January 29, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
TC Carson, Lori Williams, Stephawn Stephens, Roz White, Djob Lyons, Nia Harris, LC Harden Jr., Bernardine Mitchell – Photo credit Chris Banks
“I heard it said the Blues was the Truth.” And Bessie Smith had an intravenous line along the Truth Trail and straight to the heart of the Blues. Bessie’s Blues is a powerful homage to Smith. Produced by Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin this is neither a tribute concert, nor a paean to the late great blues singer, but a full throttle musical interpretation of her life and times, both good and bad. Bernadine Mitchell, Lori Williams and Roz White are among the cast of eight powerhouse singers.
Bernardine Mitchell, Lori Williams, Djob Lyons, Roz White – Photo credit Chris Banks
Thirty-three numbers, many co-written by the show’s writer, director and choreographer, Thomas W. Jones II, are belted, scatted, swung, jived, barbershopped and tenderly delivered by this exceptional ensemble rounded out by TC Carson, Stephawn P. Stephens, Djob Lyons, LC Harden, Jr. and Nia Harris. William Knowles leads the five-piece band that throws out some serious joint-jumpin’ chops.
The storyline that strings it together with soulful sounds is the rise to fame and fortune of the woman known as the “Empress of the Blues”. Smith’s life afforded plenty of raw material for Jones to work with – – her problems with men and managers, the Great Depression, racial discrimination, and her alcoholism. As Bessie says, “Pain ain’t got no geography.”
Mitchell, who has played iconic singers before at MetroStage – Mahalia comes to mind – owns this role and she proves it without a shadow of a doubt by reaching deep within to reveal the glory of her rare and matchless voice. Mitchell could rip the skin off a crocodile with her heart-wrenching vocals that display her breathtaking vocal range and high-wattage with the ability to scale back to lullaby level when it’s called for.
Costume Designer Frank Labovitz has adorned the women in Charleston era style with boas, feathers, fringe, red hot silk gowns and sexy lurex minis, while the men sport the plaid sharkskin suits of the Minstrel shows and the sequined vests of Vaudeville hoofers. In an uptown party scene where Smith is disastrously presented to high society, they sashay around in black tie with bowlers and canes.
Roz White, Djob Lyons, LC Harden Jr., TC Carson, Nia Harris, Stephawn Stephens -
Photo credit: Chris Banks
Roz White plays “Rhythm” a tougher side of Smith that reveals her motivation to be successful. “I could shake my bottom or pick cotton,” she declares which she does when she joins the Moses Stokes’ Traveling Show with Ma Rainey at St. Louis’s famed Ivory Theatre where the music speaks of “sweet steppin’ papas and hip shakin’ mamas”.
As “Passion” Lori Williams’s sweet voice adds a sexy, sultry element to the show. On “Wet Match” (“You can’t light a fire with a wet match.”) she shows her way of sensuously carving out notes that is both alluring and assertive at the same time.
TC Carson, Nia Harris, Djob Lyons, LC Harden Jr., Roz White, Stephawn Stephens – Photo credit Chris Banks
Nia Harris is “The Dancer” – – a sort of alter ego to Bessie. Wearing flapper dresses or flowing streams of chiffon, the sprite-like Harris weaves in and out of Smith’s journey, interpreting her travails through movement. Harris, who has trained at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and the Alvin Ailey School, is sheer magic as she silently executes her sinuous movements in an exquisitely choreographed interplay.
At MetroStage through March 15th – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314. For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.
January 27, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
(L to R) Lucas Hall as Doctor Watson and Gregory Wooddell as Sherlock Holmes – Photo by Margot Schulman.
As I enjoy the second mountainously entertaining Ken Ludwig drawing room comedy in less than a week, I am reminded that the Washington-based American playwright is anything but British. So how does he nail the veddy, veddy stiff-upper-lip satire that evokes the stories of P. G. Wodehouse? Ludwig draws on the schadenfreude of watching the posh get their comeuppance, a premise employed in many of his comedies, and one in which we can all delight.
In Arena Stage’s premiere of Baskerville Ludwig concocts his fiction around Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, as in The Game’s Afoot, (reviewed here last week).
(L to R) Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn and Gregory Wooddell – Photo by Margot Schulman.
For “the greatest, most dangerous case, in his remarkable career”, as sidekick Watson describes it, Holmes must uncover the murderer of Sir Hugo, the lord of Baskerville. As it is revealed the haunting creature, rumored to be “a great black beast”, roams the moors and rips out the throats of its victims. (A charming thought referencing Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.) When the big-hearted Texan, Sir Henry, arrives to claim his rightful stake in the Devonshire estate “Y’all got anything out here I can shoot?” the plot gets curiouser and curiouser.
L to R) Michael Glenn and Jane Pfitsch – Photo by Margot Schulman.
Gregory Wooddell plays Holmes, Lucas Hall, Doctor Watson, and four other actors Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn, Jane Pfitsch and Milo Tindale, play dozens of roles while dashing offstage lickety-split for changes of both costume and character. By the second act the audience is clued in to the madness of the quick change as hats, wigs and props are tossed off stage in full sight and characters and props burst forth from five trapdoors embedded in the stage floor.
(L to R) Gregory Wooddell, Lucas Hall and Stanley Bahorek – Photo by Margot Schulman.
As you may imagine the crew is as crucial in the production’s helter-skelter pace as the actors – – and neither disappoints. Sound effects from storms and trains, lighting from vaudeville period stage lights to spots in full view, and props, some of which descend from above, all contribute to the haunting atmospherics as scenes change as rapidly as the costumes and roles. There is a night at the opera, the fog of the “gimpenmeyer” that swallows ponies, Sherlock’s bespoke study, the creepy castle and multiple scene and costume changes that require lightening quick switcheroos.
Jess Goldstein created the period costumes, Philip S. Rosenberg designed the dramatic lighting effects, Joshua Horvath and Raymond Nardelli created the sounds, and Gillian Lane-Pescia trained the actors in the multiple dialects. I noted Scottish, English, Texan, Cockney, Russian, German and Spanish. Bahorek mines a lisping Spanish accent as a campy concierge in charge of a luxury hotel where there has been some, need I say, very questionable activity. Bear in mind this was written before this year’s Golden Globes-winning movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which closely mirrors Ralph Fiennes role as the madcap concierge.
Stanley Bahorek in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville -Photo by Margot Schulman.
Director Amanda Dehnert, whose background is mainly in Shakespeare’s plays, does a bang-up job with the pacing, turning a complex production into a seemingly effortless, entirely hilarious, Brit-wit romp.
Through February 22nd at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.
January 20, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Front Row (L to R) – Aggie Wheeler (Maureen R. Goldman), Daria Chase (Melissa Dunlap), Martha Gillette (Patricia Spencer Smith), and Madge Geisel (Pam Kasenetz). Back Row (L to R) – Simon Bright (Joe Quinn), William Gillette (John Henderson), Inspector Harriet Goring (Michelle Fletcher), and Felix Geisel (Chuck Leonard) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Sherlock Holmes portrayer William Gillette (John Henderson) lives with his dowager mother Martha (Patricia Spencer Smith) in his newly acquired mansion on the Connecticut River near East Haddam, Connecticut. He is at home nursing a gunshot wound he sustained from an unknown assailant while performing at his Palace Theatre. It is Christmas Eve and he has invited the cast in his long-running, self-produced play to dine and dish. Gillette describes his portrayal of Holmes as, “A play about a man of reason who stands up for the cause of justice.” All very high-minded stuff.
Actors-as-actors in a whodunit is playwright Ken Ludwig’s premise in The Game’s Afoot at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Now you can always expect high hat hijinks from a Ludwig play, but when the characters are actors you are effectively doubling down. Gillette’s sophisticated troupe are “Class A” emoters who swan around quoting Shakespeare, Keats, FDR and dozens of writers and notable actors throughout the course of the action. Add to that tons of snappy repartee, snide asides, glamorous gowns from Costume Designers Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley, and murder. Oh yes, there is murder most delicious, and mayhem galore.
Simon Bright (Joe Quinn), Aggie Wheeler (Maureen R. Goldman), William Gillette (John Henderson), Felix Geisel (Chuck Leonard), Madge Geisel (Pam Kasenetz) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Simon (Joe Quinn) and Aggie (Maureen R. Goldman) and Felix (Chuck Leonard) and Madge (Pam Kasenetz), two couples who are dinner guests, are shocked when renowned theater critic and columnist Daria Chase (Melissa Dunlap) arrives under the guise of doing a puff piece on Gillette. “Everyone wants publicity!” she declares. As Martha describes Daria to her son, “She was ruthless. She was evil. She was a theater critic, for God’s sake!” I’ll admit that was my favorite line of the play and Ludwig’s plum chance to get in a dig. In one of the most hilarious scenes Daria conducts a séance to intuit the murderer, which only convolutes the entire purpose and draws the others’ motives into question.
William Gillette (John Henderson) and Aggie Wheeler (Maureen R. Goldman) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Frank Pasqualino directs a crack cast in this tidy comedy filled with outstanding performances by Henderson (absolutely brilliant), Kasenetz, Dunlap and Smith. Set Designer John Downing draws on the original Gillette castle (Yes, Gillette was a real actor!), using medieval armaments as décor and a clever “magic” door. How LTA’s compact stage affords the sense of being in a mansion is anathema to everything conceivable about a small theater! Yet Downing achieves the impossible. Heads up: Watch for Michelle Fletcher who enters during a snowstorm to give a scene-stealing performance as Inspector Goring, a star-struck wannabe actor.
Inspector Harriet Goring (Michelle Fletcher) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Highly recommended for hilarity.
Through February 7th 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
January 14, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Chef Peter Chang
One of the featured chefs for the Sips & Suppers dinners coming up next week is Peter Chang – an elusive chef known for ditching restaurant kitchens like a discardable cell phone. At last he has found in another accomplished chef, Gen Lee, the perfect partner to build an empire. The duo has already opened six successful restaurants around Virginia, with Arlington scheduled to open early February and another outpost in Rockville in March.
I’ve been a lucky duck to sample his cuisine twice in my life – once at a sumptuous banquet when he was the executive chef at DC’s Chinese Embassy in the 90’s, though I wasn’t aware he was the chef that oversaw the dozens of dishes offered at that lavish banquet. Years later on a hot tip I sought out his cooking at an obscure Chinese restaurant in a strip mall at the corner of Duke and Van Dorn in Alexandria.
Chang doesn’t dumb down his food for American palates. And it’s not for the faint of heart. As I recall the dish was the hottest, saltiest and most addictive chili pepper chicken I’d ever experienced. I have never forgotten it. By the time I planned on a return visit, he had scampered off for parts unknown leaving a trail of desperate fanatics in his wake.
Chang, who speaks no English, allows Gen Lee to act as his spokesperson. The two have cooked together for many years.
Whisk and Quill - Do you see everything in a yin/yang balance?
Gen Lee – Yes. It’s always going to be like that for us. In Sichuan Province it is very hot and wet and filled with trees. People who live there have to eat a lot of spicy food that’s why they use the Sichuan peppers.
Does Peter cook in one of the VA restaurants now?
Not on a daily basis. He cooks for parties and special events, but he also checks on every restaurant on a weekly basis. He’s very strict about that. I can’t tell you which restaurant he is cooking in at any given time, but he’s always cooking and he’s always training his cooks to get it right. We’re happy if its 90% right, because our recipes are very, very difficult. We don’t use sauce. For ten years when Peter and I worked as corporate chefs on a riverboat on the Yangtze River, we did the real, real Sichuan there.
How young was Peter when he first started cooking?
He was in high school. He always knew he wanted to cook and he went to cooking school at 18. He always watched his grandma cooking and helped her make lots of vegetarian dishes. You know, we don’t use much meat, but lots of vegetables mushrooms and such.
Does Peter listen to music when he’s cooking?
No, it’s very difficult. Everything is very quick. There are 20 different spices – different ones for different dishes – and it all happens fast.
What are some of the restaurants’ signature dishes?
The cumin lamb chops and bamboo fish, and everyone orders the dry-fried eggplant cut like steak fries.
Would you say your dishes are classic Sichuan?
Yes, it’s his specialty. But, for example, they don’t use lamb chops in China and the difference is the ingredients are better quality here.
Lately American chefs are using Asian ingredients in fusion cuisine and mixing things up. Where do you see this going?
A lot of chefs try it using French techniques. They are not using the real Chinese techniques and that worries me. These chefs are not Chinese. They are Hispanic or Korean. There are only a handful of real Chinese chefs here in America.
Chinese food has been losing favor to Thai and Korean in the past decade or so. Do you hope to bring back Chinese food to its earlier popularity?
Our dream is to bring back the real Chinese food, not just to make money. In a few years we know we can retire, but it’s not about that. Right now we have six restaurants. Already in our Richmond restaurant we are doing 500-600 a day. It’s like a war zone with like 100 people in line every day.
Will you be opening in the Northern Virginia area soon?
Yes, we will have two more restaurants – – one in Arlington and soon after in Rockville.
This interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Jordan Wright.
Dozens of prestigious local, national and world-renowned chefs will prepare the Sips & Suppers dinners on Sunday, January 25th. A separate evening of chef’s treats and cocktails takes place on Saturday, January 24th. Expect appearances by Joan Nathan, Jose Andres and Alice Waters. For further information and to purchase tickets to the fundraiser for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen visit www.sips2015.eventbrite.com and www.suppers2015.eventbrite.com.
December 19, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
City Perch and iPic Provides a Total Entertainment Experience at Pike & Rose, Chef Switcheroo at Bibiana and Mio, Chris Pearmund’s New Wine-Opoly – Are You Smarter Than a Sommelier?, Hard Cider and Cool Notes at Iota, New Winter Menu at NGA’s Garden Café
City Perch and iPic – Roll the Credits!
Located in the Pike & Rose shopping destination in North Bethesda (Make that Rockville if you want to find it on MapQuest) iPic the latest innovation for moviegoers. The cutting edge theater concept takes it to a whole new level with features like plush leather recliners operating with the touch of a button and personal pillows and blankets. This movie theater combines the coziness of a home theater with the luxury of upscale dining. No need to stand in line for food or drink. A seat-side button beckons a server to take your order.
Sherry Yard at City Perch with her creme puffs
The theater is on the same level as City Perch restaurant and both the iPicExpress menu, called ‘dining in the dark” and the more gourmet City Perch restaurant menu, have been conceptualized by Sherry Yard, the James Beard Foundation recognized pastry chef, who has worked alongside Wolfgang Puck for many years.
City Perch Executive Chef Matt Baker hams it up on opening night
City Perch Executive Chef Matt Baker, formerly of The Occidental, helms the state-of-the-art kitchen while noted Mixologist and Master Sommelier, Adam Seger, formerly of Per Se, has designed the wine and cocktail program. Try his new “Roll in the Hay” seasonal cocktail made with Belle Isle Moonshine and Laird & Company Apple Brandy and roll the credits, please.
Mio and Bibiana Get New Chefs
Roberto Hernandez is the new Executive Chef at Mio, the place for Latin American cuisine that keeps its emphasis on the classic dishes of Puerto Rico.
Mio Executive Chef, Roberto Hernandez makes the mofungo tableside
Hernandez likes to blend modern with rustic. His mofongo, made tableside, is so authentic I thought I heard Jennifer Lopez singing “Plenarriquena”! Try the newly instituted Saturday brunch.
Seviches at Mio
And in other switcheroos Nick Stephanelli leaves Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca to open his own spot. Expect Jake Addeo to bring his sophisticated Italian cuisine to the popular New York Avenue restaurant.
Test Your Virginia Wine Savvy with Wine-opoly
Working with Vineyard Manager DeAnna D’Attilo, Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Cellars has come up with a challenging game for all you winos out there. They call it Wine-Opoly and 22 Virginia wineries have signed on to join in the fun. Using “deed cards” containing information on each of the wineries, and game cards with details on local viticulture and oenology, the board game aims to promote the Virginia wine industry. Here’s how it works. Railroads are wine trails and the “Go To Jail” card is “Go To Rehab”, which would be worse than jail, because as everybody knows, you can’t bail yourself out of rehab. Hot off the press (printing, not wine), you can snag one at Pearmund and participating VA wineries. www.PearmundCellars.com
Hard Cider and Cool Notes at Iota
Last month I dropped into Iota in Clarendon to hear a band I’d been following for awhile. Grownup Noise is a quirky, smart, tuneful group out of Cambridge, MA who write their own exquisitely melodic songs. Boston Herald’s Music Critic Jeff Gottlieb calls their latest album, The Problem with Living in the Moment, “a suite” for its sweeping orchestration. In my playbook they stand out as accomplished musicians in their own right, but they’re also nice guys, articulate and kindhearted, and a beautiful Asian kickass female drummer. Though they had originally been billed as the “B” act the headliners showed up with only two musicians giving Grownup Noise the status they deserve. Manna to their fans. Here’s the video for their single “Astronomy as Therapy” which manages to blend banjo sound with gorgeous violin strains. It puts me in mind of the soundtrack from On Cold Mountain.
Grownup Noise at the Iota
In the cozy brick-walled club I began to read over the bar menu and noticed a few hard ciders. I went with Bold Rock Hard Cider’s “Virginia Draft”, a golden-hued cider on the sweeter side from a Virginia company who now claims seven varieties, from dry to sweet to full-bodied. Instantly the crisp, clean apple taste recollected my first bottle of hard cider at the now-shuttered Les Halles. A chain of French restaurants based in New York City, it’s where Anthony Bourdain once ruled the kitchen early in his career.
Bold Rock Hard Cider – Virginia Draft
On that sunny day we were there to watch the French waiter races, a tradition that had started at Dominique’s famously posh celebrity haunt in DC and now continues with Paul bakery further down Pennsylvania Avenue. In any case, I believe I was hooked on cider that day. It’s funny how a flavor memory can bring up the people, the place and the moment in time when you had a palate epiphany. Back then hard cider wasn’t a common beverage and this was a French cider. I didn’t see it on any bar lists, and soon forgot about it.
Scallop Crudo and Salt Roasted and Pickled Beets with House Made Goat Milk Ricotta
Fast forward to a few years ago, a cosmic blip in the beverage industry, when hard cider burst upon the scene. Nowadays there are quite a few cideries, even breweries, dabbling in the production of these delicious, low-alcohol, apple-based fermented drinks and many of them are in Virginia where the apple is king. N. B. They are not “brewed” as beer is. They are “fermented”. I am not a physicist.
Pan Seared Striped Bass with Roasted Pumpkin and Cranberry Bean-Quinoa Pilaf, Silk Road Chutney, Shagbark Hickory Syrup and Pumpkin Seed Oil and Compressed Beef Short Rib, Black Kale, Mushroom Confit and Celery Root Purée
At National Geographic’s farm-to-table dinner last week, Albemarle CiderWorks “Red Hill” cider was paired with scallop crudo on Executive Chef Matthew Crudder’s 5-course dinner. The delicately dry cider is made with Winesap and Pippin apples, the perfect match for the chilled raw mollusk. Think Chardonnay as a reference point. And where’s that Christmas ham?
Spiced Banana Cake and Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Hazelnut Praline Powder, Bananas Foster Gel and Dark Chocolate Sauce
Garden Café at the National Gallery of Art
Michel Richard has done it again! The winter menu he has created for the Garden Café at the National Gallery of Art is absolutely divine!
Let’s face it. Most of us can’t afford to eat at Central Michel Richard, the chef’s pricey Pennsylvania Avenue outpost. But in the beautiful fountain-graced café, a stone’s throw from the Degas exhibit, you’ll find his latest menu has echoes of the dishes he turns out in his American-with-a-French twist restaurant.
Pumpkin Bisque at the Garden Cafe – Roasted Fennel with Apples and Cranberries Salad – Roasted Buttermut Squash with Grains and Brussels Sprouts
Designed to dovetail with the Degas exhibit, this menu is all French and keeps winter away with crusty olive fougasse; pumpkin bisque with toasted pumpkin seeds; roasted fennel with pears and cranberries; arugula salad with roasted beets, apples, pecans and champagne vinaigrette; and roasted butternut squash with Brussels sprouts. And that’s just the beginning. An entrée of braised Cornish hen with roasted lemons beckons, and crème brulee with fresh berries finishes it off nicely. Find me another menu in town as fabulous as this at $20.75 for all you can eat. I dare you!
Oh, and did I mention Richard was recently conferred with the insignia of Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur? That officially puts him in the pantheon of the Greatest French Chefs ever! Okay, Michel. You may now rest on your laurels.
Star Chefs Celebrates Our Best Chefs
Last week I mentioned the upcoming StarChefs “Rising Stars” event was going to be stellar. And it was. Award winners were in great spirits, especially since they partied together the night before.
Mixologist Bryan Tetorakis of Rogue 24 garnishes his cocktails – Rising Stars Gala – The team from The Rock Barn – Benjamin Thompson at center
Emceeing the fabulous event was Chef/Owner of Bayou Bakery and host of Travel Channel‘s “American Grilled”, David Guas, he of the Elvis sideburns. Here are a few photos from the gala taken at Union Market’s hip warehouse event space, Dock5.
Flatbread Pizza – Fast and Fabulous at Pizza Vinoteca
These days, watching your carb intake has become more than just a diet regime. Unless you’re a long distance runner or cross trainer you might be trying to keep those flour-filled ingredients in check. But take pizza out of the equation? That dog don’t hunt, as we say down South.
Prepping the pie
This newest addition to the laidback Ballston scene, Pizza Vinoteca, has taken the guilt out of pizza by making all of their pies – not pies. That is to say they’re all made in flatbread style in a custom-designed Jade Range grill. The monster infrared grill features 16 burners that climb to a raging 900 degrees, cranking out pizzas in less than five minutes. Three woodchip smoke boxes conspire to lend a nice char and crave-able smoky flavor.
Wild Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Leek flatbread Pizza
These super-thin pizzas come in a large variety of combinations. And even though the place boasts entrees, antipasti, salads, 38 world-sourced affordable wines by the glass, plenty of local craft beers and gelati, we are here for the P-I-Z-Z-A!
Prosciutto with Mozzarella and Arugula
Divided into two categories, “Classic” and “Crafted”, our tasters fell hard for the roasted wild mushroom with goat cheese and leeks, and another made with jowlciale (tender pork cheeks), chili pesto and toasted pistachios. The tarte flambée (good, but oh so rich) was better left for athletes-in-training. With a communal table that seats 18, it’s a fun place for groups too.