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The Taming of the Shrew ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
February 21, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Ryan Sellers as Petruchio and Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina. Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers as Petruchio and Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina. Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Some of Synetic’s “Silent Shakespeare” series productions are of the more classical variety.  Knights in leather armor and ladies in diaphanous gowns, kings with proper crowns and gallant, swaggering lads who rescue damsels.  That works for those who like their Shakespeare neat and undiluted.  For my money, the crazier, the more outlandish and the sexier, the more I’m going to love it.  Directed by Irina Tsikurishvili, one of the founding members of the Georgian troupe together with her husband and Artistic Director, Paata Tsikurishvili, this new version of The Taming of the Shrew is decidedly over the top outrageous.  We need this. A straight 90 minutes of madcap silliness strung together by a familiar plot and performed by a cast of inspired dancers.  Sign me up.

In a stunning Magritte-like formality, fellow mourners gather.  Clad in black Victorian garb with umbrellas held aloft, they grieve the demise of fashion designer Baptista’s wife.  The explosive sounds of thunder and lightning frame their little scene.  As they depart, several of the gentlemen lovingly kiss the hand of Katherina (Irina Tsikurishvili).  One brazen swain grabs her, bends her backwards and plants one on her lips.  She is the most sought after, and unattainable of all – a girl on fire garnering headlines in the scandal sheets for her uncontrollable behavior.  Her sister, Bianca (Nutsa Tediashvili), a flirty starlet, glamorously clad in electric yellow mini dress, is no match for her sister’s intensity.  As for her paramour, Lucentio (Justin J. Bell) he must woo Bianca on the QT, and does it as a woman in a tiny dress and Louise Brooks bob as her music teacher.  It’s outlandish.  Beyond the pale.  Such fun!

Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina and Ryan Sellers as Petruchio Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Irina Tsikurishvili as Katherina and Ryan Sellers as Petruchio Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

The story is set in PADUAWOOD, the iconic Hollywood sign has been replaced.  Here the men are flashy hipsters in pegged trousers, the women fiercely trendy and the paparazzi ubiquitous.  It’s all about the nightlife, hooking up at the club and vogueing for the camera. Fashion shows are where they strut their stuff and here we are treated to an ersatz Victoria Secret runway scene, as elaborate as anything from Ziegfeld’s follies, with models in de rigeur feathery angel wings and erotic lingerie.  Additional suitors Tranio (Scott S. Turner), Hortensio (Stephen Russell Murray), Gremio (Zana Gankhuyag) and Grumio (Alex Mills) swarm around the ladies, alternately posing and roughhousing, eager to impress their targets.

Petrucchio, selected by Katherina’s father to pursue her in marriage, is a painter bereft of inspiration.  He is portrayed by the sensational dancer Ryan Sellers, whose acrobatic leaps are Baryshnikovian and whose physical attributes are swoon-worthy.  His fights with Katherina are as deliciously chaotic as the steamy love scenes.  Tsikurishvili mirrors his enmity and passion exquisitely.  This may be one of her greatest roles – one in which she shows her magnificent range as a both a comic actor and powerhouse performer.

Full cast (minus Irakli Kavsadze as Baptiste and Chris Galindo as Ensemble). Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Full cast (minus Irakli Kavsadze as Baptiste and Chris Galindo as Ensemble). Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Zana Gankhuyag has choreographed this unique and visually sensuous production, showing off this talented cast to their fullest.  And credit Anastasia Rurikova Simes for the countless, elaborate, crazy costumes that never fail to amuse, most inexplicably a banquet wherein all the guests save Katherina wear massive chicken heads and a girl in skimpy black patent leather biker gear lures Petrucchio from atop a motorcycle.  A lobster codpiece makes an appearance.  Don’t ask.  Just go.

Highly recommended.  (And for those of you who have never been to a Synetic Theater production, they have garnered a total of 93 Helen Hayes Award nominations and 27 Awards for directing, choreography, acting, costume design and best play.)

Through March 19th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

King Charles III ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
February 20, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett plumbs the depths of Prince Charles’ psyche to give us an imaginary glimpse of the prince as future King of England.  The dramedy kicks off with the demise of Queen Elizabeth II and Buckingham Palace’s preparations for a coronation.  Bartlett draws from Charles’ past statements, off-handed comments to the press and general knowledge of his public behavior to ponder the question of what sort of ruler this prince will become.  Bartlett explores the family dynamic, using the structure and language of a Shakespearean history play while telling the story in Shakespearean blank verse.  There is a loose formality to it, yet, it is set in modern day against the backdrop of a rapidly changing society.

Ian Merrill Peakes as Prime Minister Evans and Allison Jean White as Kate in the American Conservatory Theater production of King Charles III, directed by David Muse. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Ian Merrill Peakes as Prime Minister Evans and Allison Jean White as Kate. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Among the royal family there is Charles’ stern wife, Camilla (Jeanne Paulsen), the fashionable and super modern Kate (Allison Jean White) and Charles’ two sons – the dutiful Prince William (Christopher McLinden), husband to Kate, and Prince Harry (Harry Smith), the charitable-minded, resident naughty boy.  The family’s relationship to Charles, and the bubble they all live in, is scrutinized as is the controversy derived from Charles adverse relationship to his government.

As Charles (superbly portrayed by Robert Joy) prepares to take the throne, rumors abound of an uprising among his subjects.  The press (Oh, how Britain loves its tabloids!) fans the flames of unrest and riots threaten Charles’ tranquil transition to king.  Speculating on how Charles would handle the both the public and the press, is a neat parlor game and Bartlett keeps us guessing throughout the tension.  “They all expect me to have an opinion,” bemoans the reluctant Charles, as Harry takes off for a night of clubbing hopeful that the stuffy trappings of royalty will magically disappear from his reluctant shoulders.  Pouf!  You’re a commoner!

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Rafael Jordan as Spencer, Jefferson Farber as Cootsy and Michelle Beck as Jessica in the American Conservatory Theater production of King Charles III, directed by David Muse. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Rafael Jordan as Spencer, Jefferson Farber as Cootsy and Michelle Beck as Jessica. Photo by Kevin Berne.

When Charles faces his most stubborn critic, Prime Minister Evans (Ian Merrill Peakes), he shows his naiveté in dealing with both Parliament and the press.  Uncharacteristically for a ruling monarch, he is determined not to rubber stamp a bill restricting freedom of the press.

Though his signature is not required (actually the King has zero power to make policy), it is assumed he will sign whatever is put in front of him.  This sets up the adversarial relationship between Charles and his government.  His relationship with the Leader of the Opposition Party, Stevens (Bradford Farwell), is also at risk. “We cannot have the King expressing his opinion,” Stevens insists. “It is uncharted territory.”  As we all know, Queen Elizabeth NEVER expresses her opinion.  It’s just not done.

Chiara Motley as Ghost and Robert Joy as King Charles in the American Conservatory Theater production of King Charles III, directed by David Muse. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Chiara Motley as Ghost and Robert Joy as King Charles. Photo by Kevin Berne.

While Harry credits his new love Jessica (Michelle Beck), an anarchist from the wrong side of town, with “unblinkering” him to the public’s current adverse opinion of the need for the royals, he opens his father’s eyes to the possibility of his unorthodox choice of a mate.

Bartlett has a sharp ear for wit and humor and much of the story incorporates Charles’ known idiosyncrasies and his inability to grasp the dramatically shifting mood outside palace walls.  Will the high-minded Charles dissolve Parliament on principal, or will he have to capitulate?  Will his family support his position notwithstanding the consequences of a monarchy in danger of dissolution?  Surprisingly the younger women become the most outspoken change agents.

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Robert Joy as King Charles and Michelle Beck as Jessica. . Photo by Kevin Berne.

