Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pulitzer finalist 'Other Desert Cities' on stage in Vienna

Susan d. Garvey (on left), Kathy Ohlhaber, and Patrick David star in Other Desert Cities at Vienna Theatre Company/Photo by Matthew Randall

That Other Desert Cities was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012 and won five Tony nominations is not surprising.  It's a critic's play.

Which demonstrates in living color that things are not what they seem, folks, even though you may think you know-it-all.

Sometimes a minor character can steal a show. 

Like Jessie Roberts who is Silda, the mother's half-crazed, alcoholic sister, with a personality amplified by her flyaway hair, apparel, and funny lines which bring much needed humor and balance to the somber tone and message heard all night.

What darkness lurks beyond? 

Other Desert Cities is a family affair with father (Patrick David) and mother (Susan d. Garvey) pitted (or so she thinks) against grown daughter, Brooke (Kathy Ohlhaber) whose brother Trip (Jeff McDermott) is along for the ride, to tell his sister just how self righteous she really is.

Their older brother, Henry, is dead, and the negative aftermath of his passing are borne by the survivors who blame each other.  They lash out with mean and heartless words, similar to what audience members may think about saying to their own family members from time to time (well, maybe, not quite so extreme), but refrain from uttering to preserve family peace, or what remains of it.  (That would not happen here, of course, since there would be no show!)

It's Christmastime at Polly and Lyman's, the parents, which adds even more stress to conditions, especially with the holiday arrival of their "me-me-me-me-me, it's all about me!" daughter. 

Would you be surprised to learn it doesn't take long for conflict to erupt? And that Polly and Lyman share conservative leanings which happen to be the opposite of Brooke's?  It's 2004 and the Iraq War is raging.  But, not too much is said about it.

From beginning to end, it's all about Brooke, and how she feels and is affected by the family's tragedy. Never mind offending anyone else.  Never mind considering that she's not the only one. What does that matter as long as her new book gets published that lays out the horrors of her brother's death and how her family deals with it?  "I'm as sorry I'm a writer as you are," she says.  Amen, sister.  She got no sympathy from me.

On this Christmas trip home, you'll observe no pauses, inactivity, or boredom. Just heartbreak and enlightenment about those you love.

The outstanding set (by Skip Gresko) is what's to be expected of wealthy landowners living in Palm Springs, California.  In their large Western-style house, the living room has a curving beige stone wall with fireplace (into which is tossed a marijuana cigarette that Silda covets) and big windows which look out on a splashy, orangy sunset which changes with the time of day, I suppose, but being hooked on the dialogue, I didn't notice.  (What does that say about the script?)

That the Washington, D.C. area is blessed with great actors is well known, and, under the direction of Rosemary Hartman, the Desert quintet is more proof.  Especially the performances by Ohlhaber, David, and Roberts who seem so natural in their roles, it's hard to imagine them off stage as anyone but Brooke, Lyman, and Silda. 

Vienna audiences always turn out for good shows. I've never attended a production here which did not appear to be a sellout.

With contemporary street talk, Other Desert Cities is not a production recommended for children. 

This will be the last of Vienna Theatre Company's productions for a while at the Community Center since the center's renovation will soon begin, but the theatre troupe will find other places to stage.  You can't keep a good company down. 

Other key Desert Cities crew members are:  Richard Durkin, producer; Gerald Kadonoff, assistant producer; Mary Ann Hall, stage manager; Tigan Hughes, assistant stage manager; Chris Hardy, lighting designer; Benjamin Allen, sound designer and composer; Susan Boyd, costume, hair, and makeup designer; Jocelyn Steiner and Mary Frances Dini, set dressers and props.

What:  Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz

When:  8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays on April 24 and 25 and May 1 and 2, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees, April 26 and May 3.

Where: Vienna Theatre Company,120 Cherry Street, Vienna, VA 22180 (Vienna Community Center)

Tickets:  May be purchased online ( or at the box office.

Admission:  $14

Parking: Lots of free parking on-site

For more information: 703-255-6360 or visit the website

To read other local reviews of shows still on the stage, click Other Reviews on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Rachmaninoff and Edgar Allan Poe star with the National Symphony Orchestra

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)/Wikipedia

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)/Wikipedia
My favorite composers were on the National Symphony Orchestra program Thursday night, and if you rush today, you can hear them tonight.

It was practically an all Russian evening, from the guest conductor, Vassily Sinaisky (who never used a baton), to composers Sergei  Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), to the vocalists, guest soprano, Dina Kuznetsova, and tenor, Sergey Semishkur.

Other nations represented on the platform, besides Americans who are members of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the NSO, and Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), were guest tenor, Elchin Azizov from Azerbaijan, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) of Austria. 

Beginning the program was NSO's first performance of Borodin's Overture to Prince Igor, which began solemnly enough but soon gave way to vigorous double bass, building to a climax in a piece whose authorship is uncertain, according to the program.  (By day, Borodin was a professor of chemistry who had little time for composition, but around-the-clock he was an advocate of women's rights, founding the School of Medicine for Women in St. Petersburg.)

A NSO star, Loren Kitt, splendidly played the familiar but always welcome, Mozart's Concerto in A major for Clarinet and Orchestra, K. 622, in an almost nonchalant fashion, totally unruffled by the audience in front of him, and cleaning his instrument before he began, while the orchestra played on behind him.

The best composition of the night belonged to the second half of the program and Rachmaninoff's interpretation of Poe's The Bells: sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells, and mournful bells, following life's trajectory, from childhood to adulthood to the grave, Poe's words augmented by those of Russian poet, Konstantin Balmont (1867-1942) as in "The Silver Sleigh Bells":

And their dreaming is a gleaming that a perfumed air exhales,
And their thoughts are but a shining,
And a luminous divining
Of the singing and the ringing, that a dreamless peace foretells.

From "The Mellow Wedding Bells":

Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of tender passion their melodious voice foretells!

From "The Loud Alarum Bells":

Yet we know
By the booming and the clanging,
By the roaring and the twanging,
How the danger falls and rises like the tides that ebb and flow

From "The Mournful Iron Bells":

What a world of desolation in their iron utterance dwells!
And we tremble at our doom,
As we think upon the tomb,
Glad endeavour quenched for ever in the silence and the gloom.

The beauty of The Bells was magnified by the voices of Choral Arts Society (under the direction of Scott Tucker and composed of 130 members, a few more women than men, my count) and the guests performers named above, so eloquent and professional in their deliveries, one could think of no better singers to be hired for such an occasion.

(Have you ever heard of the "celesta," one of three keyboards played in Bells?  Neither has Dorling-Kindersley, Limited, which published the Complete Classical Music Guide (2012) or David Pogue and Scott Speck, authors of Classical Music for Dummies (1997), who all omit the instrument defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "a keyboard and metal plates struck by hammers (! (editor's addition)) that produce bell-like tones."  To the untrained, it makes sounds like one might imagine a grownup's toy piano would.  Delightful!  What a nice girl's name to bestow. Akin to "celestial.")

Who would have thought the night would become so glorious, and to think I just picked the performance for my #1 love, Rachmaninoff!

(Update:  At a later event I met a Russian scholar who told me if Poe were any other nationality besides American, he thought Poe would have been Russian, based on Poe's temperament. This was a man who said he read Poe's complete works every summer when he visited his grandmother.)

(Questions: Where were the floral arrangements usually found at the end of the aisles at the stage, and why were the first two rows of seats kept empty of concertgoers?)

What:  Borodin, Mozart, Poe, and Rachmaninoff

When:  Tonight, 8 p.m.

Where:  John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.

Admission:  Tickets start at $10.

Duration:  About two hours with one 15 minute intermission

For more information: 202-467-4600


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lincoln assassins' gravesites in Washington and Baltimore

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln,  volunteers on Saturday led tours at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. to the graves of several who were associated with the president's assassination in Washington on April 14, 1865, and his death the next day. A volunteer guide at the cemetery, Steve Hammond, quoted some who claim that because Ulysses S. Grant did not go with President Lincoln to Ford's Theatre that night, it was "one of the reasons Lincoln was assassinated....Grant's wife couldn't stand Mary Todd Lincoln."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Looking towards the entrance of Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
Volunteer guide Steve Hammond talks about conspirator David Herold, hanged on July 7, 1865 for his role in President Lincoln's assassination.  Hammond said Herold is buried beneath this grave of Elizabeth Jane Herold at Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C., but Wikipedia says Herold has a gravestone at the cemetery:
On February 15, 1869, David's mother and 5 of his sisters interred his remains in Congressional Cemetery ( Washington, D. C. ) in an unmarked grave, next to the grave of his father Adam.[6][7] The gravestone memorializing David now present in Congressional Cemetery was placed there in July 1917, at the time of the burial of his sister Mary Alice ( Herold ) Nelson (October 16, 1837 – July 1, 1917) in the cemetery. Mary Alice was the wife of Frederick Massena Nelson (January 1827 - May 11, 1909) of Pomonkey, Charles County, Maryland/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This is the grave of Charles Forbes, who "was someone who should have been fired," based on his actions (or inactions) on the day of the Lincoln assassination, said Steve Hammond, a guide at Congressional Cemetery, on Saturday.  Supposedly before he shot Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth gave Forbes his business card when he "walked up to Forbes and said something," but Forbes carried the remark with him to the grave. The marker (above) reads:  
"Charles Forbes
Died October 11, 1895
Age 60
Margaret Forbes
Died October 26, 1881
Age 53
Charles Forbes Served As
Personal Attendant
to President Lincoln
He Accompanied The
Lincolns To Ford's
Theatre On The Night of
April 14, 1865 And Was
Seated Just Outside The
Box When The President Was Shot. 
The Lincoln Group
of Washington, 1983
/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Peter Taltavull (1825-1881) owned the Star Saloon, next door to Ford's Theatre where John Wilkes Booth stopped for a drink of  whiskey and water shortly before the assassination, according to Taltavull's testimony at the conspiracy trial. After Lincoln was shot, the medical team briefly considered taking the president to Taltavull's saloon before the president was taken across the street to Petersen's boarding house. Taltavull's grave is at Congressional Cemetery/Photo by Patricia Leslie Wilkes Booth who assassinated President Lincoln, and two others associated with the assassination, Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlen (O'Laughlin), are buried in Baltimore at Green Mount Cemetery where a chapel sits atop the hill/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Booth Family plot, Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD, where John Wilkes Booth was buried in 1869.  His small unmarked gravestone with Lincoln pennies on top is almost in the center of the photo/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The unmarked grave of John Wilkes Booth in the Booth Family plot at Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD, where visitors leave Lincoln pennies/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E Street, SE, Washington, D.C. 20003, ph. 202-543-0539 
Green Mount Cemetery, 1501 Greenmount Ave., Baltimore, MD 21202, ph. 410-539-0641

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Sunday at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York City/Photo by Patricia Leslie
St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York City can accommodate 3,000 persons, but on Easter Sunday, it was standing room only at the 10:15 a.m. service.
Dollars placed in the collection bags on the crowded day will help the church pay a portion of a massive renovation project estimated to cost $175 million.  The building's exterior and stained-glass windows are being cleaned, and improvements to crumbling brick and marble damaged by acid rain are underway.  Completion of the project is scheduled for this December, and $100 million has been raised. 
James Renwick, Jr. (1818-1895), who designed Washington's Smithsonian "Castle" on the National Mall and the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, is best know for St. Patrick's, which he created in the Gothic Revival or neo-Gothic style.  The church cornerstone was laid in 1858 but the Civil War caused construction to cease shortly thereafter.  It resumed in 1865, and the cathedral was completed in 1878/Photo by Patricia Leslie

While an usher collects donations, the Archbishop of New York, His Eminence, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, prepares the incense at the 10:15 a.m. Easter Sunday service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The Archbishop of New York, His Eminence, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, spreads the Gospel at the rear of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York during the 10:15 a.m. Easter Sunday service/Photo by Patricia Leslie
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The clergy takes a left turn at the rear of the church at the conclusion of the 10:15 a.m. Easter Sunday service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York.  This perspective looks in the main entrance where police blocked latecomers who formed a line for the next service.  Standing on church steps, latecomers had an elevated view of the finery in the Easter Parade underway on the street below. Seen on the right is an unknown Chinese message, one of few handwritten signs observed in the area/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The 2015 Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue, New York

In your Easter bonnet/Photo by Patricia Leslie
With all the frills upon it (Darling, height means everything in the Easter Parade!)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
You'll be the grandest fellow in the Easter parade/Photo by Patricia Leslie
I'll be all in clover/Photo by Patricia Leslie
And when they look you over/Photo by Patricia Leslie
I'll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade (See the giant butterfly?)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
On the Avenue (There's a swan in here somewhere)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Fifth Avenue/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The photographers will snap us/Photo by Patricia Leslie
And you'll find that you're in the rotagravure (?)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Oh, I could write a sonnet/Photo by Patricia Leslie
About your Easter bonnet/Photo by Patricia Leslie

And of the girl I'm taking to the Easter parade/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York.  He forgot his bunny ears/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A bonnet of recycled magazines/Photo by Patricia Leslie
With apologies to Irving Berlin.