Tender Napalm – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 23, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Laura C. Harris and Elan Zafir - photo credit Teresa Wood.

Laura C. Harris and Elan Zafir – photo credit Teresa Wood.

Two characters known as “Man” and “Woman” are the sole performers in this complex and powerful drama by British playwright Philip Ridley.  It is both a love story of two young Londoners who have experienced an extraordinary loss, and a hypothetical time warp deep into the heart of a relationship fraught with all the perils and passions of youth.

The East Enders meet at a lavish party in the grandiose gardens of a spectacular mansion where their courtship unfolds in a relatively straightforward fashion.  But as Director Matthew Gardiner foreshadows in his introduction to the play, “To be in love with another person is to feel a wide range of emotions: enchantment, ecstasy, animosity, fear and doubt.”  Ridley uses intense physicality and a made-up fantasy language to convey all of these conflicting emotions in Tender Napalm.

Elan Zafir, who has a huge almost superhero physicality, plays Man to Laura Harris’s sylph-like Woman – - a deliberate choice that depicts the lovers as not only emotionally opposite but physically opposite as well.  But it’s not a competition of brawn over beauty, our heroine is just as intense and savvy an opponent as her lover.

Credit: Photo of Laura C. Harris and Elan Zafir by Teresa Wood.

Laura C. Harris and Elan Zafir – photo credit Teresa Wood.

The play is presented in snippets and flashbacks of their relationship.  In one bumbling effort to express his desires Man tells Woman, “I could squeeze a bullet between those lips,” a crass sentiment later co-opted by Woman, who suggests a hand grenade to achieve the same effect.  Calling her ”my muse” and expressing his love he tells her, “I’d like to be a tree full of doves pushing my branches around you.” She responds by referring to him as “my snare” and blowing him off.  Push and pull.  Back and forth.

In their drive to establish their separate identities and assert their dominance over the other, Woman invents a desert island where she is Queen of the Monkeys.  She threatens Man telling him the monkeys will do her bidding to establish her power.  Not to be challenged, Man counters with the same desire to be in charge and they fight over who rules their fantasy island – - each looking to gain the upper hand.

The play is seeded with symbols – - a cave where Woman can control Man, unicorns as escapism, UFOs as the unknown, and a man-eating sea serpent to represent the concept of death and rebirth.  Ridley portrays Man as the conqueror, an unrelenting warrior, protector of Woman and slayer of the serpent. While Woman uses her powers as controller, consoler and arbiter in the battle of the sexes.  In one scene Man tells her of imaginary aliens who abduct him, claiming it is not in their DNA to kill.  They give him a spaceship filled with atom bombs and he regales Woman with his courageousness.  “Bombs away!  I’m killing everything I see,” he brags to her rat-a-tat-tatting his way around the stage.

Credit: Photo of Laura C. Harris and Elan Zafir by Teresa Wood.

Laura C. Harris and Elan Zafir – photo credit Teresa Wood.

Yet the play has deeply affecting moments of tenderness and surrender when the lovers step away from their egos and submit to one another.  Sounds of explosions, earthquake rumblings and the screech of a futuristic rewind help to reset the action as the lovers’ emotions swing wildly from love and lust to hate and envy.  But ultimately it is the force of Ridley’s extraordinary play performed by two brilliant performers’ on a simple stage with no props and no scenery that captivates.

Raw, erotic and riveting.  It is a must see.

Through May 11th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit

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Loveland at Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
March 23, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Ann Randolph in Loveland at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Ann Randolph in Loveland at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Welcome to the wonderfully wacky world of Frannie Potts.  You’ll meet her in Loveland at Arena Stage as part of the Kogod Cradle Series for American Voices.

Frannie is a “thought bubble” come to life, a woman who actually verbalizes the socially unacceptable things we think but are conditioned by society not to say out loud.  Her ADHD is cringe-worthy.  She’s the crazy lady with no filter – - the one shouting out her philosophy of the world to strangers – - the one we dismiss.  In writer/performer Ann Randolph’s Loveland we enter the world of Frannie Potts in her hilarious one-woman show.

On a stage set with a single chair and a shopping bag containing a few props, we find Frannie seated on a plane on her way from LA to the Midwest for her mother’s funeral.  In Frannie’s world “dead” is dead – not “passed away” or “gone”.  She brooks no euphemisms and no platitudes, and we love her all the more for it.

