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Nibbles and Sips Around Town – October 28, 2014

Jordan Wright
October 28, 2014
all photo credit to Jordan Wright
Special to  DC Metro Theater Arts

Something for Moms to Cheer About, Willowsford Farm Lunch, Winos Take Over the Kennedy Center, Daniel Boulud Storms the Capitol 

Hooray Puree Adds Nutrition, Covertly 

We pick our vegetables at the peak of ripeness, puree them and package them without adding preservatives, dyes or even ascorbic acid

Hooray Purees have no added preservatives, dyes or even ascorbic acid

Sneaky moms just got approval from Hooray Puree – a new pureed vegetable product that can be slipped undetected into mac n’ cheese, used to bump up the nutritional value of soups and stews, and added to smoothies.  It even replaces all baking fats and oils in cakes, brownies and pies.  All on the Q.T.  In fact there are so many ways to have it over on your finicky kids, that you’re only limited by your imagination.  Did I mention it’s convenient, organic, shelf-stable and comes in a nifty box?

Mango-Carrot Smoothie

Mango-Carrot Smoothie

I came across this pureed vegetables product through Timothy Cipriano, a chef who had worked to institute nutritional food programs for the Connecticut school system.  Several years ago I had dinner with Cipriano after his first trip to the White House where he had met First Lady Michelle Obama and toured her famous kitchen garden.

Colorful Quinoa Salad

Colorful Quinoa Salad

His efforts had been recognized by Mrs. Obama and she invited him to work with her office, Congress and the USDA in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act that teaches kids where their food comes from.  Surprisingly many kids, whether from the suburbs or the inner city, have never been on a farm or spent time in a vegetable garden.  But by working together with the food service industry and community partners, the program Chefs Move to Schools began in earnest to change the scope of school food allowing kids to make better, more nutritious, and more informed choices about their everyday school breakfasts and lunches.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Raisin Bars

No-Bake Peanut Butter Raisin Bars

Not long ago Chef Cipriano discovered Hooray Puree and found it dovetailed nicely into his message of amping up the nutritional value and flavor of popular recipes.  He is now the Vice President of Brand Development for the company and spends his time education school children and school nutrition professionals.  You can follow him on Twitter @localfooddude.  For dozens of great recipes check out www.HoorayPuree.com.  Order online through www.AbesMarket.com.

Willowsford Farm Luncheon 

In September I toured Willowsford Farm, a 4,000-acre community in Loudoun County, Virginia that enjoys two zip codes – from the quaint town of Aldie to nearby Ashburn.  The vast property with a 300+-acre working farm that produces more than 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables, has a clutch of chickens and a herd of goats, truly celebrates the farm and all its bounty.

Preparing the weekly CSA baskets at the farm

Preparing the weekly CSA baskets at the farm

Hunt country homes line the winding lanes leading to two magnificently appointed community centers.  Outfitted with both indoor and outdoor teaching kitchens, noted chefs like Bryan Voltaggio of Range cook for homeowners at frequently arranged pop-up restaurants within the community center.

Willowsford Farm Executive Chef Bonnie Moore

Willowsford Farm Executive Chef Bonnie Moore

In addition to the kitchens, farm and a farmers market with a CSA program, the property has a Culinary Director.  Chef Bonnie Moore, formerly of the Inn at Little Washington, teaches ongoing cooking classes and provides recipes for residents.  Children can volunteer to help at the farm and this summer they had a kids’ camp that took full advantage of the seven-acre lake where families enjoy canoeing and kayaking.

Last of the season tomato salad // Harvest Apple Pie with Buttermilk Ice Cream

Last of the season tomato salad // Harvest Apple Pie with Buttermilk Ice Cream

On the day I visited Moore oversaw the end-of-summer luncheon in the grand Sycamore House, a stunning building whose receiving rooms have beautiful paneled walls milled from trees on the property. 

Mike Snow at the farm market at Willowsford

Mike Snow at the farm market at Willowsford

Led by Farm Manager Mike Snow we visited the farm stand and clambered over one of the 40-miles of trails to check out the barns, coming upon a friendly Border Collie and a few hitchhiking praying mantises.

The visionary of this unique property is Brian Cullen, who saw fit to build in all the amenities from swimming pools and formal gardens to parks and camping areas for the residents before the homes had even been finished – a rare commitment from a developer.  To learn more about the community visit www.Willowsford.com.

Winebow Performs at Kennedy Center 

From the terrace at Kennedy Center at the Winebow Vintner's Harvest event

From the terrace at Kennedy Center at the Winebow Vintner’s Harvest event

Usually when I’m at the Kennedy Center I am watching a theatrical production of some sort – ballet, play, musical, opera.  But this time I was there by invitation from major wholesaler Winebow who used the enormous dining room for its 1st Annual Vintner’s Harvest DC.  There enhanced by a spectacular view overlooking the Washington Monument, they presented their import and distribution portfolio of over 200 producers and their wines, spirits and sakes.

So many wines. So little time.

So many wines. So little time.

It was cheek-to-jowl as buyers, beverage managers, sommeliers and restaurateurs packed the vast room searching for that elusive bottle.  For some of us it was a chance to catch up with those in the biz, sample what’s new and make a few friends.  For the earnest buyers in the crush, it was a serious exercise in sampling.

I confess I was a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the offerings – imagine over a thousand bottles at your reach!  But it wasn’t long before an impossibly tall stranger in a cowboy hat broke through the scrum, saw my dilemma and took me by the hand to some lovely Bordeaux and a few well-aged sakes.  All in the name of research, of course… 

Daniel Boulud Storms the Capitol 

Daniel Boulud greets guests at his DBGB opening party

Daniel Boulud greets guests at his DBGB opening party

Famed chef Daniel Boulud has charged onto the DC restaurant scene with DBGB Kitchen + Bar.  And last month’s opening party was epic.  Famed chefs Carla Hall, Jose Andres and Patrick O’Connell swooned along with the rest of us including Countess Elisabeth de Kergolay, Founder of Babeth’s Feast who has worked with Boulud who has created recipes for her NYC-based frozen food line.  Boulud graciously posed for selfies with any guest that asked nicely.

The splendid charcuterie // The popular Maryland crab topped burgers at DBGB

The splendid charcuterie // The popular Maryland crab topped burgers at DBGB

The stylish spot is in the glamorous new City Center Building.  Already Boulud has felt the love from the 100+ celebrity chef signed plates used as wall décor from none other than Grant Aschatz, Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, White House chef Crista Comerford, Anthony Bourdain, and Martha Stewart?  Yes, the Domestic Goddess herself!  The list is impressive.  It’s like Sardi’s for chefs!

Best nibbles:  Coq au vin and Baked Alaska.

The Rocky Horror Show – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) - Photo credit Doug   Olmstead

Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

When Janet and Brad’s car gets a flat tire on a deserted road in the middle of the woods on a spooky evening they wind up at Frank-N-Furter’s castle where all hell breaks loose in this wacky, androgynous, rock n’ roll spoof of B-movies where things go bump and grind in the night.  You’ll begin to catch the theme of The Rocky Horror Show when your program is presented along with 3-D glasses by ushers garbed in steampunk fashion.  As Janet tells Brad, “This isn’t the Junior Chamber of Commerce!”

For those unaware of this campy cult classic, my best advice is not to resist the experience.  Since it’s a live performance, theatregoers (unlike fans who attend the film version) are not permitted to bring rice, prunes, water pistols, candles, lighters, matches, noisemakers, confetti, toilet paper, toast, cards, or hot dogs.  The list of props not to bring, should tell you everything you’ll need to know about where this kinky show is going.  Notwithstanding the theatre’s directive, dressing up as your favorite character, or just “in theme”, is encouraged, especially given the Halloween season.  Just think of it as fright night in drag with enough dry ice, monsters in garter belts wielding whips, and laser guns to cheer up even the most hardened of horror story lovers.  Poor Edgar Allan Poe.  He is spinning in his proverbial grave.

Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Matt Stover (Phantom) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer)  - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Matt Stover (Phantom) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Seventeen musical numbers heighten the hilarity, the best known being “The Time Warp” dance and “Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me”.  And there is plenty of lurex, leather, feather boas and sequins provided by Costume Designers Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley to dazzle any drag show fan.  In the number “Floorshow/Rose Tint My World”, they pull out all the stops for Frank-N-Furter’s love fest.  “Don’t dream it.  Be it!” he urges, vamping about in towering red patent leather platform boots.

Unfortunately some of the performances are uneven and the energy level ratchets up only when Patrick M. Doneghy as Frank-N-Furter, Malcolm Lee in dual roles as Eddie and Doctor Scott, Ricardo Coleman as the muscle bound Rocky, Paige Taylor with her terrific voice as Magenta, and Matt Liptak as her brother the evil Riff-Raff, are on stage.  The lackluster chorus never seems to rise from the dead.

Most of the cast of The Rocky Horror Show - Malcolm Lee (Eddie / Dr. Scott) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Allie Cesena (Columbia) Adam Newland (Brad)  Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) -Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Most of the cast of The Rocky Horror Show – Malcolm Lee (Eddie / Dr. Scott) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Allie Cesena (Columbia) Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) -Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Ken and Patti Crowley kick up the effects with clever silhouetted projections during Brad and Janet’s sexcapades, but the sound is maddeningly ineffective even with a live orchestra.

In the immortal words of Frank-N-Furter, “It’s not easy having a good time!”

