A Chorus Line ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 11, 2019 

Director Matthew Gardiner’s reinterpretation of A Chorus Line features brand new choreography from Denis Jones and departs from the original branded choreography by Michael Bennett.  Though I can’t recall the original enough to make a comparison of the two, I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy the musical we’ve all come to love.

The cast of A Chorus Line at Signature Theatre ~ Photo by Christopher Muelle

A typical dance studio is the only set.  Framed by wide strips of Mylar ‘mirror’ and the traditional ballet barre, the focus is on the personalities and emotional stories of the 24 chorus line hopefuls.  Fairly quickly, seven are unceremoniously cut from consideration and we are left with seventeen dancers vying for a limited number of spots in an unnamed production.

Zach is the psychotic director.  From his command post, a desk, positioned in the center of the audience, he insults, cajoles, challenges and intimidates the dancers. “I just wanna hear you talk and be yourselves,” he says, insisting they reveal their innermost thoughts and childhood traumas, asking why they are there and why they chose to be dancers.  Larry, his emotionless assistant and choreographer, imposes Zach’s whimsical demands and works to corral the wannabes into a cohesive line.

Emily Tyra (Cassie) and Matthew Risch (Zach) in A Chorus Line at Signature Theatre ~ Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The story depicts a cross section of the dancers’ insecurities and neediness, and the fierce desperation of hoping for a break, as they are forced to relive the traumas of their childhood.  It’s intensely relatable and curiously human.  In a way, it’s pure schadenfreude.  We feel their pain and recognize their struggles, but we can’t, and shouldn’t, look away.

There are so many indelible, and identifiable, characters here – Cassie, the aging beauty once in a relationship with Zach and now begging him for a spot in the line; Sheila, a tough broad with attitude, desperate to forget a harsh childhood; Mark, an awkwardly naïve manchild who hilariously misdiagnosed gonorrhea from his addiction to medical textbooks; Val, a former cheerleader with Broadway aspirations and newly purchased plastic surgery; Paul, whose dance experience as a stripper in a drag club brings him shame; Maggie, a warm-hearted dreamer with a difficult past; Richie, a flashy dancer and former school teacher; and all the others, too numerous to describe here.  Among them they speak of their struggles to overcome the pain of suicide, incest, depression, poverty, homosexuality.  Among the dancers there is love, caring and understanding.

Joshua Buscher (Larry), Daxx Jayroe Wieser (Mark), Bryan Charles Moore (Don) and the cast of A Chorus Line at Signature Theatre ~ Photo by Christopher Mueller

You will easily recognize many of the musical numbers composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban (Tony Awards for ‘Best Original Score’, ‘Best Musical’ and ‘Best Book of a Musical’).  Zach asks, “If today were the day you had to stop dancing, what would you do?” The answer is the torch song, “What I Did for Love.”  Beautifully expressed, the words and music reflect the highs and lows of showbiz life, yet with a universality recognizable to everyone.

A wonderful, shiny, madly talented cast.  Highly recommended.

With Maria Rizzo as Sheila; Emily Tyra as Cassie; Matthew Risch as Zach; Joshua Buscher as Larry; Michelle E. Carter as Tricia; Zeke Edmonds as Roy; Adena Ershow as Val; Samantha Marisol Gershman as Diana; Jeff Gorti as Paul; Ben Gunderson as Bobby; Lawrence Hailes as Butch; Vincent Kempski as Al; Julia Klavans as Vicki; Elise Kowalick as Kristine; Lina Lee as Connie; Bryan Charles Moore as Don; Corinne Munsch as Judy; Zachary Norton as Greg; Kayla Pecchioni as Maggie; Daniel Powers as Frank; MK Sagastume as Lois; Trevor Michael Schmidt as Mike; Jillian Wessel as Bebe; Daxx Jayroe Wieser as Mark; Phil Young as Richie; and Joshua Buscher as Dance Captain.

Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante; Lighting by Adam Honoré; Sound Design Ryan Hickey; Orchestra led by Jon Kalbfleisch.

Through January 5th at Signature Theatre, (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit

Mark Morris Dance Group ~ Pepperland ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 16, 2019 

Mark Morris Dance Group_Pepperland – Noah Vinson (forwground) and Dallas McMurray (background) ~ Photo by Mat Hayward

“It was 50 years ago today.  Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.  They’ve been going in and out of style, but they’re guaranteed to make you smile.” – – lyrics by Paul McCartney.  And smile we did with this joyfully exuberant reinterpretation by the Mark Morris Dance Group.  With no formulaic restrictions on movement and a choreography as light and unfettered as a butterfly on the wing, the dances flow as freely as the original music cleverly deconstructed by Composer Ethan Iverson.  It’s bouncy, angular and humor-inducing, shouldered by the gravitas of George Harrison’s lyrics in the Indian-inspired raga, “Within You and Without You”, that is mesmerizing, timely and deeply mystical.

Mark Morris Dance Group – Pepperland~ Photo by Mat Hayward

The performance begins with an intro of the initial characters – Billy Shears (whom we expected), then Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Shirley Temple, Sonny Liston!, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, and other intriguing celebrities who later morph into miming, interpretive dancers that echo flight and fantasy interpreting the myriad of styles reflected in the album – from Jazz and Vaudeville to the strains of Music Hall, the avant-garde, and top of the pops.

Crayon-colored costumes by Elizabeth Kurtzman recall the aesthetics of artist Peter Max and author Tom Wolfe’s psychedelic-inspired, counter-culture celebration novel, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” as well as the fashions of André Courrèges and London’s Carnaby Street of the same 60’s dynamic.

Mark Morris Dance Group – Pepperland ~ Photo by Mat Hayward

Accompanied by vocalist Clinton Curtis and a five-piece band that includes a soprano sax, trombone, keyboard and percussionist, the sound is further heightened by Ethan Iverson on the piano and the lilting strains of the avant-garde electronic instrument called a theremin played by Rob Schwimmer.  This fantasy-like reinterpretation of the original Beatles music (Yes, the songs are still recognizable) draws from both the minimalist stylings of composer Phillip Glass and 60’s dances.  Frug, anyone?

Seven Beatles compositions from the album are augmented by ‘Magna Carta’, ‘Adagio’, ‘Allegro’ and ‘Scherzo’.  One of the dances is a riff on Ringo’s song, “When I’m 64”.  It places the dancers shoulder-to-shoulder, chorus line style, all doing a different dance. So original!

Highly recommended.

Additional musicians – Sam Newsome on soprano saxophone; Jacob Garchik on trombone; Colin Fowler on keyboard; and Vinnie Sperrazza on percussion.

Mark Morris Dance Group – Pepperland ~ Photo by Mat Hayward

Dancers – Mica Bernas, Karlie Budge, Brandon Cournay, John Eirich, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant, Sarah Haarmann, Deepa Liegel, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Matthew McLaughlin, Dallas McMurray, Minga Prather, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Christina Sahaida, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson, and Jammie Walker.

At the Kennedy Center through November 16th .

Mark Morris will be in conversation with Wesley Stace, co-author of his new book, “Out Loud: A Memoir” on Sunday, November 17th between 5-6pm at Politics and Prose Bookstore – 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ November 2019

Jordan Wright
November 2019 

National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Thanksgiving Dinners-To-Go ~ Lupo Verde Osteria ~ Mintwood Place ~ Junction Bakery & Bistro ~ Chop Shop Taco ~ MXDC Cocina Mexicana ~ 2941 Pairing Dinner with Spice Master Lev Lior Secarz and Bertrand Chemel 

Let Mitsitam Cater Thanksgiving Dinner 

Mitsitam Executive Chef Freddie Bitsoie tells Whisk and Quill, “Hurry up and get your shot, Jordan! This platter is really heavy!” ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

While restaurants around town are offering the usual fare for Thanksgiving take-out – turkey, cranberry sauce, green beans and stuffing, or, ‘dressing’ depending on where you were raised – one of them is leaning towards a growing clientele looking for a more authentic Thanksgiving experience.

This could be your Thanksgiving table! ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Mitsitam Café in the National Museum of the American Indian, whose Executive Chef Freddie Bitsoie is preparing a Native American Thanksgiving menu for pickup at the Café, provides that authentic experience.  Since American Indians are the first real Americans, dining on these indigenously inspired dishes becomes a deeper more historically engaged experience – one that honors ingredients popular in American Indian culture.  The menu sources ingredients from around the country (the turkey is from a local farm) and will be available in the Café Thursday through Saturday during Thanksgiving week.

This unique holiday dinner features a whole turkey glazed with real maple syrup, cranberry sauce, gravy, cornbread, dessert and a choice of four of these five sides – Wild Rice Salad with pine nuts, carrots, scallions, cranberries; Three Sister Salad, a New Mexican inspiration made with corn, black beans, squash, parsley and lemon; Agave Braised Butternut Squash topped with pecans; and, of course, creamy mashed potatoes with gravy.  “Made in the French style with a stick of butter for each Russet potato,” says Bitsoie.  A scrumptious Pumpkin Chocolate Bread pudding provides the sweet finish.

Thanksgiving dinner from Mitsitam Café ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Bitsoie, who has been featured in America: The Cookbook, The New York Times, “Lidia Celebrates America” with Lidia Bastianich, and NPR, is one of a handful of Native American chefs at the forefront of preparing, presenting and educating about foods indigenous to the Americas.  Whisk and Quill caught up with Bitsoie after his recent lecture at Harvard University where he spoke about cultural anthropology and diffusion culture.  “Thanksgiving tells a mythical story about this time of year,” he told me.  “It’s very ironic and goes against the grain of our history.”

The complete holiday dinners are priced at $190.00 and serve 6-8 guests.  They are available for pick-up at Mitsitam Café from 10AM – 5PM by November 27th, the day before Thanksgiving.  The deadline for placing orders is November 25th.   Bonus: For each 25 dinners sold, one is donated to a needy family through Martha’s Table.

To order online visit or call (202) 633.7044.  The Thanksgiving menu will be available in the cafeteria from Thursdays through Sundays.  The museum will be hosting Native American Heritage Day on Friday, November 29th from 10AM – 4PM.  For information on other festivals, screenings, talks and performances visit NMAI.

Lupo Verde Osteria

The cozy bar and front dining room at Lupo Verde Osteria ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

If I lived in the Palisades neighborhood of DC, you might find me nestled at a table in the cozy front room enjoying a bowl of linguine with clam sauce, or perched at the bar having a midday espresso.  If I’m with friends, I’d probably head upstairs to the large dining room with windows all around.

The private dining room at Lupo Verde Osteria ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Each area in the two-story restaurant and bar has a different personality or purpose whether you’re after a glass of wine, a leisurely lunch, a private dinner party space or just a coffee and pastry on the fly.  The cozy Italian-centric spot is not a designer’s idea of what an Italian interior should look like, but the sort of place you might find if you were somewhere in Italy and locals steered you to their favorite restaurant – one that suits all generations.

Fried artichokes – Pappardelle with truffles – Don’t miss dessert at Lupo Verde Osteria! ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Scan the Market at the entrance where you can find everything you need to make an Italian dinner – a curated collection of olive oils, house baked breads, San Marzano tomatoes and pastas, salumi, cheeses, and homemade sauces.  Pick up a few containers of tiramisu and some pistachio torrone, add in a few bottles of wine and you’re the perfect host.

If you’re dining in, the private chef’s table might be the perfect answer.  Dressed in white linens and graced with floral sprays, the table seats up to eight guests.  It’s perfectly intimate and especially charming.  As an added bonus you can see straight through to the kitchen as Executive Chef, Matt Franklin, prepares a customized seven-course dinner for your lucky guests.  Book ahead for this one-of-a-kind dining experience.

Chef Franklin in the alimentari at Lupo Verde Osteria ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Lupo Verde Osteria and Market is located at 4814 MacArthur Boulevard, NW, Washington, DC 20007   202.506.6683.

MXDC Offers a November Shabu Shabu Menu

Celebrity Chef Todd English serves up the shabu shabu ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Last week celebrity chef Todd English came to his MXDC Cocina Mexicana restaurant DC and treated a small group of journalists for a taste of his Japanese shabu shabu menu.  Available only in November, the two-course Nabemono hot pot dinner for two is priced at $65.00 per couple – tax and tip not included.

Braised Duck with Chocolate Molé ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

A seasoned dashi broth in your table top hot pot comes surrounded by twelve thin slices of ribeye steak and shitake mushrooms paired with warm tortillas, red onion and cilantro hoisin mole sauce and cooked piece-by-piece at the table by the guest.  The second course is a dish of angel hair pasta served with carrots, potatoes, zucchini and pulled short rib.

Shabu shabu ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Of course, the regular menu is still in play, and the seviches here are destination-worthy.  Try the shrimp enhanced with a chipotle back note.  From the Platos Fuertes menu the MX Chipotle Pasta is a sure winner.  Gluten-free, it’s made with corn pasta and laden with shrimp and mussels in a chipotle cream sauce.

Quail eggs with caviar ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Skip the Tres Leches cake, it seems to lack one of the leches – sweetened condensed milk that gives it that tender, creamy texture – and opt for the classic flan with Frangelico.

Scallop seviche ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Drinks are MXDC’s strong suit.  Think imaginative margaritas and a selection of over 100 varieties of tequila.  But be forewarned, all the cocktails here are super strong.  That might appeal to some, but I struggled to finish just one.  New fall cocktails feature the ‘La Mula Ilegal’ with Ilegal Joven Mezcal, allspice dram, house-made ginger beer and lime; ‘Smoked Negroni’ with mezcal, Agave de Cortes, Campari, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and orange bitters; ‘Mezcal Old Fashioned’ with Ilegal Joven Mezcal, Diplomatico white rum, orange bitters and Angostura bitters.

MXDC Cocina Mexicana is located in the heart of downtown at 600 14th Street, NW, 20005. For reservations call 202.393.1900.

2941 Restaurant Collaboration Dinner 

The beautiful water feature at the entrance to 2941 Restaurant ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

A unique collaboration is underway this month at 2941 Restaurant.  Spice Master Lior Lev Sercarz, whose just released book Mastering Spice: Recipes and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking (Clarkson Potter 2019) hit the stands with a bang, has partnered with Executive Chef Bertrand Chemel to orchestrate a special dining experience.  The menu has been carefully crafted to showcase Sercarz’s latest spice combinations in harmony with Chemel’s beautifully finessed, contemporary American cuisine.

Much like a “nose” in perfumery, Lior Lev Sercarz uses his fine-tuned palate to create memorable flavors.  Lev Sercarz is a chef, spice blender and owner of New York City’s La Boîte.  After working for notable chef Daniel Boulud at his flagship Daniel, Lev Sercarz opened La Boîte in 2008.  Here, he creates scores of innovative and evocative spice blends, each a reflection of a place, a moment, or cultural influence.  Lev Sercarz has worked closely with chefs from around the world, developing custom spice blends at restaurants such as Daniel, Le Bernardin, Zahav, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Momofuku Kawi, Del Posto, Blackbird Restaurant, and Michael Mina, among others.

Executive Chef Bertrand Chemel – Photo Credit Ashlie Levy

Sercarz and La Boîte have been profiled in numerous national publications including The New York Times, Vogue, InStyle, Food & Wine and the Saveur magazine ‘100’.  He previously authored The Art of Blending and The Spice Companion.  His spices are sold online and in various boutiques including ABC Carpet & Home and Eataly.

Lior Lev Sercarz with noted cookbook author Joan Nathan ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

This new cookbook features over 250 recipes that inform readers how spices can change the way one makes everyday meals. Throughout the book there are master recipes and techniques that are then followed by four or five complementary recipes, allowing readers to make small adjustments in spices or ingredients to create profoundly different dishes.  By mastering these techniques and playing with variations, readers will learn how to use spices to become a more creative and intuitive cook.  Guests of the special spice dinner will enjoy a posh eight-course dinner with wine pairings and receive a special spice packet plus a signed copy of Sercarz’s latest book priced at $150. per person (tax and gratuity included).

The complete menu, a blend of Chemel’s and Lev Sercarz’s recipes, is presented below.   