In a series of flashback portrayals, Randolph takes on the identities of a number of characters, not least of all her irreverent chain-smoking mother, a wisecracking pistol of a woman who delights in egging her daughter on.

Randolph also channels the pilot, whom she fantasizes about; a stereotypically snooty flight attendant; her seatmates, who are none to pleased to listen to her ramblings; a condescending funeral home saleswoman; a smarmy nursing home administrator; and a sanctimonious yoga instructor named Shanti.  None are spared Frannie’s sharp-tongued, sharp-eyed, invariably outraged, retorts.  If you’ve ever enjoyed the screwball humor of Erma Bombeck, Ruth Buzzi or Lily Tomlin, the satirical black humor of British comedies like The Wrong Box or The Loved One, or the wry wit of Fran Lebowitz, Loveland is certain to rattle all your funny bones.

In one of the skits Frannie tries frantically to reach her mother at the Crane Lake Country Manor, a nursing home with, you guessed it, no cranes and no lakes.  The irony of it all is compounded when she is subjected to the “on hold” strains of Mozart’s Requiem Mass for the Dead.

Randolph has created Frannie, a hugely sympathetic character, with depth and dimension, and she does it with floor-dropping humor.

Highly recommended.

Through April 2nd 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

Ann Randolph in Loveland at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Ann Randolph in Loveland at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Teresa Wood.

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REAL Food Innovator Awards Gala – The United States Healthful Food Council

Jordan Wright
March 13, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and LocalKicks

 "Farm Daisy"  one of Founding Farmers Group's specialty cocktails made with their new gin from Copper Fox Distillery

“Farm Daisy” one of Founding Farmers Group’s specialty cocktails made with their new gin from Copper Fox Distillery

In celebrating the country’s leaders in the promotion of healthful and sustainable foods the United States Healthful Food Council chose a lovely spring evening at Whittemore House lent an air of promise to the USHFC’s first gala.  Guests were treated to cocktails from Founding Farmers mixologist, Jon Arroyo, and healthy whole fruit and vegetable juices from Jrink Juicery.  After all the DC-based organization is all about healthy food and, by all appearances, guests were too.  During the reception we tried out the Food Database app from the non-profit Environmental Working Group.  They have identified over 80,000 products and 1,500 brands scannable with your smart phone that will tell you if they contain any additives, preservatives, chemicals or contaminants.  We tried it out on a few products (one was even labeled “organic”!) only to find it contained pesticides.  It’s still in test mode but sign up at to be the first to use it.

JRinkjuicery offers fresh-pressed juices

JRinkjuicery offers fresh-pressed juices

Whittemore House is of course the Women’s Democratic Club and the beautiful old manse is filled to the rafters with books and political memorabilia and fine photographs and treasured documents.  On this night the rooms held two bars, one for cocktails – the other for wines provided by Barboursville – and a third held a long table laid out with Treeline Cheese, a delicious herb-flavored vegan cheese made from cashews and bowls of crunchy kale chips from Alive & Radiant.  Chef, restaurateur, author and philanthropist, Sam Talbot of Bravo’s Top Chef, was flown in from his home in North Carolina to prepare the food.

Treeline's Cashew Cheese

Treeline’s Cashew Cheese

Miniature crab cakes with ginger aioli, lamb picadillo in phyllo, anise and black pepper beef tenderloin with pickled green banana vinaigrette and beef tartare with Balinese long pepper and vanilla vinaigrette were among the tasty tidbits passed around before guests took their seats and a glorious dinner was served.

Here’s what Chef Talbot created to dazzle the palate.  Braised Chicken in adobo with ginger and carrot vinaigrette, Seared Dogfish – a delicate and sustainable white fish flown in from North Carolina – with celery root, blood orange and nduja vinaigrette; Pan-roasted Mushrooms with chili and pickled garlic; Parsnips La Plancha; Roasted Turnips with braised sweet potato leaves and coconut broth; Roasted Kohlrabi with pea greens, rosemary and black sesame.  Vegans and carnivores alike had a lot to celebrate.

