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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rita Coolidge delights area fans

Rita Coolidge at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

She'll turn 70 next year, but she sure doesn't look it, act it, or sing like it.

Instead, Rita Coolidge sings like she did after she graduated from college and tried her talents on stage, thrilling fans with her classy, signature voice which she did again Sunday evening for a crowd at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.

Rita Coolidge at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

She opened with a number she sang long ago and oh so far away which the Carpenters made legendary, "Superstar," a song no one wanted her to stop singing.

Rita Coolidge at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Dazzling in a ruffled long black dress with curving hemline, silver clasp and lilac wrap, Rita looked like she may weigh all of 100 pounds.  And her long hair may account for half that weight.
Rita Coolidge at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club with John Thomas on keys; John McDuffie (center), guitar, and Randy Landas, guitar/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Rita is her own, who can handle the singing herself, without echoes or fake background voices.
John McDuffie on a mean red guitar with Rita Coolidge at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.  Behind him is Randy Landas/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In the romantic, sexily lighted Jazz Club hall, she sang "Basic Lady," and when she got to Peggy Lee's "Fever," you got it. 

The first time she heard Peggy Lee sing the song, Rita was just three years old, she said.  It put a spell on the young listener, and right then and there: "I knew what I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to be here tonight, and here I am." She credited Bethesda's Blues owner, Rick Brown, for bringing her to Washington.
Rita Coolidge at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Her most beautiful song of the night was the Cherokee National Anthem, sung by her ancestors in the 1830s while they traveled the Trail of Tears after President Andrew Jackson kicked them out of the Deep South.  The music is reminiscent of "Amazing Grace," and can be as emotionally wrenching for listeners as it is for vocalists.  Rita was born in Lafayette, Tennessee to a Cherokee father and a Scottish/Cherokee mother.

Reading the titles of many of her hits she sang at the Jazz Club may enable them to start spinning in your head: "We're All Alone," (Your Love Has Lifted Me) "Higher and Higher,"  "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and "Can't Stand The Rain."

Also, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," and Bob Dylan's affable, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," which she varied with a slower, sexier arrangement from Dylan's version.
Lynn Coulter was the drummer for Rita Coolidge's show at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.  He and Rita made sweet harmony in "Loving Arms"/Photo by Patricia Leslie

She mentioned her ex, Kris Kristofferson (married 1973-1980) and the joy they share in their only child, a daughter, Casey, and three granddaughters. Next spring HarperCollins will publish Rita's autobiography.

Most in the audience stood and applauded when the two hour set ended. Rita Coolidge bowed, and in her graceful way, exited the stage, to return seconds later for the encore and "I'd Rather Leave When I Am In Love" and "Lover, Please, Please Come Back." We will, Rita! 

If your experience is like mine at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, you and your party will spend a totally delightful evening listening to fantastic music in an intimate setting with drinks and/or dinner, and you may be kicking up a heel or two for some of the acts come with dancing, theirs and yours. Cowboy hats, welcome.

What:  Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club

When: 12 p.m.-1 a.m., Monday-Saturday; 12 p.m.-12 a.m., Sunday

Where: 7719 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814

How much: Prices vary, depending upon artist. See the calendar.

Food and drink: The dining area has a $10 per person minimum which can be applied toward any item on the menu. Check out FAQ here. And here's the menu. I found the food (beet salad:  yummy) and drinks, good and reasonably priced.

Tickets: Call 240-330-4500 or go to the website.

Getting there: The Bethesda Metro station is about 1.5 blocks away, and parking is below the building (free on weekends). See directions.

For more posts on Rita Coolidge and the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, please click on the links.


Monday, August 11, 2014

National Gallery of Art claims most favorites in national contest

One of the 58 favorite masterpieces based on votes by Americans in Art Everywhere US.  The original is at the National Gallery of Art. John Singleton Copley, 1738 - 1815
Watson and the Shark, 1778
National Gallery of Art, Washington,
Ferdinand Lammot Belin Fund

Have you seen them?

On billboards and in bus shelters, subways, airports, movie trailers, and health clubs?

