Wednesday, March 4, 2020

BANDSTAND
The story behind Bandstand has both the nostalgic and the heartbreak of the years when soldiers, marines and sailers returned from the battlefields of World War II in the 1940s to rebuild their lives to “Just Like It Was Before”. 
Everyone in this is a star, starting with the couple.  Zack Zaromatidis plays Donny Novitski  and Jennifer Elizabeth Smith as Julia Trojan who share a tragedy that will bring them together through music.  Roxy York as her mother and the guys in the band keep cracking one liners as well as share their own wisdom and heartbreaks. 
If the audience at the National Theatre had been the ones that were in the 1945 audience to vote for The Donny Nova Band to be winners of a national competition,  their applause alone would have put them over the top immediately. 
For from being just another nostalgic piece,  the music and the dancing in Bandstand are first class winners.


At National Theatre, Washington DC, March 5 to 12, 2020

Wednesday, February 26, 2020



TIMON OF ATHENS
Timon of Athens is one of those longtime “underrated”  plays by Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton, one that everyone comments they have never seen before.
Simon Godwin’s directs this stunning production of a tale worth telling, most befitting of our money driven time.
There are two sides to every coin, and in this parable that revolves around money there are two sides to Timon, the main character.  
In a dream world, Timon lavishes gold and gifts to buy friendships and fun.  One day the money’s gone and so are all the friends that money can buy.  Trading her golden bejeweled costumes, Timon dons rags, retreating from bright lights, to living in a dark cave. 
Kathryn Hunter (the first British woman to play King Lear, as well as other classical male roles)  stars as Timon. Hunter brings out the humanity in this strong yet vulnerable character who goes from happy party girl to crazed homeless misanthrope. Having seen Timon of Athens  before, with a male actor, there is no doubt in my mind, that Hunter, owns the role of Timon in our time.   
Unforgettable -  Soutra Gilmour’s gorgeous sets and costumes, Donald Holder’s handsome lighting,  Michael Bruce’s music, played by an onstage band and sung by Kristen Misthopoulos. 
Timon of Athens, a tale of riches to rags,  a treasury of wisdom.
At the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington DC,  until March 22, 2020. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

THE AMEN CORNER
Mia Ellis has many roles to fill in Shakespeare Theatre’s production of James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner.  She is Reverend Margaret, the inspired pastor of a struggling congregation in Harlem. She is the wife of Luke (Chike Johnson), a shabby musician husband who re-enters her life ten years later as he is dying.  She is mother to David (Antonio Michael Woodard),  their teenage son who is struggling with how to live his own life.
There are moments when Margaret is like Greek tragic figure with her entrenched flaw of her righteousness that she has been set apart by God.As one so chosen  who does God’s will in all circumstances. she looms like an Old Testament prophet, her message flowing  in  her passionate sermons from her pulpit through the congregation, inspiring spectacular singing and dancing.   She maintains her position in divisive meetings with the church elders in her kitchen on how they should conduct their lives and make employment choices.  Exchanges with her devoted sister Odessa (Harriett D. Foy), reprimands to her son  and bitter encounters with Luke —all are occasions for her to repeat her unaltered devotion to God.
E. Faye Butler is Sister Moore, one of the elders of the Church.  She is counter to Margaret in every way, the ideal leader of the chorus.  Butler has a powerful voice  matched by her power in voicing reasons why the congregation should vote to oust Margaret.  
Margaret’s strong  faith rooted in blinding hubris does not flinch when confronted with human conditions that are too painful to explain otherwise.  Jasmine M. Bush as  Ida Jackson, a young woman in great suffering, has seen her baby die, despite Margaret’s exhortation to pray to God.  She confronts Margaret with the eternal question: Why? Margaret bypasses compassion, repeating her sermon message like a broken record in this heart wrenching moment. While Ida’s experience mirrors Margaret’s own of  losing a baby, her response is totally opposite.  Ida will reject God but stick with her husband unlike Margaret who left Luke after the death of her baby daughter took up the role of pastor.
Words rising from  James Baldwin’s writing set with music  rooted in traditional  spirituals, make all these characters  with  their faith and their failings most real.  As personal losses and crisis continue to mount — Luke dies, David leaves, and the congregation readies to vote to remove her—the realization that religion is not an excuse to be blind to struggles of life and love can no longer be covered in reciting platitudes.  
Whatever her future might come to be, The Amen Corner  ends  on a note worthy of grand opera.   Margaret  unmasked  mounts the steps of the altar,  repeating ’‘To love the Lord is to love all His children—all of them, everyone!—and suffer with them and rejoice with them and never count the cost!’’ 
The Amen Corner— ageless forms of theater and timely in its telling—now at the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington DC  to March 15, 2020.

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Monday, February 17, 2020

THE 39 STEPS

A  production of The 39 Steps calls for a cast of 150.  While this is way beyond what would fit on Constellation Theatre’s stage, four actors take it on.
Drew Kopas is the exciting, handsome, unflappable Richard Hannay,  the quintessential Hitchcock male hero. Patricia Hurley takes on several seductive roles —Annabella, Margaret and Pamela—all of whom Richard will fall madly for. 
Christorpher Walker and Gwen Grastorf are all the rest of dozens of roles too numerous to list, leaving no job unfilled— from milkman, train conductor,vaudeville performers, lingerie salesmen, innkeepers, police officers, airplane pilots,—and never missing a change of wig or mustache to be somebody else.
Together they move the story and the scenery as quick as you can blink in this fast paced thriller.
A classic is always a classic, whether it is the original beloved 1935 film or the updated comic composite of  Hitchcock films in this staged play.  Constellation Theatre’s amazing production takes its place as a memorable  moment in bringing  these classic cinema characters to real life. 
And what’s more— it’s really funny!
Having received the most Helen Hayes nominations of any production in 2020, for Little Shop of Horrors, Constellation is now well on its path to more awards with The 39 Steps.    
At Constellation, 1835 14th St. NW, until March 8, 2020.

Monday, February 10, 2020

EXQUISITE AGONY 
Exquisita Agonía 
Nilo Cruz’s operatic play  at GALA, Exquisite Agony, starts with questions that Cruz had about heart transplant patients. “Does a recipient inherit traits of the donor? Does their taste and other senses change? How does a body react when a new element becomes a part of it?” 
Inspired by musicians, Cruz created a story about an opera singer who wants to meet the transplant patient who received the heart of her dead husband, a famous conductor.  
Luz Nicolás is glamorous and dramatic, as Millie swirling between reality and fantasy. Through the intercession of Doctor Castillo played by Ariel Texidó she meets the recipient, Amér played by Joel Hernández Lara.  The first thing she wants to do is hug him so she can be near “the heart” of her deceased husband.  
The line between what is possibly real and what is her imaginary life is fragile.  At a dinner for Amér to meet her two children  Tommy played by Andrés Talero and  Romy by  Catherine Nunez, the  heartlessness of the deceased  as father is revealed, shattering the coverup stories of his behavior by Millie
José Antonio González as Amér’s brother Imanol  swings from his persuading  Amér to meet Millie in Act 1, to being most anxious to have him leave the dinner event as the family explodes in Act 2.
Touches of ancient and classical drama (think if Antigone and Hamlet were sister and brother) but with the addition of modern procedures like heart operations and devices like cell phones—all add up to make  Exquisite Agony  a masterwork. 
Performed in Spanish, with English subtitles, there are moments when no translation is needed to feel what is happening.   There are moments when the characters burst into speeches, like operatic arias. So like operas often experienced in a foreign language but still understood.
There is not time enough to digest the wisdom in this play to resolve the questions  about the human heart, emotions and memory of an individual.   Unlike a traditional ghost story, Exquisite Agony does not offer easy answers to explain phenomena.
Special Note: On display in the gallery, are four works by Byron Galvey, a prominent  Mexican artist, dubbed by Vincent Price as the “Mexican Picasso.”  
This production of Exquisite Agony is itself a work of art from its scenic design  by Clifton Chadick and costumes by Moyenda Kulemeka.  Special note to Sound Designer David Crandall who working with Cruz’s playlist brought lush opera and symphony moments in all the right places, leaving us to wonder if this was not really an opera of recitatives after all.


 GALA Theatre, 3333 14th Street NW, to March 1.

Saturday, February 1, 2020


SILENT SKY

The number of stars is often used in reviews to rank shows.  Silent Sky at Fords Theatre is worth a sky full. 
Like the stars in the sky,  this wonderful show is truly filled with wonder.
Wonder  -  for the history of Henrietta Leavitt and the Harvard “computers” who mapped the universe using glass plates taken of the night sky.
Wonder -  for this star filled production.  Laura C. Harris is Henrietta, brilliant and dedicated as an astronomer, who made her star shattering discoveries when women were not allowed to peer through nighttime telescopes.  Nora Achrati is Annie Cannon and Holly Twyford is Willama Fleming, both who set records in their observations on which  later astronomical discoveries have been based.  
Henrietta is determined to follow her passion despite the pleadings of  her sister Margaret Leavitt, played by Emily Kester.  Jonathan David Marin is Peter Shaw, a  composite character of  male attitudes about women at the time.  He falls in love with Henrietta, he admires her, but he also subscribes to traditional roles for men and women.  
Wonder  -  Ah!   Playwright Lauren Gunderson connects the study of far off stars with what is deep inside the human heart in finding our place in the universe.   
Special note:  Andre J. Pluess’ beautiful original music, romantic when Harriet and Peter dance away under the stars, is an inspiration when Harriet connects the concerto her sister Margaret is composing with  her own mathimatical research.
Side note:  Long before their were woman astronauts, there were women astronomers.  If it be not enought that the women did all the data processing, need it be mentioned that a woman, Mary Anna Palmer Draper, herself an astronomer, using her own inheritance, in 1886  donated money to the Harvard  College Observatory in order for her and her husband’s work  to photograph the spectra of stars to continue— that led to Leavitt’s discovery, which led to Hubble’s, which led to all of us to know there are universes beyond our own.  Silent Sky leads us to know more about how those discoveries came to be .

Ford’s Theatre, Washington DC to Feb. 23, 2020.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

BLOOMSDAY
The Washington premiere of Bloomsday  at Washington Stage Guild is a treasury of wit and wisdom.
A man returns to Dublin after 35 years to revisit his youthful missed connection with a woman who was his tour guide through the path James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom’s wanders in Ulysses.   Moving between the past and present,  they retrace their steps in their memories.  
Playwright Steven Dietz  has said that “we carry all ages inside us…our past looks out from the same eyes as our present.” So true is this and so well handled by the four actors, who flow believably  between the present and past as their old selves encounter their younger selves.  Steven Carpenter is Robert, the older man, who advises his disbelieving younger self, Robbie, played by  Josh Adams.  Megan  Anderson is Cait, her older self, who tells about her life to her younger self. Caithleen, played by Danielle Scott.

 At  the end, Robert and Cait  meet as they have arranged on Bloomsday.  Is it romantic or realistic?  Or is it both. 
The show is just in time for Valentine’s Day for anyone who has a memory of lost love.  

Washington Stage Guild, Washington DC, to Feb. 16, 2020