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The Rocky Horror Show – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) - Photo credit Doug   Olmstead

Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

When Janet and Brad’s car gets a flat tire on a deserted road in the middle of the woods on a spooky evening they wind up at Frank-N-Furter’s castle where all hell breaks loose in this wacky, androgynous, rock n’ roll spoof of B-movies where things go bump and grind in the night.  You’ll begin to catch the theme of The Rocky Horror Show when your program is presented along with 3-D glasses by ushers garbed in steampunk fashion.  As Janet tells Brad, “This isn’t the Junior Chamber of Commerce!”

For those unaware of this campy cult classic, my best advice is not to resist the experience.  Since it’s a live performance, theatregoers (unlike fans who attend the film version) are not permitted to bring rice, prunes, water pistols, candles, lighters, matches, noisemakers, confetti, toilet paper, toast, cards, or hot dogs.  The list of props not to bring, should tell you everything you’ll need to know about where this kinky show is going.  Notwithstanding the theatre’s directive, dressing up as your favorite character, or just “in theme”, is encouraged, especially given the Halloween season.  Just think of it as fright night in drag with enough dry ice, monsters in garter belts wielding whips, and laser guns to cheer up even the most hardened of horror story lovers.  Poor Edgar Allan Poe.  He is spinning in his proverbial grave.

Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Matt Stover (Phantom) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer)  - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Matt Stover (Phantom) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Seventeen musical numbers heighten the hilarity, the best known being “The Time Warp” dance and “Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me”.  And there is plenty of lurex, leather, feather boas and sequins provided by Costume Designers Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley to dazzle any drag show fan.  In the number “Floorshow/Rose Tint My World”, they pull out all the stops for Frank-N-Furter’s love fest.  “Don’t dream it.  Be it!” he urges, vamping about in towering red patent leather platform boots.

Unfortunately some of the performances are uneven and the energy level ratchets up only when Patrick M. Doneghy as Frank-N-Furter, Malcolm Lee in dual roles as Eddie and Doctor Scott, Ricardo Coleman as the muscle bound Rocky, Paige Taylor with her terrific voice as Magenta, and Matt Liptak as her brother the evil Riff-Raff, are on stage.  The lackluster chorus never seems to rise from the dead.

Most of the cast of The Rocky Horror Show - Malcolm Lee (Eddie / Dr. Scott) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Allie Cesena (Columbia) Adam Newland (Brad)  Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) -Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Most of the cast of The Rocky Horror Show – Malcolm Lee (Eddie / Dr. Scott) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Allie Cesena (Columbia) Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) -Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Ken and Patti Crowley kick up the effects with clever silhouetted projections during Brad and Janet’s sexcapades, but the sound is maddeningly ineffective even with a live orchestra.

In the immortal words of Frank-N-Furter, “It’s not easy having a good time!”

Through November 15th 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

Our War – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
October 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

(L to R) John Lescault and Tuyet Pham in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) John Lescault and Tuyet Pham in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Arena Stage’s Artistic Director, Molly Smith, describes the evolution of Our War as “a synthesis of art, scholarship and community”, further defining it as “the extraordinary collaboration between universities, theaters and regions that were differently affected by the Civil War.”  As part of the current National Civil War Project this coming together with other prestigious arts groups, both local and national, affords the audience illuminating vignettes told by the imagined voices of those whose lives were affected during and after the war.

Kelly Renee Armstrong in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Kelly Renee Armstrong in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Smith has selected monologues from twenty-five leading American playwrights commissioned for the project, dividing their works into “Stars” and “Stripes” nights.  On press night we were treated to a reading by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose star turn was in the voice of a slave whose son is called to go to war in “That Boy” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist David Lindsay-Abaire.   There are six members in the ensemble – – Kelly Renee Armstrong, Ricardo Frederick Evans, John Lescault, Tuyet Thi Pham, Lynette Rathnam and Sara Waisanen who portray the other characters for a total of eighteen readings each night.

Ricardo Frederick Evans, with Tuyet Pham, in Our War -Photo by Teresa Wood.

Ricardo Frederick Evans, with Tuyet Pham, in Our War -Photo by Teresa Wood.

In addition Arena has cast over 30 notable leaders from the DC region to perform a reading throughout the run of the show.  Among them are DC Mayor Vincent Gray, Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball, WAMU radio host Diane Rehm, NBC reporter Tom Sherwood and Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, Senior Pastor of Alexandria’s Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Sara Waisanen and the company of Our War -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

Sara Waisanen and the company of Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The first monologue performed by Waisanen and written by John Strand, is called “The Truth, Revealed”.  It is in the voice of ten year-old Ruby, a student of Bull Run Elementary who is reading from her class assignment.  Little Ruby has been indoctrinated at a tender age to espouse the Southern side of the story, blaming Abraham Lincoln for the killing of 618,222 soldiers.  Ruby likes numbers.  She reminds us that there were 4,000,000 slaves when the war started and its cost was $5.2 billion.  To support her theory she calls John Wilkes Booth a hero, asserts slavery was important to a successful economy, and quotes Rand Paul to back her up, stating “You can’t pass a law to make people change what’s in their hearts.”

