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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.

Evita – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
October 6, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron and Caroline Bowman as Eva - Photo credit Richard Termine

Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron and Caroline Bowman as Eva – Photo credit Richard Termine

When we mention the names Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber we are floating around in the pantheonic stratosphere of most beloved collaborators ever to hit the stage, and their blockbuster Evita is certainly one of the finest and most memorable shows they have ever written.  Drawing on the talents of Tony and Olivier Award-winning Director Michael Grandage, and Tony Award-winning Choreographer Rob Ashford to present the seven-time Tony Award-winning musical, the Kennedy Center brings this reinterpretation of the original Broadway production to a new dimension – and it is simply smashing.  There is so much to remark upon and so many to give credit to, but I must start with Lighting Designer Neil Austin and Projection Designer Zachary Borovay who create a mood that reflects the period.

It is 1952 at the funeral of Eva Peron.  Considered the spiritual leader of the people of Argentina, she was a highly controversial figure.  The curtain opens to reveal old newsreels projected across the backdrop of the stage. The First Lady who had risen from a life of poverty by her wits and beauty, and a series of ever-more influential lovers, had achieved her greatest success by marrying Juan Peron.

A haunting black-hooded, candle-lit chorus is chanting a requiem for her through a smoky blue haze.  It is a very dramatic opening, both ghostly and reverential.  The scene then shifts to a lowly tango hall in the provinces where Eva, at 16, became a nightclub singer with dreams of a life in Buenos Aires.  The shabby spot is lit with strings of bare light bulbs and bathed in sepia – the atmosphere appearing as though lifted from a vintage photograph.  In a later scene Austin uses amber-lit chandeliers to evoke the period.  Scenic & Costume Designer Christopher Oram continues the theme with muted-colored retro dresses for the women further expressing the drab shades worn during the Depression era.

Caroline Bowman as Eva - Photo credit Richard Termine

Caroline Bowman as Eva – Photo credit Richard Termine

From the moment Caroline Bowman (Eva) enters the stage her presence is  riveting.  Captivating and lithe, almost balletic in her movements, with a voice that is strong, fluid, totally capable of the huge range expected by the part.  But why do her low notes disappear, the high notes sound screechy?  When the dialogue begins everyone sounds garbled.  If you didn’t know the lyrics or the story, you would struggle to make out what they are singing or, for that matter, saying.  I can’t explain it, but others around me in the orchestra section were having the same reaction to the poor audio.  One can only hope it will be corrected by the time you read this review.

Yet there’s no denying the magic on stage.  The fireworks between Eva and Juan (Sean MacLaughlin) begin with the song, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” and by the time the next number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is sung, Eva and Juan have formed their alliance, for better or for worse.

“One has to admire the stage management,” Che sarcastically remarks before Eva arrives onto the balcony of Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.  In one of the show’s most heartrending songs, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” we witness her narcissistic manipulation as she cannily humbles herself to the adoring crowds.

Max Quinlan is brilliant as Che, Eva’s protector and reality check.  In his memorable duet with her, “High Flying, Adored” reflecting the time when she is at the height of her popularity, he warns, “Don’t look down.  It’s a long way.”  But Eva ignores his sage advice and her megalomania gets the best of her.  I’d quote her reaction if only I could have heard it.

Yet the orchestra is boffo, the set designs are killer, and the music is heaven on earth.  See it, love it, adore it…and try not to sing out loud.

Through October 19th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

TRAILER – Evita at The Kennedy Center – Washington, DC

The Shoplifters – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
September 21, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

(L to R) Jane Houdyshell as Alma and Delaney Williams as Otto -Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Jane Houdyshell as Alma and Delaney Williams as Otto -Photo by Teresa Wood.

Alma is a career shoplifter.  In the stock room of a supermarket Dom, an overly zealous security guard trainee, is attempting to interview the crafty old woman.  The evidence: Two enormous steaks wrapped in white butcher paper upon a long wooden table.  And though Dom claims they tumbled out from under her dress,  Alma refuses to admit her part in it, going to great lengths to demean him as an amateur interrogator.  “Theft is not a motive.  It’s a consequence,” she instructs.

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The eager gumshoe is no match for the veteran thief and she outmaneuvers him at every turn, twisting his words with theoretical gamesmanship and a knack for intellectualizing crime as a product of societal decay.  “Are you familiar with the myth of Prometheus?” she challenges, suggesting that her theft might be interpreted as a universal benefit to society.

L to R) Adi Stein as Dom and Delaney Williams as Otto -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

L to R) Adi Stein as Dom and Delaney Williams as Otto – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Two more characters enter the scene – Otto, Dom’s superior, a socially conscious  rent-a-cop who plans on retiring after training Dom, and Phyllis, Alma’s partner in crime, a spiritually inclined neurotic who prefers her job as a coat check girl to abetting Alma’s sociologically motivated schemes.

Canadian playwright and director, Morris Panych, has scripted a magnificently layered comedy, turbo-charged with hilarious one-liners, that on closer inspection is not a simple dissection of an interrogation and hoped for confession, but instead an absurdist exercise that would make Kafka proud.  Panych’s use of Otto as the questioner with a lenient view of criminal behavior is as intriguing as his portrait of Dom the bible-thumping do-gooder.  “We are not barbarians!” Otto admonishes Dom, in hopes that he’ll agree to release the women.  But Dom has other ideas and as soon as Otto and Alma leave the room he evangelizes Phyllis.  “Bad things happen for a good reason,” he cheerfully offers.

(L to R) Delaney Williams as Otto, Adi Stein as Dom, Jayne Houdyshell as Alma and Jenna Sokolowski as Phyllis - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Delaney Williams as Otto, Adi Stein as Dom, Jayne Houdyshell as Alma and Jenna Sokolowski as Phyllis – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The cast is wonderful, especially given the complex duality of the characters.  Jayne Houdyshell in the role of Alma segues seamlessly from haughty sophist to stink-eyed cynic; Delaney Williams as Otto gives a textured performance as both her accuser and savior; Adi Stein as Dom, the foil, gives a keen portrayal of the overeager cop with psychological issues; while Jenna Sokolowski as Phyllis keeps the energy level high as the neurotic with a conscience.

Ken MacDonald’s brilliant set design consisting of 800 cardboard boxes frames the action.  Soaring to the height of the stage the toast-hued cartons sport the recognizable logos of familiar supermarket brands, further juxtaposing the familiar with the ridiculous.  Tucked between the boxes, randomly placed backlit niches highlight a small collection of everyday jewel-toned grocery items, giving them the illusion of precious objects.

Highly recommended.

Through October 19th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.                     For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Three Sistahs – At MetroStage

Jordan Wright
September 23, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Three Sistahs-Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins - Photo credit: Chris Banks

Three Sistahs-Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins – Photo credit: Chris Banks

I’m not sure why I’m writing a review of Three Sistahs, Thomas W. Jones II’s multi-award winning musical comedy-drama that opens MetroStage’s 30th season. Thrice presented by Producing Artistic Director, Carolyn Griffin, it has become one of their most beloved productions. (I’m telling you this up front so you’ll call the box office for your tickets before it’s standing room only.)

Rarely do we see so magical a collaboration as this one between Writer/Director Thomas Jones, Composer William Hubbard and Music Director William Knowles with original story by Janet Pryce. Based on 19th C Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” it tells a tale of the Bradshaws – Olive, Marsha and Irene, three sisters in the post-Vietnam War era of Washington, DC who gather in the family’s home for the burial of their soldier brother, Anton.

Three Sistahs-Ashley Ware Jenkins, Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White - photo credit :Chris Banks

Three Sistahs-Ashley Ware Jenkins, Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White – photo credit : Chris Banks

Twenty-one musical numbers form a hypnotic web of stories as the women describe their childhoods, their growing up years and their dreams for the future. So closely does the dialogue weave itself into the music that the transitions between the two are nearly imperceptible.

The incomparable actresses Bernadine Mitchell (Olive) and Roz White (Marsha) reprise their roles from the original production. New to MetroStage is Ashley Ware Jenkins in the role of the feisty Black Power radical, Irene. Jenkins could be Angela Davis’ doppelganger, if you added a major adorableness factor.

Set to a score of Rhythm & Blues and Gospel, with a dollop of Motown, the trio begin to describe their alternate perceptions of life with an autocratic West Pointer for a father whose dream it was to see his only son follow in his military footsteps. The plot is simple but the emotions are not. Each woman brings to the table a different view of the man they feared and loved and we begin to see how their lives were formed. “Daddy believed in that uniform. [He was] a hard man born in a hard time, “ Olive explains to Irene whose anti-war stance is anathema to her sister.

Marsha who calls herself “the middle underprivileged” married early and wonders if there couldn’t be more to life than a husband and six children. Olive, who stayed behind to care for their ailing father and become a university professor, longs for a husband, and Irene who dropped out of college to pursue her political leanings, “Our anger is righteous!” she insists, is finding her footing in a city torn apart by riots and looting. To quash her sisters’ protests, she references Martin, Medger and Malcolm to make her point.

Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins - Photo credit: Chris Banks

Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins – Photo credit: Chris Banks

The show evokes both laughter and tears. One audience member sobbed uncontrollably listening to the heart-wrenching song “Hold Me” in which Olive and Marsha comfort Irene. And there were many moments when I had to focus on taking notes to hold back the tears so powerfully evocative were the emotions of the performers (and audience members) and the memories of the Civil Rights struggles.

But just as quickly as the tears come so does the laughter. In a “Basement Kind of Love” Olive reminisces about her first boyfriend, Cadillac Johnson. After much simulated bumping and grinding, she admits to losing her virginity many times and still looking for it. Mitchell closes Act One to the old gospel tune, “There’s A Leak In This Old Building”, which shows off her gorgeously mellifluous voice to its finest advantage, pairing it to the electrifyingly precise harmonies of White and Jenkins.

Be prepared for a whopper of a show filled with heart and soul and some of the most intoxicatingly glorious voices you have ever heard.

Highly recommended.

Through November 2nd at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314. For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

A Streetcar Named Desire – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
September 15, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley), Jennifer Berry (Blanche) and Anna Fagan (Stella) - Photo credit Matthew Randall

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley), Jennifer Berry (Blanche) and Anna Fagan (Stella) – Photo credit Matthew Randall

Tennessee Williams’ South was a passionate, languorous, hotbed of emotion.  His characters were real, too real for some when it premiered on Broadway in 1947, but nonetheless part of the daily fabric of life – in high places and low.  In A Streetcar Named Desire Williams cracked open the Pandora’s box of life’s numberless miseries, shining a light on the destructive relationships women accept and the fantasies they concoct to get through the evil that men do.

Considered radical in its day for its themes of homosexuality, immigration, race, class and domestic violence, the subject matter is still searingly relevant today.  And though we have had major advances in women’s rights, we are still grappling with these issues.  How these overlying themes and intense emotions are explored in the play is riveting in a perverse sort of way.  It is poignant and tragic and relevant and grotesquely intimate.

When Southern belle Blanche arrives in New Orleans at her sister’s two-room apartment with a suitcase full of feather boas and heartbreaks, she encounters Stella’s low life of a husband, Stanley Kowalski, a Polish factory worker who is light years removed from the sisters’ highborn upbringing.  Blanche is shocked to see her sister married to a man as abusive and uncultivated as Stanley.  “He’s a different species,” Stella explains.

Blanche tries to charm Stanley with feminine wiles and upper class charm, but he doesn’t buy it, or her excuses of how she was forced to forfeit her family’s plantation home.  He threatens the sisters, demanding his inheritance according to Louisiana’s archaic Napoleonic Code.  Both Blanche, who uses fantasy and seduction to cope with life’s disappointments, and Stella, who confuses brutality with love, allow Stanley to dominate them.

Anna Fagan (Stella) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) - Photo credit Matthew Randall

Anna Fagan (Stella) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) – Photo credit Matthew Randall

Anna Fagan plays the submissive Stella, approaching the duality of her character’s Stockholm Syndrome-like condition with a blend of subtle poise and ferocity.  Yet it is Jennifer Berry’s Blanche who has the most quotable lines.  Berry does a fine job of portraying Blanche as both flighty and vulnerable, giving a creditable portrait of a woman clawing her way out of desperate circumstances.  “I haven’t been so good, these last few years,” she admits when accused of debauchery.

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley) - Photo Credit Matthew Randall

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley) – Photo Credit Matthew Randall

Unfortunately this triangle is not equilateral in emotion. Camden Michael Gonzalez seems miscast as Stanley.  In a role that demands more complexity than a one-dimensional portrait of a brute, his Stanley lacks pathos and gravitas.  Surprisingly, the lesser role of Mitch Mitchell, Blanche’s suitor, as played by Marshall Shirley, shows greater depth.

Marshall Shirley (Mitch) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) - Photo credit Matthew Randall

Marshall Shirley (Mitch) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) – Photo credit Matthew Randall

Baron Pugh’s clever set design of the apartment’s soulless interior is framed by a two-story muslin scrim that soft-focuses the outside world, yet lets in music and the sights and sounds of the mean streets – often easier to hear than the actors’ lines.  Another wrinkle in this production is the hurried pacing, which feels more industrialized North than unhurried South.  Yet for those who have never experienced a Tennessee Williams’ play, the searing action, plot twists and memorable lines are eternally delicious.

Limited engagement runs through September 28th 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