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Robert Joy as King Charles and Michelle Beck as Jessica. . Photo by Kevin Berne.

Co-produced with Seattle Repertory Theatre and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, this five-time Tony Award nominated play is keenly directed by David Muse, Artistic Director of Studio Theatre and former Associate Director at STC.  Stunning recreation of the statuary and stained glass windows of Buckingham Palace by Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling with gorgeous heraldic costumes by Designer Jennifer Moeller.

Highly recommended for its superior cast and deliciously wicked pokes at the royal family.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through March 18th at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Watch on the Rhine ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
February 15, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

A dark and sinister wind blew through Washington last night with the opening of Lillian Hellman’s electrifying drama Watch on the Rhine.  Hauntingly parallel to our nation’s current fears of a fascist influence in our government, this 1941 revival is set in the drawing room of a powerful Washington society matron whose daughter has married a resistance fighter during Hitler’s reign of terror.  Taken alongside the recent mounting of Roe, the play based on Roe v. Wade, reviewed here earlier this month, it proves Artistic Director Molly Smith to be exceptionally prophetic.

(L to R) Thomas Keegan as David Farrelly, Marsha Mason as Fanny Farrelly, Lucy Breedlove as Babette Müller and Lise Bruneau as Sara Müller. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Thomas Keegan as David Farrelly, Marsha Mason as Fanny Farrelly, Lucy Breedlove as Babette Müller and Lise Bruneau as Sara Müller. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Director Jackie Maxwell does a fine job of letting the actors reveal their formidable skills as we are introduced to the Farelly family and their gilded life.  At first we meet Fanny Farelly (played by four time Academy Award winning actress, Marsha Mason) hostess to a pair of Balkan royals, Count Teck De Brancovis of Romania (J Anthony Crane), and his wife, Marthe (Natalia Payne).  In her zest to enjoy her nightly cribbage games with the impoverished Count, she allows herself to ignore his involvement with the fascist German government, falling victim to his courtly manners and his elegant charm.  It is only when, after a span of forty years, Fanny’s estranged daughter Sara (Lise Bruneau) returns to the fold with her German husband Kurt Müller (Andrew Long) and their three young children that Fanny comes to understand why her daughter has remained absent.  As stalwart members of the German resistance, they have been working within the movement to free political prisoners.  Unfortunately, Teck recognizes Kurt as the resistance fighter he is and Fanny slowly realizes she must make a stand to protect her family.

(L to R) Ethan Miller as Joshua Müller, Helen Hedman as Anise, Lise Bruneau as Sara Müller, Andrew Long as Kurt Müller and Lucy Breedlove as Babette Müller . Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Ethan Miller as Joshua Müller, Helen Hedman as Anise, Lise Bruneau as Sara Müller, Andrew Long as Kurt Müller and Lucy Breedlove as Babette Müller. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Hellman’s drama unfolds with much lighthearted humor, Mason is superb and charming as Fanny whose amusing banter with her longtime housekeeper Anise (Helen Hedman) and butler Joseph (Addison Switzer) set a lively tone commensurate with the wealthy enjoying their privileged lives.  Also of note are Sara’s children, especially the precocious Bodo played winningly by Tyler Bowman.  While Fanny’s elder son, David (Thomas Keegan), scion to his late father’s law practice, is her support and guide.  We soon learn that Marthe and David are having an affair, and that she is eager to leave the abusive and unscrupulous Count who makes plans to blackmail Kurt.

(L to R) Ethan Miller as Joshua Müller and Tyler Bowman as Bodo Müller. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

(L to R) Ethan Miller as Joshua Müller and Tyler Bowman as Bodo Müller. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Throughout, this excellent cast held the audience rapt.  You could hear a pin drop for most of it – that is up until the explosive remark David makes to Kurt. “You are a political refugee.  We don’t turn back people like you.”  To which the audience spontaneously erupted into thunderous cheers and applause, especially notable given the current political climate against refugees fleeing oppression and imminent danger.

(L to R) J Anthony Crane as Teck De Brancovis and Natalia Payne as Marthe De Brancovis. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

(L to R) J Anthony Crane as Teck De Brancovis and Natalia Payne as Marthe De Brancovis. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

This is the kind of powerful theatre we have come to expect of Arena – relevant, challenging and thought-provoking.  Stay tuned for more thrilling theatre when the premiere of the upcoming political drama Intelligence is presented next month.

Through March 5th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information visit www.ArenaStage.org or call 202 488-3300.

The Gin Game ~ MetroStage

by Jordan Wright on February 6, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

The "Gin Game" with Roz White and Doug Brown - Photo credit Chris Banks

The “Gin Game” with Roz White and Doug Brown – Photo credit Chris Banks

At first blush The Gin Game appears to be a love story about two elderly retirees who meet at the dilapidated Bentley Nursing Home where they have gone to live out their remaining days.  But playwright and Baltimore native D. L. Coburn had something deeper in mind – something that bares the soul and makes us reflect on how without warning, and just as we thought we had established a secure place in the world, Life with a capital ‘L’ can throw us a curveball.  Director Thomas W. Jones has cast two seasoned actors, Roz White and Doug Brown, who together keep us on the edge of our seats with their subtle and riveting development of these complex characters.

The "Gin Game" with Roz White and Doug Brown - Photo credit Chris Banks

The “Gin Game” with Roz White and Doug Brown – Photo credit Chris Banks

Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Martin, relative newcomers to the home, begin a friendship of mutual admiration with a dollop of flirtation tossed in for good measure.  Weller presents himself as a courtly gentleman and successful businessman eager to gain the approval of the prim and proper Fonsia.  They soon bond over their mutual loathing of the staff, their exes and the other residents, whom they superciliously agree, are feeble-minded codgers.  

The "Gin Game" with Roz White and Doug Brown - Photo credit Chris Banks

The “Gin Game” with Roz White and Doug Brown – Photo credit Chris Banks

After some polite conversation Weller suggests they play his favorite card game, “Hollywood” Gin.  Over a series of games, he patiently teaches Fonsia how to hold her cards (close to the vest) and schools her in the rules and the scoring system.  But he is no Henry Higgins, and she will not be his Eliza.  As they begin to shed their social masks with each hand they reveal more of themselves.  He hates the home’s organized entertainment and the way the staff infantilizes the residents, and she is lonely, imprisoned by her fears and brokenhearted.  When Fonsia continues to defeat him with every hand she’s dealt, all social niceties fly out the window and Weller becomes enraged.  He calls it luck that she consistently has winning hands.  He even claims there are spirits at work.  Until finally, he accuses her of throwing the game.  Determined to win a hand and preserve his ego, he begs her to keep playing, manipulating her through flattery and apologies for his blasphemous outbursts.  “Now if I win, don’t shout at me,” she implores.  By the time a mere week has passed, she has begun to echo his demeaning behavior and they charge full throttle at each other’s defenses, until the gloves are off and they go straight for the jugular. 

The "Gin Game" with Doug Brown and Roz White - Photo credit Chris Banks

The “Gin Game” with Doug Brown and Roz White – Photo credit Chris Banks

The Gin Game is a psychological exercise meant to hold a mirror up to our faults and frailties while shedding light on the challenges of aging, loneliness and the uncertainty of a future without friends or family.  It asks us to take responsibility for the emotional damage we inflict on those closest to us and to recognize that our resulting pain is the reflection of our actions. 

This rare gem of a tragi-comedy has been performed by some of our nation’s finest actors.  Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy starred in the original Broadway production at the John Golden Theatre in 1977 and Tandy won a Best Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of Fonsia.  In 2015 James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson took over the roles in the same theatre.  

Recommended for its superb performances by two of the finest actors in our area. 

At MetroStage through March 12th – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit MetroStage Info.

Review: ‘The Last Waltz 40 Tour’ at The Theater at MGM National Harbor

by on February 5, 2017
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

Last night all twelve members of the tribute group for The Band gave a master class in blues, rockabilly, New Orleans jazz, country, honky-tonk and American roots music. The elite touring group celebrated The Band’s historic last concert which had been held in San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in 1976. The Theater at MGM National Harbor was the last stop on the 11-city tour.

The Band. Photo courtesy of MGM Grand National Harbor.

Kicking off the set with the lighthearted drinking anthem, “Cripple Creek,” replete with the requisite yodeling and funky wah-wah twangs, fans got ready to get loose, get fired up and sing along. A mostly older crowd was to be expected – what wasn’t expected were the 30-somethings that also knew the words, and were just as amped.

The original group consisted of four Canadians and one American musician who came up in the late 50’s under different incarnations and continued on until 1977, re-forming in 1983 and lasting through 1999. It consisted of legendary musicians Rick Danko (now deceased), Garth Hudson (a recent Rock and Rock Hall of Fame inductee), Richard Manuel (now deceased), Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson, who hooked up with Bob Dylan in 1965.

That’s the history for those who may have pulled a Rip Van Winkle on the rock scene, but this was another chance to make history with musicians who had already made their bones in the industry.

Jamey Johnson, singer/guitarist and songwriter for the likes of Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, George Strait, Merle Haggard, and others, kicked off the first number. He was accompanied by Michael McDonald, vocalist, and keyboardist for Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Van Halen, Aretha Franklin, and Patti LaBelle; Musical Director and bassist Don Was, who counts 25 years under his belt producing the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, and Hootie and the Blowfish; tour director and vocalist, Warren Haynes, formerly of the Allman Brothers and master of the slide guitar; John Medeski jazz/funk keyboardist; New Orleans drummer Terence Higgins, member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; “Steady Rollin’ ” Bob Margolin, vocalist and funky blues rock guitarist for the late Muddy Waters; the singing Neville Brothers, Ivan on keyboards and Cyril on conga drums; and trombonist Mark Mullins of Bonerama using the original horn arrangements of the late, great Allen Toussaint.

The Band. Photo courtesy of MGM Grand National Harbor.

Joining the group on this final stop was 79-year old original band member Garth Hudson who brought his legendary mad skills to the keyboard. A master of the Lowery organ and eight other instruments, Hudson, who appeared with flowing white beard and locks covered by a large black felt hat, walked gingerly to the piano and showed he’s still got the stuff. Amazingly he riffed and switched from classical music to funk to blues on “The Weight” and “I Shall Be Released,” divining from the music gods a five-minute, free-form, solo lead-in to “Genetic Method.”

A four-man horn section traded off instruments to include sax, clarinet, with a solo turn on McDonald’s “Stage Fright” and “Ophelia”; French horn on a somewhat tamer version of “Wheels on Fire”; tuba, especially effective on “Mystery Train” and Johnson’s low and slow version of “Georgia on My Mind”; and trumpet on “Such a Night”, a song that wasn’t in their original set list. McDonald pulled out his banjo for “Rag, Mama, Rag” and Margolin, who played with Muddy Waters at the Woodstock festival, ripped up the stage on slide guitar in “Mannish Boy.” Cyril Nevill sang on “Who Do You Love” – a number reminiscent of Dr. John and the Night Tripper and the gris-gris sound that came up from the swamps of New Orleans.

A massive backup horn sound was felt throughout, reminiscent of the early days of Joe Cocker and later in 70’s Rolling Stones when saxophonist Bobby Keys came on board. And though this was billed as a tribute concert celebrating the past glories of an iconic band, it was not stuck in the past and offered up free flowing jams, and a fresh interpretation of The Band’s original hits.

Running Time: Three hours and 30 minutes,with one 20-minute intermission.

The Band performed for one-night-only on February 4, 2017, at The Theater at The MGM National Harbor – 101 MGM National Avenue, in Oxon Hill, MD. For tickets to call the box office at (800) 745-3000, or purchase them online.