March 8, 2012

   

WINNter Affair Benefits The Children’s Inn at NIH

March 7, 2012

The first event for the Young Ambassador’s Council of The Children’s Inn at NIH raised nearly $30,000 at the House of Sweden Feb. 25, as hundreds of young professionals danced to live music and enjoyed an evening of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The Inn is a non-profit, cost-free haven for families with seriously ill children undergoing treatment at Bethesda’s National Institutes of Health. [gallery ids="102439,121380" nav="thumbs"]

The Fairmont Hosts ‘Sip, Sample and See’


Luckily, everyone came hungry and thirsty to the Fairmont on March 1, as the hotel unveiled its refurbished entertaining emporium. Regional vice president and general manager Mark Andrew introduced a choreographed dance routine by Fairmont staff worthy of a tryout for “Dancing with the Stars.” The hotel has long been known as a wedding venue, and the evening’s offerings only heightened expectations for happily-ever-afters. [gallery ids="102438,121387,121399,121405,121394" nav="thumbs"]

Turkey Showcases Designer Nedret Taciroğlu


Some guests arrived rain soaked, but Ambassador Tan thanked Teresa and Nuri Yurt of Toka Salon for ensuring that models were groomed to perfection as they showcased the elegant designs of Nedret Taciro?lu during an Feb. 29 evening reception at the Turkish Embassy. He termed the internationally acclaimed designer one of Turkey’s “greatest talents.” Ms. Taciro?lu, who created an 18-piece collection for former First Lady Nancy Reagan, also produces a line of fashionable home accessories. [gallery ids="100524,119316,119273,119308,119281,119303,119290,119297" nav="thumbs"]

TheatreWashington Announces Nominees for the 28th Helen Hayes Awards


On Feb. 27, theatreWashington announced nominees in 26 categories for the 28th Helen Hayes Awards to be presented Apr. 23 at the Warner Theatre. President and CEO Linda Levy and board chairman Victor Shargai said, “Theatre in Washington is a mirror of its heart and soul.” Washington ranks second only to New York in the number of productions mounted each year by nearly 80 professional theater companies. TheatreWashington is the only organization dedicated solely to promoting, representing and supporting all segments of Washington’s professional theater community. [gallery ids="100523,119285,119246,119278,119255,119272,119265" nav="thumbs"]

Kuwait’s National Day


Ambassador and Mrs. Salem Al-Sabah celebrated the 51st anniversary of the National Day of the State of Kuwait and the 21st anniversary of its liberation during Desert Storm at the Four Seasons Hotel Feb. 21. As the many guests waited to greet their hosts, they could admire the towering floral designs by Daniel Espejel of Flowers by Daniel. The buffets were laden with truly global cuisine — Middle Eastern lamb, pastas, crab cakes and spectacular choices of sweets. [gallery ids="102436,121439,121431,121468,121482,121456,121448,121462,121475" nav="thumbs"]

20 Years of Environmental Films


After 20 years, Flo Stone still sounds like a kid at a party, albeit a serious kid at a serious party.

Stone, a Georgetown resident, is president and founder of the Environmental Film Festival of Washington, which will be holding its 20th anniversary festival – March 13 through March 25 – with screenings of 180 documentary films at 65 venues throughout the Washington, D.C. area.

“It’s amazing to me, it really is,” Stone said. “We started out so small, and we had no idea we’d still be doing by this time. And look at all the other festivals out there, there’s been an explosion.”

Stone came to Washington and Georgetown from a job at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, working in programming. In New York, she had organized a Margaret Mead festival on the legendary anthropologist. And then, while working at the environmental group, Earthwatch, located in Georgetown, she had the idea for a film festival on the environment.

“We had 1,200 people who came,” she said. “We worked with the Smithsonian and the National Geographic Society. Now look at us.”

Since then, the festival has grown — and the whole environmental film festival movement — along with young and old people’s increased interest in all things ecological.

“The idea at the time was to have documentaries, shorts, even fiction films, that would focus on the environment, on nature, on our resources,” Stone said. “It wasn’t necessarily a political thing — nature and the natural world have always been the concern of our film-makers, not just issues and agendas.”

We live in a world where resources appear to be dwindling, where climate change and global warming are hot and cool topics and the subject of much debate. So, films about the environment inevitably have a “cause” glow about them. But the expansion of the festival, and the interests of the filmmakers indicate that it’s beyond politics, that people (some 30,000 last year) come to movies they care about and are invested in.

It places Stone, who talks with excitement and passion about this year’s festival, in the position of founder and pioneer of a kind of cinematic movement. The D.C. festival has been a model for a movement that has sprouted similar festivals all over the country. These films may not be box-office champs, but their contents and effects linger. They stay in people’s consciousness, they float about your dreams (and nightmares), they get talked about, they generate passions. And they’re pretty good movies to boot.

