Born Yesterday ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 27, 2018

“The whole damn history of the world is the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish,” pronounces Ed Devery, Harry Brock’s outlier attorney.  It was this line from Born Yesterday that put playwright Garson Kanin square in the sights of Senator Joe McCarthy during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings.  Described by the Roman Catholic Press as “Marxist satire’,  Kanin wrote it as a frothy comedy with a powerful message.  One as relevant today as it was 68 years ago.

Cody Nickell (as Paul Verrall), Kimberly Gilbert (as Billie Dawn) and Edward Gero (as Harry Brock). Photo by Carol Rosegg

Under the astute direction of Aaron Posner, Kanin’s witty comedy enjoyed a sensational and timely revival last night.  How could it miss with Edward Gero in the leading role as Harry Brock, the crooked, vote-buying, junkyard magnate?  When I wondered how Gero could segué so seamlessly from his recent award-winning role as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalistto a low-life conman from the other side of the law, he reminded me, “They are both from New Jersey.”  Ah well, so are the best tomatoes.  Both plays are set in Washington, DC with plenty of references to bribery and corruption, making it delightfully engaging for Beltway insiders.

Well-drawn characters are what give this comedy its undeniable spark.  There’s Brock’s cousin, Eddie (Evan Casey) who is Ed Norton to Brock’s Jackie Gleason (if you remember that slapstick duo); Billie Dawn (Kimberly Gilbert), Brock’s gal, the intellectually-challenged ex-chorus girl who wises up with the help of Paul Verrall (Cody Nickell) the Reporter, Billie’s mentor and savior; and Ed Devery (Eric Hissom), Brock’s alcoholic lawyer and enforcer.  Senator Norval Hedges (Todd Scofield) is Brock’s patsy.

Todd Scofield (as Senator Norval Hedges), Naomi Jacobson (as Mrs. Hedges) and Edward Gero (as Harry Brock) . Photo by Carol Rosegg

Gero does a formidable job of being the tough guy, strong arming and buying his way to the top, but it’s Gilbert’s lightness and seamless twist from dumb blonde to smart cookie that command the most attention. The minions pinballing in and out of Brock’s orbit provide additional humor to this lively farce.

Casting Director, Patrick Pearson, has done a bang-up job of pairing of Gero with Gilbert who are hilarious in a gin game scene that has Billie squealing with delight as she picks up all Harry’s discards, beating him handily and showing she’s pretty good at keeping score, a fast learner, and even better at pegging Harry for setting her up. 

Edward Gero (as Harry Brock) and Cody Nickell (as Paul Verrall) . Photo by Carol Rosegg

Recommended for Beltway newshounds looking for an evening of political comic redemption.

With Matt Dewberry as A Bellhop/A Barber; Naomi Jacobsen as Mrs. Hedges/Helen/A Manicurist; and Jamie Smithson as The Assistant Manager/A Bootblack/ A Waiter.

Spectacular Set Design of a two-story, swank hotel suite by Daniel Lee Conway; Costume Design by Kelsey Hunt, Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler; Sound Design and Original Music by John Gromada.

The cast of the Ford’s Theatre production of Garson Kanin’s “Born Yesterday,”
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Through October 21st at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets call 888 616.0270 or visit www.Fords.org.

Jefferson’s Garden ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
F
ebruary 1, 2018 

It’s a curious thing that American Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker is more famous in Great Britain where she is the Resident Writer at the Royal Court Theatre and has lately been awarded a commission to write a new play for the Royal Shakespeare Company.  That’s heady stuff.

Christopher Dinolfo as Christan and Felica Curry as Susannah. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In Jefferson’s Garden, part of the exciting Women’s Voices Theater Festival,  Wertenbaker’s focus is on the American Revolution and how we got there, revealing the contradictions between our founding father’s ideals and both the realities and precarious nature of freedom.  It reminds us the it was considered either a revolution or an insurgency depending on who was doing the talking.

Director Nataki Garrett opens the drama on a boat sailing from England to America, where Carl (Michael Halling), a bourgeois German aristocrat, meets a Quaker family who promise to take him to their farm if he learns practical skills.  He does.  Though the family are pacifists, their young son Christian (Christopher Dinolfo) defies his family to go to war, ultimately breaking a promise to his sister Louisa (Maggie Wilder) that he will never fight.

The Company of Timberlake Wertenbaker. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Nine actors, in different roles through dizzying wardrobe changes, introduce us to many of the founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, Ben Franklin, George Washington – as well as the soldiers affected by the cost of war on their lives and loved ones.  The character of the freed slave Susannah (Felicia Curry) and her love story with a white man lend insight into the struggles both sides faced.

It is not until Act Two, that we come to Jefferson’s noted Monticello garden where the men have come to hash out the Bill of Rights and express their considered opinions.  There under a gazebo, we meet bossy Southern belle, Nelly Rose, played hilariously to the hilt by Kimberly Gilbert.

It is a high gear everything-but-the-kitchen-sink telling of the American Revolution – at times funny, at others emotional or flat-out educational.  Who knew there were four million Americans and only 160,000 Brits at the time of the revolution?  And who knew the King offered freedom to slaves who fought for England?  Okay, you did.  Seems I’d better brush up on my American history!Thoroughly enjoyable.

Additional cast members - Christopher Bloch, Thomas Keegan, Michael Kevin Darnall and Kathryn Tkel.

Through February 8th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 888 616-0270 or visit online.

For more info on the Women’s Voices Theater Festival visit online.

Ragtime ~ The Musical ~ A Box Office Bonanza ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 16, 2017

Cast of the musical “Ragtime” at Ford’s Theatre, directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Cast of the musical “Ragtime” at Ford’s Theatre, directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The Ford’s Theatre Society delivers a heart-meltingly tender Ragtime by gifting the audience with twenty-seven extraordinarily talented performers in this portrait of intersecting American lives.  Taken from E. L. Doctorow’s eponymous novel we become willingly immersed in a sweeping 20th century saga of three distinct elements of American society – Black America, on the rise as a strong middle class in Northern cities; middle and upper class White Americans; and Jewish and Irish immigrants bent on hard work and rapid assimilation in their new found country.  Director Peter Flynn masterfully takes the reins of this award-winning Broadway lollapalooza that pairs Terrence McNally’s book with Lynn Ahrens’ emotionally stirring lyrics and Stephen Flaherty’s indelible music.  A drop dead amazing cast takes us the rest of the way.

In this period of America’s rapid advance, the country was forced to confront the underlying causes of racism and an unprecedented influx of immigrants.  Ragtime brings us face to face with the headliners of the day – Emma Goldman (Rayanne Gonzales) an early labor reformer and union organizer; financier J.P. Morgan (Christopher Bloch); Harry Houdini (Christopher Mueller) the Jewish immigrant who became the world’s most famous magician; and Evelyn Nesbitt, the great beauty who carved out her vaudeville career on a velvet swing while paramour to millionaire architect Stanford White (Elan Zafir).  It also introduces us to the fictional character of Tateh (Jonathan Atkinson), a first-generation Jewish immigrant and silhouette maker and his little girl (Dulcie Pham).

DulciePham and Jonathan Atkinson in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Ragtime,” directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

DulciePham and Jonathan Atkinson in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Ragtime,” directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

It harkens back to a period that both blossomed and suffered under the rapidly changing landscape of industrialization and growing civil unrest, when Ragtime music was sweeping the country and Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Kevin McAllister), a fictional version of Scott Joplin, was creating a new sound that crossed over into White high society.  Booker T. Washington (Jefferson A. Russell) the great African-American orator and Presidential advisor guided and inspired Black Americans and Henry Ford (John Leslie Wolfe) hired them.  In Doctorow’s sweeping saga ordinary people become extraordinary people as their lives intersect and their humanity is tested.

A very proper Victorian family of Father (James Konicek) and Mother (Tracy Lynn Olivera) live with their Little Boy (Henry Baratz).  While Father is off on a polar expedition Mother discovers a Black newborn abandoned in her garden and goes about finding the boy’s mother.  “I never thought they had lives besides our lives,” she confesses while searching for the baby’s mother.  When at last she finds Sarah (Nova Y. Payton), she offers her the comfort of their home – allowing her humanity to overtake her Victorian rigidity.

Tracy Lynn Olivera, Henry Baratz, Dulcie Pham and Jonathan Atkinson in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Ragtime,” directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Tracy Lynn Olivera, Henry Baratz, Dulcie Pham and Jonathan Atkinson in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Ragtime,” directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Scenic designer Milagros Ponce de Leon gives us three levels of verdigris wrought iron staircases on which the cast can be highlighted for their separate numbers while on stage throughout the show.  The orchestra remains in full view on the central level, remaining an integral part of every scene.  The blending of the human form on stage comes from Choreographer Michael Bobbit.  In one particular scene the characters perform a ragtime dance, until they realize they are dancing with someone of another race and promptly change partners.

Kevin McAllister and Nova Y. Payton in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Ragtime,” directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Kevin McAllister and Nova Y. Payton in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Ragtime,” directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Twenty-eight songs come at you with such passion and such emotion, I had goosebumps more times than I could count as the ensemble acted out a poignant story of hope, redemption, human rights and justice.

Highly recommended.  Grab your tickets now!

Through May 20th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.fords.org or call 202 347-4833.

Interview with Mike Daisey – The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

At Woolly Mammoth Theatre
Jordan Wright
Special to DC Theatre Scene dot com
March 9th, 2011

MIKE DAISEY - the master storyteller - Photo credit to Daisey Web

MIKE DAISEY - the master storyteller - Photo credit to Daisey Web

Mike Daisey looks like an everyman, but don’t let appearances fool you. He’s a man with a plan and an agenda to boot with a powerful spotlight on workers’ rights that uses comedy and truth-telling in his latest monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” playing at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. As both author and actor of his scriptless theatre verité, he has traveled to China and the South Seas and come away with a firsthand knowledge and what he feels is an obligation to share his story with his audiences. His one-man construct rips the veil off the industry as he rails against "the rise and fall and rise of Apple, industrial design and the human price we are willing to pay for our technology.”

Where are you from?

I grew up in Northern Maine and live in New York.

Where does your storytelling tradition come from?

I’ve been a monologist for the past 13 or 14 years and it has evolved in a way that is a living form of traditional theatre and I am actually communicating on stage so that it is unique experience.

Would you say you’re the Michael Moore of contemporary theatre writers?

No, I don’t write the pieces. They are created extemporaneously. In a better world there would be lots of proactive people that display that sort of citizenship.

Who were your influences? Who is looking over your shoulder when you create your plays?

I am strongly influenced by all sorts of extemporaneous performance. I’m really interested in public speakers, black speakers, and standup comedy. The naked singularity of the theatre is the heart of what I’m compelled by. So I learn a lot by listening to other people. I believe that non-fiction is going to assert itself, and I think that is important for American theaters.

Since your monologue speaks to workers’ conditions in China, would you like to comment on the current challenge to workers’ bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio? Do you think it’s any different?

Well it’s quite similar in some ways and widely in different others. What’s similar is of course the people in Michigan are fighting for the rights that people lived and died for 100 years ago. The local government is trying to turn back the clock. Since those battles were fought, we forget what was sacrificed to bring us out of those times. In China the conditions look the same as they always have. It is a place that has never had protections and rights.

Do you see the future of theatre as a socially responsible forum to address current topics?

Certainly the future and present of my theatre! We all have a responsibility to be social citizens. I think it is deeply unnatural to divorce that from our art. It’s bad for art and the theatre to divide those things. There is a drive to believe that the arts should be apolitical and to keep the arts pretty.

Do you consider yourself a radical or a social commentator?

I don’t know the difference.

Would you prefer writer Terry Southern or Tom Wolfe at your dinner table?

I think I would say Tom Wolfe. Ahh, those white suits! I have an affinity for characters.

Where do you eat when you’re in DC?

It’s challenging. I love dim sum in Chinatown and also Teaism and Busboys and Poets. I’m hoping to find a few more restaurants that I feel strongly about this time around.

Do you cook?

Inconsistently and fitfully. My wife [Jean-Michelle Gregory, his longtime director and collaborator] is an excellent cook and I am happy to cede control of it. Recently I cooked a successful dinner and I plan to branch out in the future.

Why is it important to you to perform “The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in DC?

I’m happy that we’re bringing the show to downtown DC. We are trying to get as many politicians from The Hill to attend because we’re trying to bring attention to the workers conditions in Shenzhen. I feel responsible for telling the story well and I hope I am up to the task of serving the people whose voices are not generally heard.

At the Woolly Mammoth from March 21st through April 17th. For tickets and information visit www.woollymammoth.net.

Director Matt August on Liberty Smith

March 31, 2011
Jordan Wright
Special to DC Theatre Scene

Matt August (Photo: courtesy of Ford's Theatre)

Matt August (Photo: courtesy of Ford's Theatre)

Matt August returns to direct Ford’s Theatre’s world premiere of the musical Liberty Smith following up on the popular run of his direction of A Christmas Carol, that played at Ford’s from 2004 through 2008. His previous directorial credits include the Broadway production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2006, 2007) and subsequent national tours (2008-2010). Off-Broadway credits include Sixteen Wounded, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Judith and Meet John Doe. August has served as a Killian Fellow for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a Robert Wilson Watermill Directing Fellow, and was a recipient of a Drama League Fellowship.