Wednesday, June 5, 2024

A 'dead man' returns to Alexandria

Isn't she beautiful?  Two men vie to claim "her" in Little Theatre of Alexandria's Is He Dead?  starring Lanny Warkentien as Jean-Francois Millet and the Widow Tillou /Little Theatre of Alexandria  

It’s the last week to see another delightful show at the Little Theatre of Alexandria by the maestro of words, Mark Twain who wrote Is He Dead?  in 1893 in the middle of deep depression after the death of his daughter, Suzy, from spinal meningitis. 

And yet during this dark, troubling time, Twain was able to write what's considered to be his best composition for the stage, Is He Dead?, a comedy, no less.

From left, Hanlon Smith-Dorsey is "Dutchy," Brendan Chaney is "Chicago," Zachary Litwiller is Phelim O'Shaughnessy, and Lanny Warkentien is Jean-Francois Millet and the Widow Tillou in Little Theatre of Alexandria's Is He Dead?  They are moving a casket loaded with bricks/Little Theatre of Alexandria

Mark Twain wrote plays?  Who knew?

You're not the only one who is surprised!  And he tried writing more than one!

Leave it to a scholar to bring this show to life only in this century  when Shelley Fisher Fishkin found it in the archives at the University of California at Berkeley and got it going on stage.  

But it wasn't a surprise to scholars.  Many of them had been aware for years of Dead's existence.

The story of this dead man is based on a fictional tale of a great but starving actual French painter, Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) who feigns his death with the help of his buddies "Dutchy," (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey), "Chicago," (Brendan Chaney), and Phelim O'Shaughnessy (Zachary Litwiller), the purpose to raise the value of Millet's art which will reduce the debt he owes to the evil collector, Bastien André  (Kirk Lambert), who, of course is in love with the same woman, "Marie" (Sarah Keisler) as painter Millet (Lanny Warkentien). 


Did you get all that? 

The place is, where else? Gay Paree in 1846. The sets (by Matt Liptak) are divine, mon chéri, to match the luxurious costumes (always fun to see, by 

Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley). 

Upon Millet's "death," André buys up Millet's paintings and the value goes whoosh!  Just like that and Millet is freed of debt.

To hide himself after he "dies," Millet  becomes his sister, the Widow Tillou and naturellement, "she" becomes André 's new love interest.  And also that of Marie's father (Leo Mairena).

Who would have guessed?

But how is our hero supposed to come back to life and marry Marie?  Where there's a will, there's a way and Twain made it happen, of course!

With a dash of Shakespeare thrown in, the production is a romp in mistaken identities and other humorous deceptions to tell us something more about love and money.  (We can never have enough of either.)


Lies do not stand the test of time and is love more important than money? It depends upon whom you ask.

Other cast members are Alayna Theunissen as Cecile Leroux (Marie's sister), Justin Beland, Anne Shively, Justin von Stein and Beverly Gholston.

More production crew members are Eleanore Tapscott, producer; Joey Pierce, director; Margaret Chapman, properties; Allison Gray-Mendes, set dressing and

Adam Konowe, lighting.


Michael Page was fight choreographer; Sue Pinkman designed hair and makeup; Robin Worthington was wardrobe coordinator; Russell M. Wyland was in charge of rigging; Alan Wray and Crystina McShay, sound.

Melissa Dunlap and Micheal J. O’Connor are stage managers.

WhatIs He Dead? As adapted by David Ives 

When: Now through June 8, 2024, Wednesday - Saturday nights, 8 p.m.

Where: Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St., Alexandria, VA 22314

 $21 (weeknights) and $24 (Saturday night) + $3 fee/ticket. 

Audience: General

Duration: About 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission

Public transportation: Check the Metro and Dash bus websites. Dash is free to ride and has routes which are close to LTA.

Parking: is free on streets and at Capital One Bank at Wilkes and Washington streets, a block away. Paid parking is available at nearby garages.

For more information: 

Box Office: 703-683-0496; Main Office, 703-683-5778 or


Thursday, May 30, 2024

I go da da for Da Da

George Grosz (1893-1959), The Guilty One Remains Unknown, 1919, pen and Italian ink drawing, collage on cardboard, the Art Institute of Chicago

What is dada?  It's everything in the name and...nothing! The creators desired it to implode and illustrate the absurdity of it all, with mechanical and complex machinery void of humanity but showcasing gibberish, confusion, and assault on everything modern in the time after the first World War. 

Early on Marcel Duchamp called Dadaism “anti-art.” Later, various artists argued over the origination of the name, more than one claiming credit.

NPR's Susan Stamberg quotes George Grosz who called Dada, "the organized use of insanity to express contempt for a bankrupt world."
The cover of Dadaism is a reproduction of George Grosz's, Republican Automatons, 1920, watercolor and pencil on paper, Museum of Modern Art, N.Y.

I loved the book, Dadaism by Dietmar Elger, published by Taschen (2022) which describes the movement in an introduction of several pages, followed by features on 12 of the most notable dadaists of the period between 1916 and 1924.

The movement is complex, confusing, and baffling, but it whets my appetite for the mysterious. 

I gathered through the pages that despite cultural and world upheavals, the artists still had fun while waging art war, concentrating on the "lost world," and the dissolution of systems, using art as their means to take out their anger, frustrations, and bitterness at what was happening around them.

Less than 100 pages, the book is printed on heavy coated stock, filled with full page color illustrations and on the facing page, a brief description about the artist of the featured work and his or her other renderings. (One woman, Hannah Höch, is included.) 

One of the two-page spreads with thumbnail photo of artist, Hannah Höch, a brief description of her life and works, and a sample of her art on the facing page which shows a detail of her Da Dandy, 1919, photomontage, private collection

In 2006 a Dada exhibition opened at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, and then traveled to Washington and the National Gallery of Art when it stayed for three months, enjoyed by a crowd of 175,000. Afterwards, it moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

Some of the artists found in the book and the exhibition are Duchamp, Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Francis Picabia, and Man Ray.

Multiple examples of their works are presented in Dadaism with those of Hans Arp, Johannes Baader, Johannes Theodor Baargeld, Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, John Heartfield,  and Kurt Schwitters.

For the 2006 National Gallery show, the Smithsonian carried an article about Dada, including this: "And for all its zaniness, the movement would prove to be one of the most influential in modern art, foreshadowing abstract and conceptual art, performance art, op, pop and installation art. But Dada would die out in less than a decade and has not had the kind of major museum retrospective it deserves, until now." 

Surrealism was its offspring.

Dietmar Elger (b. 1958), the author, has written many books about modern art and is considered one of the (if not "the") top experts on Gerhard Richter. Elger studied at the University of Hamburg and received his doctorate with a thesis on the art houses created by Schwitters.

Read more about dadaism at Artland Magazine.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Falls Church cheers 'Citizens Against Gun Violence'

'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' begin their walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 

The McKinley Tech High School JROTC Phoenix Battalion gets ready to march in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 

'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
The name and age of one of the victims of gun violence remembered by the 'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
The name and age of one of the victims of gun violence remembered by the 'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
Her sign says: "Stop Gun Violence; Keep Our Kids Safe; Pass Sensible Gun Laws." At the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
This temple joined 'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' to walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
This church joined 'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' to walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
This little girl waved her flag while she and her parents watched the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
Since no one had a bowl, this pooch with tongue wagging licks up water on the wall which the presumable owners have poured for her from their water bottles, at the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
Parade watchers applauded the message of the 'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence' who walked in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade. I can't recall parades when parade-goers all along the route consistently cheer participants which makes us realize our efforts are not in vain. Now, to elect representatives of like-minded beliefs and pass strong gun registration laws!/By Patricia Leslie 
At the judges stand at the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade, many of the judges stood and clapped for 'Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence'/By Patricia Leslie 
Cub Scout Pack 657 walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
Head gear of a parade participant at the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
The John F. Nicoll Pipe Band play the bag pipes in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
A white pooch in the car ahead led the float for the 'Citizens for a Better City' in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
She may look uncomfortable but she was having a good ride with Bikenectic Bike Shop in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
More riders and dogs from Bikenetic in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
Girls Scout Service Unit 50-12 walk in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
More headgear seen at the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade/By Patricia Leslie 
NOVA Parks commemorated the W&OD Trail in the 2024 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade. Some 60 groups participated in the parade, watched by hundreds along Park Avenue. Retired Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin was grand marshal, and a good time was had by all continued the tradition/By Patricia Leslie 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Oppenheimer's biographer Kai Bird at the Aspen

Kai Bird and Marie Arana at the Aspen Institute, May 6, 2024/By Patricia Leslie

At a talk at the Aspen Institute earlier this month with Kai Bird, the co-author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, moderator Marie Arana revealed a story she had heard that day after talking with her brother George.

