“All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” --Irish playwright Sean O'Casey
Snarky Puppy at Strathmore
by Dan McKay
Defying musical pigeonholes but displaying huge “chops” across a wide range of genres, Snarky Puppy enthralled an audience of more than 1,800 recently at The Music Center at Strathmore.
With 10 players onstage, it was a big band but not a Big Band in the traditional sense of those in the 1940s like Duke Ellington’s or Glenn Miller’s. Occasional references to such classic Big Bands --- clipped rhythmic notes by trumpets and sax, for example – were as tight as those from these legendary bands. Those bands from 70-80 years ago, however, never had electric guitar, electric violin or synthesizers. Nor did they encounter genres that Snarky Puppy showcased such as funk, rock, World Music or jazz-rock fusion -- with brief splashes of ambient or psychedelic soundscapes – at times moving nimbly from one to another in the same tune.
On the heels of their latest release, “Immigrance” it was natural that the lion’s share of tunes on the program were from this album (their 13th). Band founder and bassist Michael League says this raw, globally-minded record is all about movement and the idea “that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving, and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration.” League, a native of western Fairfax County, generated chuckles with self-effacing and tongue-in-cheek humor in his remarks between a few tunes.
League was flocked by four musicians to his left and five to his right, including saxophonist/flautist Chris Bullock, trumpet/flugelhornist Nicholas Payton, trumpeter/pianist Mike Maher, percussionist Taron lockett, on his left and, on his right, electric guitarist Chris McQueen, violinist Zack Brock, keyboard synthesizer specialist Shaun Martin,, and drummer Bobby Sparks..
“Even Us,” a tune League composed in Turkey on new-found instrument, the oud, sounded very Old World as it opened with oud, violin and simple hand drums before transitioning into dense chords, heavier drums, horns and piano and winding up with a fierce trumpet solo by Payton. The very funky “Bad Kids to the Back” had some shaking their shoulders while others merely tapped their toes to the snappy beat.
If there is a the current instrumental-music renaissance, as true music-lovers might hope, Snarky Puppy represents it quite well. As a recent review in The New York Times reported, “It’s not merely a fusion band, and it’s not a jam band. It’s probably best to “take them for what they are, rather than judge them for what they’re not.” Each member also plays with other bands, and the whole ensemble totals 25, with lineup changes happening all along their tours. The Strathmore gig was in their fifth month of a seven-month worldwide tour.
If the audience hadn’t been seated, they might have started a conga line during an updated Mambo-influenced-flavored final tune, “Jaco”, reminiscent of the Cuban carnival dance. A well-deserved standing ovation brought the band back onstage for an encore. It’s a cliché to say that a band’s material is hard to pigeonhole, but Snarky Puppy covers a wide swath of dynamics, lyrical melodicism with lush harmonies and tempos that slide between near-meditative stillness and relentless funky jazz.
Before the 10-member band took the stage, brilliant young jazz vocalist Alina Engibaryan opened the evening with a set of wonderful jazz standards, accompanied by three Snarky Puppy instrumentalists (a complimentary complement to the talents of the young artist). With her passionate voice and her own facile electric piano, the half-Armenian and half-Russian Engibayan won over the hearts of many in the crowd with lyrics such as “Drop me a line and say you’re feeling fine.”
Engibaryan’s improvisational mastery brought to mind and spirit an updated version of the Chick Corea and Flora Purim collaborations of the mid-1970s. It was as if she played like Chick while singing like Flora. Engibaryan evoked beautiful memories while paving new pathways to vibrant and evocative new sounds. Having established her prowess in the European jazz scene, she is on her first U.S. tour.
Snarky Puppy started the day at NPR’s studio, playing a Tiny Desk segment. A robust sampling of Snarky Puppy’s material is posted on NPR’s website at https://www.npr.org/artists/474878869/snarky-puppy. Whether or not you were in the Strathmore concert hall, you might enjoy listening.
Winners of three Grammy Awards, Snarky Puppy will be featured at the GroundUP Music Festival in Miami, Feb. 14-16. DCdigest Tip: A 10% discount is available for online registrants at https://wl.seetickets.us/event/GroundUP-Music-Festival-2020/30339?afflky=GroundUpMusicProductions who enter the code word “bethesda” (all lower-case.)
The Music Center at Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Ln, North Bethesda, MD 20852. https://www.strathmore.org/
Theatre Week Kickoff Party - Free Event
45+ Theatre Organizations, Performance All Day, Children’s Programming
on the SouthWest Waterfront at Arena Stage
Washington, DC – August 26, 2019 – The 2019 Theatre Week Kickoff Party celebrates the launch of the 2019-2020 theatre season and the start of Theatre Week in the Washington region. The event will take place on Saturday, September 7, 11am-4pm at Arena Stage Mead Center for American Theater. It is a free event and tickets are available through the TodayTix app and website.
The Kickoff Party will begin with a special panel conversation - The Future of Washington Theatre. From 11am-12pm, Peter Marks, Washington Post Theater Critic, will speak to three new artistic directors - Maria Goyanes of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Raymond Caldwell of Theater Alliance, and Chil Kong of Adventure Theatre MTC - about stepping into their roles at the helm of established Washington theatres, their vision for moving these institutions forward, and engaging their communities. Coffee and a light breakfast will be available before the conversation.
The panel will be followed by a slate of performances from 12:30-4pm by DC’s favorite theatre artists, including - Felicia Curry, Hasani Allen, Erin Driscoll, Rayanne Gonzales, Stephen Gregory Smith, Wood Van Meter, Monique Midgette, Matt Conner, Greg Watkins, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, Casey Kaleba, The American Pops Orchestra, and performers from Synetic Theater, Monumental Theatre, and Creative Cauldron. See schedule below for performance times.
There will be special programming for children ages 3-12 from 12-4pm, featuring classes and workshops from Adventure Theatre MTC, Levine Music Theatre, The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, and more.
Free food and drinks will be provided by our hospitality partners: DC Brau, Anxo Cider & Pinxtos, Tony & Joe’s Seafood, Honest Tea, and Turkish Coffee Lady.
Participating organizations include: 1st Stage, 4615 Theatre Company, Adventure Theatre MTC, Ally Theatre Company, American Pops, Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Arena Stage, Beltway Barks, Best Medicine Rep, Brave Spirits Theatre, Constellation Theatre Company, Creative Cauldron, DC Metro Theatre Arts, DC Theatre Scene, Flying V, Folger Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, GALA Hispanic Theatre, Georgetown University Theater & Performance Studies Program, Levine Music Theatre, Monumental Theatre Company, Mosaic Theater Company of DC, National Theatre, Nu Sass Productions, Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions, Pointless Theatre, Prologue Theatre, Rep Stage, Rorschach Theatre, Round House Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Solas Nua, Studio Theatre, Synetic Theater, The Actors’ Center, The Edge of the Universe Players 2, The Essential Theatre, The In Series, The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, The Theatre Lab Inc, The Welders, Theater Alliance, Theater J, Theatre Prometheus, TodayTix, Washington City Paper, Washington Stage Guild, We Happy Few, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Young Playwrights’ Theatre.
Performance Room Schedule
12:30pm - FELICIA CURRY, a Helen Hayes Award recipient currently appearing in Mosaic Theater Company of DC’s Fabulation Or, The Re-Education of Undine, performs songs from her past and present. She will next be seen as Dr. Martha Livingstone in Factory 449’s Agnes of God this October.
12:45 - WOOD VAN METER, a Helen Hayes Award nominee for his work as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, most recently seen at NextStop Theatre Company in Singin’ in the Rain, performs musical theatre selections.
1:00 - MONIQUE MIDGETTE, a three-time Helen Hayes Award nominee, frequent Broadway performer, and currently director of Beehive at NextStop Theatre Company, performs songs from her extensive repertoire of Broadway and classic musical theatre.
1:15 - CREATIVE CAULDRON, a Helen Hayes Award nominated theatre company specializing in world premiere musicals, led by Helen Hayes Award recipient Stephen Gregory Smith and Helen Hayes Award nominee Matt Conor, performs songs from past and upcoming productions.
1:30 - THE AMERICAN POPS ORCHESTRA, an innovative group of artists dedicated to reinvigorating the vast, rich repertoire of American music, performs selections from their upcoming September concert, Coat of Many Colors: The Music of Dolly Parton.
1:45 - RAYANNE GONZALES, a Helen Hayes Award recipient most recently seen in Olney Theatre Center’s Matilda, performs musical-based selections. She will next be seen as The Ghost of Christmas Present in Ford’s Theatre’s annual holiday production of A Christmas Carol.
2:00 - CASEY KALEBA, a Helen Hayes Award nominated fight director specializing in stage combat training and choreography for professional theatres, academic productions, and educational programs, leads a 30 minute stage combat & fight choreography demonstration for beginners of all ages.
2:30 - GREG WATKINS, a singer, pianist, musical director, composer and arranger, recently seen in Arena Stage's a cappella musical, Jubilee, and currently appearing as Professor Callahan in Keegan Theatre’s Legally Blonde, performs songs from a Gospel-inspired repertoire.
2:45 - SYNETIC THEATRE, a movement-based theatre company that has received 34 Helen Hayes Awards and a staggering 134 nominations, performs scenes from their remount of The Tempest, another in the company’s growing repertoire of wordless Shakespeare productions.
3:00 - LADY DANE FIGUEROA EDIDI, a Helen Hayes Award nominated choreographer, playwright, performer, and one of the leading advocates for trans and nonbinary artists, performs a scene from her self-penned Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem.
