Monday, October 27, 2014

George Mason U. presents a zany 'Edwin Drood'

Dylan Toms is the wicked John Jasper in George Mason University's The Mystery of Edwin Drood/Photo by Autum Casey

The acting in George Mason University's musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood,  is so spectacular, you'll come away mystified that the actors are only college kids. 

Such a talented bunch, and boy, do they have a good time.  Let's party, hearty.   And they did and we watched, and were caught up in the soiree, the gaiety, and the fun.

The voices far exceed what playgoers might expect, and you may search the program to find out that Dylan Toms (John Jasper in Drood) has not come from the New York stage but is a mere freshman from Bedford, Virginia. Under the direction of Ken Elston, Toms is absolutely stellar with exaggerated mannerisms, style, and delivery.
Rachel Harrington is Princess Puffer in George Mason University's The Mystery of Edwin Drood/Photo by Autum Casey

If you are a little mystified  at the end, you won't be the only one. From the arrival in the lobby where actors in their fancies enthusiastically greet theatregoers, to the show's end, you'll be whetted by action, smiles, social media and more, brought to you by Mason's School of Theater and School of Music.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Charles Dickens's last novel, one he left unfinished when he died in 1870, but Rupert Holmes's adaptation into a musical comedy (which won five Tonys in 1986) leaves it to the audience to complete. 

The program promises every performance has a different ending because no two audiences are alike, but our ending seemed confusing, and we were left wondering:  What happened? And when did it happen?  Is he dead or alive?  It may be 1892 in Cloisterham  where the Music Hall Royale presents the play within a play, but it's also 2014 at George Mason University with 33,000 mostly millennial students who use social media

The large cast leaves an audience member with many choices to make (via smartphone or by hand vote) for perpetrator (and you can vote more than once since the tally is unofficial.  Vote early and vote often).  The dancers  (Ruthie Rado, Stephanie Risch, Savanna Stanton-Ameisen, Puyang Tian) even flash the audience handy cue cards from the stage, in case anyone is confused.

Rosa Bud (Emma Gwin), is the fiancee of Edwin Drood (Alexandra Bunger-Pool), who is the nephew of Rosa's music teacher, the evil John Jasper.

Emma Gwin is Rosa Bud in George Mason University's The Mystery of Edwin Drood/Photo by Autum Casey

The passionless couple agrees to call the whole thing off, however, Teacher Jasper is madly in love with Rosa, also sought by Neville Landless (Lawrence Hailes), who arrives with his sister, Helena (Arami McCloskey) from Ceylon(?).

Jasper visits an opium den (with excellent red, mood lighting by Autum Casey) "managed" by the delightful Rachel Harrington, as Princess Puffer whose voice may carry listeners to the Metropolitan Opera.  (The audience later chooses her and the Reverend Crisparkle (Daniel DeVera) as the the couple Most Likely to Succeed in Love.)

The princess is rather opera-like in carriage and in a dance number with several couples participating, picked up the effervescent and impish mayor, the moderator (acted by Kyle Imperatore) and swung him around the stage  while the male dancers did the same with the female actors. 

From his perch on a landing, the mayor has more slapstick lines than anyone and carries the whole night with his explanations, directions, and pithy remarks:   "Her parents are in the iron and steel business. Her mother irons, and her father steals."  He's a leprechaun in red plaid.

Drood disappears, and we are left guessing. The motives of many are prime. Amidst this complexity are dancing and hullabaloo to send your mind soaring.

To adequately describe in words the beauty and strength of the voices of Gwin and Harrington would do an injustice to the singers. You must hear them to believe them.

Costumes (by Laurel Dunayer) are handsome, colorful, and intricate, especially appealing to the Victorian lovers in the crowd.

The set (by Clayton Austin) suffices with a large screen of location stills (a train station, a parlor, a dinner party, etc.) sandwiched between two identical "brick walls" with steps, a door, and landing

Adding significantly to enjoyment is a 35-piece professional student orchestra in the pit, under the direction of Dennis Layendecker. Occasionally, the sounds of music dwarf the script, but not enough to cause unpleasantness.

Based on the title and the author, you might think The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a drama, but not this one.  It's a comedy tonight.

Other key cast members are Justin Sumblin, Chris Hrozencik; Emily Gruver, and Gabriel Komisar.

Kevin Dunayer is sound director, Ethan Osborne, technical director; Nicole Pradas, choreographer; Colby T. Snyder, properties; Jessica Holloway, dramaturg; David Elias, production stage manager; Libby Stevens and Bruce Scott, graphic design.

The production is part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days, established after the 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.   His family and friends formed the Daniel Pearl Foundation to "promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and innovative communications."

What:  The Mystery of Edwin Drood

When:  8 p.m., October 31, 2014, and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., November 1, 2014

Where:  Hylton Performing Arts Center, George Mason University, Prince William Campus, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, VA 20110

Parking:  Free in the lot adjacent to the Hylton Center

Tickets: Adults, $25; Students, faculty, staff, seniors, and groups, $15

Duration:  About 2.5 hours with one 15-minute intermission

For more information:  703-993-7550

For more theatre in Washington, check out the DC Metro Theater Art's website here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ford's Theatre drives a marvelous 'Daisy'

Craig Wallace is Hoke Coleburn and Nancy Robinette is Daisy Werthan in Ford Theatre's Driving Miss Daisy/Photo by Scott Suchman

Driving Miss Daisy at Ford's Theatre is so good, I could see it again.  For theatre lovers and others, you have less than a week to see the show.

I cannot recall any theatre performances when the audience applauded after every scene change like it did for Miss Daisy, but applaud it did, and there are a few scene changes.

From beginning to end, Daisy is a charmer, full of humor and life and relationships and all that's important, and it will keep you laughing while simultaneously serving as a painful reminder of last century's civil rights turbulence in the South.

The story is based upon the family of the playwright, Alfred Uhry (b. 1936 in Atlanta):  A black man (Craig Wallace is Hoke) is hired to drive a white Jewish lady, age 72, (Nancy Robinette is Daisy) around town after her son (Ron Heneghan is Boolie) deems her too incapacitated to drive.  She's got a tongue, all right. It sizzles and strikes without mercy, sending the audience into frequent hysterics: "She sounds like she has a bowl stuck in her throat," and "If I had a nose like Maureen's, I wouldn't say 'Merry Christmas' to anybody."

The crew of three delivers knock-out performances, and the elders' (Daisy and Hoke) aging on stage occurs so subliminally, their increasingly right-angle postures and slower paces almost go unnoticed.  Boolie doesn't stay young forever, either.

At first glance the set (by Tony Cisek) appears almost too minimalist, but that initial misconception quickly dissolves as dialogue takes over, and the set becomes secondary.  That said, rapid small changes give way to totally new times and circumstances spanning the years 1948-1973 when Atlanta first elected a black mayor.  An elegant living room evolves into an office. The car is traded for a newer one. A cemetery with tombstones and chrysanthemums blossoms into a kitchen which is a later empty mansion, and on and on.  The quantity and substance of props are understated as they should be, but add immensely to the overall enjoyment and scene progressions.

Costuming (by Helen Huang) is realistic and timely, and Miss Daisy's little old lady dress with its later added accessories (hat, coat, sweater) join set changes nicely to convert moods and places. In his first scene, Hoke's big, hand-me-down suit tells his station-in-life and need for a job. 

Some of the memorable lighting Dan Covey creates include the backdrop of strings of Christmas lights, a starry sky, and a overhead light shining on Daisy in a scary nighttime stop somewhere in Alabama. Short background musical selections a la NPR, from gospel to cello, violin, and banjo, although taped, helped ease scene transitions in excellent fashion.

At the end, Robinette is a 90-year-old with shaking hands, thinning hair, and impaired speech.  She needs help eating but is still a tough old bird.  I watched and wished my own mother, long in the grave and a Southerner, could see Driving Miss Daisy. She would love it.

The play debuted off-Broadway in 1987 and won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. With The Last Night of Ballyhoo and Parade, it is part of Uhry's trilogy about life in the South.

The performances by Robinette and Wallace are well worth Helen Hayes' nominations. 

Jennifer L. Nelson directed Driving Miss Daisy, and other key crew members are Elisheba Ittoop, sound; Anne Nesmith, wig and makeup; Lynn Watson, dialects; Brandon Prendergast, production stage manager; and Hannah R. O'Neil, assistant stage manager.

What:  Driving Miss Daisy

When: Evenings at 7:30 p.m. with matinees on Thursday,  Saturday, and Sunday, through Oct. 26, 2014

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

How much: Tickets start at $33.65 with discounts for groups, military personnel, senior citizens, and those younger than 35.

