Friday, April 29, 2016

Critic Sarah Kaufman at the American Women Writers National Museum

Sarah Kaufman at the American Women Writers National Museum at the National Press Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Last month the Pulitzer Prize winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman was the featured speaker at a luncheon meeting of the American Women Writers National Museum at the National Press Club, and she talked mostly about her new book The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life which is about saving grace or getting it, or something.

The cover is rather non-descript, not an eye-catcher that makes you stop at the book table to take a second look amidst the competitors vying for attention, and the title is rather lame, too, to match the cover, and I am sorry, Sarah, but the contents ("grace," huh?) are not something to whet a reading appetite, unless a reader needs sleeping aids (which likely means I need lots of it. Grace, that is, not sleeping pills.)

When we see "Grace" on the cover of a book jacket, Sarah, we expect something titillating about Grace Kelly. It doesn't even have to be something new. How high has anything about "grace" ever climbed on the charts?  (But, like all the other celebrity writers, Sarah, I am sure you didn't write this for the money.)

Sarah, do you honestly think the current crop of millennials is interested in holding open doors? (Just ask Metro.)

(Update after a friend's email: I suppose I came to the meeting not to hear about another book (of which I barely knew she had one), but to perhaps glean some insight and information on ways I can become a better writer which, I dare say, explained the attendance of most, if not all, who were there.

Anything unrelated to Grace was only extracted from Ms. Kaufman in Q and A. 

And blurbs, blurbs, blurbs, blah, blah, blah.  So many on so many books.  What do they matter?  

Do you honestly think another staff member from the Post or Huffington Post is going to say anything negative about a colleague's pride and joy?  Come now.  You scratch my book and I'll scratch yours.)

Ms. Kaufman has been the dance critic at the Washington Post since 1996, and won the Pulitzer in 2010, only the second dance critic to win the major prize, and "neither of us is from New York," she said, almost proudly. And New York is a city where she has never lived and seldom visits. (Take that, New York and Big Apple-loving Hirshhorn director.  Why don't you go back where you came from? And take Peter Marks (hasn't won the Pulitzer) with you and maybe Philip Kennicott (won the Pulitzer) since all they seem to write about are the arts in New York.  We got plenty of arts in D.C.)

Married and the mother of three, Ms. Kaufman still looks like a ballerina, but with years of training, she said she has never danced professionally.

Answering a question from a guest about her reading choices, she said that growing up with brothers put her in touch with the Hardy Boys, whose every title she has read. (Nancy Drews, no, never; you hear that Justice Sotomayor?) Ms. Kaufman admires the style of Katherine Anne Porter (won the Pulitzer) "so perceptive" who "really had a sense of the artificiality and hypocrisy of what was going on in that era."

Ms. Kaufman said she had just read (hasn't won the Pulitzer) Jonathan Franzen's Purity and liked it, but devoured (won the Pulitzer) Donna Tartt's Goldfinch: "That thing just flew" (760 pages).

"Belt-tightening" began at the Post about five years ago, and the paper is "tapering down on reviews" since they don't produce the online traffic the newspaper desires, she said.

Ms. Kaufman said she will be writing more "thinking pieces" and advance notices, and invited all there to send her ideas.

"Artists here [in Washington] are getting richer," Ms. Kaufman said, but still, whether it's ballet, modern or jazz, "live form of dance is really having a struggle. The key is young people. The Golden Goose of every dance company" is figuring "how to get young people" in the doors, and the hell with the old for after we are gone, the halls (and printed newspapers) will be no more (Editor's note).

The American Women Writers National Museum was founded by attorney Janice Law and is celebrating its fourth anniversary. It is "a Museum in Washington, D.C. for American Women Authors, Playwrights, Poets, Screenwriters, Journalists."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

'Dial 'T' for Thriller' at the Olney

Nisi Sturgis is Margot Wendice in Dial 'M' for Murder at Olney Theatre Center. "Hark!  Who goes there?"  "Honey, may I borrow your phone?"/Photo by Stan Barouh

Once you step inside the theater at the Olney and spy the set, darling, you know it will be a magnificent show, quite enough to suit your fancy and leave you spellbound throughout. 

From left, Nisi Sturgis as Margot Wendice, Cameron McNary as Max Halliday, and Alan Wade as Inspector Hubbard in Dial 'M' for Murder at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

Alfred Hitchcock fans will not want to miss the theatre's newest production, Dial 'M' for Murder, every bit the mystery on stage as it was in the master's 1954 movie starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. (Can you imagine?)

From the get-go and the haunting shadow from the cascading single light shining from above (design by Sonya Dowhaluk) and the pling, pling, pling of the single strings (marvelously composed and played by Roc Lee on a synthesizer), who needs a plot when you can just sit back and admire the living room, a piece of art unto itself with fab 50s Mad Men decor, the sofa, the chairs, the harsh corners, the lamps, the trophy shelves, and the doors (design by Charlie Calvert). 

In true Hitchcock fashion, you must keep up with the key, dearie, or get lost like the rest of us, but it doesn't matter.  Where there's Hitchcock and murder, you know you are in for a treat, even if the wrong man is snuffed out. Director Jason King Jones makes sure shadows of doubt lurk in the minds of attendees.

The mystery begins with Margot Wendice (Nisi Sturgis) and her lover, Max Halliday (Cameron McNary), a foreign correspondent, who quickly reveal their dangerous lies.

Ashley Smith is the handsome (with a touch of George Clooney) and beloved (or is he?) Tony Wendice, the rich and strange husband, thrown overboard for the likes of another man.  Tony enlists an old pal, James Konicek as Captain Lesgate in a blackmail sweep, as Tony's suspicion of the illicit couple grows, and downhill they go.

In the single female role Ms. Sturgis does resemble Grace Kelly, a believable, adoring spouse (no farmer's wife) especially as a white shadow underneath the spotlight in a flowing gown. (I suppose the leading female had to be a blonde, perhaps a Hitchcock requirement.)

Then there is the ubiquitous (almost notorious) Alan Wade as Inspector Hubbard who said at the after-party he has starred in so many Olney shows, he's lost count (about 25), but quite a natural, the man who knows too much.  Look out when he shows up at the torn curtain, at the entrance to a pleasure garden, right outside the rear window through which various characters come and go in their passionate adventures (?).  (You see what I mean about intrigue?)

Who might the victim be?  Leave it to Hitchcock to upset the planned order of things.  

The costuming (by Seth Gilbert) is divine, especially the peach colors wore by Captain Lesgate, and the Fab 50s apparel of Margo who sweeps the stage a la Loretta Young, if anyone young and innocent can recall her television show. 

The pace is fast, also propelled by lighting and music which are skilfully woven with the characters to leave us guessing.

The dialect coach, Zachary Campion, did a splendid job, guiding the actors in natural, unpretentious delivery, and is to be commended for outstanding achievement (is there an award for that?), and is an important crew member, like fight choreographer, Casey Kaleba, able to land strong punches. 

Let's finish with a toast of champagne, shall we?, before we say "bon voyage" (May 1, but look for an extension) to another really good show at the Olney.

 Hear!  HearHelen Hayes nominations

Outstanding Lighting Design: Sonya Dowhaluk

Outstanding Musical Direction: Roc Lee

Outstanding Set Design: Charlie Calvert

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play: Ashley Smith

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play: James Konicek

Additional members of the creative team are Elisabeth A. Ribar, production stage manager, and Alexandra Ley, dramaturg. Frederick Knott (1916-2002) wrote the play, which was originally part of a BBC television series with its premiere in London in 1952.

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

When:  Wednesday through Saturday through May 1, 2016 at 8 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and an April 27, Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m.  

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

Duration: 130 minutes with one intermission.

Available for purchase and may be taken to seats.

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

Special performances and events:

April 20, 8 p.m.  Audio described performance for the visually impaired, presented by Metropolitan Washington Ear.

April 23, 2 p.m. and April 30, 2 p.m., Afterwords, post-show discussions

For more information: