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Friday, July 22, 2016

Movie review: 'Weiner' is must-see for political junkies

Anthony Weiner's name is familiar to all political junkies.  He was an aggressive, progressive seven-term congressman (D-New York) who was defeated by his own sexting scandal.  It was 2011 and only two short years later, New York City's voters gave him a second chance when he decided to run for mayor.

Until he did it again

Until he sextexted again.

This man is sick.

The movie, Weiner, is about his political life of the last five years, chiefly, New York's mayoral race.  At Rotten Tomatoes, Weiner has earned a 96% rating from the critics, an 87% from the audience, and at the Sundance Film Festival, "Best Documentary."

But, why did they do it?  

Why did Weiner and his wife agree to permit filmmakers inside their lives and record them carte blanche?  (Most of the time. In two tense moments when truth comes knocking on the marital door, Weiner asks the film crew to leave .) 

His wife is the lovely, Huma Abedin, who is Hillary Clinton's indispensable aide.  In the film Abedin shatters her robotic persona as bag carrier. She reminds me of George Clooney's wife. (How does she keep that lipstick on all day?)  
After the 2011 shock, Weiner gathered momentum and sallied forth in his last campaign when he ran for mayor. He rode to the top of the polls, until the second sexting scandal broke, and this time, the voters gave him no second chance. 

He won less than five percent of the final tally.

Watch Weiner fall, see the media go nuts, and the trash follow him relentlessly around trying for a photo op 
inside the morass populated by humor, sadness, and wonder.

Campaign workers will recognize the office scenes, the talk, the buzz,  making calls, staging, knocking on doors, eating pizza for B,L, and D.  ("Been there; done that.")
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg directed the documentary, enriched by Jeff Beal's musical compositions and videos from talking heads Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Howard Stern, and Lawrence O'Donnell

Near the end of the film Weiner is asked: Why did they do it? He considers the question and drifts glumly to the next scene without answering.

Did they do it for future political gain?  Perhaps.  But, the American people are good about forgiving, and I think they'll give this relentless, energetic Democrat another chance, and he'll ride the cause again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

'Evita' cries for Argentina (extended) at the Olney

Rachel Zampelli is Eva and Nick Duckart is her husband, Juan Perón, in Olney Theatre Center's Evita/Photo by Stan Barouh

Who was "Evita" and why should we care?

What a difference Eva Perón (1919-1952) made to Argentina where she was first lady (1946-1952), the second wife of President Juan Perón, and widely known as a champion of women's rights, the working classes, the "shirtless ones," and the poor for whom she worked sometimes 22 hours a day until near the end of her life.

She was despised by the military and bourgeoisie who resented her efforts on behalf of society's segments which excluded them.
 Robert Ariza is Che with the cast of Olney Theatre Center's Evita/Photo by Stan Barouh.

When Eva Perón decided to run for the vice-presidency the year before she died, social and health constraints forced her to reconsider, and, instead, the Argentine Congress declared her "Spiritual Leader of the Nation," the same year she died of cancer at age 33.
Now offering a glimpse of her life, loves, and dynamics, Olney Theatre Center presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's Evita which won seven Tonys in 1980 after it opened on Broadway.

The musical is one more chance to hear the signature piece "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," beautifully sung by Olney's Evita, Rachel Zampelli.

Although the audience longs to hear "Don't Cry" one more time, it's an unrequited desire, yet the melody, in true Lloyd Webber style, hovers throughout the show from beginning to end.

A minimalist presentation characterizes the play, and the real star is not "Evita" but "Che" (Robert Ariza) the narrator who monopolizes the stage. It is no surprise that Ariza claims Broadway and Helen Hayes awards. His muscular, strong performance, under director Will Davis' tutelage, is daunting.
 The show's choreographer is Tony nominee and Helen Hayes award winner Christopher d'Amboise who keeps his well-trained and experienced ensemble busy in multiple numbers, often as backdrop.

Ivania Stack dresses the laborers in realistic and monochromatic garb of the era, which sharply contrasts with Evita's flair and flash, and helps transmit the message that Evita was persona nonpareil, and it's true:  Eva Perón and her husband (here, in a supporting role, admirably acted by Nick Duckart) did address two million persons from a balcony in Buenos Aires in 1951, and a year later, three million came for her funeral.

Under the direction of Christopher Youstra, the seven members of the orchestra play in their usual grand manner, masterfully on stage right, but this time, a better location in the pit might have improved the experience since the juxtaposed musicians and actors seem to share little passion between themselves.

Well designed lighting (by Colin K. Bills) helps shift scene variations from a single, great hall anchored by long arched windows which frame outside visuals (Arnulfo Maldonado).

Other cast and crew Evita members are:  Lane Elms, sound, Josiane M. Lemieux, production stage manager, Dennis A. Blackledge, direction of production, Megan Adrielle, Ronald Bruce, Nick Lehan, Kristin Yancy, Mark Chandler, Jamie Eacker, Nurney, Jonathan Atkinson, Willie Dee, Ashleigh King, Maria Rizzo, Jane Zogbi.

Commemorations on the anniversary of Eva Perón's death (July 26) have almost turned the day into a national holiday. Eva Perón was then and now considered saintly, and some compare her to Jesus Christ.

Her legacy is heralded by proud Argentines, including the country's first female elected president (2007-2015), Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

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

When:  Wednesday through Saturday extended through July 31, 2016 at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and a July 13 Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m. 

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

Duration: About two hours plus one intermission.

Available for purchase and may be taken to seats.

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

Special performances and events:

Audio described performance for the blind and visually impaired, presented by Metropolitan Washington Ear, Wednesday, July 13, at 8 p.m.

Post-show discussion after the 2 p.m. Saturday performance on July 16, 2016  

For more information: