The Maternal Side of Robert Aubry Davis

November 21, 2011

Culturally speaking, Robert Aubry Davis is big.

If this city ever appointed a minister of culture, someone who represents what it is to be a Washingtonian to the world, Davis would be perfect for the job. He’s already been doing it, unofficially but regularly, for decades.

Generous to a fault with his voluminous knowledge about all things cultural, be it medieval lutes, lines from the poetry of John Keats, or folk music both modern and anonymous, Davis is the cultural promoter par excellence. The longer he lives, the more he knows and does, and the Washington cultural scene is all the better for it. Of course, there are some people, having just been exposed to a flood of Davis erudition, that walk away exhausted.

Somewhere, sometime, if you’ve been around long enough, you’ve heard the name Robert Aubry Davis. Maybe you’ve heard him on “Symphony Hall “and “Pops,” the classical channels on Sirius XM. He’s also program director for the folk channel “The Village.” He produces and hosts “Millennium of Music,” now in its 33rd year on public radio. For the past 26 years, he has been the erudite and personable host of “Around Town,” a forum of Washington area critics discussing all manners of local art on WETA. You can also find him cajoling, guilt tripping, and congenially prodding for donations at WETA’s pledge drives.

His manner is at once imperious but outgoing, partly because he is a large man who speaks English with an unquiet voice that elongates vowels and nails consonants with precision. What you’re really getting is his enthusiasms, his expertise, and his ravenous hunger to explain and learn at the same time. At some point, he just bowls you over.

As an arts writer, I do a little cultural stuff myself, and one thing I know is that wherever I go, more often than not Davis is there too. Whether it’s an exhibition opening at the National Gallery of Art, opening night at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the opera or a 12th century lute performance, David is there.

He’s also a very brave man, by my way of thinking. Drop by Shirlington sometime during the run of Signature Theater’s holiday production of the musical version of John Waters’ “Hairspray” (Nov. 21 – Jan. 29), and Davis will be there. But you might have trouble recognizing him.

Davis is playing Edna Turnblad, the large, nervous, overly protective mother of the hit Broadway musical, which won eight Tony’s in 2003.

“I thought Robert would be perfect for the part,” said Signature Artistic Director and founder Eric Schaeffer. “He has a personality, he has charisma, everybody knows him, it’s a great part—I think that would appeal to him.”

In an interview with announcing the casting, Davis said, in true form, “Eric Schaeffer, has, like a tomb raider of old, decided to wake the sleeping thespian long buried in my breast.”

“To tell you the truth, I thought, No,” he said. “I haven’t been on stage since, I don’t know, college—which was a long time ago. I thought this was crazy. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I could do this. But still, starting with rehearsal, waiting to go on, doing the day-to-day work, it’s a little frightening.

“It confirms what I already knew but not so viscerally,” he said. “Something like this, a theater piece itself, is hard, hard work. It’s unbelievably hard. It reconfirms my respect for everyone involved in theater and for the group of people who are doing this with me and helping me. They’ve been incredible. And I am enjoying myself.”

“Hairspray,” for the uninitiated, is a story that originated from the eccentric mind of world renowned filmmaker John Waters, a Baltimore native, who made a movie version that served as the source material for the ensuing musical. It’s about a spunky, plus-size Baltimore teenager named Tracy Turnblad who wins a spot on “The Corny Collins Show,” a local teen dance show a la American Bandstand. But as the promo suggests: “Can a plus-size trendsetter in dance and fashion vanquish the program’s reigning princess, win the heart of heartthrob Link Larkin and integrate a television show without denting her ‘do’?”

And can Tracy’s mother Edna overcome her own shyness and insecurity—she hardly ever goes outside—and join her daughter in the spotlight?

And there’s one more thing. Edna is written to be played by a man. And in this case, Davis is that man.

Davis will be walking in the high heeled footsteps of some formidable men: the late, acclaimed drag queen Divine from Waters’ original cult film, the gravelly-voiced Harvey Fierstein, and superstar John Travolta, who played Edna in the film version of the musical.

“But I didn’t just want to go up there and pretend to be a woman in big clothes,” Davis said. “I think Edna is a wonderfully maternal person who’s always had trouble with being comfortable in her own skin, with her size, in ways that her daughter doesn’t. I can relate to that. I’m a big person—tall, extra weight—and everybody who’s extra-large or heavy always has to find a way to deal with that… It’s not as difficult for men, but our culture has thin as a kind of ideal for women. So I looked at the maternal side for one thing. My wife and I have two children, and that lets me get a little into my maternal side, which is pretty strong. My son says that he sometimes thinks he has two mothers.”

Of course, this being Robert Aubry Davis, it won’t be Edna 24-7. He will still provide the narration for “A Celtic Christmas” at Dumbarton Methodist Church in Georgetown, (Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11) as he has for several decades. As music goes, it’s not quite so rarefied as the Gregorian chants that he plays on his radio program, but it’s another display of his passion for old music.

Edna, on the other hand, is a display of something else entirely: a willingness to take on a challenge with gusto and a boundless curiosity for the human heart on display. If experience is knowledge, than Robert Aubry Davis is learning something new under Edna’s makeup, and as is his wont, he’s sharing it with us.

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Holiday Performance Preview

In Washington, we already have a year-round treasure trove of performance venues and offerings.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Christmas holidays prove it, as the D.C. area performance atmosphere becomes downright intense, it’s a true trove of riches.

The holidays are a time for Washington performing arts venues—from the large-scale Kennedy Center or Music Center at Strathmore, to theaters, to smaller arts centers like the Atlas and H Street Playhouse, as well as cultural centers, embassies and churches – to concentrate on serving up Christmas-themed music, plays, songs and dances. We will be up to our mistletoes in Nutcrackers, Scrooges, sugarplum fairies, Christmas carols, Christmas music, Santas and reindeers.

But the holidays are also a time for many area arts venues to serve up something festive and family oriented, big and splashy and entertaining, which may have very little to do with Christmas per se, except for the simple fact that during the holidays, people like to be entertained, lavishly and simply, with heart and feeling.

And even in the holidays, there will always be performances for the cerebral, the agnostic, and perhaps a simmering Scrooge or two among us. Those also will be served by our theaters, as they do the year round.

Herewith, an eclectic preview of what to watch for, relish, anticipate and take a chance on during these holiday days and nights.


‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’

This year, the American Ballet Theater and Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie bring their own version of “The Nutcracker” to the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, with new choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, with sets by Richard Hudson of “The Lion King” fame, a cast of 100 dancers and a live orchestra. Dec. 8 through 11.

Septime Webre will stage his and the Washington Ballet’s version of “The Nutcracker” at the Warner Theater. This production will also have the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker Orchestra. Dec. 1 through 24. Previews at the THEARC Theater in Southeast D.C. Nov. 25 through 27.

There’s no cast of hundreds in the Puppet Company Playhouse production of “The Nutcracker” but there’s plenty of imagination. Nov. 25 through Dec. 31. Check the Puppet Company’s website for more information at

The Ford Theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is an adaptation by Michael Wilson and is directed by Michael Baron. Edward Gero, one of the great mainstays in the firmament of Washington stage stars returns as Scrooge. For more information, go to Nov. 18 through Dec. 13.

‘Black Nativity’

A most welcome event is the Theater Alliance’s production of Stephawn Stephens and Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity,” a re-telling of the Nativity from an African American perspective, which features gospel music, griot-style storytelling and dance at the H Street Playhouse. Dec. 3 through 31.

‘’Twas the Night before Christmas’

Adventure Theater, on its 60th anniversary, is presenting the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” “Night” is directed by former Round House Artistic Director Jerry Whiddon and stars Gary Sloan. The artistic director of Adventure Theater is Michal Bobbitt. Located at Glen Echo Park. Nov. 18 through Jan. 2.

‘The Santaland Diaries’

The Shop at Fort Fringe, headquarters for the Fringe Festival turns very Christmasy with the staging of “The Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris, adapted by Joe Mantello, performed by Joe Brack and directed by Matty Griffiths. It’s the tale of Christmas that’s elf-centered and it’s considered a cult classic. Dec. 1 through 24.


The Kennedy Center

The National Symphony Orchestra enters the holiday with a classic classical program under the baton of NSO conductor Christoph Eschenbach, with Midori on violin playing Britten’s Violin Concerto at the Concert Hall. Dec. 1 through 3. There’s also the traditional NSO’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. Dec. 15. The annual Messiah Sing Along, which is free and held in front of the Concert Hall takes place Dec. 23. The line begins at 6 p.m. Singing begins at 8 p.m.

Performances at the Millennium Stage include the 36th Annual Merry Tuba Christmas Dec. 7; a performance of Christmas music by local stars Last Train Home Dec. 20; Holiday Vaudeville Dec. 29 and 30; and the All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam.

The NSO Pops Orchestra accompanied by the Canadian Tenors in “A Perfect Gift.” Dec. 8 through 11.


The Music Center at Strathmore features a number of Christmas musical events. Skaggs Family Christmas on Dec. 1 features country and bluegrass performer Ricky Skaggs and his extended family. The 5 Browns Holiday Show featuring the renowned piano group will be featured Dec. 2.

The Embassy Series gets a Christmas feel for its second “A Luxembourg Christmas” at the Embassy of Luxembourg in a gala night of music performed by the Quattro Corde String Quartet. Call 202-625-2361 for information or tickets. Dec. 1 through 3.

The Dumbarton Concerts series celebrates the season with “A Celtic Christmas” with The Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton Celtic Consort. Readings by Robert Aubry Davis Dec. 3 and 4 at 4 pm, Dec. 10 at 4 and 8 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. at Dumbarton Church.

The Folger Consort celebrates the holidays at the Folger Elizabethan Theatre with performances of “O Magnum Mysterium,” which features Christmas music from 16th Century Spain. Dec. 9 through 18.

The Christmas Revels, one of Washington’s most popular annual holiday events, will present “Andalusion Treasures,” a brave performance celebration of the fountainhead of tolerance that existed in Andalusia in Spain 1,000 years ago. Guest artists Trio Sefardi and Layali El Andalus will celebrate Arab-Andalusian and Sephardic music. “Andalusian Treasures” will be performed with a cast of 75 Dec. 3 through 4 and 9 through 11 at the George Washington University Auditorium.

The Washington Bach Consort will perform “Christmas in Leipzig” at the National Presbyterian Church Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. Included is a Bach Orchestral Suite and Cantata, and works by Kuhnau and Telemann.
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Don’t Do What We Did Book Signing

November 17, 2011

Don’t Do What We Did is a Conversation About Online Dating With an Ex-Not-Quite Couple Who Met on the Internet. Michelle Y. Talbert and Ricardo Kingsbury, two seasoned online daters, interview one another and others to uncover the secrets to online dating success. In the book they discuss everything from profile pictures to sex and safety. They share their mistakes and the stories of people from around who have participated in online dating.

“A Time to Remember”

November 7, 2011

It was a night to remember for those who live in fear of forgetting. On October 27th, just one block from the White House, the arts community and the medical community joined forces for Alzheimer’s Disease awareness. Dr. Dorree Lynn, celebrity psychologist and author of Sex for Grown Ups, headed the fundraising efforts at the art-enhanced event for USAgainstAlzheimer’s.

Hosted in Servcorp’s decadent Pennsylvania Avenue Executive Suites, local artists Emma O’Rourke, Zahira Truth, Akua Walker, Hannelore Thompson and Maria Santiago stood proudly beside artwork inspired by the evening’s theme, “A Time to Remember.”

Dr. Dorree spoke to guests about the intriguing and fulfilling connection she has with Alzheimer’s patients who cannot provide factual information about what they may have eaten for breakfast, but seem to display a deeper insight that may seem illogical. She shares, “It’s almost as if all the garbage fades away and only the essentials are left behind.”

Founders of USAgainstAlzheimer’s, George and Trish Vradenburg, shared the statistics and likelihood of either developing Alzheimer’s or knowing someone who has it. Also discussed: the latest Alzheimer’s research, the need for funding, the reality that a cure is closer that most imagine and the USAgainstAlzheimer’s challenge to cure Alzheimer’s by 2020.

Author and USAgainstAlzheimer’s Board of Directors member, Patrick Berry, also attended, signing and gifting guests with a copy of his latest book, “Escape from Enchantment.” Dr. Dorree’s book, “Sex for Grownups,” was given to the three lucky winners of the gift basket raffle, which also featured multiple bottles of wine and gift certificates to local DC restaurants.

The mission of USAgainstAlzheimer’s is to eradicate Alzheimer’s by 2020, rather than simply treat the symptoms. For more information about USAgainstAlzheimer’s or to learn how you can help stop Alzheimer’s by 2020, visit (
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Volta Park Halloween Party

The brightly-colored mouths stained with frosting, whirling children and chatting adults told the story. Volta Park on Volta and 33rd Streets was an sight of candy corn balloons, spider webs, cuddly creatures and coordinated ensembles.

Exxon Mobile in Georgetown hosted the Halloween Party on Oct. 31 at Volta Park. Pumpkin decorating, candy apples, coloring sheets and face painting were in abundance at four activity tables as well as a spread of juice boxes, monster cupcakes, cookies, more cupcakes and more sugar. Neighbors chatted and admired the menagerie of costumes.

New York Life’s Child Identification table was also set up in order to register tykes and create identification cards. [gallery ids="100366,110357,110388,110362,110384,110367,110380,110372,110376" nav="thumbs"]

Chamber’s Choice Awards, hosted by D.C. Chamber of Commerce, Delivers Big Surprises

November 3, 2011

The annual Chamber’s Choice Awards gala was held October 22. More than 1,300 of the Washington region’s most prominent leaders and decision-makers gathered in the Marriott Wardman Park’s Grand Ballroom to “celebrate some of the Washington business community’s best and brightest, chosen for their exceptional leadership, professional excellence, and commitment to the community,” it says in a press release from D.C. Chamber of Commerce. [gallery ids="102427,121622" nav="thumbs"]

DC hotspot Josephine

DC hotspot Josephine ( unveiled its new interior decor
to Washingtonians on Tuesday night with the launch of Belvedere Red for a
private Friends and Family preview event. Local VIPs such as Josephine
Co-Owner Alain Kalantar, Redskin Edgar Jones, Mayor Vincent Gray’s son
Carlos Gray, celebrity stylist Paul Wharton, celebrity Plastic Surgeon Dr.
Ayman Hakki, Moet-Hennessy USA’s Michelle Desrosiers, Public Bar Co-Owner
Tony Hudgins, One Lounge Co-Owner Seth McClelland, Capitol File Magazine
Editor In Chief Kate Bennett and KStreetKate’s Kate Michael among others
made a toast to the lounge’s new design.

Co-Owners David Karim and Alain Kalantar closed the DC hotspot Josephine two
months ago to revamp the interior with a chic new modern decor. The
renovation expanded the venues usable space, with the main bar illuminated
in shades of lavender, shedding an ethereal glow throughout the venue.
Miami-based designer Mark Lehmkuhl is the creative mastermind behind the
redesign, incorporating cutting edge technology and intelligent lighting
which pulsates alongside diamond shaped mirrors throughout the lounge.

Josephine (1008 Vermont Ave. NW. DC) co-launched with Belvedere Vodka’s
newest initiative, Belvedere Red. The RED partnership raises proceeds for
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Bonhams Sets Up Shop in Georgetown; Celebrates at Cosmos Club

Bonhams Auctioneers and Appraisers — founded in London 1793 and one of the three biggest international auction houses — has opened a Washington office on M Street in Georgetown. Martin Gammon, who moved from California to Prospect Street with his family this year, heads up the D.C. and Mid-Atlantic division. Bonhams and Gammon hosted a welcome reception and exhibit of some its items, Oct. 28, at the Cosmos Club for art and antique lovers and friends.

Georgetown Teen’s Party Benefits Leukemia Research

If the adults can do it, why not the kids, too? To benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Wells Dwiggins Thomason invited schoolmates and celebrated his 13th birthday with a Halloween party and dance. Thanks to the generosity of John Dreyfuss, the Oct. 28 party was held at Halcyon House. The benefit was supported by Clyde’s Restaurant and Filomena Ristorante. Thomason has raised more than $3,000 this year and to date more than $10,000. He began his efforts on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma society six years ago to honor and support his grandmother who continues to survive with leukemia. At age 6, Thomason began to sell fresh-squeezed lemonade from his front porch on Prospect Street. The youngster was very persuasive to passers-by, and donations poured in. He has been nicknamed by Georgetown students as the “lemonade kid.” [gallery ids="100368,110407" nav="thumbs"]

Komen for the Cure Gala Honors, Keeps the Promise

Susan G. Komen for the Cure paid tribute to global leaders in the fight against breast cancer, including the late Betty Ford, at the Kennedy Center for its second annual “Honoring the Promise” gala, Oct. 28. Breast cancer survivor Hoda Kotb, of NBC’s “Today,” program, emceed the evening’s program which featured performances by singer Natasha Bedingfield, violinist Miri Ben-Ari, opera singer Denyce Graves-Montgomery, aerial artist Amanda Topaz and Howard University’s vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue. Hollywood stars Kerry Washington, Donald Faison, Jennifer Beals and breast cancer survivor Vanessa Bell Calloway joined with friends of Komen from inside the Beltway – MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, FedEx Corporation’s Gina Adams, Danaher Corporation’s William H. King and philanthropist Annie Totah – to present the evening’s awards. The event raised $2 million for breast cancer research and programs in the Washington, D.C., area. Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 1982 in her sister’s memory. [gallery ids="100367,110397,110406,110392,110410,110387,110414,110382,110418,110377,110402" nav="thumbs"]