Three Sistahs ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
February 3, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Torn apart by three funerals – Momma, Daddy and brother André – three sisters meet in their family’s home to share their memories and secrets in this heart-warming, redemptive musical.  Eldest sister Olive, middle sister Marsha, and the youngest, Irene, have grown up in a staunchly military family and have come together to mourn André recently killed in Vietnam.  Since the Bradshaw women are scattered across the country, Olive has decided to sell their childhood home sparking reflections of childhoods long past.  Like all siblings, they squabble, but when they do, their hopes and dreams and personal impressions are revealed.

Ayana Reed, Kara-Tameika Watkins and Roz White ~ Photo Credit: Chris Banks

From Olive’s description of losing her virginity in the basement to smooth-talking Cadillac Johnson to Irene’s childlike vision of her mother’s secret dances in the attic, there is plenty of humor between the pathos.  Each woman brings to the table a different view of the father they feared and loved, and we see how their lives were formed. “Daddy believed in that uniform.  He was a hard man born in a hard time, “ Olive explains to Irene whose anti-war stance is anathema to her sister.  For Irene, a street-wise activist who dropped out of college to pursue her political leanings, finding her footing in a city torn apart by riots and looting, is her singular focus.

Written and directed by Thomas W. Jones III with music by William Hubbard, Three Sistahs is a big-hearted show, filled with passion and soulful spirit.  Based on 19th C Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”, its twenty-one songs reflect a deep well of inspired musicality from Gospel to Motown to Rhythm & Blues sung by vocal royalty.  This four-time MetroStage production has a new, more expansive staging that allows the performers to step into the audience for some of the numbers.

Roz White – Photo credit Chris Banks

The award-winning actress, Roz White, who reprises her role as Olive the spinster sister left behind to care for her ailing parents, is one of the most sought-after voices on the DC theater scene.  She is a commanding and captivating performer who teaches master classes at Howard University and The Duke Ellington School of the Arts.  Her rendition of the gospel favorite, “There’s a Leak in This Old Building”, paired with the electrifying harmonies of Reed and Watkins, will take you right up to the front pew.

Ayana Reed, Kara-Tameika Watkins and Roz White – Photo credit Chris Banks

Ayana Reed has been on my radar since seeing her perform in four different productions and I am utterly blown away by her stage presence and the gorgeous vulnerable quality in her voice.  Reed has performed at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Theatre, and was outstanding in MetroStage’s Blackberry Daze and Master Class, and also in Avant Bard’s The Gospel at Colonus.  Last August we saw her play Marie in Marie and Rosetta at Mosaic Theatre in DC to Roz White’s Rosetta in a show that was a triumph for both performers.  In Three Sistahs she shows the same intensity and vulnerability with her soulful delivery of “Letter One” and “In My Dreams”.

Kara-Tameika Watkins – Photo credit Chris Banks

Kara-Tameka Watkins (Marsha) is another veteran of both local and national stages.  Frequently seen in numerous major productions at Signature Theatre and Arena Stage, Watkins has that pure, pitch-perfect, spot-on voice that lends itself to these exquisite harmonies.

Highly recommended.  This cast is on fire.  As Randy Newman once wrote, “You can leave your hat on,” though it may get blown off when these women raise the roof.

Story by Janet Pryce; conducted by William Knowles on piano; Greg Holloway on drums; and Yusef Chisholm on bass.  Set Design by Carl Gudenius, Costume Design Michael Sharp, Lighting Design by Alexander Keen, and Sound by William G. Wacker.

Through February 24th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
December 11, 2018 
Special to The Alexandria Times

Katherine Riddle & Jimmy Mavrikes ~Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

If visions of sugarplums are dancing in your head, then this probably isn’t the show for you.  No, Virginia, this is for those that see Christmas as a time to carouse, occasionally reflect, and celebrate camaraderie, but most assuredly it will not be seen as a Victorian postcard with angels in flight wearing halos of mistletoe.

This is how this clever holiday variety show might have been performed at the famed Hampstead, England public house circa 1918 – witty, silly and a lot risqué.  Written and directed by well-known DC actor Catherine Flye (Catch her now as Grandma in Billy Elliott at Signature Theatre), this 6-person British variety music hall show is sure to jolly up your holidays with Vaudeville-era tunes, Christmas carols, silly jokes, a sing-along and a moving tribute, Christmas in the Trenches, an homage to this year’s 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

Sherri L. Edelen and Albert Coia ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

The Chairman, played by Brian O’Connor, is a nattily dressed, elegant gent who is emcee to a small troupe of performers – Miss Florrie Forde (Sherri L. Edelen), an endearing, middle-aged singer and hoofer (Neat fact: Florrie Forde was a famed Australian music hall songstress, who graced British stages with her incomparable voice for half a century.), Miss Daisy May (Katherine Riddle), a pretty ingenue with the voice of a nightingale, Mr. Bertie Ramsbottom (Albert Coia), an endearing, dipsomaniacal comedian, Mr. Percival Pennyfeather (Jimmy Mavrikes), Daisy’s dashing love interest, and Maestro Peabody (Joseph Walsh), the music hall’s pianist.

