Friday, July 30, 2021

'Rumors' run wild in Alexandria

Starring in Little Theatre of Alexandria's Rumors are, from bottom left up the stairs: Kirk Lambert as Glenn Cooper, Roxanne Waite as Cassie Cooper, Peter Halverson as Ernie Cusack, Janice Rivera as Cookie Cusack. On the top landing from left: Stephanie Chu Rudden as Chris Gorman, Mike Rudden as Ken Gorman, Jayne L. Victor as Claire Ganz and Mike Donahue as Lenny Ganz/photo by Matthew Randall

With Neil Simon (1927-2018) driving the content and four dressed-up New York couples ready to party-hearty, what do you expect? 

It's an evening of hilarious Shakespearean farce at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, enough to make you forget about the day's troubles for a while and don't we all need that?

The laughs begin almost immediately in Rumors when real-life husband and wife Mike Rudden and Stephanie Chu Rudden as the Gormans start the action. 

Ken Gorman has discovered a problem. 

Help!  There's a crime underway!  

It takes only moments for three more couples to arrive at Charlie and Myra's to celebrate the couple's 10th wedding anniversary, but where are Charlie and Myra? 

And (more importantly), where is the food?  Thank goodness, the liquor is available.

Rumors run rampant. 

It's a laugh, a conflict, and expletive-a-minute.

Almost stealing the show is Mike Donahue as Lenny Ganz who delivers a strong commanding performance, but please, the "adult" words! Skimming the script, I don't find them. Are they supposed to make the production more timely?  Ouch!  My ears are aching.  I cannot imagine any party where this offensive language is heard so often.

But, officer!  My brand-new BMW with only 12 miles has been wrecked!

As supporting spouse, Mr. Donahue's real-life and stage wife, Jayne L. Victor, nicely augments her husband's role. 

Peter Halverson is Ernie Cusack, the realistic and dazed husband of "Cookie" (Janice Rivera), a charming, spacy actor who is laugh-a-minute every time she utters a line, reminiscent of SNL's "girl at a party."   

Hairdresser Rebecca Harris has designed a pyramid wig for the head of "Cassie" (Roxanne Waite) who enters the party performing a balancing act worthy of an Olympic contest. 

A metamorphosis in the bathroom crystalizes her personality as a slithering woman who needs the comfort of anyone but her husband (Kirk Lambert). 

Whatever shall we do?  

No food, no celebrants, but a crime is underway and here come the cops, with Joe Dzikiewics as Officer Welch leading an investigation, usurped by the wild exaggerations and animated gestures of his silent partner, Eileen Copas as Officer Pudney.

Seated are Peter Halverson as Ernie Cusack and Janice Rivera as Cookie Cusack; standing from left are Joe Dzikiewicz as Officer Welch, Mike Rudden as Ken Gorman, and Eileen Copas as Officer Pudney in Little Theatre of Alexandria's Rumors/photo by Matthew Randall

Everyone is formally attired (applause to designer Judy Whelihan), able to overlook red spots on white shirts. (I don't know why I find theater more enjoyable when characters are dressed for the ball, and ball they have in Rumors.)

Sound engineer Alan Wray has his hands full, ringing the too-loud doorbell. And the phone. (That phone conflicts with the timing of the show if expletives were added to make it more "contemporary.")  

Charles Dragonette has created an exquisite set for the prancing and dancing of the couples in this circus. Scene changes, not necessary. 

It's an enjoyable time with these quartets, enough to make you laugh out loud which is not only good for the soul but good for the heart, too.  

Fun at the theatre returns! And to accommodate the new mood, the Little Theatre is selling extra seating. 

Other crew members are Matthew Randall, director; Nick Friedlander and Jennifer Lyman, producers; Sarah Holt, assistant producer; Lauren Markovich and Meggie Webster, stage managers; Julie Fischer and Dan Remmers, set construction; Kirstin Apker, props; Ken and Patti Crowley, lighting; Sam Jensen, master electrician;  Larissa Norris, makeup; Margaret Snow, wardrobes; Mona Wargo, set painting; and Russell M. Wyland, rigging.

What:  Rumors by Neil Simon

When: Now through August 14, 2021, Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Some shows, nearing sellouts.

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

Tickets: $21, weekdays; $24, weekends.

Duration: About 2 hours with one intermission. 

Adult language:  Yes and plenty of it. Totally gratuitous.

Masks: Required.  No exceptions.

Public transportation: Check the Metro and Dash bus websites.

Parking: On the streets and in many garages nearby with free parking during performances at Capital One Bank at Wilkes and Washington streets.

For more information: Box Office: 703-683-0496; Business: 703-683-5778. or

Sunday, July 25, 2021

'Bad Girls' in Baltimore, worth a trip

Jan van de Velde II (Dutch, c. 1593-1641), The Sorceress, 1626, engraving, Garrett Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art

Classic treatments of men treating women badly in art and perpetuating stereotypes are presented at the Baltimore Museum of Art in a new exhibition, Women Behaving Badly:  400 Years of Power & Protest.

Witches, and vampires and sorceresses, oh, my!  They are all here: the women who frighten men by their independence and aggressiveness, the art and names which have endured for centuries and have shaped attitudes about women.

Talk about the power of art!

In the engraving above, Golden Age artist Jan van de Velde II depicts a young sorceress brewing her evil, surrounded by a myriad of conniving creatures, certain to help her put an end to all that's good. 

It's one of my favorites in the show which illustrates the extremes that artists will reach to meet popular culture. One website says the Latin inscribed at the base of the work likely alludes to temptation. Van de Velde made this during a dark period in Europe's history, amidst  the Thirty Years' War, the Little Ice Age, and 1,000 witch trials which ended the lives of mostly women by death and torture.
Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879), The mother is in the heat of composing, while the baby is in the water of the bathtub! 1844, crayon lithograph, Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, Baltimore Museum of Art

Do you love this as much as I? 

There she is, matey, the mother and wifey, whiling away at her "hobby" while her child drowns in the tub!  Now, what have you?  Send them back to the kitchen where they belong! Whoever heard of a woman writing?  I say, they don't know what a good world they've got. Look it how her house is all disheveled 'cuz she's paying no attention to what she should be doing! Bluestockings will be the last of these, I say they will! I'll see to it!

Thomas Nast (American, 1840-1902), Get Thee Behind Me, (Mrs.) Satan!, ca. 1872, wood engraving, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

I don't know why this saddens me so much, to realize the artist, whom I have admired for many years, falls prey to the anti-feminist movement of the period which, I suppose, was harder to ignore than embrace, as many social movements are. 

While the woman in the center climbs a mountain with a drunk husband and children on her back, she says to Mrs. Satan, "I'd rather travel the hardest path of matrimony than follow your footsteps." 

Mrs. Satan is Victoria Hull, a woman suffragist leader, who carries a sign: "Be saved by free love." 

Ms. Hull's cape has piping of a vulture's talons, no less. She was a woman of many achievements, drawing the scorn of the opposite sex as she introduced American audiences to the works of Karl Marx, was the first woman to operate a Wall Street brokerage firm, and was the first woman to run for president (1872). Read more about her here.

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528), Four Naked Women (Four Witches), 1497, engraving, Garrett Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art

You have to attend the exhibition to see the devil lurking behind the doorway on the left as he (he is a "he") colludes with these evil representations of humans whom Durer shows as sinister and tempting to all who glance upon them. In the center is a hanging globe with the year 1497 and the initials O.G.H. meaning "Oh God, save us" (from these monsters)!

Eugène Samuel Grasset (French, 1841-1917), Jeanne d'Arc /Sarah Bernhardt, 1890, color lithograph, gift of Henry E. Treide, Baltimore Museum of Art

According to museum label copy, Ms. Bernhardt, the world-renowned singer/actress, liked to think of herself as more than just a stage performer, and indeed she was! She directed, taught, wrote plays and textbooks, painted landscapes and sculpted. 