They are reproductions of American masterpieces voted on by the American people in an art popularity contest and displayed across the nation, 58 classic and contemporary works on 70,000 platforms to celebrate art heritage, history and culture, in the biggest outdoor U.S. art exhibition ever.

The American people are not ever going to forget George Washington, our first president. The original is at the National Gallery of Art.
Gilbert Stuart
American, 1755 - 1828
George Washington, c. 1821
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge IV in memory of his great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, his grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge II, and his father, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III

Art Everywhere US is the name of the project, and our own National Gallery of Art has more works (14) in the show than any of the other museums represented (the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York).
One of the 58 favorite masterpieces based on votes by Americans in Art Everywhere US. The original is at the National Gallery of Art.
John Singer Sargent
American, 1856 - 1925
Nonchaloir (Repose), 1911
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Curt H. Reisinger

On its website, Art Everywhere US has images of the 58 paintings, and by clicking on them,  a visitor is immediately taken to an enlargement where the artist, museum and more information about each work are found. 

One of the 58 favorite masterpieces based on votes by Americans in Art Everywhere US. The original is at the National Gallery of Art.
Charles Sheeler
American, 1883 - 1965
Classic Landscape, 1931
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth

There's a map where visitors may check locations, and if you are in New York before September 1, look up in Times Square and see the art on digital billboards. In D.C and Baltimore, more than 100 images are in bus shelters and (outside D.C.) on billboards.
One of the 58 favorite masterpieces based on votes by Americans in Art Everywhere US. The original is at the National Gallery of Art.
Thomas Eakins, 1844 - 1916
The Biglin Brothers Racing, 1872
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney

It's fun to find out how Americans voted in the "American Art Pageant" and compare choices to ones made by the Brits for Art Everywhere UK, the predecessor for the U.S. project, and the brainchild of Richard Reed.

Quite a difference in nations' votes. Contrary to the Brits' "staid" motherland reputation, their picks strike me, on the whole, as a lot more contemporary than ours, but see for yourself.  And remember, 14 of the originals are right here to see for free in Washington, D.C.
One of the 58 favorite masterpieces based on votes by Americans in Art Everywhere US. The original is at the National Gallery of Art.
Winslow Homer
American, 1836 - 1910
Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873-1876
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the W. L. and May T. Mellon Foundation

Credit for this mammoth undertaking and completion of the project goes to the museums, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, its members, artists, estates, foundations, rights agencies, and sponsors. (I believe that training by this group in their practices and savvy means of cooperation to achieve common goals would benefit the U.S. Congress, and ultimately, the American taxpayer.  I would vote for that.  You see what art can do!  Make a better Congress.)

Click here for the complete list of 58 and to find out which of the works are in Washington. If you enter the name of the artist and painting here, click search and then, "on view," its location with a map of the National Gallery will magically appear. 

WhatArt Everywhere US

When:  Now through August 31, 2014

Where: Everywhere with 14 originals at the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.  The National Gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Sunday, from 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. 

How much:  No charge to see outdoor or indoor art in Washington, D.C.

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:   
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Where are the Washington Mystics? Part 6

On the Mystics' home page is a photo of their big win Tuesday night over the New York Liberty, 79-46.  You go, girls!

I thought this saga had ended, at least for the year, with Part 5, but no.

Where are the Washington Mystics in the Washington Post?

They ain't pictured, that's where they're not.

Sure, there is a nice story by Gene Wang on Page D3 in yesterday's paper and the picture with it?

Get real. 

Instead of a photo about the Mystics vying for the playoffs in its "most lopsided win of the season" to accompany the article, the editor, asleep at the switch, chose a photo of competitors, teams playing 300 miles away from Washington, which would be Chicago at Connecticut.

Forgetabut the Mystics!  (Don't be fooled by the online story with an old picture of the coach.  The print edition had no Mystics pictured.)

This is just what the newspaper did June 30, 2014 when it ran another photo of competitiors, but not of the Mystics.  What's up, editor?

The Washington Post can't allocate time to locate a wire service photo of the local team who conquered the New York Liberty, 79-46, at Verizon. Coach Mike Thibault said he was able to relax in the fourth quarter because the Mystics were doing so well, like the WAPO photo editor who relaxes in all the quarters.

In the same paper are four photos (color!) about the size of a football, of the Redskins at practice (including the visiting Tom Brady.  Well, la dee-dah.  We don't know what Tom Brady looks like?  We've got to see more of him? (Editor's note:  Not such a bad thing.)  It's a Redskins' story, duh.)

And, three photos of the Nats! 

This omission on the day after the San Antonio Spurs (a men's basketball team) named a woman (!), a woman, Becky Hammon, to become a full-time assistant coach, making her the first woman to become an assistant coach in any of the four men's major professional sports (page A1).

Ladies, when the Washington Post goes cryin' for a federal bailout, I am going to seek an injunction and demand equal space for equal play, favorites be flummoxed. 

Read earlier "Missing Mystics" chapters here:

Where are the Washington Mystics? Part 1

And check out the schedule for the last Mystics' regular season games before the playoffs begin:
Friday, August 8, at Indiana
Sunday, August 10, at Connecticut
Wednesday, August 13, v. Chicago at Verizon Center, 11:30 a.m.
Friday, August 15 at Connecticut
Saturday, August 16, v. New York at Verizon Center, 7 p.m.
Show your support for our hometown ladies' team!  Like the Washington Post doesn't.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bust the blues at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club

Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble made lots of it at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

When you hear the word "zydeco," doesn't it make you happy? 

Doesn't it make you move a little?

Just a little? 

Now, come on.  Come on.

Me, too.

That's why I went to the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club Friday night to hear Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble (love that name!) entertain all the cool cats (that would include me) who showed up to listen, dance, eat, and imbibe. (Some nights are made for listening and dancing.  Check the calendar.) 
Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Curley (from Louisiana, natch) got the crowd to come on down and go to town as fast as the fellow playing the electric guitar could pick one string.

No timid people came to zydeco. No siree.  The big dance floor filled real fast, and it never got too crowded or dark.

Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie
What do you call these silver metal accordions which hang around your neck? Silver medal accordions which hang around your neck? Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble know what they are, at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In that sexy night hall with the columns lit by lights from down yonder, we could have been on a ship.  Matter of fact, I was on a ship, one that rollicked and waved in time with the music and served up plenty of good tastings, a fast cruise like a mood lifter that didn't require popping pills. 

Time to check for messages with Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The hall is a beautiful place (with an $8 million renovation) in a 1938 art deco building with high ceilings, and attractive Indian designs on the side walls with big, tall columns and lights to give it that nightclub allure. 
Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club with...oriental rugs on the ceiling?/Photo by Patricia Leslie

I do believe it's better to go to the club with a date since that's what most of the guests seemed like they were, although a few singles found dancing partners. Just my observation.
Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club.  Who said there were no cowboy hats on Wisconsin Avenue? It's okay to wear them at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club.  No apparel restrictions/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Get there early and get a table (you may sit with strangers who won't be "strangers" for long) or take a seat, please, in the theater section where no food (but drink) are permitted.  (All seats have great views of the stage.)  The Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club takes no reservations, but sells advance show tickets.

Oh, and for the uptights and uprights, there's a nice new bar and lounge out front.  But for us all rights, we'll take inside, please.

Some of the acts coming up at the club are:

Wednesday, August 6, 7:30 p.m.,The Greg Boyer Peloton ($15)

Thursday, August 7, 7:30 p.m., Luther Re-Lives Concert Tour 2014 with dancing ($25)

Friday, August 8, 8 p.m., Doc Scantlin and His Imperial Palms Orchestra with dancing ($35)

Saturday, August 9, 8:30 p.m., The Vi-Kings with dancing, Ladies' night!  ($1 - $10)

Sunday, August 10, 7:30 p.m., Rita Coolidge ($35), the Rita Coolidge.  Exactly one year ago I heard her sing in town, and she was as spectacular as ever and sang her big hits, Fever, Higher and Higher, We're All Alone, One Fine Day and more.  I can't wait to hear Rita again.

Friday, Oct. 10, 8 p.m., The Shirelles ($45) as in the Shirelles?  Don't want to give away my age or nuthin', but, honey, I'll be there!  I want to dedicate this to the one I love, who, Mama said, was a soldier boy.  I met him on a Sunday and what a sweet thing that was, even if I am a foolish little girl. Baby, it's you. Will you still love me tomorrow?

What:  Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club

When:  12 p.m.-1 a.m., Monday-Saturday; 12 p.m.-12 a.m., Sunday

Where:  7719 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814

How much:  Prices vary, depending upon artist.  See the calendar

Food and drink:  The dining area has a $10 per person minimum which can be applied toward any item on the menu. Check out FAQ here.  And here's the menu.  I found the food and drinks, good and reasonably priced.

Tickets:  Call 240-330-4500 or go to the website.

Getting there:  The Bethesda Metro station is about 1.5 blocks away, and parking is behind the building (free on weekends).  See directions.
Whazziz?  Guess you'll have to come on out to the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club and find out/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Last day to see Ralph Fasanella, the people's artist, in Washington

Ralph Fasanella, Iceman Crucified #4, 1958, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Ralph Fasanella, © 1958, Estate of Ralph Fasanella

The director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Elizabeth Broun, described Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997) as "a potent reminder that the power to effect change lies in the heart of every person."

And so it is, an unmistakable message which speaks loudly from the 19 large Fasanella canvases and eight sketches whose last day to hang together at the museum is today.

The exhibition was timed to celebrate the artist's 100th birthday, September 2,1914, Labor Day that year, a more perfect day for the birth of a later spokesperson and artist for the common man, the working class, unknown.

Charmian Reading, photo of Ralph Fasanella, about 1970. American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of the Estate of Ralph Fasanella, © 1970, Estate of Ralph Fasanella

Mr. Fasanella was a self-taught artist who quit school before he was a teen and later spent hours, after he got out of reform school, in libraries, educating himself, and visiting art museums in New York where he realized the power of art to communicate with others.

He was born in the Bronx to Italian immigrants who taught him all about hard work, the importance of family, and the necessity to fight for and preserve individual and civil rights. 
Ralph Fasanella, Family Supper, 1972, National Park Service, © 1972, Estate of Ralph Fasanella. This portrait pays tribute to the artist's mother, Ginevra, a socialist activist, later left by her husband to raise their children alone. It shows the duties expected of a mother and is based on Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.

Before his father abandoned his family to return to Italy, Ralph helped him at his work, delivering ice, becoming aware of the differences between the "haves" and the "have nots," burying growing feelings and emotions which showed up many years later in his art. 

One of Mr. Fasanella's most famous series is the Iceman Crucified, based on Mr. Fasanella's father and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Three of the four Icemans are in the show, including a recent gift to the Smithsonian from the Fasanella family, the last of the series, #4, on which the artist included the phrase, "Lest We Forget," which is the sub-title of the show.  He used "Lest We Forget" often in his art to remind viewers about their origins and rights, borrowing the idea from the initials for Jesus, INRI, Latin for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."

Thirty minutes for each Fasanella piece is not enough time to take in all the parts and messages, as complex, detailed, and fascinating as they are, not only for adults, but the content has much to offer children, too.
Ralph Fasanella, McCarthy Era Garden Party, 1954, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, and the Estate of Ralph Fasanella © Estate of Ralph Fasanella.
This is a close-up of McCarthy Era Garden Party, 1954, one of at least three paintings in the show which feature Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the only American civilians executed by the U.S. government for espionage during the Cold War. Mr. Fasanella passionately believed the couple were government scapegoats, used to convey a message to others, as the government uses Chelsea Manning today, that tolerance is unacceptable when it comes to leaks. Here the Rosenbergs are drawn together in a fiery pit, underneath the dome of the U.S. Capitol where members of Congress, behind them, attend a "last supper."

His pictures present a 20th century popular look at modern U.S. labor history, in a folk art style, reminiscent of Grandma Moses with flat, bright colors, stick figures, and intense purpose. 
Wikipedia says Mr. Fasanella painted large canvases since he thought they would eventually hang in union halls. 

The years he spent in a Catholic reform school turned him bitterly against the church and against organized structure which restricts the human spirit. 

Ralph Fasanella, Pie in the Sky, 1947, American Folk Art Museum, New York, Gift of Eva Fasanella and her children, Gina Mostrando and Marc Fasanella, © Estate of Ralph Fasanella. Represented are what heaven can bring (top) versus reality and tenement life which surrounds the cathedral on both sides. 

As an adult, Mr. Fasanella held blue collar jobs, became a union member, and volunteered for paramilitary duty in Spain where he joined other Americans in the late1930s to fight unsuccessfully against General Francisco Franco.  After he returned to the U.S., Mr. Fasanella became a labor organizer, and painted in his spare time.  About 30 years later, when a dealer discovered him and New York magazine put him on one of its covers in 1972,  Mr. Fasanella gained immediate fame which brought sales, independence, and more time to draw. 

His art helped him expel some of his demons and put on paper his passion to help the working classes survive and advance their knowledge of social injustice and their rights. 

After he saw a Fasanella show in 1974,  Ron Carver, a union organizer, wrote "I was overwhelmed with emotion at     Fasanella's depiction of ordinary people...painted...with such verve and heart."  In 1986 Mr. Carver mounted a campaign, Public Domain, designed to rescue Mr. Fasanella's art from private collections so the works could hang in public spaces, and with the help of many, including the artist, he succeeded.

The Smithsonian's Leslie Umberger curated the exhibition.  In a statement she called Mr. Fasanella's art "a tool to be wielded like a hammer."  He did. 

At a time when the voice of labor in the U.S. continues to weaken, Mr. Fasanella's colors, boldness and imagination present stories and voices of the common people, often not heard or seen in Washington or on Wall Street, unless it is the banks seeking to increase their profits with services for the poor.

We the people are grateful to all and extend appreciation to Tania and Tom Evans, the Herbert Waide Hermphill Jr. American Folk Art Fund, and Paula and Peter Lunder for making the exhibition possible.

The show next moves to the American Folk Art Museum in New York to open on Mr. Fasanella's 100th birthday, September 2, and continue through November 30, 2014. 

Power to the people!

What: Ralph Fasanella:  Lest We Forget

When: Closes Sunday, August 3, 2014. The museum is open from 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. every day. 

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F streets, N. W., Washington, D.C.  20004

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-633-1000 or visit the web site

Metro station: Gallery Place-Chinatown or walk 10 minutes from Metro Center

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Olney's 'Tempest' enchants crowd

In Olney Theater Center's The Tempest, King Alonso (Ian LeValley), center, and his men are stunned by magic they find on the island where Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded/Photo by Stan Barouh 

The more you see (and hear) him, the more you love William Shakespeare, and the presentation by Olney Theatre Center in its outdoor arena will intensify your ardor.

Olney's Tempest is a delightful frolic for actors and audience members alike, and although the show is billed as best for those ages eight and above, some who appeared several years younger were spied enjoying themselves as much as their parents.

To listen to the words of the master accompanied by nature's nightly medley of the bugs is a heavenly experience although evil spirits lurk nearby.

The setting is the sea and an island where Prospero (Craig Wallace), a little too boisterous at times, has been marooned with his daughter, Miranda (Leah Filley), for 12 years, after his brother, Antonio (Paul Morella), and the King of Naples, Alonso (Ian LeValley), colluded to rob Prospero of his kingdom of Milan and banish father and daughter to the neverland. 

Prospero uses special powers gained from reading all the books supplied in their drift away boat by his kind counselor, Gonzalo (Alan Wade) to craft a "tempest" and bring those to shore who done him wrong. (You see what books can do!)

Knowing I loved my books, he furnish'd me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom

It's payback time.

A mystical spirit, Ariel (Julie-Ann Elliott), visible only to Prospero (and the audience), a standout on stage, flits and floats like a fairy in her lighted dress, an ethereal presence who assists Prospero.  Her splendid red-winged costume (by Pei Lee) gave us to know Ariel was soon going to take flight to freedom. 

On the set are big, billowy cloths which hang floor to "ceiling" stage at angles like sails on the ship. 

The crew, all men in black, heave back and forth on the floating boat floor while the ship wrecks, stirring motions of seasickness among observers on land.

Stacked large white umbrellas shield stage exits as the backdrop which change color to effectively match the next scene's mood. 

What is Shakespeare without a myriad of characters to keep your mind swirling? And a little love? 

One character with a little sudden love in his heart is King Alonso's son, Ferdinand (Alexander Korman) who becomes only the second man Miranda has ever laid eyes on, and quite naturally, it is love at first sight.  This is Shakespeare!

"Forsooth, Papa, never have I laid eyes on a being so marvelous as there goeth," says Miranda (Leah Filley) to her father, Prospero (Craig Wallace) while she admires Ferdinand (Alexander Korman) in Olney Theater Center's The Tempest. Note the umbrella backdrop/Photo by Stan Barouh 

Despite the crimes committed against him, Prospero resists vengeance and chooses to forgive (and maybe, not forget) the wrongful acts committed against him and his daughter, reminding us 400 years later, the importance of overlooking imaginary and real slights we experience in everyday life and the benefits we gain once we delete the "hanging on."

Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that's gone

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep

Before the play begins, strolling minstrels play guitar and horn while they sing (with some audience participation), "I Can See Clearly Now," and "Don't Stop Believin'" which enter the script nicely later on when the show may stop momentarily for necessary equipment adjustments.  

Elisheba Ittoop with Elvin J. Crespo and Will Rosas made the
storm crashing and gnashing sounds which cackle and bring the bad guys to shore with loud and lifelike effects, complemented by tiny raindrops which kept falling on our heads.

The play is a quick two+ hours which breezes by rapidly, made more charming by outside freedom.

Directing is Jason King Jones, the associate director and director of education at Olney.  Other members of the creative team are Charlie Calvert, scenic designer; Sonya Dowhaluk, lighting designer; and Casey Kaleba, fight choreographer, all to be heartily applauded with the remaining cast members, Ryan Mitchell, Paul Morella, Jacob Mundell, Christopher Richardson, Adam Turck, and Dan Van Why.

Composing half the cast are National Players veterans who are the mentors of current National Players ("America's longest running touring company") who appear in younger roles and are on tour in celebration of the Players' 66th year.  The National Players are based at the Olney.

The program includes a pictorial directory complete with titles and relationships to simplify comprehension.

It's believed that The Tempest is the last play William Shakespeare wrote independently, and is considered one of his finest.

What:  The Tempest by William Shakespeare

When:  8 p.m. Wednesday, July 30, through Sunday, August 3, 2014

Where: The outdoor Root Family Stage at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets are $20, and there is no charge for children under age 11. 

You may bring lawn chairs, refreshments, bug repellant.

Refreshments:  Available for purchase

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400

For more reviews of The Tempest and other plays, go to DC Metro Theater Arts.




Sunday, July 27, 2014

CATF's 'North of the Boulevard' is a hit north of the Rio Grande

From left, Brit Whittle is "Trip," Jamil A.C. Mangan, "Bear," Michael Goodwin, "Zee," and Jason Babinsky is "Larry" in North of the Boulevard by Bruce Graham. CATF 2014. Photo by Seth Freeman.

The next station for North of the Boulevard at the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University might be, New York?  The script is drop dead funny, the audience howls throughout, but it's got a serious side, too.  

The dialogue is fast, clipped, and delivered just like you'd expect, if you've ever visited an auto repair shop.  At Trip's, four blue-collared men sift through life's pieces, trying to make sense of them all. They strive to be North of the Boulevard, a safer and richer world since theirs is falling apart.
They examine choices. Where do we go from here?  One route suddenly presents itself which may quickly solve everything.  Or most everything.

Or can it?

It's a December afternoon in 2008 at Trip's shop where the owner (Brit Whittle) is tormented by the recent bullying and beating his son, Kevin, took at the hands of area black youths.  Trip agonizes about his old, decaying neighborhood which is slowly draining his family of its wellbeing and safety, a deterioration matched by the people's.

Zee (Michael Goodwin) pops up.  This stereotypical nasty, elderly, negative mouthpiece criticizes everybody and thing which enters his mind or sight, including his offspring. Perhaps he is too old to hope any more since all he really has going is a red bandana.  He frequently naps in the back seat of a car on stage. 

Soon another boyhood pal, Bear (Jamil A.C. Mangan) arrives, followed by Zee's son, Larry (Jason Babinsky who also stars in repertory in another 2014 CATF production, One Night). 

Larry is a middle-aged loser, and despite Trip's warnings to Zee to stop his bullying, Larry is a target of his father's mean remarks.  You yearn to smack Zee and shake some sense into his final days.  

One of the funniest scenes occurs when Larry spews his pent-up wrath at his father and "gets it off his chest." Let it all out, Larry! The sincere and passionate hate is likely shared by many present.  With his mannerisms, delivery, and lines, he almost steals the show.  

Larry's costuming (by Therese Bruck) includes a woolen cap and ear covers which he never removes. The others are dressed in contemporary flop, except for Bear who wears his work uniform. 

The set is realistically and meticulously crafted by David M. Barber, based on the shop of playwright Bruce Graham 's cousin. High opaque windows line the back of the space, giving it an "industrial feel" with old tires, hanging lights, grease, bottles, car parts, and another junked car's back seat used for a couch.

The set shop hints at so much dust, you almost cough. Or sneeze.

On the wall is a campaign poster of Barack Obama so you can guess the comments Zee makes, proudly claiming membership in the "politically incorrect" club. (Time out for a message about art:  The poster is a copy of the artwork most associated with President Obama's first presidential campaign, the one which makes you think Andy Warhol was still living in 2008, a gift to the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery where the portrait is "not currently on view." Shame.)

Shepard Fairey, b. 1970. National {Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection in honor of Mary K. Podesta. Copyright: ©  Shepard Fairey/
On the right side of the stage is a glass-enclosed office with door which Trip frequently uses for private phone conversations about his injured son (who never appears).  When Trip is in the office, he is visible to the audience who only hears portions of his speech, usually the shouts as he becomes increasingly agitated by the unpleasantness he hears on the phone.  

North of the Boulevard is superbly directed by Ed Herendeen, the festival's founder and producing director.  All the actors delivered impressively, just like those I saw in Dead and Breathing, another of this year's presentations, and like that ending, North's finish was unexpected. 

In both I found myself at the end crying out silently to those on stage: Don't do it!  We witness the human need to seize temptation which can upend lives and send participants right out the door.

In a playwrights' roundtable on opening weekend, Mr. Graham said "I've killed so many people I hate in my plays." Hmmmmmm, does that mean...?

Mr. Graham called himself "an audience whore," who, he said, inserts "things in plays just to get a reaction." At the roundtable, he thanked the audience for showing up and "investing in plays you've never heard of....our hats are off to you."

The production fulfills CATF's goals to be a daring story of diversity which embraces innovation and links to the audience. All five new productions on this year's festival playbill have been written in the last year or two and, to mention the obvious, contain contemporary, harsh and coarse language like you hear on the street nowadays. (We ain't got no class either.)

Shepherd University is just a little over an hour's beautiful drive from D.C. in the delightfully "quaint" town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, founded in 1762, where free lectures, discussions, late-night salons, workshops, and much more are part of the festival.

For more reviews of North of the Boulevard and other CATF productions and area performances, click DC Metro Theater Arts.

What:  North of the Boulevard by Bruce Graham

When: The five new plays in the Contemporary American Theater Festival are staged in repertory, Wednesday through Sunday afternoons and evenings through August 3, 2014.  See them all!

Where:   Shepherd University, Shepardstown, WVA

Tickets: $59 for single seats with discounts for military, students, seniors, families, those under age 30, and West Virginia residents, plus four and five-show discount packages starting at $100. The 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday shows are $30.  Use Code CATF20 to save 20% on single ticket purchases.

For more information: 800-999-2283 or 304-876-3473