Washington Savoyards present The Rocky Horror Show (photo gallery)

October 31, 2012

Let’s do the Time Warp again. “The Rocky Horror Show” is here just in time for the Halloween season in a fresh production from the Washington Savoyards. This is the live pop musical version that inspired the cult film hit, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. The musical by Richard O’Brien tells the story of a newly engaged couple who get caught in a storm and are forced to seek shelter in the castle of a mad transvestive scientist and his new creation, a muscle man named Rocky. Like the movie, playgoers are encouraged to shout out their favorite one-liners during the performance.

Performances of “The Rocky Horror Show” run through Nov. 4 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St., NE, in the revitalized Atlas District, just north of Capitol Hill. Visit www.savoyards.org to learn more about the show and to buy tickets.

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Mavis Staples Rocks the Hamilton

October 20, 2012

“We own The Hamilton,” said R&B legend Mavis Staples. “We were the first to stand on this stage.”

Indeed, last January, Mavis Staples and her band opened The Hamilton as the first performers at the then brand-new supper-club. Wednesday night, the audience settled in with dinner and music by Lea, a soulful singer-songwriter from D.C. As an indication of her performance, she had sold out of her CDs by the end of the night.

Staples’ band exuded cool when they made their entrance on stage and would continue to support Staples throughout the night. The Hamilton’s great sound let their musicianship show.

After their first song, an a cappella gospel tune, Staples informed the audience that one of her back up singers was bed ridden, and that she herself was not feeling at her best. She pointed to her throat and referred to it as her “cold voice.” Despite feeling under the weather, Staples powered through the show. Her skills as a performer and entertainer were amazing.

One especially exciting number was Staples performance of The Band’s “The Weight,” this rendition with Staples singing lead. Staples offered her respects to The Band’s Levon Helms, who died earlier this year.

“Levon,” said Staples, “had to leave us, but he is in a better place.”

Another great number was the title track of You Are Not Alone, her Grammy-winning album with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

Before her encore, Staples’ band played two instrumental numbers. One was an excellent rendition of the spiritual “Go Down Moses.” Staples’ performance exhibited a clear Gospel influence. Three-part harmonies and extended interludes were built into every song. Staples often interjected political statements into her songs, and said that people were “mixing up the Kool Aid and passing it off as tea,” referring to the Tea Party.

Near the end of the show, Staples chided her sick band mate “She’s probably feeling better, now that she knows that we are working, and she is not.”

Staples encore, “I’ll Take You There” brought the audience to their feet. Staples gave her regards before she left the stage.

“We’ve been taking you there for 62 years, and we aren’t finished yet.”

Epic ‘DruidMurphy’ by Top Dramatist Explores Irish Emigres

October 17, 2012

Accents, the way words or dozens of them are said, can carry across the ocean in our times, and so can entire paragraphs, plays, speeches and stories. That’s what Rory Nolan does sort of talking about the Galway-based Druid Theatre Company and “DruidMurphy,” a trilogy of plays by Tom Murphy, whom some folks call Ireland’s greatest playwright.

“I wouldn’t argue the point, that’s what he is, our greatest living playwright,” Nolan says. “I know he certainly ranks right up there with Brian Friel, and then there’s Enda Walsh and Martin McDonagh, but talking just for myself, there’s none better at getting at the real heart and soul of Irish people.”

This is the Druid Theatre Company’s second visit to Washington, and it starts out tonight at the Eisenhower Theater with Murphy’s “Conversations on a Homecoming” at 7:30 p.m., followed tomorrow with his scathing, ground-breaking debut, “A Whistle in the Dark,” followed on Friday, Oct. 19, with the epic “Famine,” which is about what many historians see as Ireland’s very own holocaust, the 1846 potato crop famine which resulted in thousands of deaths and a mass emigration of Irish people to the United States. The theme of exile and Irish emigration runs through the whole three-play cycle which will be performed consecutively on Saturday, Oct. 20, beginning with “Conversations on a Homecoming” at 1:01 p.m.

The Druid Theatre Company starts out tonight with Murphy’s “Conversations on a Homecoming” at 7:30 p.m., followed tomorrow with his scathing, ground breaking debut, “A Whistle in the Dark,” and ends Friday, Oct. 19, with the epic “Famine,” which is about what many historians see as Ireland’s very own holocaust, the 1846 potato crop famine which resulted in thousands of deaths and a mass emigration of Irish people to the United States.

Nolan, speaking from Dublin, has a rolling little lilt to his speech, instantly recognizable, like a song, but, like Murphy, a venerable cultural figure in Ireland, he has no truck for Irish clichés and sentimentality that is characteristic of the Irish in America, if not at home.

“Murphy is straight ahead,” Nolan, who has parts in all three plays says. “It’s the truth, reality of the characters, there’s not of that blarney. His characters are angry about their lot in life. They speak in unromantic terms. There’s an edge in everything they say.”

“The Gigli Concert,” a lengthy play that rode on a whirlwind of words, received a highly praised production at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre several years ago, and McDonagh has become a popular mainstream playwright in America, while the work of Walsh received productions of his work by the visiting Druid company at the Kennedy Center two years ago in addition to seeing productions of plays like “The New Electric Ballroom” at the Studio Theatre.

“This will be the first really substantive exposure of his work in the states,” Nolan says. “It’s powerful stuff, grand. Murphy likes to write about exile, departures, the effects of that, and when it happened on such a scale as the aftermath of the great famine. Well, that’s a subject that’s major and serious.”

Druid was founded in Galway in 1975 by Galway University graduates Garry Hynes (who is directing the three plays), Mick Lally and Marie Mullen.

“The Druid style is natural,” Nolan said. “It’s evocative and sharp. It’s a great opportunity for an actor to be working here. They take on challenging and new ways of doing things. It’s not just the big plays, the established playwrights. They do a great job with encouraging and working with new writers, and young actors, too.”



The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall is the place to be this weekend if you love dance. The fourth annual VelocityDC Dance Festival will be staged Oct. 18 through 21 with performances at 8 p.m, Oct. 18, 19 and 20; at 2 p.m. Oct. 20 and 21.

Dance-supportive institutions like the Washington Performing Arts Society, the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Dance/Metro DC haves organized this three-day festival which features world-class artists and dance companies presenting a gala format of movement and music, hip-hop and spoken word works.

Included is a Ramp!-to-Velocity series of events 90 minutes before curtain times. Among the performers and companies are the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, El Teatro de Danza Comtemporanca El Salvador, The Washington Ballet Studio Company, Farafina Kan, the Dissonance Dance Theater, the CityDance Conservatory, Step Afrika! and the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble among many others.


There’s still a little time to see the ground-breaking “Fly,” a new play by Ricaredo Khan and Trey, which tells the saga of the experience of the Tuskegee Airmen, four World War II African-American military pioneers who proved themselves as officers and pilot-warriors. The play—inventively staged—combines live action, video footage and “Tap Griot.” The Ford’s Theatre season opener will be performed through October 21.


The Round House Theater in Bethesda has opened “I Love to Eat” by James Still, a one-man tour-de-farce that features Nick Olcott as the culinary maestro James Beard, running through Nov. 4.


Texas women still rock and rock out at Arena Stage which has Kathleen Turner as the brave, rambunctious journalist Molly Ivins in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” through Oct. 28 and Mary Bridget Davies bringing down the house as the 1960s white blues blazing star Janis Joplin in “One Night With Janis Joplin” through Nov. 4.


Artistic director Robert McNamara is dipping into the ultra violence of the Droogs made famous by Anthony Burgess’s novel and Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same name with a stage production of “A Clockwork Orange” at the H Street Playhouse through Nov. 19.


Veteran Washington super-talents are on stages in Michael Kahn’s production of Nicholas Gogol’s comedy, “The Government Inspector,” including Rich Foucheux, Nancy Robinette, Derek Smith, David Sbin, Sarah Marshall, Hugh Nees Craig Wallace and, of course, Floyd King. “The Government Inspector” continues through Oct. 28.

Donovan Mellows Out at the Hamiton

October 11, 2012

British singer-songwriter Donovan appeared at the Hamilton this Saturday, Oct. 6. The “Sunshine Superman” took the packed house on a trip down memory lane, recounting how the Carter family taught him clawhammer picking and how he joined the Beatles on their life-changing trip to India.

Donovan will be performing next Sunday, Oct. 14, at This Land is Your Land, A Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert at the Kennedy Center. The concert, in collaboration with the Grammy Museum, will celebrate the life and work of folk singer and icon Woody Guthrie with performances by John Mellencamp and many others.
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Songs of the Vilna Ghetto at the Lithuanian Embassy

October 4, 2012

It was a Saturday night in Washington D.C., urban living night and day, street festivals, parades, the Nationals, the Redskins, concerts and plays and symphonies and singers, and restaurants galore, the weather being fallish, all sorts of things to do everywhere.

Some things go unnoticed, too, unheralded. At the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania, a group of people had gathered Sept. 22 to listen, to remember and honor another place, another time, in song and music in commemoration of the Lithuanian Holocaust Memorial Day.

At the start of the Jewish Days of Atonement, before their eyes, another city, a ghetto from a harrowing time of tragedy and loss, rose up, demanding that attention must be paid, that some things can never be forgotten and that the dead can be honored even now, when memories start to fade.

That was the lingering impression during the course of an evening when baritone Jerome Barry, the founder and director of the Embassy Series in Washington, accompanied by pianist Edvinas Minkstimas, with clear and deep emotion, and strong-voiced and passionate, gave voice to the long-ago Jewish residents of the Vilna Ghetto, with their music, their songs, their memories, almost all of them rounded up, oppressed, systematically shot and eventually transported to the death camps of Nazi-occupied Europe.

The Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States Zygimantas Pavilionis noted that in remembering the Liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto, both the victims of this tragedy of the Holocaust and the whole nation of Lithuania were profoundly affected. “The pain of the Holocaust is also the pain of Lithuania because we lost Lithuanian Jews with whom we had lived together for centuries and suffered together the occupiers of our land,” Pavilionis said.

Barry sang a powerful array of songs, some of them written during the time of the ghetto by the persons who lived and died there and others by survivors as well as songs and music that are intrinsic parts of Jewish cultural and spiritual life. Taken together, the songs re-created what was the emotional, the fear-filled, the still life-filled environment of the ghetto, in which eventually families disappeared daily, in which hundreds of individuals were rounded up regularly and shot, in which people took solace in song and music.

Barry, in moving from song to song, beginning with “Geto” which was written in the Vilna Ghetto by Kasriel Broyde, who continued to direct theatre revues and concerts, to a Jewish prayer expressing longing for the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, brought different skills and feelings to bear on each song. The tone gave us the beating hearts and the pain of the Vilna Jews, suffering under a cloud of daily losses and doom.

For Barry, it seemed that the songs—let’s say the song by the poet Abraham Sutskever, or a song by a young boy who won a composition competition in the ghetto, and the impassioned “Partizaner Lid,” which became an anthem for the underground resistance movement—inspired the best that he had to offer, with all of his gifts on display. He managed to make what was clearly personal for him, personal for everyone there, thus raising an occasion that in the hectic scheme of urban activity to the level of an important occasion both intimate and universal. The songs made you confront the lives of those that perished in terrible times.

By his performance, Barry enriched the material and gave the music the level of emotional authenticity and in the end, punctuated an evening that was more than just another Saturday night.

(Nearly 200,000 Lithuanian Jews died during the Holocaust.)

Pat McGee at Strathmore, Sept. 28: a Homecoming of Sorts

October 1, 2012

The Washington Post described Pat McGee this way: “looks like Brad Pitt, sings like James Taylor, sweats and struts like Springsteen. You can’t deny McGee’s charisma.”

Well, I’m gonna have to wait and see on that. But I did talk to McGee, a homegrown, in-50-different-ways guy, on the phone. He sounded to me like a guy you could sit with at a diner here, or where he lives in Rhode Island, or where he came from—Alexandria—or somewhere on the road, where he is often, performing as the Pat McGee Band with its brand of semi-country-rock-hard-driving-sound rock.

McGee will be here performing Friday, Sept. 28 (and opening the 2012 season) at the Music Center at Strathmore, something he’s been looking forwards to for a long while. (The Pat McGee Band concert will be preceded by a first-time ever tailgate party at 5:30 p.m. The concert is at 8 p.m.)

“Oh, man, yeah, I’ve been wanting to play here, because you hear about the acoustics here all the time,” McGee said. “Plus, it’s sort of a homecoming, like every time I play in the area, we play at Wolf Trap and the Barns and I’m from Alexandria. So, I think people are pretty familiar with us.”

Still, listening to McGee, who is 39 now, you hear a man with some life experience under his belt, a thoughtful guy who’s watched how the music business itself, and the world of performing has changed. “Oh sure, we all thought about being rock stars, you know playing the music the road, lots of fans,” he said. “And we’ve done that to some extent. But things change, you grow up a little. Plus, just the way music is sold and delivered—on the Internet, iTunes and on phones, downloading and everything, makes everything different. You have to keep up with that.”

McGee formed the band in the 1990s, and got it going good when the band was signed by Warner Brothers, from which emerged the album, “Shine,” in 2000 with such hit singles as “Rebecca” and “Runaway.” Another album, “Save Me,” followed in 2004 . There have been nine albums altogether, including the latest, “No Wrong Way to Make It Right,” a bitter-sweet album full of songs about youthful memories, relationships, the future, and full of guitar-driven rhythms.

There’s still a lot of youth in his songs and voice—and in photos and videos, he can play the part of a rocker, but a rocker who knows whereof he sings. He thinks about music—all kinds of music, a lot. To McGee, things have been about change, about moving forward, and still playing the music strong

“To me, performance is the most important part of music. It’s what I think we should respect the most,” he says. “I love performing on the road with other musicians.”

In that case, the Strathmore gig should be a hoot—he’s brought together a lot of people for the ride. “This is going to be like a reunion show, you know,” he said. There’ll be current and former Pat McGee Band members like John Small, Michael Ghegan, Patrick McAloon and Ira Gitlin. And there’s Eddie Hartness, the lead singer of Eddie from Ohio, and Nate Brown from Everything and John “Red” Redling from New Potato Caboose. He’s also invited former high school student musicians from his alma mater Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va.

That’s right. McGee is a local boy in more ways than one.

Not only is he an O’Connell grad, an Alexandria native, he started out like a lot of would-be rockers, with a band playing in the Richmond area, but later, also up here in Georgetown. “We played in a place called Dylan’s Café . . . [near] where Café Milano is, in that courtyard. And then we played the Bayou. And, man, when we did that regularly, that’s when I knew we could make it.”

“No Way to Make It Right” is kind of a reunion effort, too, with old music comrades like Jason Mraz, Emerson Hart, Stephen Kellogg, Keaton Simons and Ryan Newell of Sister Hazel, and working with producer Doug Derryberry who produced the group’s first album. Plus the sound is both fresh and familiar. It’s the sound of folk instruments like acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro, fiddle and bouzouki.

He thinks he’s mellowed, gotten a better bead on the future. He’s writing more and more, and the writing is mature. It has something to say and reacts to the things that happen in life—from “riding in my grandma’s Cadillac when I was a kid” to a song called “Elegy for Amy,” which he wrote early on his career. “See, when we were playing in clubs and bars, there’d always be this group of girls sitting up front, and then I went away for a while and when we came back, I noticed that this one girl named Amy, always a fan, always nice and enthusiastic, wasn’t with them. They told me she had died of a really fast-acting cancer. So, I wrote this song.” Then, there’s the powerful “Come Back Home,” written in 2009 and dedicated to the troops serving in the Middle East.” It was also dedicated to his drummer Christ Williams who died of a heart attack. Williams’s younger brother Blake was killed in Iraq.

McGee now lives in Barrington, R.I., a few blocks from his ex-wife with whom he shares custody of their three daughters, Juliet, 6, Elizabeth, 8, and Anna, 10. Both McGee and his ex have moved on to new marriages.

“I guess I’ve grown up some, being a parent and things that happen will do that,” he said. “I want to do more writing, writing country songs and I’ve been going back and forth to Nashville, trying to make that happen.”

But this Friday, he’s here. It will be, for the Pat McGee Band, like old times, from the beginning, the journey until now.

D.C. Arts Preview: Fall 2012

September 21, 2012

Fall—inevitably, surprisingly—is coming. Do you want to know how we can tell?

No, it is not all the training camp stories about the Redskins, tres banality. It’s not all the back-to-school commercials. It’s fall preview time. As in, it’s August we’ve got to put together a fall preview issue (or two).

It’s that time of year when the media which cover such things notice that they’ve run out of comic book movies and that “The Addams Family” has left town. It’s almost September, which must mean that fall is coming, which must mean that its fall arts—performance, visual, and many other categories—preview time.

So, to that end, this is the Georgetowner fall preview issue—the first of two—which, in addition to the visual side of the arts, concerns itself with Washington area theater.

Back in the day, theaters and performing arts venues used to do what everybody else did: they closed pretty much for the whole month of August which meant the end of summer and that fall was coming. People went to the beach, or to the Hamptons or on an educational trip to the Galapagos Islands. They packed their white navy jackets and unfiltered Gitanes and went away.

Nowadays, the performance arts and theater seasons do not fold themselves into the four seasons as neatly. Nowadays, it’s basically one long season with not much let-up. We noticed this trend, especially this year. Companies are starting their seasons earlier and earlier so that you can’t just leave town for fear of missing something. And with theater, there is no premium channel to catch up.
We’re giving you a peek on the theater head-starts. Signature Theater has already started its season with a production of “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas,” a terrific musical that mixes sex with politics and big boots and hats, a revival of a musical that refuses to date. In addition, we’ll take a closer look at what’s becoming a godsend for Washington theatergoers and bard acolytes, the annual Shakespeare Free For All, which this year gives us a production of the ironically titled “All’s Well That Ends Well,” in which a smart, beautiful young girl is smitten with a prince who’s blind to her charms because she’s not to the manor born, among other sundry things. It’s at the Harman Theater until Sept. 2. Tickets? They’re free.

Last, but not least, we have among us the presence of two larger-than-life, by-God big personality and big gift women—the one, being the brimming with magnetism and unforgettable voice actress Kathleen Turner, and the other, being the brimming with sharp, pointed and passionate opinion and humor political columnist Molly Ivins. On stage at Arena, they are one and the same in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” a play by Margaret Engel, in which Turner manages the not inconsiderable feat of bringing Ivy, who died of cancer several years ago, back to life. “Patriot” runs through Oct. 28.

We had occasion to talk with Turner on the phone and to witness her in action at a special, full-house event at the Newseum that gave us an opportunity to give you both a preview and a flashback.
In addition, we’ve selected as many theaters—and there are many theaters here—and previewed their season-openers which occur late this month, through September.

Look carefully at this list and see what you like, choose and go. Go to all of them, if you can. Everything you will see, if you let it, will stay in your mind forever, because really, that’s the way you remember an evening or afternoon at the theater. There is no adequate video, no rerun, no recreation, and if you go back, well, it will not be the same. That’s the special part of plays in performance, it’s why they make you shut off your smart phones, and open up your heart and mind. No need to multi-task. Let the words wash over you like fresh, clean water.

Plays, it should be noted over and over again, are not movies. If you see a movie over again, it will be the same thing: blue people in “Avatar,” people who get the blues in a Woody Allen movie, the sharks in the “Deep Blue Sea.”

Looking at the plays that are being performed, we can say that we’ve seen “Whorehouse” at least once on stage with Ann Margaret in the role of a madam, and the movie version featuring—Lord, have mercy—Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. We know for darn sure that the Signature version won’t be anything like either. We’ve seen “All’s Well That Ends Well” a number of times and as happens so often with Shakespeare, each time is different, something emerges that was lost before, and someone, a Marsha Mason here, a Philip Goodwin there, brings out a different queen, a different Parolles than I saw in Teresa Wright or Floyd King.

Looking forward to things on that list, we know someone and some thing some word or whisper will surprise you, even in a familiar way. Perhaps they’ll do the Texas two-steps in three steps. Or one of playwright Annie Walker’s (she has two plays upcoming in town) characters will move in an unexpected way. Look: there’ll be a Hamlet from the Globe, wrestlers, Russians, a strangely silent Dr. Hyde, Scots in Iraq, a toilet seat made of gold, World War II, modern super heroes, a French balladeer. On and on it goes.

These are our players, and our plays, and directors and theaters and the hours we will spend with them. Get out and enjoy.

Kennedy Center—2012 Page to Stage Festival, Sept. 1-3. It’s the 11th annual such festival, in which theater artists show off their upcoming wares in various stages of development. It’s a three-day event of free readings, open rehearsals of plays and musicals developed by local, regional and national playwrights, librettists, and composers.

War Horse, Oct. 23 to Nov. 11, in the Opera House. The Broadway play about a boy and his horse and World War 1, which won the Tony Award for best play and features stirring, magical life-size puppets.

The Druid Theatre Company—Oct. 17 to 20, “Plays By Tom Murphy.” One of the most admired and critically acclaimed Irish theatre companies return with “Conversations on a Homecoming,” “A Whistle in the Dark” and “Famine” by Tom Murphy, one of today’s best playwrights.

Round House Theatre Bethesda—4545 East West Highway. Season opener: “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” Sept. 5-30. A new play by Rajiv Joseph, in what is a growing literature of our Middle Eastern wars (see “Black Watch”). It is directed by Jeremy Skidmore and involves “the intertwined lives of a quick-witted tiger, two homesick U.S. marines and a troubled Iraqi gardener as they roam the streets of war-torn Baghdad in search of meaning, redemption and a toilet seat made of gold. A Broadway hit and Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Shakespeare Theatre Company—Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St., NW. “Black Watch,” Sept. 19 to Oct. 7. A special event, this riveting, blood-pounding, energetically choreographed play about a group of restless, tough members of an elite Scottish unit in Iraq sold out its run at Harman last year and remains a must-see.

At the Lansburgh Theatre—450 7th St., NW. The Shakespeare Theatre Company begins its season with “The Government Inspector,” a satiric comedy by Nikolai Gogol, the first Russian play to be a part of an STC season, directed by Michael Kahn, with an all-star cast of Washington actors, including Floyd King, Nancy Robinette, David Sabin and Sarah Marshall. Sept. 13 to Oct. 28.

Forum Theatre—Roundhouse Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, Md. Season opener: “Holly Down In Heaven” by Kara Lee Corthron, a story about a 15-year-old born again Christian who becomes pregnant and banishes herself to her basement. Sept. 27 to Oct. 20.

Olney Theatre Center—2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, Md. “Over the Tavern” by Tom Dudzick, directed by John Going. The line: “Sometimes, a boy just wants to have a little fun.” Sept. 26 to Oct. 21.

Theater Alliance—H Street Playhouse, 1635 H St., NE—opener: “Reals,” a hip, tough new play about superhero wannabes in a world premiere by Gwydion Suilebhan, directed by Shirley Serotsky, Aug. 27 to Sept. 16. (Watch also for Christmas co-production with Hub Theatre “Wonderful Life” and Alliance’s own “Black Nativity.”)

Spooky Action Theater—1810 16th St., NW. Season opener: “Reckless” by noted playwright Craig Lucas involving Christmas Eve, “a cheery suburban mom thrust into a a looking glass journey to a place where it is always Christmas Eve.” Oct. 4 to 28.

Woolly Mammoth—641 D St., NW. “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” by Krisoffer Diaz, directed by John Vreek, kicks off Woolly’s Season 33, “My Roots, My Revolution.” Diaz’s play explores the volatile, testosterone world of professional wrestling with a fall guy named Macedonio “Mace” Guerra and the charismatic champ Chad Deity. Sept. 3 to 30.

Keegan Theatre—1742 Church St., NW. “Osage County” through Sept. 2. Traci Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and quite savage family saga. Beginning Sept. 21: “A Couple of Blaguards,” the McCourt (Frank and Malachy) brothers’ entry into wonderful Irish blarney and remembering.

Metro Stage—1201 North Royal St., Alexandria, Va. “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” directed by Serge Seiden, Aug. 30 to Oct. 21. The area’s liveliest cabaret and musical stage company does the Frenchman who embodied the spirit of cabaret.

Synetic Theatre at Crystal City, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington, Va. Opener: “Jekyll and Hyde,” Sept. 20 to Oct. 21. The gifted, mostly silent movement theater group, headed by Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, takes on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror story of conflicted identity in its own inimitable fashion. Look also for Jules Verne’s “A Trip to the Moon” on Dec. 6.

Signature Theatre—4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Va. “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is a tried and true musical about social shenanigans and political bull in a Texas town where politics and sex get together in a little house but not on the prairie. Directed with new verve by Eric Schaeffer, based on a true story, a Broadway hit musical and a movie, it runs through Oct. 7. “Dying City,” a contemporary new drama about Americans and Iraq, by Christopher Shinn; Oct. 2 to Nov. 25.

Theater J—at the Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St., NW. Opener: “Body Awareness” by the rising young playwright Annie Baker, whose “Circle Mirror Transformation” was a big hit at the Studio Theater two seasons ago. It is part of Theater J’s “Beginnings, Belonging, Becoming and Breaking Through” season and is directed by Eleanor Holdridge; Aug. 25 to Sept. 23. Arriving on Nov. 8 is “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie.”

Ford’s Theatre—514 10th St., NW. Season opener, “Fly” by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan and directed by Ricardo Kahn, is the story of four African American officers and fighter pilots in World War II, based on the experience of the famed Tuskeege Airmen; Sept. 21 to Oct. 21. The season also includes the traditional “A Christmas Carol,” “Our Town” and a co-production with Signature Theater, “Hello Dolly.”

Folger Theatre—in the Folger Elizabethan Theatre at 201 East Capitol St., SE Its opener is direct from London and a stripped down, mean and lean version of “Hamlet” from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst; Sept. 8 to 22.

The Studio Theatre—1501 14th St., NW. Opener: “Invisible Man” (begins Sept. 5), adapted by Oren Jacoby, based on the landmark, lyrical novel of identity in America by the great African American novelist Ralph Ellison (“Juneteenth”), co-produced with the Huntington Theatre Company. An upcoming highlight: “The Aliens” by Annie Baker (See “Body Awareness” at Theater J), Nov. 14.

Arena Stage—1101 6th St., SW. “One Night With Janis Joplin”, written and directed by Randy Johnson, starring Mary Bridget Davies; Sept. 28 to Nov. 4. Upcomer to watch: “My Fair Lady,” directed by artistic director Molly Smith; Nov. 2.

Gala Hispanic—3333 14th St., NW—“In Spite of Love” from Spain’s Golden Age, a romantic comedy about reluctant lovers by Agustin Moreto, directed by Hugo Medrano; Sept. 13 to Oct. 7.

Teatro de la Luna—Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, Va.—The 15th International Festival of Hispanic Theater, the best of the Americas and Spain; Oct. 9 to Nov. 17.


Adventure Theater—7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, Md.—“If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” based on the popular series of books by Laura Numeroff, starring Michael Russotto; through Sept. 2. Beginning Sept. 21, “Big”, the much-anticipated Theater for Young People-Adventure Theater musical production of the popular Tom Hanks comedy, with a book by John Weidman, music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., and directed by artistic director Michael Bobbitt; through Oct. 28.

Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda, Md. “P. Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical” marks the return of a hugely popular musical, written by hip-hop theatre artist and playwright Psalmayene 24, a show that updates the Pinocchio story with a brand new and flamboyant beat; Sept. 29 to Oct. 18. It was a world premiere at Imagination Stage and was recommended by the Helen Hayes Award. Upcoming on Nov. 14: “Seussical.”

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Jerry Seinfeld at the Kennedy Center

The guy in the really spiffy and expensive looking dark suit practically bounded onto the stage of the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall while close to two thousand people cheered.

The man offered up that his name was Jerry Seinfeld and that he was 58 years old.

Seriously? Jerry Seinfeld? Fifty-eight years old?

Wow. This guy looked like he had more energy than Kramer busting through Jerry’s apartment door.

It was a funny—funny ha ha, very much, and funny strange, too—experience watching Jerry Seinfeld doing standup at the Kennedy Center. One of the neat things about it was that Seinfeld was cooly aware of it without beating his audience over the head with it. It’s fair to say that there were lots of people who watch Seinfeld re-runs—ka-ching for Jerry. Whenever we stumble across them, as we did recently with catching the infamously funny episode about being “master of your domain” and laughed helplessly once again as Kramer was the first to throw his money down.

We laughed helplessly again, as Seinfeld expertly speared contemporary pop culture, the smallest and therefore biggest human foibles we all share, with a somehow garrulous, almost hysterical approach. One of Seinfeld’s more obviously charming attributes is his ability to notice the obvious and point it out, as in taking on erectile dysfunction ads which have run rampant on the airwaves like bats flying out of a cave. Seinfeld took on one such ad, in which a couple is shown luxuriating in separate, stand-alone bathtubs in anticipation or remembrance of sex. It’s hard to tell which. “Who has two bathtubs?”, he screamed. “Do you know any couple that has two bathtubs and takes them to the beach with them? If they wanted to get turned on, wouldn’t it be better if they were in one bathtub?”

You’d think, but only Seinfeld managed to see the obvious flaw in the ad. And we laughed and laughed.

Seinfeld is famous for periodically returning to the stage to do stand up comedy, and going to clubs after he refused millions to take up the series he and Larry David created once more after the last one in 1998. No question, he’s a standup genius, talking about things we immediately recognize, us regular folks out there—teaching our kids to bust piñatas, playing the marriage Jeopardy Game and losing, noting how marriage instantly causes you to lose all your single friends, and vice versa.

We got our money’s worth, but even as we watched—and noticed that men are more restrained in their laughter than women, who snort and giggle with high-pitched abandon while poking the guys in the ribs, a fact Jerry might be able to use in a routine—the old Seinfeld shows slip in under your chin where the laughter starts.

If you check out a title list of old episodes sometimes, they’re not so much about “nothing,” but about the pre-ordained failure of the characters trying to make something out of “nothing.” They scheme big with little things—Kramer’s famous coffee table book with legs, for instance—and fail spectacularly, making the embarrassment hall of fame every time out.

Seinfeld himself has gone way beyond that, of course, but keeps up too, a fish in rarefied waters, still polishing his game, like Michael Phelps diving into the neighborhood pool unannounced. It’s a joy, really, to watch him and to recognize Seinfeld from “Seinfeld”.

Seinfeld was and remains a master wordsmith, knowing all the magic and power of words when you start bouncing them around like competing yo-yos, as in his start-up routine using the word “great” and bouncing it off “sucks” as in “you say life is really great”, but you know “life sucks,” which leads him right to the invention of pop tarts, which of course, changed everything. Seinfeld, in the show and maybe in the here and now, was always the gleeful ironist, the competitive nice guy, for whom irony can be used like a knife. He hasn’t lost his edge. He’s kind of intensely manic, in fact. As if these things, these small things make you roil, makes things matter, as opposed to the big things.

“Who are you voting for?” somebody from the audience shouted.

Much to the chagrin of the ghost of Mort Sahl, who would have spent two hours answering that question, Jerry shrugged it off with a wave.

“Who cares,” he says, and moved on to the next small-big thing we remember.

Studio’s ‘Bloody Jackson’ Rocks at 2nd Stage

There is always one sure sign of summer in Washington. Besides the four horsemen of the weather apocalypse we are experiencing: 100-degree heat, falling trees, power outages and sopping humidity.

That would be whatever contemporary sounding outrageous theatrics coming out of the Studio Theater 2nd Stage summer production—usually a musical—make. In years past, it’s taken the form of high-and-very-low opera about Jerry Springer, the rhythm of beat poetry, Droogs singing in the rain, the squeals of “Reefer Madness,” and the boys and girls from “Hair.”

And now—in a mad election summer no less—we have a rock musical about Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, the populist leader who created Democrats, invited the people to the White House en mass, fought duels, led the expulsion westward of Native American tribes, national bank, and had, for all his populist bent, a thoroughly autocratic way about him.

All of the stories and qualities of Andrew Jackson are on display in “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the off-Broadway rock and emo-rooted musical which poses Jackson in the role of loud, angry and very sexy rock star. And let’s not forget: it is a 2nd Stage show.

“It fits right in with our summer criteria,” said Keith Alan Baker, the Studio Theater’s managing director and 2nd Stage artistic director. “For our summer shows, we usually try to have a production that was a successful show Off-Broadway the season before or so, often a musical. At 2nd Stage, we have given ourselves the latitude and mission of putting on plays and shows that are different, unusual, and attractive to all sorts of theater audiences. I’d say ‘Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson’ fits the bill.”

The bill at 2nd Stage has hardly been uniform—the summer musicals and usually a fare of three other plays including “new plays by new, young and up and coming American or English playwrights,” and “some things that would appear to have no category which this year included the Japanese-comics sourced “Astro Boy and the God of Comics” as well as “The Big Meal.”

Baker, who just celebrated his 50th birthday, hardly looks or acts his age. He carries a genial curiosity about him like some loosely-worn, very cool t-shirt. Looking back, it seems more like the distance, the journey, the volume of work and plays, being part of the rise, and rise of the Studio Theatre, under founder Joy Zinoman and now artistic director David Muse still has the power to amaze him.

Like 2nd Stage itself, Baker seems like a good mix of the expression of the Studio Theatre history and image, a combination of straight ahead determination, intellectual curiosity and eclecticism, a streak of veering off often into the road least traveled and ending up with the shining and successful theatrical enterprise that exists today.

Baker, who hails from east Texas—a good place to be from without living there, he says—combines a solid work ethic with a bit of a bad boy attitude, trying out material that’s not necessarily safe. In this he had the cooperation of Zinoman who “basically left us alone.” Baker and Kathi Lee Redmond, wife of actor Larry Redmond, started 2nd Stage up in the 1988-1989 season with two plays—“Hard Times” and “Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks”, then hit a mother lode with the irascible playwright Christopher Durang’s “Laughing Wild”. “It was a big hit, and money wise, one of the big successes in Studio history.

Since 1986, Baker has been a presence at Studio Theatre in one form or another in almost every aspect of the workings of the theater, including the journey from a small space on Church Street to the new complex on 14th and P Street, which became one of the major engines for the revitalization of the neighborhood. “I did everything here,” Baker said. “Tickets, box office, house manager (one of the guys with walkie talkies), fund raising, which was an enlightening experience.” We were talking at a window seat at the theater where you could look out at the bustling street and see the condos now occupying the theater’s old site. “You probably remember what it was like around here way back in the 1980s,” Baker said, thinking about it. “If you came to see a play here, you made a commitment, the neighborhood was still dangerous, undeveloped. Look at it now.”

“Laughing Wild” was followed in later years by other 2nd Stage successes, most notably in terms of the theater community, a production of “Hair” that was electric, intimate, and perfectly captured the iconic heart of the 1960s paean to the rock and roll counter culture. It also won the Helen Hayes award for best resident musical which Baker gleefully, giddily and profanely accepted.

When 2nd Stage hit its strides and marks, it could be memorable: “Kerouac,” for instance, managed to inhale and embrace the world of the beat artists and poets with perfection. “We had a little help there,” Baker said. “There was a bar in Georgetown which had closed and had a sale of its stuff and we carted most of it over and used it for a set.”

Other highlights: “Jerry Springer: The Opera,” a disturbing set-to-music event where audiences where often became swept up in the crazed talk show host’s world; “Reefer Madness,” a wild musical version of a 1930s cautionary film about the dangers of, well, reefers, and most recently, in 2010, the passing strange, evocative “Passing Strange.”

There is an iconoclastic quality to the plays that are part of the 2nd Stage history, obviously shared by Baker. It is about surprises and doing surprising things, entertaining the next thing before they happen. “2nd Stage has always been about the process, not the space,” Baker said.

“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” already a hit, has been extended through Aug. 19 — www.studiotheatre.org. ? [gallery ids="102468,120691" nav="thumbs"]

The Nation’s Capital Goes on the Fringe

It’s July, it’s summer, it’s Washington, D.C., and we’re right where we belong again.

On the Fringe.

It’s time once again to rock and roll, to visit what is a giant performance arts buffet, orgy, festival, conglomeration, explosion — the Capital Fringe Festival — set to take off Thursday, July 12 and run through July 29 with some 140 productions, more than 300 performances of plays, operas, one-person shows, dance productions and stuff that, as always, defies category, convention and expectations — all performed at venues fairly close together, with some exceptions.

Headquarters is Fort Fringe at 607 New York Ave., NW, out of which the Fringe Festival operates year-round, but which becomes a regular beehive of activity during the festival, starting with the recently held mind-boggling preview event held in the Baldaccino Gypsy Tent.

It’s also where you have a good opportunity to catch Julianne Brienza, the festival’s executive director and founding member, who sometimes still feels a little amazed that the festival is now in its seventh year. She can get the credit for the festival’s status as a kind of free-flowing, ongoing Washington cultural instutition, a sometimes incongruous state of affairs, given the nature of the festival.

“By its nature, this kind of festival, which is a process and a journey going from year to year, with no real permanent place that says this is what it is, isn’t exactly an institution, but we’ve become one,” Brienza said. “The festival has always been about exploration and adventure, here and from its beginnings elsewhere and in all of its forms across the country. A lot of people in this community sometimes think of it in theater terms, but it’s much more than that. It’s performance art. So, you can find dancers, burlesque, opera, cabaret, as well as plays. It’s comedy. It’s supposed to be and is on the fringe.“

Historically, the festival tends to split between local performers and groups and those from outside D.C., including Maryland and Virginia, but also folks from New York, San Francisco and all across the country as well as farther afield.

“I can’t point out highlights for you or what to expect, or give you a tip on what to see,” Brienza said. “I try to see as many performances as I can because you get a real good sense of the kind of people who come to the shows.”

Washington itself, as well as the festival, has changed over the last seven years, she noted. “There’s a very grounded and large theater audience,” Brienza said. “There’s also a lot of people — artists, and people who are in the cultural community here — who might come to the festival but can’t either afford to come to the regular theater and musical offerings, or want something different.”

“I think the festival fills a need — even a kind of gap in the community,” she said. “And Fringe isn’t just the festival itself. Like a lot of things that begin here, there’s a need to make this a full-time institution where you work year-round through educational projects and training, and you become a presence.”

But Fringe has always had a kind of wild and woolly complexity to it — the actual quality varies from year to year, from production to production. You can sort of get a flavor and pick some likely suspects just breezing through the titles and group and artists names.

We are basing this on titles alone: Dog & Pony D.C. is presenting “Beertown” which was a nominee for best play in 2011, for instance. Here are some other likely suspects and possibilities:

The Third Annual “Fool For All: Tales of Marriage and Mozzarella” from the Helen Hayes award-winning Faction of Fools Theatre Company, which specializes in Commedia del Arte, which has become very popular of late.

There’s “He Loved the Soft Porn of the City,” a musical trio piece with a gentleman by the name of Dr. Allan Von Schenkel, blending 80s New Wave, Fusion Jazz and World Beat.

As always, there’s the Dizzy Miss Lizzy’s Finn McCool, there’s Scena Theatre’s production of “Mein Kampf,” which tries to imagine Hitler’s life as a shiftless artist in Vienna. There’s a musical show about Tupac, there’s a solo piece, called “Do Not Kill Me, Killer Robots,” there’s a play about the 1968 D.C. Riots in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and there’s a play about the occupiers, D.C. and elsewhere.

“We have political shows, we have avant-garde shows — we have everything,” Brienza said. “There’s always surprises. It’s always an adventure. I think that’s the idea. “

And it’s proven to be successful: people flock to these events. In six years, 80,000 have shown up, generating $1.2 million in revenue for participating artists. The D.C. version has become the second-largest unjuried Fringe Festival in the United States.

Seventy percent of Fringe attendees are female, 70 percent are in the 25 to 55 years-of-age group. “I don’t know why the gender thing is like that,” Brienza said. “It’s interesting.”

Venues for this years festival include Fort Fringe and the Baldaccino Gypsy Tent, the Bedroom at Fort Fringe, Redrum at Fort Fringe, as well as the H Street Playhouse, the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, the D.C. Arts Center in Adams Morgan, the Warehouse, the Gala Hispanic Theatre, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Gear Box and Mountain, at 8103 at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, the First Congressional United Church of Christ, Caos on F, Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Goethe Institut, the Studio Theatre and the Source Theatre.

For complete information on tickets (they’re $17 individually), box office, schedules, times, dates and venues and individual plays, artists and groups, visit the Fringe Festival website — CapFringe.org. ?