November 19, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
Gaylord National’s ICE Santa Reindeer
Santa and Company won’t get a moment’s rest this holiday season at the Gaylord National Resort. And neither, it seems certain, will his merry elves. If you haven’t gotten the Christmas spirit yet, a visit to the resort will kick it into high gear. Named one of the “Twelve Most Festive Places to Find Holiday Spirit” by AAA, the Gaylord National’s ICE! is bringing a magical Arctic paradise to our region from now until January 5th.
Who cares if the weather is frightful! Inside this winter wonderland you’ll find twice-nightly indoor snowfalls in the 1½-acre atrium replete with gardens and a small stream set amidst a colonial village and a 60-foot-tall glimmering glass “Tree of Light”. Sit beside a water fountain to watch colorful waterspouts soar three stories while dancing to Christmas carols every hour until nine at night.
ICE 2013 at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center
Just off the 19-story atrium is the main event — ICE! – - a breathtaking village of larger-than-life ice sculptures hand-carved from two million pounds of real ice. This year’s theme interprets Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The winter wonderland was created by forty master artisans sculpting 5,000 blocks of ice from China’s Songhua River into the most popular themes of Christmas.
ICE 2013 Slide Room
Roaming through the enormous white tent you’ll see all the trappings of the holiday in living color – - from adorable mice all snug in their beds (actually giant teacups) awaiting Santa’s arrival, to Santa on his sleigh with his nine not-so-tiny reindeer. And you needn’t travel to New York when this year’s highlight is the city-in-ice at Christmas. Just hop inside a bright yellow ice taxi and you’re on your way to Rockefeller Center. The interactive exhibit is kept at an icy 9-degrees so despite the big blue loaner parkas issued at the door, be sure to wear your hat and gloves.
Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating
But the Christmas spirit doesn’t end there. Beneath the tree is a Peeps & Company old-fashioned “Potomac Express Train” for the little ones and Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating center where the whole family can create a gingerbread house or gingerbread family together. All the sweetest decorations from icing to gumdrops are provided. A life-size “Gingy” presides over the shop giving out heart-warming hugs to all the children.
Another fun activity is getting up close and personal with King Julien, Alex the Lion and their friends at their Madagascar Crack’ A Lackin’ Cook-in Character Breakfast. These crazy guys are always ready to party while you dine on Madagascar-themed breakfast items including a Flingin’ Chimps chocolate fountain. Afterwards join the self-guided interactive scavenger hunt for clues from the Madagascar movie to solve the puzzle. Shrek, Fionna, Donkey and Puss in Boots are there too sharing the meaning of Christmas.
Up on the rooftop overlooking the Potomac River from the 18th floor, Sunday brunch is served. Reservations are strongly advised for this event that sells out every year. The lavish brunch includes delicious savory selections along with gorgeous desserts like Yule log cakes, peppermint whoopee pies, chocolate chestnut s’mores and sticky toffee pudding. Santa is on hand to pose for keepsake photos.
Christmas – Nighty Tree Lighting Show
Dazzling light displays are everywhere from Christmas trees throughout the lobby to two million twinkling LED lights. At night you can even witness the changing colors of the Northern Lights.
The best view and most romantic spot for viewing the snow cascading down is two stories above the garden level at the Old Hickory Steakhouse bar where you can pass the time while sipping Yule time spirits.
To purchase tickets to ICE! and ‘Brunch with Santa’ or to check on schedules for the hotel’s free events visit http://nationalharbor.com/event/ice-at-gaylord-national for information or call 301 965-4000.
Potomac Express in Atrium
November 11, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
Nyla Rose DeGroat (Ranger Wilson) & Shaina Higgins (Lucy Gale) – photo credit Michael deBlois.
Have you ever been curious about what goes on behind the scenes at battle reenactments? A type of “living history” that focuses on a singular moment in a particular battle and requires the participants to live outdoors, dress in hand-stitched period clothing, carry authentic arms, foodstuffs and field medicines, and speak in the manner of the day, it has become a popular pastime. In Shiloh Rules playwright Doris Baizly provides us not only with an intriguing behind-the-scenes interpretation of the type of people that participate in these activities, but also an exciting multi-layered script. As her character, veteran re-enactor Clara May Abbott (Jean Hudson Miller), puts it, “We play by Shiloh rules. There aren’t any.”
