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A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 2, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

 l to r: Desmond Bing, Kim Wong, Betsy Mugavero, Adam Wesley Brown, Eric Hissom, Caroline Stefanie Clay -Photo by Teresa Wood

l to r: Desmond Bing, Kim Wong, Betsy Mugavero, Adam Wesley Brown, Eric Hissom, Caroline Stefanie Clay -Photo by Teresa Wood

Aaron Posner’s brilliantly funny take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream now at the Folger is a delightfully frothy romp into Shakespeare’s dreamscape of sprites and lovers.  His imaginative interpretation is filled with hilarious surprises.  Beginning with the indelibly adorable Erin Weaver as Puck, who sets the tone for the high jinks to follow, this telling of the dream excursion Puck and her devious cohorts take us down a garden path speckled with modern technology, the occasional rap lyric, music looping by Puck’s forest calls and a vintage microphone for announcing the action.

But all is not shape-shifted into the modern age.  There is still the play-within-a-play of Pyramus and Thisbe put on by Peter Quince (Richard Ruiz), a bumbling impresario and his eclectic band of school girls in uniforms and headphones to entertain the royal couple.  And still Hippolyta as African queen, played by Caroline Stephanie Clay who doubles as Titania.  Her husband Theseus joins her in a slick tan suit as the Duke of Athens played by Eric Hissom doing double duty in the role of the fairy king, Oberon.  Reality as fantasy in a switcheroo that delivers all the hilarity The Bard intended.

Puck (Erin Weaver, left) looks upon the newly transformed Bottom (Holly Twyford) with impish delight - Photo by Teresa Wood

Puck (Erin Weaver, left) looks upon the newly transformed Bottom (Holly Twyford) with impish delight – Photo by Teresa Wood

As you’ll recall Hermia (Betsy Mugavero) and Lysander (Adam Wesley Brown) are madly in love while Helena (Kim Wong) pines for Demetrius (Desmond Bing) who spurns her amorous attentions.  When Oberon and Puck get up to magic and mischief by drugging the lovers with a love potion concocted of flower juice, here delivered by an eyedropper, all hell ensues as the four confuse their intendeds with the others’ lovers and the lusty Titania snuggles up with Bottom.

Holly Twyford plays Bottom who Puck turns into an ass adored by the love drug-smitten Titania.  Costume Designer Devon Painter interprets the beast with furry platform hooves and a feathery confection of donkey ears and Twyford plays it to the hilt with comedic timing and buck-toothed braying.

Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway puts the performers on a simple stage of treehouse and platforms lit by fairy lights and a cut-out crescent moon, while Choreographer Erika Chong Shuch softens the falls and fight scenes with a cluster of large blue pillows throwing in a pas de deux by tango between Hermia and Lysander and a conga line for the lovers.  Original Music by Andre Pluess has Lysander serenading Hermia on ukulele.

 l to r: Megan Graves, Desmond Bing, Erin Weaver (front), Eric Hissom, Dani Stoller, and Justina Adorno - Photo by Teresa Wood

l to r: Megan Graves, Desmond Bing, Erin Weaver (front), Eric Hissom, Dani Stoller, and Justina Adorno – Photo by Teresa Wood

There is some nifty scene stealing by the Jamaican-accented and ‘voguing’ skills of Monique Robinson as Snout and the hilarious whispery delivery of the ingénue schoolgirl Megan Graves as both Snug and Philostrate, but look for Weaver and Twyford to dominate this brilliant all-star cast.

Highly recommended.

Through March 6th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

Shake Loose – A Musical Night of Blues Moods & Icons – MetroStage

Jordan Wright
February 1, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

(L-R) Anthony Manough, Lori Williams,Rayshun LaMarr, Roz White - Photo credit: Chris Banks

(L-R) Anthony Manough, Lori Williams,Rayshun LaMarr, Roz White – Photo credit: Chris Banks

If you’ve been seeing clouds of steam heat billowing over the rooftop of MetroStage lately, blame it on the four-member cast and six-piece band of Shake LooseFire and ice and everything nice best describes the cool daddies and hot ladies in this sizzling revue of music by William Knowles and William Hubbard and the lyrics of Thomas W. Jones II who doubles as the show’s choreographer.  If you’ve followed the musical careers of the composers there are songs and snippets from their other hit shows – Ladies Swing the Blues, Cool Papa’s Party, Three Sistahs, Bessie’s Blues, and Pearl Bailey…by request – shows that have been at the core of MetroStage’s musical productions over the years.

Geared to each decade the show taps into the zeitgeist of 20th century African-American music to include vaudeville, big band, jazz, R&B, swing, rural gospel and soul, with a smattering of Broadway-style show tunes.  Supporting the pitch-perfect soulful voices of Lori Williams, Roz White, Rayshun LaMarr and Anthony Manough, are the sweet sounds of a trio of horns and the slow thump of a bass with Knowles himself on a grand piano.

(L-R) Roz White, Rayshun LaMarr, Anthony Manough, Lori Williams - Photo credit: Chris Banks

(L-R) Roz White, Rayshun LaMarr, Anthony Manough, Lori Williams – Photo credit: Chris Banks

But this is not a concert, it’s a series of seven movements that divide and define the 39 memorable numbers.  It opens with the section “Migration Blues” when the rhythms of 1920’s Harlem beckoned blacks to leave the South in droves for the bright lights and vaudeville stages of uptown New York.  There are jumpin’ and jivin’ numbers dotted with the staccato sounds of the quartet’s mad tapping skills in “Sho’ Feet Can Dance” and mournful ballads like, “Rivers Swollen With My Tears” delivered heartachingly by Williams who warns of “rivers that bury the bones”.  Here Robbie Hayes’ projections follow the early days of Black musical history with clips of New York’s famed Cotton Club and its glamorous chorus girls, and as one lyric claims, “Every boy’s an Almond Joy.”

The demise of the big stages and the rise of vinyl is chronicled in the second movement, “Riot & Rebellion”.  In “SSOS” (alternately expressed as sweet sound of soul and sweet sound of surrender) the foursome shift dance styles to The Watusi and Hully Gully while projections of Malcolm X, sit-ins and the march to Selma take us down to the nitty-gritty and Williams again solos in “Lay Your Body Down” as the images recall the assassinations of the great leaders of our time.  And in no time flat we’re swaying to the gyrations of Manough and White in “A Basement Kind of Love” and recalling the days of impromptu parties and hookups in the basement of 1960’s homes everywhere.

(L-R) Lori Williams, Rayshun LaMarr - Photo credit: Chris Banks

(L-R) Lori Williams, Rayshun LaMarr – Photo credit: Chris Banks

Rolling through the decades of jazz and swing White takes the spotlight in “Barely Breathing”, a song from Three Sistahs that evokes the hot soul sounds of the era and describes a hook up as, “I was his cocoa Cinderella throwin’ myself a ball.”

The cast utilizes every piece of available real estate from the tiered stage and between the aisles to bring the joyful and occasional heartbreaking songs to the audience.  It’s like being in a nightclub where the band jams out on stage behind the singers.

Each singer takes a sexy, sultry star turn in this hold-your-breath production.  The music is as mesmerizingly haunting as anything from Tin Pan Alley or 60’s Detroit, and where Michael Jackson, Nat King Cole, Boyz to Men and other musical icons are remembered and re-interpreted.  Utterly riveting for the beautifully blended harmonies, hilarious antics, and the music and lyrics from these iconic composers.  I can hardly wait to see this show again.

Highly recommended.

At MetroStage through March 6th – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – February 1, 2016

Jordan Wright
January 2016
Special to DC Metro Theaters Arts

Secret Chopsticks Brings Classic Chinese to Rosslyn – Pennsylvania 6 Challenges DC’s Established Steak and Seafood Houses – Let’s Do BBQ! Texas Jack’s Style – Austrian Embassy Focuses on Art and Photography with a Side of Schnitzel 

A dinner consisting of a parade of eleven courses is all in a day’s work, isn’t it?  It was for me at Executive Chef/Partner Robin Li’s new Chinese restaurant, Secret Chopsticks in the luxurious Turnberry Tower in Rosslyn.  Li, along with Dim Sum Chef, Tonia Wang, are sticking to the classics, preparing regional Mainland Chinese cuisine, rare in the DMV.

The dining room at Secret Chopsticks

The dining room at Secret Chopsticks

Li’s early training came from a stint in the US Navy who sent him to the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park to hone his skills.  After his hitch was up, he returned to the school to graduate and then back to China where he opened an American-style steakhouse.  Thankfully he turned his sights back to the States and Chinese cuisine.

There are so many dishes to triumph here.  On a recent visit the menu listed a variety of dishes sans description, though I’m told that will soon be corrected to better inform diners.  Dumplings sheer as silk stockings and consommés as delicate as French haute cuisine are artistically presented and often garnished with a single goji berry.  Most dishes come lightly poached, with few fried offerings.  Those that are, like crispy tofu skin, are light as a feather.

(L-R) Tofu Blossom Soup -- Beef Potstickers -- A delicately prepared Steamed Chilean Sea Bass

(L-R) Tofu Blossom Soup — Beef Potstickers — A delicately prepared Steamed Chilean Sea Bass

From the Tofu Blossom soup, which looks like a chrysanthemum in full bloom, dishes were nicely timed – – not rushed.  Though the menu offers a la carte or dim sum, you can opt for an 11-course tasting menu to experience dishes that highlight the best of Mainland China and showcase some unusual ingredients not commonly seen in our area’s Chinese restaurants.  A delicacy called “fengo” uses a bok choy cousin called yu choy, a tender green incorporated into a superb dumpling and Li’s rendition of crystal shrimp dumplings, the hallmark of all great Chinese chefs, is spot on.

(L-R) Dongpo Pork Belly -- Durian Pastry with durian ice cream

(L-R) Dongpo Pork Belly — Durian Pastry with durian ice cream

An intriguing array of craft cocktails, surprisingly more in keeping with the hipper watering holes in town, rise to the level of excellence.  Though they change from time to time, we found the cocktails to be beautifully balanced and original.  Try the ‘Bao Bao Green Tea Mojito’ (my personal favorite) or ‘Turn Down Service, For What?’, a play on rapper Lil Jon’s hit song.  And winter’s wrath may be tamed by a drink aptly named, ‘Happy Toddy’.  Whatever you choose, be sure to cap it off with Durian Pastry with Durian Ice Cream.  Notwithstanding all the horror stories you have heard about durian’s overpowering taste and aroma, Li tames the fruit into a delicious and refreshing confection.  www.SecretChopsticks.com

Pennsylvania 6 – A New Downtown Hotspot Challenges the Old Guard

The bar at Pennsylvania 6

The bar at Pennsylvania 6

Pennsylvania 6 is presenting some serious competition to downtown steak-and-seafood establishments, and it starts with a gorgeous interior that is spacious without being cavernous.  Anchored by large oak columns, the large Carrera marble bar gleams with stainless steel accents.  Tinted mirrors are inscribed with the cocktail and seafood specials of the day.  The afternoon I was there the I Street afternoon sun spilled onto the rustic wood floors lighting up a hammered metal bucket filled with juicy citrus fruits.  And since atmosphere sets the tone for the direction the menu will take, comfortable seating at properly-lit linen covered tables allowed us to be able to see our food without sacrificing ambiance.  Beyond the bar white subway tiles surround an Oyster Bar where crustaceans are nestled in their icy beds.  Maine lobsters and oysters from both coasts awaiting their star turn.  It’s everything you would hope for from a restaurant keen to dispel any whiff of newness.

(L-R) A cozy setting -- The elegant private dining room

(L-R) A cozy setting — The elegant private dining room

On the walls a well-curated collection of old photos, magazine covers, antique prints, original oil paintings, and equestrian art add to the clubby atmosphere.  Off to one side tweed-covered sofas by a fireside beckon guests to linger awhile.

Executive Chef Mark Plessis

Executive Chef Mark Plessis

This is the sort of place to celebrate a promotion, mark anniversaries and birthdays, and impress clients.  It is upscale dining with a twist, overseen by Executive Chef Mark Plessis and Culinary Director Brian Cook.  And though the prime steaks and grand seafood towers are lavish, the approach is new and stylish.  Foie Gras Mousse gets an apple cider gelee, Kona Kampachi Crudo gets gooseberries, and steaks get a choice of sauces from peppadew chimichurri and bordelaise to gorgonzola butter.  Sides are excellent too, especially the Duck Fat Fries.

(L-R) Kona Kampachi Crudo with gooseberries -- Tuna Crudo

(L-R) Kona Kampachi Crudo with gooseberries — Tuna Crudo

As for desserts, it’s well nigh impossible to choose only one, so order a few and you be the judge – the Spiced Apple Cake and assortment of Mini Crème Brulees are divine.

A trio of Creme Brûlées

A trio of Creme Brûlées

I don’t always mention service in my reviews since if they know who I am, it may not reflect what other diners experience – and if they do not, it can be just as good, or just as bad as if they did know.  But in this case, the staff at Pennsylvania 6 is a breath of fresh air – well-trained, knowledgeable and crisp about their duties, striking the right balance between amenably responsive and respectfully unintrusive.  What a joy, since good food and a pretty place only go so far.  www.Pennsylvania6DC.com

Texas Jack’s Serves Up Killer BBQ from Former Brooklyn-Based Chef 

What does a kid who learned about barbecue in Brooklyn know from Texas barbecue, you might ask?  A lot, as it turns out!  In 2004 Executive Chef Matt Lang began his career in Manhattan at the much-lauded Pearl Oyster Bar, while still attending the French Culinary Institute.  Three years later he was running the kitchen at Fette Sau, a newly launched barbecue restaurant in Brooklyn where he created a menu inspired by every American region that offers barbecue.

Chef Matt Lang wrangles a juicy brisket

Chef Matt Lang wrangles a juicy brisket

Fette Sau was voted the number one barbecue restaurant in New York by Zagat, holding that position for each year Lang ran the kitchen.  In 2007 Fette Sau was lauded with a glowing review from The New York Times.  Later Lang competed on the Food Network barbecue show, Best in Smoke, competing against barbecue mega-giants like Famous Dave, Chris Lilley, and Brad Orrison, among others.  Lucky for us, he landed in the DMV.

At Texas Jack’s Barbecue, housed in the former Whitey’s in Clarendon, there is a whole lot of cheffin’ goin’ on.  And Lang has taken the don’t-mess-with-Texas motto and upped the ante by circling the mains with some healthful sides that really rock.

The bar scene at Texas Jack's

The bar scene at Texas Jack’s

Did I love this place?  To bits!  First off Lang sources high quality meats – strictly upper cut short ribs from Allen Brothers in Chicago; pork from the Duroc heritage breed from Missouri; Habanero sausage from Mitch Berliner and Stanley Feder’s locally based MeatCrafters; and sustainably-raised organic chickens from Freebird in Pennsylvania.  Local farmers fill in the produce blanks as much as seasonally possible.  This is not your average barbecue joint.  Expect these high end ingredients to express a far better product.  But there are some things that just don’t need changing, like the fluffy-soft traditional Martin’s Dutch Potato Bread the pulled pork sandwiches are served on.

(L-R) Ribs, habanero sausage and sides -- Pulled pork sandwiches

(L-R) Ribs, habanero sausage and sides — Pulled pork sandwiches

Owner Steve Roberts knows cowboy vittles from his roots in Montana and wanted to bring the real deal to Arlington.  A Greek, whose background is in food service, Roberts already has five successful Cleveland restaurants under his belt.  He’s kept the original scuffed-up concrete floors and opened up a few arched windows that had been hidden behind brick walls that once separated the two buildings.  Now there’s a clear view to the expansive bar from the main dining room.  And he’s added some cool touches of his own.  Chairs and tables are custom crafted from reclaimed wood and food is served up on blue-and-white enamelware.  Styrofoam is out and only blue-striped cloth napkins are used.  This isn’t Cousin Bubba’s roadhouse.

But let’s get to the menu.  As mentioned the meats are top notch, especially the melt-in-your-mouth brisket.  But so are the sides.  They’re outrageously delicious.  Wrap your palate around a few of these, if you will.  I’m especially partial to the Kale Salad and a side with corn.

(L-R) Pulled pork nachos -- Mountains of kale, sides and a platter of brisket

(L-R) Pulled pork nachos — Mountains of kale, sides and a platter of brisket

Smashed Cucumber Salad with yogurt, rice wine vinegar and jalapeño; Warm Potato Salad, fried potatoes with a warm bacon vinaigrette; Esquites, grilled corn off cob with mayo, Mexican cheese, cilantro and jalapeño; Fried Chick Pea Salad with chorizo, epazote and lime juice; Fried Brussels Sprouts with lemon juice and parmesan; Not So Spicy Coleslaw with jalapeño, cilantro, red onion and cotija cheese, as well as Macaroni & Cheese. No Masa Sope Style Smashed Fried Potatoes with beans, pulled pork and cheese; Nachos with beans, pulled pork, white queso, crema, salsa verde and salsa roja; Chilaquiles, a smothered version of nachos; Kale Caesar Salad with croutons and parmesan; Burger, a classic double with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and piquin chile mayo; No Meat Burger with wheat berry, shiitake, porcini and chickpea; Pork Sandwich with not so spicy coleslaw and sriracha pickles; Brisket Sandwich with a fried egg, queso blanco and poblano; and Smoked Tofu Tacos.

As for dessert, it appears to be a work in progress.  High hopes for the locally made pies touted by the waiter, were quickly dashed when I encountered leaden pie crusts and scant fillings that had more in common with a jar of jam.  Skip dessert for now.

Along with lunch and dinner service, there is Sunday brunch (brisket hash rang my bell) and takeout.  Free parking in the evenings in the lot next door.  www.TXJacks.com

Art and Pastries with Love from Vienna 

Two weeks ago the Austrian Cultural Forum, an organization that organizes and supports a variety of cultural events (concerts, film screenings, exhibitions, theatre, lectures, panel discussions, symposia) here in Washington, presented a program dedicated to their latest art installation. In the light-filled atrium of the embassy, press and guests gathered to hear remarks by the newly installed Ambassador Wolfgang Waldner, visiting dignitary Dr. Danielle Spera, Director of the Jewish Museum Vienna, Andreas Pawlitschek, Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum Washington and Helena Hartlauer, head of Media Relations representing the city of Vienna.

Ambassador Wolfgang Waldner. - Photo credit: (c) Vienna Tourist Board

Ambassador Wolfgang Waldner. – Photo credit: (c) Vienna Tourist Board

A guided tour of the highlights of the exhibit included works by the noted photographer Erich Lessing, curated by his daughter Hannah Lessing.  Erich Lessing fled Vienna for Palestine in 1939 and returned to Vienna in 1945 to become one of the most important Austrian and international photographers, as well as a photojournalist for the Associated Press in 1947, a full member of Magnum Photos Paris and the official chronicler of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against Soviet occupation.

Known for his candid pictures of major political moments of his day, Lessing was best known for his documentation of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty.  The picture now serves as the iconic symbol of the rebirth of Austria as a sovereign state after World War II.  His famous portrait subjects included the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle. From the 1960s on he turned his focus to the arts, notably serving as on-set photographer for The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews, which celebrated its 50-year anniversary in 2015.

The eclectic selection includes landscapes in Israel of quasi-biblical dimensions, images of post-war beauty queens, the documentation of daily life in post-war Vienna, and sensitive impressions of Jewish customs and ceremonies.

One of the exhibits of most interest to the guests was by Philadelphia-born Andrew MezvinskyA GOOD DAY, his compelling multimedia installation, is based on Primo Levi’s account of survival in Auschwitz, and titled THE JEWISH MUSEUM VIENNA ON INTERNATIONAL COURT.   A young Jewish-American artist who, five years ago, chose the city of Vienna to be the center of his life and creative work, Mezvinsky’s work contemplates a single day in Auschwitz in 1944.  Inspired by the Jewish-Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s autobiography If This Is a Man, Mezvinsky depicts Levi’s traumatic experiences in the concentration camp, including a chapter titled “A Good Day, which describes a day at the end of winter when the first rays of sun heralded a relief from the cold.

Mezvinsky creates series of drawings, reminiscent of fairy tales, or even the figures of Commedia dell’Arte, which he brings to life in animation. What initially appear as idyllic scenes reveal themselves to be poisoned – arising to depict one of the darkest moments in the history of Europe as the Third Reich expanded.  Mezvinsky approaches the agony of Auschwitz from various perspectives; addressing the yearning for normalcy in the savage reality of an extermination camp, and reflecting on the basic conditions for human survival. His interacting multimedia exhibition, consisting of an animation film and a series of drawings, also with an interactive component, symbolizes liberation and an interminable will to survive.

For further study, read an interview with Danielle Spera at: www.austria.org/a-conversation-with-danielle-spera

ABOUT THE AUSTRIAN CULTURAL FORUM WASHINGTON
Visit www.acfdc.org for more information.

Wiener schnitzel at the Austrian Embassy luncheon

Wiener schnitzel at the Austrian Embassy luncheon

Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Sweat – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
January 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

(L-R) Kimberly Scott as Cynthia, Kevin Kenerly as Brucie, Tara Mallen as Jessie and Johanna Day as Tracey. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L-R) Kimberly Scott as Cynthia, Kevin Kenerly as Brucie, Tara Mallen as Jessie and Johanna Day as Tracey. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Playwright Lynn Nottage must be gearing up for a second Pulitzer Prize.  Her latest production, Sweat, a gritty, hard-driving play has all the elements of a masterpiece.  Skillfully directed by Kaye Whoriskey the story plunges us headlong into the underbelly of an American drama in a story centered around factory workers whose jobs are endangered by the implementation of NAFTA – – the controversial trade agreement that forever altered the nation’s manufacturing landscape and destroyed the economic livelihood of thousands of workers and the social fabric of their cities and towns.

In Sweat, Nottage illustrates the fallout of those decisions by focusing on a town whose families have worked at the same factory for generations.  The plot, which toggles between 2000 to 2008, shows what befalls the town’s citizens as their rights and salaries are diminished and their unions are rendered defenseless when corporations take production to Third World countries.  In researching the story Nottage lived among those disenfranchised workers in Reading, PA, one of the areas of the country most affected by NAFTA.

(L-R) Jack Willis as Stan, Kimberly Scott as Cynthia and Johanna Day as Tracey. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L-R) Jack Willis as Stan, Kimberly Scott as Cynthia and Johanna Day as Tracey. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Stan (Jack Willis), a former millworker, now on disability, runs the bar where the locals meet to nurse their drinks, mark their birthdays and wallow in their miseries.  It serves as a part-time living room for factory working mothers and their sons like Tracey (Johanna Day) and her son, Jason (Stephen Michael Spencer) and Tracey’s best friends and co-workers on the factory floor, Jessie (Tara Mallen) and Cynthia (Kimberly Scott) and her son Chris (Tramell Tillman).  John Lee Beatty’s set design of the down-and-dirty local bar is spot on with its neon beer signs and rundown furnishings.

As they struggle through these issues, Tracey and Cynthia learn that a management job has opened up at the factory, compromising their friendship as they vie for the same position.  At last after being locked out and walking the picket line for nearly two years, the friends are offered an ultimatum – – take a pay cut and lose your benefits or lose your job – – a scenario played out across the country as corporations sought to bust the unions.  “They squeeze us like a sponge,” Tracey indignantly howls.

(L-R) Johanna Day as Tracey and Reza Salazar as Oscar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L-R) Johanna Day as Tracey and Reza Salazar as Oscar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

In a twist of fate, Stan’s barback, Oscar (Reza Salazar), a solicitous young Hispanic working at minimum wage, breaks the line to take a job at the factory and the situation turns uglier.

Nottage focuses on the families, friendships and towns that were changed and challenged overnight by drug addiction, suicide and alcoholism.  As the young men’s parole officer Evan (Tyrone Wilson) explains to them, “Shame is crippling.  Shame eats away at us until we disappear.”

It is a gut-wrenching, darkly humorous and powerfully visceral story that reveals the suspicion, hatred, racism and jealousies that arise when workers looking for explanations for their cruelly altered circumstances seek to spread the blame.  Performed by a seasoned cast who convey these raw emotions exquisitely.

Brilliantly acted and highly recommended.

Through February 21st at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SW, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
January 15, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Having enjoyed this four-time Tony Award-winning musical on Broadway last month, I can firmly attest it has found a national touring company cast to do it justice.  Author and lyricist, Robert L. Freedman, and composer and lyricist, Steven Lutvak, can rest assured that not a beat, a line, a dance step, a joke or note will fail to delight.

Here’s what to expect when you go, and you must, to be all the more prepared to sop it up.  On your list of expectations should be dreamy love songs, a sinister Edward Gorey-like ambiance, delicious gallows humor, Fred Astaire-inspired dancing and droll Edwardian characters.  Be assured there will be murder most foul and romance most delectably forbidden.  All the elements of a ripping good show.

 (L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D'Ysquith - Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

(L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D’Ysquith – Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

In A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder we find handsome bachelor, Montague Navarro (Kevin Massey), penniless and orphaned, bereft of employment prospects and in love with Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), a strikingly gorgeous fortune hunter, who, though smitten with Monty, has her sights set on a wealthy scion.

 (L-R) Lesley McKinnell as Miss Barley, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and John Rapson as Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr. - Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

(L-R) Lesley McKinnell as Miss Barley, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and John Rapson as Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr. – Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Still mourning the loss of his mother Monty is visited in his shabby garret by Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel) a spinster who knew her well.  The old lady tells Monty that his mother was disinherited by her family, the D’Ysquiths, for marrying beneath her station and that he is eighth in line for the title of Earl of D’Ysquith replete with the vast estates of Highhurst Castle.  Devising a plan to jump the line of succession by whatever means necessary, our charming hero uses his wits, and some intricate plotting, to knock off the eccentric lords and ladies that precede him.  “What can I take from the D’Ysquiths except their lives,” he merrily posits.

Commencing his fact-finding journey by touring Highhurst on Visitor’s Day, he runs into Lord Adelbert who, in full hunting regalia trills a snooty tune entitled, “I Don’t Understand the Poor”.  Twenty-two numbers accompany Monty’s murderous plots while you find yourself cheering on his diabolical schemes.
John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith - Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith – Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

John Rapson, plays all eight D’Ysquith cousins, both male and female roles, ranging from the sputtering, apoplectic Lord Reverend and Lady Hyacinth, who has a monopoly on the downtrodden, to the gay athlete, Henry, who he humors in “Better with a Man”.  As Monty continues to ingratiate himself with the others, he meets and falls in love with his cousin Phoebe (Adrienne Eller), the embodiment of the perfect Victorian lady.

 (L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro, Matt Leisy, and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe - Photo credit: Joan Marcus

(L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro, Matt Leisy, and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe – Photo credit: Joan Marcus

That lepers in the punjab and cannibals in deepest, darkest Africa figure into the plot is all part of the fun, though the Gothic chorus reminds us that, “suddenly they’re congregating under the sod”.

Amid all the lethal high jinks and criss-cross romance are the fabulous voices of the cast, Music Director Lawrence Goldberg’s 12-piece orchestra and Linda Cho’s turn-of-the-century costumes.

Highly recommended.

Through January 30th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit The Kennedy Center.