When he was a student at Princeton University, George was sometimes called upon to read to Oppenheimer (1904-1967) during the last weeks of the scientist's life as the "father of the atomic bomb" lay bedridden.

The readings were selected by "Kitty," Oppenheimer's wife who chose selections on ancient history.

Here! Here! The audience cried: There's a book there! We want a book! (Another one.)

But we came to hear Bird talk about his book he wrote with Martin J. Sherwin (1937-2021) and Arana interviewed Bird as part of the Klein Book series.

She said the film "does a good job, but doesn’t do the thorough job of the book."
Kai Bird and Marie Arana at the Aspen Institute, May 6, 2024/By Patricia Leslie

Bird FOIAed the FBI about Oppenheimer and received 8,000 pages in return while Sherwin received 50,000 pages.

For a long time, he resisted writing the book with Sherwin because “co-authoring is notoriously filled with pitfalls“ but "Marty" kept pushing. 

He was "very nice and very funny," Bird said and Sherwin told him that if Kai didn’t help, Sherwin's gravestone would read: "He took it with him."

It was a “wonderful collaboration" and the book came out in 2005, winning some prizes but never making it to the bestseller lists until the movie came out. 

It's an "amazing miracle" what’s happening to this 19-year-old book now, Bird said. It's become an international bestseller.
 Kai Bird and Marie Arana at the Aspen Institute, May 6, 2024/By Patricia Leslie

Bird and Arana have been friends for 30 years, both raised overseas and both, familiar with “”global spin."

Bird said he was a “fugitive" in his own country, ignorant about America but biographies led him to knowledge about the U.S.

The book took him and Sherwin 10 years to write, "a really long time," because "I couldn't stop researching....You get obsessed" with resources. (While he was working on Oppenheimer, he also was working on other books.)

He gave important details about Oppenheimer's life when the scientist was growing up, but he reserved most of his talk to the "tragedy" that belonged to Oppenheimer.

The "father of the atomic bomb" was a mysterious young man, “very bright" who gave a lecture to the New York Minerals Society at age 10, an age unknown to the group when it invited him but which kept its invitation after learning of his age.  The audience laughed.

Oppenheimer was “nerdy," "endlessly mysterious," “awkward with women," and "painfully conflicted" about his achievements.

The McCarthy era did its dirty deeds, stripping him of his security clearance as a suspected spy and accused him of being unfaithful to his wife. He became a broken man, disinvited by universities to speak. The FBI tapped his attorney's phone.

“They destroyed him" who "became the chief victim of the McCarthy era."

The McCarthy legacy has endured, Kai said, because we are still suffering the effects in the person of Donald Trump, an observation which brought approval from most in the audience.

He mentioned Trump's relationship with Joseph McCarthy‘s chief attorney Roy Cohn which haunts us today. Perhaps he was joking when, to audience laughter, he said his next biography would be about Cohn.

To ensure the science in the book was accurate, the authors sought the guidance of Jeremy Bernstein, a quantum physicist and New Yorker writer who corrected language.

Oppenheimer was "quite handsome in a magnetic way" who attracted women.

His met his wife "Kitty" when she was 27 and married for the third time but horsewomanship on a trip sealed their relationship.

Their son Peter is now in his 80s, "traumatized by the events of 1964." He never went to college but became a carpenter. Peter has three children and lives in Santa Fe.

Their daughter Tori, born in 1944, is "portrayed very well in the movie," according to Bird. She spoke Russian, French, and Spanish and wanted to become a translator at the UN but the FBI would not give her clearance. She moved back to the family's home on St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands where she built a cabin and committed suicide at age 32 after a fight with her ex-husband.

In his homespur and down to earth style, Bird answered a few questions after his talk with Arana.

Years were spent trying to clear Oppenheimer's name from the tainted roster of the McCarthy era, and finally, President Joe Biden's secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm achieved the almost impossible in December 2022 seven months before the movie was released, when she vacated the revocation of Oppenheimer's security clearance.

Oppenheimer admired the poetry of T.S. Eliot, a few lines from his poem Gerontion which Arana spoke to close the event:

Here I am, an old man in a dry month,

Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.....

I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it

Since what is kept must be adulterated?

I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:

How should I use it for your closer contact?

I must confess I have neither read the book nor seen the movie and now, can't wait to do both.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Highly recommended: 'Your Table Is Ready'

Drugs, sex, rock ‘n’ roll… And would you like some food with that? 

That pretty well sums up the first half of Your Table Is Ready by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina.

If you can get past the initial soft porn (if that turns you off or on), this is one fascinating, fun book to read, especially if you are a New Yorker and you eat. 

Even if you're not a New Yorker, it's still a good read.

It's behind-the-scenes descriptions of what goes on at New York's fanciest restaurants, many managed and run by the author who had first-hand experience how they serve 'em up and save the best seats for the most money and cave to the reviewers.  

Everyone knows what the reviewers look like, right?  You'd better.  Stand guard, everyone, and turn on your earbuds for the first alert..err, warning:  They are here!

Who knew there was so much sex in restaurants? Only in New York City? I kept plugging away and gave it a few more pages before my appetite was whet. 

Surprise! Advance money makes a difference! Slip the maître d' an easy $100 bill (in the 80s and 90s; better up the ante now) and sit at whatever grand table they seat you. 

Who cares about reservations when it comes to money?  

The most famous arrived, like the hucksters Cecchi-Azzolina knew: Ivanka Trump, Trump, the mob, the FBI and more.

Many times I laughed out loud at this fast-paced, detailed description of what's happening behind the bar. 

Cecchi-Azzolina writes that 98 percent of the guests are fine, but it's the other two percent that "we in the business hate."  

Where do you stand?

Sex drugs and maybe some food, too, at New York's finest are what it's all about. Read it and eat!

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Jamie Wyeth at Chadds Ford

Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Kent House, 1972, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth.  This is a house built in 1907 on Monhegan Island in Maine by Rockwell Kent and later purchased by Jamie Wyeth with money he earned at age 22 from his first solo show. Wyeth lives and paints there still.

Jamie Wyeth in front of Roots, Revisited, at Brandywine Museum of Art, March 15, 2024/By Patricia Leslie
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Roots, Revisited (detail), 2019, The  Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

A prize to whomever named the newest Jamie Wyeth exhibition at the Brandywine Museum of ArtUnsettled.  It is that and much more.

It is dark, foreboding and one can't help but wonder if it is Wyeth's invitation to the grave. Little hope, enthusiasm or anything resembling "pretty" is found among the more than 50 paintings in this collection which spans almost 60 years (1964-2022). It falls in the manner of Mark Rothko who painted darks, and Van Gogh who painted black birds, both near the end of their lives, but Wyeth has been painting "darks" for decades.

Wyeth's collection represents a lot which is old, decaying, no more.
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Fallen, (detail) 1975, private collection. The small white circles in the center are reflections of lights at the museum.
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), River Trunk, 1968, The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection
Jamie Wyeth in front of Roots, Revisited at Brandywine Museum of Art, March 15, 2024, pointing to Spring, The Hanging of the Tree Rocks, below/By Patricia Leslie

Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Spring, The Hanging of the Tree Rocks, 2017, The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection. Wyeth's wife, Phyllis, may be the person pictured here. Wyeth told members of the press that he woke up in the middle of the night to work on the painting which he carried to the frame's edges. 
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Portrait of Michael Jackson, 1985, The  Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection. One source says the frame surrounding the portrait was a gift from Jamie's father, Andrew.


Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Julia on the Swing, 1999, private collection
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), My Mother and the Squall, 2016, private collection
Jamie Wyeth in front of Roots, Revisited, at Brandywine Museum of Art, March 15, 2024, with 
Amanda C. Burdan, Brandywine's senior curator and organizer of the exhibition/By Patricia Leslie

On March 15, 2024, he attracted about 25 members of the press who came to see his latest exhibition. He seemed shy and disquieted, not eager to talk but agreeable to it, perhaps pushed by his handlers to show up and draw the media, and it worked.

During his talk, he often referenced his wife,  Phyllis, who died in 2019. From observations, it seems that they were very close and enjoyed a happy marriage. Jamie Wyeth said he works from four to six hours a day. "I have no hobbies," he said, but if you enjoy it, isn't "work" a hobby? Or is it the other way around?
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Gull and Windsor, 1993, Collection of Lindsay and Candice Hooper
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Snow Owl, Fourteenth in a Suite of Untoward Occurrences on Monhegan Island, 2020, The  Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Wake,  2008, The  Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), First in the Screen Door Sequence, 2015, Brandywine River Museum of Art, gift of George A. Weymouth.  This is Andy Warhol and his dog, perhaps telling viewers, the label says, "our friends and loved ones may be in our lives only briefly." Warhol and Jamie Wyeth were friends.

Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Consomm


 2013,  Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina.  According to the label copy, this is a portrait of a ghost of the twin (?) of Jamie Wyeth's friend, Andy Warhol, who died in 1987. 
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Child Chairs, 1988, private collection
N.C.Wyeth (1882-1945), Chadds Ford Landscape July 1909, 1909, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth

Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Frolic, 2016, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert V. Kohler, Jr.
 This honors one of Jamie Wyeth's close friends, George A. "Frolic" Weymouth, one of the founders of the Brandywine Museum of Art, and its chairman for almost 50 years. Jamie Wyeth painted this the year George Weymouth died (1936-2016).
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Deo du Pont Weymouth, c. 1966, gift of McCoy duPont (sic) Weymouth.  Ms. Weymouth's son, George A. Weymouth, was one of the founders of the Brandywine Museum of Art.
N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), The Mysterious Island, cover illustration, 1918, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hallock du Pont, Jr.  Ceiling lights at the top reflect on the book jacket, many similar covers which N.C. drew to support his family.  (For an excellent biography of N.C. Wyeth, read David Michaelis's book.)
Henriette Wyeth (1907-1997), Self Portrait, c. 1928, recent acquisition by the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Henriette Wyeth was trained by her father, N.C. Wyeth and later, at the Boston Museum of Art Academy and the Pennsylvania Academy of the FIne Arts.  Her husband was Peter Hurd, chiefly known for his portrait of President Lyndon Baines Johnson who called it "the ugliest thing I ever saw," and rejected it.  Hurd gave the portrait to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington with the agreement that it would not be displayed until LBJ left office (1969).  You can see it today in the Hall of Presidents at the Portrait Gallery.
Carolyn Wyeth (1909-1994), N.C.Wyeth's Barn, 1974.  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth.  N.C. Wyeth was Carolyn Wyeth's father and first art teacher when she was 12, according to the label copy.  She gave art lessons to her nephew, Jamie Wyeth, also when he was 12. 
Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), Still Life, 1951, Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Looking dapper in stockings and knickers when he met the press, Jamie Wyeth's red sneakers matched the shoe color worn by Amanda C. Burdan, Brandywine's senior curator and organizer of the exhibition.

I have included notable works hanging on other floors at the museum which are not part of the exhibition but some drawn by Wyeth's father, grandfather, aunts and one by Thomas Hart Benton. 

From Brandywine, the exhibition travels to: 

Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME, July 4–September 29, 2024; 

Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC, November 27, 2024–February 16, 2025; 

Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH, March 15–June 8, 2025; 

and Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, July 12–October 5, 2025

Rizzoli Electa has published a hardcover catalogue about the exhibition ($55).

The museum calls its newest show, "the art of visual storytelling. Fiercely independent in the face of prevailing art world trends, Jamie Wyeth stands apart in a shadowy and strange world of his own creation."  Amen to that!  Thank you, Jamie Wyeth. 

For another post I have written about the Wyeths, please see:

Wyeth's 'windows' closing at the National Gallery of Art, Nov. 28, 2014

WhatJamie Wyeth: Unsettled 

When:  Now through June 9, 2024. 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.

Where:  Brandywine Museum of Art, One Hoffman's Mill Rd., Chadds Ford, PA 19317

How much$20,adults; $18, seniors (65+); $8, children ages 6-18 and students with ID. Free for children ages five and under and members of the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art

For more information, call 610-388-2700