Duration:  About 90 minutes with no intermission

For more information: 202-347-4833

Metro stations: Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown, or Archives-Navy Memorial

For more theatre in Washington, D.C. check out the DC Metro Theater Art's website here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Movie review: 'Skeleton Twins' is a trip

Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins/Roadside Attractions

If the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal gave it good reviews and each newspaper published an interview with the star, Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live, plus it does well (84%) at Rotten Tomatoes, it must be good, right?

It is.  For mostly arty types.  (Will someone, please, remind me to restrain myself from making a mad dash to the movie house to see a film praised in high terms by major newspapers?  They are seldom worth it, but this one was worth it.)

A lip sync scene in The Skeleton Twins with Hader and co-star, Kristen Wiig, another former SNL star, is unforgettable and quite funny, and it's likely you'll not hear Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" again without Hader coming to mind. 

In a script which has something for all (hetero and homo sex), humor, and a serious side, Hader and Wiig deliver convincing jobs unfolding their story of estranged twins who reconcile after 10 years, and catch up while trying to adjust to life they have largely dealt themselves which means healing their own self-estrangements.  Of course, ad nauseam, the mother (Joanna Gleason) is at fault for much of her children's problems, and her unannounced visit, courtesy of Brother Milo, undermines the credibility of the story even if it is, sadly, quite funny. You just don't do that, scriptwriters. Besides, Gleason looks far too young to be their mother. 

Poor Kristen Wiig's husband (Luke Wilson). You have got to be kidding:  Are there any husbands that nice and naive? (The film was written by men.) He's like a small Golden Labrador (a line suggested by someone), and you just want to hug and shake him at the same time: Get some moxie. He was too good to be true and needed a bit more drama. 

What else is wrong with the film? 

1.  It frequently borders on melodrama, with an overboard ending.

2.  Wiig's character is rather listless, like her hair, except when she has a fit to meet the stereotype.

4. Speaking of stereotypes, I am tired of "mean mother," "cheating wife" movies.  Can't there be balance?  It's not always the woman's fault.  I think the Garden of Eden story could stand rewrite. Suggested title:  Garden of Meneden.  (Where are the naked men?  Per normal, we see breasts in Twins.)

3.  The title.

4.  It's probably a little too shrewd and a trifle chick flicky for the shoot'em up, macho-macho moviegoer. 

Costuming (Mikaela Wohl) and sets (Lauren DeTitta) work well for today's climate, and the music (Nathan Larson) is memorable. 

Skeleton Twins is enjoyable and entertaining enough, and what more do you want from a movie?


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Modern artists pictured at Sofitel Hotel

A sideways look at Salvador Dali in 1965 at Cadaques, Spain by Tony Saulnier, Paris Match

A series of 30 photographs of modern day artists at work, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Rene Magritte, and Jeff Koons, are on view at the Sofitel Hotel near Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.

The pictures in Revealed come from the periodical, Paris Match, and were selected by Picasso's grandson, Oliver Widmaier Picasso, an audiovisual media producer based in Paris, who was not available for the Washington opening.
In 1959 Kees Van Dongen sketched an unknown starlet, Brigitte Bardot, in Paris/Izis, Paris Match

A smart, 28-page guide which includes anecdotes and quotes from some of the artists accompanies the show. 
Raoul Dufy at his home in Perpignan, France, 1949/Izis, Paris Match

Henri Matisse is seen shortly before he died, in his hotel apartment, bedridden and drawing religious subjects on the wall with a long instrument.  When he was unable to hold paint brushes, he used scissors to cut up paper and pinned the pieces to the wall.  "Scissors can be more evocative than pencils," the guide quotes Matisse.

And Picasso: "To my sadness and perhaps to my joy, my work is shaped by my love affairs."  Picasso did not try to hide any of his lovers from the others, cruelly reading many of their letters to his ladies-in-waiting, the guide says.
Guests at the Sofitel opening of Revealed, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

Some of the other pictured artists in the exhibition are Pierre Soulages, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, and Francis Bacon. None of the 30 artists are women.

Sofitel's Dominique Colliat helped assemble the presentation, which launched at Sofitel in New York, and is also scheduled for Sofitels in Beverly Hills, Chicago, and Quebec.
Revealed at Sofitel Hotel, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

What:  Revealed, 30 photographs of modern artists from the collection of Paris Match

When:  Now through October 31, 2014

Where: Sofitel Hotel, 806 15th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005

Admission: No charge

For more information:  202-730-8800

Metro Station:  McPherson Square


Friday, October 3, 2014

'Degas/Cassett,' the tape, and more at the National Gallery of Art

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878, National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
Two impressionists, Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917) are linked artistically but not romantically no matter how much a romanticist might wish it otherwise, no matter what the wall label copy and catalog at the National Gallery of Art's show, Degas/Cassatt,
say to remind readers that their relationship was only professional; they were not "a couple" and, indeed, "drifted apart" in later years. Neither ever married, but they owned more of each other's works than they owned of any other contemporary artist's. 

Sadly, it all comes to an end this weekend (I want them all to remain forevermore, at least through my life, selfish beast that I am; can they go to the new Corcoran?) when Degas/Cassatt, the story of their professional relationship exits the world's stage.

Washington is the only venue for this magnificent display.(However and in a nearby gallery comes Degas's sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen who springs to life with some of her dancing buddies, the ones painted by Degas, which opens on the day of departure for Degas/Cassatt, October 5.  Cassatt thought Degas's future might be more fruitful in sculpture than in painting.)

A classy and free color brochure at Degas/Cassatt describes the painters' styles:  They painted the human body, clothed and unclothed, avoiding landscape portraiture. Degas rejected the label, "impressionist," preferring to be called a "realist" which also defines Cassatt's work. They both were highly educated and from well-to-do families.

For only $5, one may rent a tape to hear while you stroll (or elbow, depending upon the crowd's numbers which I believe will be pretty hefty this weekend) through the 70 or so works, guided by professionals who provide background for about 13 of the pieces in the show.

Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, c. 1879-1884, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and the Regents' Major Acquisition Fund

 The tape's talk time is about 35 minutes, but I listened for much longer than that, hearing some portions more than once, like the description of Degas's Mary Cassatt, c. 1879-1884. Can you blame her for wanting to get rid of this? What woman (or man) wants to look worse that she looks?

There she sits leaning in a chair, a woman in her mid to late 30s but looking much older, like she's going to fall out of the seat upon the floor. She is hunched with a grim expression, wearing black as if in mourning for...? What might have been?

The tape describes her as manly and gaunt, but I beg to differ. She seems pensive, a trifle irritated, bent in an unusual pose and sitting for what may have been long periods of time to satisfy the artist. She could have been doing something else: "What am I doing here? And why am I doing it?" No wonder she tried to unload the painting later without his knowledge. She called it "painful." Mary, you were right!

Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, c. 1879, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986

The most fascinating part of the show to me is the gallery where it hangs, the one devoted to Degas's images of Cassatt as she toured the Musee de Louvre. The many and varied sexy silhouettes he drew of her give a viewer pause. The works are each distinctly different, most, drawn of her back side while she strolled through the galleries. For a single woman of her age, there were not many public places acceptable for her to venture out unaccompanied, like culture finds women sheltered today in certain Middle Eastern countries.

Perhaps Degas wanted more from Mary Cassatt than collegial exchange.

Mary Cassatt, The Loge, c. 1878-1880, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Chester Dale Collection

For The Loge, the tape says the young women at the theater seized an opportunity to mix with gentlemen and show off their beauty. They are dressed for the occasion and sit like dolls, almost expressionless but glum, displayed on a shelf for the men to ogle.   Since it was a husband's duty to provide the goods, no jewelry is worn except the artist, Cassatt, has placed on the neck of one,  a black choker.  What do you make of it? A symbol of a prison confinement that marriage can become? Like the black bars of prison which lock in an inmate and can strangle.  Contrast it with the pastels in the work.   About 150 years ago it is doubtful criticism of marriage as an institution was often heard, but now more Americans are unmarried than married. Mary Cassatt believed marriage would restrict her career.

On the other hand, could the choker symbolize the confinement the women have experienced growing up? Marriage will set them free?  Based upon their expressions, the future does not look so bright for these women. Maybe, the pickings are not to their liking.  Is this all there is? 

It seems likely that an academician has written about Cassatt's gender renderings.  Doesn't The Black Choker sound like the enticing name of a novel?  It reminds me of Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer's painting which evolved into a book which became a movie which became a play.  I wish someone would query the experts and ask their explanations of the Black Choker. 

In the meantime, calling for a script.  I can't wait to read it. 

Edgar Degas, Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey, 1866, reworked 1880-1881 and c. 1897, National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

When you enter the exhibition, at the far end on the wall facing you is a large painting, Degas's Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey, which seems oddly out of place, juxtaposed between two Cassatt paintings of females reaching. (Reaching for what?) 

Cassatt wanted to buy The Fallen Jockey for her brother, a horse lover, but Degas refused to sell it, saying he needed to rework it, and over the next 30 years, on and off, he did. After his death, it was found in his studio.

Without the tape would I have paid much attention to the brown and muddy flooring of Cassatt's Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (which a thorough analysis revealed later Degas extensively reworked)? The weirdly spaced furniture stands on opposite side of the "shore" where a sleepy little girl sprawls in an illuminated chair lost in thought, perhaps contemplating her future, dogged (!) by what the painter knew lay ahead.  She appears about eight years old, but her image suggests someone older, experienced and wondering, what if?     
You see what art can do!  There is much more than what you see.

Little Girl in a Blue Armchair is on the cover of the "must have" 160-paged catalogue available in the shops.

What: Degas/Cassatt

When: Now through Sunday, October 5, 2014 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 Ninth 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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Turkish Festival celebrates on Pennsylvania Avenue

At the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue, it was possible to be someone else. The Washington City Paper says it's"the best cultural festival in D.C."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue.  If you can't go to Turkey, why not let Turkey come to you?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
What is $20 for a fortune telling session to find out the outcome of the November 4 general election a month ahead?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
These dancers from the Yeditepe University Folklore Club are ready to show off their talents at the Turkish Festival Sunday but first, a pose or two/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Members of the Kardelene Dance Ensemble at the Turkish Festival on Sunday.  Dancers and musicians filled the stage non-stop for seven hours/Photo by Bianca Bahary
Members of the Yeditepe University Folklore Club at the Turkish Festival on Sunday/Photo by Bianca Bahary
While the professionals danced on stage at the Turkish Festival Sunday, these young lasses captured the street with their own dance/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The stoplight in the background elongates the dancer's body. Do you think the U.S. Capitol sprouted flags in celebration of the Turkish Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
From the Embassy of Turkey came First Counselor and spokesperson, Aydan Karamanoglu, with his two sons, Fernando (left), 11,  and Daniel, 9, at the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue.  They have been here about a year, and the boys have adjusted well to their new school, their dad said.  Mr.  Karamanoglu's favorite part of the festival is the food. To  become an ambassador requires 20 to 25 years of experience, he said.  When asked about Turkey's role in the ISIS conflict in the Middle East, Mr. Karamanoglu smiled and said:  "That is political, and this is cultural."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Jewelry for sale at the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Scarves and wraps for sale at the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue where 25 vendors sold goods/Photo by Patricia Leslie 
Yikes!  A heavy metal man! If you stared at him long enough he would bend and respond with a smile before his metal took over.  With girls his age, the statue flirted quite a bit and provided good humor at the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue.  The floral bouquet in his hands was heavy metal, too/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Turkish Airlines was a popular tent at the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue since it gave away two roundtrip tickets to where else?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
That is chicken and gyro on the left, and mixed beef and lamb on the right from Rudy's Mediterranean Grill in Columbia, MD.The butcher kindly gave me some samples which were exquisite.  I'll never miss the Turkish Festival again/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Grape leaves and hummus on pita, my favs at the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue, and everywhere.  Also for sale at the festival were doner kebab sandwiches with rice, lahmacun, vegetarian sandwiches, baklava with pistachios, sea bass, sea bream, anchovies, red mullet, and horse mackerel "fresh from the pure waters of the Mediterranean."  To die for.  I love to eat/Photo by Patricia Leslie

These food vendors dressed for the part at the Turkish Festival Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Alas, from out of the shadows or "behind the scenes" came Inspector Foodso from the D.C. Health Department, issuing citations to vendors who prepared food off-site, which is strictly prohibited, the inspector told me, because the preparation is not done under the watchful eyes of the Health Department.  What immediately drew my attention was a crowd of vendors dumping a vat of fresh (it looked like) untouched chopped lettuce and tomatoes into a large, black plastic garbage bag.  (In a low voice, Inspector Foodso told me it also had dressing.) We consumers appreciate what you do, I told the inspector, who replied:  "Not everyone does."  The vendors responded positively to the inspector who told one, "I'll be back at 1."  He told me every food tent had hand washing supplies for the help staff, and he was one of two inspectors on-site/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Anywhere is a good place to play bridge, like at the Turkish Festival in front of the Justice Department/Photo by Patricia Leslie
No one should miss all the fun and delicious food at the Turkish Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue. Can't wait for next year!/Photo by Patricia Leslie