Monday, October 16, 2017


Antony and Cleopatra is a study in contrasts.

It will go from this— 

To this.... in two hours in front of our eyes.

For starters, their relationship has been explored and exploited in every form.  As one of Cleopatra’s modern biographers,  Stacy Schiff has observed —she has had the busiest of afterlives with incarnations as “an asteroid, a video game, a cliché, a cigarette, a slot machine, a strip club, a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor.”   Antony on the other has been documented in detail in Roman history.  Together the two some have been featured in  plays and movies (including one horror film) and opera. 
The  Folger production uses for the stage  a triangular platform in the center of the theater, very simple but an effective way to remove all distraction from the core of the story and bring the audience into the circle of the experience.
The costumes are lavish from Cleopatra’s gold crown and lovely capes to Mark Antony’s military uniform.  These are not just ornaments but part of who these characters are, literally the most powerful people of their day.

Yes, and yet their vulnerabilities of their shared love is profoundly doomed.

Shirine Babb as Cleopatra and Cody Nickell as Mark Antony,  bring to their roles both the magnificence of this powerful political pair in a shared passion that ranges from bed to battlefield and back again.  They deliver some very funny lines as well as  embrace their ultimate tragic endings most convincingly. (I observed some people sitting on the edge of their seat as if this was a breaking news story.)
 Shakespeare of course had other royal characters and other doomed pairs of lovers.  Antony and Cleopatra might remind us of some them, while being ever unique among his works.
Folger Theatre 

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Richmond
On stage at Folger Theatre, October 10 – November 19, 2017.

Scenic Design by Tony Cisek, Costume Design by Mariah Hale, Lighting Design by Andrew F. Griffin, Sound Design by Adam Stamper, Wig Design by Tommy Kurzman.

Photos by Teresa Wood.

Cody Nickell & Shirine Babb talk Cleopatra:  

Cleopatra explained in 30 seconds:    

Theater Timelapse Video:      

Die Zauberflöte
The Met: Live in HD

While the flute is probably the oldest of musical instruments (at least according to archeological finds that places at 40-60,000 years ago),  on  the top ten most popular operas performed today (according to Operabase) there is the forever young Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

This fairy tale opera seen Live in HD has everything going for it:  Mozart’s music,  the fantasy of Julie Taymor’s production, and the cast  with Golda Schultz as Pamina to Charles Castronovo’s Tamino,  Rene Pape as Sarastro to
Kathryn Lewek as Queen of the Night and Markus Werba as Papageno.  

But there is more!  One of the joys of seeing this in Live in HD was Conductor James Levine’s smiles of joy as he directed! 

Another was  watching interviews by hostess Nadine Sierra as she talked to not only the singers but the puppeteers  (one of the bears did a tap dance  for movie viewers).  

Following the progression of man’s beliefs with Tamino’s trials and Papageno’s errors, through history from the initial struggle with the serpant, to superstitions promulgated by the Queen of the Night and the Ladies, onward to the Age of Enlightenment of Sarastro and Priests, at last Tamino and Pamina arrive victorously at the finale with  "Dann ist die Erd' ein Himmelreich, und Sterbliche den Göttern gleich."

Yes! “the Earth a heavenly kingdom, and mortals like the gods.”

While there are many interpretations of what this  all might mean—Free Mason rituals versus the established church and the empress queen or popular musical entertainment— there is something undeniable universal in the story and in Tamino's hopes—with his magic flute— as he finds his way through it all.   

 The Magic Flute  is not just going to see an opera but about spending time with joyful music and for the message of joy that music brings.   

Monday, October 9, 2017


An opera to make hearts swoon
The Met: Live in HD

When Norma, that Druid priestess chooses to walk into her death by fire for her sins, she stepped into opera immortality, only to be resurrected every decade when a cast of singers converge who can give divine deliverance of Bellini’s blessed opera. 

That day is now — with the Met’s production of Norma, with Sondra Radvanovsky in the lead role.  Her protege priestess-in-training  and rival in love is Joyce DiDonato in her first undertaking of the role of Adalgisa. 

 The pairing of the two for the beloved soprano duets, is wrought with the conflicting emotions of two very good women entangled in relationships with one forbidden lover.  (Tenor Joseph Calleja is the Roman proconsul, Pollione) 

 And if it seems too unbelievable that these good women are so enthralled with the deity while fighting over a man,  their singing together has been proclaimed divine in this production where Conductor Carlo Rizzi and producer Sir David McVicar wrap the beauty of Bellini’s music into a primitive Druid forest of nature and ancient ritual.

History tells of  the Romans conquering tribal people and Rome was to eventually fall from invaders from the north. 

 Fast forward update— it was really opera that conquered Italy, the Roman homeland, in the 19th century.

It was claimed that 'opera mania' had for a century 'absorbed all the artistic energies of the nation’ and there  were no symphonies and plays because 'music was opera, drama was opera', with even painters forsaking canvas to create  the sacred groves of Norma.  Theaters were built for huge audiences, even if there were not enough musicians to perform.  Etc.   (from The Pursuit of Italy by David Gilmore). 

You guessed it.  Norma was a leader of the pack of operas from the glorious three: Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini. 
Wagner praised Bellini’s opera in the19th century.  Callas  and Sutherland took the role to the heights into the 20th.  Now Norma  marches into the  21st  century, on the big screen and into our swooning hearts.

And the best news— 
The Met: Live in HD has expanded its repeat showings.
Upcoming is Mozart’s  Die Zauberflöte
 Check it out  at


Tuesday, October 3, 2017



Clouds, bubbles, and spider webs

What can they have in common?  

Each is a model from nature, a masterpiece of architectural design, in which to view not only beauty but adaptability and integrity in natural formations. 

Tomas Saraceno is an Argentinian-born, Berlin-based artist and architect inspired by these structures. 


His exhibit Entangled Orbits at the Baltimore Museum of Art until June 2018, will undoubtedly inspire others.

Saraceno’s works are diverse with a underlying quality of engaging the mind and the spirit simultaneously.

 Each of the four major works are in their own space, offering both contrasts in styles and continuity of themes of the artist’s work.

Entangled Orbits captures the light and sky of the outdoors blending with the floors and the walls the East Lobby to direct one’s vision upwards  for an exhilarating entrance to the museum

80SW Iridescent/Flying Gardens/Air-Port City  made of transparent pillows and black rope and iridescent foil, is a shimmering work that brings a smile as one walks around and beneath the hanging structure with its changing colors and
sparkling lights.

Zonal Harmonic 2N 110/13 and Zonal Harmonic 3N+1D 200/16 are mobiles  of metal, robe, fishing line and steel thread.  Lacking the multi-color lightness of the other pieces on exhibit, their beauty is in their perfect balance and portioned design.

Hybrid solitary solitary semi-social semi-social semi-social Amateru built by: a solo Nephila senegalensis - one week, a duet of Cyrtophora citricola - three weeks, a solo Cyrtophora citricola - a quartet of Cyrtophora citricola juveniles - two weeks, Is an intriguing work made of spidersilk, carbon fiber, glass and metal.  

There is an explanation that different spiders work different ways, some together and some solitary, and sometimes where other spiders have come and gone.

While the first works are so obviously part of an exhibit that one can walk through, the last one takes time and offers the most reflection. Viewed in a dark room within its glass casing, the sheer threads which would be invisible in daylight are seen in their intricate design.  A marvel of a creature that is blind, as spiders are, not noted for their brains, but which give our minds and eyes such a wonder to behold.

You have never thought of the spiderweb in the dusty corner as a work of art.  That is precisely the point.  Entangled Orbits whether from the man designed networks of the large installation pieces  or like the spider webs,  this is art which regales in the beauty of design.

By George Bernard Shaw 

Class and cash clash in GBS play first staged in 1892.

On a continental holiday, the idealistic Dr. Harry Trench played most nobly by Scott Harrison, along with his friend  William deBurgh Cokane played obsessively mannerly by Michael Glenn,  meet  Mr Sartorius, a self-made businessman, played quite properly by Lawrence Redmond along with his daughter Blanche, acted by the lovely Madeline Farrington. 

Paige O’Malley gets to play two roles—in Act I, that of the feisty waitress to serve tea to the cast in a garden restaurant of a hotel at Remagen on the Rhine.  In Act II, at the Sartorius home in Surbiton, she is the maid, who cries at the threat of being fired, enduring a choking from Blanche, and moving quite cheery along.  She serves both the other characters and to remind us there is another class of people to those we see in the play.

Harry and Blanche fall in love at once  in Act I and become engaged, that quickly.   Act II, brings everyone together in London. Sartorius meets with the scheming Lickcheese played by Steven Carpenter. Trench and Cokane arrive to visit Sartorius  in what starts as a final approval of the marriage between Blanche and Trench.  Trench discovers that Sartorius is a slum lord. Trench breaks his engagement with Blanche for his noble but unstated purposes of the source of her father’s money from poor slums. 

Now the fun really begins in Act III,  as it is revealed that  the high minded Trench derives his paltry  income from mortgaged tenements.  Lickcheese will emerge  as a co-player in this schemes, rather than as the collector of rents.   Blanche will reveal her temper and her independent spirit  as a New Woman, and Harry will reveal his passion for her is greater than  his moral uppity-ness over where the money comes from.

That the  characters who seem at odds over the issues find a common ground in the need for personal wealth at the expense of a poorer class who require a roof over their heads is no surprise. 

The economic, social and political theories that Shaw had access to certainly inform the play. That Shaw could fit them into the minds and manners of characters is his gift. 

 That we might come to the end of  observing their transactions and not be able to blame them all that much, is the way of the world that is his genius.

If all of this seemed like it is really about another place and time, take a good look around you when you leave the theater at Mt. Vernon Square, and wonder how all that development might have come to be.

Washington Stage Guild

Running from SEPT 28 - OCT 22

The Wild Party 
the stars shine at Constellation Theatre

Side Note—this week the Supreme Court  will hear a case (referred to as “Peaches”) —A  DC house party in the free-for-all culture that went wrong…arrests for “disorderly conduct”  …government sued for millions of dollars —Attorneys Generals from 26 states contend the D.C. Circuit ruling will have “vast consequences”  etc.

This is not that party but one back in the Roaring Twenties in NYC.  

You be the judge.

Dazzling from the get-go, The Wild Party is a visceral and immersive experience.  

Sensual to the max yet a strong moralistic fable.  

This is the story of two vaudeville performers —Queenie and Burrs—in a tangled relationship of sexual attraction and domestic abuse who give a party in which booze, drugs and sexual excess end in several tragedies.

Before the show even starts, one can admire the space designed by Scenic Designer Tony Cisek, which sets the party site—a 1920s New York City apartment within the intimate Source Theater.

Farrell Parker as Queenie makes her entrance through an artsy beaded doorway, in sparkling silver shoes and a pink lacy underwear.   Jimmy Mavrikes is Burrs, who makes the scene, is in a raggedy clown costume with a fake cherry nose.  

Once again, Costume Designer Erik Teague’s luminous outfits light up the Constellation stage,   at once evoking the fashions of the Roaring 20s but also giving a clue to the characters themselves.

Queenie convinces Burrs to throw the ultimate party and to invite a parade of colorful characters.   Kari Ginsburg as “the life of the party” is the loud and libidinous Kate who will stir the pot  by bring Ian Anthony Coleman as the dapper Mr. Black who doesn’t drink but can’t keep his eyes or his hands off of  Queenie.  Emily Zickler, is Mae alongside Calvin Malone as her prizewinning pugilist partner Eddie. 

Ilona Kessell as choreographer and Robb Hunter as Fight Choreographer, show their full force with the ranges
trom happy jazzy dances to close to death brawls.

 Returning Constellation favorites Christian Montgomery (Oscar d’Armano), Tiziano D’Affuso (Phil d’Armano), Carl Williams (Max) and Julia Klavans (Delores) are joined by newcomers Rachel Barlaam (Madeline True), Patricia “Pep” Targete (Nadine), and James Finley (Sam), and understudies Joshua Simon, AJ Whittenberger, Amy Maniscalco, and Meredith Eib.  They keep the party going
as it spins in all different directions. 

The fantastic team of creative collaborators includes  Walter “Bobby” McCoy for the first time as Constellation Music Director  along with a seven piece band and  Constellation newcomer Jason Schmitz  as the Sound Designer.

As background to the piece, The Wild Party is based on a 1928 book-length narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, which was widely banned upon publication for its risqué content. 

The book inspired William Burroughs who discovered it
in a book store in 1938 and also a rather unsuccessful movie with Raquel Welsh in 1975. 

 But it was composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family, Big Fish), who was  inspired to turn this steamy Prohibition Era poem into a sensational score with a mix of  jazz, vaudeville and gospel music.  His off-Broadway production in 2000, won several awards  and showcased several early-career Broadway stars including a pre-Wicked Idina Menzel. 

The story is definitely not for those looking for a light hearted sentimental tale of a bygone era.  It is strong stuff, but so well done, and with such talent that one wonders if there is not a future Broadway star in this Constellation cast. 

The Wild Party (to Oct. 29, 2017)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Based on the Poem by Joseph Moncure March
Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman

(photo credit Daniel Schwartz)

Source Theatre 1835 14th St. NW, Washington DC 20009
Constellation Theatre Company