November 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Jonathan Hadary as Tevye and the company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.
Fiddler on the Roof is a tender and uplifting tale inspired by the Yiddish stories of Sholem Aleichem who wrote them at the turn of the 20th century. Set in the fictional Russian Jewish shtetl of Anatevka, the story centers on the lives of Tevye (Jonathan Hadary), a milkman, and his wife, Golde (Ann Arvia) and their five eligible daughters. You’ll recognize his character instantly by the beloved tune “If I Were a Rich Man”.
Jonathan Hadary as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.
Tevye is eternally conflicted by the changing times, the frightening political climate and the corruption of the strict religious precepts laid down by the rabbi. Fiercely traditional in a paternalistic society, he tries to rationalize his daughters’ unorthodox marital choices. “On the other hand, look at my daughter’s eyes,” he muses trying to justify the adoration he sees in them for the men they love. Unfortunately these men have not been pre-selected by Yente (Valerie Leonard), who is the Matchmaker for all of the women in the village. The confused Tevye vacillates between keeping tradition and pleasing the daughters he clearly adores. “Without tradition our lives would be as shaky as the fiddler on the roof,” he maintains.
This embraceable story is buoyed by Jerome Robbins’ original choreography drawn from authentic folkloric dances and complemented by Paul Tazewell’s evocative period costumes. In “The Dream” scene Tazewell takes inspiration from artist Marc Chagall’s fantasy creatures to create an eerily phantasmagorical imagining of Tevye’s nightmare – the one in which he will be forced to give his daughter Tzeitel (Dorea Schmidt) to the crusty old butcher Lazar Wolf (Erick Devine) chosen by the matchmaker to increase the family’s status in the community. “I realize we are the chosen people, but sometimes couldn’t you choose someone else,” he laments.
L to R) Maria Rizzo as Chava, Tracy Lynn Olivera as Rivka, Joshua Morgan as Motel and Shayna Blass as Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Suzanne Blue Star Boy.
Lightning Designer Colin K. Bills provides full-throttle spotlights for the song and dance numbers and a comforting cocoon for the intimate scenes. One of the most moving moments is the candlelit chorus slowly descending onto the stage from the topmost tier and reverently chanting the “Sabbath Prayer”.
Set Designer Todd Rosenthal keeps things simple with a series of weathered wood platforms, an eye-catching spiral perch for the fiddler, and a center stage trap door that provides a mind-bending entrance for Fruma-Sarah (Tracy Lynn Olivera).
L to R) Ann Arvia as Golde and Valerie Leonard as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.
After the show Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, in recognition of Fiddler’s Washington, DC roots, its 50th Anniversary and citing deep appreciation for one of its legendary creators, presented celebrated 90-year old lyricist Sheldon Harnick with the theatre’s prestigious American Artist Award. I asked Harnick about the night his show opened in DC. “I was 40-years old when I wrote it,” he recalled with a mind as sharp as a blade. “We were very worried because Zero [Mostel, who had originated the role of Tevye] was ill. We weren’t even sure we would open.” But open they did going on to Broadway and garnering nine Tony Awards for the longest-running musical of its time. Harnick also heartily endorsed this staging saying, “They did a great job tonight!”
Through January 4, 2015 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.
For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.
November 11, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
If you find the title Bad Jews off-putting, that’s precisely what Playwright Joshua Harmon is aiming for. Go ahead. Feel uncomfortable. But you’ll laugh your head off while you’re squirming in your seat.
Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna), Maggie Erwin (Melody), and Alex Mandell (Liam). Photo: Teddy Wolff.
Three college-age cousins are gathered in the Manhattan apartment of Liam and Jonah for the funeral of their grandfather, Poppy. In this funny-cause-it’s-true comedy they debate, denigrate and question each other over who has the right to have Poppy’s “chai”, a chain on which hangs the Jewish symbol for life. Which one of them is most deserving of its ownership? Which one of them is more Jewish? Who is the True Believer? Each offers a salient argument to the age-old question.
Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna). Photo: Teddy Wolff.
Daphna (Irene Sofia Lucio), a young woman with plans to take up rabbinical studies in Jaifa and later enlist in the Israeli Army, thinks she should have it since she is the most religious and insists her cousins respect the sacrifices that “Poppy” made to safeguard it during his internment in a concentration camp. Jonah (Joe Paulik) is insistent that, by tradition, it should go to the eldest son – – especially since he wants to gift it to his Wasp girlfriend Melody (Maggie Erwin) as a symbol of his love, in the same way their grandfather presented it to their grandmother upon their engagement. Liam (Alex Mandell), Jonah’s brother and a video game addict, is non-committal, determined to stay out of the fray, while all hell breaks loose around him. He calls himself a “Bad Jew” for eating cookies on Passover and considers himself an atheist, leaving the debate to Jonah and Daphna, whom Jonah angrily refers to as “the Super Jew” for wanting to observe the most Orthodox interpretation of Jewish tradition.
