Ford’s Theatre Gala

June 15, 2011

Ford’s Theatre was aglow on June 5 as guests strode the red carpet for the Annual Gala. With Richard Dreyfuss as host, the performance was titled” Lincoln’s Legacy and a New Era of Hope.” Highlights included Anika Noni Rose’s rendition of “If I Had My Way” with students from the Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, David’s Selby’s reading from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and Joshua Henry and Jeremy Gumbs singing “Go Bank Home” from “The Scottsboro Boys.” Attorney General Eric Holder presented the Lincoln Medal to the NBA’s all-time scoring champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did the honors for first lady of the musical theatre Julie Andrews. In closing remarks, Vice President Biden hailed the recipients “powerful voice” and called Ford’s Theatre “this hallowed hall of American history.” After the performance guests enjoyed a seated dinner in the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery & American Smithsonian Art Museum. [gallery ids="102531,102532,102533,102534,102535" nav="thumbs"]

Third Annual Constellation Celebration

Award winning Constellation Theatre celebrated its over the top season with a gala “Kick Up Our Heels & Toast to the Stars!” at The Washington Club on June 9. The evening’s silent auction had myriad goodies including costumes and props from the past season’s productions. Artistic Director Allison Stockman opened a brief program saying “reviews—good or bad—“are always entertaining.” “The Green Bird” was lauded for “extravagant, whimsical creations” and “a multi-sensory joy feast.” Constellation was praised as an ensemble with “practical coherency” espousing a “live connection between actors and audience.” Tom Teasley, a two-time Helen Hayes award winner for sound design, entertained and quipped “there’s another instrument you’ve never seen before.” [gallery ids="100044,100045,100046,100047,100048" nav="thumbs"]

E.CO Photo Exhibition Opens at Katzen Arts Center

Curated by Claudi Carreras, C.EO presents submissions from 20 Latin American and European photographic collectives highlighting their countries’ major environmental concerns. The exhibition is presented by the Ministry of Culture of Spain, the Embassy of Spain and the Spain-USA Foundation in cooperation with the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center and FotoDC as part of Spain Arts & Culture 20121 Program. The images are riveting and alarming. The overriding themes are waste and water issues. A June 2 opening reception was attended by Director of Promotion of Arts, Ministry of Cultural of Spain Angeles Albert, Embassy Cultural Counselor Guillermo Corral, Founder of PhotoDC (South Africa) Theo Adamstein and Keith Lipert of the eponymous Georgetown Gallery. The photo exhibition will run through Aug. 14. [gallery ids="100054,100055,100056,100057" nav="thumbs"]

Venus in Furs

Who knew that Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch could be so entertaining? Especially with a name like that.
Who knew that S & M, named after the very same Sacher-Masoch without the von, could be so much fun?
Readers are not required to answer the last question for the usual reasons, but really, folks, go check out Venus in Furs at the Studio Theatre, where playwright David Ives’ take on the 19th-century novella by Sacher-Masoch of the same title is being staged (by Studio Artistic Director David Muse), with bravura intensity, wit, and high energy.

And yes, it is about sado masochism, but it’s also about power and men and women and actors and directors, so just about everyone can have some fun with this, not excluding politicians, but perhaps prudes should attend only if they leave their noses at the door.

Here’s the take: a director named Thomas is holding auditions for a play based on the very same novel in a shabby New York studio, looking for the role of an aristocratic woman named Vanda who engages in a kinky power struggle with a man named Severin Kushemski, who, affected strongly as a boy by tannings at the hands of an imperious aunt who wore furs looks for a special love at the hands of a strong woman.
Knock knock, who’s there, but a seemingly crass pop tart named, wow, Vanda, complete in thigh high, plastic shiny boots, a snarky, loud attitude and a bag full of surprising goodies. Imagine Mary Poppins carrying a big full of whips, corsets and none-such. She wants to read for the part, he wants to go home to dinner with his fiancée. Vanda sounds as if she’s never read anything longer than a parking ticket let alone a 19th-century novel, but she’s also pushy, whiny and bossy in a sort of sexy way.

Thomas gives in and lets her read and lo and behold, something happens: the near-Brooklyn, streisanesque mouthings disappear, and out come rounded vowels, tight enunciations and poetic line readings.
What is going on here? As they continue on, with Thomas taking the male lead, they seem to not only come closer together, but also to inhabit the parts to a degree that’s completely changing our perception of them. There are subtle, and then shocking power shifts going on, with the help of more and more kinky costumes and lighting.

The novel is a story about a man who seduces a woman into doing things she insists are against her nature—i.e., finding ever new ways to torture, humiliate and punish the man she’s obviously attracted to. The course of true love was never this twisted, but it’s also funny, kind of thrilling in its own way, perhaps erotic to some or one and all, you pick.

And quite frankly, most of that is due to the Vanda of this play, a young actress named Erica Sullivan, whose transformative gifts are award-worthy, and awe-inducing. She goes from slutty, bad-mouthing, down-to-earth and off a walk-up apartment struggling actress to svelte, graceful, classy, educated, vaporous Vanda on a dime, back and forth until she makes you dizzy.

The relationship between director and actors is of course all about power as well as collaboration, it’s always about seeing eye-to-eye or succumbing. But it’s the brash, crude Vanda who pushes Thomas into submitting to the novel’s Vanda, and apparently his own predilections.
It’s an often physical struggle—there’s lots of grabbing, pushing, positioning, approximating a rough courtship, with no safe word.

Watching this, with a very involved audience who laughed, apparently in the right places, and were startled in the right places, I kept thinking of an old joke: Masochist to Sadist: Beat me, beat me. Sadist to Masochist: No.

And so it goes: in this play, so tightly paced, without intermission, heading towards a conclusion that maybe isn’t quite the shock or surprise it should be, it’s a real fight for love and glory, a sweaty, rough-and-tumble sexy brawl.

You have to ask, where did Vanda—who said she’d glanced at the script on the subway—get this perfect memorization, this well-spring of motivation, this spell-binding perfection? It looks like a gift from the gods.
Maybe it is. But there’s no uncertainty about Ms. Sullivan. She too, is a gift from the gods.
Venus in Furs runs at Studio Theatre through July 3 [gallery ids="99990,99991,99992" nav="thumbs"]

Save the Date

June 14, 2011

When it became necessary to postpone a June 3 fundraiser she planned to benefit Second Family, Inc., Shahin Mafi, Founder and Trustee of the Azar Foundation for Children of the World, invited her committee for dinner at La Ferme restaurant on June 2. The dinner honored Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorova, host of the benefit, and Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Adriana Velinova, who was scheduled to perform. Shahin thanked everyone and said a rescheduled event early next year will be more far reaching in supporting the needs of children here and abroad. In her remarks, Ambassador Poptodorova said she suffers from the condition of orphanages in her country and noted that “there is nothing better than helping a child.” She expressed appreciation for the confidence of the benefit committee members.

Review: Follies” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

June 2, 2011

Follies”, Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical, is one of those great white whales that lurk in the American musical lists waiting for an Ahab to go after it.

Part legend, part work of genius of a particular and singular kind, “Follies” is an almost irresistible challenge for directors, producers and Broadway stars of an equally singular kind, the latter still eager to test their voices, acting chops and imaginations. Let’s not even get into set and costume designers.

It’s been revived and done-over a few times, ever since its critically mixed and financially less-than-overpowering debut produced by Harold Prince in 1971. This production featured genuine movie and Broadway stars like Dorothy McGuire, Alexis Smith, Gene Nelson, a book by the best-selling screenwriter and novelist James Goldman, and music and lyrics by the fully-blown and fully-grown, pre-“Sweeney Todd” and “Assassins” master and genius Stephen Sondheim himself.

I’ve had both the blessing and perhaps misfortune not to have seen it, one of those quirky things like never seeing “Measure for Measure”. For me, there were the legends, old reviews, rumors, and knowing one theater buff who had seen it dozens of times. “None of them perfect,” he somewhat ruefully told me.

There may be a reason for that. As you can surmise from the current, spectacular, $7 million production staged from the ground-up by the Kennedy Center under Michael Kaiser, it’s obvious that the play and production itself isn’t what you’d call perfect, not even close.

But, it is ambitious, one of a kind, original (after 40 years no less), and it takes turns knocking your eyes and socks off while clenching your heart in a tight grip. When it’s not doing that, Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics are ravishing, especially when performed by the likes of Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell in the two female lead roles. Somehow, “Follies” manages to bring up thoughts of Ziegfeld, Fellini, The Not So Young and the Restless, opera, MGM musicals if MGM musicals could bite all at once. As play (a status it aspires to by way of the script and content); “Follies” is a mess. Even so, you can’t take your eyes off it, tune it out, or ever forget it.

It’s very much a mixed bag, but there a lot of goodies in that bag, and it bristles with personality and originality.

For one thing, it has an ungainly structure: in the 1970s, veterans of a long-ago music revue resembling the Ziegfeld Follies of the 1930s, gather together in a sort of show biz high school reunion on the occasion of the destruction of the theater where they worked, sang, danced and fell in and out of love. That’s the first act set up, in which we meet the quartet of lovers, married couples and apparently ex-lovers who are the principal dramatic or more accurately melodramatic focus here. There’s Sally Durant Plummer (Peters), married to the high-energy salesman Buddy (Danny Burstein) and there’s Phyllis Rogers Stone (Maxwell), married to the successful, lazily charismatic Benjamin.

On hand are other luminaries including the vampish Carlotta, now a movie and television star of some renown, Hattie Walker, performed with aplomb by Linda Lavin, Stella Deems, and Dimitri Weismann, the maestro of the troupe (local veteran David Sabin).

Right away, we know there’s trouble in the Stone and Plummer marriages: Sally still loves Ben, and Ben doesn’t discourage her. Buddy still loves Sally in spite of himself and Phyllis, frustrated, jaded but still full of leggy, sultry glamour, has given up on her husband.

This, folks, is what we used to call soap opera. The rest, on the other hand, is just plain old razzle dazzle, provided by the designers, Sondheim, and the performers. The subject is lost dreams, but the show IS a dream, especially in the second-act’s “Loveland” segment which is like stepping into a Fellini movie where the color on stage is an overpowering red, the numbers, Sondheim at the top of his game, are overpowering, and the feel is like a particular high class carnival.

The show’s fame rests in the songs, in the performers who’ve passed through, in the sheer audaciousness of the concept. This particular production focuses strongly on the relationships, I supposed as it should, without neglecting the brassy glamour. But I suspect it neglects to focus on something fundamental which was the superheated incubator of musical theater where music and looks create a kind of permanent unreality. Sure, past and present intertwine here with the use of younger performers playing the younger selves of the principals, a nice touch that is bittersweet.

That being said, in today’s vernacular, it’s a magnetic show ably kept moving by Director Eric Schaeffer, the Signature Theater impresario who could probably do Sondheim in his sleep, but was obviously wide awake for this one.

Here are some things you don’t forget: Bernadette Peters in full voice, heart and diva singing “Losing My Mind”, one of a series of “Follies” sung by the principals. You won’t forget Maxwell at all as Phyllis, her yearnings, her bitterness—listen to the whip lash belts in “Could I Leave You?”— her fantastic tall, elegant looks. Lavin knocks “Broadway Baby”—a secondary theme here—out of the park, and Terri White does the same for “Who’s That Woman”. Janis Paige, playing the incandescent and forever fabulous Carlotta, does something wicked to the “I’m Still Here” number, often sung defiantly. She makes it a come-on by a woman used to being looked at on that screen, on that stage, when the lights go up or off.

“Follies” is a kind of high, without blacking-out, because you can’t forget what you’ve seen.

“Follies” runs through June 19 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater

Q&A with Michael Kahn

The Shakespeare Theatre Company began planning for what’s now the ongoing Leadership Repertory of “Richard II” and “Henry V” nearly a year and a half ago. We recently talked with Artistic Director Michael Kahn, who directed “Richard II,” about the plays and the process.

“We planned to do this for some time and were in the early stages during the presidential election,” Kahn, who is tackling “Richard II” for the second time here, said. “We wanted to look at leadership, what makes a good king and leader, how does he behave in a crisis?

“Richard doesn’t know how to be a king until he’s lost his crown, Henry has to overcome the dissolute reputation of his youth to lead men into battle. And more important, it’s about the humanity of leaders, and that issue is paramount in both plays.”

Kahn directed “Richard II” with Richard Thomas a number of years ago at Lansburgh.
“What makes this different?” he said. “Well, I’m a bit older, and you learn more, I’ve learned more about myself and Richard both, I hope.”

The Textile Musem

Green: the Color and the Cause
April 16 -September 11, 2011

This exhibition will celebrate everything green, both as a color and as a cause, exploring the techniques people have devised to create green textiles, the meanings this color has held in cultures across time and place, and the ways that contemporary textile artists and designers are responding to concerns about the environment. The exhibition will include a selection of work from the Museum’s collection, along with extraordinary work by contemporary artists and designers from five continents, including two extraordinary on-site installations. [gallery ids="99610,105053" nav="thumbs"]

Explore “Maximum India”

Here is India, according to stats provided by the embassy: 1.2 billion people, 24 languages, 1,600 dialects, 28 states, a rich variety of regional cuisines, 330,000 gods and goddesses, and 300 ways of cooking a potato.

The Kennedy Center’s huge, month-long festival celebrating Indian culture (March 1-20) is thus called “Maximum India.” And as it would seem, there are thousands of reasons for that.

“What you will find in this festival is a celebration of India’s diversity,” said Ms. Meera Shankar, the Indian Ambassador to the United States since April of 2009, in a small press gathering at the Cosmos Club, showcasing parts of the festival.

“India,” she said, “is a great kaleidoscope of cultures, ethnicity, religions, geography, languages, literature, music, dance, paintings, architecture, festivals, cuisine and customs going back thousands of years. And you’ll find much of that in this festival.”

The festival is another in a series of festivals that has focused on geographical regions of the world at the Kennedy Center, including China, the Middle East and Arabia, the Silk Road and others. “Maximum India” is presented in cooperation with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which has brought and sponsored several of the attractions in the festival to the United States.

“The arts create a unique platform for understanding each other,” Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser said. “This festival will highlight India’s magnificent arts and culture offerings on the Kennedy Center’s stages and throughout the building.”

Much of India’s cultural offerings—its literature, music, dance and performance arts—are rooted in the ancient past, so that even modern creativity in India has a flavor of the old Gods, of religious practices, of re-inventing old arts and understanding them anew, and of enduring faiths in a contemporary setting.

“You’ll find similarities through the regions of India—it’s the cradle of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which are known as the Indian religions. But there’s also Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Bahai faith, which makes the country a hotbed of inter-faith activities and cooperation.”

“The past is always a part of the present here,” the ambassador said. “But there is also Bollywood, with its very modern cinematic pulse, which is now exported all over the world. We have western pop music, as well as traditional music. We are at once very modern and very old.”

Not all of that may make its way into the enormous festival with its many free events, but there is definitely a flavor of a vast nation at work in the offerings of the festival.

Here are some highlights:

Madhavi and Alarmel Valli fuse two classical dance forms in a joint creative experience called “Samanvaya: A Coming Together.” Valli is the leading choreographer of one of the oldest dance forms in India, the classical bharatanatyam.

On the other hand, there’s Tanusree Shankar, a choreographer and artistic director of a company that specializes in contemporary Indian dance.

Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar, and who accompanied her father on tour recently, will be performing with the National Symphony Orchestra.

The Rhythm of Rajasthan, a group of musicians and dancers, perform a diverse program that includes folk music and ecstatic Sufi music. Want a mix of the modern and the old? Try the Raghu Dixit Project from Bangalore, an Indo-World-Folk-Rock Band.

Naseereuddin Shah will bring his Motley Theater Group from Mumbai (the setting for the popular Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaires”) to the festival. The group is famous for its storytelling abilities and for performing western plays in Hindustani, including “Waiting for Godot.”

The Kennedy Center has also created for this festival the Monsoon Club in the Terrace Theater, where contemporary Indian musicians and other artists will be performing

India is of course a center of the world film industry, and many key films from India over the last 50 years will be screened in the Terrace Theater throughout the festival. There will also be a major discussion of the Indian film industry and Bollywood.

The grand halls of the Kennedy Center will be filled with images and objects reflecting the arts of India, transforming the center into more than a little piece of India.

In terms of cuisine, the Kennedy Center will be serving up the tastes of India in the KC Café and the Roof Terrace Restaurant. Chef Hemant Oberoi, Executive Grand Chef of the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers in Mumbai, will lead a team of 12 chefs from around India to introduce festival-goers to the cuisines of India.

For all the details of maximum India visit

The Kennedy Center

Maximum India Festival
March 1-20

New York City Ballet Three mixed Repertoire Programs: April 5, 8 and 10; April 6 and 9 and April 7 and 9.
April 5 – 10

Paul Taylor Dance Company
March 22-24

Peter Brook’s “Fragments”
April 14 – 17
The acclaimed genius focuses on five short works by edgy, bare-bones genius playwright Samuel Beckett (“Rough for Theater 1,” “Rockabye,” “Act Without Words II,” “Neither” and “Come and Go”) at the Eisenhower.

Barbara Cook’s Spotlight Vocal Series
March 25
Actress and singer Ashley Brown (the original “Mary Poppins”) at the Terrace Theater.

The National Symphony Orchestra presents “The Trumpet of the Swan: A Novel Symphony,” based on a book by E.B. White, with music by conductor Jason Robert Brown.
March 27
Starring John Lithgow, trumpeter Christopher Vendetti and DC actors like Craig Wallace, Michael Willis and Naomi Jacobsen. Two concerts.

Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies”
May 7 – June 19