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

Human Rights Campaign’s “Chefs For Equality” Evening Scores Big with DC Chefs and Their Fans

Jordan Wright
September 25, 2014
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts


Event Chair David Hagedorn in lime green tie

Event Chair David Hagedorn in lime green tie

When Washington Post food writer David Hagedorn is doing the asking, big name chefs and restaurateurs respond.  Though we didn’t see her there, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who married David and his partner, Michael Widomski, last fall, are on his speed dial.

The noted cookbook author chaired the Human Rights Campaign LGBT “Chefs For Equality” evening of food and fun Tuesday night at the Ritz-Carlton West End in one of the most delicious events of the season.  Two hundred chefs and their crews, plus some of the city’s top mixologists (if you hate that moniker, move along) prepared tastings for the guests who were dazzled by splashy drag queens, assorted pols and a ballroom filled with damned good looking men and their gal pals.

VIP Table Setting

VIP  table settings

Some of the most scrumptious bites came courtesy of Todd Gray and Chris Edwards  of Salamander Resort & Spa (the concord grape jelly made from a neighbor’s vines was to die for); Michelle and Christophe Poteaux of Bastille whose foie gras mousse was topped with pear confit and toasted hazelnuts; Tim Ma of Water & Wall and Maple Avenue who served an Asian Chicken Soup; and Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery whose Chocolate Moonshine Cake (a Mason jar filled with the local firewater from Belmont Distillery) was a mouthful of pillowy, boozy chocolate cake.

(Left to Right) Brian Noyes - Tim Ma - Brent Sick Del Frisco's Grille

(Left to Right) Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery – Tim Ma of Water & Wall – Brent Sick Del Frisco’s Grille

We also noshed on nibbles and sips from K. N. Vinod of Indique Heights, Mitch Berliner of MeatCrafters, Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar, Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen, Aaron McCloud of CedarRis Lacoste of RIS, Tarver King of The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, Jeff Faile of Neighborhood Restaurant Group and David Guas of Bayou Bakery whose American Grilledshow is on the Travel Channel.

(Left to Right) Aaron McCloud of Cedar - Michael Abt of Le Diplomate - Michael Friedman of The Red Hen

(Left to Right) Aaron McCloud of Cedar – Brinn Sinnott of Le Diplomate – Michael Friedman of The Red Hen

Salt & Sundry provided swag bags for the VIPs who sat together at tables lavishly decorated by their individual hosts.  Their specialty dinners were prepared by uber-chefs Robert Wiedmaier (Marcel’s), Michel Richard (Central Michel Richard), Patrick O’Connell (The Inn at Little Washington), Frank Ruta (now baking with Mark Furstenberg at Bread Furst), Peter Chang (soon to open in Bethesda) Tony Conte (The Oval Room), Scott Drewno (The Source), Jeremiah Langhorne (formerly of McCrady’s soon to open a DC outpost), and Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola and Casa Luca).

(Left to Right) Felicia Beefeater aka A. J. Dronkers with Jordan Wright - Todd Gray and Chris Edwards with team from Salamander - Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks of Passion Food Hospitality

(Left to Right) Felicia Beefeater aka A. J. Dronkers with Jordan Wright – Todd Gray and Chris Edwards with team from Salamander – Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks of Passion Food Hospitality

But it was all one big happy family there to celebrate this year’s Gay Rights successes and to push for Marriage Equality in Virginia.  Star power came courtesy of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe who wooed the joyful crowd with his promise of support for gay marriage in the “Virginia is for Lovers” state.

Bryan Sorrentino's cake from Charm City Cakes

Bryan Sorrentino’s cake from Charm City Cakes

Proof – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Chuck Leonard (Robert) -   Photos by Matt Liptak

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Chuck Leonard (Robert) -
Photos by Matt Liptak

Catherine (Anna Fagan) lives with her professor father in an unsettling world of mental illness somewhat reminiscent of the film A Beautiful Mind.  Robert (Chuck Leonard), a brilliant mathematician whose elegant formulas and research on prime numbers have dazzled his peers, believes aliens are sending him messages through the Dewey Decimal System.  He suffers from major depression and psychotic episodes that Catherine fears could be genetic.  “Crazy people don’t ask each other if they’re nuts,” he explains when she holes up in her room reading fashion magazines.

When Hal (Josh Goldman), a former student of Robert’s, “He’s on the infinite program,” Robert jokes, comes to their home in hopes of discovering publishable formulas, Catherine, a math whiz in her own right, gets suspicious that Hal might be stealing the material to self-attribute and we watch as she spirals into a depression of her own.  But the pair needs each other.  Their discussion of Sophie Germaine, an actual 18th C mathematician who hid her genius by writing under a man’s name, portends things to come.  Could Catherine be as brilliant as her famous father?

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Elizabeth Keith (Claire) - Photo Matt Liptak

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Elizabeth Keith (Claire) – Photo Matt Liptak

When her sister Claire (Elizabeth Keith) shows up at the family’s suburban house to make funeral arrangements, she insists her Catherine cannot handle life alone and determines to take her sister back with her to New York City to seek psychiatric help.

Proof, set in the 1990’s, switches back and forth over a four-year period and covers Catherine’s close relationship with her father, her testy but compliant relationship with Claire, and her curious partnership with Hal.  The tidy four-person cast handles complex emotional turns with ease in this Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play written by David Auburn.

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Josh Goldman (Hal) - Photo Matt Liptak

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Josh Goldman (Hal) – Photo Matt Liptak

In a deeply engrossing script tinged with wry comedy, the play explores mental illness as related to genius and presents a storyline as complicated as it is uplifting.  Susan Devine, who consulted with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Flint Hill School teacher William VanLear to gain insight on the topic, directs an impressive cast that has both the strength and confidence the story demands.  Leonard, who himself is a director and reminds this reviewer of John Cleese, captures the humor and subtleties of his role, while Fagan demonstrates her total immersion in a tricky role that swings from upbeat to somber at the drop of a hat.  Goldman, who has appeared in several LTA productions, proves he has an impressive range – – while Keith, another LTA alum, gives a shining performance as the self-centered sister.

Through March 29th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit

Whisk and Quill Wishes All Gastronomes, Oenophiles, Theatre Mavens and Wanderlusters a Sparkling New Year Full of Fresh Footsteps and Delicious Dishes

Thank you dear readers for pursuing life’s intriguing and ever-evolving adventures with Whisk and Quill in 2013.  This December celebrates my sixth year as a food and travel writer and third year as theatre critic for the Alexandria Times.  And though my life has gravitated more to the keyboard than cooktop, to the frequent inquiries about my work as a chef, I say, “Yes! I still enjoy catering private events.”

This year I shared my column, “Nibbles and Sips Around Town”, with the area’s most comprehensive theatre website,  Since they share their content with, I now have the only non-theatre column on both sites.

One of the biggest surprises of the year was when Indian Country Today magazine, where I have contributed pieces on American Indian Culture and the Arts for the last three years, chose my feature story on the discovery of the long-lost silent film, The Daughter of Dawn as one of their “Top Ten Best Stories of the Year”.  And in keeping with neighborhood participation, in June I was chosen as the sole judge for the “Taste of Del Ray”, one of the most fun events I have ever participated in.

For the website of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) I interviewed leading Hollywood directors Ariel Vromen and James Franco, Academy Award-winning Superman musical composer, Hans Zimmer, and writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash of The Way, Way Back. 

I even had the opportunity to interview a Cirque de Soleil artist and the Artistic Director of Cavalia when those shows raised their tents in town.  Noted Jazz musicians Ski Johnson (Saxophonist), Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Marcus Johnson (Keyboardist) were featured on our site this year too, as were interviews with songstresses Iris DeMent and Grace Potter.

There were articles on local, national and internationally renowned chefs, tons of restaurant reviews, food events, farmers, vintners (Barefoot Wine founder Michael Houlihan was featured in February), breweries, new food products (Jose Andres launched a line of Spanish delicacies), and cookbooks with so many local chefs publishing this year (check out December’s column).  I even braved a chef-driven “Snakeheads at the Harbor” dinner in Georgetown…all in the name of research, don’t you know.

Travel took us from Oxford, MD along the Chesapeake Bay and Culpeper, Virginia to Airlie House and the Castleton Festival in the Virginia countryside, and later to Tallahassee and Wakulla County, Florida where we ate as many oysters and shrimp as the law would allow.  All the while meeting innovative chefs, farmers, musicians and those whose spirits would raise ours to new heights.

Wines were especially high on the “To Do” list with tastings of Greek, Israeli, Brazilian, French, American, New Zealand and Serbian vintages.  In celebration of her recently published memoirs, I shared a lovely lunch at Fiola with Margrit Mondavi, the “First Lady of Napa Valley” and  “Grande Dame” of the Mondavi Winery.   We also visited the Stillhouse Distillery to learn how they make their whiskey and bourbon, an experience I shared with readers in August.

In the “Travel” section posh properties were scrutinized or extolled, while in the “Theatre” section dozens of shows were picked or panned – all without one single advertiser on our Whisk and Quill website.

In July we were thrilled to welcome a very special guest contributor to Whisk and Quill.  Cary Pollak is an accomplished chef and well-known DC area food writer.  He’s also a successful attorney, but we won’t hold that against him.  Pollak has already given us exciting stories on New York’s Fancy Food Show, DC’s Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show, a recipe for his glorious French Fruit Tarte (Pollak also hosts cooking classes on baking and East Indian cooking), a “Celebration of the Grape” at Zaytinya, a November piece on Ridgewell’s turning 85 years-old, and a comprehensive piece on his travels to Central Texas and the food scene there.  Look for more terrific stories from Pollak in the upcoming months.

So here’s to 2014 and another year of reporting to inspire, tempt and dazzle you to create your own journeys.  Let’s drink a cuppa kindness, or whatever lovely spirits you may have handy, for the auld year and for a scintillating, theatrical and scrumptious New Year!



Nibbles and Sips Around Town – November 15, 2013

Jordan Wright
November 15, 2013
Special to DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and LocalKicks 

 Cedar’s Aaron McCloud Creates Amazing Dishes with Olives from Spain

Olive salad at Cedar Restaurant

Olive salad at Cedar Restaurant

As one of eight U.S. chefs selected to highlight the use of Spanish olives in their cuisine by Olives From Spain, Cedar’s Executive Chef Aaron McCloud staged a spectacular five-course luncheon last week using recipes he devised and pairing the dishes with Spanish wines.  Among the other well-known chefs chosen are Seamus Mullen of New York City’s Tertulia; Michael Kornick, Chef/Owner of Chicago’s mk; Ethan Stowell, of Seattle’s Staple & Fancy and Anchovies & Olives; and Giorgio Rapicavoli of Miami’s Eating House.  The concept was to show how non-Spanish chefs and home cooks can incorporate Spanish table olives into their recipes.  Throughout the season McCloud will be featuring some of these dishes on Cedar’s menu.

McCloud, who gave up studying classical violin with Itzhak Perlman for a life behind the scenes, hails from Michigan and brings with him a farmer’s keen sense of natural ingredients in his approach to cooking.

Smoked trout with Meyer lemon and olive relish

Smoked trout with Meyer lemon and olive relish

At a luncheon last week the chef started the meal with a delicately crafted salad of spiced walnuts, arugula, Gordal olives, Manchego cheese and decorated the plate with nasturtiums.  Our second course was smoked trout with pickled fennel, grapefruit supremes, preserved Meyer lemon and olive relish which was followed by Merino lamb loins crusted with olive powder and placed in a tart of olives with pickled royal trumpet mushrooms.  Spanish Gordal olives made a second appearance stuffed into a roulade of wild boar loin and served with an olive salad and heirloom tomato salad dressed with bacon and olive vinaigrette.

 Merino lamb with olive powder and pickled Royal trumpet mushrooms

Merino lamb with olive powder and pickled Royal trumpet mushrooms

Proving the versatility of the olive with meats isn’t as tricky as it is with sweets.  But McCloud overcame the challenge by using the milder type of uncured black olives in a silky panna cotta.  The smooth egg-less custard was enhanced with a sweet herb “soup” of made from pineapple sage, lemon verbena and sugar and cooked down to a light syrup and poured over the dish at table and served with a white chocolate olive cookie.  McCloud explained, “I decided to make a cookie and thought of substituting the olives for the usual raisins.”  Sliced almonds spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seed and cumin, and baked with maple syrup, provided the unique dessert with a delectable crunchiness.  So delectable in fact that I secured the recipe along with a cache to take home. And for more information on Spanish olives visit www.OlivesfromSpain.US.

Go With the FLO, Baby

Jazz Master Marcus Johnson at FLO Wines party

Jazz Master Marcus Johnson at FLO Wines party

What pairs best with wine and friends?  Why, jazz of course.  So say DC-raised Contemporary Jazz Keyboardist virtuoso Marcus Johnson and his partner Winemaker and Co-Founder Rob Piziali.  FLO stands for “For the love of…” and there was a lot of love flowing from the top floor of Georgetown’s chic Puro Café last week when the pair debuted their gently priced Red Blend, Chardonnay and 2011 Moscato wines, all of which are produced and bottled in Napa Valley’s St. Helena.  Though the company was launched only a year ago, the popular wines can already be found around our area in stores like Costco, Wal-Mart, Target, Giant, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Total Wine and Farm Fresh, and hotels like Marriott and Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC.

While guests enjoyed nibbles and sips Johnson tickled the ivories for his rapt fans – – one of whom won a lavish gift basket chockfull of gourmet goodies and bottles of FLO Wine.  The company has teamed up with Thankfully Yours, a DC-based company, to create festive wine and food gift baskets for the holidays.

Johnson, a Billboard “Top 10” and NAACP Image Award-nominated jazz musician with 15 studio albums to his credit, will be at Blues Alley Jazz Club from December 12th to the 16th.

Visit to learn more about upcoming wine events in the area.  To order their gorgeous gift baskets go to

A Master Class in Brazilian Wines at DC’s Fogo de Chao 

Coming from a family who bought a coffee plantation in Brazil on a whim, I can’t say I ever imagined in my wildest dreams I would be sitting among experts drinking  fine wines from Brazil.  But that’s what I was doing last week along with area buyers, wine consultants, fellow writers and local sommeliers at a large U-shaped banquet table in DC’s Fogo de Chao restaurant.  A dizzying array of fifteen wines and thirteen “churrasco” style barbecued meats were served while Master Sommelier and Wine Educator, Evan Goldstein, kept the enthusiastic sippers engaged with a power point presentation of the regions of Brazil and the development of its industry.

Brazilian wines and churrasco at Fogo de Chao

Brazilian wines and churrasco at Fogo de Chao

After first reminding us that no less a wine connoisseur than British journalist and wine merchant Steven Spurrier (responsible for the legendary “Judgment of Paris”) had lauded Brazilian wines this year in an article featured in Decanter magazine, Goldstein urged us to begin with a delicate rose-colored sparkler before tasting more serious wines whose grapes are picked from vines brought to Brazil from early Italian and Portuguese settlers who arrived in the country in 1551.

One of the more intriguing factoids about the region’s wines is that Brazil has two harvest seasons every year.  By applying a product called Dormex, growers can encourage early ripening that results in two seasons of picking grapes.

There are five dominant wine-growing regions in Brazil, though currently only three have certifications of origin.  The main regions are Santa Catarina, Serra Gaucha, Serra do Sudeste and Campanha in the Southern region of the country, and Vale do Sao Francisco in the Northeastern Region near Bahia.  Serra Gaucha is considered the most important and largest wine region within Rio Grande do Sul.

We sampled a 2009 Cave Geisse Terroir Nature, a glamorous sparkler made by Maurice Geisse, a Chilean winemaker who once worked for the house of Moet & Chandon and who is now using his considerable talents at his family’s vineyard in the Serra Gaucha region.  But an appealing parvenu nipped at its heels.  Retailing at half its price, Casa Valduga Brut 130 is a sassy sparkling wine once lauded by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to Brazil.

As we progressed to the still whites, I was surprised to hear that Moscatos and Chardonnays dominate the whites.  In fact Lidio Carraro Dadivas Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Italians and has been chosen as the “Official Wine of the World Cup”.

The stellar Salton Pinot Noir

The stellar Salton Pinot Noir

Here are the wines that stole my heart and they were all reds.  Salton Pinot Noir 2012 (young yet, but holding distinct promise); Salton Desego 2008, a Merlot aged in 50-50 French and American Oak; Perini Marselan 2010, another youthful vintage with the unusual cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache from a vineyard dating back to the 1870’s; Lidio Carraro, Quorum, a pricey Merlot, Cab, Tannat and Cab Franc blend from 2006; and Pizzato CONCENTUS 2007, a knockout at $25.00.

Look for these at

Iron Gate – History Restored 

The much-anticipated opening of Iron Gate on N Street turned into one the most fabulous private gatherings for a restaurant opening ever.   While many guests reminisced about their dining experiences in days past, there was no one present that could have said they were there when it was opened in 1923 by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.  The group whose headquarters are in another historic building next door, is still the Iron Gate’s landlord.  To this day the Federation Director’s private residence overlooks the restaurant’s garden from atop the third story.

The wood fire oven at Iron Gate

The wood fire oven at Iron Gate

For those who may have dined here before the restoration slash remodel, the surprise will be an enclosed and two-story dining space and bar area inside the restaurant’s elegant carriageway.  The entrance is now dominated by magnificent lead-framed windows that rise two stories up to meet the building’s original keystones.  Iron lanterns, and a pair of repurposed chandeliers retrieved from an old theatre in Baltimore, light the old brick walls.  In the bar a massive walnut-framed mirror that was discovered in a garage in Silver Spring, overlooks the 10-seat bar.  The large bricked garden, adorned with century old wisteria and still-producing grapevines, sports an electronic awning for inclement weather.  A romantic aura fills the main dining area where dark wainscoating, flickering candlelight and a roaring fireplace lend an air of charming intimacy.

The style of cuisine is drawn from the traditional dishes of Greece, Sicily and Sardinia with a menu arranged by category – “Garden”, “Water” and “Pasture”.  Diners make their selection from a four- or six-course menu (with or without wine pairings).  Some items are available a la carte at the bar or on the patio.  Leading a trio of seasoned and award-winning professionals is noted Chef Tony Chittum who left Vermillion in Alexandria’s Old Town to showcase his creativity in this beautiful space.  He is flanked by Mixologist Jeff Faile, formerly of Casa Luca and Fiola, and Wine Director Brent Kroll, formerly of Adour at the St. Regis.

At the friends and family opening, plates were piled high with everything from spit-roasted pig, broccoli bruschetta bright with house-made ricotta and garnished with a tiny sardine.  Crispy sunchokes with yogurt dipping sauce and light-as-a-feather veal sweetbreads were delectable treats as were the grilled fennel sausages that had an insinuating way of demanding repeat attention.  I loved an Ouzo Punch, made with rosemary, ouzo and Galliano.  I haven’t seen Galliano in a cocktail since “Golden Cadillacs”, made with the herb-infused yellow Italian liqueur, crème de cacao and cream, were all the rage.

Sweet things await at Iron Gate

Sweet things await at Iron Gate

The sweets were playful – Campari marshmallows, loukamades, hot from the oven and dripping with orange blossom glaze, and Sicilian pistachio buckeyes coated in chocolate.  Sheer ambrosia.

With classic architecture, intriguing history, celebrated chef, gorgeous garden, fireplace, separate bar, intimate dining room and sidewalk patio, Iron Gate is truly dressed to impress.

Photos by Jordan Wright