Le Puy Lentils Soup
dried Persian lime, celery seeds, carrot and urfa pepper
Sea Scallop Crudo
Bombay vinaigrette, green apple and celery 

Second Course
Heirloom Beet Carpaccio
roasted fig & aged manchego and vincotto
Foie Gras Ballotine
marinated in Porto, Challah bread and orange- fig marmalade

Third Course
Strozzapreti Cacio e Pepe
cubeb black pepper, pecorino, black truffle tapenade and chanterelles

Fourth Course
Japanese Madai
Leeks, Kohlrabi and saffron mussel sauce
Pkaila Cassolette
Cranberry beans, pearl onion, ayala spice and tomato

Fifth Course
Lamb Duo
Fennel & coriander crusted rack of lamb, braised lamb neck, caramelized onion and carrots
Fall Onion Tart
Caramelized onion & celery root, smoked sea salt-pioppini mushrooms and baby carrots

Sixth Course
Wood fire Grilled Rib Eye
Cocoa-chile spiced rib eye and izac pomme croquette
Citrus Cauliflower Gashi
curried cauliflower, fingerling potato and fried black rice 

Seventh Course
Cheese Duo
Butternut squash tatin, goat cheese-sage ice cream &
Jasper Hill Farm Harbison cheese souffle

Citron Tart
Luberon spice, lemon marmalade, buttermilk Chantilly, spiced sable and toasted meringue
Pecan Mont Blanc
Reims spice, pecan mousseline, spiced chocolate cake, chocolate sable and caramel ice cream

Citron Tart | Cocoa Puff | Beet Cake | Baked Alaska ~ Photo Credit Ashlie Levy

2941 Restaurant is located at 2941 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church, VA 22042.  For reservations please call 703.270.1500.  Complimentary valet parking.

Mintwood Place 

The bar area at Mintwood Place ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Mintwood Place, a delightful neighborhood brasserie, is revealing a post workday Happy Hour plan with its newly expanded bar menu.  This intimate Adams Morgan bistro with cozy dining niches overlooking the street, is overseen by Chef de Cuisine Matthew Cockrell and Pastry Chef Stephanie Milne.

Chef de Cuisine Matthew Cockrell in the kitchen at Mintwood Place ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

A 31-seat bar and lounge are the perfect space for lively convos and specially priced bar snacks like moules frites meuniere and duck rillettes during happy hour.

Autumn salad with pears and blue cheese dressing at Mintwood Place ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Graze on their ‘Mountain Pies’ like apple, fontina and tarragon or Dijon and ham or gouda cheese with caramelized onion and frisée or dig into tummy-warming vegetable sides like the Signature Ratatouille; Lemon Quinoa with shaved turnips and parsnips; or Pear Onion Tartlets.  There’s Split Pea Soup with Tasso ham; Wild Mushroom Soup with crispy wild rice and Butternut Squash Soup with spiced pepitas.

Wagyu beef tartare with quail egg and potato gaufrettes at Mintwood Place ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Warm up from winter’s icy grip with one of the latest cocktails from Bar Manager Matthew Wilcox – “The Cayuga”, made with rye whiskey, riesling, grenadine, spiced apple cider, and tarragon; “All Over The Map”, with sour cherry bitter liquor, pineapple juice, ginger cordial, cherry syrup, chamomile bitters and soda water; or “Anjou Can Tell Everybody”, with cognac, pear mix, lemon juice, lime juice and Peychaud’s bitters.

Mintwood Place is located at 1813 Columbia Road, NW, Washington, DC 20009. 202.234.6732

Junction Bakery & Bistro Opens for Dinner Service

Junction Bakery has been a mainstay in the Del Ray community for a number of years with its house baked croissants, cakes, breads, muffins, plus a lunchtime soups and salads menu.  Centrally located at the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and East Monroe Avenue, the charming breakfast and lunch spot has eschewed dinner service until now.  What, you wonder, would they offer for a full-on meal?  Well, I was pleasantly surprised when I tried a number of items from Executive Chef James Duke’s dinner menu featuring a wide range of options.

Trending somewhat towards Asian fusion (Duke has mad skills as a fermenter), I found banh mi sandwiches, curries, tofu stir fry, rice bowls using the gold standard Carolina Gold rice, a sesame kale salad, and hand-rolled Peking duck dumplings.

For those who like their dinners Southern and homey, there are a wealth of options like pot roast, Memphis-style BBQ, mac and cheese, and a whole roast chicken with taters and field greens.

Pastry Chef Gianpier Flores triumphs with sky high chocolate cake and chocolate croissants with a Valrhona chocolate baton tucked inside.  Start off with signature cocktails then ask Beverage Director and Sommelier Michael Rovezzi to pair wines or local beers with your dinner. 

Junction Bakery & Bistro is located at 1508 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301.  For information and reservations call 703.436.0025.

Hidden Gem Chop Shop Taco in Old Town Alexandria 

Chop Shop Taco ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Several blocks from Old Town’s usual restaurant row on King Street, this hidden gem of a taco joint delivers big flavor both in drinks and tacos.  Located in a former car repair garage, the whole front of the building is a garage door that flips open on balmy days.  With a walk-up window that stays open late, this is where hipsters and after-shift chefs go to chill in Alexandria.

Throwback glassware holds a margarita ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

I was going to keep this place a secret, and I did for awhile, but when I heard one of the guys at my local Trader Joe’s chatting up a customer with the news that these are the best tacos around, I thought it was time to let the cat out of the proverbial bag.

Taco with avocado at Chop Shop Taco ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Decorated with street art murals, the two-level spot features unusual taco combinations like fatty brisket tacos made with star anise and an Asian style taco made with bone-in duck leg roasted in duck fat with gochujang, chipotle and pineapple.  Fried avocado tacos will undoubtedly appeal to those coming from the many nearby fitness studios.  Pick from a stable of hot sauces, mild or blazing hot, to complement your tacos.  And don’t say I didn’t share my secret spot with my dear readers.

It’s family friendly at Chop Shop Taco ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Chop Shop Taco is located at 1008 Madison Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 just off of North Henry Street (Route 1).  For information call 571.970.6438.

The Magic Flute ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 4, 2019 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his final opera, The Magic Flute, in his later years after he had joined the Rationalist faction of the Freemasons known as the Illuminati who held differing views on society’s rank.  In this romantic tale, a dragon must be slain – this one’s a fire-breathing, glowing-eyed monster – a princess with a heartless mother must be rescued from the evil clutches of a sexual predator, and harmony shall reign through the brotherhood of man.  This humanist theme reflects the particular Masonic ethos which holds that nobility of the spirit was not defined by noble rank.  Very democratic.

(l-r) Alexandria Shiner (1st Lady), Deborah Nansteel (2nd Lady), Meredith Arwady (3rd Lady),Michael Adams (Papageno), David Portillo (Tamino) in WNO’s The Magic Flute. Photo credit by ScottSuchman

Incorporating vibrant themes of exotic Egyptian iconography with Freemasonry symbolism, the opera depicts a universal lesson in morality, unity and kindness.  And if all that sounds unusually weighty Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto is the stuff of classic fairy tales.

Kathryn Lewek (Queen of the Night), David Portillo (Tamino)in the WNO’s The Magic Flute. Photo credit by Scott Suchman

The eye candy comes from the genius of children’s book writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak who designed both costumes and scenery.  Using a layered construction of fourteen entirely different sets involving wings, borders, flats and colored cloths that draw the eye into an ever-deeper perspective, the scenery is wonderfully whimsical and darkly haunting – think children’s pop up books which, according to Sendak’s friend and collaborator, Neil Peter Jampolis, is exactly the look Sendak was aiming for.

Michael Adams (Papageno), Alexandra Nowakowski (Papagena) in The WNO’s The Magic Flute. Photo credit by Scot tSuchman

It was discovered that the original sets had deteriorated.  So, how would these old sets be replicated?  Enter veteran set designer Jampolis who digitized the designs from Sendak’s original drawings.  What a treat for new audiences! since it affords us the thrill of imagining we are time-warped to 1980 when the Houston Grand Opera initially commissioned Sendak.  Fusing the neo-classical of the 18th century with pure folly, Sendak gives us a mashup of temples and palm trees coexisting with wild animals, Corinthian columns and sphinxes.

The Washington National Opera presents The Magic Flute. Photo credit by Scott Suchman

Masonic elements are everywhere.  Look for the clues.  From the Golden Mean compass half-hidden behind a massive rock, to the aprons and blindfolds used in Masonic rituals.   Sendak didn’t miss a single beat.  The splendid costumes range from dreamy fairy tale to British Colonials in perukes and britches meeting in secret ceremonies with blindfolded acolytes.  It’s pure science fiction, if you think about it.

Wei Wu (Sarastro), Alexander McKissick (1st Armed Man), Samuel J. Weiser (2nd Armed Man) in WNO’s The Magic Flute. Photo credit by Scott Suchman

A collection of magnificent voices brings this can’t-miss production to a crescendo.  The golden genies – three local youngsters whose harmonies are positively angelic, the breathtaking diva Kathryn Lewek who proves that three-plus octaves in her second act aria is no sweat, and the good looks and athleticism of Michael Adams as Papageno and tenor David Portillo as Tamino, are the icing on this delicious multi-tiered cake.  David Cangelosi as Monostatos shows his comic timing and brazen silliness is spot on, most especially in a scene with a bare-breasted statue and I was taken by surprise by the lovely voiced Alexandra Nowakowski as Papagena.

Don’t miss this full-throttle two-acter singspiel.  It’s epic!

Also featuring Sydney Mancasola as Pamina, Kathryn Lewek as Queen of the Night and the powerful bass, Wei Wu, who reminded me of Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz, as the evil Sarastro.

Conducted by Eun Sun Kim, directed by Christopher Mattaliano, Set Design and Lighting by Neil Peter Jampolis with the Washington National Opera Orchestra and the Washington National Opera Chorus.

Performances are as follows: November 6, 9, 12, 15, 17 (matinee only) & 23.

At the at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

Right to be Forgotten ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
October 27, 2019 

In Sharyn Rothstein’s clever play, Right to be Forgotten, the dilemma of the right to privacy in the digital age versus free speech gets a full-throttle examination.  Is the internet our friend or is it our undoing?  As a starry-eyed teen, Derril, followed his crush, Eve, around town until, feeling fearful of his unwanted attention. she reported him for stalking.  A blog called the ‘High School Girl Blog’ was created and outed him by name.  From that moment on Derril became the personification of a stalker.  As the blog went viral it encouraged any woman who had ever been stalked to post their experience.

(L to R) John Austin (Derril Lark) and Shubhangi Kuchibhotla (Sarita Imari) in Right to be Forgotten. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Now Derril is trying to get his PHD, have a career, and woo Sarita, a quirky girl, who likes him but is afraid to continue the relationship.  When she googled him up, she saw the damning comments that were still online.  The tricky bit is Derril refuses to change his name – a part of the plot that is hard to understand.  He chooses instead a privacy rights attorney hoping he can sue to have the posts removed and clear his name.  “Always there is this other me online,” he tells Marta who finally agrees to take his case.

Marta’s plan is to have him go public and to that end she takes him to a conference, “The Future of a Free Internet”, where he bursts onto a stage, tells his story and gets unceremoniously tossed out. Because everyone wants a free internet.  Right?  Or, well, not until it threatens their entire future.

John Austin (Derril Lark) in Right to be Forgotten running. Photo by Margot Schulman.

There are twists and turns when Marta tries to get her former colleague, Annie, to see it her way.  Now a bigwig corporate attorney representing internet companies, Annie plays hardball undermining Marta and planning a secret strategy involving a certain politician currently running for office.  Will the two women broker a deal to get the web links removed or will Marta resort to blackmail?  And will Eve find feel remorse for subjecting Derril to a lifetime of hateful trolling?  Alas, we are the ones left to ponder if free speech trumps hate speech and if privacy laws are archaic in the face of technology’s multi-faceted reach.  We are reminded that in 2014 the EU required search engines to create a “right to be forgotten” procedure.  We have no such protocols in the U. S.

Guadalupe Campos (Eve Selinsky) in Right to be Forgotten. Photo by Margot Schulman.

If you liked Dear Evan Hansen and remember how young Evan’s relationship with the internet nearly destroyed his life, you will love how this play turns out.  Did I mention that there’s a ton of comic relief?  Thanks to Marta’s character who is hilariously conniving and played brilliantly by Melody Butiu, there is a lot to love in this cautionary tale performed by a flawless cast and set against a techie’s dream of a set design by Paige Hathaway.

Highly recommended.

With John Austin as Derril Lark; Guadalupe Campos as Eve Selinsky; Rachel Felstein as Annie Zahirovic; Shubhangi Kuchibhotla as Sarita Imari; and Edward O’Blenis as Alvaro Santos.

Directed by Seema Sueko; Costume Design by Ivania Stack; Lighting Design by Adam Honoré; Sound Design by Andre Pluess; and Projection Design by Shawn Duan.

Through November 10th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit