Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A 'Gentleman's' romp in Alexandria

Chuck Dluhy is THE gentleman who steals the show in Little Theatre of Alexandria's A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder/Photo by Matt Liptak

Attention, Theatregoers This is one of the season's best!

You like Sex? Murder? Whimsy? Action? Comedy? Scenes galore? A fantastic script? Glorious costumes?

Come to Little Theatre of Alexandria's production of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder  and you shall find them. (But only on Jan. 31, Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 when seats are available. )

In the desirable setting in post-Victorian England (1909), this "gentleman"  soars, leaps, and celebrates a good time of hysterics, music, and fun.

Chuck Dluhy is the star attraction who "only" has nine roles as D'Ysquith family members, on his way up the family ladder, as it were.  While his "relatives" temporarily thwart his ascent, he devises means to uproot their positions in the inheritance line so he can slide into Position Number One.

Director Frank D. Shutts II does an excellent job molding Mr. Dluhy into the different characters which Mr. Dluhy handles with ease and hilarious heroicsBackstage handlers are to be commended for stitching and switching him up quickly between scenes.  (Is this the same person?  Yes, it is!) 

Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley's handsomely designed costumes and styling whet fancies and contribute to the show's success, made all the more enjoyable by the 12-member orchestra led by Christopher A. Tomasino, assisted by pianist Steven J. McBride Jr. 

Matt Liptak's backdrop for many and varied scenes is a rich and red floor-to-ceiling curtain which the staff easily transitions. Kirsten Apker's props are minimalist and perfectly adequate.

That I saw this Gentleman only last October in Reston and still revel in its charm and fantastic entertainment is testimony to its achievementAfter all, in 2014 it won four Tonys (including Best Musical) and was nominated for six more.

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 he was also 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 participating in a movement to reject the monarchy (1663). 

Other cast members, most with multiple roles, are

Katie Weig, Margie Remmers, Audrey Baker, Alexandra

Chace, Devin Dietrich, Drew Going, Kristen Jepperson, 

Derek Marsh, Allison Meyer, and Jordan Peyer.

The creative team also includes Steven Lutvak, music and
lyrics; Mary Beth Smith-Toomey, producer; Stefan Sittig, choreographer; Rob Cork and Nick Friedlander, stage
managers; Ken and Patti Crowley, lighting design; David Correia, sound; Susan Boyd, hair and makeup; and Cheryl Sinsabaugh, dialogue coach.

What: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
When: Now through February 8, 2020. All shows sold out except for Jan. 31, Feb. 5 and Feb. 6.

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

Tickets: Start at $29

Language rating: G

Duration: About two hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Public transportation:
Check the Metro website.

Parking: On the streets and in many garages nearby with free theatre parking at the Capital One Bank at Wilkes and Washington streets (when the bank is closed).

For more information:
Box Office: 703-683-0496
Business Office: 703-683-5778; Fax: 703-683-1378

Friday, January 24, 2020

Last weekend for pastels in Washington

Paul Huet, A Meadow at Sunset, c. 1845, pastel on gray-blue paper, Purchased as a Gift in Memory of Melvin R. Seiden, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Edgar Degas, James McNeill Whistler, Henri Matisse, Roy Lichenstein, and Rosalba Carriera are some of the artists represented in The Touch of Color: Pastels at the National Gallery of Art set to close Sunday at 6 p.m.

Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, Claude Dupouch, c. 1739, pastel on blue laid paper mounted on canvas (on stretcher/strainer), Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Käthe Kollwitz, Self-Portrait as a Young Woman, c. 1900, pastel on laid paper, Gift of Robert and Chris Petteys, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
William Merritt Chase, Study of Flesh Color and Gold, 1888, pastel on paper coated with mauve-gray grit (on strainer), Gift of Raymond J. and Margaret Horowitz, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, 1901, pastel on blue wove paper, Florian Carr Fund, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The beautiful colors, their mix, their shadows and images is a walk through galleries of a heavenly dream, a wonderland of bliss, yet contrasted with some works to render a "heavenly dream," one of imagination and reality. 

Feel the cold of the hurrying walkers who try to escape blustery winds in Fifth Avenue Bus (1914). Feel the anguish of the expressionless, shadow figures in George Luks' Breadline (1900) who sat in the bottom rung in the gap between America's rich and poor.  What has changed in a century?
George Luks, Breadline, 1900, pastel on paperboard, Corcoran Collection (Estate of Susie Brummer), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Everett Shinn, Fifth Avenue Bus, 23rd Street and Broadway, 1914, pastel and charcoal on rough wove paper, laid down on board, Bequest of Julia B. Engel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Portraits by Ms. Carriera (1673 or 1675-1757*), a Venetian who was one of the best known 18th century "pastelists," attracted royalty and travelers from Britain who journeyed to Italy to see her works and hire her on commission. 

