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
The Merry Wives at Windsor  

 It takes a village to bring down a man as big as Falstaff and the  The Merry Wives at Windsor, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford are just the two to lead them.
Described as one of Shakespeare’s lesser plays, it’s centerpiece figure Falstaff  has become one of his greatest characters.  a fact that is emphasized by his girth matching his giant ego.  Brian Mani totally fills the role to lead actors and audience in the  raucous show re-worked with  70s music, costumes and jokes!   
Most convincing is that we the audience are in on the plot. While actors move through the audience is nothing new, all that was missing in this one was asking for volunteers to come up on stage and join in with Mistress Page (Linda Bard)  and Mistress Ford  (Ami Brabson)  on their sofa to help concoct a plan to teach Falstaff a lesson.
There is fun with puns.  There are even puns within puns with the meshing of 1970s sitcoms with the bard’s bawdiness.
If actions speak louder than words, not only does Mistress Quickly (Kate Eastwood Norris)  play with her name, but before it is all over, she takes an unexpected tumble.  Very quickly!
It will take three attempts to strike Falstaff out but this rowdy bunch of characters will do it!
Kudos to the costume designer (Devon Painter).   One audience member nudge another saying for everyone to hear  “ You used to have those pants. “ 
There are no loose ends in this production!  Everything  is neatly sewn up in the end, as Shakespeare would have it.  

At the Folger Theatre, Washington DC, to March 1, 2020.

SHELTERED

 Sheltered now on stage atTheater J, seems so real.  That is because it is. Inspired by the true story of an American Jewish couple who rescued  Austrian Jewish children in 1939 and placed them with American families,  the playwright Alix Sobler explores possible emotions and conflicts that might have gone on  behind the scenes of their daring humanitarian effort
Act 1. Leonard Kirsch (David Schlumpf) and  his wife Evelyn (Erin Weaver) invite  the Blooms, Martin (Alexander Strain) and Roberta (Kimberly Gilbert) to dinner at their lovely home in Providence, RI.  They have not seen each other in a long time, but the Kirsches need a 40th family to agree to sponsor a child.
What is revealed over the evening  are strong emotions  — not only of vastly differing viewpoints on involvement of the events in Europe, but also of the violence within their domestic life.  
The living room has now been reconfigured for Act 2 as a hotel room in Vienna.   The Kirsches  are conflicted over choices of which children out of so many they have interviewed who would or should be selected.  They are interrupted by an Austrian woman, Hani Mueller (McLean Fletcher)  who has  come to ask that her son be taken off the list.
Evelyn is the one who alone with Roberta had opened the flood of violent emotions in the Blooms marriage. Now, she asks to be alone with Hani Mueller to reveal her fears at sending her child away.   
What Evelyn knows, and we too, is that this child is to be placed with the Blooms.    What the Kirsches suspect and what we know, is that, is what the next 6 years will bring to Austria. And what no one can know, is how it will be for any of them.
Erin Weaver’s role of Evelyn is pivotal in this intense and wrenching drama,  as she reaches the deepest pains and fears of both women in this memorable drama. 
The  stage is one that could well have been for a nostalgic play, evoking an underlying sense of regret and woe for all that is unfolding on the world stage.  

At Theatre J, Washington, DC to Feb. 2, 2020.

Thursday, January 2, 2020



JERSEY BOYS
JERSEY BOYS is music history! 
Not only is it the story about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, those four boys from New Jersey who became rock and roll icons, but this musical set records as one of the longest running Broadway shows with its 11 year run from 2005 to 2017.
Bringing this legend to life at the National Theater are Jon Hacker who leads as Frankie Valli with Eric Chambliss as Bob Gaudio (who also wrote the musical), Corey Greenan as Tommy DeVito  and Michael Milton as Nick Massi.

At the performance I saw at the National Theater, most of the audience was probably not born when Valli made his first recordings in the 1950s. This did not stop anyone from swaying, cheering and clapping at some of the greatest sounds of American popular music ever.
One great moment in the show is when the group make the charts with selling 3 million records.  Today a YouTube of one of their songs has multi millions of viewers.
Valli himself is continuing to perform all over the country but what is here, right now at the National Theatre, is the musical that tells the ups and downs of how it all came to be.
What is the best thing the best thing to say about this show and the wonderful cast touring with it now, is that days after, you can still hear the music. 
Kidos to the wonderful  ensemble playing multiple roles: Andrés Acosta, Justin Albinder, Ashley Bruce, Kenneth Quinney Francoeur, Katie Goffman, Connor Lyon, Kevin Patrick Martin, Sean McGee, Hamilton Moore, Bruno Vida, and Amy Weaver.
National Theatre, Washington DC, December 2019
PHOTO CREDIT Walk Like a Man  (l to r) Jon Hacker, Eric Chambliss, Corey Greenan and Michael Milton Photo: Joan Marcus
PETER  PAN AND WENDY

The best reviews of Peter Pan and Wendy at the Shakespeare Theatre Company are not in the media but in the minds of the children.  Their squeals of delight and amazement are clear that this is one fantastic show.    I doubt that any of the under five year old set seated around me understood the meaning of the words or the social issues this updated version of a complicated classic  re-presents. But they will remember the magic of live theater.   
This up-dated Peter Pan, is a show as much for adults as for kids and not because it is a nostalgic (or not) reworking of a second childhood experience when we first encountered Peter, Wendy, the Lost Boys of Never Never Land, Captain Hook, Tiger Lily and Tinkerbell, and the beloved Nana.  
For this Peter Pan is not a re-setting of the story in a modern scenery with clothes to match (and in this one some wear clothes are appropriate  J. M.  Barrie’s time period) but rather that as the characters are addressing modern ideas, they share human experiences and emotions that are not limited to any one age group or century.  
Lauren Gunderson is the brilliant adapter of the oft retold Peter Pan story and Alan Paul, the director of this sparkling production. Justin Mark is Peter Pan, Isabella Star LaBlanc is Tiger Lily, and Sinclair Daniel  is Wendy Darling.  Jenni Barber is both Mrs. Darling and Tinkerbell and Derek Smith, Mr. Darling and Captain Hook.  All the boys are great but there are a few behind the stage designers whose work is indispensable for the fun  Puppet designer James Ortiz for his great crocodile that swallowed the clock, flying choreographer Paul Rubin and fight choreographer David Leong and for Special Effects Jeremy Chernick.  And of course, William Berlonni, Animal Trainer for Nana and the Whole Shadow Animation team who brought us Peter Pan’s Shadow.  
At the Shakespeare Theatre Company until Jan. 12, 2020. 


THE WOMAN IN BLACK

The Woman in Black is really scary.
Luring you into the tale is Arthur Kipps who experienced an unspeakable horror and an actor who will help him present the story on stage.  They seem like such nice men too and the first act seems to mull around how they are going to handle the emotions of fear through the techniques of acting and the mechanics of  theater.
Such details can be distracting to the story.  Restlessness feeds impatiences to get on with it.  So does the belief that this will be really scary.  After all they have shown us the tricks that produce the theatrics of sound and light to enhance their performance.
We have all read horror tales from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King.  We are used to ghosts and devils, vampires and aliens.  All of this knowledge sets us up to dare the play to scare us.
And then it does.  At the most unexpected moment.  It felt like I was in an electric chair as all the molecules in my body shook.  It was several minutes before I could settle in to my self again.  All the while the actor  and Arthur Kipps  continued undisturbed rehearsing the play.
Book, movie, long running play on the East End, this “sad tale’s best for winter” at the Lansburgh was REALLY SCARY!
At the Shakespeare Theatre Company, December 2019.