November 27, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
The cast of Moby Dick. Photo by Liz Lauren/Lookingglass Theatre Company.
Co-production alliances benefit all theatregoers and the latest collaboration between Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company and Arena Stage proves the point. It saves theatres a heavy outlay by not having to mount expensive, new productions – plus shorter rehearsal time saves space and the actors already know their blocking and lines. In addition, these productions come with critics’ raves.
Which brings me to Moby Dick – one of the most splendid and spectacular, alluringly bizarre plays I’ve reviewed to date. Imagine, if you will, the physicality of Cirque du Soleil driving Melville’s major opus, coupled with all the theatrics of a Greek tragicomedy. You can’t? Neither could I until I saw this eye-popping interpretation of the classic tale of a whale. Theatregoers will be talking about this production for years to come.
Using the parable of Jonah as fugitive from God, a preacher inspires Ishmael (Jamie Abelson) to find his soul through a whaling voyage. Lured on by red-haired Puritan furies in funereal Victorian dresses and tight chignons (they later morph into a chorus of sea sirens in spectral gowns) the hapless fellow soon finds himself at the Spouter’s Inn among a rowdy group of drunken Nantucket scrimshanders bellowing sea chanties and preparing for passage on the fated Pequod.
Director David Catlin, who adapted the play from the book, delivers a Dante-inspired version replete with a structure of ivory-hued masts curving inward like the narrowing rib cage of a whale. Sailors shinny up the masts and dangle from the ship’s rigging in daredevil fashion and lifeboats seesaw above.
L to R) Christopher Donahue as Captain Ahab and Javen Ulambayar as Mungun in Moby Dick. Photo by Greg Mooney.
Notwithstanding the spectacular acrobatics, there is the underlying story of the vengeful Captain Ahab (Christopher Donahue) – his Devil’s bargain to capture and kill the evil leviathan who bit off his leg – and Ishmael’s struggle to find his life’s purpose.
Woman is portrayed as not only the object that lures men to their deaths, but as the sea personified, and also as the whale itself. They become a symbol of what must be captured, conquered and stripped of life. In a particularly powerful scene, a woman is hung by her heels. Her voluminous skirts trail down over her head rendering her faceless and exposing the whalebone structure of her petticoat. Her flesh is summarily stripped away as if cleaning a fish. It is the height of machismo culture.
(L to R) Jamie Abelson as Ishmael and Anthony Fleming III as Queequeg i. Photo by Liz Lauren/Lookingglass Theatre Company.
Some of these dramatic visual elements, twice used to great effect by hundreds of yards of silken fabric billowing out like waves, are balanced by extraordinarily fierce acting, haunting music and, yes! hilarity, most especially in the character of Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III), the savage outlier who becomes the catalyst for Ishmael’s voyage to manhood and redemption.
An outstanding production crew ties it all together with dramatic panache. Costumes Sully Ratke; Aerial/Acrobatic Second City’s Actors Gymnasium founder Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi; Set Designer Courtney O’Neill; Lighting Design William C. Kirkham; Sound Design/Original Music Rick Sims.
Highly recommended. If I gave out stars this would be an entire constellation!
Through December 24th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024. For information and tickets for the Lillian Hellman Festival visit www.arenastage.org/hellman-festival or call 202 488-3300.
November 22, 2016
It’s a tricky proposition to categorize Monica Bhide’s new novel, Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken under ‘Cookbook’. Strictly speaking, it is not. There are no indulgent recipes to swoon over as in her 2015 cookbook, A Life of Spice or the two before that, Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen in 2009, and The Everything Indian Cookbook in 2004. A prolific writer, Bhide has penned short stories, fiction and inspirational books, tailoring the latter to an audience eager to follow in her footsteps.
Her pieces have appeared in such prestigious journals as Food & Wine, Saveur, Bon Appetit, The Washington Post and the New York Times. As a local author, she is a frequent lecturer on the topic of food blogging for the Smithsonian Associates programs and has been a guest speaker at Georgetown University. Equally as impressive, she has been featured in four of the annual Best Food Writing anthologies along with some of the finest food writers in the nation.
Author Monica Bhide
In her latest novel Bhide offers up a sensitive, utterly hilarious portrait of a sweet, idealistic, and somewhat hapless, Indian teenager, Eshaan, whose secret love for a beautiful young woman, Kitt, leads him down a convoluted path to achieve his life’s mission. Eshaan’s altruistic dream is to feed the poor, but until he wins a local TV chef’s competition, he has to navigate major life hurdles with the aid of a page-turning collection of both friends and foes.
Bhide brings us into her world to experience the scents and flavors of India, the heady aromas of frangipani and curry, by offering up these memorably quirky, endearingly fascinating characters in the literary tradition of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. One can only hope this is just the start of an ongoing series about the adventures and misadventures of Eshaan, Lama Dorje, a wise Buddhist monk, Radio Rani, an orphaned servant living in the monastery, and many others who dwell in the blessed aura of Buddha’s Karma Kitchen.
Monica will appear at an upcoming Indian dinner featuring her recipes at The Fourth Estate restaurant in Washington, DC on December 12th. Some of the recipes are central to the plot of Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken. A signed copy of the book and a compendium of recipes are included in the price. To view the menu and purchase tickets for the dinner, click on this link. www.press.org/events/karma-and-art-butter-chicken-dinner
To learn more about Bhide, order one of her books or view her line of art jewelry visit monicabhide.com.
Monica Bhide’s Butter Chicken
Makes 4-5 servings
1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger
1 tablespoon peeled, minced garlic
2 tablespoons Indian tandoori masala (I recommend Shan Tandoori/ Tikka mix)
1⁄4 cup canned tomato puree
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee*
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into small pieces
Salt, to taste
- In a large bowl, mix together yogurt, ginger, garlic, Indian tandoori masala, tomato puree, salt, lemon juice and butter. Add the chicken and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan. Pour all remaining marinade over the chicken. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the juices run clear.
- Remove the chicken from the oven and place all the pieces on a platter. Reserve the cooked marinade in a bowl.
For the Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger
1 tablespoon peeled, minced garlic
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
1 serrano chile, finely minced
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
- To make the sauce, in a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic. Sauté for about 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring constantly. Use the back of a spatula to mash the tomatoes as you go. Continue until the tomatoes are completely mashed and soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the reserved marinade.
- Add the salt, chili pepper, and chicken and mix well. Simmer covered for about 10 minutes.
Add the cream and simmer for another minute. Serve hot.
November 29, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
Naomi Jacobson (Bo Jack) and Dan Manning (Earl). Photo by Christopher Mueller
Composer and lyricist, Matt Conner (past Sig shows include Crossing, The Hollow, Nevermore, and Partial Eclipse) in collaboration with lyricist, Stephen Gregory Smith gets us in the Christmas spirit with the world premiere of Silver Belles. Set in Silver Ridge, Tennessee this rollicking musical (book by Allyson Currin) begins with a funeral. But don’t let that get you down. The death of Southern diva and Cherry Apple moonshiner, Oralene (Donna Migliaccio, but think Dolly Parton’s tongue-in-cheek Southern charm), sets in motion a crazy, countrified mission to continue their bestie’s legacy – writing and staging the fundraising Christmas pageant for the local orphans at the River of Life Church.
Determined the show must go on, three of her gal pals, Berneice (Ilona Dulaski) owner of Berneice’s Taxidermy Emporium, Gloria (Nova Y. Payton) a four-time divorcee, and Ruth Ann (Peggy Yates) a former beauty queen with mad baton-twirling skills, take up the reins. Unfortunately, Oralene’s husband, Earl (Dan Manning), still in mourning, was her guitar strumming musical composer and he’s got writer’s block. That is until Oralene gives him the inspiration and the show’s theme, “Take what you can. Give what you should, while the gettin’ is good.”
Meanwhile Earl’s best friend, Bo Jack (Naomi Jacobson), the show’s stage manager and local radio personality for the call-in show, “Swap Meet”, is under pressure from the community to deliver the news that the pageant Oralene calls “serious Christmas for serious Christians”, is still on.
Donna Migliaccio (Oralene). Photo by Christopher Mueller.
The ladies are all aflutter until Oralene’s ghost returns as their as muse and they begin to see the light. Think Golden Girls meets The Andy Griffith Show for hilarious plot twists. I couldn’t help thinking this could be a terrific TV series.
Ilona Dulaski (Berneice). Photo by Christopher Mueller.
It’s hard to say who gets the most laughs, Migliaccio is absolutely magical, but Dulaski is an endearing scene stealer. Berneice’s suggestion that they save production costs by using her Nativity-outfitted stuffed animals in the crèche scene, “The Friendly Beasts” is classic.
Naomi Jacobson (Bo Jack), Nova Y. Payton (Gloria), Donna Migliaccio (Oralene), Dan Manning (Earl), Peggy Yates (Ruth Ann) and Ilona Dulaski (Berneice). Photo by Christopher Mueller
Credit goes to Karma Camp for the lively choreography, Kelly Rudolph for some clever lighting surprises, and solo pianist Jacob Kidder who keeps the spirit with a few Christmas standards interwoven with thirteen original numbers. And keep in mind these are some of Sig’s finest voices. For Sig insiders, Payton riffs off of “And I am Telling You”, from her big show Dreamgirls. Watch for it.
Highly recommended for a boatload of Christmas cheer!
Through December 31st 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.
November 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
The Cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden, directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Artistic Director Michael Kahn, collaborating with the Seattle-based 5th Avenue Theatre for a new production of The Secret Garden at the Sidney Harman Hall, introduces area audiences to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enchanting tale of a garden that comes to life out of the ashes of tragedy and despair. It is one of the most beloved children’s tales ever written by the British-born Burnett, who wrote fifty-three novels, including Little Lord Fauntleroy, and thirteen plays, becoming a successful writer as a teenager while living in, of all places, Knoxville, Tennessee.
But despite a difficult childhood in England, Burnett never forgot the rose-filled English gardens, that had brought her peace and pleasure. The classic story is also her personal story of overcoming personal pain and adversity through the healing power of nature and the perseverance of love.
Since its first publication in 1910, this Gothic tale has been produced in over a dozen film and television productions, at last brought to the stage in 1991 by composers/lyricists, Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, who won three Tony Awards for this sweeping musical.
Lizzie Klemperer as Lily Craven. Photo by Teresa Wood
Directed by David Armstrong, it tells the story of Mary Lennox, raised in India during the days of the Raj and orphaned by the ravages of cholera. The child is sent to live in a creepy manor home in Yorkshire with her two uncles – the melancholy uncle Archibald Craven (Michael Xavier), still grieving the death of his adored wife Lily (Lizzie Klemperer), and his ill-intentioned brother, Neville (Josh Young). It’s Tim Burton on a chill pill meets Martha Stewart and a panoply of faeries and ghosts.
Henry Baratz as Colin Craven and Anya Rothman as Mary Lennox. Photo by Scott Suchman
Little Mary (Anya Rothman), who is a proper hellion, is told to stay in her room, but instead she wanders the dark halls of Misselthwaite Manor discovering her bed-ridden hypochondriac cousin Colin and a neglected secret garden. Her friendship with the equally recalcitrant Colin (Henry Baratz), Dickon (Charlie Franklin) Martha’s brother and gardener’s helper, her governess Martha (Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony for her role as Mary in the original production 25 years ago) and the wise older gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Sean G. Griffin) assuage her despair and send her into a fantasy world of sprites and fauns and the spirits of Indian fakirs and dead relatives, some of whom reappear as a Greek chorus.
The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company. Directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Teresa Wood
Rothman, a near weightless sprite herself, tackles the difficult role like a pro – singing, dancing and acting as if born to perform. She is backed up by seasoned performers with gorgeous voices, most especially Klemperer in “India” and Xavier and Young whose exquisite tenor voices duet in the “Lily’s Eyes”.
Look for the adorable, spot on comic timing and clear-as-a-bell soprano voice of Henry Baratz who appears towards the end of Act One. He is especially appealing in his second act duet with his late mother, Lily, in “Come to My Garden – Lift Me Up”.
Lighting Designer Mike Baldassari effectively uses poison green and purple lighting to illuminate Scenic Designer Anna Louizos’s two-story Gothic house and a thirteen-piece orchestra led by Rick Fox play twenty-four numbers.
Recommended for the whole family.
At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through December 31st at 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.
November 16, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
Company of A View From the Bridge – Photo by Jan Versweyveld.
A fresh interpretation of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge streaked across the stage like a fireball at the Eisenhower Theatre last night. Credit Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter who has endeavored mightily to give us contemporary productions, edgy, young musicians, playwrights, hip hop artists, and an exciting group of artistic directors. Produced by the prestigious Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and directed by Ivo Van Hove, this avant-garde production won the Tony Award this year for “Best Revival of a Play”. And it’s no surprise. This one has muscle and bone.
Set in Red Hook a rough neighborhood with a view to the Brooklyn Bridge, the story is told by Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan), a local lawyer. (Miller claimed it was true, as told to him by a lawyer who represented longshoremen). Alfieri acts as witness, arbitrator and conscience to Italian-American longshoreman, Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller). Eddie still operates under the code of omertà, or silence, and the unimpeachable honor code of rispetto, spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Ignore that and you’re six feet under.
Alex Esola, Catherine Combs, Dave Register and Frederick Weller – Photo by Jan Versweyveld
In the dramatic opening scene two men, drenched in blood red lighting and a rising mist, are putting on their clothes as Alfieri begins his narration. It is immediately reminiscent of the intense boxing series’ paintings by American Realist George Bellows, and lends a foreboding of dark and murderous things to come. Designer Jan Versweyveld, who won two Tony Awards this year for “Best Scenic Design of a Play” and “Best Lighting Design of a Play” for this production, gives us a stripped down set framed out by glass panels topped by benches, all the better to home in on the characters’ body language and the raw power of Miller’s words.
Eddie is old school Sicilian married to Beatrice (Andrus Nichols) the family mediator. Together they raise his orphaned niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs), a teenager looking to spread her wings, but still a “baby” to her Uncle Eddie. When Beatrice’s cousins, Marco (Alex Esola) and Rodolpho (Dave Register), arrive in the country to work illegally, they live on the QT with the couple, getting longshoreman jobs through the local Mafia. Trouble comes when Rodolpho and Catherine fall in love and Eddie’s unsubstantiated fears surface, threatening the couple’s marriage plans. He accuses Rodolpho of wanting to marry her to get his citizenship, or, perhaps worse to Eddie, that he prefers men.
A View From the Bridge_Photo by Jan Versweyveld
Two devices are used here to great effect. The haunting overlay of sacred Medieval music lends context and heft to the drama and a series of slow drumbeats between lines emphasizes the searing conflict between the family members.
What is surprising, however, is Van Hove’s decision not to use regional accents of any kind. So don’t expect Italian accents from the immigrant cousins, or Brooklynese from Catherine, Eddie or his friend, Louis (Howard W. Overshown), even though they speak in the language of dese-dems-and-dose with the occasional ain’t. The focus here is on the dialogue and the story. The cast is just the vehicle, but a fine, well-honed vehicle they are.
Through Saturday, December 3rd at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.