Above, she is pictured as none other than a 19th century Joan of Arc.

On Ms. Bernhardt's tour of North and Latin America in 1905, Wikipedia says she attracted controversy (her m.o., some might say) in Montreal where the Roman Catholic bishop encouraged his followers to throw eggs at her because she portrayed prostitutes as sympathetic characters.

Ms. Bernhardt had many lovers, the last of whom, an actor, was 37 years her junior.  Indeed!  The more I read about Ms. Bernhardt, the more I want to read. You see what art can do!  (Good art!)
Sarah Bernhardt (French, 1844 - 1923), Inkwell: Self-portrait as a Sphinx, 1880, bronze, Princeton University Library

Who knew that the divine Ms. B. was also a sculptress? Here she has cast herself in bronze, a  work she sometimes carried to concerts and put on display. While "tragedy" and "comedy" top her shoulders, she portrays herself as part bat, griffon, and fish which demonstrate her many interests.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901), Madame Réjane
1898, printed 1951, crayon lithograph with scraping, gift of M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Baltimore Museum of Art

Gabrielle Réjane was a leading French actress of the early 20th century who also played on Broadway and in silent films. When she died, says Wikipedia, Paris "lost its soul" for she "was widely regarded as the embodiment of the Parisienne." Toulouse-Lautrec captured the liveliness and world of Paris on stage with his many drawings of the stars and dancers of the day.

James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983), Hazel Scott, 1936,
gelatin silver print, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Hazel Scott was a jazz pianist and singer, born in Trinidad who moved with her mother to the U.S. A musical prodigy, she was only eight years old when she was offered scholarships to the Julliard School. She was the first black American to host her own television show, but after she testified before Joseph McCarthy's House on Un-American Activities Committee, her career floundered and she moved to Paris. From 1945 to 1960 she was married to U.S. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, and their son is Adam Clayton Powell III.

Listen to some of her music and see her perform here.

Martin Lewis (American, born Australia, 1881-1962), Shadow Dance
1930, drypoint and sandpaper ground, gift of Blanche Adler, Baltimore Museum of Art

Is this a photograph?  A print? A lithograph? The shadows and shapes captured my attention at the BMA show and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington which has the same work on view in the East Building. It reminds me of the famous photograph of Princess Diana holding two young children before she married Prince Charles.
Carl Van Vechten (American, 1880 - 1964), Bessie Smith1936
gelatin silver print, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The "Empress of the Blues" grew up in Chattanooga where she sang on street corners with her brother playing the guitar, after their parents died and left the siblings in the care of an older sister.  By her early 20s, Bessie's popularity in the South and the East led to a career cumulating in 160 recordings for Columbia Records. The Great Depression almost ruined her career which a deadly car wreck in Mississippi in 1937  did end when Ms. Smith was 43.  Listen to her sing I Ain't Got Nobody on YouTube.
Belva Lockwood, left, with Dr. Mary Walker, c. 1912, photograph, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Ms. Lockwood was one of the first female lawyers in the U.S. and the first to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was a presidential candidate in 1882 and 1884 and the first woman whose name appeared on ballots. Sometimes Victoria Woodhull (see above) is listed as the first woman who ran for the presidency, but she was not old enough. (A candidate must be 35.)  

When Ms. Lockwood finished her coursework in Washington, D.C. at the National University School of Law (the predecessor of the George Washington University Law School), the school refused to grant her a diploma because she was a woman, and it was only after her plea to U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, who was the ex officio president of the school, that she was awarded a diploma and could finally practice law.

According to Wikipedia, a judge for the Maryland Bar Association lectured Ms. Lockwood "that God Himself had determined that women were not equal to men and never could be. When she tried to respond on her own behalf, he said she had no right to speak and had her removed from the courtroom."

She is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington.

Dr. Mary Walker is the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor and one of only eight civilians.  She was a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War and was arrested when she, the first U.S. female surgeon for the U.S. Army, crossed enemy lines to treat soldiers. 

An abolitionist, she was also an ardent suffragette who was frequently arrested for wearing men's clothing. Male attire was more comfortable, safer and more hygienic than long skirts which spread dirt and dust, she claimed. Despite years of criticism for dressing like a man, she stood her ground.

Dr. Walker died a year before the passage in 1919 of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.
Currier & Ives (New York, 1857-1907), Woman’s Holy War. Grand Charge on the enemy’s works, c. 1874, lithograph, Library of Congress

Here we have a woman joining the 19th century temperance battle against the evils of alcohol.  Back then, maybe "she" wasn't so bad.
Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935), editor and publisher: Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946), Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, 1907, gift of Cary Ross, Baltimore Museum of Art

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) wasn't such a "bad girl." 

Among many occupations, Ms. Howe was a poet who composed The Battle Hymn of the Republic sung thousands of times ever since it was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862. She co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association and organized the Association for the Advancement of Women to help women improve their education and successfully enter the working world. 
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, "Nadar" (French, 1820-1910), George Sand1864, woodburytype (after Nadar negative), gift of Leland Rice, Baltimore Museum of Art

George Sand, the pen name of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876), was more popular than Victor Hugo or Honoré de Balzac during her heyday of the 1830s and 1840s in France. Some writers influenced by George Sand were Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky,  Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf (below). 
Gisèle Freund (French, born Germany, 1908-2000), Virginia Woolf, 1939, color photograph, collection of Penelope S. Cordish

Ms. Woolf was an English writer (1882-1941) whose works "inspiring feminism" have been translated into more than 50 languages. Hear the only surviving recording of Ms. Woolf here.
The Baltimore Museum of Art/photo by Patricia Leslie
The entrance to the Baltimore Museum of Art, reminiscent of the new USPS stamp series featuring works by Cuban and New York artist Emilio Sanchez (1921-1999)/photo by Patricia Leslie

It's not all negative in the three small galleries featuring 75 European and American prints, photographs, books, and sculpture from Renaissance artists to the 20th century which show heroines, witches and femmes fatales, performers, new women, and authors.

Edvard Munch's famous Vampire of the woman with the long hair sucking blood from a man's neck plus all those evil, conniving Biblical women and Greek heroines women you've read about for years:  Eve, Delilah, and Salome, and Greek counterparts whose names have endured for their acts of maliciousness and murder:  Medusa and her snakes, Pandora, Judith, Phyllis are here.

After you've moved  through the first gallery of murder and mayhem, the second gallery brings a breath of airy escape to see the faces and works by independent women admired for the trails they have laid. 

It is likely that younger women may have no experiences with the inferior status older women have endured, or, at least, not in the same amounts. This exhibition is an introduction.

BMA's senior curator of prints, drawings and photographs, Andaleeb Badiee Banta, said she had been considering the idea for the exhibition for several years, beginning when she was at another institution, but it was not until she came to the BMA with its  exquisite collection of prints and drawings that she took the idea to museum management who said "yes" before she could finish her description of her proposal.

The show will be up for the anniversary of Women's Strike for Equality Day, first held on August 26, 1970 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave women the right to vote. 

This exhibition is supported by Nancy Hackerman, Clair Zamoiski Segal, Amy and Marc Meadows, Patricia Lasher and Richard Jacobs, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

What: Women Behaving Badly:  400 Years of Power & Protest

When: Wednesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. now through Dec. 19, 2021

Where: Baltimore Museum of Art. 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218

How much:  It's free! Reservations are required.

Getting there: From Washington, D.C. on the train, it's an easy, comfortable, and economical one-hour ride on the MARC train. Plenty of departures. Once at the Baltimore Penn Station, take the free Circulator shuttle north up Charles Street, get off at 31st and walk up the short hill. Directions and parking

Required:  Masks and free reservations.

For more information, call: (443) 573-1700
TDD: (410) 396-4930 and/or visit