The Mark of Cain ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
July 21, 2017 

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Philip Fletcher (God) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Philip Fletcher (God) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

In his apocalyptic vision of the end of the world Georgian-born Director and Adaptor Paata Tsikurishvili offers up a slo-mo intro to the birth of Evil.  In it he provides God (Philip Fletcher) with a large mobile Modernist statue with serpentine arms from whence to rule his kingdom.  This Tree of Knowledge representation is where Adam (Scott Brown) and Eve (Tori Bertocci) meet their fate in the Garden of Eden.

Synetic has long been a theatrical vehicle for the interpretation of world politics and has consistently sought out ways to parallel their productions to the ills of modern society.  Describing his inspiration for The Mark of Cain with Machiavelli’s immortal words, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We see this popping up everywhere,” he adds suggestively.  Tsikurishvili’s latest fantasy after a five-year dry spell, reads like a graphic novel of the world’s ills.

In committing their original sin, the doomed couple bite into the shiny red apple symbolized by a balloon in a cage.  We see God’s tears begin to fall from white balloon “eyes” encased in a pyramid – like the eyes on the U. S. dollar – and backlit by flashlights.  There will be many more balloon symbols indicating sadness, death and destruction.  It’s an awkward device at best, but you’ll get the drift.

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Dallas Tolentino (Abel) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Dallas Tolentino (Abel) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Our jeans-clad lovers soon encounter the Dark Angel (Kathy Gordon) and her minions before running off to give birth to their twins, Cain (Ryan Sellers) and Abel (Dallas Tolentino).  This colorless Garden of Eden may augur the evils to come, but it seems an unnecessarily grim setting for paradise.  Abel is the sensitive one of the two, representing Culture and the Arts – playing stringed instruments woven from strips of white fabric.  Cain is the penultimate destroyer, torturing the dancers that frolic to Abel’s music.  More balloon eyes “cry” and a death is symbolized by the popping of a red balloon filled with red dust.  We will come to see this again and again as it depicts Death symbolized by black balloons.  After Cain kills off his entire family and appears to briefly mourn their loss, the use of dancers carrying helium filled black balloons is yet again employed while God marks Cain for life with red powder, a device used to symbolize blood, anger and/or defeat.

Kathy Gordon (Dark Angel), Ryan Sellers (Cain) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Kathy Gordon (Dark Angel), Ryan Sellers (Cain) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

When the Dark Angel again returns she anoints Cain with a wreath of golden laurel leaves.  As his conquests mount ever more elaborate “crowns” serve to describe the level of power that Cain has achieved.  In a banquet scene in which all the guests wear crowns, they kill each other off in a dramatic fight scene.  Some inexplicably return to march to Music Director Irakli Kavsadze’s choice of Ravel’s “Bolero” as Cain becomes power mad and the wars increasingly militaristic.  The music is perfectly timed to mirror the staccato sounds of machine guns.  At this point we have transitioned into modern day warfare and thankfully there are no balloons to distract from this electrifying scene.

Tori Bertocci (Ensemble), Ryan Sellers (Cain), Megan Khaziran (Ensemble) Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Tori Bertocci (Ensemble), Ryan Sellers (Cain), Megan Khaziran (Ensemble) Photographer: Johnny Shryock

I don’t want to be the spoiler, but let’s just say Cain appears as Trump in elongated red tie and aviator sunglasses spewing executive orders and looking noticeably smug.  You don’t want to know what miseries he has in mind to wreak upon the world at large.  As with Synetic’s famous “Silent Shakespeare” series, this play is wordless which is hardly noticeable for the wealth of dance expression choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili, the fierce battle scenes by Vato Tsikurishvili, and the use of electronica composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze.  Trust me.  You’ll get the picture.

Through August 13th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Legally Blonde: The Musical ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(l-r); Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Ashley Kaplan as Delta Nu, Benita Adams as Pilar, Halle Kaufax as Serena, Rachel Cahoon as Margot, Courtney Caliendo as Delta Nu, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Heather Gifford as Brooke. Photo courtesy of LTA.

(l-r); Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Ashley Kaplan as Delta Nu, Benita Adams as Pilar, Halle Kaufax as Serena, Rachel Cahoon as Margot, Courtney Caliendo as Delta Nu, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Heather Gifford as Brooke. Photo courtesy of LTA.

The Laurence O’Keefe/Nell Benjamin frothy musical comedy of the airhead blonde with smarts who goes to Harvard and makes good, is an inspiring tale for young women who sublimate their dreams to snag a man.  Elle Woods (the effervescent Morgan Arrivillaga) is the adorably peppy sorority president who gets dumped by her rich beau, Warner Huntington III before he goes off to college.  Warner, whose old-line family have chosen a Kennedy-style future for him that doesn’t include Elle, is played convincingly by Brendan Quinn.  No stretch for the suavely handsome Quinn, who is a Harvard Law student offstage too.

Unfortunately for Malibu-bred Elle she’s not in his league, (NOCD – Not our class, dear, as the upper crust say), or so he tells her, “My future’s all planned out.  Time for me to get serious.”  Elle, believing she can win him back, tells her parents she will follow him to Harvard Law, and with a razzle-dazzle in-person dance routine assisted by her Delta Nu sorority sisters, she convinces the Approval Committee to grant the Fashion Merchandising major acceptance to the ivied halls.  “Pink is my signature color,” she perkily pronounces.

(l-r); Brendan Quinn as Warner and Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods Photo credit LTA.

(l-r); Brendan Quinn as Warner and Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods Photo credit LTA.

The 25-person cast is impressive giving us a slew of Elle’s high-energy sorority sisters (all of who look like they are out of Central Casting for cheerleaders) as well as her fellow Harvard students most of whom snub the party princess.  There’s Enid Hoops, the Brainiac activist (Karen Kelleher), Vivienne Kensington, Warner’s snooty new girlfriend (Elizabeth Gillespie) and Emmett Forrest (the silken-voiced Kaylen Morgan) the handsome African American student on scholarship who helps Elle get serious about studying rather than man-chasing.

(l-r); Row 1 Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods, Shawn Cox as Callahan, Marcelo Guzman as Ensemble; Row 2 Ryan Walker as Ensemble, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Maria Ciarriocchi as Mom Track. Photo credit LTA.

(l-r); Row 1 Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods, Shawn Cox as Callahan, Marcelo Guzman as Ensemble; Row 2 Ryan Walker as Ensemble, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Maria Ciarriocchi as Mom Track. Photo credit LTA.

The gritty Elle soon realizes that there is more to life than pom-poms and Warner’s affections and shows her supporter and love interest Emmett she’ll get down to business while planning to nab a prestigious law internship with the crusty Professor Callahan (Sean Cox).  Meanwhile she meets Paulette (played hilariously by the very talented Katherine Lipovsky), owner of the Hair Affair who commiserates with Elle over their lost loves.  Elle teaches Paulette how to get a man with the “Bend and Snap”, a bend-at-the waist-stick-out-your-fanny move that’s one of over 23 lively musical numbers.  One of the funnier moments is when Paulette falls for the UPS guy (the hunky Sean Garcia) and she puts her new-found skill to good use.

(l-r); Katherine Lipovsky as Paulette and Sean Garcia as “UPS Guy” Kyle. Photo credit LBA

(l-r); Katherine Lipovsky as Paulette and Sean Garcia as “UPS Guy” Kyle. Photo credit LTA

Director Hans Bachmann (who doubles as Elle’s Dad) has assembled a fine cast of actors/singer/dancers to pull off this stage-filled romp and Stefan Sittig delights with complex choreography, managing lively dance and cheerleading routines that often demand the entire cast to be on LTA’s challengingly-small stage at the same time.  Numerous set changes are smoothly accomplished thanks to Set Designer Dan Remmers and crew, while Orchestra Director Christopher A. Tomasino’s 14-piece band keeps the party rocking.

A fun and frothy musical comedy that aims to beat the summer heat.