“I suppose that does make me a pioneer,” she said. “But what I’m proud of is the impact of the festival, the fact that it has lasted and will go on.”

You want to see how big the festival has become? Check out these numbers for this year’s festival: 180 documentary, narrative, animated, archival, experimental and children’s films from 42 countries. Ninety-three of the films are world premieres. This is a body-contact festival: 75 filmmakers and 115 special guests will attend for discussions, panels and workshops.

Chief among them is Ken Burns, the prolific and expansive director, who’s probably the most high-profile maker of documentaries in the world, with his hugely successful PBS television series on everything from baseball to the Civil War, our national parks, Mark Twain, jazz, World War II and Prohibition. He’ll be here to preview clips of his new film, “The Dust Bowl.” In addition, Academy-Award nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker will be here for a retrospective of her films, including her newest, “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.”

Films are always selected to fulfill the festival mission of providing fresh perspectives on environmental issues facing our planet. This year, the key relationship between health and the environment will be a special festival theme.

A film bound to be a visual delight is the U.S. premiere of “La Cle des Champs” (“The Field of Enchantment”), by the directors of the award-winning “Microcosmos,” which will highlight the wonders of nature through close-up photography.

Another promising treat could be filmmaker Perry Miller Adato’s film, “Paris: The Luminous Years”—shades of “The Artist” and “Hugo”?

Lest this all sounds a little light, consider the topics being handled by festival entries and films: the meaning of the organic food label, the disastrous introduction of cane toads into Australia, the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan, the future of the electric car, the story of eco-pirate Paul Watson, the dangers of nuclear power, climate change and how rising sea levels have threatened the survival of low-lying Pacific Islands. Further topics include the health and economic effects of the BP oil spill, the environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the fight over wind farming, and creating healthy habitats for humans.

Films will be shown at 65 venues in the D.C. area, including museums, cultural institutions, libraries and embassies, as well as the AFI Theater in Silver Spring and the National Zoo. Most screenings, as since the festival’s beginning, are free. You can probably thank Flo Stone for that, too.

For a complete list of events, screenings and times, visit www.DCEnvironmentalFilmFest.org. [gallery ids="100520,119182" nav="thumbs"]

“Cosi fan tutte”

March 5, 2012

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” is a tricky bit of masterwork. Plot-wise, the 1790 opera plays like a comedy, a kind of 1700s rom-com by way of Shakespearean comedy,clueless, frivolous couples playing games that turn out to have soul-searing consequences. Music-wise, Mozart indicates otherwise, there’s a depth, lyricism and richness to the music that belies the seeming shallowness of the opera’s protagonists. But then, that’s Wolfgang, never letting an audience slide into mere buttery bliss.

The Washington National Opera production, now at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, directed by Jonathan Miller, is richly entertaining and rewarding, but also as unpredictable as romance itself.

Miller, who also designed the sets and costumes, tries to tackle this seeming contradiction in a most immediate way by contemporizing the setting, generally and universally in a more modern frame, and specifically, in what is supposed to be modern Washington, D.C. and beltway culture.

The result—in terms of Miller’s concept—is a mixed bag. The beautiful, contemporary sets contemporize in a general way, providing an immediacy of the here and now, a vaguely modern setting for the wildly beating human heard counting up its bruises. The D.C. connection lies in reading the super-titles where you can find references to locations—where are these guys from? Manassas, McLean, Adams Morgan—or latte. These serve up some easy laughs for the locals, but doesn’t make it a D.C. setting in time or space

“Cosi fan tutte” in this way becomes not so much a laugh riot, as a moving rueful, romantic comedy of errors, thanks to Mozart’s music , the conductor Auguin and the superb cast, especially soprano Elizabeth Futral and baritones Teddy Tahu Rhodes and William Shimmell.

Shimmell performs Don Alfonso, a insistently cynical friend of two young military types, Ferrando (tenor Joel Prieto) and Guglielmo (Rhodes) who are engaged to sisters Dorabella (Renato Pokupic) and Fiordiligi (Futral). While holding forth on his belligerently held belief in the faithlessness of women. Don Alfonso, a dark, charming, elegant man of experience straight out of Fellini, persuades the two self-assured young men to participate in an elaborate game of impersonation in which their fiancées will betray them to prove his point. No way, Alfonso, say the swains, so cocksure in their loyalty of their lovers, and so confident in how their bright future will proceed.
In the game, the two men are marched off to war (in camouflage uniform and with the press in tow), and then return, unrecognized, as rather ragged biker-hippie types who look Wayne’s World chic and who set about seducing each other’s fiancées.

Futral’s Fiordiligi—highlighted by an affecting , long aria in the second act—puts up the most resistance. Futral—used to holding a stage by herself for long periods by way of her frequent performances as Violetta in “La Traviata”—makes us see that something more than a trivial game is at stake here, there’s real passion, frustration and conflicted feeling here.

Often, in the course of things, the characters join forces in soaring singing that’s anything but frivolous—tenor, sopranos and baritones, opposing sounds, opposing motives, but all in tandem. Such occasions have real emotional power with a lingering effect on the audience.

Don Alfonso, you suspect, is a kind of Giovanni. He’s performed with bitter elegance by Shimmel. His is the powerful, seductive, insistent voice of experience and he remains alone on the stage when all is said and sung.

Have a Heart Luncheon Honors Georgetown Ministry Center

February 24, 2012

The Washington Club’s sixth annual “Have a Heart” Luncheon honored the Georgetown Ministry Center Feb. 14 for outstanding and compassionate service to homeless individuals in our community. A video presentation by Nelson A. Cuellar showcased the fundamental services and opportunities for social interaction that the GMC provides in a clubhouse setting adjacent to Grace Church. Keynote speaker Dr. Roland J. Koshes spoke of treatment of mental illness in the homeless and indigent. Event chair Arden Batch presented an award to GMC executive director Gunther Stern, who in turn gave her a crystal heart. [gallery ids="100505,118271,118258,118267" nav="thumbs"]

The Enduring Influence of Eugene O’Neill

February 23, 2012

“He was America’s greatest playwright. He was the writer who influenced everyone who came after. He plumbed the deepest mysteries we encounter in life. He wrote about the darkest moments in our lives.”

Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith was talking about none other than Eugene O’Neill, who, with probably not too much argument from anyone, was and perhaps remains our finest master of theater and literature, exploding with a rich and troubled career of the kind of scope and ambition this country had not seen before.

O’Neill is the subject of a two-month, far-ranging in venues and events homage and festival, an homage and celebration of O’Neill’s work and lasting influence through performance, discussion, readings — and sometimes events not entirely easy to categorize.

“It’s also a great opportunity to initiate collaborative projects with other theaters or with our universities. Sometimes, that’s become an increasingly effective creative force in the city and become a characteristic part of this city’s culture,” Smith said.

The festival is spearheaded by three full-length productions, two at Arena Stage and the third at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. In addition, there will be 20 readings, workshops, radio plays, lectures, panels, presentations and art exhibits throughout the Mead Center, and a number of diverse partnering groups, organizations and institutions, among them the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, the Capital Yacht Club, Georgetown University, George Washington University, the New York Neo-
Futurists, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Taffety Punk and the University of Maryland.

“At Arena, we’ve had similar festivals for Arthur Miller several years ago and for Edward Albee last year,” Smith said. “I would think it’s about time we honored O’Neill in a similar way.”

It is easy enough to see O’Neill who was born in the last part of the 19th century as a kind of progenitor in the middle of the 20th century and father of modern American Theater, and it is not too crazy to compare him to non-American geniuses like Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen and Chekhov.

The three plays being performed offer ready-made examples of the O’Neill oeuvre: there is “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at Arena’s Kreeger Theater, the long, classic and hypnotizing family epic, loosely based on the travails of his own family; there is “Strange Interlude,” one of the less seen works because of both its epic and poetic nature, and “Ah, Wilderness!,” the 1930s play about small-town American life, and often seen as O’Neill light, as in light-hearted, fueled by an unusual amount of optimism, a play which makes the similar “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder look downright bleak.

Smith, who has directed productions of such O’Neill plays as “A Moon for the Misbegotten” and a brilliant “Anna Christie” at Arena, sees “Ah, Wilderness!” which in the distant future from its opening morphed into a musical starring Jackie Gleason and called “Take Me Along,” as evidence of O’Neill’s Irish humor, although some of the great, ambitious and/or autobiographical plays like “Long Day’s” and “The Iceman Cometh” are scarcely laugh-filled. While Arena is the major force and organizer behind the festival, Smith herself did not direct any of the three plays.

“O’Neill looked at the darkest part of himself and his family and America,” Smith said. “He influenced everyone that was a serious playwright, from Williams to Miller and so on.”

The festival runs from March 9 to May 6, while “Ah Wilderness!” is probably the official kickoff event in full flower, opening March 9 and running through April 8. The play is a kind of coming-of-age story at its heart, portraying the Connecticut Miller family during plans for a Fourth of July celebration, and features a group of Washington’s outstanding actors, including Nancy Robinette, Rick Foucheux and the teenaged June Schreiner who made such a splash in Arena’s Oklahoma. Long-time Arena favorite Kyle Donnelly will direct.

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” directed by Robin Phillips will run at the Kreeger Theater, March 30 through May 6, as the Tyrone Family battles each other and the travails of money and ambition.

Shakespeare Theater Company Artist Director Michael Kahn tackles one of O’Neill’s most difficult plays in his production of “Strange Interlude” which spans two decades. It was hugely controversial in its time (a1920 debut) and then became a smash hit, a hugely dramatic modern American tragedy. (March 27 through April 29)
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