Kennedy Center Enters Its “Golden Age”

November 3, 2011

Marc Kudisch sounded psyched.

“We’re all eager to bring this play to Washington,” Kudisch, who’s appeared at Signature Theater here and who’s a veteran of big Broadway musicals, said in a phone interview from Philadelphia. “Washington is such a great theater town and they audiences here are so responsive, they’re so sharp so I for one can’t wait to see what happens.”

Kudisch is part of the cast of “The Golden Age” by Terrence McNally, which kicks off “Nights at the Opera,” a three-part, five-week presentation by the Kennedy Center in which three of McNally’s plays, all of them with opera themes or focuses, will be performed concurrently on three Kennedy Center Stages.

In addition to “Golden Age,” the festival also includes “The Lisbon Traviata” and “Master Class,” which will star Tyne Daly as the legendary diva Maria Callas. But “Golden Age,” which just completed a world premiere run at the Philadelphia Theater Company, is by far the most newsworthy of the three offerings, given that it’s a new play by the prolific McNally, and that it continues and perhaps completes his theatrical passion for opera.

Kudisch, who’s had some experience with opera and shares the fascination, actually has made his mark in today’s Broadway musical theater, although that’s not what he set out to do. Originally from Hassenback, NJ, “I came to New York as a dramatic actor, I’d never seen myself as a singer, had no intention of doing musicals, I did off-Broadway a lot,” he said.

Then came Birdie. “I got cast as Conrad Birdie, in the Tommy Tune revival of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and toured with it,” he said. “That sort of set me on my way.” And then some: “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Bells Are Ringing,” “The Wild Party,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “9 to 5,” Sondheim’s dark “Assassins,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “A Little Night Music,” the Signature’s cutting edge musical “The Witches of Eastwick” and as Vincent Van Gogh in “The Highest Yellow.”

“You can really tell how the people that are creating, writing, and composing musicals today are going in new directions,” Kudisch said. “In some ways, that’s what “Golden Age” is all about, except that the characters are Rossini and Bellini and the creative artists who inhabit the world of opera in Paris in 1835. They’re thinking about the same things, new music, how it will be greeted by critics, other artists.”

“Golden Age” is about back-stage doings at the premiere of Bellini’s opera “I Puritani.” Rossini will be heard from and we also hear the Puritani quartet, the four singers who are the stars of the opera, one of them played by Kudisch. “It’s a very personal thing for McNally, and we and he learned a lot from the run in Philly.”

Kudisch thinks the festival is a great idea. “You get a chance to see what I think is some of McNally’s best work,” he said, “and it’s a focus that tells you a lot about his career.”
“Golden Age” will be at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater March 12-April 4. “The Lisbon Traviata” will be at the Terrace Theater March 20-April 11 and “Master Class” will be at the Eisenhower Theater March 25-April 18.

Upcoming performances:

– There’s new material from playwright Neil LaBute, who tackles contemporary American contentions with gusto, clear-headedness and the impact of a punch in the mouth. LaBute’s latest, “Reasons to be Pretty,” comes to the Studio Theater, which has become a go-to theater with LaBute’s work, and completes his trilogy exploring our obsession with looks and physical beauty, which began with “The Shape of Things” and “Fat Pig,” both hits at the Studio. “Reasons to be Pretty,” directed by David Muse, opens March 24 at the Mead Theater.

– Could there be a more provocative and tempting title than “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews”? Especially if you’re Jewish, or follow all things Warhol. The D.C. Jewish Community Center has you covered on both issues, with the very same one-man show written and performed by Josh Kornbluth, the popular San Francisco-based monologist who had a hit with “Citizen Josh,” through March 21. The show is based in part on a ground-breaking exhibition of silk screen portraits of prominent Jewish figures by Warhol in 1980, an exhibition which can be seen in the DCJC’s Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. “Good for the Jews” runs through May 2.