Lynette Rathnam in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Lynette Rathnam in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

In another, “Moo”, written by Iditi Kapil, Rathnam channels an Hispanic female soldier who enlists in the U. S. Army to gain a foothold on citizenship while dreaming of becoming an American pop singer.  “It’s never been free.  It’s always been on someone’s back,” the soldier acknowledges of war’s costs and immigrants’ participation in our wars.  It’s a sassy, street-smart, low-rider delivery that Rathnam nails to a tee.

John Lescault in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

John Lescault in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Each powerfully expressed and richly textured piece relates a story from the shared experience of the American Civil War – – some are set in modern day, others come from the battlefield.  There are a myriad of perspectives from African-American, Irish and Asian to American Indian and early White American settlers, including an ironic tale from a homesteader’s descendent (written by Samuel D. Hunter and delivered masterfully by Lescault) who is asked to dedicate a shopping mall on the former property of his great-great grandfather.

Ricardo Frederick Evans in Our War - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Ricardo Frederick Evans in Our War – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Evans gives a moving performance as a soldier from Guatemala in “Fourteen Freight Trains” written by Maria Agui Carter.  The first soldier to die in Iraq, he crossed the borders to come to America as an orphan.  It is an earth-moving tale of a young boy who reminds us of the immigrants, illegal or not, who fought our wars and bought the line, “liberty and justice for all”.

In another, The Grey Rooster” by Lynn Nottage, Evans takes on the character of a Kentucky plantation owner’s slave, a man who made bourbon and owned a champion, fighting gamecock trained by Evans’ character.  In it he reminds us that masters often required their slaves to go to war in their place.

Highly recommended.

Through November 9th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Elmer Gantry – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 22, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington) and Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) -  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington) and Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has gone back to the well to remount Elmer Gantry, a show he co-produced in DC with writer John Bishop, composer Mel Marvin and lyricist Bob Satuloff sixteen years ago. Reimagined by the original team, this massive musical based on Sinclair Lewis’ quintessential novel now boasts several new numbers and a re-worked script.

Backed by a ten-piece orchestra, there is a great deal of heart and soul in this redemptive tale of a down-on-his-luck preacher and a young, ambitious evangelist, Sister Sharon Falconer. When Gantry (Charlie Pollock), a traveling farm equipment salesman on his last dime, watches the second-rate religious troupe at a revival meeting, he seizes the opportunity to join them, wooing the beautiful Sharon and transforming their hokey act into a big time, holy roller spectacle filled with gospel singing, Sunday go-to-meeting psalms and mournful folk songs. “People want to feel that heat in their lives. They want to laugh. They want to cry!” he tells her. And by the time they get to Topeka, Gantry has created a full-blown, berobed, hallelujah choir, and the pair’s sermonizing has reached a feverish pitch.

Ashley Buster (Epatha Washington), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington), Daphne Epps (Grace Washington) - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Ashley Buster (Epatha Washington), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington), Daphne Epps (Grace Washington) – Photo by Margot Schulman.

It’s at this point, midway through Act I with the addition of three gospel-singing sisters led by Nova Y. Payton, where the show truly catches fire. The Washington Sisters played by Payton, Ashley Buster and Daphne Epps bring a huge, near dwarfing presence to the rest of the chorus. In “Carry that Ball”, a football-themed spiritual that substitutes the word “touchdown” for “hallelujah”, Payton takes her singing to the rafters, electrifying the audience and juicing up the show.

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer) and company - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer) and company – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Mary Kate Morrissey does a fine job as the ambitious and charismatic Sister Sharon whose past is as suspect as Gantry’s. In the tender tune, “You Don’t Know Who I Am”, she lets him know she has had to reinvent herself in order to evolve.

Unfortunately believable and powerfully passionate performances by Morrissey et alia are not matched by Pollock, whose uneven performance especially in Act II (he runs out of steam in their big duet “With You” and his solo turn in “My American Dream”), unreliable voice, and buzz cut hairstyle with trendy facial stubble, all contribute to his seeming out of date and out of sync with the other actors.

Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) and Bobby Smith (Frank Shallard) - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) and Bobby Smith (Frank Shallard) – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Watch for Bobby Smith, outstanding as Frank Shallard, Gantry’s slick-as-a-snake associate; and Harry A. Winter as Bob Faucher, the unscrupulous banker, to keep this revival afloat.

Through November 9th 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.

Sex with Strangers – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 20, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

SEX WITH STRANGERS at Signature Theatre

SEX WITH STRANGERS

On the off chance you might not read this review all the way through and that perhaps you’ll skim through to get to the meat of the matter – – the rating! – – I’ll give it to you in the first paragraph.  Sex with Strangers may be one of the best comedy/dramas I’ve seen this year – an engaging, challenging, hilarious, deliciously sexy, stylishly clever, utterly modern relationship conundrum performed by a pair of actors utterly in tune with each other.  Playwright Laura Eason’s snappy, sexually charged repartee will be familiar to those who have seen Netflix’s House of Cards where she was part of the writing team of season two and three.

If you’ve read this far, here’s the set up.  Ethan, a successful young writer, arrives at a secluded writer’s retreat in the midst of a blizzard where he encounters Olivia, a 40-ish writer working on a new novel after her first book went nowhere fast.  He has already scoped out Olivia’s work through a mutual friend who told him she was staying there.  Is he there to work on his novel, or is it just a ruse to publish hers?  Along with Olivia we are in a constant state of bemusement, and any attempts to decoct the plot will prove fruitless.

Holly Twyford (Olivia) and Luigi Sottile (Ethan) -  Photo by Theresa Wood.

Holly Twyford (Olivia) and Luigi Sottile (Ethan) – Photo by Theresa Wood.

Four-time Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford plays the tech-challenged Olivia, and Luigi Sottile plays Ethan, a New York Times bestselling author of sensationalist books that owe their success more to internet marketing techniques than whatever talent he might have.  “Critics say they’re lower than fortune cookies,” he confesses, explaining how the books evolved from his blogs about weekly hook ups with strangers.  Still she’s intrigued by him, his knowledge of the wonders of self-publishing and his familiarity with the instantaneous allure of technology.  Instead of rejecting this Lothario she’s eager to learn about his development of an app to publish books online.  Though his history of debauchery comes up, it is a mere bump along the road to their romance and only seems to fuel her excitement about his plan to re-issue her novel as an e-book  – – under an assumed name.

Tantalized by the prospects of finally giving her book its proper due, he meets her at her Chicago apartment with an IPad pre-loaded with some of her favorite books. “It smells like the future!” she exclaims.  Later, snubbing his e-book suggestion when an opportunity to sign with prestigious New York publishers comes up, she grouses,  “I want a real book!”

Three-time Helen Hayes Award-winning Director Aaron Posner keeps the action, and comedic timing, swirling as fast and furiously as the snow outside the set’s window panes which, thanks to Andrew Cissna’s clever lighting design, reflect the increasing wildness of the storm outside – – and inside too.  Enhancing the ambiance, Set Designer JD Madsen captures the writer’s world with the room’s sidewalls created from the textblocks of hundreds of books, and designing a parquet floor suggestive of different book shapes.

Highly recommended.

Through December 7th 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.

The Island of Dr. Moreau at Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
October 7, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Synetic Theater has taken H. G. Well’s science fiction classic The Island of Dr. Moreau and morphed it into a frighteningly realistic maelstrom of horrors, just in time for Halloween.  For those who like being terrified by a mad scientist whose muse is a vengeful half human half feline fiend, sit back and settle in for a wild ride and a landscape filled with vivisected beasts – the good doctor’s engineered experiments.

Alex Mills as Parker and Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau - Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Alex Mills as Parker and Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Alex Mills plays Parker the hapless shipwreck victim, washed upon the shores of a Pacific atoll thousands of miles from civilization and light years from reality.  When he recalls that the doctor was blackballed from the scientific community for his gruesome experiments on humans, he begins to fear for his life amid the zombies – – as well he should.  To understand what machinations are transpiring within the laboratory he forms a friendship of convenience with Moreau’s dedicated assistant Montgomery (Dallas Tolentino) who between nips from a silver flask, assures him that the doctor will save the world by designing a better, more efficient human being.  “All he creates is suffering and the deification of himself,” Parker declares.

Paata Tsikurishvili plays Dr. Moreau with evil swagger and a studied nonchalance. “The law is not to eat flesh and not to go on all fours,” he warns the six beasts, insisting they parrot his edicts on command.  When he delivers the lines, “The crafting of living flesh has been around for a long time,” and “Real progress can only be achieved by someone as remorseless as myself,” we begin to see what a hideous monster he really is.

The beasts. The Island of Dr. Moreau -  Photo by Johnny Shryock

The beasts. The Island of Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock

Irina Tsikurishvili creates the spectacular choreography that interweaves the plot with the characters’ action and Set Designer Phil Charlwood’s massive metal sculpture in the shape of a butterfly wing (Parker is a lepidopterist) that the beasts use to clamber on, keeps them in sight but removed from the scene.  Kendra Rai’s breathtakingly phantasmagoric costumes reflecting the tormented creatures’ many excisions, alterations and freakish attachments, serve to magnify the ongoing suffering and torture of the bizarre beasts.

This is heightened by Brittany Diliberto and Riki K.’s multi-media, electronic light show accentuated by lasers, glowing chemicals and theatre-filling galaxies to accompany the original, unearthly synthesizer score by Irakli Kavsadze.

Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau and Pasquale Guiducci as Sayer in The Island of Dr. Moreau -  Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau and Pasquale Guiducci as Sayer in The Island of Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock.

It’s all a harmonic exercise in sci-fi weirdness, calibrated to raise goosebumps on even the most hardened futurists.

Through November 1st at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.