Factoid: Though there are more Civil War battlefields in Virginia than anywhere else in the country, the bloodiest of all the battles was the Battle of Shiloh in East Tennessee where 23,000 casualties were sustained. The hallowed land is now called the Shiloh Battlefield Park where the action takes place.
Karen Lawrence (Cecilia) & Shaina Higgins (LucyGale) – photo credit Michael deBlois
Director Mary Ayala-Bush has chosen to present the play in the round, a decision that creates a super-charged energy level. Drama and comedy converge when six women meet on the battlefield. Clara May, known as the “Angel of Antietam”, is on the Union side with young Meg (Jennifer McClean), a nursing school student. On the rebel front are Cecelia Delaunay Pettison (Karen V. Lawrence), the embodiment of the iron-fist-in-the-velvet-glove Southern woman, and Lucygale Scruggs (Shaina Higgins), a gung-ho first timer with a taste for blood in her youthful heart. Each describes a wartime profile of their character.
The rules of the re-enactors are created and overseen by the feisty Widow Beckwith (Adriana Hardy), the head of the “Authenticity Committee”, whose penchant for breaking the very rules she invents is outweighed only by her skewed sense of what is authentic. But Beckwith is outranked by Park Ranger Wilson (Nyla Rose DeGroat), a martinet whose adherence to the park’s rules threatens to upset the ladies’ adventures. Nonetheless it is Wilson, an African-American, puzzled by the women’s zeal to open up the old racist wounds of war, who raises the question, “Why keep fighting it?”
Adriana Hardy (Widow Beckwith) & Nyla Rose DeGroat (Ranger
Wilson) – photo credit Michael deBlois
When the battle begins before dawn before the bugler’s signal, all hell breaks loose. The rebels won’t “fall down”, real weapons are drawn and the action becomes all too real.
Ayala-Bush, who is also the Set Designer evokes the encampment with simple canvas tents on either side of the set – - one for the ladies of the North the other for the South.
left to right, Jennifer McClean, Adriana Hardy, Shaina Higgins, Jean Hudson Miller, Nyla Rose DeGroat & Karen Lawrence – photo credit Michael deBlois
Kudos to the entire cast who are in perfect synch in this outstanding production. Special recognition to Sound Designer Sean Doyle who does a “bang up” job recreating the fusillade of battle.
At Port City Playhouse at The Lab at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Performances are on the following dates – Nov. 8, 19, 22, 23, 24, 27 & 28 at 8:00 p.m. Matinees on Nov. 16 & 23 at 2pm. For tickets and information visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.
November 11, 2013
Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
Whether you’ve been an area resident for a while or are a newcomer, there’s a good chance that the first catering company you ever heard of was Ridgewells. Maybe you’ve been one of the fortunate ones, nabbing an invitation to an event catered by the prestigious company. Certainly you’ve caught a glimpse of the lilac-hued trucks as they tool around the Beltway or seen them parked behind a museum or private home.
Table setting in the Ridgewells tasting room
Recently this stalwart of entertaining expertise celebrated its 85th anniversary with a private dinner party in the tasting room of its Bethesda, Maryland headquarters. It was an evening of showcasing the latest dishes for the fall/winter season and heralding the company’s ambitious plans for their 85th anniversary celebration. To show its appreciation to the region that has supported it for so long, Ridgewells is embarking on a year-long program of “85 Days of Giving”. During the year eighty-five deserving entities will be the recipients of Ridgewells cuisine. It’s their way of giving thanks to community organizations for all of their charitable efforts.
The first gift Ridgewells donated was to cater the gala for Bethesda’s Imagination Stage, a theater they have supported since its inception in 1979. A few days later the company surprised the staff at Kaiser Permanente’s Gaithersburg Chemo Suite with a delivery of gourmet cookies. The company has set up a Twitter account to update its followers on their journey of giving @RIDGEWELLSDC.
Sausage stuffed quail being prepared for the dining room
While dinner guests were learning about this generous outreach program, they were treated to elegant passed hors d’oeuvres of Reuben fritters with spiced Russian dressing, spicy tuna soba noodle spring rolls, sweet pea fritters with apple mint chutney and mini meatball grinders on naan. Once guests were seated dinner began with a fabulous smoked fish fritter topped with kimchee, creme fraiche and an edible, purple sweet potato leaf. Each tidbit packed a unique and assertive flavor, and you might be hard pressed to imagine a better way to “fritter” away your time while the main dinner was being prepared.
Smoked fish fritter, one of three types of fritter appetizers served
One of the features of Ridgewells’ tasting room is a full view of the kitchen through a wall of glass where guests can watch the elegant plating of the evening’s delicacies.
Stuffed quail as presented on the plate
Our host was the ebullient Susan Lacz, co-owner of the company since 1997. She and partners, Thomas Keon and Jose Valado, are the most recent additions to a fabled line of ownership that dates back to 1928 when Charlie Ridgewell, a butler on the British Ambassador’s staff and Margueritte Ridgewell, a chef at the French Embassy founded the business. Their daughter, Fifi, and her husband took over the business after World War II, and it remained family owned until 1984, when it was purchased by the Chicago department store chain, Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company.
Ms. Lacz announced that the dinner would be served family style, sometimes known as French service, a style of serving in which servers present large platters to each guest to take whatever amount they would prefer. Dinner consisted of local quail stuffed with sausage and nestled in a lovely demiglaze; risotto studded with Brussels sprouts; slices of red beets and tangerines with a delicate ricotta; quinoa salad with Meyer lemon; and kale Caesar salad.
Quail surrounded by side dishes
Lavish tablescapes showcased an autumn theme. And no site was left unadorned. Pumpkin-studded flower arrangements fit for any dinner party centerpiece even adorned the powder rooms. Another touch of whimsy were deceptively clever desserts disguised as ice cream bars. The luscious Autumn Spiced Cakesicles were filled with cake and pumpkin mousse and served with a poached pear.
Since Ridgewells first opened its doors, dining and entertaining trends in the National Capital Area have swung from baroque to barbecue and everything in between. Despite changes in political administrations, economic upturns and downturns, and shakeups in the company’s corporate structure, Ridgewells has remained at the top of their game. This year they truly have something to celebrate. Their generous project of 85 Days of Giving is yet another indication of their good taste.
Photo credits: Cary Pollak
November 5, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
A quiet train station becomes a place of little miracles in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
In the world premiere of Matt Conner’s play Crossing eight people wait at a weathered wood train station. The strangers come from different decades of the past century to share their stories of hope, disillusionment and missed opportunities. The characters are not given names but are loosely defined as Backpacker – 2013, Wealthy Man – 1929, Mother – 1917, Soldier – 1917, Woman with Flowers – 1977, Unknown Woman, Civil Rights Marcher – 1963, Woman in Pink – 1954, Child – 1954. If you’re counting, that’s nine of course. The Unknown Woman, who appears a bit later, seems to be an avatar for hope and change, as in each one hopes the train’s arrival will somehow change their lives. “The easiest journey starts with a small step,” we are reminded.
The Civil Rights Marcher (Ines Nassara) waits on her train in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
“Here I Am” is the opening number, a sort of anthem to self-actualization that aims to inspire the traveler, “to seek, to strive, to find, to seek a newer world.” High hopes. There is an undercurrent of American patriotism interwoven throughout the lyrics as well as the immediacy of each individual’s situation. Should the Civil Rights Marcher go to Selma? Should the Wealthy Man break free? “Without my money, who am I?” he queries. Should the Woman with Flowers take back her daughter who’s run off with the Jim Jones’ People’s Temple? Will the Woman in Pink ever get on a train to anywhere? Each has a step to take – - a life lesson to resolve as they wait for the train to pull in to the station.
The Woman with Flowers (Florence Lacey) anticipates the return of her estranged daughter in Crossing
- Photo by Teresa Wood.
In the number, “Someone, Something, Somewhere” the ensemble seems to agree, “I’m not looking behind. I’m taking what’s mine.”
There is a lot of wishing and hoping and planning and scheming in this set piece. “If you’re tired or hungry or scared, keep going!” the Unknown Woman urges the Civil Rights Marcher, who struggles to believe she alone can make a difference. Unfortunately many lyrics are repetitive, patriotism is a handy conceit, and dreams are ultimately unfulfilled. “Life is just a distraction from Death,” the Wealthy Man decrees. The only hopeful traveler is the Backpacker (Christopher Mueller) who is not hampered by existentialist questions, but is eager to explore the world and seize love where he finds it.
A reappearing butterfly suggested by a spot of orange light on the stage floor becomes a metaphor for freedom and change. But no one appears to be changing or getting liberated. Hoped for love connections are dashed and sage advice is not taken. “If only I were braver – - younger,” the ensemble sings. Ultimately the only happy camper is the Backpacker.
The Woman in Pink (Tracy Lynn Olivera, left) meets the Soldier (Austin Colby) in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
The cast is the bravest element in a show that needs cheering up. Thankfully Christopher Mueller displays the passion and energy to keep the play’s grim reaper in check, while Tracy Lynn Olivera as the Woman in Pink affords us a tender portrayal of a woman who cannot bring herself to commit to a happy future. Nova Y. Payton plays the Unknown Woman, a beacon of light for all the weary travelers in the world. Her spectacular delivery in the reverential solo number “After the Rain”, in which she urges the strangers to find their life’s path, and then a cappella gospel song “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, make you wish you had sat in her train car the entire trip.
The Unknown Woman (Nova Y. Payton) endows the train station with a touch of magic in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
Through November 24th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
October 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
The 39 Steps is a rollicking send up of and tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. References to his classics abound – - The Birds, Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear View Window and more. You’ll have fun picking out some of your faves.
Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison (Everyone else) with Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
We come upon our hapless hero, Richard Hannay (Jeff McDermott) in a state of high anxiety. His life is worthless, he claims, because nothing exciting ever happens to him. “Find something mindless,” he suggests to himself aloud. “I know – - a trip to the theatre!”, a remark which gives the audience their first clue that this is going to be a night of cooked-up hilarity. “It’s music hall and vaudeville – - pure theatricality,” Ted Deasy told me in March of 2010 when I interviewed him at DC’s Warner Theatre where he played the lead.
Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
At the theatre Hannay sits beside a glamorous lady in red (Elizabeth Keith) who quickly insinuates herself into his uneventful life with a beguiling tale of German spies, an unsolved murder and a clandestine rendezvous in a castle on the Scottish moors. Intrigued he takes her back to his flat for a nightcap, where she is stabbed by a mysterious stranger. It becomes our hero’s challenge to solve this wacky whodunit.
The play is an adaptation of the eponymous Hitchcock classic. Borrowing on the 1935 film, writers Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble came up with a version to be played by four actors who perform between 130 to 150 roles. Some “roles” are actually inanimate objects and some of the actors change characters over and over, often playing three characters simultaneously.
The trick is to make the mayhem look effortless. The effect is achieved by piling on schticks from vaudeville, comedia and slapstick using old theatrical styles and even Shakespearean asides. The physical part is done in a supersonic pace that leaves the audience breathless.
Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Bob Cohen (Everyone else) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
McDermott is on stage throughout giving the play its anchor, while Elizabeth Keith plays the three female roles (though there is a bit of cross-dressing in some of the roles) quite handily. Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison, whose comic timing is, shall I say, “drop dead” perfect, manage to portray the dozens of others.
The 1930’s mood is cleverly set by lighting designers Ken and Patti Crowley who created over 150 evocative atmospheres for this electrifying production using both a flat-screen TV and a projection screen for some of the images. How they manage to suggest bi-plane bombadiers is for me to know and for you to find out.
Elizabeth Keith (Pamela), Bob Cohen (Everyone else) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) -
Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
Through November 16th 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