3:15 - HASANI ALLEN, a Helen Hayes Award recipient for his work as The Scarecrow in The Wiz and most recently seen as The Prince in Into The Woods, both at Ford’s Theatre, performs songs from past and upcoming shows.
3:30 - ERIN DRISCOLL, a Helen Hayes Award recipient and Signature Theatre favorite, most recently seen as Cinderella in Ford’s Theatre’s Into the Woods, performs songs from her extensive repertoire of musical theater classics.
3:45 - MONUMENTAL THEATRE COMPANY, recipient of the John Aniello Award, the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company, will perform, “The Smartphone Hour” from their recent hit production of Be More Chill and “Make a Move” from the upcoming new musical, Montgomery.
About Theatre Week
Theatre Week 2019, a three week celebration, offers $15 and $35 tickets to over 25 productions, a free Kickoff Party, and other free special events. Tickets are available through the TodayTix platform.
This celebration of Washington’s theatre scene – unquestionably one of the best in the country, with a vast array of theatres offering quality performances - includes musicals, dramas, comedies, and theatre for young audiences. Details are available at TheatreWeek.org, and tickets are available for purchase through the TodayTix app and website.
Theatre Week is funded in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
theatreWashington’s mission is to strengthen, represent, and support all segments of Washington’s professional theatre community, including theatre companies, artists, staff, and diverse audiences of all ages.
The Absorbing World of Magic and Illusion that is Pilobolus
By Barbara Bennett
For one night only on July 9, 2019, the contemporary dance phenomenon known as Pilobolus performed at Strathmore to a very enthusiastic and packed house audience. Pilobolus has been creating, performing and enchanting audiences around the world for almost 50 years through collaborations with creative minds of dance, music, animation, philosophy and science. Sometimes the dancers perform with music and at other times they dance to soundscapes or are viewed on a video screen. The eight distinct pieces performed at Strathmore are highlighted below to spark your interest in catching a future performance.
"Untitled" introduced a magical illusion with its creation of an Alice-in-Wonderland-like fantasy world which captured the audience from the very beginning with its playful movements. This dance was pure fun showcasing the dancers in huge dresses and was interspersed with occasional laughter from the viewers.
The second presentation, “Pilobolus is a Fungus", highlights a company centerpiece on screen to explain the meaning of the company name. Pilobolus is derived from a phototropic light-loving fungi whose spores accelerate from zero to 45 mph in the first millimeter of their flight. Upon landing the fungi adhere to wherever they land . . . just like the movements of the dancers . . . quick and quiet.
My favorite piece, "Symbiosis", highlighted a most sensuous and beautiful dance performed by a breathtaking duet who gave birth to their relationship on stage, right before the audience's eyes. "Magnifico" showcased Pilobolus’ dance movement on screen through animation and done collaboratively with music provided by the musician Alex Dezen.
"Warp & Wet" was created in 2018 and transported the audience to a spiritual and ritualized world in which three female dancers are featured often wrapped in a giant piece of red silk. They performed their steps with beautiful and stunning movement and control.
"Gnomen" was another interesting dance which is a classic in the Pilobolus repertory. It is represented with a quartet of men who explored bodily relationships using a very physical vocabulary. The dance sent a powerful message dedicated to the memory of Jim Blanc, a friend and dance colleague who died young at age 31. The men embraced movements that were sometimes athletic and abrupt and yet they combined them with movements that were sometimes very sensuous. The stage was half-lit at times, enhancing and highlighting the powerful shapes and images the men formed.
"Up" is another live performance on screen but this time we witness a past Pilobolus audience participating in "The Umbrella Project" as we the current audience view them from above, a kaleidoscope of hundreds of umbrellas in ever changing bright colors and patterns.
The program concluded with a performance of a newer work called "Branches", first premiered at Jacob's Pillow Dance festival in 2017. Though this dance piece is a very serious work, it is includes occasional humor as the dancers explore through movement the competition between animals and humans and the situations that develop from that struggle, ranging from silly to scary to collaborative.
The attentive audience needed to focus fully on each presentation so as not to miss any of the unique steps and seemingly-impossible positions, executed smoothly and sometimes with great intensity, abrupt movement and speed. As dancer and a long time dance aficionado, I found the program very satisfying. This performance was an outstanding example highlighting the wonders of the human body and evidencing both soul and spirit.
I especially appreciated the very playful use of water and "play on swimming" used by the company in their farewell and individual curtain calls. Throwing buckets of water on stage as they "jumped right in", imitating swimming motions while sliding rapidly across the stage . . . total joy to watch! I only wish the evening had not ended so quickly and that Pilobolus Dance Company could have had a longer run at Strathmore so more people would have seen and enjoyed such talent. You can preview Pilobolus on video here.
