Friday, November 30, 2018

Beautiful—the Carole King Musical
It might have taken four guys from Belleville, NJ, to  make Jersey Boys but only one woman from Brooklyn for Beautiful—the Carole King Musical
Sarah Bockel as Carole King opens the show (where it will also end) sitting at the piano for her debut concert at Carnegie Hall.  The story skips back and forth between her home in Brooklyn to her job in Manhattan to her dream house in the suburbs to a recording studio in Los Angeles, with  a fine cast of characters from Dylan S. Wallach who plays her first husband Gerry Goffin, to their best and most competative song writing friends —Alison Whitehurst as Cynthia Weil and Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann.  All this under the watchful eyes of James Clow as Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner as Carole’s  mother Genie Klein.  
 This  jukebox musical/broadway hits all the right nostalgic spots. Against eye-popping lights, the  multi-talented company of singer-dancers  move and grove as  the Drifters, The Shirelles, and the Righteous Brothers.
And yes, Carole did date Neil Sedeka in high school and Little Eva was her and Gerry’s babysitter for their kids. Gerry’s other woman, Janelle Woods, is a composite fictional character.

Beautiful—the Carole King Musicale is a treasury of vibrant sounds of over 50 years from a most gifted musician.  It’s one show that  like her recordings,  that  you might want to hear it all again.

AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE, WASHINGTON DC, TO DECEMBER 30, 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

KING JOHN
Folger Theatre

There is little doubt that King John was the worst king of England, bad in every way.  So bad that the response was his being confronted to sign the Magna Carta.  Leaving that historic fact of the story out, Shakespeare’s play King John shows him for a true rotter.
The Folger Theatre’s production could not be better.
For starters, there is a pre opening scene, where the twelve actors explain who they are and their relationships to the others in history.
Women stand out as have key power roles:   Kate Goehring as Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of John, and Holly Twyford as Constance, mother of Arthur, the son of John’s dead brother Geoffrey.  Both demonstrate strong wills in powerful passionate speeches that are standouts in the play.
The question is simple, who has the right to the throne, the son of the elder brother, or the next brother in line.  Eleanor stands for her son John, and Constance for her son Arthur.
What complicates things is that John owns half of the territory that is now France, and Arthur is backed by the French royals.
Brian Dykstra’s King John is powerful, cunning and cruel. He succeeds in challenging the French and making deals with  Louis the Dauphin  (Akeem Davis) by offering his niece  Blanche  (Alina Collins Maldonado) in marriage. 
John also obtains custody of Arthur (Megan Graves) whom he imprisons under the care of Hubert (Elan Zafir).  Torn between orders from the king and what his heart knows is right, Hubert will save the life of the the young prince in a move that  will lead to tragic end for all.
Kate Eastwood  Norris is superb in the complicated role that is of Philip Faulconbridge, bastard son of Richard the Lionhearted (and thus related to John).   
Multiple roles are played by Sasha Olinick as Cardinal Pandulph, the grisly looking papal Legate, Howard W. Overshown as Philip, the cunning King of France, as well as Brian Reisman as Robert Faulconbridge  and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Lord Salisbury
The twists and turns of all of this reminds of a condensed two hour television serial.  But all this happened in the 13th century, and Shakespeare wrote his play in the 16th century.   
But somethings—like the theme of greed for power— never change and neither does  the Folger’s excellence in presentation  of a rare but worthy play for our attention.

At the Folger Theatre until Dec. 2, 2018

SILENT NIGHT AT 
Washington National Opera

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th year of the 20th century, a hundred years ago, the World War I Armistice was signed.  It had been over four years after the Great War had begun.  
Washington National Opera’s production of  Kevin Puts’s and Mark Campbell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, takes us back to the first Christmas at the beginning of the conflict in 1914, to a battlefield near Belgium, where soldiers in French, German, and Scottish trenches begin recalling songs of home.
The story is true not only in recreating an actual event but in the emotions that it evokes of shared humanity, bitterness, conflict of duty,  loss of loved ones and just plain missing the family at home.  As an opera, it has  everything:   grand universal themes, love duets, choral pieces, and musical interludes with a libretto using multiple languages as appropriate (English, French, German, Italian, and Latin.)
Silent Night  also provides a range of possiblities for singers. The  lovers, Raquel González as Anna Sørensen and Alexander McKissick as Nikolaus Sprink, are opera singers.  The two are singing a duet like from Mozart or Gluck, when everything stops for the announcement that war has been declared.  
At a church in Scotland we see  Hunter Enoch as William Dale excitedly tell his brother Jonathan sung by Arnold Livingston Geis that war has broken out and encourages him to join.  Kenneth Kellogg as Father Palmer looks on knowing what this means.  Already we know that Jonathan is going to die on the battlefield.
In a Paris apartment,  we see Michael Adams  as Lt. Audebert, tell his pregnant wife Madeline sung by Hannah Hagerty that he must go despite her protests.
The scenes that follow are on a three level stage, with Scottish, French and German soldiers on each tier with Aleksey Bogdanov is Lt. Horstmayer,  Norman Garrett is Lt. Gordon, Christian Bowers is Ponchel. There are mounds of unburied dead from the previous skirmish, causing Jonathan anguish in attempting to bury his brother.  
With the sound of a bag pipe, soon a white flag appears and a truce is reached to call off the fighting for Christmas eve.  Nicholas had been called to sing at a holiday event for the top brass but he returns to the field with Anna, where they sing for the troops. That holiday truce ends with a morning shooting of  Ponchel and again the conflict starts with men questioning their humanity in time of war.  
Anna and Nicholas will escape the battlefield by going as prisoners to the French side even as angry leaderships -Timothy J. Bruno as the French General, Michael Hewitt as the German General and  Joshua Conyers as the British Major—discover the events and take actions to order these soldiers to the front line.  
Thus the opera ends as the war has only begun.
A note on this production: Silent Night has been described as balancing turmoil with introspection even as it never turns into sentimentality.  Accomodating many styles of music including a Scottish bagpipe and prayerful chants, it never uses it title hymn nor other Christmas melodies. While WNO is a  re-orchestration to fit this opera into their  more intimate space of the Eisenhower theater, there is no loss of intensity of the  war is on shared humanity.    
The singers are young from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.  Least we forget, so were the real characters portrayed in this story, those soldiers who died in World War I, were young.
From November 10- 25, 2018, in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Samson and Delilah - Live at the Met
In Act II of  Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah,  Delilah seduces not only Samson with her aria "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix”  (or “my heart at the sound of your voice”)  but everyone who hears that melody.  While Delilah and Samson  join in a duet, opera goers might be tempted to start humming along.
In the Met’s production, Elina Garanca plays Delilah,  the willful wily woman motived by hatred for the Israelites and their god. Even with her  vowing to bring down Samson, there is lurking  in her performance a hint of possibility that she might really have affection for him.  In another time and place,  could they have had a  chance to be a happy couple.  
Robert Alagna is powerful, with a voice that befits his role as the strongman Samson.  His physical strength  alone will not resolve the strong conflicts within him to serve his god and people while being in love with this woman (who he should really know is his enemy).   
While opposites attract—and Delilah  covered in jewelry just as Samson wears simple covering—in this case, the opposites of her hatred and his love will destroy everything.
 Laurent Naouri co-stars as the High Priest, with Elchin Azizov as the Philistine King Abimélech and Dmitry Belosselskiy as the Old Hebrew — all deliver star performances.
The Met Chorus sometimes is the voice of the woeful Israelites and sometimes the powerful Philistines.  These give hint that  Saint-Saëns might have originally thought of this work as an oratorio.
The Bacchanale is one of the most exotic orchestral pieces ever, as music for an erotic frenzy of a ballet that leads to the extravaganza of an ending.  
 Samson —a man broken in heart by Delilah’s deceitful love, blind, and enslaved will bring down the powerful structure that overwhelms the stage in the final act.  The Philistines Temple will go up in smoke like the dreamsof Samson and Delilah’s ill fated love.
These are just the facts.  There is nothing like the real thing, which is seeing the opera itself.  
WANT TO KNOW MORE
Tickets for The Met: Live in HD 2018–19 season can be purchased at www.FathomEvents.com and participating theater box offices. Fathom Events and the Metropolitan Opera present The Met: Live in HD 2018–19 season in more than 700 select movie theaters through Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network (DBN). For a complete list of theater locations, visit the Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


John Waters: Indecent Exposure at
Baltimore Museum of Art

In October 2018,  the Baltimore Museum opened an exhibit John Waters: Indecent Exposure, the first major retrospective of the artist’s visual art in his hometown of Baltimore featuring 160 works that span 30 years.
The same month, the art world news repeated many stories of the Banksy painting “Girl with Balloon” that went for $1.4 million and then went up in self-destruction.  
What Water’s exhibit has is a painting that does something else.  You stand too close to the picture of the flower on the wall to see it better  and it squirts water in your face.   Titled appropriately “Hardy Har.” 
Rather than groaning at the story of a painting that seems like a waste of money the moment it is sold, Waters’ watery flower keeps giving people something to laugh at.
This is a show that is playful with objects that re-cast our sacred icons and symbols, one that will make people laugh, squirm, grimace— at the discovery of the irreverent, indecents and just well plain awful taste that is —well -what we buy into all day as culture.
The humor is not just the subject matter or the words or the paint or the paper but that Waters uses the same media format itself.  His Library Series  have taken book covers like God’s Little Acre,  and renamed it, perhaps more accurately, as  God’s Little Faker. That a book should be so pretentious when a mere letter change makes it absolutely ridiculous is hilarious.
Waters is maybe best known for his made in Baltimore movies,  which are featured in this collection.   Much of his art pokes at Hollywood movies. 
If art becomes meaningful when we can bring to it some of our life experience,  there is hardly anything in this exhibit that no one has not seen already many times.  This stuff blasts at us everywhere, in the ads and the objects and the formats so pretentious as those books.  
This is not  satire but something much more human, something that is outrageous in our ordinary stuff.    
Nor does one does not leave the exhibit impressed with the artist’s genius— but rather with a good chuckle to return to the outer world where there are so many objects and icons awaiting us,  our eyes now wider opened by the wonder that is John Waters’ art.

WANT TO KNOW MORE
John Waters: Indecent Exposure at The Baltimore Museum of Art, until

 Jan. 2019.

Figaro in Four Quartets - InSeries Opera

Despite the age difference of centuries,   Mozart’s opera Marriage of Figaro  and T. S. Eliot’s poem Quartets  have a happy marriage in this InSeries production
Brian J. Shaw plays the role of  the poet who comments through the four stages of life as depicted by four couples at different ages and during changing seasons: teenage love/spring, early marriage/summer, older age/autumn, and old age/winter.  They are really one and the same couple but at different stages of life and love. 
Artistic Director Timothy Nelson has conceived  this innovative and inspiring work in which the story line of Mozart’s opera has been re-formated and texts changed, to fit with the poem. Thus this convergence of the arts of music and poetry is most delightful (and not to forget the scenic artistic background of the change of the seasons!).
The company of eight singers are: Elizabeth Mondragon as Marcellina,  Bryan Jackson as Bartolo, Teresa Ferrara as Contessa, Brody DelBeccaro as Conte, Mia Rojas as Susanna, Jim Williams as Figaro, Dawna Rae Warren as Barbarina, and Cara Gonzalez  as Cherubino.  All can now add to their impressive resumes, this
very unique opera event.
WHAT’S NEXT : Operetta Wonderland: The Magic Of Victor Herbert
WHERE:  DC Scottish Rite Temple – 2800 16th Street NW, Washington DC WHEN:  November 28th at 7:30pm
                December 1st at 8:00pm
                December 2nd at 2:00pm
TICKETS AND INFORMATION: Tickets to the InSeries may be purchased online at www.inseries.org, or by calling 202-204-7763.




  


AIDA AT CONSTELLATION IS  DAZZLING
What is there to say about  a musical when the voices, the dancing ensemble, the sets, the costumes, the lighting, the sound — all these come together so spectacularly?  
Constellation Theatre’s production of Elton John and Tim Rices’ musical Aida is that dazzling combination of everything that makes a musical grand. 
The musical  story starts earlier than the opera, when the Nubian princess Aida and the Egyptian military commander Radames, get off to a bad start when he captures her as a slave. Shayla S. Simmons is Aida,  Jobari Parker-Namdar is Radames and Chahani Wereley is Radames’ bethroyed/the daughter of the King of Egypt.  The three form the love triangle who through soaring arias and heartfelt duets unfold the complications of forbidden love.
Dazzling costumes by Kenann M. Quander match their dazzling voices. 
 Greg Watkins as Radames’s father who is also the scheming Chief Minister Zoser, plays one of the baddest guys ever in a show stopping scene.
This is a cast of actors worth remembering: The good guys are two Nubian slaves in the royal household: Da’Von Moody as Mereb and Ashley Johnson as Nehebka.  The fathers are the Pharaoh, played by Kaylen Morgan who is continually coughing near death from poisoning by Zoser, and  the  captured Nubian king Amonasro, by  Wendell Jordan, who delivers a  thundering directive to Aida to forsake her lover for her people.
The ensemble give a powerful performance on the small stage setting, that effectively recreates this larger than life production.  They  include Ian Anthony Coleman, Ashley K. Nicholas, Tara Lynn Yates-Reeves, Topher Williams, Lawrence Hailes,  and Amber Lenell Jones. Walter “Bobby” McCoy, choreographed their  exhilarating dance sequences with some tense fight scenes choreographed by Ryan Sellers.
Scenic and lighting by A.J. Guban, sound by  Roc Lee  and property by Tony Koehler  transported so effectively the epic scale music to a an intimate theater space.
Heard but not seen is the live band.  Walter “Bobby” McCoy and Marika Countouris on Keyboards,  Jason Wilson/ Bass, Manny Arciniega/Percussion, Mila Weiss/Reeds, Jaime Ibacache/Guitar.
Kudos to director Michael J. Bobbitt  for bringing it all together in a dazzling evening.
So what can one say about all that—it’s a MUST SEE!

WANT TO KNOW MORE
WHERE: Constellation Theatre Company in residence at Source, 1835 14thStreet NW, Washington DC 20009 (on the corner of 14thStreet and T Street). 
WHEN: November 18, 2018.
INFO: Website: www.ConstellationTheatre.org
Email: BoxOffice@ConstellationTheatre.org
Phone: (202) 204-7741





Thursday, October 11, 2018

TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY - MARK BRADFORD AT THE BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART
Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums - they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level.”  
That quote, attributed to Michelangelo Pistoletto, might well sum up Mark Bradford’s work.  Both were at the  Venice Biennelle in 2017 and both have used any material necessary to expose their beliefs in art.  Art is not something to view in museums as apart from what life is. 
What the Baltimore Museum of Art does better than anyone is present this concept of art as it encompasses all possible activity.  What a fitting place for Bradford’s works which encompass his own autobiographical story in allegories that resonant the shared human experience.
Hephaestus at the entrance leads in to Spoiled Foot, a mixed media work on canvas, lumber, luan sheeting, drywall that looms from the ceiling,  filling the room.  Hephaestus is the Greek God  of the forge, born lame and expelled from Mount Olympus.  Bradford’s poem on Hephaestus accompanies the work, describing the god as “a figure for the artist as a young man, singled out for his difference, buffeted by social rejection and violence. “
Permanent wave end papers are used to create giant wall works: Thelxiepeia, Leucosia  and Raidne  with a sculptural Medusa  of acrylic, paint, paper, rope, caulk in the center.  The choice of media comes from Bradford’s experience in hair salons owned by his mother but so fitting for the mythical character with her tangled locks that signifies beauty, anger, and power.
Go Tell it on the Mountain, 105194  and Tomorrow Is Another Day burst with colors. Like paintings in the Western tradition, Bradford has created these with paper that has been treated and hand molded.   
Niagara was a 1953 movie in which Marilyn Monroe takes a legendary walk.  In this 3 minute video, Bradford films  his former neighbor, Melvin, walking away from us.  The ordinary scene on the street where a paper cup that has been discarded on the street rolls back and forth in one corner is a sharp contrast to the individual’s declaration of  self, style and sexuality.
While Artnet and art critics proclaim this as one of the must see art exhibits in 2018, there is a better reason than that to see it.  It is about Bradford’s way of relating in art who we are as people.
WANT TO GO

At Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, Md. To March 3, 2019.



AIDA at Met Live in HD

 Nothing but the best will do for Aida!  
Soprano Anna Netrebko  takes on the role of the Ethiopian princess, the slave of the Egyptian princess Amneris, sung by mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili. 
If Anna now owns the role, (following in the tradition of  Leontyne Price in her farewell Met performance in 1985), she can lay claim to owning many roles in her rise.  But the others are like money in the bank compared to her Aida which is like  gold in Fort Knox. 
Anna and Anita— the two are a dream team for singing even as they are fierce rivals for the love of the Egyptian general Radamès.   Such luxury to hear their voices, filled with the possibility emotions that desperate love elicits. Over the course of the opera, Amneris’ power will wane as Aida’s becomes stronger, something which these two express so movingly.
Another star in this is baritone Quinn Kelsey as Amonasro.  As Aida’s father, he is not protective of her like Rigoletto is of Gilda, nor as bourgeois as Germont is to Violetta.  In the tradition of Verdi father figures, he is almost tyrantical in how he represents the conflict that Aida must choose to resolve between her love of country and family  (in Verdi they are the same thing) and the love of her life.  
Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko is Radamès. He too is torn by love of Aida and of his country.  He is strong in leading troops in battle but no match for the powers at home —the Egyptian king sung by Ryan Speedo Green and the high priest, Ramfis sung by Dmitry Belosselskiy.
The mythical story of a love triangle wrapped in Verdi’s expressive music has it all: soaring arias and heartfelt duets,  lavish choral work and spirited marches, breathtaking ballet and acrobatic dancing.
At the first century AD Arena di Verona, the spectacle over the last hundred years has sometimes included  a water pool to conjure up the image of the Nile on which little Egyptian boats could sail as well as  populate the stage with a great number of  elephants, horses and dromedaries. The Met has certainly done the opera the homage due to it in this production with its lavish sets.
But this production has something extra, something for the history books with Anna N. and Anita R.  taking on the roles of Aida and Amneris.  
Watch for them in the upcoming Live at the Met in January, Adriana Lecouvreur.

WANT TO GO
https://www.metopera.org/season/2018-19-season/aida/






Tuesday, October 9, 2018

LA  TRAVIATA 
Washington National Opera 

La Traviata is the top of the hit parade of the most performed popular operas.  For many of us, this is the first opera we ever heard.  Now it is Washington National Opera’s opening production of the 2018-19 season.
This production of La Traviata  plunges right into the final demise of Violetta as she lies dying in a hospital.  Behind the scrimp we watch the bedridden heroine as Renato Palumbo conducts the overture which carries musically all the ups and downs that will enfold in the course of the evening. 
La Traviata is an opera of contrasts of finding and losing true love amid the pleasures of life and the pain of death.
The opening gala ball with its glittery crowd of dancing and drinking is where Alfredo, sung by tenor Joshua Guerrero, will meet his Violetta, sung by lyric coloratura soprano Venera Gimadieva.  
By the next act, the deeply enamored couple have moved to the country, an ideal place not only for its rural romantic beauty but probably as healthy choice with distance from  Violetta’s life in the city as a courtesan.
 Here a most dark figure appears—Alfredo’s father  Germont, sung by baritone Lucas Meachem. Like so many of Verdi’s father figures—he is at once theomen of doom to come—just as he proposes that Violetta do the right thing.  (Have we not heard this before from other  Aida’s father?)  Their duet is one of the highlights of the opera, even as it will tear everything apart.
This is how a plot unfolds when bad things happen when people try to do good things which are not what they really want in life.  
The good hearted Violetta agrees to leave Alfredo so that his sister can have a proper marriage.  She sets off to return to her old life, sending Alfredo a letterthat spins him into the opposite of love, that is angry rage.  Germont will be there to tell Alfredo he must return to his family, but carefully omitting that his intrusion is why Violetta has left.
There is another gala ball scene at Flora’s, with Spanish dancers and a gambling tables which will play a key role where Alfredo wins at the table but then throws Violetta upon it in disgrace.  Germont will re-appear and scold Alfredo for his conduct toward Violetta. There is a brief reunion of the couple as Alfredo will then wound the Baron, Violetta’s escort, in a duel, and  flee the country.  
There is nothing left for Violetta to do but die.  
There is much that is real life in the opera.  Violetta is so young, maybe 23, with tuberculosis, like Marie Duplessis, Alexandre Dumas’s Camille,  upon whom her character is based.  Her rally before death when she has some of her greatest opera moments (something expected in 19th century operas for dying sopranos to be at their strongest) is has been observed in the dying (while it  also seems to serve opera finales.)
That so many love La Traviata is because it has everything an opera should have. A great drinking song, a love duet, dancing scenes.  Music that one can leave the theater humming.
But why do we go through heart break of all this over and over?  Why do we love the fallen woman, who is so crushed by life?   
Like a fairy tale, she offers the affirmation of life transcending grim reality in her celebration of embracing all its possibilities.  Violetta, who suffers and loses everything in death, has gained an audience for all time  

WANT TO KNOW MORE:
WNO Production through  Oct. 21, 2018  at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC. 
WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN SOON:
The Metropolitan Opera will present a new production of La Traviata  in Live from the Met in HD, on Saturday, December 15, 2018  with Encores on Wednesday, December 19.  The dazzling 18th-century setting changes with the seasons. Diana Damrau as Violetta,  Juan Diego Flórez as Alfredo, and Quinn Kelsey as Germont.












Monday, October 1, 2018

BORN YESTERDAY — a play for today

The magic of Ford Theatre’s Born Yesterday is how the cast of actors turn cartoonish caricatures in to real life characters as Ed Gero and company do in this post World War II classic tale.
Gero is Brock, the kid who has done the American dream of rising from rags to riches knocking everyone else down as he climbs his ladder to success.  Now he is the supreme junk yard king from his war time profits and  has come to Washington  for the next step up, to buy some deals with the Senate, for all the scrap junk left from the war.
Kimberly Gilbert is  Billie Dawn, his chorus girl friend, who might have been a star for her five lines in Anything Goes.  
How fitting a name of a musical to sing along as how these  deals that with the right price for political favor,  where“anything goes”
Or does it?
Billie emerges as the heroine of this tale, transformed from the stereotype dumb blond go along girl who wears Hollywood flimsy lingeries into wearing serious reading glasses and  Kate Hepburn style trousers.  And she discovers that by reading what others think,  that she is a thinking being.
The superb cast includes Eric Hissom as Brock’s brilliant boozed up lawyer.  Todd Scofield  is the confused senator.  Cody Nickell is the intellectual who is starts as a inquiring reporter and Billie’s tutor and then —no surprise—her lover!  
All are well placed in Daniel Lee Conway’s super setting of an elegant two-floor hotel suite.  
The  humor is  fast and furious as it settles into moments for serious reflection:  what  does all this really mean?   Walking out of Ford’s, just a few blocks, one can see  the US Capitol that was looming large in the window of the make believe set of the show, looms very real.

Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin. Directed by Aaron Posner. Lights, Nancy Schertler; sound design and original music, John Gromada. Cast includes Evan Casey, Naomi Jacobson, Matt Dewberry and Jamie Smithson. Through Oct. 21 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. 202-347-4833 or fords.org
SUMMERLAND 
AT WASHINGTON STAGE GUILD

Washington Stage Guild’s fall season opener of Summerland  won’t answer all your questions about whether the dead come back to have their pictures taken with the living.  But  the DC premier of Arlitia Jones’ true life tale will please along the way as it teases with questions about the belief in spiritualism that found its match in the photography medium during the most tragic post Civil War era.
Yury Lomakin plays William H. Mumler, a famous “spirit photographer” best remembered for his photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln with her husband Abe’s spirit appearing behind her.   Steven Carpenter is Inspector Joseph Tooker who will investigate and bring Mumler to trial, but not without some of his own secret past emerging through a photograph.   Rachel Felstein is Mrs. Mumbler, who reveals multiple characters from the wife receptionist, a medium and in her former life as a double agent in the Civil War.  She is a woman of mystery who pulls out of the secrets of others through seduction or scorn, and like the secret of the dead, she disappears. 
Kudos to director Kasi Campbell and  to WSG’s fine design team: Pancharee Sangkaeo for  stage setting and Sigrid Johannesdottir for costumes, Marianne Meadows for shadowy lighting design and Matthew M. Nielson’s spooky sound design. 
The play does not resolve the mystery.  If you want to know more about the case, or Mumler’s inventions, or of an unexplained image of spirits caught by a security camera in 2003….
If you want to see a superb production that recreates the past now, Washington Stage Guild, through Oct. 21, 900 Mass Ave, NW, Washington DC.  at  https://stageguild.org

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

GALA THEATRE PREMIERS
     COMO AGUA PARA CHOCOLATE
            LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE

            L to R. Inés Domínguez del Corral (front) and Karen Morales (back)
 Photo Daniel Martinez.
GALA Theatre  serves up a feast for all senses with its season opener Como agua para chocolate/Like Water for Chocolate.  
GALA’s cast and crew magically brings to life this classic with a realistic Mexican home transformed in to a magical place during the time of the Mexican Revolution.  The  eye catching focus is on the ceramic counter to prepare food, complete with grills underneath, that is also used as a table for eating, sometimes as a bed.  This image combines all the necessary nutrients for human life— food and love —in one.
Mariana Fernández’s scenic design thus provides the perfect setting for where we first encounter Nacha, the family cook and Chencha, the maid, mincing onions on the counter which turns into the table where Mama Elena, Tita’s cruel controlling mother, gives birth to her third and ill fated daughter.  
The first aroma of minced onions that make everyone cry will be  Tita’s legacy of a life of tears.
Luz Nicolás as Mama Elena and Teresa Yenque as Nacha portray powerful women, each in her own realm, one Tita’s physical mother and one her spiritual mother.  Karen Morales as Chencha, the maid remains through out, steady and sturdy, through joy and sorrow.
Tita whose talent for blending her emotions at the moment  into her cuisine is beautifully played by Inez Dominguez del Corral. Moyenda Kulemeka’s costumes suit each  character perfectly with a dress for Tita which evokes her wistful loveliness.
Yaremis Félix as feisty Gertrudis and  Guadalupe Campos as somber Rosaura play Tita’s two sisters  How they embrace their lives and their fates in the struggles within the family is telling of the diverse struggles of the nation at a time when traditional mores clash with revolutionary ideals.
Christopher Annas-Lee’s lighting design  for entering the dream world of the characters and Nate Collard’s projections add to the spooky atmosphere necessary to convey the magical story for Nacha and Mama Elena to make their after death interferences in to Tita’s life.
Peter Pereyra is Pedro, the cowardly but forever faithful love of Tita and  Delbis Carona is her devoted suitor Dr. John Brown.  Both are good men and this is enough to make one wonder about  what choice Tita will make in the end after her years of devotion and frustration when Pedro is finally free to marry her.
(So believable is this emotional struggle, that as the end approached,  someone in the audience whispered  very loudly, “Oh, no! Don’t go back to him! ”)
Fight Choreographer Jon Ezra Rubin did an amazing job because most of the scenes are not the usual of men in armor battling with weapons. Rather it is a mother kicking her daughter on the floor and then herself beaten by life, struggling as a cripple, that is most real.  (Amazingly, all actors at the after show party looked quite well.)
Like food, music fills with emotions.  Music and sound design  by David Crandall  was perfectly on track for those moments.  
Kudos also to Karen Romero as voice of the narrator,  Tony Koehler for Property,   Director Olga Sanchez and Technical Director Devin Mahoney.
Many will remember the movie, or have read the book. This United States premier of a staged version brings  all these beloved characters and recipes back—but up close with the magic and realism in the way only live theater can.

WANT TO KNOW MORE
Como agua para chocolate/Like Water for Chocolate
Adapted for the stage by Garbi Losada based on the internationally best-selling novel by Laura Esquivel.
From September 6 through October 7, 2018  at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20010. 
For Tickets call (202) 234-7174, or visit www.galatheatre.org