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Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gave us fever


Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Assistant Conductor Nicholas Hersh

Before the concert began at Strathmore Saturday night, a man came out on stage to announce the guest conductor* had been ill with a fever and would not be able to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and substituting at the last minute would be the BSO's new (since September) assistant conductor, Nicholas Hersh, he, who hesitated nary a second to welcome the surprising opportunity, bounding out upon the platform, and almost leaping to the podium, exuding confidence and showmanship far beyond his years of almost 30, one would guess.

Hersh's eagerness for a leadership role and the chance to display his talents may not happen often enough for an ambitious musician, and this was a night to glow.

At times during the evening and looking at his back, I was reminded of a horse race:  He was the rider swinging from left to right and right to left, urging his horse to go faster and faster, waving his arms with fury and whipping the animal, I mean the orchestra, into frenzy to jump over the barriers so it would win at the finish line, and win it did with flourish, Conductor Hersh's head held high in victory.

He secured stunning performances all night from the BSO whose members responded energetically to the conductor's baton, urged on by a cheering audience at the end of each piece. 

Throughout the presentation, concertmaster Jonathan Carney got more than his usual workout, performing with his customary flair and gusto.
 
On the program for the first act were Hector Berlioz's Le corsaire, Op. 21 and Ravel's Trio in A Minor, and opening the second was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 played by the internationally acclaimed French-Canadian Louis Lortie who produced much enthusiasm from the warming crowd who came out on another very cold night.

But the featured selection was the finish, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, written for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes which brought to mind the spectacular costumes and exhibition presented by the National Gallery of Art in 2013. The standing, cheering audience called Hersh back three times.

All the pieces Saturday night were exquisite components of another thrilling night at Strathmore, marred only by a rodent or person behind me (I was initially afraid to look) who wrinkled and rattled a candy wrapper at the beginning of the second movement of Ravel's Trio. 

My eyes soon followed those of another woman who sat in front of me who turned to glare at the sound maker which turned out not to be a rodent after all, but a woman of about 55.  She may as well have been rattling pots and pans, the racket she made.

I joined the eyes attack and soon, the crinkling, like a fire in a fireplace, ceased. 

At intermission I complained to an usher about the music interruption, and she said she was only a volunteer usher and strictly forbidden from saying anything to patrons, but I could complain to the house manager if I liked, but where was the house manager and who wanted to spend time searching for the house manager when the program was about to resume? 

And why, asked the volunteer/usher, did people even come to the symphony if they didn't know symphony etiquette? 

At the beginning of the second act, I hoped for music only (as one often wishes at a concert hall) but, alas, it wasn't crinkling wrapper this time which interrupted the lovely sounds coming from the stage, but pages turning!  My colleague-in-arms had moved up a row to an empty seat and out of earshot since she exhibited no annoyance with the new blast.

Stealing a glance over at the candy wrapper rapper, I saw she was bent over, looking down and reading something she held between her knees. Perhaps she had an upset stomach and was thumbing through Dr. Spock?  After that, she was quiet.  I mean, lady!  Why bother coming?

Dear Strathmore:  If you had more room for restaurant patrons and more tables, I would have been happy to have ordered your grilled salmon, however, eating it off the floor which is where some of your customers may push my plates seeking a table top for their own dinners, is uncomfortable and rushed, especially if you are wearing a skirt.

"Oh, so sorry," they say, as my roll rolls along on the floor heading to the adjoining table where those restaurateurs will soon stomp on it. "We thought you were finished."  

Where's the symphony to that? (I do exaggerate, but not by much.)

*Yan Pascal Tortelier

patricialesli@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hillwood opens doors every Sunday

Hillwood Estate/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Beginning Sunday, Hillwood, "where fabulous lives," the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973) in northwest Washington, will be open six days a week from 10 a.m. until 5 p. m., according to an announcement.

Lynn Rossotti, Hillwood's director of marketing and communications, said an "operational agreement" with Hillwood's neighbors, approved this month by D.C.'s Board of Zoning Adjustment, now permits the estate to be open every Sunday, rather than two Sundays a month, a policy set by a former agreement.

"Over the years, we've developed such a great relationship with the neighborhood, a feeling overall, that visitors and the neighbors want us to be open every Sunday," Ms. Rossotti said.  None of the neighbors expressed opposition to the expanded Sundays, she said.

"There's a great sense they do believe Hillwood is a benefit. They like to come over and enjoy it for the strolls and bring their visitors."
In the gardens at Hillwood Estate/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Hillwood "is a nice quiet place to enjoy your Sunday morning, and it's not as busy as Saturday" which is "really popular in the spring."
A memorial in the Hillwood gardens which reads:  "To Marjorie Merriweather Post May, In Deep and Everlasting Appreciation, Scouting's Golden Year, The National Capital Area Council and The Boy Scouts of America, April 11, 1960." In the center is a coin with two Boy Scouts and this wording: "Building Toward Unity, Youth of The Scouting World"/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Opening every Sunday will permit more time for guests to enjoy Hillwood's popular Sunday tea ("people love to come to that") for which reservations are highly recommended.  (202-243-3914.  According to the website, the price is $15 without wine; $20, with.  On weekdays the tea service is only available to groups of 10 or more.)

Settled in an established neighborhood of large homes and embassies, Hillwood is highly sensitive to those nearby and values its relationships with them, Ms. Ross0tti said. The ten-year operational agreement with the neighborhood came up for renewal last year, and changes were suggested.

Hillwood has seen a surge in visitors who have increased in number almost 60 percent since 2007, to last year's record 75,445, Ms. Rossotti said.

The merry month of May is one of Hillwood's most popular times since "everyone wants to come and enjoy the springtime, especially on Mother's Day.  We have 25 acres here," said Ms. Rossotti, with plenty of room for visitors to enjoy the grounds, the mansion, to see exhibits, and to have a spot of tea.

An exhibit now up through June 7, 2015, Splendor and Surprise,  displays secrets of 80 chests, boxes, jewelry safes, perfume bottles, and other containers, some which are 300 years old and come from different cultures.

Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973)


What:  Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

When: Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed on Mondays.

Where:  4155 Linnean Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008

Suggested donation: $15 (adults), $12 (seniors), $10 (college students), $5 (children, ages 6 -18) and free for those under age 6.

Parking: Free, on-site

Biking and walking: Encouraged; bike racks, available.

For more information: 202-686-5807 or to make a reservation for Sunday tea: 202-243-3914

Metro station: Van Ness/UDC station on the Red Line, then walk a mile (mostly uphill;  taxis, available).

Metro bus stop: The L1 or L2 bus stops at the corner of Connecticut and Tilden streets, NW, about a half mile's walk to Hillwood (mostly uphill).

patricialesli@gmail.com



Sunday, February 22, 2015

'Godspell,' another big Olney hit

The cast of Godspell, now on stage at the Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh
 
It's witty, provoking, packed with action and contemporary culture, and you don't even have to be Christian. 

Or religious. 

All that's required is that you "be."

Who can't benefit from a lively musical which reminds us all to be kind to one another, to treat others as you like to be treated, to withhold those rocks, we are all sinners, all Jesus' teachings in song and dance?

It's Godspell now on stage at the Olney Theatre Center where it's possible to have a good time with the Bible.

Huh?

Is anyone surprised that the run has been extended through March 8?  (This just in: And extended again! Thru March 15.)

Nope.

Godspell first opened on Broadway in May 1971, following Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, all three sharing some of the same characteristics.

At the Olney, the acting, set, costuming, and music all come together notably, but it's the script which stars.
Nova Y. Payton and the cast of Godspell, now on stage at the Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

A slow start of a few short minutes and Nova Y. Payton's striking voice opens entrances for the ensemble whose members gradually drift onto stage while speaking in different tongues a la the Tower of Babel. From there the production launches, and there's no holding back, as Jesus' life and teachings soon take center stage with Jordan Coughtry as "the man" with his ageless messages.

Ivania Stack dresses him from head to toe in neutral beige, a great contrast with the pop apparel of the other performers in colorful 60s hippies garb. ("Beige" as a standout color? With lights and Stack's design, it works.) 

That there are only ten members of the healthy ensemble is surprising, for visually and audibly, the effect seems to be many more.

The singing is best in groups or duets, but the voices of Payton and Rachel Zampelli (who plays both Judas and John) are the finest.
The cast of Godspell, now on stage at the Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

Except for casual variations, Paige Hathaway's set doesn't change much from its opening scene, but it's not necessary since the action is so fast-paced and leaves little time to study what's on stage anyway.  (The side of a deserted western highway, complete with electrical poles (good for climbing and singing), old tires (good for making walls), and a red truck which ambles out and becomes useful in many scenes.)

Will Pickens does a nice job with sound design with unseen rumbling trucks and vehicles speeding by on the highway to get things rolling, and an invisible helicopter with murmuring blades, whose purpose I am still uncertain, unless it was law enforcement on the prowl. 

Audience participation is always fun, and the older vested man in the front row (surely a mathematician) who was pulled up to join the cast, handled his new role with flair, without hesitation or doubt, moving in time with the music and his partner up close and personal, to the delight of the audience.

It was great to see members of the electric orchestra, usually hidden in the pit.  Under the superb direction of Christopher Youstra, the musicians remained on stage for the entire performance, elevated to an unobtrusive platform on high which served as a perch for the actors in various scenes.  The orchestra's costuming (Hawaiian shirts, hats) was right in keeping with the actors'.  

"Who am I?" and "Where am I going?"  At the Olney, Jesus can show you the way.

Helen Hayes nominations are in order:

Lighting: Sonya Dowhaluk

Choreography:  Bryan Knowlton

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical: Jordan Coughtry

Outstanding Director of a Musical: Jason King Jones

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical

Other ensemble actors:  Kurt Boehm, Maggie Donnelly, Michael J. Mainwaring, Calvin McCullough, Christopher Mueller, Allie Parris, and Emily Zickler. 

Other key crew members: Trevor A. Riley and Dennis A. Blackledge 

Orchestra and additional vocalists:  Danny Espy, Kim Spath, Rob Mueller, Yussef Chisholm, and Alex Aucain

What: Godspell conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (from Wicked, Pippin, and Enchanted) and based on the Gospel according to Matthew. 

When: Now through March 15, 2015 with evening shows at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. weekend matinees.

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

How much: Tickets start at $38, with discounts for military, groups, seniors, and students.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

Duration:  2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Refreshments: Available for purchase and may be taken to seats.

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400

For more reviews of Godspell and other plays on stage in the Washington, D.C. area, go to 
DC Metro Theater Arts.


patricialesli@gmail.com



Thursday, February 12, 2015

An exhibit to see before you die: 'El Greco' at the National Gallery of Art, leaving Monday


El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1597/1599, National Gallery of Art

Dear Art Enthusiast,

If the "El Greco" exhibition now at the National Gallery of Art leaves before you see it, you may lie upon your death bed and regret that you missed the moment, which is set to expire Monday.

Crowds are expected to be large for this last weekend, as they always are at the end of any major presentation, but better to see it and catch a glimpse than not to see it, that is the solution.

It's not a big show, only 11 of El Greco's works are displayed in a single gallery to commemorate the quadricentennial anniversary of his death in 1614, but their intricacies and bewitching parts may wrap you in wonder for many moments. (All one has to say is "elongated," and you know the artist. His characters look like they came from the same family of long faces and bodies.)  
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Laocoön, c. 1610/1614, National Gallery of Art. No work by El Greco has inspired more controversy than his one surviving mythological painting. From the story of the Trojan horse in Virgil's Aeneid, El Greco's Laocoön symbolizes a number of topics from the Counter-Reformation, says the National Gallery
 
That El Greco, called the master of light, lived 400 years ago is startling since his work seems contemporary in style, with distinctive figures and in the revolutionary way he drew in the 16th century.  He has been called a precursor of cubism who broke with contemporaries and their adherence to form and proportion, to focus on light and color, presaging the impressionists by 300 years.  (Do you not see the influence he had on Salvador Dali, not an impressionist, but a native Spaniard?)
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos),
Saint Jerome, c. 1610/1614, National Gallery of Art.  In this unfinished canvas, El Greco depicts Saint Jerome, kneeling in the wilderness while clutching the bloodied rock that he used to beat his chest in repentance for his love of classical learning.

For El Greco, the National Gallery has supplemented seven of its own El Greco paintings with art from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and Washington's Phillips Collection and Dumbarton Oaks.  (Four of the National Gallery's El Grecos returned last year from tour in Spain, the host of its own celebration of the life and works of Domenikos Theotokopoulos who lived there half his life.)

"The Greek" as he is known (he signed all his works with his name in Greek characters) was born in 1541 on the isle of Crete, then part of the Republic of Venice. When he was 26, he moved to Venice to hone his skills and stayed there about four years until 1570 when he moved to Rome to train and refine his work. In 1577 he moved to his last home, Toledo, Spain's religious capital, where he painted his best and earned the most.

The National Gallery says he blended diverse influences:  Byzantine, Renaissance, and mannerist which "rejected the logic and naturalism of Renaissance art" to capture "the religious fervor of Counter-Reformation Spain."

What was Counter-Reformation Spain?  I had to look it up, too: a "Catholic Revival" or "resurgence" which responded to the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648), lasting about 100 years (1545-1648) until the end of the Thirty Years' War. Wikipedia says the Catholic church was a major arts patron which desired to restore its approved art to its once-lofty perch and convey teaching through art with a heavy emphasis on the Virgin Mary.  No nudity, graphic images or anything which begetted lust was allowed. El Greco responded in kind to, as one art historian called it, "the death of medieval art." 

One example of his answer to the Counter-Revolution is Christ Cleansing the Temple (probably before 1570, National Gallery of Art) where the church's influences and attempt to purify itself are displayed.  

Also in the exhibition are:

Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, 1585–1590, Walters Art Museum;

The Holy Family with Saint Anne and the Infant John the Baptist, c. 1595/1600, National Gallery of Art;

The Repentant Saint Peter, 1600–1605 or later, The Phillips Collection;

Saint Ildefonso, c. 1603/1614, National Gallery of Art, once owned by Edgar Degas.  Featured is the seventh-century archbishop of Toledo shown in his study, furnished as it was in El Greco's time.

At the top of this page is Saint Martin and the Beggar. El Greco was commissioned to paint altarpieces for the Chapel of Saint Joseph in Toledo, Spain which included Saint Martin and the Beggar and Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes (1597/1599, National Gallery of Art).  Peter A. B. Widener purchased them, and they hung in the Widener residence until 1942, when Mr. Widener's son, Joseph, donated them to the National Gallery. Both paintings were recently cleaned to remove yellowed varnish and reveal the original color relationships and vibrancy of El Greco's brushwork. 

El Greco managed the creation of numerous replicas of his compositions, including at least six Saint Martin and the Beggar. The exhibition includes the Gallery's and the artist's original.

In The Visitation (c. 1610/1614, Dumbarton Oaks) the figures are viewed from below because the painting was conceived for the ceiling above the altar in the Church of San Vicente, Toledo. Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss purchased this work in 1936 for the music room of their home, Dumbarton Oaks.

Early benefactors to the National Gallery, Andrew W. Mellon, Chester Dale, Samuel H. Kress, and Joseph Widener, have shaped the Gallery's El Greco collection into one of the largest in the U.S. and for that and many other reasons, the people of the United States and its visitors are grateful for this opportunity to see another outstanding presentation. 

What: El Greco, from Washington-Area Collections  A 400th Anniversary Celebration

When: Now through February 16, 2015 from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sunday


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

Admission: No charge

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

For more information: 202-737-4215


Monday, February 9, 2015

BSO soars on its 10th year at Strathmore

Strathmore Music Center, Bethesda, MD/BSO photo

At the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's celebration of its 10th anniversary at the Strathmore Music Center Thursday night, fireworks and stars ignited an explosion of sorts when Garrick Ohlsson played Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. 

The audience sat enthralled during the performance and at the end, called the pianist back four times.

Before the show began, I announced to a woman who sat two seats from me, hugging the wall, that I had come for Rachmaninoff.

"Oh," she smiled rather meekly, "I am new to classical music."

Well, our seats aren't the best, I whined (we were on the wrong side of the piano), but it's the sound we came to hear, not the visuals, and besides, I said, the price is right.
Garrick Ohlsson in Prague, May, 2013/YouTube

From our seats we could not see Mr. Ohlsson's hands as they raced up and down the keyboard like lilies gracefully landing at the speed of an asteroid upon a pond. 

And then...ouch

When he reached certain points in the composition, his fingers withdrew quickly as if he were striking a hot stove.

During some of the piece, while he played on, his eyes moved from the keyboard, and he watched Conductor Marin Alsop. Between the first and second movements when some in the center section began to applaud as they are wont to do, Mr. Ohlsson winced as he looked down upon the keys.

Two years ago I ventured out to Strathmore to hear Mr. Ohlsson play Rachy's Third Piano Concerto, another stellar performance. 

Before the music began last week, the announced program was delayed about 15 minutes by BSO leaders giving each other thanks, and then a huge screen dropped above the orchestra to reveal a bird's eye view of Mr. Ohlsson's hands which we were able to see, after all.

I wondered how many would call the screen a distraction, and at intermission, another seatmate and I discussed our mutual reactions. We were both magnetized by the video and at times, had to force our attention back to the music.

"I suppose people will complain," he said, and I agreed. 

It's hard to please everyone, I said, but the orchestras and symphonies now must pull out all stops to attract the younger crowds and whatever interaction it takes, it takes.

"Look around," he said.  "Where are the young ones?" and nodded to a fellow with a red beard in the center section who actually didn't look too young to me:  "There's one."  One.  About 35?   (Is 35 "young"?)

Whatever.

On my other side sat a lovely couple from Richmond who drove up to see "our Marin" conduct the BSO. 
Conductor Marin Alsop/BSO photo
 
"She was our assistant conductor for a year," the woman said proudly.  

I told them Conductor Alsop was quite popular "up here" and could probably be elected governor of Maryland, for if a Republican can be elected governor of Maryland....

"We knew she would not stay long in Richmond and would move up," said the woman's husband.  The woman wore a finger purse (!) and frequently used her opera glasses (we were seven rows from the front) which were trimmed in gold and silver. 

She asked me if there's a sign law up here.

Pardon, I said: A sign law?

"The signs here are so small, we can't find anything!" she exclaimed.

The second half of the show was a huge success, too, with Ottorino Respighi's Church Windows and The Pines of Rome

Several days later I noted among the pages of the Washington Post that the negative Robert Battey (what does he like?) was indeed annoyed by the giant screen and pooh-poohed the evening, wondering what in the world did the performance by a teenager, Evelyn Song (really, that's her name) who played the violin with the BSO's concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, at the beginning of the evening, mean exactly.

I'll tell you what it meant, Mr. Battey: The BSO rightfully was bragging about its outreach to the youth of the area in its two short videos, demonstrated by a 16-year-old virtuoso on the violin. That's what it meant.  What kind of understanding does that require?

Besides, Mr. Battey, can't your newspaper find a more current photo of Mr. Ohlsson than the old one it ran picturing the artist, not in the tails he wore Thursday, but in a 1970s suit which may have been shot at a rehearsal in Nebraska?

What a night at the concert hall!

A good reason to skip the Smithsonian's world religion lecture on Hinduism.

patricialesli@gmail.com


Dear Wall Street Journal,

I am having withdrawal pains, separated from you.  Every day, I agonize so much without you on my doorstep.  But, just like quitting cigarettes, the separation gets easier, day by day, especially since, during those last few days, you were a "no show" .833333 percent of the time.

It's now been about two months since we parted.  I miss your business pages, the art pages, Jason Gay, but most of all, the Saturday edition with the hilarious economist, whose name I have already forgotten. (I never could stand your editorials and always looked the other way.)

Wall Street Journal, you asked too much of me, to hang with you when you stood me up five of six dates of our last week together!  Please!  What's a girl to do?

Since you've been gone, I have begun a new relationship, just a "trial," with the Times, only on weekends, which I hope doesn't upend my planned resumption with you since it's you I long for, my first love.

Valentine's Day approacheth.

Yes, I am willing to give you another chance, Wall Street Journal (once my relationship ends with the Times).Your kind invitation came in the mail ($99 for six months!). Thank you very much! A much better price than your original offer of $150 per month!  (Wall Street Journal, get real!) It pays for a girl to hold firm to her principles and not succumb to wild pitches.

And when your trial ends, Wall Street Journal, if we are still a "twosome," if you haven't stood me up again, I'll end with you and pick up again where I left off with the Times and go back and forth.  It pays a girl to have suitors competing for attention! If only I had enough money and time to spend with both of you every day. With the Post we could have a menage a quatre!  For I especially like to compare your book reviews with the Post's and see who's copying whom. 

I haven't detected that yet in the Times, but we just started dating.

patricialesli@gmail.com

 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ford's Theatre confirms 'The Widow Lincoln'

 
Mary Bacon as Mary Lincoln in the Ford’s Theatre world premiere of James Still’s The Widow Lincoln, directed by Stephen Rayne/Photo by Carol Rosegg

If you know anything about Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882), you know The Widow Lincoln now playing at Ford's Theatre will not be a happy presentation, especially since it takes place in the days after Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865.  

The dark script contains few surprises, but the best effects of the play are the conversations it will spark about Mrs. Lincoln. 

Everything is bleak, and there's no variation from the negative stereotype of Mary Todd Lincoln, a shrill, emotional, unbalanced woman, the mate of our most beloved president.  She was more.

I thought I read somewhere that the play was to be a sympathetic portrait of her, but I saw little evidence. She brought class to the White House.  Abraham Lincoln married her, and they had four children, two of whom died before reaching adulthood (Eddie, age 3, and Willie, age 11 when the Lincolns were in the White House). Her husband was shot at her side at Ford's Theatre.  She was supposed to be balanced? 

I did not know she stayed in the White House for five weeks after the president died April 15, 1865, nor that she did not accompany his funeral train which traveled 1,654 miles from Washington to 180 cities in seven states before it reached its destination of Springfield, Illinois where he was buried on May 4. Nor that she did not attend his funeral. 

James Still wrote The Widow Lincoln on commission from Ford's as part of Ford's 150, a series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination. 

Under the direction of Stephen Rayne, Mary Bacon, in her Ford debut, does a distinguished job (if her Southern accent is a trifle exaggerated) as Mary Todd Lincoln, who is mostly hysterical, besot by ghosts, hosting seances in the White House, and dreaming that  Queen Victoria of England comes to call.  The script has several disquieting pauses and too many Lincoln soliloquies.
Mary Bacon as Mary Lincoln with the cast of the Ford’s Theatre world premiere of James Still’s The Widow Lincoln, directed by Stephen Rayne/Photo by Carol Rosegg

Surrounding the first lady during most of the production are women positioned on top of her mountains of trunks which randomly move up and down stage. (Mary Todd Lincoln was charged with buying too many clothes.) Those associates become at different times, the naysayers, friends, and ghosts who speak in choruses, and individually steal quietly from their perches to frequently enter the stage in different apparel as new characters:  Sarah Marshall is Queen Victoria and assumes another role when she joins other cast members (Kimberly Schraf, Gracie Terzian, and Melissa Graves) in excerpts from Our American Cousin, the play the Lincolns went to see that night at Ford's. 

One of the most powerful performances is delivered by Caroline Clay as Elizabeth Keckly, Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker and close friend.

The role of the young guard is played by Ms. Graves whose gender is never in question.  Some women did cut their hair, join the military, and went off to war in search of husbands, brothers, and other loved ones.

Other cast members are Lynda Gravatt and Brynn Tucker.
Neither man nor sufficient contrasting dialogue comes forward to lighten the script or stage design.

Mary Todd Lincoln's first gown in the show (by Wade Laboissonniere) is a big blossoming magnolia which appears to be designed after an original, with a pink floral pattern on the skirt's front, but after a few moments, becomes the president's blood stains, reminiscent of the suit worn by another first lady whose husband was assassinated while sitting beside her and who was attacked for her clothing expenditures. 

I don't believe Mary Bacon left the stage once during the entire performance, and, in the style of the day, changed garments on stage.

Lighting (by Pat Collins), shadow effects (projection by Clint Allen), and sounds of the Lincoln funeral train (by David Budreis and Nathan A. Roberts) are enduring and skillfully woven.   

Civil War era music composed by Mr. Budreis and Mr. Roberts fills the venue before and during parts of the the play, sounding as if an orchestra is in the pit, but none was found on-site or in the program. 

Other key crew members are Tony Cisek, scenic design; Anne Nesmith, wigs and make-up; Lynn Watson, dialects; Kristin Fox-Siegmund, director of programming; Brandon Prendergast and Hannah R. O'Neil, stage managers.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one woman in her time plays one part


What:  The Widow Lincoln

When: Through Feb. 22, 2015 on most Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Where: Ford's Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004

Tickets: From $15-$62 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and those younger than 35

Duration: About two hours with one intermission

For more information: 202-347-4833

Metro stations: Metro Center or Gallery Place-Chinatown

To read other local reviews of shows still playing, go to Other Reviews on DCMetroTheaterArts.


The Mary Todd Lincoln House, Lexington, Kentucky/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The back of the Mary Todd Lincoln House, Lexington, Kentucky/Photo by Patricia Leslie

patricialesli@gmail.com