February 11, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Kathleen Turner as Mother Courage in Mother Courage and Her Children – Photo by Teresa Wood
I had a terrible sense of dread about Arena Stage’s production of Mother Courage and Her Children… and in Act One it was coming true. But we’ll get to that later.
There was a palpable hush that came over the audience when Kathleen Turner appeared on the stage as Mother Courage in a shiny new version of Bertolt Brecht’s drama, performed in Fichandler’s theater-in-the-oblong space. Turner is an actress of such import that she brings instant gravitas to whatever role she plays and the audience was already pumped up to see her return to Arena Stage since last August’s one-woman show, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.
If the charismatic Turner personified “feisty” in that show, she gives new meaning to the word as a mother who survives the war by her wit and grit. Set in the 1600’s, the play, now a musical, uses the similarities of the Polish-Swedish War and the Thirty Years’ War to crystallize the futility of all wars, while at the same time expressing a tender story of a mother’s uncompromising duty to her children doled out with regular infusions of tough love. But Mother Courage who hauls her vendor’s cart to war zones selling stolen wares to the soldiers on both sides “Wherever there’s corruption, there’s hope,” she avers, cannot protect her children forever. “You thought you could live off the war and keep your family out of it,” the Sergeant admonishes her while recruiting one of her sons.
Director Molly Smith eschews the orchestra pit recruiting actors, for all but the major roles, who are also musicians. To that end the soldiers carry their instruments, accordion, tuba, trumpet or band saw, on stage for all the musical numbers, which gives the play an engagingly surreal dynamic… quirky, surprising and totally Brechtian.
(L to R) Kathleen Turner as Mother Courage and Jack Willis as the Cook in Mother Courage and Her Children – Photo by Teresa Wood
Turner, who makes her singing debut, is clearly the big draw when she is on stage, which is nearly the entire two hours and forty-five minutes of this 1939 satirical tale. Jack Willis is wonderful as The Cook, a pragmatic philosopher who woos Mother Courage even as he is trying to save his own neck – - ditto for Rick Foucheux as The Chaplain, a sanguine dolt who in a twist of fate becomes The Cook’s rival. “A war always has friends,” he quips spouting the gallows humor that weaves in and out of this intricate script.
Like Tolstoy’s War and Peace… a slog to get into until you get past the first hundred pages when it becomes impossible to put down… the play unfolds slowly, thus bringing on my fear that it would be a long night indeed. Yet as soon as Composer James Sugg’s glorious music kicked in, the show revealed songs with the power and haunting quality of Broadway’s Les Miserables. Sigh. If only there were more than eleven numbers.
(L to R) Erin Weaver as Kattrin, Rick Foucheux as the Chaplain, Meg Gillentine as Yvette and Kathleen Turner as Mother Courage – Photo by Stan Barouh
Local actor Erin Weaver does a wonderful job as Kattrin, Mother Courage’s mute daughter, in a performance reminiscent of Patty Duke’s groundbreaking role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. But the real scene stealing is left to Meg Gillentine as Yvette who electrifies with a slithery tango in the show’s third number, “Each Night in May”.
Through March 9th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.
Kathleen Turner (center) as Mother Courage and the cast of Mother Courage and Her Children – Photo by Teresa Wood
February 4, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Freda Payne as Ella Fitzgerald – photo credit Chris Banks
Maurice Hines wants to entertain you, in the same way he’s entertained audiences through seven decades from Broadway to Vegas, and most recently at DC’s Arena Stage where his show Maurice Hines is Tappin’ thru Life opened recently to rave reviews. This time Hines is back in town directing Ella, First Lady of Song a show he conceived and choreographed.
The musical-on-steroids spans Ella Fitzgerald’s hard life and good times. Beginning in 1934 during The Great Depression through her halcyon days on France’s Cote D’Azur and her famed Philharmonic concerts, the story traces her childhood days singing on the streets of Harlem and her success at an amateur night contest at the Apollo Theatre, the historic venue that launched many an African-American performer’s career. As you might expect, to properly express the eight-decade career of this greatest of American Jazz singers, there’s a lot of material, both musical and personal, to draw from and a lot to gloss over. Hines spends less time on Ella’s struggles and insecurities, than on the music. In fact the show could be more accurately described as a concert, rather than a biography. And that would be most appropriate, since it’s been said Ella didn’t dwelled on her disappointments.
Roz White as Georgiana and Wynonna Smith playing Young Ella – Photo credit Chris Banks
Hines has cast iconic pop singer Freda Payne to play the diva’s counterpart. The successful recording artist, who herself has eighteen albums and a pair of gold records under her belt, proves an irresistible choice to channel Ella’s voice and gestures, trading eights and fours with the band like a hot knife through butter.
Tom Wiggin plays Ella’s agent, Norman Granz, a white man who fought for her career through the years of prejudice towards a black performer playing on white stages. “I’m in the long shot business,” Granz explains pushing to book Ella into “Whites Only” venues. Wynonna Smith does double duty as young Ella and Ella’s sister Frances. Rounding out the four-member cast is Helen Hayes Award-winning actress Roz White who plays Ella’s cousin and long-time personal assistant, Georgiana. Together their first-rate voices and moving portrayals make up this strong supporting cast.
Tom Wiggin as Norman Granz, Ella’s manager – photo credit Chris Banks
William Knowles conducts the sizzlin’ hot five-piece band on piano, sax, trumpet, bass and drums as Payne hits the heights with a vocal range that sends chills up your spine. Covering twenty-seven songs, from Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing” to George and Ira Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good”, and from Harold Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Mack the Knife”, the music span forty years of the best in Swing, Bebop, Scat and Jazz.
To get your groove on swing on down to MetroStage. Through March 16th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314. For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.
January 23, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts, Broadway Stars, and LocalKicks
Spain’s Ambassador Ramon Gil-Casares (right) chats with a guest
Dozens of foodies and fashionistas crammed into the former residence of the Ambassador to Spain on 16th Street Thursday night to celebrate Spanish food and wine. “TAPAS, Spanish Design for Food” runs through March 23rd in what is now a cultural center. Current Ambassador Ramon Gil-Casares was clearly having a grand time receiving all guests. The exhibit celebrates some of the most unique contemporary cooking and serving implements from Spanish product designers, including the latest innovations used in molecular gastronomy by elBulli Chef Ferran Adrià, named by Time Magazine in 2004 as one of the “Ten Most Creative Figures in the World”, and his Harvard lecturing cohort, Chef Jose Andrés whose restaurant empire remains firmly footed in the U. S.
“Working with the best ingredients is how we create an astonishing dish. But in order to create a memorable experience, the best elements of design, from the kitchen, to the table, to the plate, all must come together to tell an exciting story,” Andrés concludes.
Salmon crudo – Octopus tapas – Mussels with potato chips served in sardine cans
To that end the show is organized to display over 200 items by leading the visitor through five separate rooms and passing alongside the ornately Moorish tiled room in the home’s interior courtyard. Each area delineates the categories of kitchen, food and table with a place of distinction for the country’s treasured Iberican hams.
Iberican Hams – the pride of Spain
The exhibition includes an audio-visual presentation that reveals a selection of restaurant interiors and a wine tower showing some of the most daringly designed wine labels on over 100 bottles of wine.
A ten-foot wine bottle tower
Executive Chef Javier Romero of DC’s famed Taverna Del Alabardero worked alongside of Head Chef Rodolfo Guzman Aranda of Andrés’ Jaleo to send out delectable tapas. Alas, the besieged servers were mobbed while exiting the kitchen door with trays of mussels nestled in sardine cans and topped with potato chips from Andrés’ new product line of gourmet Spanish delicacies. Those tapas had to share the spotlight with Iberican ham wrapped around a tiny breadstick with a tutu of white cotton candy, mashed potatoes as vehicles for bits of omelet, and a luscious cherry gazpacho that hit all the right sweet-to-tart notes. Viva España!
Cherry Gazpacho – Iberican Ham in cotton candy tutus – An unusual way to serve olives
The Spanish Cultural Center is at 2801 16th Street, Washington, DC. 20009. For further information visit http://www.spainculture.us/city/washington-dc/tapas-spanish-design-for-food-in-washington/
Modern coffee mugs that create an animal face when sipped from – Nesting paella pans – Contemporary glassware shot through with 24 carat gold
Photo credit to Jordan Wright
January 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Siân Phillips as Lady Bracknell in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Keith Baxter. Photo by Scott Suchman.
It is always satisfying to while away the hours at the theater, but it is most especially pleasurable to let playwright and poet Oscar Wilde remind us of the imbroglios of the Upper Class in Victorian England. In this delightful piece of froth we are allowed a glimpse behind the looking glass of London society.
Algernon Moncrieff is a terminably bored dandy with a grand sense of getting up to no good. His avatar is a naughty character he calls “Bunbury”. Algy’s equally ne’er-do-well friend Jack Worthing, trumps himself up as “Earnest”, a man caring for a beautiful young ward, Cecily, whose care has been entrusted to him by a relative.
Gregory Wooddell as Jack and Vanessa Morosco as Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Keith Baxter. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The merriment begins when Algy’s aunt, Lady Bracknell and her niece Gwendolyn Fairfax arrive at his fashionable West End home for a visit. When Jack declares his intention to marry Gwendolyn, who prefers the name Earnest, “It produces vibrations,” she admits, the frolic begins. Lady Bracknell, who delivers all of her high-minded remarks as pronouncements, feels it is her duty to grill him on his social standing. Discovering that he was a foundling discovered ignobly in a railroad station, she gives him short shrift, despite his fortune.
When Algy races off behind his friend’s back to woo Cecily, he portrays himself as Earnest too. Cecily assures him that she too could only marry a man named Earnest to which he replies, “What if my name were Algernon? It’s a very aristocratic name. Half the chaps that get into bankruptcy courts are named Algernon!” Yet both she and Gwendolyn remain firm in their convoluted determination.
Gregory Wooddell as Jack and Patricia Conolly as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Keith Baxter. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The how, when, and wherefore of the gentlemen’s love lives may be what turns the plot. But it’s the steady repartee, quaint in its moralistic rhetoric and added to the hilarious misunderstandings, that renders the play irresistible. Forgetfulness is referred to as “mental abstraction” and arguments are considered “vulgar and often convincing”. It’s a topsy-turvy Wodehouseian world.
Sian Phillips, a veteran of the BBC’s “I, Claudius” series, imbues Lady Bracknell with the steely demeanor of a true Victorian matriarch; Anthony Roach crafts a delightfully whimsical Algernon; Gregory Wooddell plays Worthing effortlessly and Patricia Conolly, as Cecily’s governess, the self-righteous Miss Prism, creates the perfect foil for the rest of the cast.
Flawless and fabulous.
Though March 9th at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the Box Office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
Gregory Wooddell as Jack and Anthony Roach as Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Keith Baxter. Photo by Scott Suchman.