American-Russian Cultural Foundation Cooperation Council’s Giants of Science Gala

November 3, 2011

Ambassador of the Russian Federation and Mrs. Sergey Kislyak hosted the American-Russian Cultural Foundation (ARCCF) for a special evening on Oct. 12 at the Giants of Science Gala celebrating Benjamin Franklin and Mikhail Lomonosov, who initiated scientific exchange between the two countries. The black tie event was highlighted by a performance “Eavesdropping on “Mike and Ben’” performed by no less than Justice Antonin Scalia and ARCCF Board Chair James Symington. Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Dr. G. Wayne Clough received the annual Foundation Award. Since 1992 ARCCF has promoted American-Russian relations through education, art and cultural exchanges. [gallery ids="102424,121801,121793,121808,121813,121819,121825" nav="thumbs"]

The Love BallNovember 2, 2011

November 2, 2011

A fetching canine proffering a red rose graced the invitation to this year?s Love Ball with the question ?May I have this dance?? Who could refuse? The annual event took place on Oct. 22 at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda to benefit the Montgomery County Humane Society. It is the county?s only full-service, pubic shelter which each year helps nearly 9,000 potential pets, farm animals and wildlife. Sue Palka of Fox5 emceed the evening which included a cocktail reception, seated dinner, silent and live auctions, and dancing. Canine guests particularly enjoyed a doggie bar and potty area sponsored by Johnson?s Landscaping conveniently located in the parking garage.

Craft2WearNovember 2, 2011

The Smithsonian Women?s Committee held the Craft2Wear Advance Chance Party at the National Building Museum on Oct. 21. The weekend exhibit featured jewelry and wearable art by 40 artists previously juried into the Smithsonian Craft Show. Guests enjoyed first chance shopping enhanced by wine and hors d?oeuvres with music by the L?Enfant Ensemble. The evening was highlighted by David Muir, Weekend Anchor of ABC World News and Correspondent for the ?Made in America? series, honoring exhibitors who exemplify the finest ?Made in America? wearable art. The event is produced by the Smithsonian Women?s Committee to support education, outreach and research within the Smithsonian Institution.

Salvation Army Luncheon

Now in its 62nd year, the Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Luncheon and Fashion Show drew an elegant crowd to the Ritz-Carlton Washington on Oct. 19. Mistress of Ceremonies Pamela Brown of ABC7/WJLA-TV and New Channel 8 termed it “Washington’s compassionate fashion event.” This past year over 62,000 individuals were assisted in our area at a time when the need for food donations rose 47%. Fashion Show Chair Carmen Stull said that “giving to the less fortunate enriches our lives.” Jay Parker and Ellie Weilenmann received awards for their dedicated service. Guests enjoyed a perfect fall luncheon as well as fashions presented by Saks Fifth Avenue Chevy Chase.

‘A Bright New Boise’

October 31, 2011

For sophisticates, the very hip, cool and urban trendy, there are so many targets in Samuel Hunter’s “A Bright New Boise” (now at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre through Nov 13) to feel smug, snarky and snide about that it could have been a buffet of satire, enough material for a lifetime of Bill Maher monologues.

We gave religious zealotry of the way-out-there-waiting-for-the-Rapture-and-Apocalypse kind. We have corporate dullness and the intellectually empty space of places like Idaho, interrupted only by malls and truck stop traffic. We have a central character so bland that he could disappear easily in a crowd, if only there were crowds to disappear into.

So what does Hunter, a gifted writer and observer, do with this material? He showers it with a deep and imaginative empathy, even love, for the characters he’s created, characters that live in a world very much reflective of our hard-scrabble, economically harrowing times. Hunter makes his play—set in a Hobby Lobby store in Boise, Idaho—a kind of microcosm of the way quite a number of Americans live today—on the edge, hanging by broken nails, embracing the outer limits of apocalyptic faith, trying to find the inner creative flame to ward of the dullness of the days while thinking about the end of days.

At its center is a guy named Will, the new guy in town, who just applied for and got a low-paying job as a clerk in the local Hobby Lobby store, specializing in selling the equipment for arts and crafts things to do—buttons, cloth, paper, paint and none-such. It’s not a big place, and the people we see are Will, vaguely religious, hugely ordinary in his checkered shirt and blue jeans, smart and a little mysterious; Pauline, the branch manager with a tainted heart of gold and a potty mouth; Anna, sensitive, abused, halting, hungry and eager for attention and a little knowledge; Leroy, an in-your-face artistic type who makes obscene T-shirts which he wears to work; and Alexis, a quiet high school kid with secrets and talent.

The characters bump against each other in the employee lounge, sometimes used by Anna to hide out in and read and by Will to work on a blog that’s becoming a novel and has fans on the worldwide web. The story he’s writing is very much like the “Left Behind” novels that were about the end of days and the humans left behind, a very popular Christian series, especially so among Evangelists.

Will—if it weren’t for his secrets and the fact that he’s looking for the son he gave up to be adopted, and for his embrace of the rapture – would pass for the most ordinary, nicest of guys, the kind of guy that for no reason at all goes postal. But Woolly regular Michael Russotto has a gift for making the ordinary seem special—Will is at turns kind, talkative, a good listener, speculative, and haunting as he confronts his past and the pain of never escaping it, erasing it and starting over.

Russotto underplays him to the point that Will is like someone in a video, an old family movie, easy to be around, difficult to know, and when his frustrated, bleeding soul comes up for air, it’s a shattering moment.

Everybody in the cast is affecting—there’s no dissing the characters, the way they live, what they say, especially Kimberly Gilbert, who’s own special gift as an actress has always been to make the sometimes more than mildly weird seem oddly affecting and attractive, and she puts it good use her in a full-bodied portrait of Anna.

Will’s life is a mess, and it’s accentuated by his surroundings, his ruinously fumbling attempt at reunion with his son, the stifling routines and weirdness of the Hobby Lobby. The employee’s lounge is never ever distant from a television monitor which routinely runs a maddeningly dull monotone-voiced in-house video featuring the Hobby Lobby founders handing out tips and news, oddly interrupted occasionally by bursts of videos showing graphic medical procedures, which nobody seems to able to eliminate.

Much of “A Bright New Boise” is sharply observant and funny, without being in any sense an exercise in cheap laughs. Much of it, more importantly, is dark and incredibly sad. You can see how Will’s (and the others’) endless days of monotony might lead to the end of days, might lead him to embrace that annihilation with a raging scream that breaks hearts.

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Audra McDonald Makes Magic at WPAS Season Opener

October 26, 2011

Audra McDonald touched hearts at the Washington Performing Arts Society’s opening season event at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Oct. 4. Her exquisite delivery, breezy comments—thank you for telling me where to find the nearest Chipotle—and grace captivated her listeners. She shared that her young daughter was a definite critic having daunted her at age three with “mommy your singing makes my ears cry.” No one else shares that sentiment as Audra has just finished a Boston run as the immortal Bess in Porgy and Bess, scheduled later this year for Broadway. Her rendition of Adam Gwon’s I’ll Be Here from Ordinary Days in tribute to the losses of 9/11 left few dry eyes. WPAS’s staunchest supporters segued for a lovely dinner at the Roof Terrace and tributes to the evening’s star. [gallery ids="100331,108577,108598,108582,108594,108587,108591" nav="thumbs"]

St. John’s Blessing of the Animals

October 19, 2011

The Blessing of the Animals at St. John’s Georgetown Parish on O Street is always a joyous occasion. This year’s event took place on the unusually chilly afternoon of Oct. 2 on the church lawn. Treasured pets happily greeted their friends from various parks and neighborhood jaunts and seemed to recognize that this was a special occasion to honor St. Francis and his protection. Charles DeSantis’s basset Bella bayed on key throughout the gathering hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful. The event is canine dominant but at least two cats joined in and an unusual addition was Ben Sutherland’s leopard gecko Screech. Pets were individually blessed and received St. Francis medals. Treats for all followed in Blake Hall. [gallery ids="99242,104124,104119,104133,104114,104137,104109,104141,104104,104145,104099,104129" nav="thumbs"]

Olney Ballet Theatre Gala Honors Mary Day

The Olney Ballet Theatre 20011 Gala celebrated 50 years of Mary Day’s Classic The Nutcracker, Sept. 17 OBT’s Artistic Director Pat Berrend was long associated with Mary Day, founder of The Washington Ballet. She recalled that Miss Day’s Nutcracker opened at Constitution Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra. The vibrant gala included choreography by Aaron Jackson and performances by many of Miss Day’s dancers now with leading dance companies. OBT is a non-profit performing arts, educational organization providing training to young dancers, who perform in the theater before live audiences. [gallery ids="100315,108067,108079,108072,108076" nav="thumbs"]

Embassy Series Presents Music of the Vilna Ghetto Experience

On Sept. 15, The Embassy Series opened its new season with a series of moving tributes in conjunction with the Lithuanian government’s declaration of 2011 as The Year of Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust, with performances in Washington, New York City and Vilnius, Lithuania. The evening featured acclaimed baritone Jerome Barry with award-winners pianist Edvinas Minkstimas and violinist Peter Sirotin. “It is truly amazing that despite the great calamity befalling the Jewish people in Vilnius, they still did lead an inspired life replete with theater and musical presentations,” Barry said, who founded the Embassy Series in 1994 as a way to promote cultural exchange through “musical diplomacy.” [gallery ids="100316,108077,108080" nav="thumbs"]

Last Kiss of Summer 8 Gala

It is hard to believe that Last Kiss of Summer in support of Second Chance Employment Services recently held at The Four Seasons Hotel is the eighth such gala. ABC7/WJLA-TV anchor Alison Starling was master of ceremonies at an evening of silent and live auctions, dinner and dancing. SCES Board Chair Ronald S. Perlman, M.D., hailed SCES as a “one stop show” to empower women. Ludy Green founded the non-profit organization in 2002 to promote financial security for at-risk women and their children through free and professional comprehensive employment training and placement services. SCES has helped more than 3,000 women and placed more than 800 clients in meaningful long-term employment positions. Already serving clients nationwide from its D.C. base, SCES is opening sites in Palm Beach and Los Angeles. [gallery ids="100317,108081" nav="thumbs"]