– “Porgy and Bess,” George Gershwin’s landmark, truly American opera, opens the Washington National Opera’s spring portion of its 2009-2010 season March 20-April 3, with such stirring American classic songs as “Summertime” and “Porgy.”

Read Vera Tilson’s interview with “Porgy and Bess” conductor John Mauceri here.

John Mauceri


 

-Almost from the moment I entered the room to meet conductor John Mauceri, having heard that I was a musician, he sat me down at a desk to show me the particular score of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” which he will be conducting for 12 performances starting on March 20 for Washington National Opera.

An enormous amount of research, clearly a labor of love, was evident in what he showed me. The history of “Porgy” signified a remarkable moment in American music. Just acknowledging that it was a real opera has taken a long time. It became popular initially by calling it musical theater and reducing it from three acts to two.

He said that most of his life has been committed to what we don’t have access to, and because music exists in the art of translation, you have to take it from the page to performing it. He knew that there was much in Gershwin that we didn’t know because much was unpublished. Gershwin wrote over 20 shows. He said that we know the songs but not the shows.

One of the hallmarks of a fine musician is a passion for detail and finding a composer’s original intent; changing markings and changing tempos can make a significant difference. Mr. Mauceri is clearly a scholar, as well as musician. The list of music that he has restored to original intent is breathtaking. He played a section of “Porgy” by a conductor who had not seen Gershwin’s original score and one with different markings. The effect was startling.

Cheryl Crawford, of the Theatre Guild, initiated the effort to turn “Porgy and Bess” into a musical theater piece. The three acts were turned into two and the piece became a success. The Theatre Guild finally donated all its material for archival purposes to Yale University where he found what he needed. As much as possible will be used in the coming performance.

I can’t wait to attend the show.

DC Goes Green


 

-As global warming has clearly been a hot topic (no pun intended) in recent news, this year D.C.’s own Environmental Film Festival will return for its 18th annual season. Boasting a queue of 155 films, the festival will have showings at over 50 venues around D.C., including museums, embassies, libraries, and local theaters. And, although this showcase has grown to be the best of its kind in the U.S., it doesn’t fall short on local flavor.

Speaking of which, make sure you show up with an appetite; food is a big part of the festival this year, with films that cover everything from organic produce to world hunger to sustainable farming practices.

To kick off the festival, make sure to attend the launch party, set to take place on March 10. The event will have music, film clips, raffle and a silent auction. If you’re feeling really lucky, you could win a trip to Ecuador or London! $10. Warner Building Atrium (1299 Pennsylvania Ave.), 6:30 p.m.

“The Green House: Design it, Build it, Live it.” If you’re looking for local inspiration to go green, look no further. In the world premiere of this film, you will see the design and building of a house in McLean, VA from groundbreaking to the finishing touches. The hook? It’s completely carbon neutral. March 17. $10. E Street Cinema (555 11th St.), 7 p.m.

The film “Colony” chronicles the mysterious disappearance of bees and beehives all across the country. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this startling trend is captured through the stories of veteran beekeepers and newbies alike, struggling to save the bees and their business. But it’s not just the beekeepers that are in trouble — bees are essential in sustaining our own food supply. March 18. $10. AFI Silver Theater (8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD), 7:15 p.m.

“Nora!” is the story of one of Washington’s own, chef and restaurateur Nora Pouillon. Nora was doing organic before it was on everyone’s plate; in 1999 her restaurant, Restaurant Nora, was certified not only organic but also biodynamic. Now, it is a popular spot for environmentalists and politicians alike. Since its inception, only 3 other restaurants have become qualified organic. Feast on that! March 23. Free. International Student House (1825 R St.), 7 p.m.

Classical music is endangered, but not due to apathetic listeners. “The Music Tree” is a captivating film that highlights the plight of the Brazilwood (pernambuco) tree, highly coveted for its red dye. The tree’s wood is also used to create violin bows and other instruments. Recently however, exploitation of this species has pushed it to the edge of extinction. The film features several prominent violinists and cellists who are dedicated to protecting the pernambuco, as it is essential to the sound and quality of their music. These musicians, among others, have established funds aimed to preserve the trees, and so far 500,000 been planted. But will these efforts be able to save both the trees and the music? March 26. Free. Carnegie Institution for Science (1530 P St.), 7 p.m.

For more information and complete film listings, visit www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.

Spring 2010 Performance Preview


What does Washington’s performing arts scene have in store for the first spring of the decade? Our resident theater experts weigh in with their top picks.

Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies,” Arena Stage at Lincoln Theatre
Maurice Hines, a legendary Broadway song and dance performer stars in and choreographs this production, which is a pure, atmospheric act of serendipity of the man (Duke Ellington), the place (The Lincoln Theatre, where Ellington first performed), and show (a stylish, spectacular showcase of the “beyond category” music of an American master and legend). (1215 U St., April 9 to May 30.)

“Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival,” Theater J
The third installment of the “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival” is being staged by Theater J, this one focusing on “Voice of the Woman,” with six one-night events by female writers, including Hadar Galron’s “Mikveh.” For more information, go to www.theaterj.org. (1529 16th St., May 5 to June 7.)

“American Buffalo” and “Reasons To Be Pretty,” Studio Theatre
Two new productions of plays by two top American playwrights. “American Buffalo,” David Mamet’s classic, blunt, tough-talk tale of three Chicago grifters and thieves, will be directed by Joy Zinoman, the Studio’s founder and outgoing artistic director, but it also has the prime-time actor Ed Gero heading its cast. (May 5 to June 13). Neil Labute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” is the third play in which the acerbic master observer of contemporary American life takes our fascination with how people look or don’t, the others being “The Shape of Things” and the hugely successful “Fat Pig,” all performed at Studio. (1501 14th St., March 24 to May 2.)

The Terrence McNally “Nights At The Opera” Festival, Kennedy Center
Three of McNally’s plays dealing with opera, including his latest, “Golden Age,” a bristling back-stage drama about the premiere of Bellini’s “I Puritani.” (Through April 4.) There’s also “The Lisbon Traviata,” about two men’s obsession with a Maria Callas recording of “La Traviata.” (Through April 11.) Finally, there’s a play about Callas herself in “Master Class,” starring Tyne Daly as Callas, no slouch in diva roles herself. (March 25 to April 8.) Visit www.kennedy-center.org for details on dates, times and theaters.

“Thurgood,” Kennedy Center
A new play about the pioneering civil rights giant and Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, starring Laurence Fishburne. The production was written by George Stevens, Jr., founder of the American Film Institute, film and television director, producer of the Kennedy Center honors, Georgetown resident, and author and son of Oscar-winning director George (“Shane”, “A Place in the Sun”) Stevens. (June 1 to 20.)

The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, Kennedy Center
It’s the 15th time around for this landmark festival, with three nights of jazz focusing on women artists and musicians May 20-22 on the occasion of Williams’ 100th anniversary year of her birth. (May 20 to 22.)

“Clybourne Park,” Woolly Mammoth Theatre
The original and caustically sharp voice of playwright Bruce Norris is heard again in “Clybourne Park”, where Norris’ work has been performed before. This time, Artistic Director Howie Shalwitz directs this off-Broadway hit, in which a Chicago neighborhood suffers demographic and ethnic explosions several times. (Through April 11.)

“Hamlet,” Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center
That would be the opera version, composed by Ambroise Thomas. “Hamlet” will close out the 2009-2010 WNO season, which includes a famous Ophelia mad scene, as it should. A Kansas City Lyric Opera production in French. (641 D St., May 19 to June 4.)

“Fiddler on the Roof,” National Theatre
The Jerome Robbins-created musical about a shtetl milkman named Tevye who cares about tradition has by now become a tradition itself, and this time it’s headed up by playwright-actor Harvey Fierstein (“Torch Song Trilogy”), who carries on a play-long debate with Jehovah, mostly in song. On the other hand, it’s a show that still works, it still has something to say (and sing) to contemporary audiences and it will do so. (1321 Pennsylvania Ave., April 13 to May 9.)

“Anoushka Shankar,” Sixth and I Historic Synagogue
The Washington Performing Arts Society is known for the world-wide, top-drawer musical and dance talent and groups that it brings to places like the Kennedy Center and the Music Center at Strathmore, but its footprints can also be increasingly found in smaller venues. This time it’s the downtown Sixth and I Synagogue, where the accomplished and high-pedigree sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the renowned Ravi Shankar, will perform “Sudakshini,” a musical journey from North and South India with richly varied musical influences and sounds. (600 Eye St., April 17.) – Gary Tischler

Laura Benanti, Kennedy Center
Let her entertain you. Benanti won a Tony for her role as Louise in the most recent Broadway revival of “Gypsy,” and she’s part of the excellent Barbara Cook’s “Spotlight” series at the Kennedy Center. (Terrace Theatre, April 30.)

“Sycamore Trees,” Signature Theatre
Ricky Ian Gordon is one of the most interesting and prolific contemporary composers (he’s worked in genres from opera to musicals to ballet), and he’s a recipient of Signature Theatre’s American Musical Voices Project Award. His new work for the company, “Sycamore Trees,” has highly personal and bittersweet roots, as it follows his family from the Bronx to the suburbs in a search of a better life. (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, May 18 to June 20.)

“Genius3,” The Washington Ballet at Sidney Harman Hall
TWB’s “Genius3” program promises to live up to its name. Twyla Tharp’s giddy “Push Comes to Shove” and George Balanchine’s coolly modernist masterwork “The Four Temperaments” are about as far from each other in style as you can get, but each is a knockout in its own way. Add Mark Morris’s “Pacific” and Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut” and you’ve got the makings of a terrific evening of dance. (610 F St., May 19 to 23,)

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall
Morality and money were two of George Bernard Shaw’s favorite triggers for drama, and the two clash in high style in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” The Shakespeare Theatre mounts the story of a young woman who discovers her education was paid for by her mother’s ill-gotten gains, and it’s a work that still has plenty to say about the choices we make — and their price. (610 F St., June 8 to July 11.)

“A Man of No Importance,” Keegan Theatre
You’ll enjoy this chamber-sized musical, based on the Albert Finney film, about a Dublin bus driver who yearns for beauty in both romance and the theatre. The show should be a good fit for the Irish-focused Keegan Theatre. (1742 Church St., June 10 to July 11.)

“Tempest,” Folger Consort
The stars have aligned for this production, a combination of Matthew Locke’s 17th-century music for the play with dramatic selections performed by actors, including Sir Derek Jacobi and Lynn Redgrave. Countertenor David Daniels is part of the ensemble. (Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capitol St. N.E., June 10; Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda, June 11.)

“Zaide” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” The Barns at Wolf Trap
The Wolf Trap Opera Company has a well-deserved reputation as the place to catch young American singers at the start of great careers, and the company’s choice of repertory always offers surprises. This year’s rarity is Mozart’s little-heard “Zaide” (with its shimmering aria, “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben”), and it’s got a gimmick: audiences will choose an ending for this unfinished work. Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” received a beautiful and hypnotic staging a number of years ago, and we can look forward to the company’s new production this summer.
(1645 Trap Road, Vienna; “Zaide”: June 11, 13, 15, 19; “Dream”: August 13, 15, 17.)

“Babes in Arms,” American Century Theatre
“Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” “Babes in Arms” has one of Rodgers and Hart’s best scores (“Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Johnny One Note” are among its many gems), but this 1937 tale of youngsters with show-biz dreams is rarely staged. American Century Theatre offers a series of concert performances of the classic musical — and they’re free. (2700 South Lang St., Arlington, June 24 to 27.) – Robert Sacheli
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The Two Sides of Rich Bloch


Rich Bloch is a 60-something labor arbitration attorney, serving most notably as a neutral arbitrator for the National Football League and other professional sports organizations.

Rich Bloch is also a professional magician and a performer.

Both things are true. Bloch likes to keep the two things separate. He does not do magic tricks for 300-pound linemen and their agents.

Nor does he bill himself as a lawyer-magician when he’s performing at the Woolly Mammoth with his show “Best Kept Secrets,” where story-telling, humor and performance blend with Bloch’s finely honed magical abilities and, for want of a better phrase, bag of tricks, which includes card tricks, the famous Harry Anderson’s Last Monte, the world’s fastest tricks, and the assistance of his wife Susan, who is actually a Georgetown University law professor.

“To me, they’re two different worlds, they really are,” Bloch says. He and his wife live on Cathedral Avenue. He has two grown children, both of them attorneys. Also present are a number of pets, cats, a sheepdog, and a giant macaw who reportedly does card tricks.

“Both of the things I love to do — being an attorney, practicing the kind of law I do and being a magician — have enormous rewards, but you can also get frustrated. When that happens, you just pass through a door and go into the other world.

“I simply tell people that 80 percent of my professional life is being an attorney, and 80 percent is being a magician.”

Now that’s magic.

Bloch has been a practicing — and it takes enormous amount of practice, too — magician for several decades, and done well at it. He’s highly respected in a boundless community where magic and all the stuff that goes with it — tricks, equipment, professional secrets, show business and uniforms — are an important part of life. He’s performed on cruise ships, in Las Vegas and regularly at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, where he’s been a five-time nominee as Stage Magician of the Year.

Bloch first got interested when he was seven, which was in New Jersey in a time when cities and towns had magic shops. “I was seven, my father had passed away, and my mother, a remarkable woman, was on the road a lot as a traveling saleslady,” he said. “There was this shop on the corner, and it was a fascinating place, run by this old man, and, because it seemed I had to, I said to him you’ve got to hire me as an assistant. He said, ‘what kind of experience do you have?’ And I said, experience, I’m seven. But then, I remembered I had heard about a magician named Ted Collins, so I said my dad was Ted Collins. He said, ‘that’s impressive,’ and he hired me. And I was walking out, so I asked him his name, and he said, ‘Ted Collins.’

Magic.

“It’s a very special world,” he said. “But it’s more than just tricks and mystery. That’s once reason I’ve been doing this hour and a half show, that’s what it is. And that’s a different world.”

The Woolly Mammoth Theater is known for its edgy new plays, and draws a very different sort of audience than might be found at magic shows. “It’s a challenge, but that’s what I wanted to do, to entertain, to perform, to involve people in the magic show,” he said. “I love the small space, the intimacy and how you can interact with the audience, make them part of the show. I don’t do huge illusions, you can’t, but I do a varied repertoire of magic. I have a lot of equipment, and I wear a white tuxedo suit, one with a lot more pockets than most suits.”

“It’s taking things to the next level for me, and I think the response has been really good,” he said. “Good for me. It’s not the same. It’s not just about tricks, but it is about magic and it is about magic and me.”

In conversation, Bloch is self-deprecating, funny, really smart about his two roles and about magic in culture. He’s given considerable thought and feeling to what he does, and what a magician does.

“There is a difference between tricking people, deceiving them, and in creating illusions, moments of make-believe that seems real because it is,” he said.

Bloch, one thinks, makes magic magical.

“Best Kept Secrets” will be performed at the Woolly Mammoth Laboratory Theater March 31, April 1-4 and June 9-13.

What is Mrs. Warren’s Profession?


The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of George Bernard Shaw‘s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” is gorgeous to look at, often out-loud funny, even more often sharp and witty and wonderfully acted. It’s also, in the end, devastating and cruel. Call it a comic tragedy, a tragic comedy. Mostly, put it on your theater calendar if you haven’t done so already.

The reasons? The main ones are Elizabeth Ashley and Amanda Quaid as mother and daughter, and, this being Shaw, protagonists and antagonists. This being a Shakespeare Theatre production, you can be sure that director Keith Baxter can take a good share of the credit.

Baxter has directed a number of terrific comedic productions here, including two Oscar Wilde plays starring Dixie Carter, who was supposed to have starred in this production but succumbed to cancer.

Ashley fills in, and there is no question that this Mrs. Warren is Ashley’s Mrs. Warren. Mrs. Warren, to set the scene, is a hugely successful proprietor and manager of a string of brothels, a profession which has allowed her a regal life and the ability to raise her daughter Vivie in a country house and give her the Oxford education that has made her a steely, very modern young lady.

Set early on in the country, it has a first act full of revelations, which are less devastating perhaps than they ought to be. Vivie was never aware of her mother’s history or lifestyle, but accepts at first the fact that it was the only route to prosperity for her mum, who came from a poverty-tainted background.

Alas, what she doesn’t know is that mom isn’t about to give up the business; it’s too lucrative, too successful, it allows mom to be mom. And that’s where the two women — strong-minded, stubborn, each with her own code — clash to the pain of both.

This is a play about cynicism, hypocrisy, the good old English class system and, of course, the effects of wealth and power. It’s not a fight for love or glory, but a battle for the high ground.

Quaid’s Vivie is lovely, all cheek and bones, she stands so straight that sometimes you think somebody should slap her for her principled stands. Ashley’s Mrs. Warren, on the other hand, moves like a billowing battleship, all guns blazing in dresses that can’t even come close to stifling a giant willful spirit.

In this battle, there are the usual suspects of characters: a parson and a parson’s son who chases Vivie madly, an older creative type (wonderfully played by Ted Van Griethuysen) and a cynical lord who’s Mrs. Warren’s not-so-silent partner. Still, they are mere foot soldiers in the battle between mother and daughter, and none of them have an ounce of the two women’s solidity.

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” runs at Sidney Harman Hall through July 11. [gallery ids="99153,102844" nav="thumbs"]

‘Legends!’


In the annals of Broadway lore, the late James Kirkwood’s “Legends!” is considered to be, well, legendary.

Well, yeah, but not in a good way, necessarily.

It’s not that Kirkwood didn’t have a good rep. He was co-author of the book “A Chorus Line,” for which he received a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize, not to mention several well received novels, including one called “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead.”

But “Legends!”, in which two aging female stars and divas are being coaxed to star together in a new play by a rabid producer type, is not a very good play because it doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be. It first turned up in 1986 as a vehicle for two legendary Broadway stars, Carol Channing (“Hello Dolly”) and Mary Martin (“South Pacific”) of very different gifts and temperaments and flopped out of town without making it to Broadway.

In more recent times it turned up as a vehicle for Joan Collins and Linda Evans, who fought like cats on television’s “Dynasty,” and again did not travel far and wide.

Looking at the Studio Theatre’s current production of “Legends,” conceived by legendary drag artist Lypsinka (aka John Epperson), who stars in the lead role alongside James Lucesne, you wonder why they didn’t do this in the first place 24 years ago.

I mean, this “Legends!”, if not legendary, is a hoot. And now we more or less know what it was meant to be: a barn-burner for two divas playing two divas. Who better than two men who know really know how to get attention with dresses, high heels, lots of hair and makeup?

Somehow, “Legends,” which could look awkward with Martin and Channing and silly with Collins and Evans, now looks, moves and acts like great entertainment.

The old play has changed a bit. The women are two movie stars who could be Taylor, could be Davis, could be Crawford or Turner, but it never goes quite so crazy as to turn into “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”, although there’s a thought.

It’s bawdy, sure. There’s the male stripper, the black maid named Aretha, who makes racist jokes at the expense of the girls, there’s hash-laced cookies and a producer-agent who gets completely whacked out, played like a crazed cat by Tom Story.

Mostly, there’s Lecesne, who could be doing a sendup on Joan Collins by way of Liz Taylor, playing the famously slatternly Silvia Glenn as if he had just escaped being cast as the matron of the Kardashian clan.

Mostly, there’s Epperson/Lypsinka, a performing original if there ever was one, who did whatever nipping and tucking on the “Legends!” book that’s occurred. But he always brings something unique to every woman he ever becomes on stage, a kind of almost menacing wisdom that ends up being both affecting and really funny. This was most evident in “The Passion of the Crawford.” Here, but it’s softened some, it’s become a little more self-conscious and knowing, and, as always, wonderfully weird and glamorous.

“Legends!” runs at the Studio Theatre through July 4. [gallery ids="99154,102852,102849" nav="thumbs"]

Capital Fringe Festival Has its Act Together


 

-Where can killer robots, remnants of the 1968 riots, a magician and tales of love, family and valor be found? At the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival, of course.

The festival, running July 8 through July 25, will celebrate its fifth year with 137 different shows to entertain the city.

Capital Fringe festival largely showcases lesser-known artists and avant-garde work to the public, often new works, highlighting some of the local D.C. talent. The theatrical styles run the gamut, from comedies and dramas to musicals to solo performance. There are even a few puppet shows in the mix.

However, the festival will also include some established classics, such as “A Walk in the Woods,” a play by Lee Blessing, which has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award and an Oliver Award. “H.M.S. Pinafore” by Gilbert & Sullivan will be returning to the Fringe Festival for its fourth summer in a row.

Performances will be held in venues around Penn Quarter and Mount Vernon Square, such as an old cigar shop abandoned, since the ’60s, a historic church, a converted restaurant, and a German cultural institute.

Tickets are $15 per show or passes can be purchased for a range of prices from $40 for four shows, a $300 all-inclusive pass.

Find out more at www.capfringe.org.

Fringe Festival In Review


‘Florida Days’

As part of the Fringe Festival this month, Rachael Bail’s “Florida Days” premiered at The Apothecary on July 10.

The play, performed by the McLean Drama Company, follows the journey of Betty, a Southern girl living in Brooklyn, New York. Betty, played by Elise Edwards, transforms from fiery young journalist to a wife and mother while her world crashes down around her. The audience seems transfixed by the depth of Edward’s talent. Her character’s chemistry with Thomas Linn’s character, Vincent, is equally apparent. The onstage couple carries the production with a truly convincing portrayal of two lovers facing life’s hardships while seeking the deeper meaning of it all.

The physical appearance of the production could be described as minimalist, with few costumes, about 10 props in all, and projected images on a back wall instead of sets. Yet nothing is lacking. The comparatively few materials only aid the intensity of the emotions portrayed. Even the audience’s seating seems to transform from a few church pews, since the first scene is a wedding, to benches in a blue-lit coffeehouse, when the action quickly transitions to New York City. The setting then remains in New York for most of the play, despite the title. The Apothecary, a tiny dance studio with exposed brick and unpainted wood, conveyed the sense of watching this family in their city home, living off of Vincent’s salary as an opera conductor.

Though the quality of acting from much of the supporting cast leaves much to be desired, Edwards and Linn give performances of which they should be proud. For a small community theater group the company showed potential, and will be a group to look forward to in future festivals.

I would give “Florida Days” three out of five Fringes.

No Gentlemen of Verona

Elizabethan English flows aplenty with this renovated Shakespeare play. “No Gentlemen of Verona,” Joshua Engel’s take on “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” takes place in the 1940s.

The time period works surprisingly well for the play, though the explanation of that specific adaptation is a bit hard to follow. According to the program, it was successful in Engel’s past experiment with “Much Ado About Nothing” and was thus chosen for the time period for this venture as well. Mobsters, Navy sailors and bright red lipstick make the setting work, however, and make the show more relatable to a modern American audience.

The Rude Mechanicals were as quick and witty as The Bard himself could have expected. The cast’s past experience with Shakespearean dialogue shows in their skillful delivery. It is obvious that the members of this all-female troupe not only know their lines, but they fully understand their meaning. In fact, it is as if they naturally speak Elizabethan English in their daily lives. The few trips over the complex lines were quickly remedied and never skipped a beat.

Overall, “No Gentlemen of Verona” is a comic delight for Shakespeare lovers that enjoy a new spin on an old favorite.

I would give “No Gentlemen of Verona” four out of five Fringes.

No Stranger to ‘Passing Strange’


“Passing Strange,” the first revival of the hit off-Broadway beyond-category musical now getting a jolting production on Studio Theatre’s 2nd Stage, really is passing strange.

It has the powerful quality of being familiar at some universal level that goes beyond its specific time, place and people, and yet, taken at face value, it’s fresh, original, musically and physically vibrant, ungainly, loud, innocent and knowing all at once. It’s like some time machine from another planet where the occupants jump out jamming, playing new notes you can’t remember but know by heart.

The musical — created by the artist known as “Stew” and Heidi Rodewald — has quite a fine pedigree: workshopped at the Sundance Institute and premiered at Berkeley Rep in California, it made a big splash both on Broadway and off and picked up a handful of Tony nominations and awards, including 2008 Drama Desk Award for best musical and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.

In a lot of ways, “Passing Strange” is part of the canon of an age-old literary device deployed by everyone from Werther to Wolfe (Thomas) to Hemingway to Joyce to “Almost Famous.” At its most elemental, it’s a recount of the coming-of-age travails and journeys of a young artist, a 1970s African American version, to be exact.

But in one way, the best way, this production feels, plays and makes the audience feel as if the whole couple of hours had been lived and imagined right on the spot, as if the pumping, jumping, wailing rock band and youthful, mostly black cast had just invented themselves right here and now. This is an engaging production that, passing strange and all, invites you in, regardless of race or color, age or whatever.

Briefly, it’s about a young, pre-rap black man, rebellious, restless, raised in relative safety in middle class Los Angeles, trying to find the “real,” his authenticity as an artist in the 1970s.

His trip is narrated by his older, later self, taking him from a reefer-smoking choir member in his church to his first lust and love in Europe by way of Amsterdam and a bellicose Berlin, where art is radical, political and just as hard to define as on a street corner in LA.

It’s a musical journey, often humiliating, funny and enlightening, one in which the young man, full of himself and new experience but without a clue or guide, parades his own alluring inexperience and his new friend flock through the mess. Experience stings and has its price — listen to such numbers as “The Black One,” “We Just Had Sex” or “Come Down Now.”

The music itself is pure power-driven rock and funk provided by keyboardist Christopher Youstra and his band.
The young man and his wiser self complement and comment on each other and engage the audience throughout the show, the lanky, breathless, high-energy Aaron Reeder as “Youth” alongside the guitar-slinging, rough-voiced and hypnotic Jahl L. Kersey as “Narrator.”

Three women take on equal power poles in the show: Deidra LaWan Starnes as the boy’s mother, who has an affecting, much-too-rare emotional power when she’s on the stage, Jessica Francis Dukes as the sweetly appealing free-spirited Marianna and Deborah Lubega as the rough-and-ready, punked-out Desi.

Here’s a shout-out to Director Keith Alan Baker, who over the years has staged such soul-rattling musicals as “Hair,” “Jerry Springer: The Opera” and “Reefer Madness: The Musical!”, and has topped himself here.

There’s certain knowing qualities and references in the show — a song about avant-garde French movie director Jean Luc Godard and talk about “Jimmie Baldwin,” the late, great African American novelist and essayist who wrote the book(s) on black exile and authenticity (“Go Tell It on the Mountain”, “Nobody Knows My Name,” “Another Country”) long ago.

In the end, like so many youthful journeys, self-knowledge often comes from clicking your heels: look homeward, youth, there’s no place like you-know-where, or in this case, in a rousing number called “It’s All Right”.

Go there. You’ll meet somebody you know, most likely yourself.

“Passing Strange” is at the Studio Theatre’s 2nd Stage through Aug. 8.
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