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Belleville – Studio Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 8, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

In Amy Herzog’s Belleville the viewer is afforded a plate glass window onto the seemingly idyllic Parisian life chosen by an attractive young American couple.  Eager to absorb the culture, Abby and Zack, bring their hipster lifestyle to the City of Lights, “Or is it City of Life?” Abby posits.  In their case it becomes a mirror reflecting back their secrets, lies and insecurities.

Jacob H Knoll (Zack) and Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Jacob H Knoll (Zack) and Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Zack has taken a job in Paris working on children’s AIDS research – a cause Abby finds “noble”.  It appears to be somewhat of a charmed life.  But the innocents abroad have brought along more than their dreams and suitcases to the multi-cultural neighborhood of Belleville.  They have packed their emotional baggage too.  And a horrid Freudian-filled brew it is.

The first two scenes (there’s no intermission) unwind slowly with an overlong set up that lays out the dynamics of the couple.  It lingers on their interpersonal issues, and a budding friendship with their landlord, Alioune (Maduka Steady), a successful 25-year old Senegalese who lives in the building with his wife and two children.  Abby’s self-effacing responses to the landlord and her forgiving manner towards Zack, lull us into a false sense of ease about the couple’s relationship.

Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Gillian Williams shows us a lithe, vulnerable Abby, caught up in a Parisian fantasy of her own imagining.  With pressure to compete with her sister’s successful marriage and win her father’s affection, she alternately needles Zach and coddles him.  “I can be emotionally abusive,” she confesses.  Williams’ ability to shift gears from kittenish to claws-out tigress to emotional wreck and back again is riveting.  To counterbalance her neuroses Jacob H Knoll gives an equally taut performance as Zack, an emotionally stunted husband who seeks her approval.

In an accompanying media kit, reviewers were asked to “not reveal any major plot details” – rightfully calling out a new wave of unprofessional “critics” who feel it’s necessary to tell the entire plot as if it’s CliffsNotes.  So don’t expect any further revelations in this review as to where the play is headed.  We honor the playwright’s sense of suspense and surprise.  But be forewarned, it’s explosive and chilling, and sharp objects are involved.

Joy Jones (Amina) and Maduka Steady (Alioune) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Joy Jones (Amina) and Maduka Steady (Alioune) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Both Maduka Steady and Joy Jones, as his wife, Amina, give solid performances as the landlord and his disapproving wife.

Through October 12th at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St., Washington, DC 20005.  For tickets and information call 202 332.3300 or visit www.StudioTheatre.org.

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Cambridge, Maryland

Jordan Wright
August 31, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Cambridge city mural

Cambridge city mural

In an area where watermen and their history have customarily been the prime subject of writerly interest, it was “Chesapeake” author James Michener who noted the architecture of Cambridge’s High Street, referring to its splendors as “one of the most beautiful streets in America”, which is precisely where we begin our exploration.

Richardson Maritime Museum - Photo credit to Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato

Richardson Maritime Museum

Start in the center of town at the Richardson Maritime Museum where a wealth of artifacts and expertly crafted replicas of historic ships are on display.  Around the corner is the Ruark Boatworks, which affords a fascinating look at modern-day boat restoration and the building of traditional wooden bay craft.

Along the Choptank River

Along the Choptank River

Follow the cobblestone High Street toward the Choptank River and along the way admire stately 18th and 19th century homes, some meticulously restored, others awaiting a fresh coat of paint and some new shutters to be brought back to their original splendor.

Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast

Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast

A stone’s throw from the river is the Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast.  Built in 1847 in the Queen Anne style of architecture, the manor boasts six large guest rooms with private baths.  Mine was on the second floor with a private porch overlooking a lily pond.  The elegant home is furnished in the style of the period.  Wicker chairs provide the perfect respite for reading or watching passersby from an expansive front porch.  Jim and Marianne Benson and their adorable pooch Max (rescued by the couple while Jim was stationed in Cuba with the Foreign Service), are the gracious innkeepers.  They will gladly share their stories (Max is available to play fetch) and describe the history of the former sea captain’s home.  www.CambridgeHousebandb.com.

Homes along Cambridge's High Street

Homes along Cambridge’s High Street

A five-minute stroll towards the river will take you to the picturesque boat docks and self-guided tour of the replica Choptank Lighthouse, a six-sided screwpile lighthouse that contains a small museum focused on the nautical history of the area.

A mess of crabs ready for steaming at JM Clayton Seafood Company & The steam pots

A mess of crabs ready for steaming at JM Clayton Seafood Company and the steam pots

Turning back towards town I dropped in on Joe Clayton, great-great grandson of Captain Johnnie, founder of the JM Clayton Seafood Company where watermen have been bringing their crabs for picking and cleaning for five generations.  To arrange a tour of the plant, visit www.JMClayton.com.  Behind the old single-story brick building is local artist Michael Rosato’s hyper-realistic mural.  Painted on the side of an old caboose it depicts life along the river.

Mural Photo by Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato on JM Clayton Seafood

Mural Photo by Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato

Continuing along High Street stop in at Christ Episcopal Church and Cemetery, the burial place of four Maryland governors. Though the church was built in 1883, the lovely parish dates back to 1692.

The High Spot Gastropub

The High Spot Gastropub

Cambridge has recently undergone an exciting restaurant renaissance offering both chef-helmed dining as well as casual fare.  Try The High Spot Gastropub on Muir Street where Executive Chef Patrick Fanning lures guests with his elegant twist on classic American dishes using locally caught fish and farm-sourced ingredients.   Head-over-heels creations are Zinfandel Braised Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash, Conch Chowder with a splash of Gosling’s Rum, and Oyster Pot Pie.

Oyster Pot Pie at High Spot & Zinfandel Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash

Oyster Pot Pie at High Spot and Zinfandel Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash

Back on High Street we pass scores of recently restored historic buildings, one of which houses the Dorchester Center for the Arts.  The 17,000 sq. ft. space is home to state-of-the-art classrooms, galleries, artisans’ gift shop and a large performing arts stage.

 Pastry Chef Adam Powley of Elliot’s Baking Company shows off his brioche

Pastry Chef Adam Powley of Elliot’s Baking Company with his braided challah bread

A few days before my arrival Elliott’s Baking Company opened in one of these beautifully restored turn of the century buildings.  Owner and longtime resident, Bernie Elliott, hired French Culinary School grad, Aaron Powley, whose repertoire includes traditionally made brioche, croissants, sumptuous French pastries and hearty artisanal breads.  Many of the local restaurants feature Powley’s breads and rolls.

Wine tasting at A Few of My Favorite Things

Wine tasting at A Few of My Favorite Things

Look around to find trendy boutiques and specialty stores like Squoze, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it grab-and-go spot for freshly made green juices, smoothies, sandwiches and wraps and a well curated selection of health foods.  Another can’t-miss is A Few of My Favorite Things, a gourmet gift and wine bar.  Here samples of their wines are poured by a sommelier while you nosh on delicious cheeses, spreads and charcuterie.  They are one of many spots in town to hear live music at night.

J. T. Merryweather of Reale Revival Brewery

J. T. Merryweather of Reale Revival Brewery

Stop in Reale Revival, known by locals as RAR, where industrial chic dominates the quirky cool décor.  The brewery, bar and lounge was started by Dorchester County natives, Chris Brohawn and J. T. Merryweather, who decided to quit their day jobs to make beer – – every armchair beer drinker’s fantasy.  Luckily for them their palates matched their enthusiasm and they have been producing exceptional artisanal beers.  On a hot day the Mine Layer Saison, an unfiltered summer beer in the Belgian Farm style pairs well with sushi and fish tacos from their extensive small bites menu.

On the road to Hooper's Island

On the road to Hooper’s Island

What’s the must-have meal on the Eastern Shore?  Why a mess of steamed blue crabs dredged in Old Bay seasoning and served with local corn on the cob, of course!  Try the Ocean Odyssey, a family-friendly spot with an outdoor deck on the Ocean Highway.  You’ll also find bison burgers, fish tacos and a large selection of beers on tap.  For a touch of French bistro cuisine, you’ll need reservations for the new Bistro Poplar.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

The next day a brilliant summer sun broke through the morning’s haze and after a hearty breakfast at the inn, I headed off for Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a breathtaking 25,000 acre waterfowl sanctuary with a new visitor’s center, wildlife exhibits featuring Osprey and Bald Eagle cam monitors, and native wildflower gardens.  This spectacular gem lies 12 miles south of Cambridge along Bucktown Road.  Drivable roads and boardwalks wind through much of the forests and tidal wetlands affording miles of flat trails for hikers, cyclists and birders.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Tim Devine checks his oysters

A few miles southwest lies the windswept chain of islands known collectively as Hoopers Island, where I visited Barren Island Oysters, an oyster aquaculture farm owned and operated by internationally famed nature photographer Tim Devine.  Grown in a pristine cove and transferred to cages in the bay off Barren Island, the conditions offer a desirable salinity, producing  the sustainably raised plump, buttery-tasting triploid oysters that are preferred by many area chefs.  A well-known client in DC is BlackSalt restaurant.

Sold to top DC restaurants as the "Ugly Oyster"

Sold to top DC restaurants as the “Ugly Oyster”

Farther down the road is Fishing Creek, a small community dotted with crab houses alongside a warren of wooden docks harboring boats for watermen and sport fishing.  Founded in the 1700’s, it’s where Phillip’s Seafood began operations 100 years ago.

Old Salty's on Fishing Creek & Old Salty's killer all-crab crab cakes

Old Salty’s on Fishing Creek & Old Salty’s killer all-crab crab cakes

Have lunch at Old Salty’s, a seafood restaurant in operation for 31 years in a historic schoolhouse with sweeping views of the Chesapeake Bay.  The crab cakes here are luscious and destination-worthy – barely held together, lightly broiled mounds of creamy white, jumbo lump crabmeat.  Rockfish, scallops and other locally caught seafood are another big draw.  But before toddling back to civilization complete the journey with a slice of their towering coconut, lemon meringue or chocolate pies.

Towering Key Lime and Coconut Cream pies

Towering Key Lime and Coconut Cream pies

Mark your Fall calendar for these upcoming Cambridge events:

September 20th and 21st – The IRONMAN Maryland Triathlon is expected to draw 100’s of racers and their families and will dovetail with the town’s 38th Annual Outdoor “Summer Sendoff” street fair of “Blues, Brews and Barbecue”.

Photo credit to Jordan Wright

October 10th to 12th – The Cambridge City Art Fair – UK and Outdoor Street Festival at Guild Hall hosts where local and national dealers and gallerists feature current, as well as antique 18th and 19th century, paintings to view and buy.  For more information visit www.TourDorchester.org.

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Sunday in the Park with George – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
August 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

The cast of Sunday in the Park with George. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The cast of Sunday in the Park with George. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

It’s been 16 years since Signature Theatre under the direction of Eric Schaeffer, mounted Sunday in the Park with GeorgeStephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical.  Back then it starred my niece Liz Larsen as Dot (Family plug: She is currently on Broadway in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), and her husband Sal Viviano as George.  Though they were both nominated for Helen Hayes Awards, it was Liz that came away with the honors for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical” and we all celebrated at a glittering evening at the Kennedy Center.

Fast forward to the latest production under the superb direction of Matthew Gardiner who has cast heavyweight Broadway stars Brynn O’Malley in the role of Dot, and Claybourne Elder as George, to bring to the stage this living, breathing, kaleidoscopic vision of Artist and Pointillist George Seurat’s life.

Based on an imaginative interpretation of the characters in this iconic painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”, the show opens onto the Paris artist’s atelier where a simple chiaroscuro backdrop echoes the 28 sketches Seurat made before completing his enormous masterpiece.  Seurat was exploring the new science of color dynamics and attempting to create a new art form, at a time when his peers were deeply immersed in Impressionism.  Set in the latter part of the 19th century when women wore corsets and bustles and men never went out without a proper topper, the painting emerges as the vehicle and backdrop for a tableau vivant of fifteen subjects who step out of the painting and come to life, revealing their very human characteristics.  Frank Labovitz’s period costumes of soft colors and subdued prints blend seamlessly with the muted colors of the painting.

Brynn O’Malley (Dot) and Claybourne Elder (George) in Sunday in the Park with George. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Brynn O’Malley (Dot) and Claybourne Elder (George) in Sunday in the Park with George. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

As George taps dots onto the canvas, model and paramour, Dot, poses with her parasol held aloft, echoing her prominent role in the painting.  She is frustrated by the heat, her constricting attire and his lack of interest. “If I were a Follies girl,” she wistfully sighs.  In the song, “Color and Light” we become aware that his obsession, trumps all romance.  And in “We Do Not Belong Together” they early on become resigned to abandon their love.  “You are complete, I am unfinished,” Dot intuits.  He proves she is right in “Finishing the Hat”, in which he sacrifices their time together for his art.  Elder must give a tightly wound, highly controlled portrayal of the emotionally disconnected artist, and he does that quite convincingly, while O’Malley counterbalances it with a lithely lyrical Dot.

Daniel Conway’s set design reflects the artist’s struggle to achieve “order, design, composition, tone, form, symmetry and balance”.  He enforces that passion by eliminating and adding back silk-screened trees, dogs and a lone monkey according to George’s indecisiveness.

The Boatman, played marvelously by Paul Scanlan, comes to life as a smarmy low life who likes to terrify frolicking children when he is not insulting George.  Mitchell Hebert is Jules, a fellow artist and staunch critic of George’s new art.  Together with his wife, Yvonne (Valerie Leonard), Mr. (Dan Manning) and Mrs. (Maria Egler) they provide brisk and hilarious diversion.

By Act Two we have left the Victorian era and are transplanted into the present day.  George’s great grandson is unveiling a light machine called a “Chromolume”, at a swank Paris gallery, and in “Putting It Together”- “link by link, drink by drink, mink by mink” – he schmoozes well-heeled patrons hoping they’ll underwrite his invention.  This is where Lighting Designer Jennifer Schriever really displays her wizardry in a spectacular array of whirling pointillist beams of light and framed pixels of swirling primary colors.  Accompanying her grandson is George’s wheelchair-bound mother, also played by O’Malley, who sings the poignant tune, “Children and Art”, a tenderly wrought and exquisitely sung number that will rip your heart out.

A wonderful, wonderful cast.

Highly recommended.

Through September 21st 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.

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Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop Opens in Rosslyn on Aug 25th – Complimentary “Bobbie” Subs for First 100 Customers

Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
August 17, 2014

The first Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop opened in Wilmington, Delaware in 1976.  Lois Margolet and her brother Alan started their business in Wilmington’s Little Italy section, but it was turkey that put them on the map. Building their menu around the freshly roasted bird set them apart from the many sandwich shops in the area, and soon they were beating the stuffing out of the competition. Today there are more than 105 company-owned and franchise locations in 14 states across the country. Their unique menus feature subs in three sizes, as well as sandwiches and salads comprised of various meats, cheeses and vegetables. Highlights among their offerings include three types of spicy peppers and vegetarian options with soy-based meat substitutes.

"Bobbie" sub sandwitch

“Bobbie” Sub sandwich

Capriotti’s second location in the Washington Metro area (in addition to the shop at 18th and M Streets, NW in the District) opens on August 25th at 11:00 am at 1500 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn. The first 100 patrons in line will receive a free “Bobbie” sandwich, with the first 50 of those also receiving certificates for “Bobbies” for a year. This “Thanksgiving on a Roll” sub sandwich is the most popular item on the menu and consists of slow-roasted turkey, their special recipe cranberry sauce and an herbed dressing (Northerners know it as stuffing), and mayo.  This comfort food combo is known as Vice President Joe Biden‘s favorite sandwich, and has earned “Best Of” awards in Las Vegas, San Diego, Delaware, Dallas and other cities around the country.

L to R : Joe Combs, Director of Operations.  Paul Rothenburg, Rosslyn BID. George Vincent, Jr.,the owner.  Jordan Schneider, Director of Catering

L to R : Joe Combs, Director of Operations.
Paul Rothenburg, Rosslyn BID. George Vincent, Jr.,the owner.
Jordan Schneider, Director of Catering

George Vincent, Jr. is the 33 year-old local businessman who introduced Capriotti’s to the DC area, and he plans to open a dozen outlets in the next two years. Mr. Vincent is off to a good start and clearly intends to earn our thanks, giving us some of the best and most interesting sandwiches available in the metro area. For more info visit www.capriottis.com.

Photo credit to Cary Pollak

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Spamalot – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
August 5, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Audience Alert: It became clear to me, when I was the only person howling with laughter, that the musical intro to Spamalot, The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s first show of the 2014-2015 season, that the audience failed to pick up on the musical cues that consist of every cockamamie intro passage in the known world played at the opening of an event.  The collection of tally-ho horns, magisterial foofaraws and sweeping orchestrations from famous film scores – had gone entirely unnoticed by the audience.  It goes on for a full five minutes.  Now that you’re in on it, you too can roar with delight.

Python-heads know this musical backwards and forwards.  It features King Arthur, King of the Britons and his Knights of the Round Table, Sir Robin, Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot – all your adorable medieval heroes on a quest to find the Holy Grail. Remember the Lady of the Lake who armed Arthur with the Excalibur sword?  She’s there too – in full throttle.

So what’s not to like about Monty Python and his merry band of men?

Filled with quirky dance routines, twenty-five musical numbers, political spoofs, feather-brained high jinks and boundless double entendres, LTA’S production is high-powered hilarity on steroids.  

Part of the quest for Arthur and his men, as ordered by the “Knights Who Say Ni” aka “The Keepers of the Secret Word”, is to require them to put on a Broadway Show.  Alas, they are “Jew-less”, as in the number, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”, which merrily claims, “If it’s not kosher, there’s no show, sir.”  Nonplussed they rally the troops with “Hava Nagila”, and a righteously rendered Cossack dance.

Director Wade Corder has assembled a terrific cast starting with James Hotsko Jr. as Arthur, Patrick McMahon as Sir Lancelot, Dimitri Gann as Sir Robin, Matt Liptak as Arthur’s goofy sidekick Patsy, and Ashlie-Amber Harris as the Lady of the Lake, with cast members handling a number of parts.  But it’s Harris I want to scream about.  As magical as the dynamics are between the players and as rib-tickling as their antics, it is Harris that is volcanic.  Her supernaturally brilliant comic timing, boffo voice and knockout figure are the stuff superstars are made of.  

Scatting and soulful in Cher-like gold Lurex, she is electrifying.  “The Diva’s Lament (Whatever Happened to My Part)” in which she bemoans being off-stage for too long while our hapless knights gadabout seeking shrubbery (don’t ask) and bolluxing up the handy ruse of a Trojan rabbit (ask if you like), will have you in tears.  Harris actually got a huge ovation for this riotous number.  It’s no small wonder that after the run of this show the former American Idol contestant is headed straight to Broadway with agents already lined up.   See her now before you read about her in Variety.  Don’t make me say, “I told you so!”

So whether you drool over sexy chorus girls in red leotards and sequined shrugs, cheerleaders that bare their navels and French Cancan dancers or dancing knights in white satin, male Conga dancers in neon-colored ruffles or peasants in sackcloth, YOU WILL BE DAZZLED.

Grant Kevin Lane designed the costumes – all 200 of them, Grace Machanic did the amazing choreography, Rebecca Sheehy and Helen Bard-Sobola designed the 400+ props, one of DC’s finest Accent Coaches, Carol Strachan, taught the 20–person cast Scottish, English and French accents and the superb 14-piece orchestra is conducted by Paul Nasto.

Highly recommended.

Through August 23rd 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

Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

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