Categories

The Price ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

For Arena Stage’s 20th Anniversary season, Artistic Director Molly Smith has placed her bets on Hal Linden, an actor’s actor whose comedic timing is a veritable master class.  Linden plays the part of Gregory Solomon, a Russian Jew and antique dealer in Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Price.  It’s sheer pleasure to watch Linden ply his lines and experience his instinctively smooth delivery and Old Country accent – with a hearty dose of shtick added for good measure.  Playing off an exceptional performance of Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Victor Franz, a frustrated cop who failed to realize his potential, this production, artfully directed by Seema Sueko, is a well-cast delight that brings both searing drama and mood-lightening humor to the American stage.

Victor and his wife, Esther (Pearl Sun) are liquidating the estate of his late, formerly wealthy father, a failed businessman that pitted his two sons against each other.  Walter (Rafael Untalan), a successful surgeon who hasn’t spoken to his brother in 16 years, encourages Victor and his wife to keep the proceeds.  Clearly, he feels some compunction that he hasn’t returned Victor’s calls.  And though Esther encourages them to patch up their relationship, Victor is stuck in past resentments, unable to decide on his retirement date and his plans for their future.

As Gregory tries to convince Victor how worthless the antiques are, it becomes a parlor game between the two, with the old man using his considerable bargaining skills and Victor feeling taken.  Every time Victor feels as though he’s struck a deal, the street savvy Gregory turns the tables, stalling for time.  In a particularly hilarious scene, the sly swindler plops down on a chair and peels a hard cooked egg, toying with Victor like a lion with its prey.

As the brothers attempt to smooth out their acrimony, with Esther as cheerleader, they relegate Gregory to a back room from where he pops out to renegotiate at the most inopportune moments to great comic relief.  Against the backdrop of his comedic interruptions, the brothers’ long-simmering jealousies surface and the self-righteous Victor destroys any hope of reconciliation.

The action takes place in the late 60’s in the attic of their father’s former shop where Set Designer Wilson Chin piles period antiques to the rafters evoking memories of the brothers’ past and a lifetime of disappointments.

Highly recommended.

Through November 12th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

An Act of God ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

A gem of a comedy is holding fast at Signature Theatre.  Directed by 13-time Emmy-winning former head writer and Executive Producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, David Javerbaum, this hilarious sendup of God stars Tom Story.  Story, who took on the Herculean 40-role play Fully Committed at MetroStage last December, is a seven-time Helen Hayes Award nominee who proves in this off-the-wall, one-acter that he can take on the biggest role of all.  God.  Director Eleanor Holdrige makes certain nothing is sacred in this stick-in-the-eye comedy – especially not God himself whom Story plays with all the irrepressible wit, snark and snap in his toolbox.

Tom Story (God), Jamie Smithson (Gabriel) and Evan Casey (Michael). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Tom Story (God), Jamie Smithson (Gabriel) and Evan Casey (Michael). Photo by Margot Schulman.

In a Family Feud takeoff God is aided by His naughty archangels (“My wingmen.”) played by Evan Casey as Michael and Jamie Smithson as Gabriel.  Michael and Gabriel are adept at dashing into the audience and attributing to the unsuspecting guests pre-chosen questions that threaten to undermine God’s laws.  Heresy!  Beginning with the Creation of the World God confesses the six-day timeline wasn’t enough, and goes on to lay out a new version of the Ten Commandments, an original explanation of Adam and Eve (“I removed a non-load bearing rib.”) as well as a condemnation of the Ark’s fuzzy math and another pet peeve, the lack of modern science as in the impossibility of Abraham’s 90-year old wife’s miraculous birth of their son.  He is apoplectic at these biblical misinterpretations.   “I have wrath management issues,” He confesses.

In order to set the record straight, He explains his original intent.  In particular His Fourth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Separate Me and State”, in which He reviles those that claim to speak for him.  Oh, so popular these days.  And His Seventh Commandment, “Do Not Tell Me What to Bless”, wherein He blasts those worshippers who ask Him for a slam dunk or touchdown and protection from devils when sneezing.  He knows exactly who He will bless and who He will curse.  “I don’t want you to kill in my name.  I can do that all by myself.”

Evan Casey (Michael), Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Evan Casey (Michael), Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

 

Thanks to Costume Designer Robert Croghan’s pimped-out white suit with Gucci belt mega-church preacher style, God can say with total assurance, “I am a well-established brand.”  The Playbill agrees, crediting him as Playwright.  “God is the original multi-hyphenate and triple threat, an auteur and visionary whose bold creations and intelligent designs have earned Him international recognition since Day One.  He is also a writer whose previous literary efforts, The Old Testament and The New Testament, have collectively sold an impressive 7,000,000,000 copies.”

Credit also to Daniel Conway for his flashy scenic design giving God a suitably deluxe platform on which to pontificate and take selfies with His archangels and Alberto Segarra for lighting God and His pronouncements in all His extraterrestrial glory.

Highly recommended for a healthy dose of irreverence.

Through November 26th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

The Lover & The Collection ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
October 7, 2017 

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The Lover opens a door onto a middle class couple conversing in their mid-century modern living room.  Richard (Patrick Kennedy) and Sarah (Lisa Dwan) have been married ten years.  Over martinis they discuss how they spent their afternoon with their respective lovers.  They appear emotionally, and inexplicably, detached – aloof about their spouse’s peccadilloes, and eager to overshare.  They quaintly thrust and parry, delivering jealousy-inducing blows with accuracy.  But neither flinches.  With the unflappable reserve of the English stiff upper lip, they regard each other with all the enthusiasm of a scientific experiment while challenging one another with wild tales of their extramarital exploits.  Perhaps, that was Pinter’s intent – to examine the differences between the sexes with a calculatingly eye towards achieving parity.  “Frankness at all costs,” demands Richard.  Or perhaps, it’s just an exercise in existentialism with the audience as voyeuristic dupes?

Ultimately, it is merely vexing.  Why, you wonder, are they so blasé about infidelity? Why should we care about them and their outcome when they are so cruel to each other?  When Pinter wrote these set pieces we were coming out of the Beatnik era and into the sexual revolution.  It was a time when “being cool” was crucial, and being closed-minded was decidedly “uncool”.  But who was being served?

In this one-acter, Richard and Sarah vie for power in a sexually-charged marriage.  As their erotic role-playing becomes fiercer, they switch off roles of dominance and submission.  It’s a no-win game that plays out in dispassionate insults and fantasy vignettes, with a milkman as red herring thrown in to divert.

Photo of Patrick Ball as Bill and Jack Koenig as Harry

Photo of Patrick Ball as Bill and Jack Koenig as Harry ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The Collection is a more diverting tale with a somewhat meatier storyline.  Two gay men, one a well-to-do elderly man, Harry (Jack Koenig), the other his fancy boy, Bill, the fashion designer (Patrick Ball), live together in a bespoke home in London amid a collection of antiques and Oriental vases.  Bill appears to be caught in a tangle.  Did he sleep with a woman on a business trip, or did she fabricate the story to make her husband jealous?  “Did you have a good time in Leeds last week,” James asks accusingly.

Photo of Lisa Dwan as Stella

Photo of Lisa Dwan as Stella ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

As a mystery, it’s no Agatha Christie – far too many holes in it.  As in, why would Harry welcome the low-class, middle-aged stranger, James (Patrick Kennedy), into his home for a chat?  Who does that?  And why would he and Bill ultimately befriend James with promises of a posh life when he accuses James of blackmail?  James’ own wife Stella (Lisa Dwan) would have had her reputation destroyed in a divorce case if that had been his intent, which it appears it isn’t.  But let’s not allow details to get in the way.

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The action picks up when young Bill is alone with the canny and violent James.  Together they play a macabre dance with Bill trying to determine James’ intent and James playing cat-and-mouse with the vulnerable Bill.  Their conversation, as in the couple in The Lover is as dry as the proverbial bone, until Harry appears, toys with James’ affections, and Bill is treated like a disposable house guest.

Under the direction of Michael Kahn, these four actors do an exceptional job of tackling this anachronistic fluff, but to what end?  In both of these productions cruelty and degradation win out in the end – a Pyrrhic victory all around.

Though October 29th at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the Box Office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.

Are you now, or have you ever been…MetroStage

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Carlyle Brown’s play about the investigation and inquisition of Langston Hughes by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) is a deeply moving, profoundly disturbing probe into the mind of a successful Black American poet.  Under the guidance of Joseph McCarthy, these televised courtroom investigations were led by the notorious Roy Cohn, advisor to Richard Nixon and later mentor to Donald Trump, the Senate Subcommittee turns their search to uncover Communists into a witch hunt the likes of which America had never seen.  Like Hitler’s civilian spies it turned the country into a nation of informants – with people putting forth names of co-workers and friends to save their own skin.  That many of them had no connection to the actual Communist Party, nor knew anything more than workers had rights and blacks were equal in the USSR, was of no consequence to these self-righteous Senators.

The investigation into, and “blacklisting” of, the lives of hundreds of actors, writers, gays, etc. ruined their lives, careers, and businesses – all in the name of rooting out a misperceived Communist and anti-Christian influence on American society.  It turned the country upside down at the time.

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor, as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

In this newly developed treatment of Brown’s play, Composer William Knowles adds verve to the drama adding original music to background life in 1953 Harlem and, later, the needle-sharp drama of the hearings.  Knowles incorporates period Blues, Jazz and Cabaret songs to animate the rhythms and patterns of Hughes’ famous poems.   It’s set in the period of the Harlem Renaissance when, as Hughes puts it, “Negroes were in vogue.”  Until they weren’t.

It is a sinuous story set to music that weaves in and out of Hughes’ most profound thoughts, highlighting his poetry and underpinning his trial in dramatic fashion.  For those familiar with Hughes’ poems it will be a pleasure to renew your acquaintance with “The Weary Blues”, The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, “Harlem Dance Hall”, “Good Morning Revolution” and others.

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Director Thomas W. Jones II does an outstanding job with a diverse cast that brings the necessary gravitas to the story.  The six-member cast not only sings and dances in a number of styles of the period, but moves effortlessly through a number of roles and wardrobe changes, that is except for lead actor Marcus Naylor as Langston who tackles the role with virtuosity.  The one-acter builds to a crescendo with Hughes’ interrogation by Cohn (played impressively by Marni Penning) who eviscerates the poet piecemeal.  The parallels to today’s news are staggering.

Also notable is Wood Van Meter as David Schine, who has a wonderful voice and whose solos are explosive.  Michael Sharp as Senator Joseph McCarthy, Russell Sunday as Senator Everett Dirksen and Josh Thomas as Frank Reeves round out this excellent cast.

Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan employ an effective set design of large trapezoidal panels that allow for Hughes words, plus photos and videos of the period, to accommodate designer Robbie Hayes’ evocative projections.

Highly recommended.  An unforgettable night of theatre.

Through November 5th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Charleston City Including Backroads and Byways – Test Driving Hyundai’s 2018 Sonata and Elantra

Jordan Wright
October 9, 2017
Photo credit: Jordan Wright

 

Historic Charleston

The beautifully preserved port city of Charleston and its neighboring countryside proved an excellent opportunity to test drive the soon-to-be-released the sporty 2018 Sonata with its minimalist design and 8-speed transmission, and the 2018 Elantra GT.  Two daytime road rallies exploring this area on its cobblestone streets, highways and country lanes were no challenge for these two excellent-performing, mid-priced cars.

2018 Elantra GT

2018 Elantra GT

Both the 2018 Elantra GT and 2018 Sonata presented well through sudden downpours, bumpy roads, last minute turns and quick braking.  Our 90-plus degree day consisted of a four-hour morning drive in the Elantra GT and the same time in the Sonata.  We drove the vehicles past horse farms and golf clubs, across bridges and beside lush gardens with no stops for a refuel.  Plenty of highway and two-lane roads were instrumental in testing its maneuverability, comfort level and braking system.  Both dual clutch and manual are equally fuel-efficient and can be started and have the car’s temperature set by using Google.  Gotta love that in both hot or frigid climates!

Hyundai’s 2018 Elantra GT at the Charleston National Golf Club

Hyundai’s 2018 Elantra GT at the Charleston National Golf Club

For our early morning road rally 18 Elantra GTs started out from the beautiful Belmond Charleston Place, a magnificent property in the tradition of America’s grand hotels.  It was exciting to see them all lined up on the hotel’s cobblestone driveway in all their shiny new colors.

Charleston National Golf Club

Charleston National Golf Club

Our morning drive took us down Meeting Street and across the city then on to Route 526 to Sullivan’s Island and Route 703 on the Isle of Palms.  From there we drove inland to Mt. Pleasant arriving at the Charleston National Golf Course for snacks and cold drinks in their beautiful clubhouse set amid old Live Oaks and swaying Spanish moss.

A different route with different challenges defined our return.  From sizzling hot country roads that billowed clouds of steam from the frequent bursts of rainfall, the car handled it beautifully as we headed back to the hotel for a lunch break.  We had the chance to note the air conditioning and inside defroster were effective to handle such quickly changing weather conditions.  As we drove east on Route 526 beside the Ashley River and across the Cooper River, two rivers that converge at the port of Charleston, we enjoyed the panoramic views of the low country marshes with their acres of sweetgrass that the Gullahs make their intricately woven baskets from.  From there we passed the Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens before making our way back to the hotel for a lunch break.

Low country marshland along the route

Low country marshland along the route

Our afternoon drive in the Sonata took us across the Stono River on Route 700 and down through John’s Island to stopped at The Plantation at Stono Ferry and on to the Links at Stono Ferry Golf Club in Hollywood before heading back to town.  It is a stunning drive, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in touring the area.

Both cars exceeded expectations.  Most especially in what comes standard, though add-ons can raise the final price.  They are zippier, snazzier and more comfortable than earlier models with great attention paid to overall design, mileage and performance.

For fuel economy, you can expect the Elantra to give you a ton of savings at the pump.

FUEL ECONOMY City Highway Combined
2.4L (SE) 25 MPG 36 MPG 29 MPG
2.4L (SEL, Sport & Limited) 25 MPG 35 MPG 28 MPG
2.0T (Sport) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
2.0T (Limited) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
1.6T (Eco) 28 MPG 37 MPG 31 MPG

And as for safety, its braking system tell the story.

BRAKES/TIRES/WHEELS
Front Dual diagonal, split circuit, power-assisted 12.0-in. ventilated disc with pressure proportioning valves (2.4L/1.6T)
Dual diagonal, split circuit, power-assisted 12.6-in. ventilated disc with pressure proportioning valves (2.0T, Optional on SEL, Limited 2.4L)
Rear Dual diagonal, split circuit, power-assisted 11.2-in. solid disc with pressure proportioning valves

You can choose either the 6-speed electronic automatic with torque converter, shift lock and SHIFTRONIC™ manual shift mode on the 2.4L or the 8-speed electronic automatic with torque converter, shift lock and SHIFTRONIC™ manual shift mode on the 2.0T.  And there’s also a turbo model.

Utility without sacrificing driving dynamics is one of the key benefits to hatchbacks, and the 2018 Elantra GT brings an 8 percent increase in cargo capacity versus the prior generation.  It is one of only a few hatchbacks classified by the EPA as a Large Car due to total interior volume eclipsing 120 cubic feet.  In fact, Elantra GT has more cargo volume than other hatchbacks such as the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf and Toyota Corolla iM. Elantra GT is also a sporty alternative to small CUVs. Elantra GT with the rear seats folded down has more cargo capacity than the Toyota CH-R, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax and Jeep Renegade.

Even more sophisticated safety features are standard on some Elantra models.  Advanced Driver Assists are available on Elantra GT Sport through Automatic Emergency Braking w/ Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keep Assist, High Beam Assist and Smart Cruise Control that features stop/start capability.  A Hyundai-first, Driver Attention Alert, analyzes driver inputs to determine attention level and provide both a visual and audible warning if it determines the driver’s attention level has become too low.  Great for a teen’s first car.

All that utility is wrapped in an evolution of what they call the “Fluidic Sculpture” design language that features Hyundai’s new signature cascading grille, which is flanked by standard LED Daytime Running Lights.  Pretty sexy!  To further enhance the front light signature, available LED headlights are utilized for both the low and high beams.  The side profile is strongly supported by standard 17-inch alloy wheels and 18-inch alloy wheels on the Sport. At the rear, the liftgate features wraparound glass and a rear spoiler.  Available LED tail lights and split dual outlet exhaust further support Elantra GT’s fun-to-drive positioning.

Model Engine Transmission MSRP
Elantra GT 2.0L 4-cylinder 6-speed Manual Transmission $19,350
Elantra GT 2.0L 4-cylinder 6-speed Automatic Transmission w/ SHIFTRONIC® $20,350
Elantra GT Sport 1.6L Turbo GDI 4-cylinder 6-speed Manual Transmission $23,250

 

2.4L (SE) 25 MPG 36 MPG 29 MPG
2.4L (SEL, Sport & Limited) 25 MPG 35 MPG 28 MPG
2.0T (Sport) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
2.0T (Limited) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
1.6T (Eco) 28 MPG 37 MPG 31 MPG

The Sonata’s ABS braking system comes in 4-wheel, 4-channel and 4-sensor with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and ESC.

Extensive features on the Sonata include, a standard seven-inch color display audio touchscreen with both Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto® integration. Models equipped with Blue Link Telematics get three years of complimentary Connected Care and Remote services; including the ability to activate many of the features using the Amazon Echo and Google Home virtual assistants. The available navigation system is enhanced with a bird’s-eye-view feature and HERE HD real-time traffic flow data. Furthermore, the inconvenience of outdated map software is now a thing of the past as owners now have three years of complimentary Guidance Package services, which include downloads to maintain up-to-date navigation programming.

Keeping on-trend with today’s connected passengers, smartphones can now be charged without a plug using the available wireless charging pad (Qi standard) while a second-row USB charge port provides additional charging flexibility.

The Sonata is equally impressive.  Distinctive new exterior styling transforms Sonata’s visual signature. The dramatic new appearance is highlighted by Hyundai’s bold new “cascading grille” in front and an all-new rear with more prominent branding and relocation of the license plate in the bumper in this category.

Every 2018 Sonata is equipped with Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA).  It’s the only mainstream mid-size car sold with this safety technology as standard equipment. And with its 18.5 gallon tank, the mileage is impressive too.

Pricing throughout the Sonata’s lineup gives consumers a compelling choice.

Model Engine Transmission MSRP
SE 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $22,050
Eco 1.6L Turbo GDI 4-cyl 7-Speed EcoShift® Dual Clutch Transmission

with SHIFTRONIC®

$22,650
SEL 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $23,700
Limited 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $27,400
Sport 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $25,200
Sport 2.0T 2.0L Turbo GDI 4-cyl 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $27,600
Limited 2.0T 2.0L Turbo GDI 4-cyl 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $32,450

Whichever you choose, driving will be an awesome adventure.