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Thursday, May 25, 2017

RFK Book and Journalism Awards, 2017

Ethel Kennedy and her daughter, Kerry Kennedy, arrive at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie

As the photos attest, Ethel Kennedy, age 89, and her daughter, Kerry Kennedy, 57, looked wonderful and glam (I realize this is not p.c., but still they looked so good, comments cannot be ignored) at Tuesday night's 49th annual presentation  of the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards. 

The awards are given to those writers who "best applied RFK's ideals and values" and instilled his goals and aspirations "in the public interest, on the issues of poverty, political inclusion, and justice," according to the website and remarks by Ms. Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss who presided with Margaret Engel at the event at the Newseum.
 Ethel Kennedy and her daughter, Kerry Kennedy, arrive at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Ethel Kennedy and her daughter, Kerry Kennedy, arrive at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Winners in the journalism category were chosen by 60 judges. The book award went to Matthew Desmond for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, chosen by writers Peter Edelman, Ruth Marcus, and Annette Gordon Reed.

Journalism categories included college, high school print and high school broadcast, radio, cartoons, new media, and domestic and international print, television, and photography. (A complete list of winners is available here.)
 Ethel Kennedy and her daughter, Kerry Kennedy at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Before the ceremony began, Ethel Kennedy, center, sitting, received guests at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017.  To Mrs. Kennedy's left is her daughter, Kerry Kennedy, sitting/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Kerry Kennedy, president of RFK Human Rights, at the podium with Margaret Engel and Michael Beschloss at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 John Seigenthaler, Jr. congratulates Josh Salman, Emily Le Coz, and Elizabeth Johnson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on winning the John Seigenthaler Journalism Prize at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie

John Seigenthaler, Jr., presented the John Seigenthaler Journalism Prize to "Bias on the Bench" by Josh Salman, Emily Le Coz, and Elizabeth Johnson writing for the Sarasota Herald Tribune.  The reporters studied 80 million records to show that judges discriminate against black defendants in Florida. (Mr. Seigenthaler was RFK's close personal aide.)

The RFK Media Advocacy Prize went to "Rikers" by Bill Moyers, Judy Doctoroff O'Neill, Marc Levin, Mark Benjamin and Rolake Bamgbose, Schumann Media Center and Brick City TV in association with Public Square Media, PBS.  

Mr. Moyers was not present and unable to accept the award which was the same for all winners:  a bust of RFK, about 18 inches high with a design, reminiscent of the JFK bust at the Kennedy Center.  The busts looked to be bronze and based upon Kerry Kennedy's reaction when lifting them from a table to present them to the winners, they were bronze.

Receiving "special recognition" was My Own Words by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg written with Wendy Williams and Mary Hartnett.  Due to a long-standing commitment with the American Bar Association, Justice Ginsburg was unable to attend the presentation and sent a video message instead.  

During her remarks, Kerry Kennedy made several references to "Daddy" which seemed odd, simply because she looked too young to remember her father, but when he was killed in 1968, she was eight years old. 

She quoted from a speech he made to the American Association of Newspaper Editors in 1961 about the importance of journalism to the lifeblood of the U.S.  Writers and reporters must dig into government and find out what's going on, and report it accurately, she quoted from Mr. Kennedy's speech.  

She issued a refrain:  "The press is under attack; our freedoms are under attack" which Mr. Beschloss picked up and repeated. 

So much more is at stake this spring, he said, when "values are under assault...hour by hour." RFK "didn't denigrate; he dreamed," Mr. Beschloss said.

Lest anyone forget, he reminded all, it was a night of celebration and a reflection on Robert Kennedy's journey.
 
At the beginning of the evening Mr. Beschloss publicly recognized Ethel Kennedy sitting on the front row with her daughter, before her daughter took the podium. 

Ethel Kennedy is not just "a national treasure," Mr. Beschloss said, she is "a global treasure." Mrs. Kennedy beamed and stood to wave, and the audience rose to gave her a standing ovation and applaud her achievements and her life.
 U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD and House Minority Whip) at the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards presentation at the Newseum, May 23, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Mr. Beschloss noted that three buildings important to Mr. Kennedy stood nearby:  the U.S. Capitol (he was a U.S. Senator from New York from 1965 to 1968), the Justice Department (he served as attorney general from 1961 until September, 1964) and the White House.  

A short video of the last few years of RFK's life was screened.  In one segment RFK recounted telling his wife that he wanted to start a speech with a funny story, and Ethel Kennedy replied:  "Just point to the top of your head, and they'll laugh."  (Mr. Kennedy had a healthy and notable head of hair.) 

Videos of less than three minutes each which described themes of each of the winning articles and book were shown before winners arrived on stage to accept awards. 

A cocktail reception followed.  About 200 attended.


patricialesli@gmail.com





Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reston's 'Private Lives' is rich comedy and delight

Richard Isaacs is Elyot, and Rachael Hubbard is Amanda in Reston Community Players' Private Lives/Traci J. Brooks Photography

A play to see before you die.

It's one of the classics that you've always wanted to see and see again, it's so funny, and now's your chance for Private Lives in Reston.

The "comedy of manners" demonstrates how small, petty things can quickly morph into big, paltry things.  And what's it all about, anyway?

Let the Reston Community Players show you in their 200th production in their 50th anniversary year.  

Much to celebrate!  Including marriage(s) and more of them, darling.

The stunning Art Deco set* (by Maggie Modig, and Bea and Jerry Morse) for the second and third acts makes it hard to divorce your eyes and pay attention to the quick and fast dialogue of couples on honeymoon in France.

Yes, that's couples, plural, who just happen to share the same veranda at the same hotel, two newlyweds who were previously married to the ex right across the terrace! Can you imagine?  

Let the fun begin!

Shades of Shakespeare and watch them weave in and out of their bedchambers until Amanda (Rachael Hubbard) catches on, and (deserving an award for her response) dips up and down in horror, her knees buckling, her mouth flipping open and shut with nary a sound, until she grasps the reality that her ex has landed beside her, married to another woman!

The nerve.

Director Adam Konowe (who triples as lighting designer and fight choreographer) carries off his subjects with aplomb The acting is superb although delivery by Sybil (Caity Brown) is sometimes hard to understand, since she speaks quickly, dearie, with the affected British accent shared by all which comes over, really, quite unaffected. (Tel Monks is dialect coach.)

The lean-back, concave postures at 200 degrees maintained by Amanda and Elyot (Richard Isaacs) with
cigarettes in hand (where are those elongated cigarette holders, prop mistress?) lend themselves perfectly well to their characters as they lounge in Amanda's Parisian love flat where they have fled to escape their new spouses and where the party eventually lands.

Andy Gable is Victor, the fourth member of this quartet, lovingly holding the group together, and married to Amanda.
Lisa Young is Louise in Reston Community Players' Private Lives/Traci J. Brooks Photography

Lisa Young is the French maid, Louise, and although she only speaks her native tongue when she makes her brief appearances to tidy up and whirl around the apartment, it is not necessary to understand French since your imagined script produces the desired effects

It is not unexpected that, at times, audience laughter will drown out the dialogue which happens here.  

The biggest guffaw from the crowd erupted when Elyot tells Amanda that his affairs are okay because "I'm a man," to which Amanda retorts: "Excuse me a moment while I get a caraway biscuit and change my crinoline.

Elyot decries her "advanced views" that "it doesn't suit men for women to be promiscuous."

Mind you, Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973) wrote this play in 1929, one year after women over age 22 got the right to vote in the United Kingdom. He was ahead of his time by about 100 years since women worldwide are not accorded equal rights or pay even today, but, that's another story.

The play first opened in 1930 in London starring Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, and Laurence Olivier, and it played here in 1983 at the Kennedy Center with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton earning a horrid review in the Washington Post. (The link doesn't work. Just Google it.)
 
Other key Reston crew members include Suzy Alden, assistant director; Laura Baughman, producer; Mary Ann Hall, stage manager; Scott Birkhead, co-master carpenter; William Chrapcynski, sound designer; Judy Whelihan and Charlotte Marson, costume designers; Chris Dore, hair and makeup; Mary Jo Ford, props designer.

*According to program notes, the set details are from the Peace Hotel in Shanghai where Coward wrote the play.

Who: Reston Community Players

What: Private Lives by
Sir Noël Coward
 
When: 8 p.m., May 12-13, 19-20, and 2 p.m., May 14

Where: Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA 20191

How much: $21, adults; $18, students and seniors

Tickets: Buy online, at the box office, or call 703-476-4500 and press 3 for 24-hour ticket orders.


Duration
: 2.5 hours (which seem much shorter) and one intermission.



patricialesli@gmail.com



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Film 'Finding Babel' highly recommended



Isaac Babel, 1930s/ Wikipedia

When I told my friend Joe that he had missed Finding Babel with Isaac Babel's grandson at the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, he was aghast:

"I have his short stories at home. He is one of the finest Russian writers!"
 

Indeed, he is. Isaac Babel's stories, especially Red Cavalry and The Odessa Tales are considered among the finest in Russian literature (Wikipedia). A Guardian writer has called him "Russia's first modernist."
From left at the Woodrow Wilson Center are Blair Ruble, moderator and vice president for programs and senior advisor, Kennan Institute;  Andrei Malaev-Babel, associate professor of theatre, Florida State University, and David Novack, director, writer and producer of Finding Babel/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Isaac Babel was born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1894 and lived until 1940 when he became one of millions killed by the Stalinist regime. His stories led to his death since Mr. Babel challenged the ideology of the early Soviet Union. In its promotional literature, the Kennan called his writings, "subversive masterpieces."
 

Washingtonians got a sneak preview of David Novak's film and the search for the author's past and more of his writings when Mr. Novak and Mr. Babel's grandson, Andrei Malaev-Babel, presented the film to a SRO crowd at the Center for International Scholars in Washington.
Andrei Malaev-Babel/Photo by Patricia Leslie
For any fan of literature and/or Russian history, the film is "must-see." It is a poignant documentary and tribute to Mr. Babel, filled with quotes from his writings and landmarks of his life, gently defining him and a portion of Russia. With the turmoil in Ukraine and Russia's bullying tactics, Mr. Babel's reputation has grown.

Complementing Mr. Babel's story throughout the film are Russia's landscape and haunting music whose
composer, Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), Mr. Malaev-Babel and Mr. Novak praised in the grandest of terms. Mr. Ljova's mostly solemn score fills the film in an unobtrusive way and lays the groundwork for the ending. 
Andrei Malaev-Babel/Photo by Patricia Leslie
When the screening ended, Mr. Novak and Mr. Malaev-Babel, now a teacher at Florida State University, talked about their movie project and answered questions from the audience.

It wasn't until the 1980s that Mr. Malaev-Babel's grandmother learned the truth about her husband's disappearance and death. She was besieged with requests for interviews which didn't take long to became tiresome, her grandson said.
  

After she died, Mr. Malaev-Babel and Mr. Novack got together and decided, "why not?"

They scoured Russia and libraries in search of all things Babel whose life and remnants the former regime had tried to wipe out. Making their film en route and finding places "constantly bubbling up of history," Mr. Novack said they found "threads of truth in all [the] myths."
David Novack/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Said Mr. Novack: "We really immersed ourselves in Babel's literature."
 

From Mr. Malaev-Babel, a "curator [at the FSB; formerly the KGB] was a bit too open with the archives. I think his successor will not be as open."

Odessa has a literary museum which is not uncommon in Ukraine and Russia, but rare in the U.S., Mr. Novack said.

According to Mr. Malaev-Babel: "History does not change. It keeps repeating itself. Many countries commit atrocities so why do we point a finger at Russia? Why not sweep it under the table?"
 

Mr. Novack: "Memory is painful. Memory of darkness is a very powerful threat and people don't want to go there."
 

Whenever Mr. Novack sees the film, "it's different every time."  

Blair Ruble, a Kennan senior advisor, served as moderator for the presentation and asked the pair why the Odessa stories are important now.
 
Mr. Malaev-Babel said his grandfather created an alternate universe. "People there [Odessa] can't understand what all the fuss is about Babel. Now everyone imagines Odessa as the way Babel created it, which is inaccurate."
 

His grandfather "created a myth. He had a great gift," but "if Odessa was like Babel described it, we wouldn't be here today."

Founded by Catherine the Great in 1794, Odessa, formerly known as the "Pearl of the Black Sea," is the third most populous city in Ukraine. It is still an important port. In "Soviet times" (1922-1991) and earlier, it was the south capital of the Russian government,

In the Ukrainian-Russian clashes of 2014, about 50 Odessa residents were killed. A survey later that year found no support among Odessa residents to rejoin Russia whose leader, Vladimir Putin, would, no doubt, like to add Odessa back to his empire.


"For a while 'they' tried to convince my grandmother" her husband's writings had been destroyed, Mr. Malaev-Babel said, "but there is a hope" that still more will be found.
Two plays have been discovered.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Free 'Merrie Olde England' organ concert, May 3, St. John's, Lafayette Square


Thomas Smith

The organist and director of music at Church Church in Georgetown, Thomas Smith, will present a free recital of English organ music in a noontime concert Wednesday at St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown D.C.

A Philadelphia native, Mr. Smith has degrees in organ performance and church music from Duquesne University and the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University
 
The concert is one of St. John's First Wednesday Concert series which shall conclude this year on June 7 with a performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 by the U.S. Air Force Strings with trumpeter Mary Bowden.
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

St. John's was founded in 1815 and is known to Washington residents as the yellow church at Lafayette Square. It's often called the “Church of the Presidents” since beginning with James Madison who was president from 1809 to 1817, every president has attended services at the church. A plaque at the rear of St. John's designates the pew where President Abraham Lincoln often sat when he stopped by the church during the Civil War. 

Benjamin Latrobe, known as the "father of American architecture" and the architect of the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House porticos, designed St. John's Church in the form of a Greek cross.  

The church bell, weighing almost 1,000 pounds, was cast by Paul Revere's son, Joseph, in August, 1822, and hung at St. John's that November where it has rung since. Wikipedia says two accounts report that whenever the bell rings on the occasion of the death of a notable person, six male ghosts appear at the president's pew at midnight and quickly disappear.  (Who are the six? Only male ghosts? Did they come out when Dolley Madison died in1849? Or, Rosa Parks in 2005?  Who's watching? This sounds like a great children's book.)

Dolley Madison, wife of President Madison, was baptized and confirmed at St. John's, according to the National Park Service, which calls the church "one of the few original remaining buildings left near Lafayette Park today."

Following tradition, President Donald J. Trump and his family began his presidency on the morning of January 20, 2017 with private services at St. John's.

For those on lunch break Wednesday, food trucks are located at Farragut Square, two blocks away.

 

A concert not to miss! 

Who:  Thomas Smith playing a recital of English organ music in "A Journey to Merrie Olde England"

What:
First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m., May 3, 2017

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, St. John's director of music ministry and organist, 202-270-6265 or
Michael.Lodico@stjohns-dc.org or 202-347-8766
 

June 7:  Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 by the U.S. Air Force Strings with trumpeter Mary Bowden
 

patricialesli@gmail.com