Monday, December 28, 2015

Vintage gowns, jewels, accessories end at Hillwood Jan. 10

Marjorie Merriweather Post wore this gown in celebration of her husband's bestselling book and movie, Mission to Moscow, about their lives in the Soviet Union from 1937 to 1938. Miss Post commissioned the jewels from Cartier/Photo by Patricia Leslie

 Darling, for a sumptuous visual feast, you would do yourself (and others of similar persuasion) a favor to visit Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens and luxuriate in Marjorie Merriweather Post's elegant gowns, now the centerpiece of an exhibition, Ingenue to Icon.   

Shoes, parasols, and other accessories complete her outfits in a 20th century fashion history which embrace 70 years of Miss Post's life.

The dresses pictured here are from the first part of the exhibition, no longer on view but changed out for another presentation of gowns which may be seen through January 10. 

They are but a small portion of Miss Post's ensemble of 175 gowns and 300 accessories (of 17,000 objects at the museum) featured in the show which is arranged chronologically.   

A 150-paged color catalogue is available.
This dress (which rotated at the display on a pedestal) opened the first part of the exhibition It's made of silk satin and includes the velvet and fur drape slung/resting on the chair.  For the accompanying 1934 portrait by Frank Salisbury, Miss Post wore a double-strand pearl necklace and Cartier bracelets/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973) was/is a celebrity icon, a socialite, and philanthropist with a net worth of $5 billion (Wikipedia).  

The daughter of the cereal magnate, wife of four, and mother of three daughters (of whom only the youngest, the actress Dina Merrill, survives and celebrates her 92nd birthday December 29),
Miss Post lived in the Soviet Union during 1937 and 1938 with Husband No. 3, Joseph E. Davies who served as the U.S. ambassador under Joseph Stalin.

While in the Soviet Union, the couple's affinity for Russian imperial art developed, aided by their purchases, often at discounted rates, of the things they grew to love.  (Stalin needed the money for his industrialization projects.  This scenario can be compared to the Nazi seizure of masterpieces from Jewish families before and during World War II since some of the Russian art allegedly was taken from murdered royalty and private Russian citizens.)

Outside Russia, Hillwood has the world's largest collection of that nation's imperial art.  (One could only imagine how Vladimir Putin would like to have it back. A point of negotiation?  If he were to visit and ride horseback topless through Hillwood's 25 acres with BFF Donald Trump, consider Hillwood's ticket sales!  This activity is in keeping with both personalities, however, it would run counter to the style, class, and sophistication Miss Post represented so let's forget this possibility and move on.  BTW, in 1985 Mr. Trump bought Miss Post's Palm Beach mansion, Mar-A-Lago. The links are ceaseless.) 
Miss Post wore "my first ballgown" on her 16th birthday, March 15, 1903. Photographs and portraits of her in various apparel complement the garments in the exhibition/Photo by Patricia Leslie
With her two daughters, Adelaide and Eleanor, this 1918 portrait depicts Miss Post in an "afternoon dress"/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Calling Agatha Christie.  This was a "traveling dress" with accessories, circa 1910/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Miss Post's suffragette suit which she wore as a member of the New York State Woman Suffragette Party when the group met with President Woodrow Wilson in Washington on Oct. 25, 1917. The hat on the table reminds me of a big black bird flying in for a landing. (Have you seen the movie, Suffragette?  A must-see.  One of the year's best!) 

If the skirt were a foot shorter or pants, it could have come from the closet of Barbara Bush or Hillary Clinton, don't you think?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Miss Post's Paris-designed dress was considered daring with its bifurcated skirt, inspired by the Ballets Russes which took Europe and America "by storm" when it performed from 1909 to 1929/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A 1935 Bergdorf Goodman creation in the "Hollywood style"/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Miss Post wore this on Oct. 31, 1957, when in recognition of her long devotion to France, the French ambassador awarded her the cross of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (the red ribbon sewn to her dress).  During World War I she established a hospital in northern France and in 1955, the bicentennial of Marie Antoinette's birth, helped raise money for Versailles/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Some of Miss Post's gowns/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The white "mermaid dress" was a gown Miss Post wore for the opening of the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in September, 1962. The black "mermaid dress" is Hillwood's most recent addition, given last August by Miss Post's great-grandson, Post Steven Dye.  In the photograph circa 1962 taken at Hillwood, Miss Post wears the dress made of silk crepe,
nylon organza, chiffon, and iridescent sequins.  Miss Post bought Hillwood in 1955/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In 1952 when she was 65, Miss Post wore this gown for the portrait by Douglas Chandor.  It was designed by Ann Lowe, an African American who, in the previous year, created Jacqueline Bouvier's wedding dress for her marriage to John F. Kennedy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Gowns in Hillwood's dining room/Photo by Patricia Leslie
More Hillwood and Post finery in the mansion, the designs which suggest an adaptation of the Winged Victory of Samothrace/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Nicholas II who served as tsar of Russia from 1894 to 1917 is positioned on the right wall upon entrance to the mansion's Pavilion theater used for after-dinner movies and dancing.  On a nearby piano in the Pavilion are photographs of Nicholas, his wife and five children, all murdered by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918.   Will the Russians have a commemoration in their honor for the upcoming centennial of their deaths?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Another portrait of Nicholas II, also in the Pavilion on the left wall/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Hillwood's north portico where visitors enter/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Hillwood's south portico where visitors dream/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Steps to a Hillwood pond with statuary, all open for visitors' exploration and enjoyment/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Natural beauties found outdoors in the cutting garden/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Many rooms at the Hillwood mansion are open to the public, including upstairs bedrooms and dressing rooms.

See the post on Hillwood's 2011 exhibition of the Posts' wedding dresses.

From the website:
Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden’s mandate is to preserve the 25 acre estate, museum and gardens that Marjorie Merriweather Post developed to house her important collections of Russian Imperial art, French decorative arts, costumes, textiles, and jewelry and to interpret and present them for the enjoyment of the public.

WhatIngenue to Icon: 70 Years of Fashion from the Collection of Marjorie Merriweather Post

When:  Now through January 10, 2016, including New Year's Day, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Sundays, 1 - 5 p.m.  Closed on Mondays.

Where:  Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens "Where Fabulous Lives," 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008

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

Discount:  When reservations are made online, prices for adults and seniors are reduced $3 for weekday admissions and $1 for weekends. (Click here.)

Members' dogs:  Welcome on Sunday mornings (!)

Parking:  Free, on-site

Biking and walking:  Encouraged; bike racks available.

For more information:  202-686-5807

Metro station: Van Ness/UDC station on the Red Line, then walk a (mostly uphill) mile and burn off Christmas calories.  (Taxis, available.)

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Edgy British humor, 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane,' now playing in Bethesda

Matthew Aldwin McGee is Mr. Sloane (left), and Jim Jorgensen is Ed in Entertaining Mr. Sloane by Edge of Universe Players 2/Photo by Johannes Markus

The star of Edge of Universe Players 2's newest production, Entertaining Mr.Sloane, is the outstanding acting. 

The play is a "tragic-comedy" of dark British humor, written a half century before its prime.

On stage at the Bethesda Writer's Center are Claire Schoonover (Kath), Matthew Aldwin McGee (Sloane, who is also the fight choreographer), David Bryan Jackson (Kemp), and Jim Jorgensen (Ed).  They present a story of a young man temporarily housed with a woman old enough to be his mum, her brother, and their dad.  (Applause to Naomi Robin, casting director.)

The decaying family resides in a house beside a dump and once you know a little something about the British author, Joe Orton (1933-1967), that rubbish heap may be the society he lampoons.

Sex and murder are usually a winning combination, but they were not enough to quell outrage when Sloane opened in London in 1964.
In the company's mission statement, producer
William Goodman writes that Edge players "seek deep, long-lasting meanings that may improve the human condition." Literature, theatre, and reasoning play key roles in the infinite race to achieve "a better society."  Entertaining Mr. Sloan calls for examination of self, society, and legal structures, Mr. Goodman says.
David Bryan Jackson is the old man in Entertaining Mr. Sloane by Edge of Universe Players 2/Photo by Johannes Markus

Let's discuss.

Kath is starved for love and attention, captured in a prison by her crotchety dad and her manipulative brother.  When Mr. Sloane comes to call, she gladly welcomes him, showering him with warmth and desire. She becomes his "Mama," he, the baby, and also, the target of more than one character.

The playwright, Joe Orton, was murdered by his lover only three years after Sloane made its debut. The editor of the play's 50th anniversary edition, Emma Parker, writes in program notes that Orton, who grew up in poverty, began writing plays when imprisoned for six months for defacing library books (which are now actually preserved in British museums).

Orton believed his harsh prison term was due to his gay life and sexuality, and he set out with words to debunk middle-class society and mores. (Wikipedia notes the adjective Ortonesque is sometimes used to refer to work characterized by dark and farcical cynicism.)

Jackson (also, dialect coach) is superb as the ill and bumbling father with his Bernie Sanders flyaway hair,  thick, opaque glasses, and gait. He shifts his feet, looks askance, and stoops. Erik Teague dresses him in characteristically old man clothes with a sloppy open bathrobe and slippers, and puts little frilly dresses on Kath while Ed is straight up black and brown, nicely portrayed as one hungry to satisfy his own needs, like the rest of us. 

That there are no stumbles in the fast dialogue between brother and sister is astonishing. The audience laughs and gasps at lines which offended ancient audiences.  

Giorgos Tsappas's set design is spot-on. When drawn back, the curtains on a large window reveal nothing but a solid light blue wall (the sky?) which, with an outline in black of a tall heap of rubbish or coal pieces, would have added depth, but how do you illustrate society? 

The interior of the cozy house belies the neighborhood, and when one considers it, the occupants, as well.  

Sloane arrived about the same time as the anti-war,  anti-establishment movements began sweeping the Western world. We like to think of ourselves as more tolerant now, but are we?  

Continued enlightenment and messages about different lifestyles from yours and mine are always welcome and can help increase awareness and sensitivities.

Director Stephen Jarrett must be quite pleased with the production which warrants Helen Hayes nominations:

Best Actor: Jim Jorgensen 

Best Actress:  Claire Schoonover 

Best Supporting Actor: David Bryan Jackson

Other crew members are Marianne Meadows, lighting; Edward Moser, production manager and sound; Kevin Laughon, properties (the QEII on the wall was loved); Laurel VanLandingham, stage manager; Salima Seale, assistant stage manager; and Emily Morrison, publicity chief and graphic designer.

What:  Entertaining Mr. Sloane

When: 8 p.m., Thursday - Saturday, and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday now through December 13, 2015

Where: The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Road, Bethesda, MD 20815

How much: Tickets start at $25

Parking: Plentiful parking is nearby (scroll to bottom of link) and it's free at some lots on weekends.

For more information: 202-355-6330

Friday, November 27, 2015

An Olney holiday hit, 'Guys and Dolls'

Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Tobias Young) and the cast of Olney Theatre Center's production of Guys and Dolls. (Photo: Stan Barouh)

The Olney has done it again.

And just in time for the holidays.  

The Maryland regional theatre has produced another sparkling musical for all ages to enjoy with non-stop action, song, and dance.

What better entertainment for the whole family?

Miss Adelaide (Lauren Weinberg) and the Hot Box Dolls in Olney Theatre Center's production of Guys and Dolls. (Photo: Stan Barouh)

It's Guys and Dolls, all about gangsters, love (what is a story without love?), and lots of humor.  Throw in a wedding or two, and a wedding dress that puts icing on the cake.

"Luck Be a Lady,"  "A Bushel and a Peck," "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" are some of the familiar tunes you'll find yourself humming at show's end.  Why, just to hear the title of the last makes me want to kick up my own heels and try some of those fancy steps.  (Good luck.)

It might have taken the script a while to get the ladies out on the floor, but here they came, giggly and flirty, adding glitter to a performance you know is going to be a lot of fun.

Oddly enough, the stars of the show are the male dancers who leap, kick, jump, and split legs mid-air in unison while wearing suits.  Under the direction of Michael Bobbitt, these ice-skaters on stage draw shouts of affirmation and guffaws from the audience, smitten by flawless conformity.

Not to discount the happy quintet of female dancers and their chatter, but it's the men folk who carry off the wonders of them all.

The singing is exquisite, led by the soaring Jessica Lauren Ball whose voice could carry a gangster to heaven. Miss Ball  plays the stern and inflexible Sarah Brown whose hairstyle and apparel (with necks no lower than a throat clasp) match her name and persona. (Rosemary Pardee dresses the characters in 1950s garb.)   

Ms. Ball's co-star, Matt Faucher, is exceptional in voice and delivery as well, and bears a strong resemblance to actor  Fred MacMurray (1908-1991).
Paul Binotto is a convincing Nathan Detroit and with a name like that, you need explanation? Lauren Weinberg, Miss Adelaide, is his giddy girlfriend of more than a decade, a delightful combination of Marilyn Monroe and Gracie Allen,  George Burns' ditsy dame

Naturally, the law in the form of wrinkled, open trench-coated, crooked glasses Lt. Brannigan (captured realistically by Ron Heneghan) is hot on the criminals' trail, including Big Jule's (Richard Pelzman) whose size is enough to send Brannigan under or over the bridge.  (Early on, Pelzman's heft grabs attention when the cast lays out the story's tone, and he comes on stage, a blind man with stick.  Look out!)
One of my favorite characters, although it's a minor role, was acted by Valerie Leonard, the authoritarian and strait-laced General Matilda B. Cartwright until she's swept off her feet by circumstances and joins the action, at least, for the dance number. (The hair stylist is not listed in the program but deserves recognition for timely coifs.) 

Daniel Conway skilfully designed the backdrop to camouflage the onstage orchestra which blends in well with New York's night and day cityscapes and changing skies. 

Olney's orchestra seems to get better with each show.  Timothy Splain is the music director and Doug Lawler conducts seven while he plays piano. 

There is reason for that constant smile and good cheer from Olney's artistic director Jason Loewith and theatregoers know why.

Give the people what they want: big shows, lots of dazzle, good for all ages, live orchestra, and skip the obscenities, if you will. Thank you very much! 

Give me theatre or give me theatre, and that's all she wants for Christmas.

The ensemble and cast includes Andre Hinds, Ethan Kasnett, David Landstrom, Tony Thomas, MaryLee Adams, Evan Casey, Ben Cunis, Leo Erickson, Jocelyn Isaac, Amanda Jillian Kaplan, Julia Klavans, Nurney, and Tobias Young.

Other key crew members are Jerry Whiddon, director; Colin K. Bills, lighting; Jeffrey Dorfman, sound; Nancy Krebs, dialects; Josiane M. Lemieux, production stage manager; and Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director.

Although I have already nominated Olney's The Producers for Helen Hayes Awards, more Olney nominations are in order for these Guys and Dolls:

Outstanding Musical

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical

Outstanding Director of a Musical: Jerry Whiddon

Outstanding Choreography in a Musical: Michael Bobbitt

What: Guys and Dolls: A Musical Fable of Broadway with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Based on a story by Damon Runyon

When: (Update) Extended through January 3, 2016 at 8 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, with weekend matinees at 2 p.m., and Wednesday matinees, Dec. 2, 16, and 23, one Tuesday matinee, Dec. 22 and no shows on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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

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

Duration: A little over two hours and one intermission.

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

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400