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God of Carnage – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 3, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

Chuck Dluhy as Michael Novak, Jack B. Stein as Alan Raleigh - Photo credit Keith Waters

Chuck Dluhy as Michael Novak, Jack B. Stein as Alan Raleigh – Photo credit Keith Waters

Sharon Field and Rance Willis produce this tidy rendition of French playwright and social satirist Yasmina Reza’s 2009 Tony award-winning play God of Carnage.  It’s a kind of “Thinking Man’s Guide on How to Raise Bullies”.  Reza introduces us to two New York couples whose sons have gotten into a bloody scrap in a neighborhood park.  At a meeting in the apartment of the victim’s parents to discuss the incident, the couples seem to agree on how the incident unfolded and Annette (Allison Block) and Alan (Jack B. Stein) appear to take the blame for their son’s aggressive actions.  All is sweetness and light as they exchange pleasantries over coffee and Veronica’s homemade clafouti..

Initially the well-mannered grownups appear to take responsibility for their children’s actions resolving to discipline the boys and urge them to make up.  Veronica (Karen Shotts), a writer on the atrocities in Darfur, has high-minded principles and tries to present a united front with her husband Michael (Chuck Dluhy) to lay the blame on Annette and Alan’s son. But Michael lets slip that, “It could have been the other way around.  Our son is a savage.”

Annette is a buttoned-up career woman married to Alan an evidence-suppressing spindoctor of a lawyer who’s more wedded to his business than his wife.  His incessant cell phone calls punctuate the couples’ mounting diatribes and show his pugnacious nature.

Jack B. Stein as Alan Raleigh, Allison Block as Annette Raleigh - Photo credit Keith Waters

Jack B. Stein as Alan Raleigh, Allison Block as Annette Raleigh – Photo credit Keith Waters

Initially the prim Annette tries to stay above the fray, pleading with her husband not to escalate the situation, but with her one small remark, “How many parents standing up for their kids become infantile?” the play’s direction is revealed.

Soon all decorum is tossed aside as the confab turns into a verbal slugfest with the couples pushing each other’s emotional buttons and quickly devolving from respectable middle class professionals into screaming bullies.  After Michael confesses to tossing his daughter’s hamster out into the street, his credibility as the nice guy is compromised and the women bond in their anger against him.  Soothing his bruised ego he shares a bottle of his “well-aged Antiguan rum” and with that the civilities dissolve, allegiances shift and the couples re-bond.  “You keep vacillating. Playing both ends against the middle,” Veronica accuses her husband.  Director Christopher Dylton keeps the constant carousel of alliances fascinating – – like watching an elegantly choreographed train wreck in Scenic Designer Grant Kevin Lane’s stylishly modern set.

Chuck Dluhy as Michael Novak, Karen Shotts as Veronica Novak - Photo credit Keith Waters

Chuck Dluhy as Michael Novak, Karen Shotts as Veronica Novak – Photo credit Keith Waters

Reza wields humor with a surgeon’s scalpel.  Her observations of couples’ conflicts, and their ability to emotionally destroy each another, are just as incisive.  Yet our ability to laugh at their infantile antics is a universal response to the belief that we are all born into a culture of violence.  “The God of Carnage has ruled since the beginning of time,” Alan reminds them.

Enjoy this fine cast that rewards the audience with a well-drawn plot of controlled mayhem and insightfully drawn hilarity.  Adult language.

Through March 21st 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

Kid Victory – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 3, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

cJake Winn (Luke) and Christiane Noll (Eileen) in Kid Victory - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jake Winn (Luke) and Christiane Noll (Eileen) in Kid Victory – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Luke is frightened.  He can’t relate to anyone anymore and can’t explain where he’s been.  At seventeen he vanished and now, one year later, he’s returned to his middle class home in small town Kansas.  Was he taken or did he leave on his own?  The police and the searchers never knew if they’d find him dead or alive.  How will he explain his disappearance to a grieving community, a family whose deeply held religious convictions couldn’t, and can’t, help him and a girlfriend whom he refuses to see? “Why did you stay? What went on?” Detective Marks (Bobby Smith) asks of him.  A cursory examination of the Stockholm syndrome would explain the conflict Luke endures.

Kid Victory is a haunting musical written by the legendary composer, John Kander (Chicago, Cabaret) and playwright Greg Pierce (Slowgirl).  Its themes are both compelling and disturbing.  They tell of a boy who’s made dangerous decisions he can’t come to terms with and a family who has too much invested in the prayer circles of the Heavenly Day Church to see beyond their blind faith to real human connection.  Donna Migliaccio plays Gail, the family’s religious guide.

Donna Migliaccio (Gail), Bobby Smith (Ensemble), Laura Darrell (Ensemble), Parker Drown (Ensemble), Jake Winn (Luke) in Kid Victory -  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Donna Migliaccio (Gail), Bobby Smith (Ensemble), Laura Darrell (Ensemble), Parker Drown (Ensemble), Jake Winn (Luke) in Kid Victory – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jake Winn plays Luke, aka ‘Kid Victory’, a name thrust upon him by Michael, aka ‘Yachticus’.  Through an online gaming site the older Michael befriends the wide-eyed Luke, inviting him to meet up for a day of sailing.  Jeffry Denman crafts a credibly evil portrait of a psychopath whose pastime is dreaming up Viking adventures that provide the plot with unusual musical levity while conversely contributing Michael’s ominous line to Luke. “To the west of pain is paradise,” Michael convincingly declares.

Jake Winn (Luke) and Jeffry Denman (Michael) in Kid Victory - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jake Winn (Luke) and Jeffry Denman (Michael) in Kid Victory – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Christianne Noll as Luke’s Mother plays a domineering woman more concerned with china collections and churchgoing than her son’s mental anguish.  She is perfectly partnered with Christopher Bloch, Luke’s Father, a man so accustomed to being dominated by God and his wife that he is emotionally out of touch.

Christopher Bloch (Joseph) and Jake Winn (Luke) in Kid Victory - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Christopher Bloch (Joseph) and Jake Winn (Luke) in Kid Victory – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Against his mother’s wishes Luke takes a job working for Emily (Sarah Litzsinger), an offbeat garden shop owner reminiscent of author Armistead Maupin’s quirky Haight-Ashbury characters.  Emily is a free spirit and Luke takes to her uncomplicated life like a fish to water.  In “People Like Us” she lets him know that it’s okay to be different.  Litzsinger is marvelous as the take-no-prisoners hippy who can travel to Kenya to help the poor, but can’t care for her own daughter, Mara (Laura Darrell).

Sarah Litzsinger (Emily) in Kid Victory - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Sarah Litzsinger (Emily) in Kid Victory – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Scenic Designer Clint Ramos creates the perfect triptych, dividing the stage into a living room, a boy’s bedroom adorned with childishly drawn sailboats, and Emily’s gnome-filled shop.  A photographic backdrop of the beautiful Kansas wheat fields frames the conflict between freedom and isolation.  Ramos draws in the dark side with a revolving bed that takes us into the clashing worlds of innocent boyhood dreams and Michael’s diabolical mind games.

How, you might imagine, can seventeen songs accompany this plot? Though the music and scenes transition through ballads, blues and comedic slapstick, they appear to do so seamlessly – – so seamlessly that some numbers segue one into another.

Liesl Tommy directs this riveting tale that will leave you indelibly moved.

Through March 22nd 2015 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.

The 8th Annual Oyamel Tequila and Mezcal Festival Kick Off

By Whisk and Quill Guest Writer, Cary Pollak
March 3, 2015

Jose AndresOyamel Cocina Mexicana restaurant is celebrating its Tequila and Mezcal Festival now through March 15th.  The annual event, billed as a “Toast to the Heritage of Mexican Spirits” features specialty cocktails and dishes from around Mexico.

Complimentary tequila and mezcal tastings will be available in the newly expanded Butterfly Bar Tuesday, March 3rd – Thursday, March 5th, Monday, March 9th through Thursday, March 12th from 4 – 6 pm.  Food and drink specials will be available from March 2nd – March 15th and company representatives will be on hand to explain what makes their brands unique.

Although most dishes and drinks in the festival are laced with some variety of chili pepper, professional fire-eaters need not apply.  On the contrary, the chefs and drinkmasters have been careful to assure their beautifully balanced flavors shine through while allowing just enough heat to add a certain piquancy to finished cocktail.  The wide variety of chili peppers incorporated into the recipes makes this festival a tasty tutorial on the complexities of Mexican culinary preparation.

Freshly made guacamole, salsa and chips.

Freshly made guacamole, salsa and chips.

Cocktails concocted by Beverage Manager and ‘Mezcalier’, Jasmine Chae, will warm your spirits.  And the hint of chili spice swirled into each drink cheers the palate.  ‘Media Naranja’ is prepared with Fidencia Clasico mescal, sour orange, habanero, egg white and bitters.  Mezcal also is employed in ‘Paloma de Oaxaca’, mixed with grapefruit-jalapeno soda.  Adding sweet vermouth and guajillo chili to Tequila Anejo creates ‘La Capital’.  Or try ‘Pica Pepino’, a refreshing blend of Tequila Blanco, cucumber, serrano pepper and lemon.

The Media Naranja is colored with a splash of bitters on top.

The Media Naranja is colored with a splash of bitters on top.

As is typical of the festivals and special events put on by Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup, Executive Chef Colin King and the culinary team at Oyamel have created outstanding dishes to complement the lyrical libations.  The variety of types of chilies and their uses in the hands of these experts is impressive.

Executive Chef Colin King with Cary Pollak

Executive Chef Colin King with Cary Pollak

Birria de Cabra, is Oyamel’s version of the Mexican goat dish ‘birria’ made with chilies and other spices.  Aguachile Costeno Amarillo is a ceviche style dish featuring Hawaiian ono sliced and served over jicama, red onion, avocado, radish, and cilantro with a spicy sauce of chile costeno amarillo and a puree of Mexican papaya.  Panuchos de Pavo con Salsa Chilmole features the habanero chili with tender shreds of braised turkey leg served over a bean-stuffed and fried tortilla, topped with sour orange, habanero and tomato salsa along with pickled onions and avocado.

Oyamel is in the Penn Quarter at 401 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC , 20004.  For more information or to make reservations go to www.Oyamel.com.

Photo credit – Cary Pollak

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – March 2, 2015

Jordan Wright
March 2, 2015 

Kim Crawford Winery Debuts Small Batch Wines in America 

My favorite way to taste wines is over a long and languorous meal.  Not only does it afford the necessary time to let the wines breathe, but allows time enough for me to ponder their potential and assess their potability.  To that end Matt Deller, Kim Crawford’s international Brand Ambassador, suggested a dinner at Lost Society in DC.  Matt would be my guide to the micro-cuvées from New Zealand’s world-class Kim Crawford wines and I would be his willing guinea pig.  A role that when it involves food or wine, I accept graciously.

Kim Crawford wines at Lost Society

Kim Crawford wines at Lost Society

The up-one-flight-of-stairs restaurant along the 14th Street corridor apologizes in menu notes for not being the stuffy setting of your father’s expectations. Nevertheless it considers itself “a true steakhouse”.  There are also remarks preemptively excusing their penchant for indiscriminate tardiness in seating guests, even pre-apologizing for the noise level and the proximity of the tables.  They do however aspire to adopt the cozy informality of at-home dining in the hopes of achieving what they refer to as, “the injection of a dynamic, animated experience”.  Forewarned is forearmed.  So don’t expect to conduct a hasty pre-theatre supper, an intimate conversation, or even a swift business meeting.  Just sit back, relax and plan on being “in the Lost Way” as they prefer to describe the experience.

Blessedly none of these annoying lapses in comfort and courtesy came to pass at dinner.  During our three hours of sipping, dining and ruminating we had some terrific food and exceptional wines from the newly launched Kim Crawford “Small Parcel” Reserve Collection.

To set the tone I ask you to put yourself in the beautiful countryside of New Zealand.  Then conjure up the magical setting of the North Island, home to “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”.  Now leap across the water and beyond the southern tip of that region to the northernmost end of the South Island.  There you will discover the breathtaking mountains and deeply carved valleys of the Marlborough region – – the backdrop and unique terroir for these five wines.

We began with FIZZ.  Akin to champagne and made in the same tradition, it is a charming sparkler made with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay grapes.  It signals lemon, grapefruit, apple and white peach with a yeasty hint of brioche and caught my favor with its delicate effervescence.

(l-r) Fizz, Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris, Wild Grace Chardonnay, Spitfire Sauvigon Blanc, Rise and Shine Pinot Noir

(l-r) Fizz, Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris, Wild Grace Chardonnay, Spitfire Sauvigon Blanc, Rise and Shine Pinot Noir

We moved on to ‘Favorite Homestead’, a Pinot Gris from the Awatere Valley, that was particularly lovely.  Its flavor profile develops from cooling Antarctic winds, silt loam soil and the Acacia wood barrels that are pressed into service in one fifth of the fermenting process.  As such it climaxes in ripe honeysuckle, cinnamon, apple and pear notes.

Another charmer is the ‘Rise and Shine’ Pinot Noir made from grapes grown beside Lake Dunstan in Central Otago’s cool climate and low rainfall region.  We sampled the 2012 vintage, which showed itself a tad youthful.  A couple of years cellared would reveal its full range of blackberry, cherry, oak and spice flavors.

Crab stuffed lobster at Lost Society

Crab stuffed lobster at Lost Society

Delicious dishes accompanied each of the wines which included the minerally “Wild Grace” Chardonnay, the “Spitfire” Sauvignon Blanc, and the “Rise and Shine” Pinot Noir.  Once seated Lost Society doesn’t rush you and we took our time feasting on Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Stuffed Lobster with Blue Crab, Bone-in Ribeye with Mushroom Cream, Fried Caesar Parmesan Brussels sprouts and Pan Roasted Mushrooms.  Dessert, if we had any, is a blur.  I’m sure you understand.

Recently Constellation New Zealand, the producers of Kim Crawford and Nobilo wines spoke about their excitement for the 2013 harvest, believing it will be a memorable vintage and calling it the “Vintage of a Lifetime”.

New Zealand’s Chief Winemaker, Darryl Woolley noted, “the 2013 Marlborough growing season has been exemplary.”  In addition to earning the distinction for being New Zealand’s driest growing season in about 70 years, the 2013 vintage has also benefited from the sunniest first three months of the year since 1930, rivaled in observed history only by the 1978 season.”

Speaking of the Hawkes Bay vineyards Woolley said, “We’ve had a perfect mix of warm, but not hot, days and cool nights. Rain fell at the right part of the growing cycle and, more importantly, did not fall during the critical period leading up to harvest.  This resulted in a medium sized crop of exceptionally high quality grapes.”  In-the-know wine experts around the world have also taken notice.

According to Mr. Woolley, consumers can expect flavorful, delicious white wines from the 2013 vintage. “The Sauvignon Blanc displays the complete range of ripe flavor components and zingy acidity without a hint of unripe green, vegetal notes.” In addition to the classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling “were all picked at the optimum date and are very varietal expressive with ripe, well balanced acidity.”  With the Pinot Noir harvest concluded in late April in the Marlborough and Central Otago regions, he remarked, “The Pinot Noir has an excellent field balance, with soft, ripe acidity and tannins. We are especially looking to great things from the stunning Pinot Noir harvested from our Central Otago growers.”

“The reality is, we only got serious about growing Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough 30 to 40 years ago, so that’s as far back as we can go in comparing vintages. That said, we’re feeling confident that the 2013 vintage will easily be one of the best, if not the very best, of the past 20 to 30 years.”

Kim Crawford and Nobilo drinkers can look forward to these extraordinary 2013 vintage wines.  To keep track visit ExperienceKimCrawford.com.

Here are some local retail stores where you can purchase Kim Crawford Wines.

Marbi – 1730 Rhode Island Ave., NW Washington, DC 20036; Whole Foods Market – 1440 P St. NW, Washington, DC, 20005; Barrel House -1341 14th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20005; Sav On Liquors – 1414 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005; The Wine Specialist – 1133 20th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036; Trader Joe’s – 1914 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009 – Barmy Wine & Liquor – 1912 L St. NW, Washington DC 20036; Harris Teeter – 600 N Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA, 22203.

Much Ado About Nothing Vegas Style – Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
February 17, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Hot Diggity Dog Ziggity Boom!  In Synetic Theater’s jived up version of Much Ado About Nothing Las Vegas’s flamboyant landscape of feathered and sequined showgirls becomes the backdrop for Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s reinvention of the beloved comedy and the next installment in the troupe’s “Silent Shakespeare” series.  In his interpretation Beatrice (Irina Tsikurishvili) is a lovelorn lounge singer and Benedick (Ben Cunis) her castoff lover who are reunited in her Uncle Leonato’s (Peter Pereyra) casino.  Much to each other’s dismay.

Benedick has joined Don Pedro’s (Philip Fletcher) gang the ‘Syneticons’ and blown into town on their boss motorcycles – – gleaming single-wheel choppers designed by Props Master Kasey Hendricks and Technical Director Phil Charwood.  Soon gang member Claudio (Scott Brown) falls hard for Don Pedro’s daughter Hero (Emily Whitworth) and that’s when the jealousies, betrayals and backstabbing ruses begin.

Scott Brown as Claudio and Emily Whitworth as Hero. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Scott Brown as Claudio and Emily Whitworth as Hero. Photo by Koko Lanham.

In this Grease meets West Side Story meets Car 54 Where Are You? fantasy the comic relief is often provided by a hilarious trio of cops led by the Chief of Police, Dogberry, purposely overplayed by Vato Tsikurishvili. The cut-ups give chase to the lawless gang in slapstick routines worthy of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy.  Of particular note is Zana Gankhuyag who plays Asian cop, Verges.

Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili pulls out all the stops, letting the dancing dictate the period.  In a departure from the dark side dynamic that infuses many of Synetic’s productions, the cast’s mood and infectious enthusiasm is flat-out joyful.  Girls jitterbug in poodle skirts with James Dean bikers clad in leather and tight jeans while the super-fly theme from Peter Gunn takes it into overdrive.

Ben Cunis as Benedick. Irina Tsikurishvili as Beatrice. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Ben Cunis as Benedick. Irina Tsikurishvili as Beatrice. Photo by Koko Lanham.

It’s a doo-wop mash-up of oldies from back in the day as Sound Editor and Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze and Music Director Irakli Kavsadze conspire to bring back Chubby Checker with ‘The Twist’, Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover” and the era of “Beach Blanket Bingo”.  Actually a few decades overlap here, but who cares, it’s an idealized backdrop for teenage angst and puppy love.  So even if the Chippendales didn’t launch their striptease act till 1979, we don’t mind these hot male dancers doing a bit of bump-and-grind along with a game of strip poker.  And though Leonato reminds us a bit of Al Pacino in the 1980’s Scarface and the preacher is a Black Elvis (Wait! Was that James Brown?), it’s fun to play along.

Photo by Koko Lanham.

Photo by Koko Lanham.

As expected there is breathtaking dancing and gravity-defying acrobatics from the classically trained Georgian troupe.  And although it gets off to a bit of a slow start, after a few minutes in it explodes in full-throttle Synetic-styled mania fueled by dancers that look as if they’ve been just waiting to cut loose and show their cool daddy-o side.

Dig it!  It’s like crazy, man, crazy!

Through March 22nd at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 866 811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.