There is so much vitriol flying around for the sake of determining the “best” Jew, that the audience literally gasped and groaned in shock – – not only for the meanness demonstrated by Daphna and Liam but also for the brutal honesty on often glazed over issues that can be ignored, hotly debated or even fervently embraced. There is nothing facile in here. Nonetheless it is riveting and hilarious in its presentation and the actors do a bang-up job interpreting their roles.
Alex Mandell (Liam), Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna), Maggie Erwin (Melody), and Joe Paulik (Jonah). Photo: Teddy Wolff.
Director Serge Seiden has a firm grip on the action, setting the characters in constant motion and keeping the pace locked and loaded for the next brawling barb.
A+ for provoking honesty, evoking laughter and encouraging introspection and discussion.
Through December 21st at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St., Washington, DC 20005. For tickets and information call 202 332.3300 or visit www.StudioTheatre.org.
November 4, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Derek Smith as Jaques (center) with Matthew Schleigh, Nathan Winkelstein, Todd Scofield, Theodore Snead, Timothy D. Stickney and Luis Alberto Gonzalez of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Director Michael Attenborough (“Sir Michael” is not the title the be-knighted director prefers) has brought an intriguing interpretation of Shakespeare’s timeless As You Like It to the Lansburgh Theatre. It is so timeless that just to prove it, he has informed the play with an amalgam of period costumes from Elizabethan dresses and 40’s era fedoras and trench coats to hillbilly-inspired Daisy Dukes and Carhartt overalls. Clearly Costume Designer Jonathan Fensom got the memo. It is but one of the refreshing aspects of this reimagined production.
Zoë Waites as Rosalind of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Attenborough mixes up accents too. Rosalind speaks in the crisp cadence of the British upper crust, and while her cohort Celia (and most of the other actors) sport ordinary American accents, a sexed-up Audrey (Tara Giordano) and her hapless suitor have Southern drawls. It makes for an appetizingly approachable, far from grandiose, version of Shakespeare.
Fensom is also charged with creating the set design and his intricate use of texture within the spare sets is yet another clue as to what the director wants us to feel. In lieu of lavish depictions of forests and castles, we are treated to billowing amber silk curtains strung across the stage on a rope that change direction to depict motion, alter mood and provide intimate locations for the changing of scenes. Instead of trees to depict a woodland, Fensom has colored the scenes and costumes with shades of umber, moss green and ochre and the crimson hues of autumn leaves.
Zoë Waites as Rosalind and Andrew Veenstra as Orlando of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.
As you’ll no doubt remember the beautiful Rosalind, here played by Zoë Waites one of Britain’s most notable stage actors, has fallen head over heels for the tongue-tied Orlando (Andrew Veenstra). In true Shakespearean style the lovers are ill-fated and to make matters worse, they are banished by their royal families. To seek refuge Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone flee into the fantasy forest of Arden. Unbeknownst to the trio Orlando has undertaken a mission to find Rosalind in the very same forest. Yet unlike Romeo and Juliet our all of our adventurers reach a happily ever after conclusion. You should know that going in since whatever befalls our frustrated lovers there is much frivolous hilarity and enough plot twists to fill an entire season of television rom-coms. As Touchstone reminds us, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers. But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.”
There are so many marvelous actors in this play that it’s tricky to laud only a few – but I will – most notably Zoë Waites as the comely and feisty Rosalind, the self-appointed love expert; Timothy Stickney who adds heft, power and magnitude to the dual roles of Duke Senior and Duke Frederick; Adina Verson’s delicately girlish charm as Celia, counterbalancing Rosalind’s transformation into the rough-hewn boy Ganymede; Andrew Weems as the fantastically absurd motley fool, Touchstone; and Derek Smith, who is madly captivating as the snarkily haughty and delightfully melancholy cynic, Jaques.
And though we don’t see her until the last act, look for Valeri Mudek to lend a surprising appeal to the fickle Phoebe.
Zoë Waites as Rosalind, Adina Verson as Celia and Andrew Weems as Touchstone of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.
In the immortal words of Jaques, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their entrances and exits…” and we will be all the better for watching Attenborough’s original interpretation.
Take note: STC has partnered with the U.S. Botanic Garden to present “Escape to the Forest of Arden”. To watch a podcast featuring these spectacular gardens while listening to the bard’s poetry recited by some of DC’s finest actors, download here www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/Escape.
Through December 14th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre at 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.
October 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
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
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
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
October 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.