Well represented were chefs noted for their dedication to local and sustainable food products.  Nashville chefs Jeremy Barlow, “Chefs can change the world,” he declared, and Maneet Chauhan, known for her appearances on Iron Chef and as a judge on Chopped.  Two-time James Beard Award winner and leader in the sustainable food movement, Michel Nischan; Mike Selig, Director of Food and Beverage at the Clinton Presidential Center; and renowned local chefs Ris Lacoste of Ris, and organic food pioneer and sustainability advocate, Nora Poullion of Restaurant Nora, who was instrumental in establishing the country’s organic certification standards for restaurants.  Celebrity dietician and author Ashley Koff, RD was one of the Co-Chairs.

USHFC President Lawrence Williams who handed out the REAL Food Innovator Awards (REAL is the acronym for Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership) explained, “Nothing within our control affects our health more than the food we eat, yet serving healthful foods is generally perceived as not being good for business.  Each of these individuals is helping to change that equation.”

REAL Foods Awards night guests at the reception

REAL Foods Awards night guests at the reception

These are the winners:

BeverageSeth Goldman, Co-Founder and President of Honest Tea whose motto is “Rethink what you drink”; Child NutritionKristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey, Founders of Revolution Foods; Food AccessRobert Egger, Founder of DC Central Kitchen and L. A. Kitchen; Nutrition Awareness and Innovator of the Year – James Beard Foundation Award winning author and Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, Dr. Marion Nestle; Non-Profit AdvocacyKen Cook, President and Co-Founder of the Environmental Working Group; Food MarketingSteve Ells and Monty Moran Co-CEOs of Chipotle; Food ProductionStephen McDonnell, CEO of Applegate Farms; Government Official – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Upon receiving his award Goldman cautioned the crowd, “If we don’t change the direction we’re headed, we won’t know where we’re going”.  He accompanied the warning with an alarming statistic.  “The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world and has more advanced knowledge of science and medicine and any other civilization in history and yet we rank 40th on the United Nations’ average life expectancy rating.”  But of course he was preaching to the choir.

Revolution Foods founder, Kirsten Tobey, let us know, “We serve one million meals per week throughout the country.”  And Dr. Nestle accepted her award with the sage statement, “The most profitable foods are not the things people should be eating the most of.” Adding, “My goal is to train everyone I can to take action.”

Fortessa Tableware Solutions group is definitely ready to party

Fortessa Tableware Solutions group is definitely ready to party

Because the USHFC partnered with the James Beard Foundation on this event, JBF trustee, Eric Kessler, was also in attendance.  Platinum sponsor Fortessa Tableware Solutions shared the spotlight with other sponsors – Plant Based Solutions, The Farm (Founding Farmers Restaurant Group), Congressional Seafood, Match, TCHO Chocolate, Organic Valley, Barboursville Vineyards, JRINKjuicery, Emmy’s Organics, Alive & Radiant Foods, Buyer’s Best Friend, Treeline Cheese, Westin Georgetown, Frontier Natural Products Co-op, Future of Food Technology, Sourcery, Spartan Races, Google, Discovery Communications, Mountain Valley Spring Water and Elizabeth’s Gone Raw who provided the heavenly artisanal chocolates and dessert.

Fortessa’s Executive Vice President of Commercial Foodservice, Matthew Broad, told Whisk and Quill, “We respect Lawrence [Williams] and what the foundation is all about.  He is promoting healthy lifestyle, sustainable farming, local businesses, non-governmental regulation and what people try to assertively attain.  We like to associate ourselves with USHFC because we share their goals and values.”

Photo credit Jordan Wright

Reference:  The United States Healthful Food Council

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The Heart of Everything That Is: Chief Red Cloud’s Untold Story, Revealed

The writing team of Bob Drury and Tom Clavin are best known to their readers as American military historians. Noted for turning out impeccably researched chronicles, their books range in coverage from World War II and Korea to the Vietnam War and usually grace The New York Times bestseller list. But for all their military acumen, the two had overlooked one of the biggest stories in American history: That of Chief Red Cloud, who led the Western Sioux Nation to victory against the U.S.The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend (Simon & Schuster, November 2013) was born.

Before that, Drury and Clavin had been kicking around a few ideas for their next subject when they found themselves at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico as they accepted an award for Best Nonfiction from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

“After the ceremony a Marine said to us, ‘You do know about the only Indian to win a war against the United States?’ ” Drury told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We said we were familiar with the Battle of Big Horn and other well-known battles. And then he said, ‘I didn’t say battle, I said war! An entire war.’ And I thought, Why didn’t we know about that?”

The Marine then told them about Red Cloud, chief of the Western Sioux Nation. The two were stunned to discover that the warrior in question was not Geronimo, Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse—proud fighters who most schoolchildren are taught about. They knew then that they had their next book.The Heart of Everything That Is tells Red Cloud’s story in his own words (he related his tale to a third party before he died) and lays out a riveting timeline of the period.

In researching his life, the authors uncovered a wealth of material from diaries and letters written by U. S. military officers and their wives and children, and wilderness trackers, plus a treasure trove of historical information gleaned from the letters and journals of the pioneers who crossed the Great Plains during the 1800s. Indian Country Today Media Network caught up with each author recently to gain insight into what compelled them to learn more about Red Cloud and write, “His overall leadership, his organizing genius, and his ability to persuade contentious tribes to band together…had enabled perhaps the most impressive campaign in the annals of Indian warfare.”

Your book is meticulously researched, full of the smallest details of life on the American Plains. What surprised you most in your studies of that period?

Clavin: The biggest surprise was how little we know of Red Cloud in our popular culture. We know a great deal about Geronimo, Cochise, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. But Red Cloud wasn’t discussed at all in our history books. As we did more research we discovered stories of his exploits and of his importance in Sioux society and their culture and history.

It was shocking to us that he was little more than a footnote to what we know about the American West. It’s been mostly the white academics and white scholars who have written about the Indian. The Indian point of view has been mostly through the observation of others, as with Frances Parkman’s The Oregon Trail.

What drew you to the story of Red Cloud?

Clavin: I was reading a description of the Fetterman massacre and Red Cloud and thought I was pretty well versed in eighteenth-century history. But ultimately when we decided to take on the story of Red Cloud, it became a four-year journey.

Drury: We saw his life was rich during the period of Manifest Destiny. It told of a way of life that had gone on for a millennium. We were accustomed to interviewing living people. But what we found was almost like Twitter, everyone kept a journal back then. Tom went to all the historical societies and university libraries out west and found so many letters. Some of the documents were so fragile that we had to handle them with gloves. Reading these journals was like interviewing living people. It was an amazing discovery. For example, no one knew how the Indians ‘treatied’ with each other.

Would the Plains Indians have survived without the trading posts and contact with whites?

Clavin: They probably would have survived much better! The trading posts were very destructive to them. They seduced the Indians from finding their own food and clothing, which they had always done. It also introduced alcohol to them and brought diseases they had no immunity from, like smallpox and cholera.

What was Red Cloud’s legacy to the Sioux?

Clavin: Once he retired as a military leader and after he could see the growing military power of the white people, he wanted to be sure that the Lakota Sioux and their children had education and medical care. He was an advocate in Washington for funds and other resources to come back to the reservation.

What does the book’s title mean?

Clavin: The Lakota Sioux name for the Black Hills ispaha sapa. The area straddles the border between Wyoming and Southwestern South Dakota. They considered it their sacred territory—where they came from. The translation is “the heart of everything that is.”

Does Red Cloud have descendants?

Clavin: Tribal leaders have been descendants of Red Cloud, the leader of the Oglala Sioux, who was considered their leader until he died in 1909. Then it was Jack, his son, then James, his son, then Oliver Red Cloud, his son who died this past July at 93. His son, Lyman, was supposed to take over as leader, but died two weeks later. I have heard there is now a vacuum in terms of their spiritual figurehead.

Do they still live on the Pine Ridge reservation?

Clavin: Quite a few still do. Though some also attend school outside of the reservation and marry outside, there are still grandchildren and great-great- grandchildren living there.

What surprised you the most in your research?

Drury: Well, there were so many things that surprised me. For example, we have the Alamo, the Battle of Big Horn and the Fetterman fight, which somehow had gotten lost in the mists of time. The story is about the demise of one nation, Red Cloud’s nation, and the rise of another nation, the continental power of the United States—and in the middle of it was the Fetterman fight.

