Thursday, October 31, 2019

A haunted house howls in Alexandria

From left, Kirk Lambert, Patricia Nicklin, and  Shannon Labadie star in Little Theatre of Alexandria's The Haunting of Hill House/Photo by Matt Liptak

Just in time for Halloween comes The Haunting of Hill House now on stage at the Little Theatre of Alexandria with sounds, screeches, screams, poundings, and more rumblings like you have never heard before.

Sound designer Janice Rivera will surely receive a WATCH nomination for her work on this show which got its start 60 years ago as a novel by Shirley Jackson

Since then, it has evolved into a radio series, a television series, two movies, and a play. 

For the last century, Wikipedia calls Haunting one of the best literary ghost stories published and quotes Stephen King who describes it as one of the finest horror novels.

The Wall Street Journal said Ms. Jackson's book is "now widely regarded as the greatest haunted-house story ever written.

Is it any wonder that LTA chose it for the ghoulish season?

A foursome straggles in to Hill House where a sullen Mrs. Dudley (Danielle Taylor) greets them with official rules which she doesn't bend nor does she spend the night at Hill House, if you please.

The group has come to explore the mystics of this odd place since they've got supernatural on their minds. Never mind that they are strangers in a strange place.   

Shannon Labadie is the mousy Eleanor whose dull personality (matched with excellent costuming by Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley) springs to life once the haunts invade her spirits.  She stumbles into the surroundings as if she's walking in a spooked haze, wearing an imaginary beekeeper's hat which encases her mind with mysterious dandies.  In other words, Director Maggie Mumford has her in a constant fog.   

The exuberant and theatrical "Theodora"  (Kathy Ohlhaber) (always in yellow) soon joins Eleanor in an elaborately decorated Victorian parlor (designed by Ken Brown and Peter Mumford with Luana Bossolo).

After pleasantries are exchanged, the ladies meet the men of this weird four pack, Dr. Montague (Bruce Alan Rauscher), who has called the group to order. He is accompanied by "Luke" (James Murphy) whose reason for being I could not quite determine, unless, partners?

Enter Dr. Montague's wife (Patricia Nicklin, always one of my fav actors at LTA) on the arms of another man (Kirk Lambert). (Relationships are left unspoken.)

Ms. Nicklin's sweeping gestures, white gloves, and exaggerated mannerisms add much needed"grandeur" and humor to this house party where the choking environment threatens the weakest and swallows whole those among them whose souls dive into inner selves (?).

If you let it, a house can overcome you. This house is not a home.

Adapted for the stage by F. Andrew Leslie.

Other crew members are Alan K. Wray, producer with
Stacey Becker, also set painting designer;  Cynthia Mullins, assistant director;  Sherry Clarke and Donna Reynolds, stage managers;  JK Lighting; Jodi LaCoe, properties; Susan Boyd, hair and makeup; Margaret Snow, wardrobe coordinator; and Russell Wyland, rigging.

What: The Haunting of Hill House

When: Now through November 9, 2019. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. November 2 and 3 performances are sold out.

Where: Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Tickets: $21 to $24

Language rating: G.  Youngsters will enjoy the sounds and environment but may find the story too difficult to follow.

Duration: About two hours with one 15-minute intermission

Public transportation: Check the Metro website.

Parking: On the streets and in many garages nearby. If Capital One Bank at Wilkes and Washington streets is closed, the bank's lot is open to LTA patrons at no charge.

For more information: 703-683-0496

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A 'gentleman's' rampage in Reston

The Reston Community Players' ensemble in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder now onstage at the Reston Community Center/Jennifer Hefner Photography

The Reston Community Players  have done it again: Produced another great musical comedy, sure to draw full houses once word reaches the street.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder  was presented only six years ago on Broadway (where it won four Tonys, including Best Musical) and counters the sensation that it has been around a while longer. It exhibits all the traits of classical theatre.

This "gentleman" ain't especially the nice kind. How could he be a nice guy and be the subject of a play? What's a play (life?) with a bunch of nice guys? A boring play.

"Monty" (Aaron Paige) slays the dragons who clutter the highway on his climb to the summit of his success, namely, to become the Earl of Highhurst. His methods consume the story which is hilarious from beginning to end, boosted by elegant apparel of the Edwardian age, post-Victorian, 1909 London. (Costuming by
Lori Crockett surely will gain her a WATCH nomination.)

Director Richard Farella guides the best from the star, Patrick Graham (another likely WATCH nominee) in his knockout roles as eight (or nine?) members of the D'Ysquith family in uncanny fashion with individualized antics, pauses, bends, voices, inflections, what have you, easily a class in theatre itself. 

Rapid costume changes for Mr. Graham are necessary, but who's counting? Certainly, no one in the audience.

The Reston Community Players' ensemble has a lovely dinner in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder now onstage at the Reston Community Center/Jennifer Hefner Photography

Two ladies (both with splendid personalities and voices to match: AnnaBelle Lowe who is Sibella, Monty's first love, and Holly Kelly is Phoebe) vie for Monty's attention.

In a memorable scene, the lover boy sails from one closed hallway door to another where his lady friends await behind opposite doors as he tries to keep the presence of each unknown to the other. (We've seen it once; we've seen it before, yet slamming doors never get old when they produce the desired effect. The precise door choreography is cause for applause.)
It doesn't take much to see portraits come alive! Talk about talking heads!

The actors' voices all seem strong enough to carry throughout the auditorium, making microphones unnecessary which cause too much amplification at times.

Simple but effective sets by Dan Remmers with Cathy Rieder,  scenic designer, and Sandy Dotson, set decorator, are changed by slides with nominal interruption.

Mary Jo Ford supplies basic props which are perfectly adequate in number and style for their short presence on stage. 

Kudos to the excellently executed ensemble dancing, choreographed by Paige Wakefield, who is also the assistant director.

Marvelous musical accompaniment mingles throughout the performance from the 14-member orchestra in the pit, led by Blakeman Brophy who singles as a romantic pianist in an interlude for Monty and a lady.  (Emily "EJ" Jonas is the "intimacy coach," a title increasingly found in theatre credits. I wonder what the training is. )

The play (by Robert L. Freeman based on the 1907 novel by Roy Horniman) is not entirely fictitious since H. H. Asquith (1852-1928) was the first Earl of Oxford and Asquith and UK prime minister from 1908-1916. Wikipedia notes, "it was a matter of family pride" for Lord Asquith that his family had an ancestor who served jail time for participation in a movement to reject a return to the monarchy (1663).

Gentleman's Guide opens with Monty writing his memoirs from a prison cell.

Attention, Audience:  You are about to witness murder in the ninth degree which is nine removed from Earldom.  Perfect timing for Halloween!

Other cast members are the naughty Sara C. Watson as Miss Shingle, Jolene Vettese, Julia A. Braxton, Joey Olson, Maura Lacy (also dance captain), Jake Lefler, Brandon Steele, and James P. Maxted. 

Creative team members include Steven Lutvak, music and lyrics; Robert L. Freedman, book and lyrics; Janet Bordeaux, producer; Colleen Stock, production stage manager; Mitch Macdonald, stage manager; Ryan Desmond, lighting designer; Phil Natalini, sound; Sheila Hyman, hair and makeup; and Alden Michels, dialect coach.

Language: G (no "bad words"!)

Ages: Appropriate for all who may not be able to follow every moment of the story, but quick costume and scene changes and dialogue combine to keep everyone happily engaged.

Who: Reston Community Players

What: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

When: Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. through Nov. 9 with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., Nov. 3, 2019.

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

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.

The Reston Community Center’s CenterStage box office is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4 - 9 p.m.; Saturday from 1 - 5  p.m.; and 2 hours before any ticketed performance.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Communication Awards at the National Academy of Sciences

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) welcomes all to the National Academy of Sciences building at 2101 Constitution Ave., Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

Last Wednesday evening at the Albert Einstein building on Constitution Avenue (AKA National Academy of Sciences), May Berenbaum, the committee chair for the 2019 NAS Communication Awards, gathered with hundreds to honor recipients "for excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering and/or medicine to the general public."

The event, sponsored for the last time by the W.M. Keck Foundation, recognized achievements for written, online, and spoken words by teams and individuals.

Winners in each category receive $20,000. 

Honorees were:

Film/Radio/TV:  Howard Berkes, Nicole Beemsterboer, Huo Jingnan and Robert Benincasa for "Coal's Deadly Dust" which aired on National Public Radio

Magazine/Newspaper:  Tina Saey, "Genetic Testing Goes Mainstream" in Science News. (She was not present to receive her award.)

Online: Lisa Song, Al Shaw, Katie Campbell, Patrick Michels, ad Ranjani Chakraborty for "Flood They Neighbor" in ProPublica and "The Last Generation" for the GroundTruth Project and Frontline PBS. (This award was started in 2009.)
Book:  Carl Zimmer for She Has Her Mother's Laugh:  The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.
The winning science communication team for the category of Film/Radio/TV at NAS included Howard Berkes, Nicole Beemsterboer, Huo Jingnan and Robert Benincasa for their "Coal's Deadly Dust"/photo by Patricia Leslie
The winning science communication team for the Online category at NAS included Lisa Song, Katie Campbell, Al Shaw, Patrick Michels, and Ranjani Chakraborty for "Flood They Neighbor" and "The Last Generation." /photo by Patricia Leslie.
More winners at the National Academy of Sciences 2019 Communication Awards/photo by Patricia Leslie
Carl Zimmer won a 2019 NAS Communication Award for his book, "She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity."  May Berenbaum, right, the NAS committee chair, presented the award/photo by Patricia Leslie
Carl Zimmer at the 2019 NAS Communication Awards/photo by Patricia Leslie
The stage for the presentation of the book category winner She Has Her Mother's Laugh by Carl Zimmer, at right/photo by Patricia Leslie

A reception followed in the Great Hall where Dr. Zimmer autographed his book which was given to attendees who also received copies of the other winning pieces. 

When a woman in line for Dr. Zimmer's autograph told him she wasn't a scientist, he replied:  "This book was not written for scientists."

I hope the awards presentations can continue under another foundation's administration since the Keck Foundation has ended its sponsorship. No reason for the termination was given.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

'Jim Allison: Breakthrough' is a documentary

From Jim Allison:  Breakthrough

Maybe Ann Hornaday is a scientist on the side.  Or a frustrated wannabe scientist.  

Or she's married to one. 

Or majored in biology, or her mom and/or dad is a biologist

Maybe Ann Hornaday has a special relationship with a biologist or another scientist or immunologist. 

Maybe she knows the director, the producers, etc. etc.

Whatever (she's the chief movie reviewer for the Washington Post), I went to see Jim Allison: Breakthrough based on her recommendation to "'just see it'" and, "go twice," and "you won't regret it, and you'll never forget it."  And, another one:
"Just see the dang thing,"

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am here to tell you that you don't need to see it twice.  You don't need to even see it once (unless you're a scientist or a drug marketer or a pharmaceutical company).  

I've seen it for you. 

It's okay; it's a "feel good" story, describing Dr. Allison's life as he pursues his dream, his remarkable persistence and personal driving force to find a cancer cure to help assuage the death of his mother, his brother, his uncle, and now, he's got cancer, too. (And so will you, if you live long enough.)

Congratulations to Dr. Allison and his colleagues for winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2018. And (!), he plays the harmonica...with none other than Willie Nelson! 

This is a good documentary.  It's not a great documentary. 

I do not think it will any awards.  It will not be nominated.

A great story but certainly not a "must see."

I have recommended it to my daughter, a biologist.

It is an education in the long time it takes pharmaceutical companies to get new drugs to the marketplace.

Maybe a re-edited version will cut the many variations of the ocean scene with the Allison brothers which must have been screened at least five times. 

Written and directed by Bill Haney.  The excellent music by Mickey Raphael and Mark Orton exceeds expectations.

Friday, October 11, 2019

'Linda Ronstadt' is fantabulous

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice is an excellent concert on film from beginning to end, and the music is more than mere snippets of her songs. Many music docs often tease and frustrate fans with vastly shortened versions of the hits we know so well. 

Not Linda.

Her big ones are all here: "You're No Good," "Different Drum," "Blue Bayou," among many, presented by archives and video.  

Hearing them anew made me want to rush out and buy a couple of her albums which number more than 30. She has won 10 Grammys and received 26 Grammy nominations. 
From Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

In the film, members of Linda's music family (her agents, producers, publicists, band members, boyfriends -  wish Jerry Brown had consented to inclusion) are interviewed with the big stars who remain dear friends: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris (who tears up at the end), Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, to name a few

Their conversations, thankfully, last more than a few seconds. "Teasers," not.

The interviewees expound on the goodness of Linda, her singing ability, her personality (which never seems to waver in the show from her childhood to present day).

Chats with the star of the show bookend the film and show her charm, intact sense of humor, and great looks.

Deterred by disease?  Not.

Her last live concert was in 2009 before problems with her voice were diagnosed as Parkinson's disease in 2012, leaving her unable to sing. She is 73.

"When Will I Be Loved" contradicts the embrace her fans, friends, and family extend to the woman with the sparkling, distinctive voice like none other.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman directed. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

David Levinthal's little toys mean a lot at the Smithsonian

David Levinthal, Untitled from the series Barbie, 1998, Smithsonian American Art Museum
David Levinthal with his Untitled from the series Barbie, 1998, Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie, June 6, 2019

David Levinthal, Untitled from the series Baseball, 2004, Smithsonian American Art Museum. This is Roberto Clemente, the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  A noted philanthropist, Mr. Clemente died in a 1972 plane crash in Nicaragua while on his way to deliver aid to earthquake victims, the label notes. Reflected in the glass are other photographs in the exhibition/Photo by Patricia Leslie, June 6, 2019
 David Levinthal, Wagon Train, 2018/Photo by Patricia Leslie, June 6, 2019
David Levinthal with his diorama, Wagon Train (in right background)/Photo by Patricia Leslie, June 6, 2019
Detail from David Levinthal's Untitled from the series Wagon Train, 2018, Donald S. Rosenfeld Collection
David Levinthal, Untitled from the series American Beauties, 1990, Smithsonian American Art Museum, from creations of what were once deemed "beautiful" by male makers. The black background contrasts with the dancer's image and creates unease, notes the Smithsonian, while the shadowy snake shape at the dancer's feet adds to the tension.
David Levinthal, Helicopter from the series History, 2014, Smithsonian American Art Museum. If this reminds you of the Vietnam war, that's because the lifelike scene stems from the movie, Apocalypse Now.
From left, Joanna Marsh, Smithsonian American Art Museum curator and head of interpretation and audience research, David Levinthal, and Stephanie Stebich, SAAM director, at the opening of American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie, June 6, 2019
David Levinthal with his Untitled from the series Barbie, 1998, Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie, June 6, 2019
David Levinthal with his Untitled from the series Baseball, 2004, Smithsonian American Art Museum. The photograph is of Lou Gehrig, dead at 37, from what is now known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He played 2,130 consecutive games, and his number "4" was the first to be retired by a baseball team/Photo by Patricia Leslie, June 6, 2019

David Levinthal (b. 1949) is one lucky dude: He's never had to give up his childhood playtime with cowboys and Indians. He's been able to saddle up and ride with them his whole life as they became objects in his lifelong photography career, a portion which is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through Monday.

Mr. Levinthal's photographs of figures from the old West and others cut from popular American history are from his collection of 400 which he's donated to the museum. In the exhibition, American Myth & Memory:  David Levinthal's Photographs, 74 are shown.

Images of past ideals of American post-World War II society, the beauties, the pinups, the ball players, the wild west, and war, or, at least what artists and advertisers who shape our thinking would have us believe, are included. 

At first glance, all seems relatively well in this land of mostly make believe perfection, but not all is beauty and play. Unsettling backgrounds may escape a viewer's first glance.

Look and you shall find more stories and deeper meanings embedded in the images from yesterday's world. 

Today's pictures of ideals have changed dramatically since the last century, and while we may not practice ideal acceptance and tolerance, at least most of us are aware of their concepts and the importance of trying to understand.

 What: American Myth & Memory:  David Levinthal's Photographs

When: Closing Monday, October 14, 2019. The museum is open from 11:30 a.m.- 7 p.m. every day.

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F streets, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20004

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-633-1000 or visit the website.

Metro station
: Gallery Place-Chinatown or walk 10 minutes from Metro Center