The Music Center at Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Ln, North Bethesda, MD 20852. https://www.strathmore.org/
Twisted Melodies: Soul Non-Survivor
Theater Review by Tom Rixey and Donna Christenson
Donny Hathaway, who in 1970, was described by Rolling Stone magazine as a "major new force in soul music" was a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and musician with a gold album and a Carnegie Hall performance to his credit. Twisted Melodies, the current production of Mosaic Theater Company in association with New York’s Apollo Theater, Baltimore Center Stage and Congo Square Theatre Company, offers up an arresting look into his brilliant yet tortured and troubled existence.
Superbly written, acted and musically directed by Kelvin Roston, Jr., a gifted and formidable singer and musician in his own right, Twisted Melodies pours fuel onto one's appreciation for the power of the stage and Roston, Jr. sets it ablaze with his fiery and passionate performance. Plan to see it now!
While his legendary musical talents ranged from his gospel roots to R & B to pop and jazz, what's lesser known about Hathaway is that he was beset by a history of severe psychological problems which he battled via bushels of prescription drugs and which may have been the reason for his death by a fall from a 15th floor hotel room window . . . thought by some to be an act of suicide and by others a freak accident. Through an artful combination of sound, set and lighting design, we have a visceral experience of his deteriorating mental health as we see the looming shadows of the relentless demons Hathaway fought for control of his mind and as the walls figuratively and literally begin to close in on him.
Roston, Jr. beckons his audience to join him in a joyful call-and-response number, calling us his "angels" and enlisting us to help provide him a sympathetic understanding of his mental turmoil. In so doing, he leads us to an understanding of Hathaway's gifts and ability to soar transcendentally on the wings of song and then plummet and crash into the depths of depression when the power of his strong, musical updraft could no longer keep him aloft.
Among Hathaway's well-known duets with Roberta Flack were “The Closer I Get To You” and “Where Is The Love", both of which reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1970’s. Hathaway's covers also were highly regarded, including Leon Russell's "A Song For You" and Al Kooper's (Blood, Sweat and Tears) "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know", which Roston, Jr. delivers so satisfyingly and earned him a standing ovation punctuated by ear-piercing whistles at the show's conclusion.
Twisted Melodies runs through July 21, 2019, at Mosaic Theater Company performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 or online .
Describe the Night
Theater Review by Tom Rixey and Donna Christenson
Regina Aquino (Yevgenia) and Jonathan David Martin (Isaac) in Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of ‘Describe the Night.’
We go to the theater with the idea of embarking on an escape from our day-to-day reality . . . but what if when we get there we instead find ourselves immersed in an expansion of our worst nightmares about our potential real life future?
“Set over the course of ninety years and spanning multiple countries, Describe the Night is a uniquely ambitious, powerful, and timely play,” says Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director María Manuela Goyanes. “By holding a mirror up to the former Soviet Union, we can’t help but see ourselves reflected back in ways that feel prescient and somewhat foreboding.”
Our own city and nation now are subject to a presidential administration bent not just on blurring the lines between truth and fiction but obliterating them altogether. Experiencing their efforts to undermine public confidence in trusted sources of information by contradicting the intelligence community’s consensus of conclusions and labeling our dedicated journalists as dispensers of fake news and enemies of the people, it is all the more jarring to watch how similar tactics played out historically with frightening consequences.
SYNOPSIS: In 1920, Russian Jewish writer Isaac Babel starts a diary while wandering the countryside with the Red Cavalry. In 2010, after the crash of an aircraft carrying the Polish president, his diary is discovered among the wreckage. What did Babel write, and why does it matter so much to a low-level KGB agent who may or may not be Vladimir Putin? Describe the Night uncovers the mystery by tracing the stories of seven lost souls connected across decades by history, fiction, lies, and blood.
In an intriguingly-woven series of incidents, we are thus reminded of the historical repetition of the threat by totalitarian regimes and their attacks on the press and other freedoms, and we are increasingly aghast at the idea that such practices might be successfully fostered here in our United States of America.
Describe the Night creates a visceral experience through which the audience becomes Jefferson’s “informed citizenry”, experiencing the powerlessness and frustration of being caught in the conflict between journalists’ determination to chronicle history truthfully in opposition to the self-serving governmental authorities who seek to create false narratives and dispense propaganda to serve their own ends.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Rajiv Joseph, Describe the Night is a “work of major ambition” (New York Times) which won the 2018 Obie award for Best New American Play, adding to a long list of awards for his previous plays. From the excellent ensemble cast to the stark sets to the dramatic lighting, every element melds together to chilling effect in this powerful production.
Jonathan David Martin and Tim Getman
Kate Eastwood Norris and Justin Weaks
Tim Getman and Danny Gavigan(Photos: Teresa Castracane )
John Vreeke* (Director) has directed for Woolly Mammoth for the past fifteen years. His assignments include, but are not limited to, Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries and Guards at the Taj, Lisa D'Amour's Detroit and Cherokee, Kris Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety, which received nine Helen Hayes nominations, Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul, and Sam Hunter’s A Bright New Boise. He is a six-time Helen Hayes Nominee for Best Director. Other directing credits include Theater J, Round House Theater, Metro Stage, Forum Theater, Washington Shakespeare Company, Everyman Theatre, Olney Theatre Center, Source Festival, Charter Theatre, Theater Alliance, Kennedy Center TYA, Imagination Stage, and the Helen Hayes Awards Ceremony.
Cast members in Woolly’s production of Describe the Night include Jonathan David Martin (Isaac), Tim Getman* (Nikolai), Regina Aquino (Yevgenia), Danny Gavigan (Vova), Moriamo Temidayo Akibu (Urzula), Justin Weaks (Feliks), and Kate Eastwood Norris* (Mariya).
The scenic design for Describe the Night is by Misha Kachman*. The remaining members of the production team include Ivania Stack* (costume design); Colin K. Bills* (lighting design); Roc Lee (sound design); Mollie Singer (assistant scenic design); Lorraine Ressegger-Sloane (movement choreographer); and Rachael Danielle Albert (production stage manager).
Describe the Night runs from May 27, 2019 to June 23, 2019.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D Street NW Washington, DC 20004, 202.393.3939 https://www.woollymammoth.net/
Tickets now available for DC & Virginia performances!
We live in a Wilsonian America. We began with a Madisonian America. Against the backdrop of World War I, John Henry’s Republic Undone dramatizes the conflict over the meaning of the American Revolution -- what it means to be an American.
Featuring the galaxy of personalities that sashayed across the stage as Woodrow Wilson ascended to power and orchestrated America’s entry into the Great War. His first wife Ellen, Andrew Carnegie, William Jennings Bryan, Alice Paul and Henry Cabot Lodge argue for a Madisonian America that exalts separation of powers and prohibits presidential wars. Colonel House, Mary Peck and his second wife Edith defend a Wilsonian America that salutes limitless executive power to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
Republic Undone explores Wilson’s narcissistic personality as he crushes any opposition to his will. The ghost of James Madison attacks Wilson for destroying the Republic that secured peace to enable women and men to march to their own drummer. Wilson dismisses Madison as a museum piece that would hobble Americans from spreading goodness in every corner of the world.
Republic Undone is directed by Rick Davis, Dean of George Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. This event was made possible in part by a grant from the RAAC Claudia Mitchell Arts Fund.
May 18th: Stone Hill Amphitheater. At 7 p.m. George Mason's Green Machine Band will perform a pre-show musical assortment. Etlan Little Country Store BBQ truck. The play begins at 8 pm and runs a little more than an hour.
May 21st: Hosted at the Woman's National Democratic Club. Cocktail bar open at 6:30 pm, light snacks included. The performance begins at 7 pm.
The Committee for the Republic is a citizen-based, non-partisan, nonprofit organization founded in 2003. The Committee sponsors speakers monthly on challenges to the American Republic, including the military-industrial complex, too-big-to-fail banks and U.S. competitiveness. For questions or requests email: James@committeefortherepublic.org
"What crackles in the show is not just the script’s wit; there’s something captivating and refreshing about watching real people from a real polis acting out real people who shaped our nation’s history" -
-- John Stoltenberg on Republic Undone, DC Metro Theater Arts Click on the link to read his excellent review.
Actress. playwright, poet, educator and advocate Liza Jessie Peterson (left) and Woolly Mammoth Theater Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes (center) enthralled their audience with a lively and thought-provoking discussion moderated by The Aspen Institute's Erika Mallin (right) about the upcoming presentation of The Peculiar Patriot, Liza’s fierce, funny and shrewd work inspired by her decades-long work within prison populations.
The Peculiar Patriot opens at Woolly Mammoth Theater Friday, April 5, 2019
“The Peculiar Patriot offers a richly layered perspective on the impact of mass incarceration in the African-American community. The brilliant Liza Jesse Peterson specifically asks us to spend time with those loved ones on the outside - the families disrupted, the lives derailed, and the love that is stronger than ever,” says Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes. “With authenticity and humor, The Peculiar Patriot spotlights both the systemic and the individual, humanizing the crushing statistics by igniting empathy in all of us.”
The Peculiar Patriot begins previews April 1 and runs through April 20th.
If you have ever known someone who was incarcerated, you will want to see the The Peculiar Patriot at Woolly Mammoth Theater. If you have never known anyone who was incarcerated, you really SHOULD see this eye-opening performance!
In a brilliant, powerful one-woman performance, Liza Jessie Peterson embodies the painful and poignant life experiences of of so many family members and friends of those who are incarcerated, and whose lives are dominated by the impact that has on them and their community.
The Peculiar Patriot begins previews April 1 and runs through April 20th.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
woollymammoth.net // 202.393.3939
641 D Street NW Washington, DC 20004
The real-life Liza Jessie Peterson captured in profile as the audience viewed her image on screen.
How Hope Happens: Past as Prologue
Theater review by Donna Christenson
When I headed out to see Mosaic Theater Company's production of The Agitators I expected to learn something about the relationship between two iconic figures in American history, one the suffragist Susan B. Anthony and the other the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. What I did not expect was that the evening would be such a powerful emotional experience, ending with a standing ovation that was followed by all of us singing “We Shall Overcome” as tears streamed down my face.
When Artistic Director Ari Roth and his team chose The Agitators as part of their fourth season’s theme How Hope Happens: Past as Prologue/Plays in Dialogue, they couldn't have known that the timing for this particular production would feel so exactly right for what we are going through now in the aftermath of the horrific shootings in the synagogue, along with several other frightening attacks on people targeted based on race or politics in recent days. The play’s themes dealing with struggles on issues of equality and voting rights, race and gender are as relevant now as they were well over a hundred years ago.
Though we have clearly come a long way, it can feel discouraging to see how much further we still need to go.The past two years have been especially challenging and difficult in so many ways and the events of recent weeks were really
overwhelming. What happened in the theater on opening night was the kind of magic that can only rarely be created when all of the elements come together perfectly.
Embodying their respective roles, Ro Boddie as Frederick Douglass, and Marni Penning as Susan B. Anthony dominate the stage so actively and powerfully we don’t notice that this is essentially a two-character play. Ensemble members Adanna Paul and Josh Adams create silent characters who keep the action moving, along with the props and sets. Aging before our eyes during a friendship spanning some 45 years, Boddie and Penning’s stirring performances made each age and stage in their relationship ring perfectly true. Kudos to Amy MacDonald for transformative period costumes and make-up as the characters aged, and, as the photos show, notably for Douglass’ distinctive hair.
Director Kenyatta Rogers’ production utilizes a wide range of elements to simultaneously remind us of the history, illuminate its relevance in today’s world, and create an inclusive experience. Interludes of contemporary music from Hip-hop to James Brown helps it resonate especially with younger audience members; sign language and boldly projected sur-titles welcome deaf viewers; post-performance discussions offered several times each week invite further exploration on a wide range of related topics.
Following a powerful opening night performance, the cast, crew and community members celebrated together. In the photo to the left are Movement Coordinator Elena Velasco, Sound Designer Robert Garner, Marni Penning (Susan B. Anthony), Ro Boddie (Frederick Douglass, Second row: appreciative supporters Jose Alberto Ucles, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and children’s book author Tom Noll flank DCdigest’s Donna Christenson.
This brilliant play examines the 45-year friendship and occasional rivalry between two great, rebellious, and flawed American icons: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Young abolitionists when they met in Rochester in the 1840s, they were full of hopes, dreams and a common purpose. As they grew to become the cultural icons we know today, their movements collided and their friendship was severely tested. This is the story of that 45-year friendship - from its beginning in Rochester, through a Civil War and to the highest halls of government. They agitated the nation, they agitated each other and, in doing so, they helped shape the Constitution and the course of American history. A loving and faithful portrait of two historical figures, Mat Smart’s story also brims with modern urgency and relevance.
The Agitators runs through November 25, 2018, at Mosaic Theater Company performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 or at https://www.mosaictheater.org/
‘Swedish Jazz’ Pleases Lyceum Audience with Varied Program and Musical Finesse
By Dan McKay with photo by Donna Christenson
Saxophone master Anders Lundegard curated another of his signature concerts to delight discerning music-lovers as he led the Swedish Jazz Trio with a varied program spanning eight decades Saturday evening at The Lyceum in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.
The trio provided an intriguing variety of songs and instrumentals stretching from 1940s Duke Ellington ( “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”), to the 1966 bossa nova ballad, “Dindi” by Antonio Carlos Jobim to the 1969 pop-rock hit, “I Love You More Today than Yesterday,” by the Spiral Staircase.
Other delightful tunes on this diverse “Rock the Boat” program included “Au Privave,” by Charlie Parker’, “On Green Dolphin Street” – first recorded by the Miles Davis Quintet in 1958 – and “It Had Better be Tonight” from Henry Mancini’s score for the 1963 “Pink Panther” movie.
Al Bauman played guitar throughout the evening and sang when tunes included lyrics, including “Beautiful Things” from the movie, “Dr. Doolittle,” “I Let a Song Go Out of my Heart,” by Duke Ellington, and the Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova classic “Dindi” (pronounced “jin-jee” – Portuguese for “sweetheart”).
Bassist Daniel Brown, meanwhile, rocked the rhythm and anchored deft chord changes throughout while providing beautiful solos where he made his upright bass “sing.” Anders – not known for his vocals – sang an original song. “Be My Match” was inspired, he said, by the fire that decimated the lakeside cottage he bought in Sweden in 2015. Before launching into this song, he played a furious sax solo instrumental he composed, “Fire,” immediately after learning of the troubling lakeside house fire.
Even when the music stopped, Anders gave the audience chuckles as in his candid admission of dance-floor shortcomings when he introduced the Jerome Kern song, “I Won’t Dance” – popularized by Fred Astaire’s exquisite footwork in the black & white film, “Roberta.” At other moments between tunes, he entertained the crowd with self-effacing humor and some historical references to events that occurred on November 3rds in years past (e.g., Joseph Haydn’s unsuccessful eye surgery in 1752, the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, and D.C. residents regaining the right to vote in 1964).
The three excellent musicians dipped into a bit of Baroque, performing “Adagio by Albinoni,” attributed to the 18th-century Venetian master Tomaso Albinoni but actually believed to have been composed by 20th-century musicologist and Albinoni biographer Remo Giazotto. Shortly after the end of World War II, Giazotto announced that he had found a manuscript fragment of the adagio in heavily bombed Dresden, Germany, but Anders said he joins the consensus of classical music scholars who dismiss the finding as a fake and suspect that Giazotto penned the composition himself sometime in the 1940s in the style of Albinoni.
Al and Daniel provided an ever-propulsive and sensitive backdrop throughout, augmented by Al’s vocals or soft and calming “bridge” solos from Daniel’s deft upright bass. From subtle trills to the occasional obligatory honks and squeals as in the introduction of the Pink Panther number, Anders exhibited superb command of styles on soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. Anders and Al have an entertaining stage presence between selections and Anders, with his PhD in music, always informs the audience with bite-size nuggets of knowledge.
Between the fast tempos of John Coltrane’s “Lyresto” and “Just in Time” to the ballads, “If I Had You” and “Dindi” this concert hit many different vibes. It ended, to rousing audience applause, with the standard, “Wade in the Water” – a “Spiritual” song developed and sung by slaves in Confederate southern states before the Civil War.
A festive and convivial reception followed the performance. The Lyceum is Alexandria’s History Museum, built in 1839, at 201 S. Washington Street. Concert admission includes the opportunity to tour the museum prior to the performance. The second-floor concert hall, with seating for just over 100, provides an intimate concert experience with quite nice acoustics for small ensembles.
AIDA is a Shining Star for Constellation Theater
Theater review by Donna Christenson
The gorgeous voice of Shayla S. Simmons would be reason enough to make seeing the new production of Elton John and TimRice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA an evening well spent ...but wait, there’s so much more! Constellation Theater Company’s talented cast and crew, headed by director Michael J. Bobbitt, has accomplished the challenging goal facing any ensemble by creating a beautifully-interwoven whole that is even greater than the sum of its excellent integral parts.
Working within the constraints of a relatively small black box theater space, every element has been pared down to a minimum but used powerfully for maximum effect. A.J. Guban’s dramatic, jewel-toned lighting, featuring a glowing asymmetrical diagonal band of changing light, triangulating the very well-designed but minimalist set, shifting the focus and mood for each scene in the story. Angles and triangles are repeated in a grid frame hanging as a ceiling and in the intricate jewel-toned pattern of the floor. Angled and ramped floor areas and a few steps offer choreographer Tony Thomas II a variable platform where action, movement and positioning of characters, along with Costume Designer Kenann M. Quander's bejeweled and flowing garments, take the place of sets, and very few props are required. It is clear that the entire team, rounded out by Helen Hayes Award-winning music director Walter “Bobby” McCoy and Sound Designer Roc Lee, has pulled everything together seamlessly so that all elements focus on the epic pop-rock musical score.
Photos by DJ Corey Photography
As Aida, the aforementioned Shayla S. Simmons uses her beautiful voice to take us on a marvelous journey, sometimes to unexpected places, and it is always exquisite. “When someone shows up who sounds like that, you have to cast her!” said director Bobbitt. With her star-crossed lover Radames, dashingly embodied by Jobari Parker-Namdar, the duets were especially strong, showing off both power and range. The chemistry between them was palpable, heightening the intensity of their predicament. Rounding out the love triangle, Chani Wereley as Amneris really came into her full vocal power in her final scenes. The entire ensemble of fourteen singing dancing actors of color delivers a dynamic evening of music and drama you won’t want to miss!
Based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, this rock-pop musical is brilliantly brought to life by the renowned songwriting team of Elton John and Tim Rice, whose credits include The Lion King. This legendary musical chronicles a star-crossed love triangle between Aida, a Nubian princess kidnapped from her country; Radames, the Egyptian captain who enslaved her people; and his fiancée Princess Amneris. As attractions intensify, Aida must choose between her heart’s desire and her responsibility to lead her nation to freedom.
Constellation Theater’s AIDA runs through November 18 at Source Theater, located at 1835 14th Street NW. Tickets start at $25. Call the Box Office 202-204-7741 or get ticket information at www.constellationtheather.org
Pat Metheny and Innovative Bandmates Regale Sell-Out Strathmore Audience
By Dan McKay with photos by Donna Christenson
Bethesda, MD, Oct. 6 – Renowned guitarist Pat Metheny and his latest quartet featured pop-jazz instrumental originals from 1970s and 80s all evening at Strathmore and, while the tunes weren’t new, he and his latest piano/bass/drum lineup brought new interpretations and energy to each of them.
Metheny has recorded and toured since the mid-1970s with jazz legends such as Gary Burton, Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman, Roy Haynes and Brad Mehldau, as well as rock stars like David Bowie and Joni Mitchell.
On this North America tour, Metheny-- now 64 -- surrounded himself with a new cosmopolitan lineup that included Welsh pianist Gwilym Simcock (37), Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh (34), and Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez (46).
Their concert Saturday night at the Music Center at Strathmore incorporated elements of progressive jazz, Latin jazz, acoustic guitar ballads and jazz fusion, with occasional touches of Asian, New Age and psychedelic influences.
Long-time Metheny fans were delighted to hear tunes familiar from his earliest albums, re-interpreted by this new lineup of sidemen who added zest and vigor. A couple of these tunes were recorded with late legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius on Metheny’s 1976 “hello world” album, Bright Size Life, including that disk’s title track. Another “oldies” crowd-pleaser re-cast with this band was “Phase Dance” from the 1979 Pat Metheny Group album. On these special very early tunes, Metheny showcased amazingly light yet richly vibrant chords from his custom-built 42-string “Pikasso” guitar. (Guitar photo bottom, left)
“Last Train Home” from Metheny’s 1987 album, Still Life (Talking) got a makeover with guitar-and-drum innovations amidst the
essential steady propulsion from Sánchez. In other pieces, Simcock and Han Oh provided thoughtful and sensitive piano and upright bass solos, respectively. Throughout the two-dozen tunes he and/or this quartet performed, Metheny’s fingers on his fret-board proved to be arguably faster than ever, and his ear for harmonics remains as deft, intuitive and fun as always with this special “generational” musical genius.
Apart from being a superb guitarist, Metheny’s been a pioneer in musical technology. He was one of the first guitarists to wield a guitar synthesizer, a Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer GR-300 which he first featured commercially in “Are You Going with Me?” on his third album, Offramp (1982).
Before picking up the guitar, Metheny dabbled as a youngster with the trumpet. His older brother, Mike Metheny was a far better trumpeter. When Metheny got fitted for braces as a young teenager, which made trumpet-playing painful, he discovered the guitar. What trumpet-player doesn’t like to probe the higher notes of his/her range when an extended solo arises? Nonetheless, the trumpet influence surfaces on some of Pat’s tunes wherein he sets his Roland GR-55 to approximate the timbre of a trumpet's higher octaves. When he goes off into stratospheric ranges on it à la Maynard Ferguson or Cat Anderson, the sound it emits pales in comparison to a true brass trumpet and such sounds are a turn-on for some listeners and a turn-off for others.
More pleasing to the appreciative audience, the vast majority of the program featured an amazing mix of up-tempo Latin-rhythm pieces, acoustic ballads including the classic “Midsummer Night’s Dream” 1977 and others from his 2003 solo album One Quiet Night. Despite his forays into electronics, Metheny’s solo acoustic work remains unrivaled. The whole quartet “jelled” so fluidly, but there appeared a special chemistry between guitarist and drummer. Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams have held top rankings in the jazz drummer category for several decades, but it might well be time to make room for the newcomer Sánchez! So nimble and polyrhythmic, with awesome dynamics across his array of drums, cymbals and bells, he propelled the whole evening entertainingly whether in the background to embellish the other musicians or in the foreground in a couple of featured solos.
The audience begged for an encore with a standing ovation after an unnamed mesmerizing duet between Metheny’s sparse, spacey guitar synthesizer and Sánchez’s elegant soft drum and cymbals work – reminiscent and worthy of some of Pink Floyd’s early instrumental psychedelic excursions. Metheny returned for a solo acoustic guitar medley encore, followed by yet another standing ovation that brought back the whole quartet to play his rocking Brazilian-inspired electric “Song for Bilbao.”
In 2013, Metheny became only the fourth guitarist to be inducted into the Downbeat magazine “Hall of Fame” – besides only Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, and Wes Montgomery.
Even if his “mop-head” of hair is now gray, Metheny showed Saturday that he’s always capable of squeezing out innovative sounds across his vast repertoire!
The Music Center at Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Ln, North Bethesda, MD 20852. https://www.strathmore.org/