Brian O’Connor ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

Here are the titles of a smattering of the 34 classic tunes, seven of which are audience participation – lyrics provided, thank you very much.  It should give you an idea of what’s in store from this delightful veteran cast – “Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy”, “Spotted Dick” and “The Night She Cried in my Beer”.  These are interspersed with traditional English carols like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Good King Wenceslas” and vaudeville-era songs like the tear-jerker “Sonny Boy”, the cockney-inspired “Lambeth Walk”, and more.  In the euphemistic tune, “Please Don’t Touch My Plums”, Miss Forde croons, “You can grope me cantaloupes and stroke me artichokes, but please don’t touch my plums.”

Expect more than cheeky humor in this series of vignettes played by these lovable cast members, when the troupe performs a snippet from “The Christmas Carol” and a reading of John McRae’s wartime classic, “In Flanders Field” when Brits lost so many of their sons and fathers.  Especially poignant is Katherine Riddle’s exquisite voice and tender rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, once named the best Christmas carol in a poll of the world’s leading choirmasters.

Front Row: (l-r) Albert Coia and Brian O’Connor – Back Row (l-r) Sherri L. Edelen, Katherine Riddle, Jimmy Mavrikes ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

Foot-stomping (ordered by The Chairman) lends a party atmosphere to this lively show chock-a-block with enough wink-wink double entendres to warm the cockles of your irreverent, Christmas-loving heart.

Set Consultant, Carl Gudenius, Costume Design by Michael Sharp and Lighting Design by Alexander Keen.

Christmas crackers, British beers, cider, mince pies and sausage rolls for purchase at the bar, Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush runs through December 30th at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Rooms ~ a Rock Romance ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2018 

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson) and Ian (Matthew Schleigh)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

If you were ever in a garage band, were a fan of the rock icons of the 70’s, or even dreamed of becoming a rock star, Rooms ~ a Rock Romance is calling your name.  This sweet love story of two Glaswegian teens who find each other against all odds is a rock opera on steroids.  Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson) is a self-proclaimed Jewish princess while Ian (Matthew Schleigh), her unlikely collaborator and composer, is Catholic from the rough side of the tracks.  She’s fire.  He’s ice.  Can they find success in show biz and romance?

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

After Monica hires Ian to write the music to a song she’s written for her friend’s bat mitzvah, she invites him to share Shabbat supper with her family and a trip to the temple the following day.  Ian likes her close-knit family, who are quite unlike his own.  His dad is a drunk.  His mom abused.  While her family is loving, successful and supportive.  He likes Led Zeppelin.  Her idol is Carly Simon.  She is set on a career as a rock star while introvert Ian prefers to stay in his room with his guitar.  When she finally convinces him to become a band, they decide punk rock is where the money is.  Together they form “The Diabolicals”, performing together in ever larger concert venues in London and America and becoming the rock stars Monica had dreamed of.  Famed New York City punk palace CBGB is referenced as one of their gigs.

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson) and Ian (Matthew Schleigh)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

The couple experiences love, breakup, success and failure, not necessarily in that order, but against the backbeat of a kick-ass five-piece band positioned in full-view on two-tiered scaffolding.  Paul Scott Goodman’s notable score underpins this high energy, sing-through musical giving us songs that are heart-meltingly memorable and ranging from rock to Scottish punk (remember The Clash?) to ballads.  “Never Gonna Leave This Room” soloed by Ian at his lowest ebb is as gut-wrenching and powerful as Monica’s tender solo ballad about her father’s betrayal of her mother.  In duets, their voices blend seamlessly.

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Directed by Thomas W. Jones II, Rooms ~ a Rock Romance was originally developed and presented at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and had its world premiere at MetroStage ten years ago when it received five Helen Hayes nominations and a win for Natascia Diaz for Outstanding Lead Actress.

Music Direction by Matthew Stephens, Co-book by Miriam Gordon, Set Design by Carl Gudenius, Light Design by Alexander Keen, Costume Design by Michael Sharp, Projection Design by Patrick W. Lord.  Matthew Stephens on keyboard, David Cole on guitar, Tony Harrod on guitar, Yusef Chisholm on bass and Greg Holloway on drums.

Thoroughly entertaining.  Rock on!

Through November 11th at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548.9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
September 3, 2019

The ghost of Nelson Mandela hovers over MetroStage with the area premiere of Athol Fugard’s most recent play, The Painted Rocks at Revolver CreekThis compelling drama set during South Africa’s apartheid period places us amid the racially-charged détente that existed between white Afrikaner farmers and black Africans.  It was this lopsided political domination of the natives by a tiny percentage of Dutch and German settlers that resulted in the loss of property, enslavement and, ultimately, unspeakable violence.  Fugard based his drama on the true story of a farm laborer, Nukain Mabuza, famed for his vivid paintings on boulders and stones of the region.

Nukain, called “Tata” by the orphan boy, Bokkie, has toiled in servitude to a bible-toting Christian, Elmarie Kleynhans, a Dutch farmer and her husband.  Tata has walked the land of his ancestors looking for odd jobs and digging for gold for the white man for a scrap of bread and a place to lay his head. Eventually, he finds work as a handyman for Elmarie. While there, he gifts the child with the knowledge of the old ways – African chants and dances to strengthen his spirit.  To strengthen his own spirit, he paints rocks with flowers and aboriginal memories and recounts tales of the land that once belonged to his ancestors.

Doug Brown
Photo credit: Chris Banks

Act One is set in the small koppie on the farm at Vredewater.  It is 1981 in the Revolver Creek area of the Mpumalanga Province outside of Johannesburg and the old man is agonizing over what to paint on the biggest rock in the garden.  Elmarie orders him to paint large flower for her expected guests, but Tata wants to paint his life story in symbols.  Bokkie gets angry that Tata won’t tell her his intentions. Cautioning the boy not to voice his opinions to the masters, he warns, “They have eyes, but they do not see us.”

Lighting Designer Alexander Keen and Set and projection Designer Patrick W. Lord, create an atmospheric backdrop in hues of red, blue, gold and green to evoke the dramatic South African landscape and the shifting moods of the characters.

Jeremy Keith Hunter ~Marni Penning
Photo credit: Chris Banks

Act Two is set in 2003, after Mandela has been released from prison and the country has been liberated as the New South Africa.  Now an educated man, Bokkie returns as Jonathan Sejake to face Elmarie and restore Tata’s legacy.

Director Thomas W. Jones has put together a powerful cast to bring to life this deeply transformative tale that reverberates with emotion as it guides us through the appalling legacy of racism in South Africa and, in the second act, the soul-lifting deliverance of redemption. 

Jeremy Keith Hunter
Photo credit: Chris Banks

Highly recommended.  With outstanding performances by Doug Brown as Nukain (Tata), Jeremiah Hasty as the young Bokkie, Marni Penning as Elmarie Kleynhans, and Jeremy Keith Hunter as Jonathan Sejake (Please somebody cast this brilliant actor as Hamlet!).  Sound Design by Gordon Nimmo-Smith with costumes by Michael Sharp.

Through September 30th at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.

I Did It My Way In Yiddish (In English) ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
April 17, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

“Some Say Yiddish is a dying language.  But I’m here to resurrect it!” quips Deb Filler, Kiwi comedian and Helen Hayes Award-winning nominee for her twenty-seven character show, Filler Up.  In I Did It My Way In Yiddish (In English), Filler schools her audiences in the culture and familiar phrases that formed the backbone of Jewish shtick and that gave rise to American vaudeville.  But you don’t have to be Jewish to get in on the fun.  In this one-woman show, she provides the word in English in her charming New Zealand accent.  If you didn’t already know meshuggeneh (crazy), mensch (a stand-up guy), or chutzpah (brazenness), you will.  As the common language among European Jews for over 1,000 years, it tied communities together as they navigated the unknown outside the Old Country.  Filler explains in her hilarious intro, “Yiddish is a combination of high German and mucous.”

Deb Filler’s “I Did it My Way in Yiddish (in English)” ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Framed by her autobiographical story growing up in New Zealand with a stereotypical stage mother and Holocaust survivor and baker father, she regales her audiences with comic tales of her days in New Zealand, later coming to America and winding up in Canada.  Stories interwoven from her awkward but seminal teenage years and her kismet-style meetings with celebrities, are captivating.

Filler came of age in the 1960’s during the folk era bracketed by the rise of the Beatles.  Encouraged by her mother to perform in child talent contests where she sang and strummed Judy Garland songs, she finds herself at a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in Aukland where she has a chance meeting with the trio who ask her to join them onstage.  She does.  Though it doesn’t work out as well as she had hoped.  The group’s hottest gold record hits that she had practiced religiously in the hopes of usurping Mary’s role in the trio (She was just a kid!), were not offered and she was pressed into singing solo a Judy Garland song.

Deb Filler’s “I Did it My Way in Yiddish (in English)” ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Along with a fondness for composer Leonard Bernstein, as a teenager she embraced folk music and poet songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Lenny Kravitz – all famous musicians she was fated to meet.  She shares those and other humorous stories emphasizing her father’s influence on her life with both love and humor.  Some tunes she translates into Yiddish.  Imagine “A Hard Day’s Night” in Yiddish.  It happens.  And so does a chance meeting and bonding over her father’s challah bread with famed composer Leonard Bernstein.  Her third Lenny!  During the show, Filler screens a heartwarming short she has written, and Francine Zuckerman has directed, on her girlhood meeting with Bernstein.

Her Jewish jokes and musical interstices are coupled with guitar-accompanied sing-alongs.  Who doesn’t remember these classic pop songs?  Pretty soon she has won the audience’s affection and this folk-singing comedian and water activist proves that if you can just flow with the vagaries of life, you too will find your niche.  (Look for her this summer in the upcoming FX TV series, Shark Lords.)

A heartwarming show filled with laughter and joy.  You’ll be kvelling (rejoicing) all the way home!

With direction by John Shooter and lighting design by Yehuda Fisher and Alex Keen.

Through April 29th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.