“All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” --Irish playwright Sean O'Casey
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/