started this process), and then again when the trade was reported tonight, that losing Morse was losing a piece of the Nationals’ soul.

In many ways, those feelings are ones that I share. I understand why it was necessary, and why the roster is stronger now than it ever has been.

But it doesn’t mean I have to like seeing Morse go.

Thank you, Beast, for living as this city’s baseball swagger, for being the heart of the 2012 Nationals, and most of all for teaching this city how to hit the high notes, all together.

Here’s hoping we get to sing A-Ha again for you soon.


A Very Choral Christmas in DC

It’s hard to believe we’re just two and a half weeks to Christmas already. Between some unseasonably warm days, and the early Thanksgiving day this year, I’m feeling a bit out of sync with my usual holiday heartbeat. This is a tremendous time of year for choral music, and DC has a wealth of offerings from the small and intimate Washington Men’s Camerata to the big choir of Choral Arts Society of Washington or the Cathedral Choral Society.

We’ve got a good guide that follows here for where you can find your Christmas Choral cheer.

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Gallery Gab

Q&A with Satirist Song Byeok

A Loving Father and His Children / courtesy of Sandbrush, Inc.

Formerly an Official State Propaganda Artist of North Korea, Song Byeok was disillusioned after famine struck his home country in the 1990s. He lost his parents and sister and was brutally tortured after attempting to find food in China. He ultimately defected and now works as a satirist, using paintings to depict oppressive regimes and the people trapped within them—including many images of the dictatorship in North Korea.

After showing in DC last spring, both the artist and his paintings have returned, this time to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. During the run of You For Me for You, Song’s work will appear in full force throughout the Woolly lobby. Song will also contribute to events around the city as part of the theater’s House Lights Up program.

Joanna: When did you first decide to start creating satirical work? Was it difficult to make that transition?

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Music, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: Taylor Carson

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Carson

There was a time early on in his songwriting career when Taylor Carson had no idea what he was actually singing about. He’d write his own songs and play them live but he was much more concerned with pumping out material than anything else. Since then, Carson has matured from being a self-described cocky twenty-something into an analytical musician who feels strongly about writing the best songs he can with lyrics that mean something.

Carson has always had a connection to music having grown up the son of an opera singer in New Jersey. While he didn’t favor his mother’s genre of choice, Carson definitely recognized at a young age how opera made his mother feel. “It made her so happy to be on stage and she kind of went somewhere else and I feel that same way now,” he explained.

It would take Carson a bit of time to recreate that feeling but he would finally experience musical nirvana in his thirties. “I didn’t identify with [how she felt] until I got to a certain point with my music,” he said. “I was like, ‘Ah! So THIS is what she was feeling all that time.’”

Carson started out as a vocalist in the seasonal concerts at his elementary school. He spent time as an athlete as well but remembers thinking how cool it was to be in music class. “I remember being like seven years old and watching a song be built and really being fascinated by that,” he said. “I just love the creation out of nothing.”

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Music, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: Shiny Toy Guns @ Rock and Roll Hotel — 11/4/12

Carah Faye and Jeremy Dawson. Copyright and Courtesy, CJ Lucero.

The Shiny Toy Guns rode into DC Sunday night on soaring symphonic sounds and pulsating waves of light that dazzled a sold-out crowd of very enthusiastic admirers at the Rock and Roll Hotel.

Actually, the Shinys literally rode into town in a tour bus dragging a trailer packed full of supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy in Hoboken, NJ, where they were headed not only to donate those supplies but offer a cadre of fans a lift across the river to a Monday night show in Manhattan. And that’s part of the appeal of this four-member band, which was celebrating the return of original singer Carah Faye Charnow — they are such genuine folks despite their love of glam glitz and big gothy boots.

Carah Faye does more than sing damn well — she trades off on synths and bass with Jeremy Dawson, keyboardist, bassist and all-around mastermind. Carah was away for the band’s second album but now she’s back for their third, III, and the chemistry between her and the rest of the band was superb. Besides jumping onto the keyboards when Dawson rotated off, she meshed very well with her fellow vocalist Chad Petree, who also mesmerizes on the guitar. Drummer Mikey Martin, of course, ably supported all three of his band mates with delightfully glam percussion.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Conference of the Birds

The cast of The Conference of the Birds at Folger Shakespeare Theatre. Photo credit: Scott Suchman.

How easy it is to drop out of the journey of self-discovery, with all the trials and temptations surrounding us. Yet how rewarding to stay the course. In the 1970s, a visionary director led his company through rural Africa, performing an adaptation of a 12th-century Persian poem about the birds of the world on a quest to find their king. The legacy of his artistic journey is best summed up by The Guardian‘s Michael Billington: “to reinforce the centrality of the shared experience, to clear the stage of clutter and to realise the need for ecstasy.”

His journey transformed theater.

However, I’m not sure how necessary it is to know anything about that director, Peter Brook, before seeing The Conference of the Birds, or even to know anything about the Sufi mystic who wrote the poem, Farid Uddi Attar, whom Rumi considered “the spirit.” Inside all of us is that same desire for total transcendence. Under the helm of director Aaron Posner, Folger Shakespeare Theatre’s production has a gentle, exquisite beauty that is as difficult and rewarding as that journey. It deserves more than one viewing, and will haunt the mind beyond. Continue reading

Music, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: Saint Etienne @ U Street Music Hall — 10/25/12 (or “Hey, NYC! I’ve Got Your Music!”)

Hey, NYC. This is your little brother DC talking. I’m not one to talk trash much (particularly when it comes to concerts), but I’m going to talk a little trash to you. You see, we just hosted a once-in-a-decade event at a cool little joint we have here called U Street Music Hall. The show was none other than Saint Etienne, the amazing disco/house band from London.

We sold that out and it was all kinds of amazing. (At least I think we sold it out, Mr. Eastman?) I see they are playing at Webster Hall tonight and somehow there are still tickets available. Now I know you get bands like Pulp and New Order up there and you know how to treat them right, right? Then, don’t miss out on Saint Etienne!

Let me tell you what you would be missing.

Sarah Cracknell (vocals), Bob Stanley (synths) and Pete Wiggs (more synths) are simply the smartest, lushest Eurodance band ever to hit the stage. Let me not fail to mention their capable fourth touring member — Debsey Wykes, formerly of UK post-punk band the Dolly Mixture, on backup vocals and cowbell! Now, Saint Etienne are indeed English, so they are a bit proper — and Cracknell, bless her, seemed earnestly embarrassed by the adulation she and her bandmates received at U Hall, as we fondly call it. But they earned every moment of frenzied screaming throughout their 17-song set.

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Sports Fix, The Features

A Celebration Eight Years In The Making: The Nats Clinch Their First NL East Championship

(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page) © Cheryl Nichols Photography LLC

Ryan Zimmerman knew the 2012 Washington Nationals had a good team back in the spring. He acknowledged that they were young but if they could learn from the game and come together as a team that everything would eventually start to click.

It’s safe to say now, after years of hard work and determination as one of Major League Baseball’s best third basemen, that Zimmerman was right. The Nats clinched their first-ever National League East division title Monday night despite losing 2-0 against their long-time division rival the Philadelphia Phillies.

News of the title spread throughout the ballpark via the center field scoreboard in the middle of the ninth inning when the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves, thereby securing the Nats’ place as NL East champions. Fans were in a frenzy as Michael Morse came to bat, leading off the bottom of the ninth. They sang A-Ha’s “Take On Me” in unison, as has become tradition at Nats Park when Morse comes to bat later on in the game. The roar of verbal thunder that spread through the Navy Yard air was one to be savored for years to come. Continue reading

Entertainment, People, The Features, We Love Arts

Theater Spotlight: STC’s Costume Shop Sale

Some of the happiest moments of my undergraduate life were spent learning how to sew in the costume shop of CUA’s Hartke Theatre, under the warm tutelage of Gail Stewart Beach. It was an atmosphere of quirky calm, with bolts of fabric stacked by color and texture, drawers of buttons and hooks, and paper patterns hand drawn. The agony of getting that sleeve hung just right, the chiffon that simply won’t obey the needle – it’s sometimes hard to grasp the intense level of perfectionism that goes into garments audiences may see for just a fleeting minute on stage.

That perfectionism is apparent in every production by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. 80-90% of their shows are built from scratch by the costume shop, in a journey from designer’s rendering to draper’s pattern to stitcher’s needle. It’s an intensive, meticulous process that results in an enormous stock of costumes. Some of these are so show-specific they can never be recycled, and while many can be passed on to rental shops for credit, culling the stock and selling to the public is a necessity every few years.

This Saturday, September 29, your dreams of owning a once-in-a-lifetime costume can be realized at the STC costume shop sale. Held from 10am-3pm in STC’s rehearsal studios at 507 8th Street SE, prices will range from $1 to over $200, depending on the garment, and a number of props will also be sold. Halloween, Carnivale, everyday wearable art, or even an outfit for that mannequin in your living room – there are many possibilities from an artisanal trove of gorgeous treasures.

I was lucky to spend some time with Wendy Stark Prey, STC’s costume shop director, and Randi Fowler, floor manager, touring their sunny space and admiring the craft up close. The level of detail and dedication is simply amazing. Continue reading

Entertainment, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

Fringe 2012: Week Two

Photo courtesy of flipperman75
Capital Fringe Festival
courtesy of flipperman75

This past week, the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival brought us everything from the apocalypse to an actual wedding. Just like the first week, our team watched, wondered, and then of course tweeted.

We write to you from our recovery caves, where we’re attempting to cure our Fringe-related exhaustion by reliving some of the highs of the festival so far.

Fringe runs until July 29, but many productions only have a few performances. Prevent eternal regret from either a) missing a winner or b) checking your watch through a bummer. Check out our thoughts on this past week of shows.

Recapped: The Last Flapper, The City of God, The Every Fringe Show You Want To See in One Fringe Show Fringe Show, McGoddess, Beertown, iConfess, Where In the World? The Untold Story of Camilla San Francisco, Planet Egg, 3rd Annual “Fool for All”: Tales of Marriage and Mozzarella, Apocalypse Picnic, Thomas is Titanic.

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