Thursday, January 31, 2019

'Three Sistahs' delight Metro Stage

From left,  Kara-Tameika Watkins, Roz White, and Ayana Reed in Three Sistahs at MetroStage/Photo by Chris Banks

Guuurrrrl, let's be goin' to the MetroStage to see why in the world those Three Sistahs are back for the fourth time!

It's because, girlfriend, those Sistahs are great!  They put on a really good show, with plenty of action and dynamics to keep your blood flowin' fast.  And, guuurrrrlll, can they sing!  Pour it on, Mama!

Those Sistahs are lovin' what they do!  They prance and dance all over that stage and yell at each other, just like real sistahs! And they have a white cloth they throw around all the livelong play. I know they'd be lost without it. What a useful prop!

"The ring!  Daddy's ring!  Where is it? Who's got it?"

The sisters gather together in their daddy's house after their brother's early death, and after their parents', but it's the daddy who's the subject of most of the talk.  

What's left? Each other? A husband, whom Marsha (Kara-Tameika Watkins) ain't too proud to have.

They meet to pick up the pieces and let it all hang out which they do to song in the production written and directed by Thomas W. Jones II.

The time is 1969 after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the youngest sister, Irene (Ayana Reed), in an almost perpetual frown, is the prickly protestor who stands her ground with her sisters who are inclined to tolerate the status quo.

These are sophisticated women who ain't takin' no words from nobody about how to live their lives, no sirree. "I'll do it on my own, please and thank you, without any advice from the likes of you, my dear sistah!"

Unlike most musicals when you can't make out all the words, these voices are strong and the words, easy to follow as the women lay out their past and grievances with each other and their dad.

Alexander Keen fills the centerpiece with sexy blue lighting in the best scene when Olive (Roz White) relives her "first time" with "Cadillac" in a one-woman demonstration which lights human fires all around. I declare she could heat up all of Washington, D.C. were she to perform outside.

Ummmm, ummmm, ummmm, girlfriend. I need a cloth to wipe my brow!

Remarkable direction and Ms. White's performance become an acting class.  (She's one of the original actors from MetroStage's first Sistahs presented in 2002.) 

These ladies are sure to delight womenfolk with sisters who will recognize some, maybe all, the elements in the conversations. But, do ladies say bad words like this?

Pianist William Knowles leads bassist Yusef Chisholm and percussionist Greg Holloway off-stage in all styles of music and welcome accompaniment.

Michael Sharp's costumes are refined without being obtrusive.

The set by Carl Gudenius and Nancy Bundy is appropriate, balanced just right without unnecessary complexity to detract from the message which is: I've got to put up with you so we might as well make the most of it and love each other while we can 

Amen, sistah!

Producing Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin, a theatre icon herself, knows a good thing when she's got it.
Other crew members are William G. Wacker, sound;  Michael Sharp, stage manager; and Joshua Stout, assistant stage manager  

What: Three Sistahs with story by Janet Pryce and music by William Hubbard

Through February 24, 2019 on Thursday through Saturday nights at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. and weekend matinees at 3 p.m.

Where: MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Tickets: $55.  Call the Box Office

Duration: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission

Refreshments:  Available and may be taken to seats 

Parking: On-site and free (enter on Third Street) or park on the street. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

'Superior Donuts' is a super play in Reston

 From left, Bryce Monroe ("Franco") and Michael Kharfen  ("Arthur") star in Reston Community Players' Superior Donuts/ Jennifer Heffner Photography

The superior acting in the Reston's Community Players' newest production, Superior Donuts, more than makes up for the lame title which, I suspect, does not draw audiences and might even turn some away. 

Who wants to see a play about donuts?  Or so, it would appear. 

May I be so bold to suggest a different title, Trading Places?

Indeed, it was "trading places," the theme which struck me, rather than racism which director Seth Ghitelman writes in the program notes.

The production begins with the pernicious, prickly parasite, Max (wickedly acted by Tel Monks) in the racist role, but Max means no offense. 

He taunts the black policeman, Officer Bailey (Matthew McCarthy): "I didn't mean anything by it, really."


The play's timing is right for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month next month, but, to me, this was all about contrasts of young and old, new and stale, go and stop, zest and doom. It had nothing to do with "donuts" which serves as a substitute for a much bigger piece of life's pie.  (Groan)

Mr. Ghitelman extracts marvelous performances from his cast, especially from the star of the show, Michael Kharfen who is Arthur Przybyszewski, the shopkeeper who makes the best donuts in Chicago, but whose life is rather hum-drum. 

Like the boring donut's shape, Arthur's life continues endlessly, round and round with nothing particularly to upset the apple cart other than constant sad memories he tells in soliloquies under a spot light (which tend to drag the play down. Dialogue could have better communicated the messages. I found myself thinking: "Oh no, not another one").

Regrets, yes, Arthur's had a few, but in walks a human tornadoBryce Monroe as Franco, to drive Arthur's meaningless life pattern off course and set a new trajectory, or try to, anyway.

Arthur hires the upstart Franco who knows a thing or two about finding new customers, mind you, and how to attract members of the opposite sex. Franco doesn't hesitate to unload his ideas about shop and self improvements on Arthur.

To Arthur, Franco says:  Why doncha play some music in here? Rearrange the seating?  And if you have any interest in that pretty policewoman (Mattie Cohan is Officer Osteen), why don't you stand up straight?  Get some shoes besides those lifeless tennis shoes, cut your awful pony tail, trim those eyebrows, and wear a nice shirt. Shed your hippy, old-fashioned ways, and Officer Osteen might take a shine to you, if you showed you care.

But does Arthur care?

Franco is too peppy, too full of life, hopes and dreams.  He's enthusiastic, and he's young!  Let's get real here and "grow up!" Arthur shouts at him.  Dim your lights!

But who grows up? 

A dream is shattered and hope is quashed until revived by an odd life saver who is rescued himself.

The bad guys (expertly acted by Ian Mark Brown as a tough and realistic Chicago hood, ably assisted by Michael King) enact punishment which is far too extreme.  Did they have to go that far?

And what about the language? 

Audiences need to be forewarned that Donuts is full of bad words, none, necessary but included, one supposes, to attract millennials to the stage, but is that what they want?   Pshaw.  It's a put-off.
From left,  Ian Mark Brown ("Luther") and Michael Kharfen ("Arthur")  duke it out while Michael King  ("Kevin")  watches in Reston Community Players' Superior Donuts/ Jennifer Heffner Photography

The longest and best fight I have seen on stage was skillfully choreographed by Karen Schlumpf and Ian Claar (is there an award for fight choreography?) who direct two old men to duke it out all over the set and back in the kitchen.




Here, have some hot donut grease on top of that arm.


One of my favorite characters was Sally Cusenza who portrays a homeless woman who slouches in and out of the shop every now and then, a welcome creature dressed to the nines in homeless attire, lugging along a grocery cart full of her last belongings.  Her mannerisms and personality add a welcome dimension to the show, with some funny lines, but no one ridicules her. 

(Congratulations to Ms. Cusenza who excels in triple roles as hair and makeup designer.)

Donuts was billed as a comedy but if this is a comedy, you can eat all the donuts in Chicago for a year and not gain a pound. Besides, you'll be gnawing about these Donuts, not the sugary kind. 

Also in the cast is Tice Rust, a heavy who, in real life, is a Spanish teacher at Herndon High School.

Other crew members are Bea and Jerry Morse, producers and set decoration; Laura Baughman, stage manager; Ashley Primavera, assistant stage manager; Maggie Modig, set designer; Adam Konowe, lighting;  William Chrapcynski, sound; Mary Jo Ford, properties; Mary Gayle Rankin, costumes;  Sara Birkhead, master electrician; Scott Birkhead, master carpenter; Sandy Dotson, light board operator.

Tracy Letts, who wrote the 2008 Pulitzer winner, August: Osage County, is the playwright.

Rated: R 

Language:  X

Ages: Adults

Who: Reston Community Players 

What: Superior Donuts
by Tracy Letts
When: Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. through Feb. 2 with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., Jan. 27, 2019.

Where: Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA 20191

Tickets: Buy online, at the box office at the Community Center, or call 703-476-4500 and press 3 for 24-hour service.  $28, adults; $24, students and seniors.

Duration: About two hours and 15 minutes with one  intermission. 


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Interview with Klaus Ottmann for the Phillips' 'Nordic Impressions'

Oda Krohg (1860-1935), A Subscriber to the Evening Post, 1887, The National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design, Oslo.  The Phillips' wall text said, "one of the earliest examples of social critique to include the image of a child in art."  This is the artist's child, Nana, 2, cutting up a conservative newspaper which criticized intellectuals' life styles, namely that of the artist and her husband, Christian, who resisted bourgeois society.

You may have missed the eclectic, broad survey of 200 years of art at Nordic Impressions which closed Sunday at the Phillips Collection to which we give utmost thanks for opening its doors at no charge to federal employees during the Trump Shutdown. 

Pictured here are most of my favorites from the show which all tend to be styled more or less in the same manner, and it is interesting that without paying much attention to the artist's gender, I chose many by female artists, many who seem to represent the same time period. Anyway...

Impressions included 53 artists from Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the self-governing islands of Åland, Faroe, and Greenland.

Helmer Osslund (1866-1938), A Summer Evening at Lake Kallsjon, 1910, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Paintings and video installations of Nordic lights and darks highlighted the show of landscapes and melancholic portraits, self exploration, and works of women's rights and social liberalism.

The exhibition was years in the making, beginning after the successful run of the 2013 Nordic Cool exhibition at the Kennedy Center.

Mamma Andersson (b. 1962), Behind the Curtain, 2014, collection of the artist
Harriet Backer (1845-1932), Evening Interior, 1890, The National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design, Oslo. Backer "was one of the most influential Norwegian artists of her generation," said the wall text.  The year she painted Evening Interior, she had shifted from natural to artificial light and its concomitant "harsh shadows."

To advance the display of flowing Nordic treasures, Nordic Council members signed the Nordic Cultural Initiative with the Phillips in 2014 with the purpose "to promote the wealth of Nordic artistic talent" and to cultivate attention on the art.

The Phillips' chief curator and deputy director for academic affairs,
Klaus Ottmann, began working with the embassies on the show in 2014, he said in a telephone interview. 

 Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Self-Portrait, 1895,The Phillips Collection.  The wall text said "the skeletal arm" (not shown here) "along the bottom serving as a reminder of the artist's mortality."  He was 32 when he painted Self-Portrait.
 Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Henrik Ibsen at the Grand Cafe, 1902, The Phillips Collection. Munch made more than 400 illustrations of Ibsen's plays, according to the wall text.  Both were Norwegian.

With assistance from the Nordic Council, Dr. Ottmann traveled to all eight countries in the summer of 2015, spending two and half weeks visiting five museums every day and meeting with museum directors, curators, and viewing hundreds of pieces of art, all the while taking notes and pictures.

Johan Thomas Lundbye (1818-1848), Zealand Landscape, 1842, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen
Jorgen V. Sonne (1801-1890), Midsummer's Eve,  Sick People Asleep upon the Grave of St. Helena near Tisvilde St. Hansnat, 1847, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen. The wall text described the sick people in the painting visiting St. Helena's grave site, hoping to be cured by the saint.  Legend says St. Helena's body washed ashore causing a spring to appear that, since the Middle Ages, ill people have visited, hoping to be cured. The artist's rendition of the sky's colors was one of the first to illuminate Denmark's "unique midsummer-night light" when sunset and sunlight meet over the sea..
Dr. Klaus Ottmann of the Phillips Collection at the opening of Nordic Impressions/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The selection of the art was not an easy task, said Dr. Ottmann.

"All the countries very strongly felt the three self-governing nations [Åland, Faroe, and Greenland] must have artists represented," and they also insisted that indigenous artists from the northern parts of Sweden and Finland be included in the show.

They were.

 Ruth Smith (1913-1958), Self-Portrait, 1955, National Gallery of the Faroe Islands.  The artist was born in the Faroe Islands, one of the three self-governing islands represented in the exhibition. The wall text said her self-portrait "reflects the influence of Paul Cezanne....[and] is mercilessly faithful and reflects her depression due to her deteriorating eyesight."
Christian Krohg (1852-1925), Braiding Her Hair, 1888, The National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design, Oslo
Populations (or "equal representation") of the countries were not considered for Nordic Impressions, Dr. Ottmann explained. Ten artists from each of the five largest countries were selected plus one each from the island nations for a total of 53.

Several times in the interview Dr. Ottmann mentioned the limitation of space he had at the Phillips which meant selectivity of pieces was critical, but no one in the Nordic contingent insisted on particular artists, but some gave him "helpful advice."  

The embassies were "very, very helpful. I didn't get everything I wanted, and we communicated back and forth."
Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946), The Seamstress (The Working Woman), 1905, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki
Fanny Brate (1861-1940), Sunshine, 1898, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916), Interior with the Artist's Easel, 1910, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen.  The wall text identified the artist as a recluse who seldom provided narrative.
Asger Jorn (1914-1973), Ainsi on s'Ensor (Out of this World-after Ensor), 1962,  Museum Jorn, Silkeborg.  Jorn was an experimental artist who modified paintings in the style of Belgian artist James Ensor (1860-1949), according to wall text. This is a reworked rendition of a hanged man by French artist Hugues de Beaumont (1874-1947). The title means "and so one departs." Note the prickly cat.
From his work for the show, "I learned two major things:
I was surprised by the number of women artists from the Nortics [about half the artists in the show], especially in the 19th century which I didn't know before," and "the diversity, a lot of it, especially the styles of the artists."

Dr. Ottmann found "lots of abstracts in many different styles which I tried to include," and he did.

The exhibition was "not inclusive, or comprehensive and
clearly, there are some things missing," he said. But diversity was evident and the common themes of nature, family life, and a strong sense of ecology were dominant.

"I did not want it to be another cliche" for Nordic art, Dr. Ottmann said: "I wanted [the exhibition] to have surprises," and it did. Many of them.

"The Nordic scene is so powerful. There was much for me to learn."

 Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir (also known as "Shoplifter") and Dr. Klaus Ottmann at the opening of Nortic Impressions at The Phillips Collection. Behind them is Zealand Landscape, 1842, by Johan Thomas Lundbye (1818-1848), National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Some of the artists in the show were from the Golden Age and Romantic era (Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Helene Schjerfbeck), while others are known for their nationalism and French influence (Franciska Clausen and Helmer Osslund). Sigurður Guðmundsson and Poul Gernes demonstrated conceptual and experimental art.

Contemporary artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir also known as "Shoplifter" (because the pronouncement of her name sounds like "Shoplifter"), is a present resident of Brooklyn
"discovered" by Dr. Ottmann on his trip, he said. She visited the Phillips three times to help with planning, as did other Nordic artists and musicians. ("Shoplifter" will represent Iceland in this year's Venice Biennale which boasts an attendance of a half million persons.)

Dr. Ottmann wrote the lead essay for the catalogue and others making contributions were Dorthe Aagesen, chief curator and senior researcher, SMK Copenhagen; Kasper Monrad, former chief curator and senior researcher, SMK Copenhagen; Riitta Ojanperä, director of collections management, Finnish National Gallery; Nils Ohlsen, director of old masters and modern art, The National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design; and Carl-Johan Olsson, curator, 19th-century painting, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

The 200-paged softbound catalogue with color reproductions and artists' biographical sketches sells for $19.95 in the Phillips' gift shop. 

An abbreviated, contemporary version of the exhibition screened earlier in Seattle.

The Marion F. Goldin Charitable Fund, the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, and the scan|design foundation helped make the exhibition possible with in-kind support by Farrows and Ball.

This year will mark Dr. Ottmann's ninth year at the Phillips where he curated George Condo before Nordic, one of more than 50 shows he has orchestrated around the world, including one opening January 26 at American University, The Gifts of Tony Podesta.

A native of Nuremberg, Germany, Dr. Ottmann earned a M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy and began his career as an art critic. He has written so many books, "a lot, I can't keep up with [them]. I've been writing for almost 35 years."

He did not mention it, but his Wikipedia page says in 2016 he was awarded the French Medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres). The honor recognizes notable artists, writers, and others who have helped advance the arts in France and around the world. Dr. Ottmann joins the company of T.S. Eliot, Rudolf Nureyev, Philip Glass and others.

Where: The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St., N.W. at Q St., Washington, D.C. 20009

Hours: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday (with a ticket) until 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, 12 - 6:30 p.m.
Admission: $12, $10 for students and those over 62, free for members and for children 18 and under. A ticket includes admission to all exhibitions on view. From Tuesday through Friday, admission is free to the permanent collection and on Saturday and Sunday, permanent collection prices are reduced to $10 (adults) and $8 (seniors and students). Those under 18 are admitted at no charge.

Metro Station: Dupont Circle (Q Street exit. Turn left and walk one block.)

For more information
: 202-387-2151
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