Through November 15th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Our War – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
October 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

(L to R) John Lescault and Tuyet Pham in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) John Lescault and Tuyet Pham in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Arena Stage’s Artistic Director, Molly Smith, describes the evolution of Our War as “a synthesis of art, scholarship and community”, further defining it as “the extraordinary collaboration between universities, theaters and regions that were differently affected by the Civil War.”  As part of the current National Civil War Project this coming together with other prestigious arts groups, both local and national, affords the audience illuminating vignettes told by the imagined voices of those whose lives were affected during and after the war.

Kelly Renee Armstrong in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Kelly Renee Armstrong in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Smith has selected monologues from twenty-five leading American playwrights commissioned for the project, dividing their works into “Stars” and “Stripes” nights.  On press night we were treated to a reading by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose star turn was in the voice of a slave whose son is called to go to war in “That Boy” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist David Lindsay-Abaire.   There are six members in the ensemble – – Kelly Renee Armstrong, Ricardo Frederick Evans, John Lescault, Tuyet Thi Pham, Lynette Rathnam and Sara Waisanen who portray the other characters for a total of eighteen readings each night.

Ricardo Frederick Evans, with Tuyet Pham, in Our War -Photo by Teresa Wood.

Ricardo Frederick Evans, with Tuyet Pham, in Our War -Photo by Teresa Wood.

In addition Arena has cast over 30 notable leaders from the DC region to perform a reading throughout the run of the show.  Among them are DC Mayor Vincent Gray, Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball, WAMU radio host Diane Rehm, NBC reporter Tom Sherwood and Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, Senior Pastor of Alexandria’s Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Sara Waisanen and the company of Our War -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

Sara Waisanen and the company of Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The first monologue performed by Waisanen and written by John Strand, is called “The Truth, Revealed”.  It is in the voice of ten year-old Ruby, a student of Bull Run Elementary who is reading from her class assignment.  Little Ruby has been indoctrinated at a tender age to espouse the Southern side of the story, blaming Abraham Lincoln for the killing of 618,222 soldiers.  Ruby likes numbers.  She reminds us that there were 4,000,000 slaves when the war started and its cost was $5.2 billion.  To support her theory she calls John Wilkes Booth a hero, asserts slavery was important to a successful economy, and quotes Rand Paul to back her up, stating “You can’t pass a law to make people change what’s in their hearts.”

Lynette Rathnam in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Lynette Rathnam in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

In another, “Moo”, written by Iditi Kapil, Rathnam channels an Hispanic female soldier who enlists in the U. S. Army to gain a foothold on citizenship while dreaming of becoming an American pop singer.  “It’s never been free.  It’s always been on someone’s back,” the soldier acknowledges of war’s costs and immigrants’ participation in our wars.  It’s a sassy, street-smart, low-rider delivery that Rathnam nails to a tee.

John Lescault in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

John Lescault in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Each powerfully expressed and richly textured piece relates a story from the shared experience of the American Civil War – – some are set in modern day, others come from the battlefield.  There are a myriad of perspectives from African-American, Irish and Asian to American Indian and early White American settlers, including an ironic tale from a homesteader’s descendent (written by Samuel D. Hunter and delivered masterfully by Lescault) who is asked to dedicate a shopping mall on the former property of his great-great grandfather.

Ricardo Frederick Evans in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Ricardo Frederick Evans in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Evans gives a moving performance as a soldier from Guatemala in “Fourteen Freight Trains” written by Maria Agui Carter.  The first soldier to die in Iraq, he crossed the borders to come to America as an orphan.  It is an earth-moving tale of a young boy who reminds us of the immigrants, illegal or not, who fought our wars and bought the line, “liberty and justice for all”.

In another, The Grey Rooster” by Lynn Nottage, Evans takes on the character of a Kentucky plantation owner’s slave, a man who made bourbon and owned a champion, fighting gamecock trained by Evans’ character.  In it he reminds us that masters often required their slaves to go to war in their place.

Highly recommended.

Through November 9th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Elmer Gantry – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 22, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington) and Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) -  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington) and Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has gone back to the well to remount Elmer Gantry, a show he co-produced in DC with writer John Bishop, composer Mel Marvin and lyricist Bob Satuloff sixteen years ago. Reimagined by the original team, this massive musical based on Sinclair Lewis’ quintessential novel now boasts several new numbers and a re-worked script.

Backed by a ten-piece orchestra, there is a great deal of heart and soul in this redemptive tale of a down-on-his-luck preacher and a young, ambitious evangelist, Sister Sharon Falconer. When Gantry (Charlie Pollock), a traveling farm equipment salesman on his last dime, watches the second-rate religious troupe at a revival meeting, he seizes the opportunity to join them, wooing the beautiful Sharon and transforming their hokey act into a big time, holy roller spectacle filled with gospel singing, Sunday go-to-meeting psalms and mournful folk songs. “People want to feel that heat in their lives. They want to laugh. They want to cry!” he tells her. And by the time they get to Topeka, Gantry has created a full-blown, berobed, hallelujah choir, and the pair’s sermonizing has reached a feverish pitch.

Ashley Buster (Epatha Washington), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington), Daphne Epps (Grace Washington) - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Ashley Buster (Epatha Washington), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington), Daphne Epps (Grace Washington) – Photo by Margot Schulman.

It’s at this point, midway through Act I with the addition of three gospel-singing sisters led by Nova Y. Payton, where the show truly catches fire. The Washington Sisters played by Payton, Ashley Buster and Daphne Epps bring a huge, near dwarfing presence to the rest of the chorus. In “Carry that Ball”, a football-themed spiritual that substitutes the word “touchdown” for “hallelujah”, Payton takes her singing to the rafters, electrifying the audience and juicing up the show.

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer) and company - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer) and company – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Mary Kate Morrissey does a fine job as the ambitious and charismatic Sister Sharon whose past is as suspect as Gantry’s. In the tender tune, “You Don’t Know Who I Am”, she lets him know she has had to reinvent herself in order to evolve.

Unfortunately believable and powerfully passionate performances by Morrissey et alia are not matched by Pollock, whose uneven performance especially in Act II (he runs out of steam in their big duet “With You” and his solo turn in “My American Dream”), unreliable voice, and buzz cut hairstyle with trendy facial stubble, all contribute to his seeming out of date and out of sync with the other actors.

Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) and Bobby Smith (Frank Shallard) - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) and Bobby Smith (Frank Shallard) – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Watch for Bobby Smith, outstanding as Frank Shallard, Gantry’s slick-as-a-snake associate; and Harry A. Winter as Bob Faucher, the unscrupulous banker, to keep this revival afloat.

Through November 9th 2014 at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

Sex with Strangers – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 20, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

SEX WITH STRANGERS at Signature Theatre

SEX WITH STRANGERS

On the off chance you might not read this review all the way through and that perhaps you’ll skim through to get to the meat of the matter – – the rating! – – I’ll give it to you in the first paragraph.  Sex with Strangers may be one of the best comedy/dramas I’ve seen this year – an engaging, challenging, hilarious, deliciously sexy, stylishly clever, utterly modern relationship conundrum performed by a pair of actors utterly in tune with each other.  Playwright Laura Eason’s snappy, sexually charged repartee will be familiar to those who have seen Netflix’s House of Cards where she was part of the writing team of season two and three.

If you’ve read this far, here’s the set up.  Ethan, a successful young writer, arrives at a secluded writer’s retreat in the midst of a blizzard where he encounters Olivia, a 40-ish writer working on a new novel after her first book went nowhere fast.  He has already scoped out Olivia’s work through a mutual friend who told him she was staying there.  Is he there to work on his novel, or is it just a ruse to publish hers?  Along with Olivia we are in a constant state of bemusement, and any attempts to decoct the plot will prove fruitless.

Holly Twyford (Olivia) and Luigi Sottile (Ethan) -  Photo by Theresa Wood.

Holly Twyford (Olivia) and Luigi Sottile (Ethan) – Photo by Theresa Wood.

Four-time Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford plays the tech-challenged Olivia, and Luigi Sottile plays Ethan, a New York Times bestselling author of sensationalist books that owe their success more to internet marketing techniques than whatever talent he might have.  “Critics say they’re lower than fortune cookies,” he confesses, explaining how the books evolved from his blogs about weekly hook ups with strangers.  Still she’s intrigued by him, his knowledge of the wonders of self-publishing and his familiarity with the instantaneous allure of technology.  Instead of rejecting this Lothario she’s eager to learn about his development of an app to publish books online.  Though his history of debauchery comes up, it is a mere bump along the road to their romance and only seems to fuel her excitement about his plan to re-issue her novel as an e-book  – – under an assumed name.

Tantalized by the prospects of finally giving her book its proper due, he meets her at her Chicago apartment with an IPad pre-loaded with some of her favorite books. “It smells like the future!” she exclaims.  Later, snubbing his e-book suggestion when an opportunity to sign with prestigious New York publishers comes up, she grouses,  “I want a real book!”

Three-time Helen Hayes Award-winning Director Aaron Posner keeps the action, and comedic timing, swirling as fast and furiously as the snow outside the set’s window panes which, thanks to Andrew Cissna’s clever lighting design, reflect the increasing wildness of the storm outside – – and inside too.  Enhancing the ambiance, Set Designer JD Madsen captures the writer’s world with the room’s sidewalls created from the textblocks of hundreds of books, and designing a parquet floor suggestive of different book shapes.

Highly recommended.

Through December 7th 2014 at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.