Turandot Captures Tragedy with Balletic Passion

By Jordan Wright

Turandot and her father, the mandarin.

Turandot and her father, the mandarin.

Maija Kovalevska made her Kennedy Center debut as the slave-girl, Liu, in this season’s Turandot and the role will never be the same. Her portrayal of the sympathetic Liu was nothing less than transcendent.

With a voice that renders music “noteless,” pours forth pure and effortless in its transitions, and a physical presence that captures her tragedy with balletic passion, Kovalevska owned every moment that she was on stage.

This “Lily of Latvia” challenges all who have ever sung the role and those who have yet to.

Like Alexander Pope’s sylph, full of spleen and vanity, Sylvie Valayre, as the bloodthirsty Princess Turandot, stalks the stage seeking revenge and becomes the very thing that she despises, cruel and loveless. Unfortunately, Valayre’s performance was neither sympathetic nor nuanced, so that when at last she is revealed by Calaf’s kiss to be a frightened girl, we are stymied by the sudden shift.

Dario Volente gave the vainglorious Calaf his all, but it was not enough to bolster the Persian prince. His Calaf was competent but devoid of heft, his stultifying voice following the libretto as notes on a page.

A very bright note was the brilliant set design by Sally Jacobs that reminds one of Canton Famille Rose porcelain, with its delicate depictions of Chinese life.

When Ping, Pang and Pong, fearing Calaf will fail the test of the three riddles, and hoping to flee their awful fate, wax nostalgic with homesickness, Jacobs employs a hand-painted bolt of silk fabric depicting scenic landscapes. This billowing panel unfolds behind them and travels across the stage like Christo’s “Running Fence”, quickly transforming the set to accommodate the music.

Her slate grey backdrop of a Chinese palace serves to further enhance the bright costumes and Kabuki-style masks in this amalgam of Asian culture that Puccini imagined.

Well-received too, was conductor, Keri-Lynn Watson, making her Washington National Opera debut with this production, which closed June 4.

Valerie Harper Wittily Channels Hollywood Bad Girl Tallulah Bankhead in ‘Looped’

By Jordan Wright

Looped reach to director

Looped reach to director

Valerie Harper wraps her considerable performing skills around the witty and uninhibited Tallulah Bankhead like a full-swing sable coat and inhabits the former screen star’s persona like a hungry spirit. Her portrayal of the imperious legend is spot on, an hilarious channeling of this Hollywood “bad girl”.

Bankhead was always a fascinating character in the same vein as Dorothy Parker, Josephine Baker and Eva Tanguy, the original “I Don’t Care Girl”. Bawdy, uncensored and drenched in bon mots, Bankhead was a brilliant but controversial leading lady.

Writer Matthew Lombardo’s “Looped” is based on an episode in a recording studio when Bankhead was asked to redo one line to be synced into the classic b-movie, ”Die! Die! My Darling!”.

Like Kathy Griffin (“My Life on the D List”), Bankhead was notorious for peppering her language with colorful four-letter words that would make a sailor blush, and Harper nails it with an uproarious performance in this over-the-top sendup.

Emotional projection

Emotional projection

Fueled by cigarettes, cocaine, pot and booze Bankhead quips, “Everyone has their vices. It’s just that mine all come out to play at the same time.” The one-liners come fast and furiously, most too raunchy to repeat. In his role as studio “suit” Danny Miller, Jay Goede, as straight man, is convincing. To his rejection of her advances she declares, “If I were hungry for a man, I would want a meal not an hors d’oeuvre!”

After the show a little old be-pearled lady beside me whispered, “She’s not like me at all. I’m very straight-laced. Oh, I wish I could be like that!” To judge by the audience’s enthusiasm it seems we’d all like to be a little like that.

Catch it before it leaves town. (Harper will be the Celebrity Grand Marshall of DC’s feathered and fabulous Gay Pride March on June 13.)

If You’re Going…


At the Lincoln Theatre until June 28

1215 U Street

Washington, DC


For ticket information call (202) 488-3300

The X-Files R.W. Goodwin: Setting Down with Alien Trespass

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions Behind the Scenes on Alien Trespass with Jenni Baird, Eric McCormack and director R.W. Goodwin

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions Behind the Scenes on Alien Trespass with Jenni Baird, Eric McCormack and director R.W. Goodwin

By Jordan Wright
January 4, 2009

R.W. Goodwin, best known as the director/producer of “The X-Files,” was in town last week and Local Kicks Senior Editor Jordan Wright sat down with him to explore his latest cinematic foray into the realms of outer space.

LOCAL KICKS: What is your attraction to the sci-fi genre?

GOODWIN: It was all accidental, if you want to know the truth. Years ago I was a producer on “Star Trek.” They’d given up the idea of a movie at Paramount but wanted to do it again as a series with the original cast except for Leonard Nimoy and Gene Roddenberry. They asked me to do it. I didn’t know much about sci-fi then. I couldn’t call myself a Trekkie.

“The X-Files” was one of those serendipitous things. I was moving our family up to Washington State to get the kids in school up there and we picked a little town called Bellingham, WA. near the border (of British Columbia), and I’d produced a number of shows in Vancouver.

I get a call from Fox and they set me up with Chris Carter who is doing 12 episodes of this show.

“Alien Trespass” came about through Jim Swift who also lives up in Bellingham. I’d known him for about six years, he was an avid “X-Files” devotee, and after a few years he presented me with a story outline.

As kid he used to ride a bus to Inglewood in LA to go to the Ritz Theatre every Saturday to watch a double feature. As it happened that was the same bus and same theatre I went to as a kid. We had even gone to the same schools in LA. It was like fate. I went home and watched some of the old movies and got intrigued.

He had modeled from the best of the classics, like “War of the Worlds,” “It Came from Outer Space” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and cherry-picked elements from those to put together the story with some clever twists.

LOCAL KICKS: It occurred to me that Alien Trespass was reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone.” Were you influenced by that classic series?

GOODWIN: Oh, sure. Steven Spielberg once said to me that “The “X-Files” was the greatest television series ever made with the possible exception of the original “Twilight Zone.”

LOCAL KICKS: Did you have the cast watch any of the old sci-fi films?

GOODWIN: Yes, I created a sort of lending library that included the films I mentioned earlier and also “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” or “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” and “The Blob.” Though “The Blob” wasn’t the best-made film, what I loved about it was the mistakes and mismatches and that’s what I tried to do in our movie, to include a lot of those technological mistakes. As in the scene when Ted was inhabited by Urp and meets up with Tammy in the desert driving her pickup truck and when he stops the background keeps going because he’s walking on a treadmill. I did a lot of those things that I borrowed from all those movies. There are a lot of little nuggets buried in the film for people to discover.

LOCAL KICKS: I detected shades of some of the actors from 50’s TV, like Broderick Crawford from the old Highway Patrol series, Don Knotts, as Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, and Stu Erwin of Trouble with Father. To what degree did the actors from those early television shows influence your casting decisions?

GOODWIN: Casting decisions were based on contemporary actors that we felt would be the best suited for those roles. Susan Edelman who is one of the best casting directors in the business gave me a list of names for the lead. We thought since we were such a small film that we wouldn’t get any of the top leads but nevertheless we started with our top choice who was Eric McCormack.

LOCAL KICKS: Did you cast him because of his role in Free Enterprise?

GOODWIN: No, but a lot of people mention that movie to me. I just needed someone who could play both roles and had the breadth and ability to do both drama and comedy. With Robert Patrick I had exec-produced a pilot comedy with him some years before and realized that, notwithstanding his role in “The Terminator”, he could be really funny. He was my top choice. And Dan Lauria, a sweet, wonderful man I just hoped he would be available. We were lucky that all of the actors were available to do our little movie.

LOCAL KICKS: Do you think young audiences of today can appreciate a film with out all of the fast-paced special effects they are accustomed to?

GOODWIN: When we did the screenings in the beginning we just told people that it was science fiction. But it’s not a recreation, or a parody or a spoof. It’s funny though we play it straight. In the beginning kids walked out of it saying, “Oh, these special effects are awful and the acting is so weird.” But then surprisingly, there were fans from 10 years old and up that just loved it. They really got it. It’s a wonderful group experience.

LOCAL KICKS: In the scene with Ted, the astronomer, and Lana, his wife, where she blows out the candles before turning to the bedroom…what actress and scene did you have in mind?

GOODWIN: Actually the sexy part of it was something we came up with because we wanted to get to the bedroom scene, well, you know the old “Hays Code” [a reference to industry censorship guidelines in effect in the 50’s that legislated morality, and required an actor to have one foot on the floor in a bedroom scene]. We wanted to show that. The scene itself was inspired by a scene in “It Came From Outer Space” when Barbara Rush and Richard Carlson go out on the patio and she blows out the candles. If you look at it the light change, it takes two seconds after she blows on the candle and before it goes out and I did the same thing. Jody Thompson, who is like Ava Gardner, really nails the scene. But the good thing is it’s an original. I’m really allergic to remakes.

LOCAL KICKS: If you put salt on a garden slug you get the same mortal reaction you achieved with your alien…a puddle of viscous slime. Is that where you got your inspiration?

GOODWIN: No. But in “I Married A Monster From Outer Space’ they did it and that’s where we got the idea.

LOCAL KICKS: Will there be any more monsters in your future?

GOODWIN: I’ve just done a pilot with these two guys I’ve found. They’re wonderful comic actors, they do sketch stuff, song and dance and puppets and characters and mime. It’s totally off the wall. It will be like Monty Python meets Moulin Rouge in the 21st century. I’m hoping to get that on cable as a weekly series.

The interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Jordan Wright.