Through August 12th 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

The King and I – A Royal Hit ~ The Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 22, 2017 

The Cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The Cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Under the expert direction of Barlett Sher we allow ourselves to be transported to the magic and majesty of the Kingdom of Siam.  It’s 1862 and the King (as played by Jose Llana) is fearful of France taking over his kingdom as learns they have done in Cambodia.  To prove his British-ruled country is worldly wise, he employs Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) a charming British schoolteacher to educate his extended family.  Recently widowed and accompanied by her young son, Louis (Graham Montgomery), the story begins with Anna and Louis arriving into Bangkok harbor.  It’s a breathtaking opening scene featuring an enormous wooden ship against the background of a fiery sunset and a scene of Siamese villagers going about their daily tasks in silhouette – figures toting baskets hung on poles and sporting coolie hats.  The menacing King’s guards arrive to terrify the locals into submission.  Cue the kowtowing – an issue we will see addressed by Anna and Prince Chulalonghorn (Kavin Panmeechao) later in the story.

Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna and the Royal Children. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna and the Royal Children. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Anna is soon greeted by Kralahome (Brian Rivera) the king’s aide, an intimidating figure who tells her the King’s instructions demand they live in the palace rather than a separate house.  “The King doesn’t always remember what he promises,” the King smugly pronounces upon their meeting.  This is the plot device that sets Anna and the King at sixes and nines as Anna strives to get her footing in a household filled with the King’s many children and favorite wives, most especially Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla) and the beautiful, star-crossed Tuptim (Manna Nichols).  But it’s Anna’s sense of propriety, anti-slavery stance and insistence on female equality that especially trips her up with the King.  “I believe women are just as important as men,” she asserts.  The most hilarious moments derive from their contretemps.

Meanwhile the King in his “puzzlement”, as he refers to his indecision, compares his predicaments with that of Western world leaders.  “What would Lincoln do? What would Queen Victoria do?” he asks Anna whose advice he begrudgingly seeks as their love for each other grows deeper.

Manna Nichols and Kavin Parmeechao. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Manna Nichols and Kavin Parmeechao. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

This outstanding musical provides a rich tapestry of emotional connection and unrequited love framed by sumptuous costumes ranging from Anna’s Victorian hoop-skirted silk dresses to lavishly encrusted golden chada hats and jewel-toned silks by designer Catherine Zuber.  Choreography that includes Thai dancing and intricate ballet, as well as Anna and the King’s waltz is by Christopher Gatelli and Greg Zane and faithfully based on Jerome Robbins’ original dance sequences.  The sets by Michael Yeargan, plus a mega-sized golden Buddha, are designed to blow your socks off.  And they do.  One of the most spectacular scenes is Tuptim’s play set to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s historic story “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, here called “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”.  It is a rich tale performed in traditional Thai ballet and elaborate costume and written by the lovelorn maiden to bring awareness to the country’s treatment of women as slaves.

Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

There are so many powerful voices and goose-bump solos it’s hard to know who to single out.  Naturally Kelly as Anna, Almedilla as Lady Thiang, Nichols as Tuptim, and Llana as the King of Siam, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera as the King is fond of saying.  Of course, you’ll revel in the sweeping score with classic songs like “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Hello Young Lovers”, “Getting to Know You”, “Something Wonderful” and “Shall We Dance” as the most memorable.  And the royal children are so endearing, we awaited their entrances at every turn.

Brought here by the wildly successful national touring company, Ambassador Theatre Group, this production is top drawer.  My plus one and I reveled in memories of the first Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway blockbuster starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr and weren’t disappointed by this faithful reprise for a New York minute.

Highly recommended for the whole family.

Through August 20th in the Opera House at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Cabaret ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 17, 2017

Jon Peterson as the Emcee and the 2017 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Jon Peterson as the Emcee. Photo by Joan Marcus.

New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company, now celebrating its fiftieth year, has brought a sensational version of Cabaret to Kennedy Center in a production that gives Kander and Ebb’s original Broadway show a run for its money.  In this eye-popping staging, directed by award-winning Director BT McNicholl, a chorus line of dancers that double as musicians give us legs, legs, legs thanks to the top-notch choreography based on the original by Rob Marshall and recreated by Cynthia Onrubia.  High kicks, undulating spines, towering lifts and pseudo copulations performed by bare-chested men and ladies in lingerie is the order of the day.  How we love slumming it at the Kit Kat Club.  Beats the news from Capitol Hill.

(l-r) Joey Khoury as Bobby, Jon Peterson as the Emcee and Chelsey Clark as Lulu. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Co-directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, Jon Peterson, of Broadway Cabaret fame, reprises the role of Emcee.  As the enigmatic, gender-bending character, Peterson pulls it off with aplomb and a black leather trench coat, managing to affect a character of sadistic amorality and razor-sharp charm in an atmosphere so sexually charged a single match could set the whole theatre ablaze.  He even pulls a few audience members onstage.  Dancing with a male audience member, he tells him he looks a little Spanish.  When the man balks, he asks him, “How would you like a little German in you?”  Bada-boom!

Leigh Ann Larkin as Sally Bowles. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Leigh Ann Larkin as Sally Bowles. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sally Bowles is played by Leigh Ann Larkin, a mere slip of a girl, blonde (wasn’t expecting that), blue-eyed and as bubbly as a bottle of French champagne.  Her Sally is frothier, all pink and feathered, than others we’ve seen in the role.  She definitely has her own interpretation of the hard-on-her-luck dancer.  And she’s feistier, more independent.  Madly in love with Cliff Bradshaw, a Midwestern English teacher who has chosen a rather inopportune place and time, during the rise of the Nazi regime, to write a novel.  Benjamin Eakeley, who reprises his role from the Studio 54 revival of Cabaret when he played opposite Michelle Williams, is masterful (and swoon-worthy) as Cliff – – managing to be both subtle and forceful in his interpretation of the lovesick innocent abroad.

Scott Robertson as Herr Schultz and Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Scott Robertson as Herr Schultz and Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider. Photo by Joan Marcus.

But it’s grim times for the couple and their friends, landlady Fraulein Schneider (the fabulous Mary Gordon Murray), Ernst the smuggler and Nazi sympathizer (Patrick Vaill), Fraulein Kost (Alison Ewing) and Herr Schultz (Scott Robertson) the fruit seller and gentleman who seeks the affections of Fraulein Schneider.  Much to their dismay jackboots and turncoats keep encroaching on their merry life.  For Sally, it’s her last chance for a world outside the cruel reality of a seedy nightclub in a rapidly changing political climate.  “One must keep mobile,” she gaily tells Cliff before launching into a goosebump-worthy version of the ballad “Maybe This Time”.

Sarah Bishop as Helga, Leigh Ann Larkin as Sally Bowles and Alison Ewing as Fritzie. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sarah Bishop as Helga, Leigh Ann Larkin as Sally Bowles and Alison Ewing as Fritzie. Photo by Joan Marcus.

So impressive is the lighting design by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari, you’ll think you’re in Vegas, if Vegas were transported to Germany in the 30’s.  Cue the descending pineapple lights for the duet “It Couldn’t Please Me More”.

Look for all your favorite numbers – “The Money Song”, “Perfectly Marvelous”, “Cabaret” and “Willkommen” to thrill as expected, with orchestrations by Michael Gibson.  Costumes by six-time Tony Award award-winning designer, William Ivey Long run the gamut from sexy lingerie, beaded flapper dresses and 1930’s hausfrau frocks, to the sinister red armbands of the Third Reich.

Fierce, fabulous and highly recommended.  This is the gold standard for Cabaret!

Through August 6th at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Ed Gero Returns in His Triumphant Role in The Originalist ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
July 13, 2017 

Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist, which runs July 7-July 30, 2017 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Welcome back Supreme Court Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia!  A lot has happened since Ed Gero inhabited your body.  Donald Trump became our president (I think you would have been delighted) and the whole Roe v. Wade thing continues to be a hot button issue which might tickle you as a strict constitutionalist.

