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Henry IV – Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
April 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Matthew Amendt as Prince Hal and Edward Gero as King Henry IV  production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Matthew Amendt as Prince Hal and Edward Gero as King Henry IV production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Right after the gloom and doom set up in Act 1 when we learn that King Henry IV is the target of Wales’ and Scotland’s revenge for his crime of treason, the play begins to open up to comedic relief when Falstaff and Henry’s son, Hal, enter together.  And that’s a good thing because, notwithstanding the haunting opening set design by Alexander Dodge in which a giant silhouetted map of the territories is displayed, the play gets off to a complicated enough start with a blast of lightening quick repartee between the King, John of Lancaster and the Earl of Westmoreland.  It’s enough to rock any unprepared playgoer back on their heels who might not know the lay of the land, so to speak.  And remember, it’s all about the land, the King’s tormented conscience for stealing Mortimer’s rightful throne and his crusade to make things right, that goes horribly wrong.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Even Prince Hal has that figured out.

Stacy Keach returns to the Shakespeare Theatre Company as the grandiloquent Falstaff, cohort and amigo-in-arms to the King’s son, Henry the Prince of Wales aka Hal and/or Harry.  Falstaff, one of the most enduring and sympathetic characters in all of Shakespeare, is as lovable a scallywag and epitome of a crusty ne’er-do-well as has ever existed in theatredom.  And Keach plays him to the hilt, embracing every line, morphing into the character, and flat out owning the role.  The man is marvelous.  (In one irreverent scene at Henry’s London apartment, he finds a pair of ladies underwear in Hal’s bed and uses them to dab his lips after a meal. You get the picture.)  Alas, poor Falstaff, ever the underdog, is repeatedly called every colorful name in describing his ungainly figure, “That huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox,” Hal affectionately calls him.

Stacy Keach as Falstaff and Maggie Kettering as Doll Tearsheet -  production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Stacy Keach as Falstaff and Maggie Kettering as Doll Tearsheet – production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

There is much to praise about Shakespeare Theatre Company’s engaging two-night presentation, the exquisite costumes of silk, fur, leather and chainmail by Ann Hould-Ward, the sword fighting direction by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet, original period-inspired music composed by Michael Roth, including a tender Welsh ballad sung by Lady Mortimer (Vanessa Sterling), and especially the remarkably magnetic Matthew Arendt who plays Prince Hal.  Arendt brims with irresistible charm keeping the energy level, as well as the cast, in high gear.

Stacy Keach as Falstaff, Ted van Griethuysen as Justice Shallow, Brad Bellamy as Bardolph, and Bev Appleton as Justice Silence in production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Stacy Keach as Falstaff, Ted van Griethuysen as Justice Shallow, Brad Bellamy as Bardolph, and Bev Appleton as Justice Silence in production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Other standouts are Craig Wallace, who gives an elegant portrait of the swaggering Earl of Westmoreland, John Keabler as the sexiest Hotspur alive, Kelley Curran as his wife, Lady Percy, as alluring a liberated woman as ever there was, and of course, Edward Gero in the powerhouse role of Henry IV.  Look for scene-stealer Ted van Griethuysen who simply kills it as Justice Shallow in Part 2.

Highly recommended.

Through June 8th at Sidney Harmon Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the Box Office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.

Matthew Amendt as Prince Hal, Patrick Vaill as Lancaster, and Nathan Winkelstein as Gloucester in production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Matthew Amendt as Prince Hal, Patrick Vaill as Lancaster, and Nathan Winkelstein as Gloucester in production of Henry IV, Part 2. Photo by Scott Suchman.

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Under the Lintel – MetroStage

Jordan Wright
April 22, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Paul Morella as The Librarian in Underneath the Lintel - Photo credit: Chris Banks

Paul Morella as The Librarian in Underneath the Lintel – Photo credit: Chris Banks

What is the impetus that drives us forward each day?  Is it hope?  How do we decide what holds meaning for us?  Is it faith, or just curiosity?  For a Dutch librarian, trapped in a humdrum job checking in books from the overnight repository and sending overdue notices to scofflaws, it is to confront the man who checked out a Baedeker Travel Guide some 113 years ago.  Outraged by the audacity of the borrower who waited so long to return the book, he determines to track him down. Apart from the borrower’s baffling initial, “A.”, and his confounding address, a small village in China, he has but one clue to go on.  Tucked between the yellowed pages is a receipt for a pair of trousers from a laundry in London.  This small clue becomes the catalyst to unlock the mysteries of life and to release him from a colorless life devoid of purpose.

Paul Morella as The Librarian in Underneath the Lintel - Photo credit: Chris Banks

Paul Morella as The Librarian in Underneath the Lintel – Photo credit: Chris Banks

James Kronzer’s set is a masterpiece of evocative scenic design that evokes the university quarters of Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a jumble of objects gathered by a man prospecting for answers.  Worn briefcases and suitcases and papers are strewn about.  Easel blackboards, an old globe and a long wooden table displaying a skull, surround him.  His quest will take him around the world on an emotional and metaphysical journey to find “A.” – - or is it his own enlightenment he seeks.

Dressed in a three-piece tweed suit the pedantic librarian is delivering a lecture on his travels.  His handmade sign reads, ‘Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences’.  “I have only one night for this, due to the extortionary rates of this auditorium,” he declares using historical slides from a carousel projector to aid in the telling.

Paul Morella - Photo credit: Chris Banks

Paul Morella – Photo credit: Chris Banks

Paul Morella stars in this one-man play that uses the parable of The Wandering Jew, a man cursed to wander the earth until the Second Coming.  Playwright Glen Berger has co-opted the myth to explore the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany.  When the librarian finds a second clue leading him to Bonn and the discovery of an incident report of a “dirty Jew” thrown off a train, he sets out on a seemingly endless trail of conundrums, discovering an unrequited romance and a series of iconic moments in history.  Obscure arcana hidden in the clues reveal the librarian’s encyclopedic knowledge and inform his feverish expedition.  Parables from Aesculus, modern day graffiti and Hobson’s ultimatum theory all hint at the subject.  “The act of believing and the act of accepting are two very different things,” he posits to us.

Morella gives a riveting and commanding performance seamlessly reflecting the intensity of the character against the theme’s comedic irony.  Director John Vreeke succeeds mightily in orchestrating this fascinating and complex production.

Through May 25th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

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Official Launch of the City of Alexandria’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration

Jordan Wright
April 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Photo credit to City of Alexandria staff

Photo credit to City of Alexandria staff

The British are coming!  The British are coming!  It’s been 200 years since the British Royal Navy invaded the Port of Alexandria, but this time they’ll be here by invitation.

As event organizer and resident, Peter Pennington explains, “The festival really commemorates two things. The 1814 war, which was vital to the founding of the U. S as one country, and secondly the fact that enemies can become the firmest of friends!”

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World premiered in 2003 and received 10 nominations for Academy Awards, including best picture. It was directed and co-written by celebrated Australian director Peter Weir, famous for movies The Truman Show and Dead Poets Society. The movie was drawn from the 20-volume series of seafaring novels by Patrick OBrian, following the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey [Russell Crowe] and his close friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin [Paul Bettany]. - Photo credit to 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World premiered in 2003 and received 10 nominations for Academy Awards, including best picture. It was directed and co-written by celebrated Australian director Peter Weir, famous for movies The Truman Show and Dead Poets Society. The movie was drawn from the 20-volume series of seafaring novels by Patrick OBrian, following the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey [Russell Crowe] and his close friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin [Paul Bettany]. – Photo credit to 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios

To kick off Alexandria’s Bicentennial Commemoration of the War of 1812 organizers are holding a “Film Gala” in the newly restored Old Town Theater.  The fundraiser, which will donate part of its proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project as well as the British equivalent Help for Heroes, will begin with a cocktail reception to be followed by a screening of the Oscar-winning naval classic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe.  A pre-screening discussion about the shooting of the film will include a talk by Kyle Dalton, who worked on the replica HMS Surprise, the 18th Century Royal Navy frigate used in the movie.  Special guest USMC Sergeant Brendan O’Toole, the 2007 T. C. Williams High School grad who recently ran 3,600 miles across the country to raise funds for the Wounded Warriors, will speak about the charity.  On display will be some of the costumes from the film along with naval artifacts of the period that have been provided by local Alexandria museums.

Alexandria resident Brendan O'Toole carries a U.S. flag during his run through West Texas in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier - Photo by Tim Dwyer

Alexandria resident Brendan O’Toole carries a U.S. flag during his run through West Texas in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier – Photo by Tim Dwyer

Now you might think after torching our Nation’s Capitol and burning down the Executive Mansion in 1814, then several days later storming Alexandria’s harbor and occupying our city, that we wouldn’t be particularly pleased to roll out the red carpet and hoist up the Union Jack for the British Royal Navy.  But indeed we will.  We have a good deal to be grateful for, not least of all that their soldiers didn’t burn down our city.  That most of our historic buildings are still intact is due to a capitulation pact made between the invading British troops and Alexandria’s Common Council who reluctantly granted the marauders free rein to clean out the city’s storehouses of spirits, tobacco, armaments and tasty comestibles, taking with them twenty-one ships from our fair harbor.

Edward Stabler sold to a variety of city and country residents – from Martha Washington to Robert E. Lee, the local doctor to the local farmer.  The typical products Stabler sold included medicine, farm and garden equipment, surgical instruments, dental equipment, soap, perfume, Buffalo and Bedford mineral water, cigars, window glass, paint and varnish, artists’ supplies, combs and brushes.  Much of the medicine he sold was created on-site, using plant and herb materials. - Photo Credit: Ben Fink

Edward Stabler sold to a variety of city and country residents – from Martha Washington to Robert E. Lee, the local doctor to the local farmer. The typical products Stabler sold included medicine, farm and garden equipment, surgical instruments, dental equipment, soap, perfume, Buffalo and Bedford mineral water, cigars, window glass, paint and varnish, artists’ supplies, combs and brushes. Much of the medicine he sold was created on-site, using plant and herb materials. – Photo Credit: Ben Fink

Apothecary owner Edward Stabler, whose pharmacy still stands, described the surprise incursion like this, “Their conduct was respectful and decorous; and instead of that exultation and triumph which expands the heart of a soldier when he encounters and overcomes a force like his own, these [men] were evidently dejected and adverse to what they were doing.”

But they are not entirely off the hook.  Ever since last December when an invitational challenge from Mayor Bill Euille was tendered to the British Royal Navy, the city has been planning a myriad of activities.  Representatives of the British Defence staff, led by Royal Marine Major-General Buster Howes, CB OBE, will participate in the sporting events.

Throughout the spring and summer there will be lectures sponsored by the Alexandria Historical Society, boat tours on the Potomac, and living history events culminating with a large outdoor festival on the final weekend in August when both a cricket match and a yacht race under sail up the Potomac River will take place.  The race will feature the captains of the British team competing against the Old Dominion Boat Club who will represent the city.

Some events are ticketed.  To purchase tickets to the Film Gala visit https://shop.alexandriava.gov/ For information on all other events go to www.visitalexandriava.com/1812.

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The Thousandth Night – MetroStage

Jordan Wright
April 6, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Marcus

Marcus

How would you like to be a French gendarme? In Carol Wolf’s whirligig of a play The Thousandth Night, the audience is addressed as such by Guy de Bonheur, a hapless Frenchman separated from a roving troupe of performers and caught up in the web of World War II and the Nazi occupation of France. The production is the first of a duet of In Rep one-man shows at MetroStage and a celebration of its 30th anniversary.

It is 1943 at a railway station, 50 miles outside of Paris, and Guy is alone having lost his fellow performers to the clutches of the German officers.  He is fighting for his life, trying to convince the local constabulary to let him board a train to spirit him away from the Nazis and the ultimate penalty – - a trip to a death camp.  He carries a single suitcase filled with the troupe’s props.

The premise of this play is promising.  Guy must convince the police he is a harmless actor, a man whose life’s work is only to entertain.  But the Third Reich’s enforcers believe his work to be “subversive”, and that he is a saboteur.  To convince them otherwise and gain his freedom he reenacts the troupe’s performances to the French police in hopes they will not turn him over to the authorities.  To this end Guy performs 38 separate characters in a series of plays from the classic stories of “The Arabian Nights: Tales From a Thousand and One Nights”.

As Guy (Marcus Kyd) segues from donkey, to sultan to wife and baker, to hunchback, dead body and soldier in the first tale, he dons different hats and scarves in order to depict the separate characters.  Unfortunately the pathos of the play is lost in schtick and campy banalities – talking hats as puppets and women speaking with a swishy effeminacy – the only drama a series of trains arriving at the station with ever more SS officers hunting down the “saboteurs”.  The stories are stale and the characters trivialized, filled with goofy genies, doomed lovers and feisty sultans.  Kyd tries his damnedest to pull it off, but it just doesn’t work.

Not even James Kronzer’s spectacular set design of a full-stage train station replete with dusty windows and period architecture, Alexander Keen’s clever lighting using searchlights and silhouettes of moving trains, or Robert Garner’s electrifying sound design, can bail this one out.

Through May 18th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.

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Camp David – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
April 4, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

(L to R) Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Theater history was made Thursday night at Arena Stage’s premiere of Camp David when former U. S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, were in attendance. Little known is the fact that it has taken thirty years for TV Producer and former White House Communications Director in the Carter administration, Gerald Rafshoon, to convince Carter to give his permission to do this play.

Mideast History 101 – In September of 1978 Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, and Jimmy Carter met at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland’s scenic Catoctin Mountains.  For thirteen harrowing and contentious days and nights as the world waited with bated breath, the three men attempted to iron out a treaty to bring peace to the Middle East.  It is important to note that the Camp David Accords have stood the test of time.

Camp David is playwright Lawrence Wright’s fictionalization of this historic meeting – an intellectual struggle for power wrapped in a clash of egos.  A fourth character is present among the men, that of Rosalynn Carter (Hallie Foote) – - an important figure in the construct who brings Southern charm and levity to the play’s riveting tension.

(L to R) Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The production opens with a graphic video reminder of the four wars that raged between Egypt and Israel within a 30-year time frame.  Using a combination of news footage and photos to depict the horrors of those wars and their subsequent effect on our oil prices as a result of Mid-East conflicts, serves to remind us of our investment in peace and stability in this tumultuous region.

Richard Thomas plays Carter.  Thomas may perhaps, be best known for his long-running role as John-Boy in The Waltons.  Since those days he has performed in dozens of film and television roles as a dramatic actor and can currently be seen on the much-acclaimed FX series The Americans.  Thomas’ Carter is a spot on depiction of the folksy, homespun Southern politician with the instincts of a Coonhound treeing a possum.  (Carter has since revealed that before the talks he had studied a weighty briefing on both Begin’s and Sadat’s personalities.)  He was savvy enough to know when to press them and when to back off.

Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Director Molly Smith shows a stroke of brilliance by casting one of Egypt’s leading actors, Khaled Nabawy, as Sadat.  Nabawy plays him with a high-minded and sophisticated air.  “Whatever you decide I will sign,” Sadat says agreeably.  “I am flexible on everything except land and sovereignty.”  Sadat has brought along a copy of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 that had been agreed to and signed in 1967.  It called for Israel to retreat from occupied lands, compensate for lost properties, return natural resources, grant access to holy places, terminate Arab boycotts and sign a treaty on non-proliferation.  Begin tears it in half.  Carter insists he stick to it as the basis for their talks.

Begin (Ron Rifkin) proves to be as intransigent as a mule, quibbling over formalities and procedural points like a schoolboy.  He doesn’t trust Carter or Sadat.  “You have a way of turning words upside down,” Carter accuses him.  But Begin is a tough negotiator, there to represent his people’s interests.  “One third of all the Jews in the world were annihilated in my generation,” he says.  And as each man calls out to his own God, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, for advice and succor, Carter reminds them,  “The future doesn’t have to be like the past.”

Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat with Will Beckstrom and Will Hayes -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat with Will Beckstrom and Will Hayes – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Set Designer Walt Spangler uses old-growth trees in a mountain setting with a rustic cottage off to one side.  A drop section in the stage floor changes the scene, alternating between patio chairs and log-hewn garden benches, keeping the focus on the actors and the constantly shifting dynamics, while Lighting Designer Pat Collins uses sunrises and sunsets helps us to count the days.

Highly recommended.

Through May 4th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information on performance times and dates call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

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