Categories

A Special Celebration of the 130th Anniversary of Twin Oaks ~ Features a Spectacular Display of Taiwanese Orchids

Jordan Wright
September 30, 2018 

Bathe in the beauty of hundreds of orchids at the historic 18-acre estate of Twin Oaks in Northwest DC.  The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) presents the exciting exhibition, "Discover the Beauty of Taiwanese Orchids".  This exciting exhibit is open to the public from September 27th to October 3rd.  At the opening reception Ambassador Stanley Kao and his wife hosted guests with the President of Taiwan Sugar Corporation, Mr. Yu-Chung Huang in the 24-room mansion built in 1888.

Ambassador Stanley Kao and his wife ~ President of Taiwan Sugar Corporation, Mr. Yu-Chung Huang ~ John J. Norris, Jr Managing Director American Institute in Taiwan ~Tania, Uen-han, Wei Executive Officer TECRO ~ Chuang, Suo-Hang Vice Chairman TAITRA ~ Franklin F.Y. Chen Director TECRO ~ Craig Min-Hsien Lee Press Officer TECRO

“Twin Oaks is a symbol of friendship and strength of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship,” said Stanley Kao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States. “This estate has a storied history, both for sharing the culture of Taiwan and the United States, and also for bearing witness to key historical events in this long the mutually beneficial partnership.”

Owned by the government of Taiwan, this magnificent estate showcased one of Taiwan’s national treasures – Phalaenopsis amabilisin a myriad of ways.  Trees are now hung with enormous sprays of these many-colored orchids and the portico and mansion’s interiors are chock-a-block with their elegance.

The opening reception were leaders from the Washington business and policy community, think tanks and diplomatic corps and journalists

At the opening reception were leaders from the Washington business and policy community, think tanks and diplomatic corps and journalists.  We were thrilled to enjoy both indoor and outdoor displays of these stunning blooms and hear the stories of the Orchid Symphony.

One particular outdoor display features a winding watercourse with floating teacups to symbolize a poetry game of legend, popular with the country’s ancient literati. Among the trees hangs the calligraphy of Lantingji Xu.  It records one of the games and is the preface to the poems collected during that particular game.  Other displays triumph the culture of Taiwan as well as the 130-year history of Twin Oaks.   In one, a decorated canoe created from nine different kinds of wood illustrates the exquisite workmanship of Lanyu the island celebrated for this native Taiwanese orchid species.  Guests were gifted with a basket of phalaenopsis orchids donated by the award-winning company Taisuco who brought the team who created the eye-popping displays.

Lanyu the island celebrated for this native Taiwanese orchid species

Factoid:  A whopping 32% of Taiwan’s orchids are exported to the U. S. where orchid fanciers have enjoyed their long-lasting beauty and charm.

The Taiwanese Council of Agriculture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) co-sponsored this event. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) has entrusted the Taiwan Association of Orchid Production and Development with landscaping and arrangement of this auspicious celebration.

The exhibit is open to the public through October 3rd.  Twin Oaks is located at 3225 Woodley Road, Washington, DC.  www.roc-taiwan.org.

Heisenberg ~ Signature Theatre In the ARK Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 29, 2018

Prolific British playwright Simon Stephens is attracted to uniquely drawn character dynamics – as in his Tony Award-winning play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – his irresistible drama of an autistic child accused of murdering a neighbor’s dog. 

Michael Russotto (Alex) ~ Photo by Cameron Whitman.

In Heisenberg he pens a strange tale of a 75-year old Irishman who falls for a much younger American woman.  Both have unrealistic expectations of the other.  Georgie Burns is deeply flawed.  She is a manipulative, self-absorbed, pathologically prevaricating, intensely neurotic stalker – precisely the type of woman women hate, and men fear.  She calculatingly insinuates herself into Alex Priest’s life through flattery and sexual favors alternately belittling him and, just as quickly, excusing her behavior.  “I’m really weird.  I know.  I love making things up,” she confesses. It’s unnerving watching her cavalierly crush his defenses.  If this were real life she would probably be arrested for elder abuse.

Luring him like a siren to a rocky shore, Georgie beds Alex. “I like your wrinkled skin.  It’s old… like Europe.”  The following morning, she asks him to give her a large sum of money to find the son who no longer wants to see her, though it’s never explained why she doesn’t ask the boy’s father where he is.  All along, Alex follows her around like a lovelorn puppy, mistreated but firmly attached to its owner.

Rachel Zampelli (Georgie) and Michael Russotto (Alex) in the DC premiere of Heisenberg at Signature Theatre. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Alex is a lonely man, bereft of family and grimly philosophizing about his odds of finding a connection towards the end of his life.  Georgie, who readily confesses she has googled him, takes advantage of his insecurities to satisfy her own needs. But Alex is convinced she can change, telling her, “Personalities are never fixed.  They can always change.  They mean nothing.”  Influenced by German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty theory, Stephens asks us to buy into the notion of character mutability.  Though it’s hard to believe how this particular principle might apply to a 42-year old predator.

Michael Russotto (Alex) and Rachel Zampelli (Georgie) in the DC premiere of Heisenberg at Signature Theatre. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Directed by Joe Calarco, Michael Russotto is superb as Alex, infusing the character with grace and an infectious Irish lilt.  Rachel Zampelli gives a bravely compelling performance as the grifter we wish would crawl back under the rock she emerged from.

That this unsettling play is well-acted, is not enough for this reviewer to grant any redeeming social value to this theatrical exercise.  Ultimately, we want to identify with a character or feel their pain, revel in their joys or see them get their comeuppance.

With Scenic Design by Pamela Weiner, Lighting Design by Andrew Cissna, Costume Design by Alison Samantha Johnson, and Sound Design by Kenny Neal.

Through November 11th in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

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.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ September 23rd 2018

Jordan Wright
September 23, 2018
Photo credit: Jordan Wright

Paella Nights at the Fairmont ~ Muze Restaurant Earns High Marks ~ Eagerly Awaited Eaton Hotel Opens ~ Atlantic Magazine’s Upcoming Three-day Festival ~ Mount Vernon Launches Aged Whiskey and Hemp Demonstrations

Paella Nights at the Fairmont Hotel

Paella by Chef Jordi Gallardo in the gardens

Blink and You’ll Miss It:  The Fairmont Hotel has been serving up delicioso paella nights in its stunning gardens on Wednesdays throughout the month of September.  The last one is tonight, Wednesday September 26th

Serrano ham on Paella night ~ Tortillas de Patatas ~ Anchovies

Spanish-born Executive Chef Jordi Gallardo oversees a fantastic menu of gazpacho, pan con tomate, manchego cheese, serrano ham freshly cut from the bone, tortillas de patatas, a selection of Spanish olives, fresh anchovies and caramel flan.  Cozy fire pits and comfy outdoor sofas present a luxe venue for Chef Gallardo’s live paella station. 

Using a family recipe from his hometown of Barcelona, he prepares authentic paella featuring shrimp, chicken and mussels.  At $10.00 per person you’d be a fool to miss it. The hotel is also offering specially priced glasses and bottles of Spanish Cava and red and white Spanish wines along with Mahou Cinco Estrellas Beer at $5.00 each and Er Boqueron Gastro Ale at $7.00 each.

Flamenco guitarist Ricardo Marlow

Accompanying the festival is renowned Flamenco Guitarist Ricardo Marlow who has played with musicians of other genres, namely Charlie Byrd, Frank Vignola, Canut and Andre Reyes of the Gipsy Kings, The Washington Ballet, Kivanç Oner, Duende Camaron and many others. 

No reservations necessary. Just go!  The Fairmont Hotel is located at 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.  www.Fairmont.com

Muze’s East West Kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental

The Mandarin Oriental’s grand entrance

Off the top of my head I can name a scant few restaurants in DC where service meets food meets elegant ambiance.  Throw in a waterfront view and I’m all yours.  For a milestone birthday, I chose Muze in the Mandarin Oriental in hopes of a hushed dining spot with tables well-spaced apart, gracious service and fine dining with a view.  We were not disappointed.  Just entering the grandiose massive-columned lobby, dripping in marble with bespoke gardens beyond, foretells a luxury dining experience.  I hadn’t dined there since Executive Chef Eric Ziebold left the restaurant in 2014 when it was CityZen.  It stayed shuttered for a time after his departure and now a redesign and new chef have reinvigorated its stellar reputation.

Muze Dining Room ~ View of the Wharf Harbor 

We kicked off the celebration with a bottle of Moët toasting merrily while reveling in a glorious sunset over the Potomac River.  If you like a view, this second story, bird’s-eye panorama is breathtaking.

Angus Beef Tataki 

Executive Chef, Stefan Kauth was on holiday and our Labor Day meal was prepared by Sous Chef Justin Houghtaling who sent out a refreshing amuse bouche shooter of lemongrass, honeydew, coconut and mint to tease and awaken the palate.  With so many appealing starters and salads to choose from we could hardly decide and opted for four for the three of us – Tatsoi & Arugula Salad with pea shoots and pickled lotus root, Angus Beef Tataki with two sauces, Ahi Poke with bits of pineapple and house made shrimp chips, and Crab, Corn & Coconut Soup.  Once we’d ordered three waiters sprang into action orchestrating our courses, answering questions and promptly refilling our wineglasses throughout the evening.  It doesn’t get any more attentive than this.

Tatsoi Salad with lotus root ~ Amuse bouche ~ Crab & Corn Chowder

Each dish was beautifully refined reflecting a unique Asian-inspired personality coupled with French technique.  However, we all agreed that the soup stole our hearts.  Enhanced by red pepper crème fraiche, grilled corn niblets, pickled fresno pepper and Thai basil, it achieved a sublimely restrained balance that wowed us.  Woe betide to my poor husband who had to tolerate a duet of spoons reaching across the table for yet another taste.

Ahi poke with shrimp chips~ Lobster Pappardelle ~ Corn crusted Black Grouper

Because our entrée choices ranged from Wagyu beef to corn crusted black grouper to lobster pappardelle, a 2015 Willamette Valley pinot noir from Lemelson Vineyards was selected. During our meal Chef Houghtaling came to the table to gauge our response and garner oohs and aahs.  As for dessert, nothing could prepare us for the exquisite and delicious sweet finales whose brief menu descriptions inadequately revealed the sum of their parts.

Berry Cheesecake with strawberry sponge, raspberry and strawberry marmalade, strawberry emulsion and lemon-scented mascarpone

All this and perfect service too.  After some prodding, we discovered our extraordinarily knowledgeable waiter, Nicanor, ‘Nic’,
had been in the employ of chefs as legendary as Yannick Cam and Jean Louis Palladin, and in more recent years, Fabio Trabocchi at Fiola.  He had also spent 25 years at the Ritz-Carlton seeing to the needs of sophisticated diners.  Ask for Nic when you make your reservation
and tell him I sent you.

Muze is located at 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20024. For reservations visit www.MandarinOriental.com or call 202.787.6148

Eagerly Awaited Eaton Workshop Hotel Opens

Eaton Workshop Hotel

Eaton Workshop Hotel wants innovators, artists, and social and creative incubators to work, stay and lounge at their hip new hotel, Kintsugi café, rooftop bar and lounge,
and upcoming restaurant.  Did I mention the secret bar?  More on that later. 

Kintsugi Cafe at Eaton

Executive Chef Tim Ma led a tour of the exciting new space that will cater to hip travelers and trendy residents.  Designed by Parts & Labor as a platform for creatives and progressive millennials, the hotel will feature Ma’s restaurant American Son due to open September 28th.  Though Italian food was the original concept the giant wood-fired pizza oven will now be used for roasting vegetables for his Korean-inspired cuisine.  Nights on the rooftop will feature a DJ after dark and guests are expected to linger in the hotel’s many workspaces and library.

Executive Chef Tim Ma takes a break on the rooftop patio at Eaton

As the driving force behind the hotel’s food and beverage program, Ma’s influence can be felt in all aspects including the recently open wellness-influenced Kintsugi café featuring craft coffee from Red Rooster Coffee of Floyd, Virginia, mushroom coffee, wellness teas from strong>Neakita, juices from Misfit Juicery and pastries, including gluten-free and vegan options from Pastry Chef David Collier.

The Alice in Wonderland mural in Allegory’s secret bar

If you’re in the know, you’ll find the secret Allegory cocktail bar hidden beyond a series of ordinary-looking doors on the main level towards the back of the hotel.  This stunning, romantically-lit bar features a large mural of Alice in Wonderland as seen by Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans in post-Jim Crow America.

The rooftop bar and lounge at Eaton

Eaton Hotel is located at 1201 K Street, NW, Washington, DC. For information and reservations visit www.EatonWorkshop.com.

The Atlantic Festival Partners with The Aspen Institute

October’s three-day festival will present some of today’s most influential thinkers and leaders in technology, politics, business and the arts.  Why do we care?  Well, for one thing, José Andrés is one of the speakers. And don’t we want to hear what former Secretary of State John Kerry, Audie Cornish Host of NPR’s “All things Considered”, Actor and Playwright, Harvey Fierstein, and dozens more from varying fields of expertise have to say about our future and the current state of the nation?  We do!  It promises to be the most comprehensive gathering of CEOs, politicians from both sides of the aisle, techies, award-winning reporters and intellectuals – all in one spot.  Actually it’s a few spots including Sidney Harman Hall, the National Portrait Gallery, Hotel Monaco, Gallup Institute and others, but all close together in Penn Quarter. October 2-4, 2018.  For tickets and information go to www.TheAtlanticFestival.com.  See you there!

Mount Vernon Releases Limited Edition Aged Rye Whiskey

Mount Vernon Releases Four-Year Aged Whiskey

George Washington was America’s foremost whiskey distillers.  Along with his wife, Martha, the founding father was no stranger to imbibing and entertaining his guests with an array of wine and spirits.  As gracious hosts the dynamic duo made sure that guests at Mount Vernon were well fed – and well oiled. To celebrate Virginia Spirits Month, Mount Vernon is releasing a mere 200 bottles of George Washington’s Straight Rye Premium Whiskey, distilled at Mount Vernon from Washington’s original recipe. Unlike earlier offerings from the reconstructed distillery, this spirit was aged for four years in charred oak barrels. George Washington’s Straight Rye Premium Whiskey is now available in 375ml bottles for purchase at the Shops at Mount Vernon and at George Washington’s Distillery & Gristmill site. These will sell out quickly – most likely to collectors.

Preparation of Rye Whiskey at Mount Vernon's Distillery & Gristmill

It’s intriguing to peek at Washington’s distillery ledgers from 1798 and 1799, to note that this whiskey consisted of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley.  Considered its finest whiskey release to date, it shows a fruity aroma with hints of oak from the barrels and a palate-pleasant taste of apples, apricots and baking spices.  As with other releases, traditional 18th-century methods were in the production.  Additionally, all the grain in the reconstructed water-powered gristmill was fermented in wooden mash tubs and distilled in copper pot stills heated by wood fires. If you visit, and I urge you to, you will see the historic process in real time.

If you miss out on this special whiskey, several other spirits produced at Mount Vernon’s distillery are available this month, including George Washington’s Rye Whiskey – now designated the ‘State Spirit of Virginia’ – Peach Eau de Vie, and Apple Brandy.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the planting of the first crop of hemp on the property in centuries.

Industrial hemp seed ~ Planting at Pioneer Farm Site

And, no, it’s not for smoking.  This is industrial hemp.   Planted on their four-acre Pioneer Farm Site under the 2015 Industrial Hemp Law enacted by the Virginia General Assembly.  Hemp was used at Mount Vernon for rope, thread for sewing sacks, canvas, and for repairing the seine nets used at the fisheries. An interesting historical factoid: Washington’s diaries and farm reports indicate that hemp was cultivated at all of his five farms. In February 1794, Washington wrote to his farm manager, William Pearce, “…I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. Foin seed, and that of the India Hemp…Let the ground be well prepared and the Seed (St. Foin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown anywhere.” Mount Vernon plans to use the plant for interpretive fiber-making demonstrations.

George Washington's Distillery & Gristmill

George Washington’s Mount Vernon is located at 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22121.  The Distillery & Gristmill is located at 5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309.  For information call 703.780.2000 or visit www.MountVernon.org.

Turn Me Loose ~ A Play About Comic Genius Dick Gregory ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
September 17, 2018

Playwright Gretchen Law’s political, darkly comic drama is a starkly drawn love letter to comedian activist, Dick Gregory.  It reminds us of Gregory’s take-no-prisoners battle against racism and America’s dark past and its current treatment of indigent African-Americans.  I use the term ‘African-American’ though you won’t hear Gregory use it.  It was not yet in fashion in Gregory’s day, folks were still saying ‘Negro’ or the newly coined term, ‘Black’.  In this monologue, Gregory liberally slings what we now refer to as the ‘N’ word.  It’s sickening to hear it used today – though rappers frequently do.  The audience squirms.  It’s exactly what Law wants us to feel.  We know it’s a word for Blacks’ usage only.  Gregory used the word to shock and to defuse its dehumanizing effect.  If you’re White, don’t even think about using it. You are not that cool and probably never will be.

Edwin Lee Gibson (Dick Gregory) in Turn Me Loose. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Director John Gould Rubin puts Gregory (played compellingly by Edwin Lee Gibson) center stage in Christopher Barreca’s simple set design, to focus on Gregory’s impact on and dedication to the Civil Rights movement.  Using humor to promote change, Gregory endeavored to heighten awareness of such issues as income disparity, corporate greed, capitalism, consumerism, drug companies and Wall Street.

Growing up in poverty in St. Louis, he was acutely aware of its demonic grip.  “Poverty is what threatens Democracy,” he foretold. And comedy was his salvation.  As a young man he started out performing standup in small local nightclubs catching the eye of Playboy magazine publisher, Hugh Hefner, who invited him to perform a one-night only gig at the Mansion where Gregory quickly offended a congress of rednecks.  As the first black comedian on the nightclub scene, his popularity led to gigs in Vegas and national TV appearances.  Soon after he became close friends with Civil Rights activist Medgar Evans and began performing for the NAACP.  To say he was a hero to the movement, is an understatement.

Edwin Lee Gibson (Dick Gregory) in Turn Me Loose. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The play toggles between the 60’s when Gregory became radicalized - even running for President during the Nixon-era - and the 2017 post-Obama era when he was able to witness a modicum of change.  John Carlin reprises his roles as Stand-up Comic/Emcee/Interviewer/Heckler and Cabbie in this riveting presentation.

Gregory died last summer after more than half a century of activism and before witnessing the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the nation’s conflicted response to pro football player Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee to draw attention to young men killed in record numbers by police. In later years, Gregory made DC his home.  You have to wonder what he would say if he were still here.

Edwin Lee Gibson (Dick Gregory) in Turn Me Loose. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Highly recommended.

In association with John Legend, Get Lifted Film Company and the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation.  Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Stephen Strawbridge and Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg.

Through October 21st at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.