GRACE – Beyond the Stage

GRACE – Beyond the Stage

A Colloquium to Celebrate African American Foodways
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
at the REACH
Jordan Wright
July 17, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Left to right – Carla Hall, Erin Tucker-Oluwole – Nolan Williams Jr., Furard Tate, Dr. Lance London and Rock Harper (Photo/Jermoni K Dowd – Courtesy of NEWorks Productions)

As the rain poured down in sheets against the wraparound windows of the Reach, guests listened to vocals by local African American performers, bathed in the warm glow of storytelling and bonded together in recognition of shared experiences. During discussions and performances, we enjoyed samplings of African American cuisine with a modern twist, while panelists spoke on the history and culture of African American foodways.

The panels were led by Nolan Williams, Jr. who was appointed Social Practice Resident at the Kennedy Center in 2019. Williams, as you may recall, is the co-book writer, composer, lyricist and music director of Grace – the groundbreaking musical that ran from March to May at Ford’s Theatre. Williams is the recipient of ten Telly Awards including the Gold Prize for ‘Best TV Documentary”. Grace is a story of family, food and Black culture and references early African American chefs and modern Black restaurateurs who struggle against gentrification of their traditional Black neighborhoods.

Nolan Williams, Jr (Photo/Marvin Joseph – Courtesy of NEWorks Productions_

Kennedy Center’s VP and Artistic Director of Social Impact, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, introduced the impressive lineup of panelists that included TV celebrity chef and author Carla Hall; Joanne Hyppolite, Supervisory Museum Curator of the African Diaspora at the National Museum of American History and Culture; Psyche Williams-Forson, Ph.D. Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland; Furard Tate, Owner of Inspire Hospitality Group and Co-Founder and Organizer of DMV Black Restaurant Group; Erinn Tucker-Oluwale, Ph.D. Associate Professor of the Practice at Georgetown University, Director of the Global Hospitality Leadership master’s program at Georgetown University and Co-Founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week; and Dr. Lance London, Founder/Owner of The Carolina Kitchen. These speakers offered historical context and explored the social impact of food history.

In addition, there were soul-stirring performances of songs from the musical by well-known local singers Nova Y. Payton, who starred in Grace, Kevin McAllister, Monique Steele Griffiths and Anitra Raquel and conducted by pianist Leigh Delano.

Inaugural Grace Awards were presented to Dr. Lance London, Dr. 5, Chef Furard Tate and Culinary Pioneer Virginia Ali, Founder/Owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ali opened Ben’s in 1958 when DC was a segregated city. “U Street was known as Black Broadway,” she recalled. “Now young, educated professionals have moved in and we’re no longer known as ‘Chocolate City’.”

Williams-Forson, who explained that “Soul food is an experience,” was pleased to announce the release of her new book, “Eating While Black: Food Shaming and Race in America”.

Carla Hall was one of my first interviewees and I am a huge fan of her work. In 2009 she invited a group of her friends to a watch party at CulinAirie, her DC-based cooking school. She was a finalist on the TV show Top Chef.  She didn’t win that year but took it gracefully.  “Winning to me was feeling good about what I did,” she told me that night.

During the discussions, Hall reminded attendees of the foods that originated from Africa like benne seeds, watermelon, yams (I learned “sweet potato” was a made-up name to please the American consumer.), bananas, millet, okra, sorghum and many more we take for granted in our American kitchens including the Coca-Cola and potato chips invented by a Black man and later stolen by Lay’s. Hall also spoke of the popularity of “Nashville hot chicken” created at a roadhouse called Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. “I will always call it Prince’s Hot Chicken,” she promised.

Hall has graciously given me permission to publish three of her fabulous recipes for the dishes served at the event.

(Photo/Jordan Wright)

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Fennel

Hot Sauce Vinaigrette by Carla Hall
8 servings

  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, drained
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/4” cubes)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 fennel bulbs, diced (1/4”)
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • ½ small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • ½ cup finely cut chives or scallions
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon salt

Hot Sauce Vinaigrette:

  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
  • S&P to taste

Heat a large nonstick skillet to medium high.

Place the cubed sweet potatoes in a large bowl, then drizzle with the olive oil and toss with the salt and pepper until well-coated. In two batches, spread the sweet potatoes in a single layer in the hot pan. Leave them for 1 minute, toss the sweet potatoes, continue to allow them to brown. Cook for 3-4 minutes until they are dotted with color and al dente. Remove the potatoes from the pan and place on a sheet pan or large plate in a single layer to cool. Repeat with remaining potatoes.

Prepare the Hot Sauce Vinaigrette: Put all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss the roasted sweet potatoes and diced fennel in lime zest/juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the black-eyed peas, onions, garlic, thyme, chili flakes and chives. Toss to combine. Start by adding ½ cup vinaigrette, and gently stir to combine. Add the sweet potato/fennel mixture to the black-eyed peas.

Add more vinaigrette, if desired, and salt and pepper to taste.


(Photo/Jordan Wright)

Potato Chip Shortbread Cookies by Carla Hall


Makes 2 dozen

  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup crushed potato chips plus an additional 1/2 cup for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Confectioner’s sugar (for dusting)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (melted)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add the 3/4 cup potato chips and mix until incorporated, and then add the vanilla, and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and mix until just combined — do not over mix the dough!

Use a spoon to scoop small 1-inch balls of dough onto a lightly greased sheet pan, spacing them at least two inches apart. Dust each of the cookies with a bit of confectioner’s sugar, and press flat.

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown, and allow to cool. Dip each of the cookies in melted chocolate. While the chocolate is still soft, dip the cookies in the crushed potato chips. Allow to set before serving.

The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
July 10, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Sasson Gabay and Janet Dacal. (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

The Band’s Visit is a timeless musical, a romantic intrigue and a wryly funny tale based loosely on a true story. You may have seen the movie, but the musical allows the story to be fully fleshed out bringing to life the story of a 7-piece Egyptian classical music band known as the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, and its conductor, Colonel Tewfiq, and their mistaken journey to a tiny, desert town in Israel where no one is expecting them. Winner of ten Tony Awards including “Best Musical” and “Best Original Score”, the sultry number “Omar Sharif” was performed on the night of the 2018 awards. Countless other prestigious theater awards have showered down upon this tenderhearted tale with original screenplay written by Eran Kolirin, book by Itamar Moses, composer/lyricist David Yazbek, and soulfully directed by David Cromer. It stars Sasson Gabay, who played Tewfiq in the 2007 film version and Janet Dacal as his love interest, Dina.

The company of The Band s Visit North American Tour. (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.)

Tel Aviv 1996: Egyptian music and movies are now banned even though generations of Israelis have thrilled to the haunting voice of the internationally famous singer Umm Kulthum and films starring the suave Egyptian box-office idol, Omar Sharif who starred in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago. It is a fraught time, not so different from today, when cultures separated by politics or war and borders, real or imagined, are redrawn or redefined. It is where Tewfiq and the beautiful and exotic Dina find their mutual connection to music.

Joe Joseph. (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.)

When the flirtatious Haled (Ali Louis Bourzgui), distracted by a pretty ticket seller, miscommunicates the wrong name for their destination, it sends the musicians on a bus to Bet Hatikva, translation “House of Hope”, a tiny town where nothing ever happens and where the hilarious song “Waiting” describes the residents’ unrelenting boredom. At the café the Arabs meet the lovely and fiery Dina, owner of the town’s sole eatery. Dina finds the men homes to stay for a single night till the next day’s bus can take them to their correct destination in time for them to give a concert dedicated to Arab Israeli cultural exchanges.

The company of The Band’s Visit (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.)

The musicians who play traditional Arab instruments perform all the numbers onstage in a sort of musical ballet upon a rotating stage. The beautifully expressed musical accompaniment weaves together the characters’ personal stories and enhances their shared communion with their temporary hosts. This deeply emotional, sweetly comic story centers around the initial awkwardness of the two cultures attempting to understand each other’s cultural differences, ultimately discovering that they are more similar than not, and that love, family and the universality of music are at the heart of the human connection.

With Clay Singer as Itzik; Coby Getzug as Papi; Yoni Avi Battat as Camal; David Studwell as Avrum; James Rana as Simon from the original Broadway cast; Billy Cohen as Zelger; Ali Louis Bourzgui as Haled; Joshua Grosso as Telephone Guy; Kendal Hartse as Iris; Layan Elwazani as Julia from the Broadway cast; Marc Ginsburg as Sammy and Ariel Reich as Anna.

The Band: Conductor/Keyboard – Adrian Ries; Associate Conductor/Keyboard – Jeff Cox; Violin – Yoni Avi Battat; Cello – Wick Simmons; Clarinet/Saxophone/Flute – Brian Krock; Darbouka/Riq – Roger Kashou; Oud/Guitar – Kane Mathis; Electric & Acoustic Bass – Mark Ziegler; Drums/Arabic Percussion – Shai Wetzer.

Choreography by Patrick McCollum; Scenic Design by Scott Pask; Costume Design by Sarah Laux; Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau; Israeli Dramaturg and Dialect Coach Zohar Tirosh-Polk; Orchestrations by Jamshied Sharafi.

Through July 17th in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 467-4600.


To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
June 28, 2022
Special to The Zebra

(l to r) Justin Mark (“Jem Finch”), Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Steven Lee Johnson (“Dill Harris”). (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

In what is referred to in the program as a “New Play” by famed playwright Aaron Sorkin, Harper Lee’s celebrated novel To Kill a Mockingbird takes on fresh meaning in a world still struggling with racial injustice. Sorkin propels the narrative of a Black man unfairly accused to a relevancy we’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to recognize as still capturing today’s headlines. Set in 1930’s Alabama in a plot laden with weighty themes and laced with levity, Sorkin’s laser-focused version of the courtroom drama crackles with the raw power and profound honesty intended to galvanize an audience’s emotional response.

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”) (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

In it, dramatic actor Richard Thomas plays Atticus Finch, a folksy Southern lawyer with the instincts of a coonhound treeing a possum. Thomas delivers a rock-solid portrayal so determinedly fresh and riveting it will make you forget you’d ever seen Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie version.

The great Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony Award in 2019 for “Best Direction of a Play” for the Broadway production, has found a way to stage this new production by leaning in on the threads of the story that matter most. Even on a stage as vast as the Opera House, he creates a space that reads like an intimate encounter. Brilliantly acted by a collaborative cast, Lee’s words fairly jump off the page with their universality.

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

When asked if she had plans to write another book, Lee cynically postulated to a reporter, “When you’ve hit the pinnacle, how would you feel about writing more?” Many years later, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lee declared, “Honey I already said everything I wanted to say.” And with weighty themes ranging from racism to alcoholism, justice, pedophilia and even murder too, the iconic Southern novelist had covered it all.

Notwithstanding Harper Lee’s reticence to discuss her work and her decision to abandon further writing, she had penned a forceful novel that burst off the pages with a trunk load of quotable lines tailor made to be spoken aloud. Sorkin’s treatment extracts the essence of her words to lend a new and exciting gravitas to this great American novel. Blessed with a tremendous cast to support Thomas, it stars Yaegel T. Welch (from the original Broadway cast) as Tom Robinson; Melanie Moore as Scout; Steven Lee Johnson as the tender-hearted Dill Harris (said to be fashioned after Lee’s friend Truman Capote); Justin Mark as Jem Finch, Scout’s brother; Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia the formidable, no-nonsense housekeeper to the Finch family; Anthony Natale as Link Deas; Travis Johns as Mr. Cunningham and Boo Radley; and Richard Poe as Judge Taylor. Imbued with worldly wisdom, they are the heroes that battle the play’s villains played by Joey Collins as the antagonist Bob Ewell and his tragically victimized daughter Mayella Ewell played by Arianna Gayle Stucki. Take note of Mary Badham in the small yet pivotal role of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, the cranky octogenarian who harasses the children as they pass her porch. Badham won an Oscar for her role as Scout in the movie.

Highly recommended. A defining production of what has been called America’s Greatest Novel.

Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”) and The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird. (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Additional cast members include David Christopher Wells as Sheriff Heck Tate; Luke Smith as Horace Gilmer; Greg Wood as Mr. Roscoe/Dr. Reynolds; Travis Johns as Mr. Cunningham/Boo Radley; and Liv Rooth as Dill’s Mother/Miss Stephanie.

Scenic Design by Miriam Buether; Costume Design by Ann Roth; Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton; Sound Design by Scott Lehrer; Original Music by Adam Guettel.

Through July 10th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 0r visit







A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
May 31, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Photo/Manuel Harlan

Don’t be confused by the title of this play and the fact that the author, Patrick Ness, a multi-award-winning writer of children and adult literature whose work went into Spiderman and Star Wars, also created and wrote the 8-part series Doctor Who.  A Monster Calls is a superbly crafted, deeply emotional thriller about a British teenager whose nightmares and dreamscapes threaten to overwhelm him. It is a story of love and loss of pain and growth, perfect for teens and adults alike.

While his mother (Bridgette Amofah) endures endless cancer treatments, Conor (Anthony Aje) stumbles through life as if in a daze. It doesn’t help that his remarried father (Tom Lorcan) lives thousands of miles away in America. Wracked with the fear of losing her and the guilt of dwelling on her demise, Conor struggles to both process and express his feelings. He marks his days assuaging his pain by allowing the school bullies to beat him up, turning his back on the only friend who wants to protect him. His nights are filled with dread as the Monster (Keith Gilmore) appears to him in his sleep guiding and filling him with stories of impossible feats and ultimate heroism. “I come to heal you,” the Monster proclaims through stories of dragons, princesses and ancient lore that fill Conor’s fitful dreams.

Photo/Manuel Harlan

Gripping from the get-go, it is at once frightening, powerful and utterly engaging. You do not want to miss a split second. I had to remind myself to breathe. The stirring plot toggles between tender scenes of mother and son and the intensity of wildly colorful video dream projections; explosive sound, smoke and strobe effects; and eerie (at times Gregorian, at others like Sting) electronika music. This is edge-of-your-seat stuff. I absolutely loved it.

Metaphors abound with the use of massive ropes which dangle from the rafters and substitute for objects and emotions. Cast members use them to encircle their bodies, slide down them and raise themselves up to the top through creatively choreographed movements. The rest of the cast sits on either side of the stage handing off a bowl of cereal, a quart of milk, a school uniform and other mundane objects.

Photo/Manuel Harlan

Most impressive are the young actor Anthony Aje whose agility and ability to morph from poignant to terrified is amazingly cool, Greg Bernstein as Conor’s brutal enemy Harry whose anger-fueled rants keep Conor meek, and Keith Gilmore as the Monster whose physical athleticism and ferocity are galvanic.

This all-British production is highly recommended.

Photo/Manuel Harlan

With Greg Bernstein as Harry; Eleanor Kane as Lily; Sarah Quist as Ms. Godfrey; Lauran Rae as Sully; Anita Reynolds as Grandma; Paul Sockett as Mr. Marl; and Nathaniel Christian as Anton. All cast members except Conor double in the ensemble.

Based on the novel by Patrick Ness; Inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd; Adapted by Sally Cookson and Adam Peck; Set Design by Michael Vale; Director/Co-Adaptor Sally Cookson; Composer Benji Bowser; Lighting Designer Aideen Malone; Costume Designer Katie Sykes; Video Designer Dick Straker; Aerial Director Matt Costain; Sound Designer Mike Beer; Puppetry Laura Cubitt; Originating Producer Old Vic and British Old Vic.

Through June 12th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit



The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
March 18, 2022
Special to TheZebra.Org

Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show (Photo/Anna-Livia)

On a balmy Spring evening perfectly timed to kick off the celebratory season of Saint Patrick’s Day, Irish Ambassador and Mrs. Daniel Mulhall hosted a swank cocktail party in the South Tier Opera Lounge before the performance of Riverdance. In attendance were Taoiseach Micháel Martin, Ireland’s Prime Minister, and American diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. Delicious savory treats featuring Ireland’s best beef, cheeses and cured salmon were served capping the gathering with coffee, tea and a sumptuous Irish Whiskey Cake and Crème Brûlée, after which guests proceeded to the Opera House for the performance where audience members frequently leapt to their feet for standing ovations between acts.

Taoiseach Michael Martin delivers remarks to the guests (Photo/Jordan Wright)

Ambassador Daniel Mulhall with Caroline Kennedy (right) and guest at the reception. (Photo/Jordan Wright)

Celebrating their 25th anniversary and first time performing at the Kennedy Center, the Riverdance troupe was in fine form and their staccato taps could be heard up to the rafters. Originally an Irish folk dancing and musical production, Riverdance has gone on to include both Russian and Flamenco dance, acknowledging some of the roots of Irish dance. I couldn’t help but conjure up the evolution of these dances in the American heartland where the Irish immigrated in droves and the style of clogging emerged.

Riverdance 25 Anniversary Show Lead Couple

Interspersed with the tightly choreographed syncopated-formation dances by the troupe, a coloratura soprano performed haunting Irish melodies in octaves that soared into the stratosphere and a beautiful lassie played the pipes honoring an ancient Irish warrior from the Bronze Age. Between 18 electrifying scenes a narrator weaves Celtic tales and stories from the land of the faeries. Video projections of picturesque scenes frame the evening’s entertainment.

Many stories can be told of the history of this extraordinary production that began with the choreography and iconic dance skills of Michael Flatley and has toured around the world many times over. Their epic success on six continents, a Grammy Award and generous fundraising efforts are but a few of their achievements, but their promotion of Irish dance supported by the exceptional singers, dancers and musicians who perform in the show, give gravitas to this exciting one-of-a-kind experience.

Riverdance 25 Anniversary Show Reel around the Sun

Directed by John McColgan, Produced by Moya Doherty, Composed by Bill Whelan, Costumes by Joan Bergin, Sound by Michael O’Gorman, Lighting by Andrew Voller, Sets by Alan Farquhason and High Res by Peter Canning.

Through March 27th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

Cosi Fan Tutte

Così Fan Tutte

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
March 14, 2022
Jordan Wright

Laura Wilde (soprano) and Andrey Zhilikhovsky (baritone) in Cosi fan tutte at the WNO (photo by Scott Suchman)

Introducing the Washington National Opera Company’s Cafritz Young Artists who sang the Ukrainian National Anthem, General Director Timothy Leary welcomed back the audience of opera lovers to the first of the season’s offerings, “We have learned to gather together in community and safety,” he announced with pride. A standing ovation honored both the students’ exceptional talents as well as the audience’s heartfelt sympathies to the Ukrainian people (two Ukraine nationals were in the cast) to set the evening’s enthusiastic tone. Beginning the season with such light-hearted fare, is just the ticket for our COVID doldrums.

Ana-Maria-Martinez-soprano-and-Ferruccio-Furlanetto-bass-in-Cosi-fan-tutte-at-the-WNO (photo-by-Scott-Suchman)

A bit of background:

Commissioned by the Emperor Joseph II, Mozart’s fan fave two-act opera, with text by Lorenzo da Ponte, was first performed in Vienna in January of 1790 and characters of the sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, were actually sisters in real life with their story well-known in Vienna society. It first came to the London stage in 1811 and later to New York at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1922 conducted by Artur Bodanzky. This was at the acme of Mozart’s career and the comic opera is well-regarded as one of his finest compositions.

Così fan tutte is an intriguing tale of Fiordiligi and Dorabella, two sisters betrothed to two soldiers, Guglielmo and Ferrando. Enter the aged bachelor and friend to all concerned Don Alphonso who suggests to the men that all women cannot be faithful. Challenged with testing the women’s fidelity by disguising themselves and tricking their lovers under Alphonso’s direction, the men agree to the bet. Unbeknownst to the lovers, the duplicitous Alphonso enlists the aid of the ladies’ maid, Despina, who is to be handsomely paid for her efforts.

WNO”s “Cosi Fan Tutte”

The plot plays with gender identity in a way that questions the misunderstanding between the sexes. A question as old as the hills and revived by such books as “Men Are from Mars’, Women Are from Venus”. Will the women cave to such amorous machinations by the men who threaten suicide if their lovers do not break their troths and reciprocate their advances? With Don Alphonso’s secretive encouragement, these underhanded swains pull every trick in the book to unhinge the ladies’ devoted commitment to them.

As sumptuously elegant as the music is, it is neatly underpinned by the comic antics of those involved in the set up. The wonderful cast is charged with incorporating comedic abilities as well as their magnificent vocal talents to pull it off, which they do quite well. Watch for Anna María Martinez in three roles as Despina, the doctor, and later the notary to bring the house down thanks to the vivid imagination of Costume Designer Lynly A. Saunders who also nails the 18th century period ladies’ dresses with the appropriate paniers locked and loaded.

A balm for the senses. Highly recommended.

With Kang Wang as Ferrando; Andrey Zhilikhovsky as Gugielmo; Ferrucchio Furlanetto as Don Alphonso; Laura Wilde as Fiordiligi; and Rihab Chaieb as Dorabella.

Conducted by Erina Yashima; Directed by Alison Moritz; Set Design by Erhard Rom; Projection Design by S. Katy Tucker.

Through March 20th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit or call 202 467-4600.