Monday, March 30, 2020

Love in the time of corona

Wedding joy amidst the cherry blossoms on Constitution Avenue/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Now this is bliss, amidst the cherry blossoms near the Washington Monument. The white figure in the distance is the bride seen in the photo above/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Could this be love in the cherry blossoms?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Between the rows of flags at a famous address in Washington, D.C., the Washington Monument stands center/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Guards making rounds on Sunday afternoon at the White House and leaves blowing in the wind at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were almost the only things moving outside the gates/Photo by Patricia Leslie

On the 15th St. NW side of the White House on Sunday afternoon/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the Department of Justice building, patriot Nathan Hale (1755-1776) stands erect, continuing to serve his country. He was a spy for the Continental Army, captured by the British and executed. "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," or a variation of these words were supposedly his last and are carved at the base of the statue./Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the Federal Trade Commission building on Constitution Avenue, Gov. Andrew Cuomo  arrives to rein in the rampaging disease /Photo by Patricia Leslie
Parking was easy to find along Constitution Avenue Sunday afternoon, and the sidewalks were almost empty. We went for exercise and biking which is allowable under present rules/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Degas at the Opera will open again, won't it? Before it closes again, this time, scheduled to exit July 5, 2020 at the National Gallery of Art/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Multi-colored red tulips brighten a sad afternoon at the U.S. Botanic Garden. We may not be able to go inside the Botanic Garden building, but we can surely enjoy the scenery outside/Photo by Patricia Leslie
More beauty at the U.S. Botanic Garden/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The U.S. Botanic Garden/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A host of golden baby daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Is there a fragrance any better than hyacinths'?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
One of the loveliest park scenes in all of D.C. when the Bartholdi Fountain is working. Prithee, Architect of the U.S. Capitol, wherefore are thou, water? Shut off for coronavirus?  We cannot enjoy the park's beauty?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Have the Russians landed in D.C. to join their friend in the White House? What looks like Catherine the Great's gift to her Grandfather-in-Law, Peter the Great (which welcomes visitors at the River Neva in St. Petersburg) is actually General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850) "Liberador" and "Leader of the Argentine Independence," a statue which is found in Triangle Park at Virginia Ave., NW and 20th St., NW. It's a copy of one in Buenos Aires, sculpted by Augustin-Alexandre Dumont who completed the original in 1862.  Argentina gave this duplicate in 1925, and it was rededicated in 1976, according to the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 More about General Jose de San Martin at his statue/Photo by Patricia Leslie
General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850) "Liberador" and "Leader of the Argentine Independence" found in Triangle Park at Virginia Ave., NW and 20th St., NW/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Peter the Great Statue, the Bronze Horseman, a gift to Peter from Catherine the Great dedicated in 1782, St Petersburg, Russia. Note the similarities to Gen. Juan de San Martin's statue, the outstretched right hand, the rearing horse (which strikes a serpent under Peter). The "Thunder Stone" which holds Peter is the largest ever moved by humans (1768)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Peter the Great Statue, the Bronze Horseman, St Petersburg, Russia/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Peter the Great Statue, the Bronze Horseman, St Petersburg, Russia/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Tiptoe through the daffodils and smell their fragrance at the U.S. Botanic Garden/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Free online classes and 'Amateurs' online at the Olney

Michael Russotto, left, and Evan Casey in The Amateurs at Olney Theatre Center
/Photo, Teresa Castracane Photography

The Amateurs were anything but at the Olney Theatre Center before coronavirus shut them down early.

But, the show will go on! Via streaming online beginning March 28 at noon through April 5 at Vimeo-On-Demand ($20 for a 24-hour rental with a free trailer).

This is just part of the Olney's digital public offerings to keep theatre alive in this turbulent era. Beginning Monday, March 30 the Olney will host free online classes daily for all ages via Zoom which staff members, National Players, and apprentices will teach.

Story times, playwriting, acting, movement and monologue coaching, play reading, and more will be offered over eight hours of daily classes, arranged by age. It's a fun schedule and welcome diversion for weary parents and children. Check the listings here. No pre-registration is required.

But, back to what brought us here in the first place, The Amateurs: Noah's wife is mad because she doesn't have a name.

The Amateurs
was a production for the sophisticated theatregoer, a play within a play or maybe, within another play, too. It's not a "happy ending" play, but an existentialist provocation haunted by the Black Death ravaging the world in the 14th century, somewhat like coronavirus ensnares the world today, and AIDS did.

