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.

George Don’t Do That ~The Music and Magic of Joyce Grenfell ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
March 13, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

If you were unfamiliar with famed British comedienne, Joyce Grenfell, you won’t be any longer with Catherine Flye’s tribute performance to Grenfell’s long and notable career.  In the second show of MetroStage’s Spring Solo Series, British-born Flye brings to life the singer, actress and monologist, and one of England’s most beloved entertainers.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show is a series of pastiches illustrating Grenfell’s best loved characters interwoven with songs and spoofs and remembered moments of humor and pathos.  You’ll even spot echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan.  Veteran performer Flye is accompanied delightfully by musical arranger and pianist Joseph Walsh playing music written by Richard Addinsell as well as standards like “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Don’t You Know” and “The Girl From Ipanema”.  Narrator Michael Tolaydo provides backdrop to the period.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

Flye, who devised the production, dons Grenfell like a second skin weaving the best of Grenfell’s British music hall follies as effortlessly and cheerily as Mary Poppins would.  This was the style of the day and audiences familiar with this era will have fond memories of the music and this particular form of humor.  She reminded me of Patricia Routledge’s character, Hyacinth Bouquet, in PBS’s long-running series Keeping Up Appearances.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show has been performed throughout the U. S., including the British Embassy in DC, East Africa and across the United Kingdom.

A treat for Anglophiles.

The second in a trio of one-woman shows at MetroStage through March 25th .  1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit online.

Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Synetic Theater ~ MetroStage ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria ~ ICE! at National Harbor ~ Christmas at Mount Vernon ~ Signature Theatre ~ Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia 

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Hansel and Gretel at Synetic Theater - During the bustle of holiday crowds, Gretel tries to keep her brother, Hansel, out of trouble while their babysitter leaves Gretel to fend for them both. As Hansel embarks on his own wonder-filled exploration of his everyday surroundings, he and his sister fall into a magical realm that takes them far away from home. In this wordless production, the well-beloved Grimm fairy tale embraces the fantastical through the eyes of those who see the world through a different lens.  Directed and choreographed by Elena Velasco and Tori Bertocci.  Through December 23rd at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets visit www.synetictheater.org.

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull & Bush at MetroStage - Originally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage writer, director, and actor Catherine Flye will be transferring her 9-person troupe to a circa 1912 replica of the famed Hampstead, England pub to jolly up your holidays with food, 35 songs, jokes, dance, a sing-along and an abbreviated reenactment of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment runs through December 24th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – In a fresh interpretation by director Eleanor Tapscott, enjoy a return of the Christmas classic by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with diaphanous ghostly guides (beautifully choreographed by Ukranian Victoria Blum) through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays.  Complete with special effects, Victorian carols and Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street.  For tickets call 703.683.0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer atICE!” at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center – A 9-degree winter wonderland carved from over two million pounds of ice, a Christmas Village, merry-go-round, Glacier Glide ice skating rink, “JOY” – an eye-popping, Broadway-style holiday musical show, nightly snowfalls and dancing fountains at this first-class holiday destination.  Additional events are a Mistletoe Mixology class, Build-A Bear Workshop, photos with Santa, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and so much more. Through January 1st at 201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745.  For tickets and event times visit www.GaylordNationaltickets.com.

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Christmas at Mount Vernon Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling.  Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more.  For tickets and event times visit www.MountVernon.org.

Holiday Follies at Signature Theatre - Starring jazz singer Ines Nassara, David Rowen (Signature’s Diner) and Katie Mariko Murray (Signature’s West Side Story) singing classic holiday songs.  Through December 16th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets visit www.SigTheatre.org.

The Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia in collaboration with the Office of the Arts presents a “Friday Evening Chamber Concert Series”.  The next concert “A Brass Christmas” is scheduled for Friday, December 15th at the Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron St.  For online tickets visit http://bit.ly/2vSKXRd.  Tickets are also available at the door.

Are you now, or have you ever been…MetroStage

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Carlyle Brown’s play about the investigation and inquisition of Langston Hughes by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) is a deeply moving, profoundly disturbing probe into the mind of a successful Black American poet.  Under the guidance of Joseph McCarthy, these televised courtroom investigations were led by the notorious Roy Cohn, advisor to Richard Nixon and later mentor to Donald Trump, the Senate Subcommittee turns their search to uncover Communists into a witch hunt the likes of which America had never seen.  Like Hitler’s civilian spies it turned the country into a nation of informants – with people putting forth names of co-workers and friends to save their own skin.  That many of them had no connection to the actual Communist Party, nor knew anything more than workers had rights and blacks were equal in the USSR, was of no consequence to these self-righteous Senators.

The investigation into, and “blacklisting” of, the lives of hundreds of actors, writers, gays, etc. ruined their lives, careers, and businesses – all in the name of rooting out a misperceived Communist and anti-Christian influence on American society.  It turned the country upside down at the time.

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor, as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

In this newly developed treatment of Brown’s play, Composer William Knowles adds verve to the drama adding original music to background life in 1953 Harlem and, later, the needle-sharp drama of the hearings.  Knowles incorporates period Blues, Jazz and Cabaret songs to animate the rhythms and patterns of Hughes’ famous poems.   It’s set in the period of the Harlem Renaissance when, as Hughes puts it, “Negroes were in vogue.”  Until they weren’t.

It is a sinuous story set to music that weaves in and out of Hughes’ most profound thoughts, highlighting his poetry and underpinning his trial in dramatic fashion.  For those familiar with Hughes’ poems it will be a pleasure to renew your acquaintance with “The Weary Blues”, The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, “Harlem Dance Hall”, “Good Morning Revolution” and others.

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Director Thomas W. Jones II does an outstanding job with a diverse cast that brings the necessary gravitas to the story.  The six-member cast not only sings and dances in a number of styles of the period, but moves effortlessly through a number of roles and wardrobe changes, that is except for lead actor Marcus Naylor as Langston who tackles the role with virtuosity.  The one-acter builds to a crescendo with Hughes’ interrogation by Cohn (played impressively by Marni Penning) who eviscerates the poet piecemeal.  The parallels to today’s news are staggering.

Also notable is Wood Van Meter as David Schine, who has a wonderful voice and whose solos are explosive.  Michael Sharp as Senator Joseph McCarthy, Russell Sunday as Senator Everett Dirksen and Josh Thomas as Frank Reeves round out this excellent cast.

Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan employ an effective set design of large trapezoidal panels that allow for Hughes words, plus photos and videos of the period, to accommodate designer Robbie Hayes’ evocative projections.

Highly recommended.  An unforgettable night of theatre.

Through November 5th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks