Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 12, 2019 

Plunged into anarchy in an apocalyptic scenario in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, Layla struggles to make sense of what appears to be the end of her life.  As a world-famous art conservationist, she had been spending her days in an art museum cataloguing the most important things in the world – statues, relics, books, paintings, music, photos and more – in case of just such a catastrophe.

Holly Twyford in Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity ~ Photo credit C Stanley Photography

Now rubble and ruin lie all around her and she is trapped in this museum-turned-prison in a city under constant barrage.  Layla is despondent over the destruction of the precious and intangible heritage of our humanity by an enemy who seeks to build a new world order.

Felicia Curry, Yesenia Iglesias, and Holly Twyford in Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity ~  Photo credit C Stanley Photographer

Crippled with injuries inflicted by her ruthless guard, Mitra, she shares her chamber with a young Muslim woman, Nadia, who silently tends to her wounds.  Mitra demands Layla restore a damaged Rembrandt painting.  She refuses, pondering what is left of her life without her father and daughter and what in the world is worth saving.  Each woman has seen their loved ones slaughtered and each is tethered to one another by the commonality of deep loss.  Incongruously, they are united by the brutality of war and its aftermath.  Will the women escape the fate imposed on them by the soldiers’ bloodthirsty struggle for power? Will art? And if so, how?

DC playwright Heather McDonald’s world premiere Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity asks of us where the world would be without beauty, without art or music, and without nations who hold culture and civilization in high esteem.  How did we get here, and why, are the questions posed by this dystopian drama.

Set to the haunting strains of opera and against the constant volley of bullets and explosives, Zachary G. Borovay’s projections offer a realistic sense of being front and center on the battlefield.  Synched to James Bigbee Garver’s sounds of war, and James Kronzer’s scenic design of broken statues and crumbling buildings, it gives us a bird’s eye view of the confusion and misery experienced by those who suffer the consequences.

Holly Twyford and Yesenia Iglesias in Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity ~ Photo credit C Stanley Photographer

Fierce performances by two beloved Helen Hayes Award-winning actors, Holly Twyford as Layla and Felicia Curry as Mitra, and Yesenia Iglesias as Nadia.  This is a thinking person’s play – edgy, dark and important – a play I’d expect to see produced by the more politically-minded Mosaic Theater, though I am more than excited to see Artistic Director Eric Schaefer tackle such profound subject matter with the brilliant and internationally-respected director, Nadia Tass.

Costume Design by Kathleen Geldard, Lighting Design by Sherrice Mojgani, Sound Design & Original Music by James Bigbee Garver, and Fight Choreography by Robb Hunter.

Highly recommended.

Through April 7th in the ARK Theatre 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.

Confection ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 11, 2019 

Running concurrently with the exhibition First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas, is Confection.  Commissioned by the Folger Theatre, it is a delightful 17th century romp from the critically-acclaimed Third Rail Projects.  This world premiere production is specifically designed to dovetail neatly with playwright Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn, which story is also set in the 17th century.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

Third Rail Projects performs around the world in site-specific settings and, from what I was told by a woman who came down from New York just for opening night, the ticket prices in NYC are nearly triple and as scarce as hen’s teeth.  Described by the creators as a multi-sensory dance and theater performance and defined as immersive/experiential theater, it is held in the private Paster and Sedgewick-Bond Reading Rooms, areas of the Library that are usually off-limits.

The backdrop is an 17th century banquet in all its opulent and decadent splendor – no you don’t get to dine on swans, peacocks, croquembouche and other referenced delicacies – but you will experience the lusty performances of a troupe garbed in period finery expressing their amours for food (and their dining partners!) through dance and mime.  Overeating is expressed with humor as are the jealousies and erotic fantasies of the royal courtiers.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

You will learn that there really were such preparations as four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie and such things as the weight, or more specifically the measure, of a man in pounds of sugar.  These luxuries came at a great price to those who had to produce these extravagant fêtes, exposing the great disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.  You will experience what it must have been like to watch from afar as the lower classes were had to observe these events from the upper galleries.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

Banquets during this period were so lavish and lengthy that they went on for days with guests passing out or vomiting only to start all over again.  The troupe of five also reveal some of the theories and philosophies that were popular in those times – especially the sharing of food and the definition of manliness.

Guests, or should I say participants because you will be led in small groups by costumed guides, will wend their way through velvet curtains to candlelit rooms.  There you will see indescribable displays of pastries, watch Baroque period dancing, or hear challenging debates.  You may even be encouraged to make decisions as a group.  Some of the dances are passionate and fantasy-filled, others are celebratory and playful.  In all, it is the ultimate grande bouffe with you as witness.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

Be sure to leave plenty of time beforehand to tour the First Chefs exhibit and put you in the mood for this splendid evening.  And remember to eat before you go.  The feast is imaginary.

Immensely entertaining.

Performed by Elizabeth Carena, Alberto Denis, Joshua Dutton-Reaver, Justin Lynch and Marissa Nielsen-Pincus.  Written, conceived, directed and choreographed by Zach Morris; Co-directed by Tom Pearson; Artistic Director, Jennine Willett; Sound Design by Sean Hagerty; Costume Design by Karen Young; and Scenic Design by Dan Daly.

Through March 24th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544.7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre. www.ThirdRailProjects.com

Eugene Onegin ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
March 9, 2019 

Anna Nechaeva is wowing audiences in her Washington National Opera debut.  Nechaeva, in the role of Tatiana, hails from Moscow as do several of her leading cast members – Alexey Dolgov as Lensky of the dulcet tenor voice, Igor Glovatenko as Onegin, and Elena Zaremba as Madame Larina.  So, it was no surprise that the theater was crawling with Russians who were thrilled to pieces at seeing so much extraordinary Russian talent on an American stage.  A few Americans completed the leads with mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood as Filippyevna, and the marvelous mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann in the role of Olga.

Bolshoi opera star Anna Nechaeva makes her US debut ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Eugene Onegin, with its beautiful harmonies, dissonance and emotional fervor, hasn’t been produced at the Kennedy Center in 30 years.  It was an unusual opera for its time, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and based on one of the great works of Russian literature by Alexander Pushkin.  In 19th C Russia operas predominantly followed the European model, restricting productions to Italian operas.  This was in the early days of Romanticism that had derived from Western civilization.  Later Realism appeared which championed creativity and the Arts.  Tchaikovsky blended the two to create a new dynamic that had never been heard.

Bolshoi Opera star Igor Golovatenko makes his US debut ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

You can feel the great emotionalism in this opera.  These are real people in real life situations.  The stories are familiar and as close to a soap opera as you might imagine, yet they are secondary to the universal emotions of the characters, many of whom reflect the lives of both Tchaikovsky and Pushkin who was considered the greatest Russian poet.  Pushkin himself died in a duel as does Lensky and the exquisite aria before the duel references Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

The set design is the original minimalistic 1990’s set from the Metropolitan Opera.  Changing lighting reflects the time of day, birch trees give a nod to an iconic Russian tree, and autumn leaves show it is harvest season.  The dramatic opening in which Onegin appears to be floating above the stage in a pool of white light against a deep blue background, brings to mind the surrealistic paintings of René Magritte or Salvador Dali.   The lights soon brighten to a golden hue to reveal a stage covered with falling autumn leaves that show the older ladies singing of their satisfaction in the pleasures of domesticity.  “Heaven sends us habit in place of happiness,” they agree.

Filippyevna (Victoria Livengood) and Madame Larina (Elena Zaremba) share memories of their youth ~ Photo Scott Suchman

As the sisters, Olga and Tatiana, vie for Onegin’s love, Tatiana breaks down and writes him a letter pouring out her love for him.  This is one of her most glorious arias, as she vacillates between pure love and the torment of a love that cannot be requited.  Tchaikovsky’s music so incredibly portrays this duality of emotions.  By incorporating Russian folk music against the grand themes of royal cotillions and military-inspired nationalistic music, he captures the emotional emptiness of high society.

Lensky (tenor Alexey Dolgov) confesses his love to Olga (mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann) ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Three artists from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program perform.  They are Samuel J. Weiser as Captain; Joshua Blue as Monsieur Triquet; and Joshua Conyers as Zaretsky.  Eric Halfvarson plays Gremin.  With the Washington National Opera Orchestra, WNO Chorus, and WNO dancers.

Peasants delight after harvesting fall crops ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Directed by Peter McClintock with Original Production by Robert Carson.  Conducted by Robert Trevino in his WNO debut. Trevino will go on to be Principal Conductor of Malmö Symphony Orchestra.  Lighting Design by Christine Binder; Set and Costume Design by Michael Levine; Choreography by Serge Bennathan; and Hair and Makeup by David C. Zimmerman.

Highly recommended.

Performances are March 17th matinee, March 20th, 23rd, 25th and 29th 2019.  In the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Vanity Fair ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
March 7, 2019 

“There are no morals here.”  So, buckle up.  Kate Hamill’s uproarious comedy delivers a bloomers-up package from the get-go, cribbing from William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel of social climbers.

The Cast ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Dan Hiatt plays the ‘Manager’, emcee of the Strand Music Hall where vaudeville has found a new and popular audience with Victorian burlesque.  The characters are introduced to the audience as actors, though they become other characters willy-nilly.  Little Becky Sharp, an orphan of sharp tongue and keen wit, is preparing to leave the Pinkerton Academy and assume her position as a nanny in the home of a lecherous baron, but not before she sticks it to the headmistress in a snarky farewell that shows her rebelliousness.  Before shoving off, Becky and her well-heeled bestie, Amelia Sedley, promise they will be BFF’s forever.

Anthony Michael Lopez as Miss Pinkerton and Vincent Randazzo as Miss Jemima in Vanity Fair by Scott Suchman. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

But to what end?  As the Manager asks of the audience, “Do we really mean it when we say we will always be best friends forever?”  Here friendships are challenged, ladies are as cavalier as the men, and marrying up the ladder is the goal.  A dinner party cleverly lit in freeze frames shows how reckless in relationships they all are.  “Licentiousness is the wicked world of the theater,” we are warned.  Are we active players in the plot or are we just spectators of a play?

Rebekah Brockman as Becky Sharp and Maribel Martinez as Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair by Scott Suchman. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Lines are blurred, both in character portrayals and devious intent (men in drag, cutouts, and puppets figure into this small but mighty cast), and you can’t be assured of anyone’s motives when fortunes are won and lost, and everyone is chasing the money.  For this social set cuckolding is the norm, and one person’s misfortunes are fodder for another’s devious gain.  “Fortunes change and loyalties follow,” quoth the Manager.  Lucky us, we have all the fun watching these topsy-turvy machinations.

Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan as Lesser Pit, Vincent Randazzo as Sir Pitt and Anthony Michael Lopez as Rose Crawley in Vanity Fair. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

I’ll admit, for the first five minutes in, I had no earthly idea where this comedy was going.  And by the end, I had no idea where it had taken me.  One minute they play it straight by addressing the audience, and the next it seems like a hilarious farce.  No matter.  It’s a madcap romp that will keep you in stitches.

Rebekah Brockman as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Rebekah Brockman plays Becky with a delightfully devilish air.  Her intrinsic appeal is that she has the ability to morph into a sympathetic character as speedily as one who holds all the cards.  Cheers to Maribel Martinez as Amelia Sedley who has to make a total turnaround in character when she discovers true love has been staring her right in the eye, and to Dan Hiatt, as the Manager, plus Miss Matilda and Lord Steyne, who alters his gender like a chameleon changes color.

The cast of Vanity Fair. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Additional cast members – Alyssa Wilmoth as Actor Four (George, etc.); Anthony Michael Lopez as Actor Three (Dobbin, etc.); Adam Magill as Actor Two (Rawdon, etc.) and Vincent Randazzo as Actor Five (Jos, etc.).

Directed by Jessica Stone, Sets by Alexander Dodge, Costumes by Jennifer Moeller, Lighting by David Weiner, Choreographed by Connor GallagherJane Shaw Sound Designer and Composer.

Through March 31st at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Finding Neverland ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 27, 2019

Melody Rose in Finding Neverland ~ Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

 Finding Neverland flew into the National Theatre last night, straight from the second star on the right.  As the second-oldest theater in America, the National continues to provide us with the Broadway shows we are dying to see plus some that have made their out-of-town debuts right here.  Seeing a big show on this smaller stage in this grand historic theater makes it feel as if you’re right on stage with the actors.

Ruby Gibbs in Finding Neverland ~ Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

This supremely delightful musical takes its cue from the life of author J. M. Barrie and his inspiration for the beloved children’s book, “Peter Pan”.  It’s an adventure suitable for all ages – that is if you still believe in fairies.  And we do!  Written by James Graham with music and lyrics by the composing duo of Gary Barlow & Eliot Kennedy, it is chockful of sweet ballads, rousing Irish jigs and toe-tapping chorus numbers.  This song-writing team is solid gold.  Barlow has sold over 45 million records with his pop group Take That and is co-writer on the popular musical The Band.  Kennedy is a Grammy-Award winning musician/singer/songwriter who has had number-one hits with the Spice Girls, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin and many more.  Altogether, Finding Neverland has twenty original numbers.

The Company of Finding Neverland ~ Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

Kensington Gardens is where Barrie, a playwright with writer’s block, meets Sylvia, a widow with four boys – George, Peter (of course), Jack and Michael.  Trapped in a loveless, childless marriage with his imperious wife, Mary, he soon becomes enchanted with Sylvia and her lively brood, providing fuel to the boys’ imaginations as he recaptures his own inner child with a script heartily disapproved by his dyspeptic producer, Charles Frohman, and a stubborn-minded cast who refuse to play children’s roles.

The Company of Finding Neverland ~ Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

Not to be compared with Peter Pan, the 1954 musical with Mary Martin who flew and crowed her way into Broadway history books, this fantasy adventure has equal amounts of appeal.  Wonderfully engaging choreography by Mia Michaels, choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance and Cirque de Soleil’s Delirium.  Michaels has choreographed for Madonna and Prince and is a three-time Emmy Award-winner.  For this production, rather than flights aided by ceiling wire, cast members lift their mates as they ‘soar’ around Neverland.  The children (and the adults!) around me were gobsmacked with glee.

Jeff Sullivan and Seth Erdley in Finding Neverland ~ Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

A large banquet table proves to be a hilarious hiding place for the guests when napkins fly in Barrie’s posh home in “The Dinner Party” and “The Circus of Your Mind” that plays out to the sounds of a calliope as it delves into Mary and James’ private lives.  At last, Barrie gets the theater’s troupe to recall their childhood imaginations in “Play”, a wildly animated  tavern scene that brings all the imaginary characters together dancing and singing.

The Company of Finding Neverland ~ Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

A nine-piece band, beautiful voices, adorable children, pirates! and clever projections (How do they create the stardust? Asking for a friend.) is guaranteed to keep this magical musical close to your heart.

Highly recommended for all ages.  Hurry!  It’s only in town till Sunday.

Through March 3rd at the National Theater, Washington DC – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.org or call 202 628-6161.

With Jeff Sullivan as J. M. Barrie; Ruby Gibbs as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies; Ashley Edler as Mary Barrie; Paul Thiemann as Albert; Conor McGiffin as Charles Frohman and Captain James Hook; Michael Luongo as Lord Cannan; Emmanuelle Zeesman as Mrs. Du Maurier; Joshua William Green as Mr. Henshaw; Spenser Micetich as Mr. Cromer; Kelsey Seaman as Miss Jones; Adrien Swenson as Miss Bassett; Melody Rose as Peter Pan; Marie Choate as Wendy; Daniel S. Hayward as Captain Hook.

Llewelyn Children played by Brody Bett (Jack/Michael); Seth Erdley (George/Peter/Jack); Caleb Reese Paul (George/Peter/Jack); Peter Schoeller (George/Peter/Jack); Josiah Smothers (Jack/Michael); and Ethan Stokes (George/Peter/Jack).

Original Direction by Diane Paulus; Direction Recreated by Mia Walker; Orchestrations by Simon Hale; Scenic Design by Scott Pask, Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner, Costume Design by Suttirat Larlarb, and Sound Design by Shannon Slaton.