Searching for the meaning in this medieval setting with several themes left me confused beginning with the Seven Deadly Sins (can you name them?)* presented in ghoulish costumes.

The characters seem lost, without clear direction, much like we are. Jumping from then to now, the playwright, Jordan Harrison, presents an explanation before the play returns to the original setting. The issues are the same: Disaster, ever present.

The wife of Noah (as in Ark) lacks a first name and refuses to board her husband's boat. Actors unroll animal likenesses from a long scroll, and the big, versatile prop, a wagon cart, effectively serves as the ark, a setting for lovers, a birthing place, a speaker's platform, and more, as the actors roll it back and forth from one side of the stage to another, like a slow-motion tennis ball on a court with the audience on two sides facing one another, moving heads to follow the action.

It wasn't all negative; some comedic moments lightened the fare.

Michael Russotto was the screechy God, a conceited and narcissistic image aided in his mission to deliver a production, which the remaining cast members did. They were John Keabler, Noah; Emily Townley, Noah's wife; Evan Casey, Gregory; James Konicek, the physic; and Rachel Zampelli, Rona.

Lighting by Colin K. Bills never missed a moment, whether it was an actor delivering a solo speech or words for a moonlight.sonata.

Sound by Karin Graybash and folk music between scenes flavored the show.

*Pei Lee's Old World costumes captured the times beginning with gluttony (including drunkenness); lust, sloth (acedia?), wrath (anger), greed (avarice), envy, and pride (vanity, vainglory) all dressed head to toe in black, all on stage together.

More members of the creative team were Jason King Jones, director; Misha Kachman, scenic designer; Ben Walsh, production stage manager; and Josiane M. Jones, production director.

Leave it to Olney's talented staff of Jason Loewith, artistic director, and Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director, to keenly forecast the future and choose Amateurs for this season which keeps going.

About 90 minutes without intermission.

Coming April 4 at 11 a.m. is announcement of next season's selections at the Olney and also on April 4 at 5 p.m. is a panel discussion: "What's Next for D.C. Theatres," both presentations to be live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

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

Next up: Read all about it here.

For more information: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485

Monday, March 16, 2020

Coronavirus ends 'Moonlight and Magnolias' in Alexandria

Michael J. Fisher was Victor Fleming in Moonlight and Magnolias at the Little Theatre of Alexandria/Photo by Brian Knapp

It's a shame that COVID-19 shut down Moonlight and Magnolias early at Little Theatre of Alexandria. It was a fun show, a "great escape," a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put together a movie script fast. It can be done!

I want to be bold and suggest a new title for this play, namely, Moonlight and Madness, because that's what they did to each other, a trio of Hollywood masterminds who drive each other insane while trying to write a new script for Gone With the Wind, and who hasn't seen that? (Excuse me, Millennials.)

The title is a bit misleading, after all, "magnolias" suggesting the South, since the show is not all Southern.  It's about "something Southern," namely, the movie that, according to Wikipedia, remains the highest grossing film of all time (after inflation) and which presents a jaundiced view of the South which Northerners relish and nurture to this day.  

That the playwright, Ron Hutchinson, is an Irish screenwriter himself, says a lot. 

Producer David O. Selznick  (1902-1965) confined a top screenwriter, Ben Hecht (who had never read GWTW), and a director, Victor Fleming (whom Selznick jerked from The Wizard of Oz) to work non-stop for five days on a replacement script for the awful one Selznick had.

Dashing Clark Gable, the woman slayer, and Vivian Leigh were to be the stars of the film. (Ordered Selznick: "Show her cleavage, cleavage, cleavage!" and they did.)

The year was 1939, before the start of World War II, when many wished the looming conflict was all a bad dream.  Was there an escape from it all?  (Like the LTA show was a "great escape" from coronavirus!)

Producer Selznick (acted here by lookalike Griffin Voltmann) believed there was, and he was right, although many skeptics thought the movie would flop like magnolia trees which fall to the ground.  (Oh, please. (The movie became the pinnacle of Selznick's success which he was never able to duplicate.)

Producer Selznick didn't give a damn about anything else Hecht and Fleming had to do. The show must go on!  And Director Juli Tarabek Blacker made it do just that. 

Michael J. Fisher made a hoot of Victor with wild antics, aided by a flustered Ben, effectively captured by J.T. Spivey, both roles bolstering the centerfold, Mr. Voltmann.

The threesome fight, they argue, they dance and scream and wear each other out, but they finish!  (Translated:  Don't give up the script.)

The action all takes place in Selznick's office which set decorators Stacey Becker and Ken Brown must have modeled after the actual to explain the jarring blue couch, the centerpiece and major detractor from the show. 
J.T. Spivy, left, was Ben Hecht, and Griffin Voltmann was David O. Selznick in Moonlight and Magnolias at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. At the desk in the background is Hillary Leersnyder, Miss Poppenghull/Photo by Brian Knapp

As time passes, the set fills with papers, bananas, peanuts (to help keep them going) and general disarray to match the progressive dishevelment of the characters, their talk and writing interrupted every so often by the prissy Miss Poppenghul (that's the best name the playwright could come up with) who pops in and out from her side office to tidy up the place, serve snacks, deliver messages, and play phone duty, general "step and fetch it" like any good servant would do.  What else was a ghul to do in 1939?   (In her first role out of college, Hillary Leersnyder was splendid!)

We know how this shows ends but it was a funny time to watch these characters puff and grind and sling it out.

Moonlight has ended at LTA but all is not lost for the season. After all, April has another play, Blue Stockings, which may open the 25th. Check the website.

Other members of the LTA Moonlight creative team were Rachel Alberts and Russell M. Wyland, producers; Alexander Bulova, assistant director; Sherry Clarke and Margaret Evans-Joyce, stage managers; Stefan Sittig, combat choreographer; Kathy Ohlhaber, set painter; Helen Bard-Sobola and Bobbie Herbst, properties; JK Lighting Design; Alan Wray, sound; Ceci Albert and Mary Wallace, costumes; and Hilary Adams, hair and makeup.
Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind/Wikipedia/studio portrait

Note:  It was just a few years ago that Olivia de Havilland (b. 1916) visited St. John's Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square in Washington, looking as beautiful and easily recognizable as she was in GWTW a few years ago.

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

Tickets: Start at $21. Go here. 

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

Saturday, March 14, 2020

At the think tanks, scientists talk coronavirus

From left, Ron Klain, Nancy Messonnier, Anthony Fauci, and Helen Branswell at the Aspen Institute, Feb. 11, 2020/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Last month at the Washington offices of the Aspen Institute, scientists, journalists, and members of the medical establishment got together to talk coronavirus which that day had received an official name for the disease from the World Health Organization, COVID-19.

On the panel was Anthony Fauci, MD, man-about-town, omnipresent television personality, and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said the development of a vaccine for the virus would take approximately 18 months (not "very close" or "soon" as President Trump said Feb. 25, 2020).

At the time the animal which was suspected of starting it all (supposedly at an illegal "wet market" in Wuhan, China) had not been identified other than online and at the WHO website as a possible snake (a word left unsaid publicly at the Aspen that day), or a pangolin, an endangered species the Chinese like to eat and value for its supposedly medicinal qualities.

In the Q and A after the presentation, an audience member asked if the virus came from an animal, and Dr. Fauci said "likely." The animal most often now linked to the disease is the bat.

The virus, Dr. Fauci said, may have "jumped" from a bat to a cat to a human (calling Dr. Seuss), an example of a zoonotic disease originating in an animal and transferred to a human (or, vice-versa). (Wash your hands after touching animals!)

On the panel with Dr. Fauci were Ron Klain, JD, former White House ebola response coordinator; Nancy Messonnier, MD, director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Helen Branswell, infectious disease and public health reporter, STAT News, who served as moderator.

The scientists said studies are underway to determine the best disinfectants for surfaces to combat the disease, and on March 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (whose budget Trump proposes to slash by 26 percent), published a list of them.

Dr. Messonnier praised the military for housing the quarantine victims from cruise ships docking in California.

A panel member reported seeing on the news a group of Metro riders shunning a person of Asian descent, a practice which will lead to more discrimination in schools and other places, Mr. Klain said, speculating these incidents are likely to escalate.

John Bolton (yes that John Bolton whose book was due this month but has been delayed until May pending White House review) was Trump's ax man who, about 18 months after Trump took office, shut down the White House National Security Council's liaison for disease control, Mr. Klain said.

The panel seemed in a hurry to broadcast the scientific community's assessment of coronavirus and its dangers to the world.

Dr. Fauci said staff from the Centers for Disease Control, Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Security Council, scientists, and doctors talk daily and sometimes more than once a day.

Said Dr. Fauci: Multiple generations have coronavirus, and people need to be warned about the risks. "It's relatively likely it will come here."

"It's not a feasible policy to quarantine, " said Mr. Klain, urging that responses to the outbreak come from the scientific and medical communities rather than policy wonks. "It's a bit of a mixed bag to prepare the U.S." for the disease. "Public leaders need to get on top of this," he said.  Getting Congress to allocate money to prepare hospitals will be "a challenge."
Dr. Fauci said more information from China was urgently needed, but the Chinese then were not cooperating: "We really need to know the scope of this," Dr. Fauci said.

Dr. Messonnier said the scientific and medical communities wanted to slow the spreading illness and to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic (which according to Merriam-Webster, occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population, and one month later, here we are).

She issued the usual admonitions to avoid disease: Wash hands (to the tune of "Happy Birthday"), etc., and to scattered laughter, said: "There's only so much worrying we can do, right?"

"We live in a connected world," Mr. Klain said, with people and goods arriving daily from outside the U.S. According to Dr. Fauci, It's "an impossibility" to keep out all the Chinese who want to come here since 22,000 of them enter the U.S. every day.

Dr. Fauci said travel bans will "never" exclude all Chinese from entering the U.S., and bans make no sense if the illness is already here, which it most certainly is.

Travel bans only "buy a window of time"
for delay. 
Dr. Messonnier said it will take a year to develop a vaccine which, Dr. Fauci added, usually takes six to eight years.

Coronavirus can be "really serious" for the older population and those with underlying illnesses, Dr. Messonnier said.

"We are taking this very, very seriously. The situation can change," Dr. Fauci said.

Mr. Klain: "If it gets worse, it will reflect on health care.'

The pharmaceutical companies take big risks that the vaccines they develop won't work, noted Dr. Fauci, but lest anyone forget, "big pharma" makes big money, reminded a member of the audience.

Except in the cases of ill persons and health care workers, panel members said face masks were almost totally unnecessary, and no one In the packed Aspen house of attorneys, physicians, journalists, and interested onlookers wore one.

It was not until the beginning of this year that the panelists were aware of the disease which, for some victims, begins with pneumonia.

At the time of the panel presentation, 43,000 had been struck by the disease, with 13 of them in the U.S. Today the worldwide number is 169,610 with 3,782 in the U.S. Deaths number 6,518.

In testimony before the U.S. Congress last week, Dr. Fauci said the coronavirus was ten times as lethal as the seasonal flu.

Last month Trump proposed cutting the NIH budget by seven percent and the National Science Foundation by six percent, which includes a reduced number of grants for research. Also, he wants to cut the CDC budget by 16 percent and HHS, almost 10 percent. At the same time he proposes to increase money for "wall" construction by $2 billion for 82 miles to make it the most expensive wall in the world.

Is it safe to conclude that Trump values things more than he values people?

Maybe, the bats have come home to bite Mr. Trump.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Dear Wall Street Journal: Where have all the editors gone?

Under a photo with a story about Neiman Marcus in the WSJ print edition of March 12, 2020 on page B3 is this:

"Neiman Marcus says its customers spend an average of $50,000 a year with the retailer."

The caption leaped out.

Huh?  You gotta be kidding!  That much?  No way.  

I was right: The Neiman Marcus I know does not have customers who spend that, and the picture itself is of uniformed millennials and teens who, really now, do not spend $50,000 a year at Neiman Marcus!

The story says "one-fifth" of its customers spend $50,000 a year at the retailer. 

Then, there's this headline: (You figure it out):  "At Neiman, It's Last Call for Off-Price." I see the online version has a different headline.

Wall Street Journal, what say you?

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Reston's outstanding 'Anne Frank'

Sophia Manicone as Anne Frank in Reston Community Players' The Diary of Anne Frank/Jennifer Heffner Photography

You may think you remember The Diary of Anne Frank from reading the book years ago, but you don't remember it the way the Reston Community Players present it.  

This is one of the best productions I have seen over many years of attending theatre in Washington. Its timing coincides with the sad reality that discrimination exists, and the world witnesses, for whatever reasons, increasing anti-Semitism.

The production, expertly directed by Gloria DuGan, brings the horror to the stage: Hunted like animals by the Nazis, confined to the small quarters of an attic, eight persons, young and old, related or not, live an existence necessary to save lives.

No one can escape for a breath of fresh air, to take a walk, to get away from the living cell which, ultimately, saved only one life, Anne's father's.

There are no lapses here. The production has it all, told in an unemotional way, until the end. And Anne records it, writing in her diary from June 12, 1942, the day she turned 13, until August 1, 1944, three days before the families were arrested.

The acting is superb and that Sophia Manicone, who stars as Anne, is only a ninth grader, is astonishing.  She shows maturity and acting ability far beyond her years. 

When the Van Daans (Michael Sherman and Lorraine Magee) fight and argue, their movements, words, and gestures are so realistic to generate the feeling of peeping Toms among audience members. They are the parents of Peter (Logan Matthew Baker) who becomes Anne's boyfriend.
A substitute actor at the last moment was Judy Lewis who played Anne's mother in a sound and realistic performance, although she always carried a script during the show. Since she knew her lines well, this bit of small baggage seemed unnecessary.

Costumer Judy Whelihan dresses the females in 1940s garb, naturally enough: heels, dresses and skirts.  Gentlemen wear period clothing, as well.  Casual clothing is not part of this play, and one could not help wonder if the people actually dressed up while hiding, for "dressing up" then compared to now is entirely different. 

Lighting design by Franklin Coleman was excellent, and no scene had any lighting miscues which almost seems standard in many productions.
The set by Maggie Modig and Sandy Dotson is well drawn and duplicates as much as possible the actual quarters where the families lived.

Stage center is a wooden, rectangular kitchen table where the residents often gathered for talk. Elevated platforms hold segregated sections for sleeping quarters. A bathroom provides a means of "escape" when it's needed for mental health and other reasons.  

 A window in the roof duplicates the one in the annex where Anne often sat and daydreamed, and she described it in her diary. From the window the outdoor scene shows a grey overcast sky until near the end of the play when it becomes a rectangular painting with beautiful colors, a church spire, and the branches of a chestnut tree.

The script contains diary passages which Anne stops to read every so often under a spotlight while the other actors stand motionless behind her in the shadows or they move slowly about the kitchen:

The fact that we can never go outside bothers me more than I can say, and then I'm really afraid that we'll be discovered and shot, not a very nice prospect, needless to say. [July 11, 1942]*

Applause to Dan Moses Schreier and Stan Harris who filled the stage with the reminiscent sounds of the times, the soldiers' shouts, sirens, and the eerily isolated whistles from horrible trains carrying millions to their deaths. 

 Anne Frank from Getty Images

The Diary of Anne Frank has a wretched ending, and the cast comes out afterwards to the stage in the dark to stand glumly in a line to receive audience praise until the lights go dark again, and the curtain closes. Lest we forget.

Other cast members in The Diary are Michael Kharfen as Anne's father, Madison Chase, Steven Palkovitz, Earle Greene, Jessi Shull, Francis Kosciesza, Kevin Carrington, and Ian Brown.

Assisting in the production are Diane P. Mullens, producer: Jessica Carrington, stage manager; Kevin Carrington, assistant stage manager; Tom Geutig, special effects and master carpenter; Mary Jo Ford, properties; and Sara Birkhead, lead electrician.

I hope the following receive WATCH nominations:  

Dan Moses Schreier and Stan Harris, Best Sound  

Franklin Coleman, Best Lighting

Michael Kharfen, Best Actor who leads the play with his forceful personality

Michael Sherman, Best Supporting Actor

Lorraine Magee, Best Supporting Actress

Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the "Secret Annex." The title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny 10 years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here. Although I tell you a lot, still, even so, you only know very little of our lives.
[March 29, 1944]*

Who: Reston Community Players

What: The Diary of Anne Frank by
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman

When: Only two shows remain:  March 13 and 14 at 8 p.m.

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. $15 student tickets are available through RCP’s "Access to the Arts." To reserve tickets within these special blocks, contact Ali Althen at communityrelations@restonplayers.orgThe Reston Community Center’s box office is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4 - 9 p.m.; Saturday from 1 - 5 p.m.; and 2 hours before any ticketed performance.

Language: G

Ages: For families and appropriate for all ages but may be too intense for children under age 10. 

*Thank you to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for the use of these passages from Anne's diary.