According to the handsome free 16-page color booklet available at the Gallery show, pastels were considered an appropriate medium for women artists, delicate, sparing  artists' hands from oil paints. 

And as for subject matters, "flowers, figures, and landscapes" were considered satisfactory for female artists to paint. They  had few opportunities beyond pastels to exercise their artistic talents.

Several pastel groups formed, and one, the Pastel Society of London, found in 1898, thrives today.
When ill health befell him,  Édouard Manet turned to pastels which the Gallery literature says is easier to work with than oils. Degas' pastels in a gallery window captured the attention of Mary Cassatt which "changed my life,"  turning her towards impressionism.

Kaywin Feldman, the National Gallery director, noted at the opening of the display that pastel exhibitions are "extremely rare" and "can be difficult to show," but the National Gallery curators and staff managed to hang the pieces in fine arrangement and cloak any difficulties they may have encountered assembling and designing the presentation. 

The pastels are not loaned to other institutions because of their fragile states, and it's fortunate, once again, that Washington, D.C. can lay claim to the National Gallery of Art and its rich collections which are available for all to see at no charge.    

*Ms. Carriera is identified as "one of the most successful women artists of any era" by the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Wikipedia (which differ on the year she was born).

What: The Touch of Color:  Pastels at the National Gallery of Art 

When: Now through January 26, 2020. The National Gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and on Sunday, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Where: The West Building at the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

How much: Admission to the National Gallery of Art is always free.

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information:

Thursday, January 23, 2020

NextStop Theatre presents MLK Jr.'s last night

Shayla Simmons and Curtis McNeil in NextStop Theatre Company's The Mountaintop/Photo by Lock and Company

What would it have been like for him at the Lorraine Motel with a housekeeper he had never met?

It's unlikely you would come up with a script bearing any resemblance to the show now playing at NextStop Theatre in Herndon. And maybe, like me, you had not envisioned his last night, or wondered about the script for The Mountaintop which is far better than expected.

Only two actors appear (Curtis McNeil and Shayla Simmons)  and their outstanding performances surely will net them and the director, Kevin McAllister, Helen Hayes nominations.

It always helps when an actor looks like the real-life character he (or she) portrays, and NextStop managers got it just right with Mr. McNeil's selection. He delivers a powerful, unforgettable performance, strengthened by costume designer Paris Francesca's attire of the white shirt and tie Dr. King wore in every picture or video in memory. 

Ms. Simmons is a sassy flirt, "Camae," a hotel maid here,who prompts lots of laughs on this surprising night with its sad ending. The two spend time in the motel room together, having some fun before life's tragedies convene to end it all.

Mr. King's weaknesses do not go unnoticed.

The mention of a cellphone is puzzling, but the pieces shortly fit together and hint at future dialogue.

It was shocking to hear Dr. King's age (1929-1968). He was only 39?  Every year his achievements grow in stature, recognized on MLK Jr. Day.

At the end, Mr. McNeil's wrenching portrait left him almost gasping for breath as he seemed to struggle to regain composure and receive the ovation from the standing audience.

Evan Hoffmann, scenic designer, and Alex Wade, properties designer, match their set to the actual room at the Lorraine (with the exception of the color; for some strange reason, they chose a peach, perhaps because the actual was a dull tan). 

Yaritza Pacheco's sounds not only frighten Dr. King, but their perfectly timed mad claps of thunder (it must have rained that night) jolt the audience, too.

Kudos to Mr. Hoffmann, also the theatre's artistic director, and Abigail Fine, managing director, who chose the production to educate guests and honor Martin Luther King Jr., in a prelude to Black History Month celebrated every February.

The award-winning playwright, Katori Hall, is from Memphis.

Other members of the creative team are Lynn Joslin, lighting; Samba Pathak, projections; Sarah Usary, production stage manager; Jordan Ross, rehearsal stage manager; Lynda Bruce, assistant stage manager; and Suzy Alden, scenic painter.

The Lorraine Motel, Memphis, now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum/Wikipedia

What: The Mountaintop by Katori Hall

Duration:  About 90 minutes without intermission

When:  Through Feb. 2, 2020 with the last show at 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 2. Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., and a Saturday matinee, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m.  

Where: NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA 20170 in the back right corner of Sunset Business Park, near the intersection of Spring Street/Sunset Hills Road. Right off the Fairfax County Parkway. Lots of great restaurants nearby.

Tickets:  Start at $35. Front row tickets are free for local high school students and their teachers.

Language: Rated X 

Lighted, free parking: Available near the door. 

Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats

For more information: 703-481-5930 or


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Movie review: Knives in for 'Knives Out'

 The cast of Rian Johnson's Knives Out. Who dunnit?

I thought it would make this year's Ten Best Oscar list since it seems like voters usually stretch that a bit to come up with "Ten Best" movies, but it didn't make.  In more ways than one.

It's a lot like the game Clue which, in many respects, is more entertaining. 

One of the worst things about Knives Out is the silly, affected, fake Southern accent put on by Daniel Craig, a Brit, who stars as the chief detective.  How boring, darling. I suppose casting director Mary Vernieu has that anti-Southern attitude and could not venture South and find a real Southern accent.

The show is billed as a comedy/crime/drama, but the funny parts are mostly missing.

The story line is pretty good, and director/writer Rian Johnson was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. 

About mid-way through, though, when I began thinking the movie was nothing special, it veered off the beaten track and better action finally got going. Up until then, effective flashbacks carried us to the scene of the crime, most of it committed in an old mansion. (If you can figure it out, I hope you, too, are writing screenplays.)

Overall acting is pretty atrocious.  All of them (save Chris Evans, who's one of the victim's sons, and K Callan, who playthe mother of the 90-something victim; yeah, right) are stilted and artificial, like what you might see on stage when the actors are tired and need a break, like more rehearsals.  

Including, yes, the performance by Jamie Lee Curtis, whose spouse (the dull Don Johnson) goes a'wandering which is no wonder faced with the same boring clothes she wears day in and day out (costumer Jenny Eagan didn't do the show any favors), quite the great-grandmother with that weed hanging out of her mouth to add to her allure.  

Was that baseball star heartthrob Jayson Werth up on the screen or Michael Shannon? (Compare and see what you think.)

It's amazing but Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) is still alive and well after all these years, now aged 156 or so (just kidding, Mr. Plummer!) based on the number of movies he's been in. (I tried counting them all up but the Wikipedia pages ran too long.)

While it's true that he was supine most of the time on a sofa, and almost unreal and preserved like a mummy or dummy (and those were the alive parts), ain't it grand that a nonagenarian is still in demand

Well, honey, Ms. Callan's performance (did she say anything?) stands out, and she's no spring chick (84 last week).  Ain't it great that an octogenarian (and a female at that) is still in demand?  Rock on!

Speaking of, the overall show did not match the excellent score by native-born Washingtonian Nathan Johnson whose cello and extreme range heightened the experience.

Knives has little visual sex, but bad words, yes, of course. Rather de rigueur, aren't they?


Friday, January 10, 2020

Sunday is Verrocchio's last day in Washington

The star attraction at the Andrea del Verrocchio exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington produces wonder and admiration.  He is David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1465, bronze with partial gilding, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence/Photo by Patricia Leslie
He slew the enemy. A front view of Andrea del Verrocchio's David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1465, bronze with partial gilding, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Missing is the stone which David used to kill Goliath. It was made separately and was attached to the giant’s head. One of Verrocchio's pupils, Leonardo da Vinci, may have been the model for David/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Andrea del Verrocchio, Head of a Gorgon, c. 1480, terracotta, private collection. This scary fellow was used to ward off evil, part of a frieze in a Roman courtyard of a palace which was destroyed in 1936, according to the label copy. (I guess his power didn't work in 1936.) Gorgons appear on body armor of the young warrior and Alexander the Great below.  Note the similarity between the words "gorgon" and "gargoyle," the latter which is found on cathedrals around the world, including Washington's National Cathedral, both forms designed to repel evil (in the Cathedral's case, water).    

"What sayeth you, sinner? Your secrets are no more!" this gorgon seems to say to me. Not such a bad thing! I need one of these to wear around my neck.  What say you a merchandiser has them ready for me? Methinks I am carried away by this gorgon!  You see what art can do!  I wonder if his locks give him extra power? Get thee away, Delilah!  This is my gorgon, not yours! This gorgon has sent my mind a'flyin'Time to buzz off, but the young maiden below, despite her loveliness, does not so inspire me/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Andrea del Verrocchio, Bust of a Young Woman, c. 1470, marble, The Frick Collection.  White lines in the background are reflections in the protective glass/Photo by Patricia Leslie

"After Andrea del Verrocchio," The Entombment of Christ, pre-1945 plaster cast after the original terra cotta of c. 1475/1480, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst and damaged in World War II/
Photo by Patricia Leslie
Andrea del Verrocchio, Sketch Model for the Monument of Cardinal Niccolò Forteguerri, 1476, terracotta, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  According to the label copy:
"This small clay sculpture is one of the few sketch models to survive from the early Renaissance. Verrocchio in 1476 won the commission for a multifigure marble project for the Cathedral of Pistoia (near Florence) by submitting a design, possibly this relief. It shows Christ enthroned amid angels, blessing the Cardinal who kneels among the virtues Faith, Hope, and Charity."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Andrea del Verrocchio, Madonna and Child, c. 1465/1470, plaster with traces of polychromy, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, R.T. Miller Jr. Fund. Called one of Verrocchio's "most influential designs," the mother and child stand at a window or balcony. The label draws attention to Mary's left hand, an "elegant gesture" found in several works by Verrocchio and his followers/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The woman examines the drawing, Project for a Funerary Monument (Tartagni Tomb) c. 1477/1480, attributed to Verrocchio and an assistant. Its partner in this gallery is a bronze candlestick (1.57 metres high) which Verrocchio made in 1468 for the palace of the Florentine city government and the commemoration of a 1468 peace treaty which ended war between Florence and Venice.  On loan from the Rijksmuseum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Andrea del Verrocchio, Head of a Woman with Braided Hair, 1475/1478, black chalk on charcoal and more, on loan from the Trustees of the British Museum, London. Verrocchio was one of the first to use black chalk. He made shadows by smudging with his finger or a piece of leather.  
Oh, to ever be this peaceful! But, on closer examination, the pretty lass does not appear to be peaceful, for her downcast eyes show sadness, and her hair braids suggest a head full of snakes, like mythological gorgons (see above) from Greek literature and the three sisters whose hair was the home of living, poisonous snakes. Perhaps she is Eve, downfallen over the future, or Mary, the mother of Jesus, also saddened by what lies ahead/
Photo by Patricia Leslie
Andrea del Verrocchio, Giuliano de' Medici, c. 1475/1478, terracotta, Andrew W. Mellon Collection.  I love this man, this bust.  He is supremely confident, an enormous allure. And look at the protective gorgon (please see above) on his breastplate contrasting here and below (Alexander the Great) with the subjects' "calm demeanor."
Andrea del Verrocchio and assistant, Alexander the Great, c. 1480/1485, marble, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Therese K. Straus. Another of my favorites. He exudes confidence, fortified by a gorgon.  But after all, he is Alexander the Great (looking to be about 14 years old in this likeness), and perhaps a gift from the Medicis to the King of Hungary.
Kaywin Feldman, the director of the National Gallery of Art, welcomes visitors and dignitaries to the Verrocchio exhibition. David with the Head of Goliath watches proceedings from his center perch behind, from left, Larry Di Rica, Bank of America; Ms. Feldman, His Excellency Armando Varricchio, ambassador of Italy; and Andrew Butterfield, guest curator/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo di Credi, and Pietro Perugino were his pupils.

Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio were collaborators.

He was the teacher of teachers of Raphael and Michelangelo. 

He was Renaissance master, Andrea del Verrocchio, (c. 1435-1488) whose works are set to leave the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Sunday after a four-month stay. 

Washington has been the site of the first U.S. comprehensive 
Verrocchio exhibition represented by 50 of his wide-ranging works which include altars, sculpture, portraiture, sketches, and more in a presentation subtitled: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence.

Verrocchio was supported by commissions by the powerful and wealthy Medici family of three generations (1389-1492) which ruled Florence and commissioned many of his works, possibly, David.  He sculpted tomb monuments for their church in San Lorenzo, including the heralded brothers' double tomb in 1473, called "a wonder of the world."

The problem of correctly separating Verrocchio's works from that of his workshop assistants is constantly referenced, whenever any kind of study about him is performed.  In the show here, the National Gallery has exercised extreme care to correctly identify the artist and where there is doubt, to show by the words  "and assistant" or "assistants." 

If you can't get to all the venues around the globe which have loaned the pieces, seize what is likely this last opportunity to see them together. 

A hardbound catalogue with 279 color illustrations and almost 400 pages is available in the shops ($60). Links to two films (one, three minutes, and another, 19 minutes) may be found at the website.

Bank of America is the lead sponsor of the exhibition with support from the Buffy and William Cafritz Family Fund.
What: Verrocchio:  Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence

When: Now through January 12, 2020. The National Gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and on Sunday, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Where: The West Building at the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

How much: Admission to the National Gallery of Art is always free.

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: