August 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
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 George – Stephen 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
July 29, 2014
all photo credit to Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Jose Andres’ Evocative America Eats Tavern, Penn Commons Opens, Cuba Libre’s Ceviche Classes, Restaurant Week, Vapiano’s “Dinner and a Movie Deal”, Mount Vernon’s Colonial High Jinks and The National Gallery of Art’s Garden Café
Jose Andres’ Evocative America Eats Tavern
Jose Andres’ newly minted America Eats Tavern in the Ritz-Carlton Tyson’s Corner evokes the casual elegance of Long Island’s tony Hamptons (Sag Harbor springs to mind), transforming the hotel restaurant space. Formerly occupied by French chef, Michel Richard, the charming spot is a breath of fresh air embraced in a rustic chic décor.
Andres, we’ll call him the “The Reigning Ambassador of Spanish Cuisine”, shows off his newly acquired American citizenship by using some of the country’s earliest recipes and traditional foodstuffs to celebrate our national culinary heritage. Gourmet magazine where are you when we need you?
Plumbing the pages of 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century American cookbooks to cull recipes from George Washington Carver for Peanut Soup from 1914 to Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife receipt for Gazpacho from the 1851 Colonial supper table, Andres has unearthed some intriguing renditions of beloved American dishes. As expected he has tweaked them a bit by sidestepping the nitty-gritty of using squirrel, deer or bear, replacing those dicey ingredients with domestically farm-raised proteins from a variety of American purveyors.
Peach Julep at America Eats Tavern
The handcrafted cocktails are superb, and a must have. Ice cubes are made in three sizes - crushed round and square – and tailored to each drink. Be sure to order the Peach Julep, a beautifully balanced, sweet to tart, bourbon to mixer, served in a copper julep cup. It’s a veritable dose of Southern sunshine.
The menu is a primer on American gastronomic diversity – from sea to shining sea. You’ll find a lavish seafood bar with oysters, Maine lobsters and Alaskan king crab; breadbaskets brimming with drop biscuits and coupled with blackberry butter; skillet cornbread and hushpuppies served with trout roe; and the pride of San Francisco – a loaf of sourdough bread. Casting an ever-widening net there are hams from Edwards & Sons in Virginia, Benton’s in Tennessee, La Quercia of Iowa and Olli Salumeria’s Becker Lane Ham. The latter gets a biscuit, red-eye mayo, Amish pickled eggs, and crunchy sour pickles from my favorite local fermenters, No. 1 Sons. Even lowly catsup has not been neglected with an assortment of bumped up fruit catsups from local producer ‘Chups that includes Blueberry, Peach and Plum.
Heirloom Recipe Mac n’ Cheese
Recipe credit from around the nation is given to the historic dishes. Several dishes, like the Steak Tartare American, that became popular in 1950’s America, describe their history, or in this case, mythology. For instance, you may not have known that an early pudding-style rendition of mac n’ cheese was created by a French émigré to America who owned a pasta factory in Philadelphia in the early 1800’s. Here Andres dresses up the creamy vermicelli-based recipe, offering a sumptuous add-on of King crab.
The famed Waldorf Salad of Chef Oscar Tschirky, the Harvard Beet Salad from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook of 1906 and other notables have been credited with their originator. Even dear Irma Rombauer, author of the great American classic, The Joy of Cooking, is celebrated for her refreshing Shrimp and Grapefruit Cocktail.
There is so much to love here, but be sure to save room for the luxurious Triple Chocolate Cake from Martha Washington’s own recipe. Divine to the max.
Executive Chef Nate Haugaman
Pastry Chef, Rick Billings, and Chef de Cuisine, Nate Waugaman, are turning out breakfast (a first for Andres), lunch, dinner and room service should you be so lucky to be putting on the Ritz.
Mark Your Calendars
Celebrating National Rum Day at Cuba Libre
Award-winning chef and business partner, Guillermo Pernot, will host two interactive cooking classes on Tuesday, August 5th and Wednesday, August 6th at 6:30 PM. Pernot is an expert on ceviche, winning a second James Beard Award for his book ¡Ceviche! – Seafood, Salads and Cocktails with a Latino Twist.
Hiramasa Ceviche with Chayote Mirasol Chiles Salad
Guests will learn how to make different kinds of ceviche, and how to pair it with rums from the restaurant’s over 90 premium and flavored varieties from Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua and Tortola. Classes are priced at $59.00 per person, and are limited to 30 guests.
Tahitian Abalone Ceviche by Chef Guillermo Pernot
On August 15th and August 16th, rums are featured at half price during happy hour. Rums are priced between $8 and $34 a glass.
Cuba Libre Beverage Manager Vance Henderson demonstrates the perfect Daiquiri
DC’s Biannual Restaurant Week Kicks Off
And don’t forget the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington hosting of Summer Restaurant Week from August 11th through the 17th, when participating restaurants offer three-course lunches for $20.14 and three-course dinners for $35.14. It’s the perfect opportunity to sample some of Washington, D.C.’s best restaurants at an affordable price. For more info visit http://www.ramw.org/restaurantweek.
Mount Vernon’s Colonial High Jinks
At George Washington’s Mount Vernon a Colonial Market & Fair featuring artisans in colonial attire and a dozen entertainers on two stages re-creating the amusements loved by early Americans.
General Washington will preside over a host of amusements including Mr. Bayly, Conjuring and Entertainments; Signora Bella, Equilibrist; Professor Thompson S. Gunn, Mystic Arts of Asia, the Far East, & India; and a demonstration of an 18th century chocolate-making process using an authentic colonial recipe. Sports-minded guests can batter up to an 18th C cricket game or shop from a collection of works by over forty juried artisans from across the nation who will be on hand to demonstrate their trade and sell their wares.
For a fantastic view of the estate and its river locale, Potomac River sightseeing cruises will be free on a limited basis. Listen to Martha’s advice and get there early.
The Fair takes place Saturday and Sunday September 20th and 21st from 9am till 5pm. For more info visit www.MountVernon.org.
National Gallery of Art’s Garden Café Lightens Up for Summer
The National Gallery of Art’s Garden Café has a new summer menu. Created by Chef Michel Richard of Central Michel Richard and Villard Michel Richard and executed by Chef David Rogers to dovetail with the current Degas/Cassatt exhibit recently profiled here, the menu has now has lighter options including a seasonally inspired frisee salad with hard-boiled eggs, Gruyère cheese, and cherry tomatoes; ravioles de fromage au basilic (cheese ravioli in basil sauce), along with the French classic, bœuf à la bourguignon.
Penn Commons Goes Big and Bold
Chef/Owner Jeff Tunks and partners, Gus Demillo and David Wizenberg have conspired to bring you their newest outpost, Penn Commons. Armed with an enormous bar and bold tavern style cuisine helmed by Executive Chef Alfredo Solis – all the better to accommodate the crowds after the action at the nearby Verizon center or at the many theatres in the neighborhood – the new spot features delish cocktails (thirteen of which are named for the original thirteen colonies) and dozens of beers on tap, at least one from each of the United States. They’re calling it “American sensibility joined with American seasonality”.
Golden Tomato Gazpacho with Crab and Cucumber Relish at Penn Commons
Having sampled some of the dishes last week, they are creative, hearty and delicious and I can say that the crab cakes are already the BEST in town!
Good To Know: If you get there after the show or game, they have a 10pm “Dinner Farm Bell” menu for the bar and lounge area that is casual American food served family style and goes for the ridiculously affordable price of $12.00. Actors and athletes take note!!!
Vapiano’s Terrific Meal Deal for Movie Lovers
A made-to-order dinner at Vapiano plus a ticket to see any movie playing at these neighboring theaters in Bethesda, MD, Reston Town Center, Dulles Town Center, and Ballston, Virginia. The restaurants feature a wide-ranging menu of Italian favorites from antipasti and salads, to pizza and pasta and desserts, like tiramisu and panna cotta. Each guest purchasing the package gets a movie ticket, a fountain soda drink and one of Vapiano’s entrée selections (excluding extra meats and toppings) for $20.00 plus tax. To participate in “Dinner & A Movie”, ask at the host stand when you arrive at the restaurant.
Choose your own ingredient salads at Vapiano
August 3, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
One of the most beautiful and evocative cookbooks to cross my path of late is the recent issue 7,000 Islands – A Food Portrait of the Philippines by Australian-Filipino food and travel writer Yasmin Newman. A lavishly photographed and comprehensive collection of recipes from around the islands of Southeast Asia, it is especially relevant as we see more and more restaurants opening that feature Asian cuisine. In it Newman takes us to exotic locales to offer up dishes that can be prepared in our own kitchens. Of all the 323 pages of recipes I chose this one, which is a unique way of preparing our Maryland Blue Crabs.
Ginataang alimasag at buko
Crab and young coconut ginataan
Crab and young coconut ginataan One of the most resounding memories I have of the Philippines is of regularly eating crab; the expensive crustacean is a rare treat in Australia. My cousins occasionally enjoy it for breakfast when an affordable batch of live crabs arrives home from the morning market or is received as a gift. The bright orange shells splash colour across the table and we prise the sweet crabmeat from within. Dinner or dinner-party dish, it depends on the price of crab near you. Either way, it’s special. It’s also incredibly quick to prepare. If you prefer, ask your fishmonger to clean the crab for you.
- 4 raw blue swimmer crabs (about 1 kg / 2 lb 3 oz)
- 80 ml (2 ½ fl oz / 1/3 cup) vegetable oil
- 10 cm (4 inch) piece ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 small vine-ripened tomato, roughly chopped
- 3 lemongrass stems, white part only, bruised
- 2 long green chiles, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 250 ml (8 ½ fl oz / 1 cup) vegetable stock
- 250 ml (8 ½ fl oz / 1 cup) coconut milk
- 250 ml (9 fl oz / 1 cup) coconut cream
- 2 young cocounts (buko), opened and meat scraped (see method, page 326)
- Steamed rice, to serve
To prepare each crab, lift the triangular tail flap on the underside of the body and gently but firmly pull down to release the top shell. Remove and discard the flap, reserving the top shell. Remove and discard the spongy, finger-like gills, then replace the shell. Cut the body in half. Using a nutcracker or the blunt edge of a large knife, crack the large claws.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for 1 minute, stirring until fragrant. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomato and cook for a further 3 minutes, stirring and pressing until the tomato starts to break down.
Add the lemongrass, chillies, stock and coconut milk to the pan, season with freshley cracked black pepper, then bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the crab, reduce the heat oto medium, and continue to cook for a further 8-10 minutes, turning over the crab pieces halfway – the crab is cooked when the shell changes colour and the meat turns white. Using tongs, remove the crab pieces to a serving bowl.
Add the coconut cream and young coconut meat to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high , and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat, discard the lemongrass and chillies, if desires, and pour over the crab. Serve with steamed rice.
July 17, 2014
Summer’s bounty from Tree and Leaf Farm
Beckoning the supermarket-weary shopper are our local farmers markets and closest to me are the markets in Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria, Crystal City and Mount Vernon – four markets who have had my business for many years. Recently I discovered the Falls Church Farmers Market, a producer-only market that is twice the size of the markets I have near home.
Kale Salad from Oh Mercy!
Here you can find Mercy Duncan-Bloomgarden’s “Oh Mercy!” line of Ghanaian-inspired sauces, salads and condiments. Her kale, Fuji apple and goat cheese salad, green salsa and fiery hot sauces reveal a distinctly African dynamic.
This two-street rambling market is chock-a-block with fresh local products. Herbs and flowers both cut and abloom in pots, sit alongside tents filled with dozens of varieties of farm fresh vegetables. I found honey, juicy white and yellow peaches (I even spied watermelon with bright yellow flesh), turnips, beans, peas, heirloom tomatoes, green leafy veggies and tubers, all straight from local farms. Handcrafted sausages, sustainably raised beef, lamb, rabbit and free-range chickens’ eggs could be found here alongside crusty Euro-style breads and scrumptious baked goods – to wit – pies to die for.
Nutella Crepes from Kate’s Crepes – The Mushroom Man
What I didn’t expect to find were wines, doughnuts deep-fried on site, smoked salmon, made-to-order Nutella crepes, spun wool from a sheep farm, six varieties of gourmet mushrooms, home baked doggie treats, Turkish pastries, savory pastries, cheeses, fresh fish and soft shell crabs. Just don’t expect to find what doesn’t grow, isn’t made or isn’t raised in the Mid Atlantic region.
Deep fried doughnuts
What surprised me most was meeting Bonnie Driggers who teaches Botanical Art in the town’s library. Editor of the new “Native Plants of the Mid Atlantic”, a stunning and informative book illustrated with beautiful botanical paintings by local artists interpreting the flora common to our area, she was there to field questions and sign copies of the book.
Christophe and Michelle Poteaux of Bastille Restaurant – Tasting the Zucchini Soup
The Saturday I visited noted Chefs Michelle and Christophe Poteaux of Bastille restaurant in Alexandria were in the monthly “Chef Series” tent preparing and serving a delicious rendition of their Cold Zucchini Soup.
Caitlin Dysart/ Award-winning (Pastry Chef of the Year/ RAMMYS 2014) Pastry Chef/ 2941 Restaurant
Tomorrow morning at 9am RAMW Award-winning Pastry Chef, Caitlin Dysart from 2941 Restaurant, will prepare and serve Butterscotch Budino with Stone Fruit and Thyme. Dysart will source fruit and herbs from the market.
The Falls Church Farmers Market is located in the City Hall Parking Lot at 300 Park Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046. It is open every Saturday year round from 9am till noon. www.fallschurchva.gov/547/Farmers-Market