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Monday, February 19, 2018

'Aubergine' serves up rough fare at the Olney

From left, Glenn Kubota (Ray's Father), Eunice Bae (Cornelia), Tony Nam (Ray), and Song Kim (Uncle) in Julia Cho's Aubergine at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh

Hats off to the Olney Theatre Center for joining 25 other regional theatres to present works by female playwrights, Women's Voices Theater Series, some on stages through March 14.  (Olney's entry, Aubergine by Julia Cho, closes March 4.) 
Tony Nam (Ray) and Eunice Bae (Cornelia) in Julia Cho's Aubergine at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh 

What is an aubergine?

Why, an eggplant, of course.  

In this almost flawless production, Olney delivers everything you'd want on a play menu: excellent lighting (by Harold F. Burgess II), set (Misha Kachman), acting (Vincent M. Lancisi, director), staging, music (excluded from the program unless it's by the sound designer, Roc Lee), everything expected to serve an appreciative audience, except for one important ingredient
From left, Tony Nam (Ray) and Glenn Kubota (Ray's Father) in Aubergine by Julia Cho at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh

Artistic director Jason Loewith writes in the program that Ms. Cho originally wanted to make the show "light and breezy" about food (and several lines do produce loud audience laughter), but while in preparation, the "recipe" produced an unexpected result.

The eggplant and other foods are a sidebar to the meat of the drama dominated by a son, Ray (Tony Nam, recently a leading character in Olney's Our Town), who wrestles with his relationship with his father (Glenn Kubota) who lies dying, literally, on stage.

The dad's  motionless body, the set centerpiece, groans and moans every so often, binding the production. He lies in exposed state, as you will, with a sickly presence which casts a pall on the surroundings. (If you have ever lived through a family illness like this, it's not something you want to repeat, unless it's to make viewers realize tempus fugit.)

In-between scene changes, in a flashback the father leaps from the bed to become an angry dad confronting his son. Although he has to maintain sleep with eyes closed most of the show, bedridden that he is, Mr. Kubota does so effortlessly, and the few lines he speaks exude strength and strong character.

While his father's health rapidly declines, Ray tries to pick up the pieces and forgive himself before the end. A woman Ray left behind, Cornelia (Eunice Bae from Olney's In the Heights and The King and I),  enters to add balance and perspective.  

Song Kim is an estranged uncle who arrives on scene to "forgive and forget" in a standout role.  He speaks always in Korean (with subtitles on the backdrop).

The lines for the male hospice nurse, Lucien (Jefferson A. Russell, a man of much education and a former Baltimore police officer) I hope are not realistic since his insensitive manner makes one wince to see him treating family members callously at a tragic time, and gives one pause that not all hospice nurses are like Lucien.  (Since Ms. Cho wrote Aubergine soon after her father's death, one surmises she observed and was a part of similar dialogues.)

Megan Anderson, also in Olney's Our Town, provides the author's introduction and is a hospital worker, too.

Electric, effective music adds mood to the production, but credit for it was not found

Other creative crew members are:  Zachary Borovay, projections; Zach Campion, dialect coach; Ivania Stack, costumes; Cat Wallis, stage manager; and Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director

What: Aubergine

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

When: Now through March 4, 2018, Wednesday through Sundays at 8 p.m., weekend matinees at 2 p.m. and a 2 p.m. matinee Wednesday, February 28.  If requested, a performance for the visually and hearing impaired will be performed March 1 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: Begin at $47 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and students.

Ages: Recommended for ages 15 and up. Olney's parental guide says if this were a movie, it would be rated R due to mature themes and adult language. The play centers on impending death due to cancer and includes the impending slaughter of a turtle onstage (for turtle soup).

Duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats

Parking: Free, nearby, and plentiful on-site

For more information
: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A book political junkies can skip

I read it so you don't have to.

Junkies:  We have so much to read, you'll be happy to learn this is one you can pass up, Marian Cannon Schlesinger's  I Remember:  A Life of Politics, Paintings and People.

I learned of the book from her obituary last fall when she died at age 105.  This is the second volume of Mrs. Schlesinger's memoirs,  the first titled Snatched from Oblivion: A Cambridge Memoir which I have not read.

Since I wanted to find out more about Mrs. Schlesinger's experiences, I got this volume from interlibrary loan through the Fairfax County Public Library.

Mrs. Schlesinger was married to Pulitzer-Prize winner, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., confidant of JFK and RFK, and author of biographies about each. Mr. Schlesinger is barely mentioned in I Remember,  perhaps because they divorced after 30 years' marriage, and he remarried the following year.

For junkies, the book is a huge disappointment, poorly written and edited, with only half of it devoted to politics, the Kennedys, and Mrs. Schlesinger's favorite candidate, Adlai Stevenson.

The rest of it is about her trips to China, Guatemala, India, and her life in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she spent most of her life.

The publisher of I Remember was TidePool Press in Cambridge where Mrs. Schlesinger likely knew staff members. (Little, Brown published her first volume in 1997.)

Mrs. Schlesinger knew the Kennedys and their wives well, and she was a hearty campaigner for all their presidential quests. Robert Kennedy personally asked her to go on the road for him in 1968 which she did. 

Still, that doesn't restrain her critical remarks about every one of them, save Jackie, "so self-centered that if something happened to them, then it had to be of overwhelming importance to everyone concerned" (pages 166-67)
On these pages, she comes across as catty, shallow, and with a "chip on her shoulder."

Snide remarks about the size of someone's torso, Scottie Fitzgerald's knack for  messing up statistics on the campaign trail, and Ethel Kennedy having fun are a few examples of her descriptions. 

I Remember may be self-edited.  Two examples: "The fact of a newspaper unread before she went to sleep was unthinkable for her" (171,  referring to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgeralds' daughter, Scottie, on the campaign trail for Robert Kennedy). "Even the president of Harvard on one occasion was seen to have attended" (193).

The book includes boring pieces she wrote for the Washington Post which is surprising that the newspaper carried them, but given who she was, maybe not so surprising.   

Little or no mention is made of the Schlesingers' children and what they were doing at the time she was writing. (The book was published in 2011.) 

Mrs. Schlesinger guesses it was her less than "worshipful" oral history project she gave the Kennedy Library that drew Kennedy authors to her, seeking interviews which she found odd they would want to talk with her.

Some of the interviewers "asked questions and if you waited long enough they answered their own questions," and if you waited even longer, "the whole history of their lives came tumbling out" (144-145).
On pages 143-144 she effusively praises Washington's Phillips Collection:  "THE aesthetic resource...I always thought those rooms provided a perfect setting for a tryst, a romantic spot in this strangely sexless city (despite all the goings-on...)." 

The book includes many samples of her art work which strike me as amateurish (spoiled by D.C.'s National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection, and more, that I am) but since she was commissioned to draw portraits of many celebs' children (including the Kennedys), they saw talent I don't. 

And that's all she wrote!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Edvard Munch has left the building

Edvard Munch, The Vampire, 1895, color lithograph and woodcut, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund and Gift of Lionel C. Epstein. Munch's original title for this was Love and Pain and may mean to convey an embrace, rather than an act of violence. The theosophist's color for high intellect was yellow, found on the arm of the woman and the man's face, but hard to see on her arm in this photograph.

Edvard Munch's works are no longer on view in Washington, D.C. at the National Gallery of Art where an exhibition of his prints closed last week, so why do I write about him now?

I cannot resist. His work is haunting and leaves me desolate, sad, exhausted, and untrusting. Who wants to write about that? Maybe, by my writing, I can transmit his "spell," his mystique, to you, the reader, and it will leave me. Read no more or, at your own risk.

Edvard Munch, Man's Head in Woman's Hair, 1896, color woodcut, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Rosenwald Collection. Is the man part of the woman's thoughts or the woman, part of the man's? The theosophist's color palette connects the woman's orange and brown to selfishness and sensuality, so it's unlikely the woman is the artist's mother or favorite sister who died when Munch was only five and 13 years old, respectively.  Note Munch's triangular head.  

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was only five years old when his mother died of tuberculosis, her death and presence to inhabit his life.

His aunt and his father, a goodly man though besot by religious fervor, raised Edvard and his siblings. On cold nights in Norway, Edvard's birthplace, his father would read stories by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and tell his children ghostly yarns, warning them that their mother was looking down upon them from heaven, mindful of their misbehaviors.

Later, Edvard wrote about his father: "From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by side since the day I was born." (Wikipedia)

At age 18 Munch abandoned his study of engineering at a technical college, much to the disappointment of his father and neighbors who sent him hate mail (even then!). He enrolled, instead, at an art school, partially started by a distant relative. 
Edvard Munch, Anxiety, 1896, color lithograph, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Epstein Family Collection.  Another with the same title is below.
Edvard Munch, Anxiety, 1896, color woodcut, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Epstein Family Collection

Edvard drew subjects which pervaded his mind and soul, with heavy imagery and symbols, a state of his mind and "external reality." He wrote: "In my art I try to explain life and its meaning to myself."

It is believed that his father confiscated several of his son's nude portraits, destroying at least one. And like Edgar Allan Poe's foster father who stopped supporting Poe when Poe refused to follow the life path his stepfather desired for him, Munch's father stopped supporting his son.
Edvard Munch, Crowds in a Square, 1920, color woodcut, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of the Epstein Family Collection

An 1889 solo show of almost all Edvard's works led to a two-year scholarship and a move to Paris where the blossoming artist was smitten by the works of Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, and their uses of color to depict emotions. Later, Munch toyed with the pointillist style, made famous by Georges Seurat.

It became hard for Munch to give up "his children," his art works, but the controversies they produced delighted him.

His reputation and talents gradually took root and his career took off. He spent the last 20 years of his life at his estate near Oslo where he died.

Munch and Paul Klee (whose exhibition, Ten Americans: After Paul Klee, opened last weekend at the Phillips Collection), were two of the modern artists whose art the Nazis had labeled "degenerate."  They seized, burned, buried, hid, and sold more than 16,500 "degenerate" art works, according to Wikipedia.  

When the Germans arrived in Norway in 1940 to take over the government, they came calling on Munch who feared they would take his collection stored on the second floor of his home. Collectors had already returned to Norway 71 of Munch's pieces, earlier seized by the Nazis (including The Scream) and 11 were never recovered.

An art historian has named Munch's The Scream one of four best-known paintings in the world. (Which do you think the other three are?*)

Now, information about the show you missed: It contained 21 of his prints, all from the National Gallery, and most from the Epstein Family Collection. The exhibition was dedicated to the  memory of Lionel Epstein who died in 2017, said Earl A. Powell, III, the National Gallery's director, at the opening of the show.

The National Gallery's Jonathan Bober and Mollie Berger, were the curators. Below is a portion of the National Gallery's description of Munch and some words from a transcript from Ms. Berger's introduction to the presentation.
Some of the prints in the National Gallery's show had never been on view while others had not been on display for a while.

Munch considered print making as experimental. "Art is supposed to communicate something to the viewer" Ms. Berger said, "and I think that's what's happening here."
Munch wrote in 1929 that he was attempting to dissect the soul, unlike Leonardo da Vinci who dissected the human body.

Munch was a follower of theosophy "which believes that hidden knowledge or wisdom from the ancient past offers a path to enlightenment and salvation." (Wikipedia) 

He was especially interested in how color was perceived.

Theosophists claimed that thoughts generated auras of colorful shapes, or “thought-forms,” that could move through space: bright yellow connoted “highest intellect,” dark purple suggested “devotion mixed with affection,” and bright blue indicated “pure religious feeling.”

A friend confirmed that Munch claimed he could see auras around people.

And from the press announcement: 

In the second half of the 19th century, advances in physics, electromagnetic radiation theory, and the optical sciences provoked new thought about the physical as well as the spiritual worlds.  Edvard Munch: Color in Context, considers the choice, combinations, and meaning of color in light of spiritualist principles. Informed by popular manuals that explained the science of color and by theosophical writings on the visual and physical power of color, Munch created works that are not just strikingly personal but also are charged with specific associations."

This is the eighth Munch exhibition the National Gallery of Art  has presented.
"Early in his life, Munch was exposed to spiritualism and aural concepts that became popular on an international scale at the end of the 19th century. His childhood vicar was the well-known spiritualist Reverend E. F. B. Horn. Additionally, as a young artist in Oslo, Norway, Munch would meet his friends directly across the street from traveling medium A. Stojohann's "Scientific Public Library." Given such exposure, Munch would have been open to the notion of spiritual power, four-dimensional planes, and invisible forces. It is known that he believed he could see energies radiating from specific colors.

"Many of Munch's contemporaries, including Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), Maurice Denis (1870–1943), and Odilon Redon (1840–1916), were well aware of these new philosophies, and their work bears some general relation to them. In Munch's use of color, which intensified psychological and expressive meaning, the correlation with theosophical theories and ideas is specific."

*1. Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503-1506 and until c.1517
 2. James McNeill Whistler, Whistler's Mother, 1871
 3. Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930

Visit: The National Gallery of Art, open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday.

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

Admission charge: Always free at the National Gallery of Art.

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

For more information: 202-737-4215

Monday, January 29, 2018

Three prop mistakes in 'Shape of Water'

 Michael Shannon, Sally Hawkins, and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water/Photo by Kerry Hayes, 20th Century Fox

Because my friend, Christine*, resisted seeing the BEST PICTURE (she didn't want to see a "monster movie" !) I tricked her and got her in to see The Shape of Water at Angelika Friday night when the house was sold out. (We sat in the handicapped section.)

So, on second go-round (when it was still great!), this is what I found:

1.  Although remote controls were available, they were rarely found in households in 1962 and certainly not in dwellings or income brackets like Giles's.

2.  A bathroom counter top matched my two-year-old granite counter top.

3.  At the end in the water, one of Sally's shoes had come off and in a later scene it was back on her foot. (I doubt this is a prop mistake; a director's mistake?)

* She preferred Peter and the Starcatcher!

 And that's all she wrote.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Reston Players hook a 'Starcatcher' for Peter Pan

 Gary Bernard DiNardo is "Boy/Peter" and Raeanna Nicole Larson is "Molly" in Reston Community Player's Peter and the Starcatcher/Photo by Jennifer Hefner

 What's it all about, Peter Pan?

If you can't get to Broadway to see its finest, come to Reston and ride with the Reston Community Players on their latest production, Peter and the Starcatcher. In 2012 the show won five Tony Awards, including Best Costumes, Lighting, Sound, and Scenic Design, in a story all about "Peter," as in J. K. Barrie's Peter Pan before Peter knew how to fly.

Reston's "Boy Named Peter" (Gary Bernard DiNardo) highlights a roller-coaster adventure before "Boy" teamed up for the Big Time with Barrie's Wendy, Captain Hook, Tinkerbelle, and the Big Bad Chopping Crocodile (in hilarious get-up here) who make appearances in this version with different names.

Peter and the Starcatcher comes from the book by Dave Barry, the humor columnist, and Ridley Pearson which Rick Elice (of Jersey Boys' fame) made into this play.
The story expands the life of Boy/Peter, the character, not the tale, since most of the flash and dash of the original story is omitted here. This yarn delves into the mischievous boy's past and carries the orphan from ship to jungle to mountain top and back to sea again in wonderfully created scenes (by Dan Widerski), including a ship of many different levels.

A young heroine, "Molly" (Raeanna Nicole Larson), assists the Boy in his pursuits, overcoming evil while they run a wild trunk chase in pursuit of the Queen's treasuresWhee!
Carla Crawley Ito is "Black Stache" and steals every scene when she's onstage in Reston Community Player's Peter and the Starcatcher/Photo by Jennifer Hefner

But, whoa!  The show stealer becomes increasingly evident with every appearance onstage of "Black Stache" (Carla Crawley Ito) who produces nonstop audience guffaws and groans with her special lines and puns.

The large cast and action yield comedy and drama alike at the Reston Community Center. The best parts are the cast's harmonies when members move about with glee and shake, shake, shake their tail leaves like real plants to open the second act. 
"Boy/Peter" (Gary Bernard DiNardo) really can fly in Reston Community Player's Peter and the Starcatcher/Photo by Jennifer Hefner
From the ship to a mountain, the audience enjoys lovely, scenic visuals (by Jon Roberts) as backdrops that depict changing locations and help guide guests on the wild trip.

Ken and Patti Crowley created sophisticated lighting which operates in perfect timing and complements the company's advancing stature in the region's theatre world.

Adding pleasure and depth to the production is the live music performed under the direction of Beth Atkins on keyboards, with Patrick Warf, percussionist, and Jessie Roberts, who may be Reston's first onstage sound artist. The musicians even supply the almost forgotten figure of a little tinkle twinkling triangle in a bird cage which signals more magic and a new beginning.

Rounding out the cast are K. Sridhar, Amy Griffin, Joshua Paul  McCreary, Wayne Jacques, Jake Lefler, Binta Barry, Richard Durkin, Rob Cuevas, and Joseph Seiger-Cottoms, many in dual roles

The production staff includes Jocelyn Steiner, producer; Jolene Vettese, director; Colleen Stock, stage manager; Ian Claar, fight director; Tiffany Fowler, costumes; Auryana J. Malek, make-up and hair; Mary Jo Ford, properties; Sherry Singer, props running crew; Sandy Dotson, set decoration; and Cathy Rieder, scenic artist.

Language: G

Ages: Everyone is invited, however, for wee ones, the plot is a bit too complex.

Who: Reston Community Players

What: Peter and the Starcatcher

When: 8 p.m., January 26-27 and February 2-3 with a matinee at 2 p.m. January 28 and a "sensory-friendly" matinee at 2 p.m. January 27 (and a special $10 price for all seats.  See "Tickets" below.)

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

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

How much: $23, adults; $20, students and seniors; $10, all seats for the Jan. 27 matinee. 

Duration:  About two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission.