Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Shoplifters

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, September 5-October 19, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, September 5-October 19, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

If I ever decide to steal groceries, I want Morris Panych and Jayne Houdyshell with me. The former, the playwright and director of Arena Stage’s current production, The Shoplifters, concocts such a solid and sympathetic justification for stealing that I found myself rooting for the latter, who plays Alma, an amateur career grocery thief, so convincingly and wonderfully that I really wanted her to get away with their crime.

The Shoplifters is a humorous and endearing glimpse into the lives of two supermarket security guards and the two would-be steak stealers they nab in the meat department of their store. Without making shoplifting look glamorous or fun, Panych has written a compelling script that examines why some people are wanting to continually commit criminal misdemeanors and why others let them get away with it.

At the heart of the play are Alma (Houdyshell) and Otto (Delaney Williams) as robber and cop, respectively, each trying to figure out the other, while simultaneously trying to deny that both their career paths have led them down the same emotional road. When the two are able to come to a mutual understanding and respect for one another in an amenable, but not unexpected conclusion, it is heartwarming. Contrast that with the roles of the younger bandit, Phyllis (Jenna Sokolowski), and officer, Dom (Adi Stein), where the traditional emotions, logic, and conclusions of both criminal and captor are more obvious. Eager to fight crime, and scared of getting in trouble, both Dom’s and Phyllis’ journeys are simpler than Otto’s and Alma’s, which makes their conclusions much more predictable, but no less satisfying for audience members who expect the bad guys to get their comeuppance and the good guys to prevail. But for those of us in the audience who value reason over justice and who like to see norms defied, the end of the journey for both Dom and Phyllis seemed anti-climatic and expected, although still amusing.

In order to remain varied and lively, the plot needs two different conclusions for the two different law-enforcement couplings. Yet the more expected path of Phyllis and Dom—spoiler alert—with Phyllis’s guilt and fear overriding her sense of adventure, leading to her repentance and restitution and Dom’s righteous indignation at those who break the law and his refusal to yield his Judeo-Christian ethic of “Thou Shalt Not Steal”’ to even the humblest of criminals, ended up being far less interesting simply because it was predictable.

What this meant for actors Sokolowski and Stein was that their performances, too, were less interesting and predictable from those of Houdyshell and Williams. When offered up an expected emotional arc, Sokolowski and Stein provided little surprise or depth to their Phyllis and Dom. Williams was likeable and sensitive as Otto, and I found myself rooting for him to succeed, although I wasn’t sure what I wanted that success to look like since succeeding at his job meant nabbing the criminals and succeeding as a person meant being compassionate to them. More obvious in her intentions, but no less complex, was Houdyshell’s Alma who, from the beginning, lets the audience know that she intends to not only get away with shoplifting but refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing in it. Not only does she see no wrongdoing, she actually sees value in what she is doing, even declaring to the security guards at one point “If a person steals something, try to show just a little appreciation. If it wasn’t for shoplifters, you wouldn’t have a job.”

Although Alma’s motivations seem simple enough, Houdyshell’s depth in inhabiting the character so effortlessly and flawlessly was nothing short of brilliant. I didn’t feel like I was watching an actor, but believed I was witnessing an actual criminal, down on her luck, who was just trying to survive. And I wanted her to. To so fully embody a character that seems so simple on the outside, and to bring in great complexity and such warmth, sympathy, and understanding was exceptional.

Houdyshell’s performance, alone, is reason to see The Shoplifters at Arena Stage. Add to it a talented supporting cast and a compelling character study as to the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want, combined with a lot of understated, but hilarious dialogue, and a ticket to the show may just be worth stealing.

The Shoplifters performs at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater now through October 19, located at 1101 6th St SW, Washington DC 20024. Tickets start at $45. For more information, call 202-554-9066.

The Features

We Fight We Die: How The Disenfranchised #Occupy

Jeff Kirkman III, Alexander Burton, Michael Rodriguez and Stanley Andrew Jackson III; Junesong Arts’ We Fight We Die. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Self-defined as representing the masses, it’s no surprise that a majority of Americans approve of the now-global “Occupy” movement—they understand it as the manifestation of desperation, a fight where compromise failed. Feeling powerless in the face of corporate greed and political corruption, hundreds of thousands are venting their anger in the most public, most drastic way possible: by taking to the streets.

But what about those who are neither among the wealthy one percent, nor among the “other ninety-nine”? That is, those truly at the bottom, for whom money-hungry CEOs and rotten Congressmen are perhaps the least of worries; for whom starvation, extreme cold, or gang violence are a much more real threat than losing healthcare or facing foreclosure. Where can they rally? How can they express themselves?

After watching Junesong Arts’ new stage production We Fight We Die, the answer may be that they, too, must occupy the streets…but with aerosol cans instead of pitchforks. Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Love (of Art) Conquers All (Weather)

It wouldn’t be street art if it didn’t stand up to the elements, and even today’s (ongoing) icy rain couldn’t shut down Albus Cavus’ Monster Mash Halloween paint party at Garfield Park. The nonprofit art organization, which offers workshops and after school programs and curates a series of what they call “open walls” for graffiti artists, welcomed local artists, performers, skaters and the public at large to an all-day community “expression” jam: skateboarders rode the hand-made ramps of the skate park, members of Urban Artistry got a dance cipher going and, of course, everyone from little kids to pro taggers repainted the open wall spaces tucked beneath Southeast Freeway.

Fueled by frequent stops to the community fire pit (and candy bowl), and swapping spray paints and ideas with fellow painters, the graff artists produced some seriously stunning—and seriously different—stuff, themed for Halloween.  Continue reading

The Features

We Love Arts: Win Tickets to Spencer Finch

Spencer Finch, Passing Cloud, (394 L Street NW, Washington, D.C., July 7, 2010), 2010, dimensions variable. Fluorescent light fixtures and lamps, filters, monofilament, and clothespins. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin. Photo: Chan Chao.

“I see the President almost every day, as I happen to live where he passes to or from his lodgings out of town…. I saw him this morning about 8 ½ coming to business, riding on Vermont avenue, near L street…. Mr. Lincoln on the saddle generally rides a good-sized, easy going gray horse, is dress’d in plain black, somewhat rusty and dusty, wears a black stiff hat, and looks about as ordinary in attire, &c., as the commonest man…. I see very plainly Abraham Lincoln’s dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression.  We have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones.”

–       Walt Whitman, “ Abraham Lincoln,” No. 45 (August 12, 1863), Specimen Days in Prose Works, Philadelphia:  David McKay, 1892, p. 43.

Continue reading

The Features

A We Love DC Interview: Amy Morton of Morton Fine Art

*A Pop-up Project, Pretty Little Things, 2010.

Since art appreciation and collection has historically been considered a past-time saved only for the affluent and rich, it is no surprise that a fine art gallery can sometimes be an intimidating place to enter.  However, a new take on the art gallery in DC, called Morton Fine Art (MFA), will challenge every preconceived notion you may just have about the art world.  Morton Fine Art is an art hybrid – one part traditional art gallery and one part, well, one part anything but traditional.  This month, MFA is presenting Pretty Little Things, a jewelry exhibition, as part of their on going and super successful exhibition concept called *A Pop-up Project.

We Love DC had the opportunity to talk with the founder and owner of MFA, Amy Morton, about Pretty Little Things, DC, and what art currently hangs on her living room wall.
Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Don’t Miss Yves Klein

Photo courtesy of
‘A Different Kind of Blue’
courtesy of ‘LaTur’

Still looking for things to do this holiday weekend?  Why not head over to the Hirshhornto check out the uber-successful Yves Klein:  With theVoid, Full Powers exhibit.  This may be your very last chance to see the work of a creative genius as the exhibit will be closing on September 12th.  You won’t want to miss this one.

The Daily Feed

Chuck Close Extended

Photo courtesy of
‘Chuck Close 01’
courtesy of ‘Max Cook’

When a great exhibit is in town, I am always sad to see it go.  So finding out that Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration at The Corcoran Gallery of Art has been extended till September 26  makes me all giddy and happy inside.

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, Corcoran’s Free Summer Saturdays will run through Labor Day weekend.  What a fantastic and FREE way to spend your lovely holiday here in D.C.!

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is located 500 Seventeenth St NW.

Interviews, The Features

A We Love DC Interview: Spotlight On Design

Tadao Ando, March 2, 2002.  Image Courtesy of the National Building Museum.

Since 1997, the National Building Museum has been offering professionals, tourists, and aficionados the opportunity to hear some of the most distinguished architects and designers in the world speak about their passion.  Paul Kilmer, Director of Public Programs, introduces the Spotlight on Design speaker series as an occasion to “celebrate an architect, designer or firm, and give them the opportunity to share with us the significance of their work – celebrating design innovation”.  Furthermore, it allows us to “demonstrate how critical and important good design is to quality of life”, says Kilmer.  Past speakers have included Pritzker Prize Laureates, American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medalists, and the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Medal recipients.

Oh how I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall when Tadao Ando presented!

In the spirit of the Spotlight on Design speakers series, We Love DC chats with Martin Moeller, the Senior Vice President and Curator of the National Building Museum, who gave us some details about the makings of the wildly popular lecture program and how he feels about design and architecture in D.C.

Continue reading

The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Interview with MIJA

Image Credit: MIJA Jewelry

In less than four years, Michelle Guest has turned her passion for art and jewelry design into a thriving business.  MIJA Jewelry is literally everywhere, and has graced the pages of almost every fashion magazine and tabloid – decorating a truly A-list clientele (Gwenyth Paltrow and Ellen Pompeo are huge fans).  In this We Love DC exclusive interview, the designer and Glover Park resident lets us know a little bit more about what makes her collection special and where she goes to find inspiration in her very own backyard.

We Love DC: What is MIJA?

Michelle Guest: MIJA is a combination of the first two letters of my name (MIchelle) and the first two letters of my sister’s name (JAni). My sister was the one who really inspired me to start the business by creating a collection of children’s jewelry.  The company has since expanded and now also features a huge collection [of] women’s jewelry.  She really encouraged me to jump into a business I initially knew nothing about.  If it was not for her, I’m not sure I would have ever done it!

Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Be Exhibited At Arlington Arts Center

Image Credit:  Sara Yousefnejad, Arlington Arts Center

For all local artists out there, tomorrow is your last chance to enter for a spot to be featured in a solo exhibit at the Arlington Arts Center.

Artists who “produce cutting edge contemporary art in any/all media, and who live or work in Virginia; Washington, DC; Maryland; West Virginia; Delaware; or Pennsylvania” are eligible to submit exhibition proposals.  Furthermore, all work must have been completed within the last 3 years in order to be considered.

For more information contact the Arlington Arts Center at 703-248.6800.

The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Pousette-Dart

Richard Pousette-Dart, Cosmos, 1950-51. Oil and graphite on board, 36 x 48 in. Courtesy of Knoedler Gallery. © 2010 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“I strive to express the spiritual nature of the universe.  Painting for me is a dynamic balance and wholeness of life; it is mysterious and transcending, yet solid and real.” – Richard Pousette-Dart

Exhibition titles are supposed to be exciting and alluring.  They should make you go, “I have got to see this”, or at least, grab your attention for a second or two.  The exhibition title for the current Pousette-Dart showing at The Phillips Collection is anything but that.  Nothing about the phrase Predominantly White Paintings gets you jumping out of your chair, heading for the door (unless of course you are familiar with the artist’s work already).  However, you may want to reconsider.

Richard Pousette-Dart is among the most celebrated abstract expressionists of the avant-garde New York, sharing the limelight with the likes of Pollock, Gorky, and de Kooning – a circle of artists that only a very few (of the very many) had the artistic merit and vision to join.  During the early 1950’s, Pousette-Dart departed from his distinguished colorful paintings and arrived upon white, not a color, but simply a characteristic of light’s reflecting powers. Now, for the first time in over 50 years, twenty-five of Pousette-Dart’s Predominantly White Paintings are on display.  And let me tell you, nothing about them is boring.

Continue reading

Entertainment, Life in the Capital, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Helios, Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge, Horses. Running. Phryne L. Plate 40, 1879, from The Attitudes of Animals in Motion, 1881. Albumen silver print. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon 2006.131.7.

Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change at the Corcoran is the world’s first, comprehensive study of the photographer’s influential and inspirational career. Reigning over the field of photography for much of the second half of the 19th-century, Muybridge was a pioneer of the visual medium – bringing together both science and art in a seemingly effortless fashion.  The exhibition includes over 300 elements, spanning from books – to albums – to stereographs (and even a Zoopraxiscope), all of which portray pieces of a process, establishing the foundation of the Muybridge legacy.

Continue reading

The District, The Features, The Mall, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Josef Albers

Josef Albers, “Homage to the Square: Glow,” (1966). From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

“We must teach each other… education is not first giving answers but giving questions.”  – Josef Albers

Abstract art is void of narrative.  The composition often speaks only through the viewers mind.  A type of understanding through speculation, providing the sort of simple canvas that the imagination needs in order to thrive.

Josef Albers (1888-1976) was a master of the subjective canvas, an explorer of color and an ambassador for the abstract form.

Continue reading

The Features, Tourism, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Festival Fever!

Bagpipers tuning up

Bagpipers at the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival by Corinne Whiting

Considering the headlines that dominate news pages these days, who could blame us for craving a bit of escapism? Luckily, an avalanche of September festivals offers ample excuses to wear kooky costumes or to (attempt to) speak in charming accents, to relive the past or to leap into the future. Sometimes we just need a few blocked-off streets or patches of green to catapult us out of familiar surroundings and demand we get lost in the sights, sounds and tastes of another time and place.

Some festivals draw repeat attendees who share such a passion for re-enacting and re-creating it seems more a way of life than a weekend hobby. (Some of these participants seem, sadly, to have been born into the wrong century.) Other fests prove more laid-back—a mix of cultural authenticity and comical distortion. But common denominators? The beer’s usually a-flowin’, the people watching superb.

The season kicks off September 5 and 6 with the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival in The Plains, Virginia. I first attended this lively event a few years back (having just returned from 16 months in Scotland), with expectations, in hindsight, a bit too lofty. (Yes, silly me, I thought I would actually meet some Scots and hear some of those dreamy, melodic accents.) Instead I did find some authentic culture (cuisine like tasty yet feared haggis and steaming meat pies) sprinkled with a bit of stereotype (or perhaps slightly-fudged cultural truths, like the presence of England‘s Newcastle beer) and a few unexpected oddities (a parade in which kilted Americans showcased their plaid-clad “Dogs of Scotland”). But the atmosphere carried charm all the same. I watched proud Virginians sport their family tartan, sheepherders demonstrate their craft, Highland dancers do their joyous jigs and bagpipers echo the captivating drone of their instruments up into a piercing blue sky and out into the rolling Virginia hills. It’s Scottish culture with a twist, but a highly enjoyable day in the countryside all the same.

Continue reading