Another was old Jim Bridger, the self-taught trapper and explorer. Why were Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kitt Carson and all these iconic figures mentioned in our American history books but not Bridger? I think he is the most fascinating character in the book because his story lends so much to the book’s narrative. He and Red Cloud lived almost parallel lives on this vast continent. During this period mapmakers described the vast interior of the country as the great American desert. But during their lifetimes we annexed Texas, fixed the Canadian boundary, defeated Santa Ana and took over many of the western and northwestern states. All of a sudden we were becoming a nation, and at the same time Red Cloud was in charge of what whites considered a nation. So it was inevitable that these two nations were going to clash. And this was witnessed by Jim Bridger and Crazy Horse, among others of the period. I wonder to this day why he is not up there in the pantheon of Western pioneers.

What is your takeaway?

Drury: If we had just honored that final treaty, because Red Cloud’s war never really ended, even though he signed a treaty. It still continues in the courts today, because we broke so many treaties.  But if we had just honored that final treaty that ended Red Cloud’s war, this would be a better country today for everyone.

So why did two white guys think they could write about the history of American Indians?

Drury: My only answer is I didn’t serve in World War II, but that didn’t stop me from writing Halsey’s Typhoon and doing a good job of it. I didn’t serve in the Korean War but that didn’t stop me from writing The Last Stand of Fox Company, and I was even too young for Vietnam, but that didn’t stop us from writing Last Men Out. So in the same sense I don’t think color, age or creed matters when you’ve got a ripping good yarn. And this one’s a great saga with epic sweep.



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Hamlet…the rest is silence – Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
March 17, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Alex Mills as Hamlet. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Alex Mills as Hamlet. Photo by Koko Lanham.

As far as this critic is concerned Synetic can do no wrong.  How could you fault their electrifying choreography, their spectacular dancers or their break-the-mold interpretations of the classics…especially in their noted Silent Shakespeare series.    Theatre critics from the New York Times to the Washington Post have rained down superlatives on them and they have garnered 24 Helen Hayes Awards and 92 nominations to prove them right.  Hamlet…the rest is silence is the production that started it all – - a magnificent journey that took hold of our collective psyches a decade ago.   For those of us who are already converts, it’s a trip down memory lane.  For newer audiences it is a ticket to the ensemble’s evolution and a view through the looking glass into their groundbreaking productions.

I’d suggest brushing up on your Hamlet before you go.  The program doesn’t explain the plot.  You’ve only got a listing of the scenes to go on – “Something is Wrong in the State of Denmark”, “Murder Most Foul”, “To Be Or Not To Be”, etc. and with such innovative interpretations and no dialogue you could get lost in the translation, as they say.

Irakli Kavsadze as Claudius and Irina Tsikurishvili as Gertrude with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Irakli Kavsadze as Claudius and Irina Tsikurishvili as Gertrude with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

In a play that presents revenge, romance, and tragedy without words, it is up to the dancers, the lighting and the sound design to convey complex emotions.  And here it is done in a whirlwind of riveting pantomime, garish lighting and mood altering music – all coordinated to lend a somber tone and element of danger.

Costume coordinator Claire Cantwell has chosen funereal black and gunmetal grey with splashes of blood red, while lighting designer Brittany Diliberto bathes the set with midnight blue, poison green and fiery red, to echo the nefariousness of the characters’ motives.  Sound designer Irakli Kavsadze pulls out all the stops, using heavy backbeat rock, New Age, classic, military flourishes, and an eerie tango for Claudius (Irakli Kavsadze) and Gertrude (the magnificent Irina Tsikurishvili, who is also the ensemble’s co-founder and choreographer) to frame the macabre machinations.  Watch for Irina Kavsadze, a sensuous pre-Raphaelite beauty who plays Ophelia.  Her portrayal of the devoted daughter, who shows her love for Hamlet in an early scene where the two lovers tenderly mirror each other’s hands and bodies, is powerful counterpoint to her fiery solo as Ophelia descending into madness.

Irina Kavsadze as Ophelia with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Irina Kavsadze as Ophelia with Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham.

The dancing is flawless, as expected.  Can anyone say anything new about the caliber of excellence Synetic offers?  Alex Mills digs deep into the role of the conflicted Hamlet to pull out an intricately crafted portrait of a megalomaniacal madman.  Just remember this is not typical of the high-flying, production-on-steroids Synetic of today.  It is a spare yet focused reinvention – - the one that brought the world to their doorstep.  And it plays out like a journey to the center of the earth smack after the Big Bang.

Through April 6th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit

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