As you may recall Gero brilliantly portrayed you in a tour de force performance in The Originalist in 2015 shortly before you left this earth in 2016.  Was that the nail in the coffin?  On a lighter note you’ll be pleased to know your legacy has carried on much as you had hoped, with your alma mater Harvard University establishing a professorship in your name.  Unfortunately, George Mason University, who got a cool $30 million to rename its law school after you, chose the initialization ASSol for Antonin Scalia School of Law, which became the “butt” of many jokes.  As of this writing your place in history is secure, and you can stop spinning in your grave in that it has been more appealingly amended to read ASLS.  –  – Yours truly, J. Wright

Having reviewed Arena’s initial production in the Spring of 2015, I can say that this one is snappier, more irreverent, if that’s possible, and just as timely as my first viewing when Playwright John Strand was Arena’s Resident Playwright.  Its unprecedented success inspired Director Molly Smith’s “Power Plays” initiative in which the theatre commissions 25 new plays or musicals focusing on American political history.  These will reflect Presidential Voices, Women’s Voices, African-American Voices, Musical Theatre Voices and Insider Voices.

 (L to R) Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Jade Wheeler as Cat in The Originalist, which runs July 7-July 30, 2017 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Gary W. Sweetman, Asolo Repertory Theatre.

(L to R) Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Jade Wheeler as Cat. Photo by Gary W. Sweetman, Asolo Repertory Theatre.

In this refresh the role of Cat (Jade Wheeler), Scalia’s liberal law clerk intern, has been purposely expanded.  She is given a lot more lines – and latitude.  And Wheeler takes it on with brio, charm, feistiness and terrific comic timing.  The broadening of her role goes towards leveling the playing field between Cat the progressive liberal vs. Scalia the combative, law-and-order conservative and adds measurably to the sharp-as-knives verbal sparring.  “Law is carved in stone,” and “Emotion is whatever you had for breakfast,” warns Scalia.  References to Facebook, Politico and recent past Presidents keep it updated.

Accompanied by interstices of grandiose operatic arias (the Sicilian-born Scalia was a known opera buff as well as gun rights advocate), he delivers arguments and pronouncements like bullets on a battlefield, but so does, Cat, an equally cerebral Harvard Law grad determined to change his mind.   “I dissent!” is his most oft repeated line from the man who once had acting aspirations.  He later confesses, “The court is my theatre.  I am not an ideologue.  I am an originalist!”

(L to R) Jade Wheeler as Cat and Brett Mack as Brad in The Originalist, which runs July 7-July 30, 2017 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Gary W. Sweetman, Asolo Repertory Theatre.

(L to R) Jade Wheeler as Cat and Brett Mack as Brad. Photo by Gary W. Sweetman, Asolo Repertory Theatre.

In explaining his reason for hiring her he reveals, “Every now and then I like to have a liberal around.  It reminds of how right I am.”  Cat, who views the court as a “fantasy palace”, is determined to upend his intransigence.  She seeks his heart, while he wants her soul.  “You’re stuck alone in your bunker.  Your constitution is just a shield you hide behind,” she mocks, defining his brand of government a “monsterocracy”.

Strand uses the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as the centerpiece for the characters’ arguments pitting Scalia’s strict interpretation of the law as it was written centuries ago against Cat’s humanistic philosophy.  Yet notwithstanding their legal and psychological parrying, there develops a firm respect, moreover an admiration, for one another’s unflinching will and unwavering opinions.  It’s irresistible to anyone interested in the workings of the law, SCOTUS or the evolution of the Court’s decisions.

Setting the tone and highlighting the majesty and gravity of the Court and its private chambers, Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills gives us two massive crystal chandeliers in order to appropriately frame the pronouncements from Scalia’s Kingly Court of Conservatism.  Set Designer Mischa Kachman adds floor-to-ceiling red velvet drapes trimmed with golden tassels: lest you forget the import of where you are.

Highly recommended.

Through August 6th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.