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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Free organ concert June 1 at St. John's, Lafayette Square

Roderick Demmings, Jr./Double Treble

Wednesday will be the last chance this season to hear another free noontime performance at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square.
Organist Roderick Demmings, Jr. will play works by Bach, Wammes, and Widor, beginning at 12:10 p.m. at St. John's in the last presentation of the church's 2016-16 concert programming. The show lasts about 35 minutes.

Mr. Demmings, a student at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2006 and has played at the Vatican with the Vatican Choir and at the Kennedy Center's Organ Showplace.  With pianist Karl Van Richards, Demmings is the other member of the duo, Double Treble, which plays across the nation, always ending performances with George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square/Photo by Patricia Leslie

St. John's is known to many Washington residents as the yellow church at Lafayette Square and is often called the “Church of the Presidents” since beginning with James Madison who was president from 1809 to 1817, every president has been a member of St. John's or has attended services at the church. A plaque at the rear of the church designates the pew where President Abraham Lincoln often sat when he stopped by St. John's during the Civil War.

This year the church celebrates its bicentennial, and its history and stained-glass windows are described in books and booklets available at St. John's.

First Wednesday concerts begin at 12:10 p.m. and last about 35 minutes. Food trucks are located two blocks away at Farragut Square.

Who: Concert organist Roderick Demmings, Jr., will play  works by Bach, Wammes, and Widor.

What: First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m., June 1, 2016

Where: St. John’s, Lafayette Square, 1525 H Street, NW, at the corner of 16th, Washington, D.C. 20005

How much: No charge

Duration: About 35 minutes

Wheelchair accessible

Metro stations: McPherson Square (White House exit), Farragut North, or Farragut West

For more information: Contact Michael Lodico at 202-270-6265.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Disney's 'Jungle Book,' an instant hit

All hail the Republicans who cometh in Disney's "The Jungle Book" (2016).

For a good ride, don't miss it, and try to see it in 3D or IMax.  I can only imagine the effects.  Well worth the price of admission.  I just saw it in a regular theater without the fancy stuff.  I didn't even know about the fancy stuff 'til I started writing this.  Sigh.  Almost worth seeing again to catch it at IMax.

I've been wanting to see "The Jungle Book," and since nothing else nearby earned a respectable Rotten Tomatoes rating from the audience (the critics' opinions are often "yeah, yeah" and untrustworthy), finally I went.

And, I'm glad I did.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you're never too old to enjoy a good tale, and this one is spot on.
Mama said there'd be days like this in Disney's "Jungle Book" (2016).  My, what big teeth come out.  I know some snakes who talk, too.

From the beginning, "The Jungle Book"'s animation will take your breath away, matched by the incredibly fantastic music and sound.  Without the visuals, the orchestration is so good it could stand alone.

How can you stand a film without sex?  Or F and S-bombs?  Exposed breasts? We knew they were unnecessary and usually gratuitous and "The Jungle Book" is proof. (I hope there is a social scientist somewhere working on the number of obscenities per movie and how well they do at the box office.  I want to read the report.  Do more obscenities spell higher ticket sales?  And vice-versa?)
And you thought you needed to lose weight?  But this guy will surprise you with the speed he's got in Disney's "The Jungle Book."  Hold on!

"The Jungle Book" is a bit too intense for the young (under age 7; rated PG)  and sometimes for the old (honestly, I had to look away a time or two, especially when the male-cub star picked up a snake skin so large it could have been a flying carpet.  Attention:  Madam Snake is coming! It's so frightful...that creepy, crawly snake which slithers onto the screen at the edges before you know she is really there, and why are the good guys all males?  Ahem.)  

But, besides danger and its immediate impact, "Jungle Book" is loaded, and I mean loaded, with rapid fire action and whirl, and I imagine Disney is working on a new ride called Jungle Book, and I can't wait to hop, ride, or swing on.  

Will we ride a bear and jump in the swiftly roaring river?  Rescue a baby elephant? Leap through trees? Climb? (Did you think about his bare feet?)  Never mind what Neel Sethi (the star as Mowgli) ate (or didn't) and how did he get that cover-up?  Did it expand as he grew?  Who cares?  This is make-believe, I think. With a splash of humor every now and then.  And songs.

I think Rudyard Kipling would be proud.  Makes me want to read the book. But, Rudyard, Red Flower?  Dear Rudyard:  Seems like Red Menace would have been a better label.  

Switching to the current century: Like everything else, human actors are being replaced by technology.  Welcome to the land of it's happening. 

Kudos to the director, Jon Favreau, and his team of thousands.  Watch how the film was made here. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

'Dolores Huerta' has left the Smithsonian

Dolores Huerta, 1999, by Barbara Carrasco

Who was Dolores Huerta and why should we care? 

I am certain her image, perhaps the one above, will be on the cover of a U.S. postage stamp some day.

She is a living legend, someone not well-known in today's culture, someone who will gain fame over time.  

This is what you missed at the almost year-long exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which closed yesterday:  A lady on a mission and brief history of a successful union workers' campaign 50 years ago.

At the exhibition I saw a label with her birth date which I knew had to be wrong for there was no way Dolores Huerta, who was present for the opening, could be 85.  How could the Portrait Gallery make such an error?

I was mistaken.  

There she was in a glamorous, dazzling teal suit wearing heels, a spry 85 last year (b. April 10, 1930), talking about her past, smiling, and answering questions about herself, the movement which became the United Farm Workers, and the 50th anniversary of the grape workers strike in California.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a strong UFW supporter, and Dolores Huerta at the end of Cesar Chavez' 25-day fast, March 10, 1967

 Dolores Huerta worked hard to improve working conditions and pay for field workers in California who were exposed to pesticides, had no toilets or cold drinking water, and lived in substandard housing. The average life span of a farm worker was 49 compared to 70, the U.S. national average life then.

Working alongside Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), Ms. Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association which became the United Farm Workers.  She led rallies, was arrested many times, was beaten by the police, hospitalized, and coined the phrase "Si se puede" ("Yes, we can!).

She led the fight for toilets and cold drinking water in the fields which became part of the first union contract in 1966, and then California state law by 1975, and federal law in 1982.

Had the effort occurred a little later, there is no doubt her name would be as well know now as Chavez' and it may reach that summit yet, among the pages of American history books, for she was and is a leader, a heroine, an iconic figure whose achievements President Barack Obama recognized in 2012 when he placed the Presidential Medal of Honor around her neck.
Ms. Huerta at a rally.
Dolores Huerta at the opening of the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on June 30, 2015/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Dolores Huerta at the opening of the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, June 30, 2015/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Ms. Huerta stands beside a 1965 photograph of herself enlarged to introduce the exhibition.The Spanish word on the sign she held means "strike."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 The United Farm Workers AFL-CIO flag emerged in 1966.  It was designed by Richard Chavez (1929-2011), the brother of Cesar Chavez, and a longtime companion of Ms. Huerta with whom he had four children/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Reflections of artifacts in the exhibition are seen in the case cover which protected the Presidential Medal of Honor bestowed on Ms. Huerta by President Barack Obama in 2012/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Dolores Huerta at the National Portrait Gallery June 30, 2015/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Dolores Huerta, left, with her good friend and artist, Barbara Carrasco (b. 1955) who created the image above. For decades Ms. Carrasco was a volunteer artist for the UFW.  The exhibition label copy quoted her: "There are so many icons of men, and icons of women painted by men, that I wanted (as a woman) to create an iconic image of Huerta to recognize her as an equal of Cesar Chavez and, historically, the most important negotiator for the United Farm Workers." /Photo by Patricia Leslie
Dolores Huerta at the National Portrait Gallery June 30, 2015/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Dolores Huerta at the National Portrait Gallery June 30, 2015/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The mother of 11 children, Ms. Huerta still works tirelessly on issues she believes are important for a just society, those which require attention and warrant effort in today's world to improve conditions for all.  

And to keep up her regimen and good physical condition and appearance, she shared a few secrets:  Go veggie, young woman, go veggie. Eat fish, walk a lot, and dance, dance, dance! As long as you are able.  At least through your 90s.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Louise Bourgeois' 'No Exit' exits the National Gallery of Art Sunday

Louise Bourgeois, M is for Mother, 1998, gift of Dian Woodner.

A small exhibition of 21 drawings, prints, and sculptures made by the existentialist, abstract expressionist, and sometimes surrealist (a style she rejected for herself) Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) will close Sunday at the National Gallery of Art.  

The title of the show, No Exit, stems from a play by Jean-Paul Sartre, an author Ms. Bourgeois admired and frequently quoted.  Her complex family life, her conniving, philandering father, and her obedient mother give additional meaning to and appreciation of Ms. Bourgeois' art.  See what Wikipedia says about Destruction of the Father (not in the show).  

I can't wait to read her biography and hope it's coming out soon.  (This just in:  a new bio. to be published this fall.  Intimate Geometries by Robert Storr. Only $95. I believe I'll wait for the library's copy. With a title like this, the market will open to mathematicians. )

All the works in the exhibition are from the National Gallery's collection or are promised gifts to the Gallery.  One of Ms. Bourgeois' giant spiders is in the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden.
Louise Bourgeois,  Untitled, 1939-1940, promised gift of Tony Podesta.  Shortly after she immigrated to the U.S. in 1938 and settled in New York, Ms. Bourgeois made this image using crayon, ink, and graphite.  On the bow of the ship and separated from the other figures are bell jars containing a likeness of a female torso which, decades later, Ms. Bourgeois said was "cut off from the world....that's me."
Louise Bourgeois, Germinal, 1967, marble, promised gift of Dian Woodner.  Upon request by the Museum Ludwig in Cologne for a design in chocolate (the museum was founded by chocolate fanciers Peter and Irene Ludwig), Ms. Bourgeois submitted this creation 40 years after she composed it.  The label copy speaks to its "sensual nature."  It reminds me of a cow's udders, but there are 11 protruding figures here, meaning...? Or an artist's palette.  Maybe a serving of thumbs. And look!  There are places where more of the protrusions used to be.  Are they fingers or male parts?  Or, what do you make of them, and why are them important?  You see what art can do!  If her biography were for sale at the entrance to the show, I think it would have sold a zillion copies.  Or, maybe, just a million.  Sign me up!

Louise Bourgeois, La tapisserie de mon enfance - montains in Aubusson (Tapestry of My Childhood - Mountains in Aubusson), 1947.  The artist lived with her family as a child in this region of France, known for its tapestries, antiques which her family helped restore and  Ms. Bourgeois worked on them, too. I can almost make out a person here.  Wearing a blindfold.  Two blindfolds.  In a tent. Or a shroud.  Playing underneath the covers.  You see what art can do!  There is "no exit" from thinking about art.  It evolves and springs into something else to keep you thinking about its meaning, its contents, the style, the artist's background, would you hang it in your house? Does it make any difference to you/ And on they go...
Louise Bourgeois, from left, Untitled, 1952, Spring, 1949, and Mortise, 1950.  The artist called these "personages," meant to be seen in groups, and standing on the floor "like people," isolated and detached.  Rather depressing and sad they are.  Separated from each other and of different materials with no links.   The one on the right may be a fat man from China who eats wood (well, they used to feed their babies milk with plastic pieces), the one in the center, a voluptuous Caucasian who is evolving into a flower, the one on the far left, from ?  Where do you think it is from? Bones from a skeleton, from the body farm of deceased humans left outside to decay (in hidden woods) for study at the University of Tennessee, with families' permissions? (They don't do this unless the families or the deceased give a thumbs up, speaking of thumbs.  These are all connected.) An Earthling. No wonder there is no communication between these "personages."  They don't have any way to communicate!  Just like at a party when there is no one like you.  We stand alone, but we are not/Photo by Patricia Leslie.

What: Louise Bourgeois: No Exit

When: Closing May 15, 2016. The National Gallery of Art is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. every day except Sundays when it is open 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: West Building, National Gallery of Art, between Third and Seventh streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission is always free at the National Gallery of Art.

Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information:

Friday, April 29, 2016

Critic Sarah Kaufman at the American Women Writers National Museum

Sarah Kaufman at the American Women Writers National Museum at the National Press Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Last month the Pulitzer Prize winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman was the featured speaker at a luncheon meeting of the American Women Writers National Museum at the National Press Club, and she talked mostly about her new book The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life which is about saving grace or getting it, or something.

The cover is rather non-descript, not an eye-catcher that makes you stop at the book table to take a second look amidst the competitors vying for attention, and the title is rather lame, too, to match the cover, and I am sorry, Sarah, but the contents ("grace," huh?) are not something to whet a reading appetite, unless a reader needs sleeping aids (which likely means I need lots of it. Grace, that is, not sleeping pills.)

When we see "Grace" on the cover of a book jacket, Sarah, we expect something titillating about Grace Kelly. It doesn't even have to be something new. How high has anything about "grace" ever climbed on the charts?  (But, like all the other celebrity writers, Sarah, I am sure you didn't write this for the money.)

Sarah, do you honestly think the current crop of millennials is interested in holding open doors? (Just ask Metro.)

(Update after a friend's email: I suppose I came to the meeting not to hear about another book (of which I barely knew she had one), but to perhaps glean some insight and information on ways I can become a better writer which, I dare say, explained the attendance of most, if not all, who were there.

Anything unrelated to Grace was only extracted from Ms. Kaufman in Q and A. 

And blurbs, blurbs, blurbs, blah, blah, blah.  So many on so many books.  What do they matter?  

Do you honestly think another staff member from the Post or Huffington Post is going to say anything negative about a colleague's pride and joy?  Come now.  You scratch my book and I'll scratch yours.)

Ms. Kaufman has been the dance critic at the Washington Post since 1996, and won the Pulitzer in 2010, only the second dance critic to win the major prize, and "neither of us is from New York," she said, almost proudly. And New York is a city where she has never lived and seldom visits. (Take that, New York and Big Apple-loving Hirshhorn director.  Why don't you go back where you came from? And take Peter Marks (hasn't won the Pulitzer) with you and maybe Philip Kennicott (won the Pulitzer) since all they seem to write about are the arts in New York.  We got plenty of arts in D.C.)

Married and the mother of three, Ms. Kaufman still looks like a ballerina, but with years of training, she said she has never danced professionally.

Answering a question from a guest about her reading choices, she said that growing up with brothers put her in touch with the Hardy Boys, whose every title she has read. (Nancy Drews, no, never; you hear that Justice Sotomayor?) Ms. Kaufman admires the style of Katherine Anne Porter (won the Pulitzer) "so perceptive" who "really had a sense of the artificiality and hypocrisy of what was going on in that era."

Ms. Kaufman said she had just read (hasn't won the Pulitzer) Jonathan Franzen's Purity and liked it, but devoured (won the Pulitzer) Donna Tartt's Goldfinch: "That thing just flew" (760 pages).

"Belt-tightening" began at the Post about five years ago, and the paper is "tapering down on reviews" since they don't produce the online traffic the newspaper desires, she said.

Ms. Kaufman said she will be writing more "thinking pieces" and advance notices, and invited all there to send her ideas.

"Artists here [in Washington] are getting richer," Ms. Kaufman said, but still, whether it's ballet, modern or jazz, "live form of dance is really having a struggle. The key is young people. The Golden Goose of every dance company" is figuring "how to get young people" in the doors, and the hell with the old for after we are gone, the halls (and printed newspapers) will be no more (Editor's note).

The American Women Writers National Museum was founded by attorney Janice Law and is celebrating its fourth anniversary. It is "a Museum in Washington, D.C. for American Women Authors, Playwrights, Poets, Screenwriters, Journalists."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

'Dial 'T' for Thriller' at the Olney

Nisi Sturgis is Margot Wendice in Dial 'M' for Murder at Olney Theatre Center. "Hark!  Who goes there?"  "Honey, may I borrow your phone?"/Photo by Stan Barouh

Once you step inside the theater at the Olney and spy the set, darling, you know it will be a magnificent show, quite enough to suit your fancy and leave you spellbound throughout. 

From left, Nisi Sturgis as Margot Wendice, Cameron McNary as Max Halliday, and Alan Wade as Inspector Hubbard in Dial 'M' for Murder at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

Alfred Hitchcock fans will not want to miss the theatre's newest production, Dial 'M' for Murder, every bit the mystery on stage as it was in the master's 1954 movie starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. (Can you imagine?)

From the get-go and the haunting shadow from the cascading single light shining from above (design by Sonya Dowhaluk) and the pling, pling, pling of the single strings (marvelously composed and played by Roc Lee on a synthesizer), who needs a plot when you can just sit back and admire the living room, a piece of art unto itself with fab 50s Mad Men decor, the sofa, the chairs, the harsh corners, the lamps, the trophy shelves, and the doors (design by Charlie Calvert). 

In true Hitchcock fashion, you must keep up with the key, dearie, or get lost like the rest of us, but it doesn't matter.  Where there's Hitchcock and murder, you know you are in for a treat, even if the wrong man is snuffed out. Director Jason King Jones makes sure shadows of doubt lurk in the minds of attendees.

The mystery begins with Margot Wendice (Nisi Sturgis) and her lover, Max Halliday (Cameron McNary), a foreign correspondent, who quickly reveal their dangerous lies.

Ashley Smith is the handsome (with a touch of George Clooney) and beloved (or is he?) Tony Wendice, the rich and strange husband, thrown overboard for the likes of another man.  Tony enlists an old pal, James Konicek as Captain Lesgate in a blackmail sweep, as Tony's suspicion of the illicit couple grows, and downhill they go.

In the single female role Ms. Sturgis does resemble Grace Kelly, a believable, adoring spouse (no farmer's wife) especially as a white shadow underneath the spotlight in a flowing gown. (I suppose the leading female had to be a blonde, perhaps a Hitchcock requirement.)

Then there is the ubiquitous (almost notorious) Alan Wade as Inspector Hubbard who said at the after-party he has starred in so many Olney shows, he's lost count (about 25), but quite a natural, the man who knows too much.  Look out when he shows up at the torn curtain, at the entrance to a pleasure garden, right outside the rear window through which various characters come and go in their passionate adventures (?).  (You see what I mean about intrigue?)

Who might the victim be?  Leave it to Hitchcock to upset the planned order of things.  

The costuming (by Seth Gilbert) is divine, especially the peach colors wore by Captain Lesgate, and the Fab 50s apparel of Margo who sweeps the stage a la Loretta Young, if anyone young and innocent can recall her television show. 

The pace is fast, also propelled by lighting and music which are skilfully woven with the characters to leave us guessing.

The dialect coach, Zachary Campion, did a splendid job, guiding the actors in natural, unpretentious delivery, and is to be commended for outstanding achievement (is there an award for that?), and is an important crew member, like fight choreographer, Casey Kaleba, able to land strong punches. 

Let's finish with a toast of champagne, shall we?, before we say "bon voyage" (May 1, but look for an extension) to another really good show at the Olney.

 Hear!  HearHelen Hayes nominations

Outstanding Lighting Design: Sonya Dowhaluk

Outstanding Musical Direction: Roc Lee

Outstanding Set Design: Charlie Calvert

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play: Ashley Smith

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play: James Konicek

Additional members of the creative team are Elisabeth A. Ribar, production stage manager, and Alexandra Ley, dramaturg. Frederick Knott (1916-2002) wrote the play, which was originally part of a BBC television series with its premiere in London in 1952.

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

When:  Wednesday through Saturday through May 1, 2016 at 8 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and an April 27, Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m.  

How much: Tickets start at $38, with discounts for military, groups, seniors, and students.

Duration: 130 minutes with one intermission.

Available for purchase and may be taken to seats.

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

Special performances and events:

April 20, 8 p.m.  Audio described performance for the visually impaired, presented by Metropolitan Washington Ear.

April 23, 2 p.m. and April 30, 2 p.m., Afterwords, post-show discussions

For more information: