DC digest™

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

Additional Theater & Music Perfomances and other activities on the DCdigest Calendar of Upcoming Events

by James Hoffman and Donna Christenson

Most of us would have jumped at the chance to experience The Beatles live in concert. This Saturday night you can do the next best thing!

By any measure, the Beatles are one of the most successful musical groups of all time with record sales topping 600 million (the highest sales of any music artist). Other fun facts (from https://facts.net/the-beatles-facts/): Rolling Stone hailed the band as the best artists of all time in 2004, and the song “Yesterday” inspired the most cover versions of any song.

Although the Beatles began their careers as an energetic live band playing at the famous Cavern club in Liverpool, they eventually gave up live performances completely because of the mayhem surrounding their three US tours in 1964-1966. This aversion to live touring played a role in their becoming masters of the recording studio where they introduced recording techniques that became standard for artists in the future. That’s a shame because they were known to be a terrific live act. The recent documentary film Get Back by Peter Jackson captures their live energy and musicianship in a concert they gave from the roof of their Apple Corps headquarters. This turned out to be the Beatles final public performance.  

Since even the very best of recorded music can’t capture the exuberant energy of a live concert, don’t miss the chance to get a taste of The Beatles in concert by attending a performance of their music by Rain, widely considered to be the best Beatles tribute band. They do a remarkable job of recreating the best loved Beatles songs from different eras including their early days in the Cavern Club, their iconic performance on the Ed Sullivan show, through Sgt. Pepper, and ending with Abbey Road which was their final recording. The show includes costumes, slides, videos, and other theatrical effects to give the audience a sense of the historical background for the music. By the way, the photo above is Rain, though I'm guessing you thought it was The Beatles!  Rain really is the next best thing to seeing The Beatles live.


When:  Saturday, April 29 at 8pm
The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852

Tickets: RAIN - A Tribute to The Beatles (strathmore.org) or  301.581.5100 Box Office    

Special 25% discount code for Strathmore this Wednesday and Thursday ! 

Strathmore presents the Australian acrobatic circus group Gravity and Other Myths: A Simple Space by Gravity & Other Myths on Wednesday, April 26, and Thursday April 27.


This is an exciting “Cirque Du Soleil” type acrobatic show. The show features a special on-stage seating option for a circus spectator, up-and-close experience! Discounts also apply to the stage seats.



A Simple Space


Wed, April 26, 2023 | 8pm

Thu, April 27, 2023 | 8pm


Use the promo code for “FAMILY” for 25% off discount. 

 That means tickets will only be in the $20 - $40 range!

Upcoming entertainment at the Strathmore Music Center

Wed, April 26 & Thu, April 29 | 8pm

Australian contemporary circus company Gravity & Other Myths presents A Simple Space, a simultaneously frantic yet delicate performance. Acrobats are pushed to their physical limits, propelled by the driving sound of live percussion in a playful, intimate setting.  (See 25% off ticket discount code offer above.)

Sat, April 29 | 8pm

Experience the world’s most iconic band in a performance that takes audiences back time with early Beatles favorites and songs from Abbey Road and their famous 1969 rooftop concert.

Tue, May 2 | 8pm

The small but mighty ukulele holds its own in the hands of this virtuosic group from across the pond. Reinventing entire genres with only their ukes and their voices, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain covers Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Redding and Spaghetti Western soundtracks.

Grammy-winning duo Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer host a Pre-Show Ukulele Strum Along . open to both ukulele players and auditors who want to learn more about this guitar-like instrument.

Sat, May 20 | 11am

Young people with autism or sensory sensitivities are invited backstage at the Concert Hall for a small-group tour. Children and teens can play instruments on the stage, see the artists’ dressing rooms, learn how the lights and sound work, and so much more.



5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, MD 20852

Ticket Office
301.581.5100 or Purchase online any time

Duo Jatekok in Concert at the French Embassy

by Gordon Chin

photo by Donna Christenson

Frenchwomen Nairi Badal and Adelaide Panaget are the two pianists who form the Duo Jatekok, whose name is taken from the Hungarian for “Play” referring to a series of pedagogical performances by the Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag.  On the evening of April 24, 2023

the stage at the La Maison Francaise at the French Embassy to the United States was crowded with two grand pianos. Though one was in pristine condition and the other obviously rolled in for this performance and still on wheels looked slightly battered, both were in sonically fine shape. The evening’s varied concert program included duo piano arrangements of Meredith Monk’s “Ellis Island”, Bach’s “Cantate Actus tragicus” (arranged by Kurtag), Trotignon’s “Passacaille et Elegie”, extracts from Bizet’s opera “Carmen”, and Stravinsky’s “Rituel des Ancestres et Danse Sacrale”.


The balance of pieces performed were Duo Jatekok’s own arrangements of the German hard metal band Rammstein’s ensemble of hits such as “Engel”, “Mein herz brennt”, “Seeman”, “Auslander”, “Ohne Dich”, and “Puppe”. This is noteworthy since the two pianists are classically trained and their arrangements and performances of the Rammstein works transformed the hard-metal pieces to their impressive musical essences. Rammstein is renowned for their live performances full of spectacular costumes, pyrotechnics, and light shows. Duo Jatekok has toured as the Rammstein opening act, a more tranquil introduction to later mayhem.


The sedate French embassy auditorium full of typical DC residents including some children contrasts sharply with the usual young Gothic-clad Rammstein crowd in packed stadium venues. In this DC setting, Duo Jatekok’s arrangements and renditions of Rammstein music and other pieces attained an impressive clarity and featured the duo’s multifaceted musical talents. The artists were rewarded with prolonged applause and offered in return a virtuosic dual piano encore performance of “Dance Macabre”.

photos by Donna Christenson

Adelaide Panaget and Nairi Badal, the marvelous pianists who form Duo Jatekok, signing CDs and greeting guests Alexander Sacha Mark,  Siegfried Zottel and Thais Mark after the concert..

photo by Gordon Chin

The audience leaving the Duo Jatekok concert was greeted with a crisp cool April night and a heavenly view of the crescent moon and Venus as backdrop to the Embassy of France courtyard.

The Nosebleed

by Donna Christenson and James Hoffman

Kaili Y. Turner, Saori Tsukada, Aya Ogawa, Ashil Lee in The Nosebleed at Woolly Mammoth Theater

Playwright Aya Ogawa, when asked about the goal of her newest play The Nosebleed, said she discovered it was to "create a vulnerable, empathic space for reflection, healing, forgiveness."  If you are lucky enough to be able to participate in the regional debut performances by Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, the evocative and compelling impact of this award-winning work is likely to be one of many ways to gauge and confirm her success.

And we do mean participate; the audience is given pencil and paper so it is clear at the outset that this is a play encouraging audience participation. That turns out to include answering questions with a show of hands or in writing, as well as perhaps volunteering for activities on stage. We were prepared to resist these terms of engagement but the actors were so disarming and the play so involving that resistance was futile! For anyone reluctant to take part, it might be reassuring to know that nothing personal was ever revealed from any audience member. To say anything more specific would require a spoiler alert, but suffice it to say that there is some brilliant stagecraft taking unexpected paths to deeper levels of meaning and reflection that we will leave for each audience to discover. 

Playwright and director Aya Ogawa was also the actor portraying her own  father.

“Do you love or hate your father? Write down any questions you might want to ask him”.  By the time this question is asked in “The Nosebleed” we know that this is a play about failure, including the failure of the author and her father to establish a connection, followed by Ogawa’s failure to suitably mourn him after his passing.

By Ogawa’s account, her father was a cold and distant person . . . they only had two real conversations in their entire lives . . . who failed her as a parent. When he died, Ogawa did the minimum in arranging necessary rituals, resulting in her father’s passing going largely unnoticed. However, the passage of time sometimes softens the pain of a dysfunctional relationship and Ogawa came to wonder what she could have done to foster a better relationship with her father or to find resolution now that he was gone.

Saori Tsukada, Ashil Lee, Drae Campbell  All three photos by DJ Corey Photography  

The emphasis on failures and death might seem to make watching The Nosebleed a pretty heavy experience but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a play full of funny vignettes that are extremely well written and acted. One of these deals with an episode of the TV show, “The Bachelorette” in which a female contestant visits the home of a male contestant whose father has been absent for many years from his broken family, offering parallels relevant to the playwright’s feelings about her own father.

Ogawa was not only both playwright and director but also appears on stage throughout the performance (portraying at various times her own father or a child with the titular nosebleed). The unusual casting of The Nosebleed also features four different actors portraying Ogawa at various points in the play, each switching to become other characters as needed. The exuberant cast brings energy, joy, and humor to their performances which makes it a celebratory experience rather than a sad one, and also suggests that love and forgiveness might make it possible to live with the many failures that define the human condition.

At the end of the play, the various actors portraying Ogawa, together with eight volunteers from the audience, gather for the Japanese ritual of Kotsuage. In this ceremony, family members gather to examine the ashes of a recently cremated family member. Their task is to separate bone fragments from the ashes (cremation in Japan is designed to leave these fragments intact). Some bones are more important than others with the most important one being the hyoid bone that is shaped like a horseshoe and is found in the neck. It plays a key role in speech and, in traditional thought, is believed to be the connection between the brain and the body. Kotsuage is a chance to honor the dead and to keep them connected to the family. It is a healing ritual and at this point in the play, it allows Ogawa to connect to her father, perhaps to understand him better and at last to find peace and forgiveness. Through the power of this performance and Ogawa’s success at creating “a vulnerable, empathic space for reflection, healing, forgiveness”, it may well have a similar and long-lasting effect for many audience members as well. 

Synopsis: Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents? Through a series of absurd autobiographical vignettes, Aya Ogawa’s THE NOSEBLEED delves into the sh*t show of parenthood, as both a parent and a child – and what it takes to forgive. 

This production of The Nosebleed runs March 31, 2023 - April 23, 2023 at the Woolly Mammoth Theater, 641 D ST. NW, 20004, Washington, DC

For tickets: 202-393-3939, https://www.woollymammoth.net/box-office/get-tickets/

Mind and Brain at Constellation Theater Company

by James  Hoffman

Descartes famously proposed that people are composed of two separate aspects: the physical (the body) and the non-physical (the mind or soul). Most current brain scientists reject this philosophical stand and instead assume that all aspects of mind can be completely understood in terms of physical and chemical properties in the brain. This approach has produced some spectacular successes but also fails to explain some fundamental issues about the mind and brain such as how conscious awareness is generated by physical processes in the brain. These are some of the issues addressed in Incognito by Nick Payne staged by the Constellation Theater Company.

Spoiler alert! I am a neuroscientist who is familiar with the cases portrayed in this play. Therefore, this review contains additional information drawn from the scientific literature on these topics.

Gerrad Alex Taylor, Marcus Kyd, Ixchel Hernández, Kari Ginsburg   [DJ Corey Photography]         

Incognito consists of three loosely connected stories involving some 20 characters. Remarkably, these characters are portrayed by just four terrific actors (Kari Ginsberg, Ixchel Hernandez, Marcus Kyd, and Gerrad Taylor) who seamlessly transition between multiple roles throughout the play. This poses a challenge for the audience as they must quickly ascertain the identity of each portrayed character without any changes in clothing or other physical attributes that might signal the shift to a different persona.

The three stories all revolve around issues of how the mind might be related to the brain. The best developed of these stories involves the case of Henry Molaison who suffered from severe epilepsy and underwent experimental brain surgery at the age of 27. The surgery was a success in terms of reducing his seizures but also had a devastating, unanticipated side effect. Henry appeared to be unable to enter any new information into long-term memory, although his long-term memory for events occurring prior to the surgery was still intact. For example, he was unable to learn the names of doctors he met after surgery but still knew the name of his surgeon whom he had met before the surgery occurred.

Interestingly, although Henry had a severe impairment in long-term learning of new information, his short-term memory was normal. He could remember people’s names who he had just met but if he was distracted for a few moments, he couldn’t recognize them or remember meeting them. For scientists who worked with Henry over decades, this frustrating process was repeated over and over again each day for years. This aspect of Henry’s memory deficit was well represented in the play and showed how even the most basic social functions depend critically on memory. Importantly, this finding showed that short-term and long-term memory are fundamentally different and rely on separate brain mechanisms, one that was damaged by the surgery (long-term memory for new information) and one that was unaffected by the surgery (short-term memory).

Later research showed that Henry in fact was capable of some kinds of long-term learning. For example, he was given daily practice in tracing complex shapes viewed in a mirror, a surprisingly difficult task. Over time, Henry got quite good at performing this new skill but each day the procedure had to be explained to him in detail as he denied having ever encountered this task before. As was the case for short-term memory, this finding shows that skills, which rely on extended repetition and often involve perceptual-motor tasks, depend on brain mechanisms that are different from those responsible for long-term memory for events such as having done the tracing task. This was dramatized in the play which showed Henry acquiring (or reacquiring) the ability to play piano after his surgery.

Years of research on Henry established that there are several different kinds of memory (e.g., events vs. skills) which use different mechanisms in the brain. Henry’s case illustrates the strong link between mind and brain in terms of different brain areas being responsible for specific kinds of memory.

Gerrad Alex Taylor, Ixchel Hernández   [DJ Corey Photography] 

The second mind-brain story is about Dr. Thomas Harvey, a pathologist who conducted an autopsy on the famous physicist, Albert Einstein. During the autopsy, Dr Harvey took it upon himself to open Einstein’s skull and remove his brain which he took home in a jar. He later stated that his goal was to scientifically study Einstein’s brain in order to discover the physical basis of his genius. He was going to line up the best brain scientists in the world to find out how Einstein’s brain was different from those of mere mortals.

Unfortunately, years passed without the appearance of any publications. Finally, 23 years after Einstein’s passing, a reporter located Dr. Harvey and found that the lack of publications wasn’t for lack of trying. Dr. Harvey had divided the brain into slices which were sent to various scientists for study. Very few of them reported anything because Einstein’s brain didn’t seem to be physically remarkable in any way. The resulting news story however, reawakened interest in Einstein’s brain, inspiring a new round of studies using more sophisticated methods. Several of these studies did report differences in Einstein’s brain. For example, one study reported that his parietal lobe (important for spatial cognition) was larger than normal while another found that his brain cells were closer together, perhaps speeding up mental computations. In the end, no one could be sure that any of these differences were responsible for Einstein’s genius. The sad story of Dr. Harvey’s unsuccessful pursuit of fame and fortune illustrates how difficult it can be to connect attributes of mind to properties of the brain. 

The final story was inspired by the case of Kenneth Walker who drove 14 miles to a nearby town where he murdered his mother-in-law and severely injured his father-in-law.  He was found “not guilty” because these crimes occurred while he was sleep walking!  Some sleep walkers can carry out complex motor tasks such as driving a car while asleep. Walker was known to be such a sleepwalker and he had apparently committed these crimes while asleep so the violent attacks weren’t voluntary, which is a necessary ingredient for this crime. This story raises issues about what kinds of actions can be carried out without conscious awareness and the role of awareness in free will and responsibility.

All three stories are fascinating and presented with energy and skill by the four actors. It is a challenging play because the stories are intermingled in time and space and there are only a few clues to mark the transition between stories. Even more challenging are the issues raised about the nature of mind and how it might or might not be reduced to the physics and chemistry of the brain.

Synopsis: A fascinating, transatlantic mystery that spans the 20th century, interweaving three stories and 20 characters, played by an ensemble of four actors. A scientist obsesses about dissecting Albert Einstein’s brain in search of physical clues to explain his brilliant mind. A musician suffers a seizure and forgets everything except his love for his devoted fiancée. A neuropsychologist struggles with her past, while experiencing her first romance with another woman. This compelling drama will touch your heart and captivate your mind. 

Constellation Theatre Company’s production of Incognito runs February 10 - March 12 at the Source Theater, 1835 14th Street NW, Washington, DC

202.204.7741  boxoffice@ConstellationTheatre.org 


Mysticism & Music at the Constellation Theater Company

By Jim Hoffman

Photo by DCdigest's Donna Christenson

If nothing else, the isolation associated with COVID 19 provided time to think about some of life’s larger questions such as the existence of a spiritual realm and various ways in which it interconnects us. Mysticism & Music explores these questions through a unique blend of original music, dramatic visual presentations, and rich storytelling. Innovative composers Tom Teasley on percussion and Chao Tian on Chinese dulcimer provide an extraordinary musical score that ranges from the whisper of a spring breeze to the crashing violence of a thunderstorm.

Photo by DJ Corey Photography 

Inventive sets and choreography create the perfect visual accompaniment. Particularly noteworthy were scenes portraying dancers with fiery torches that were remarkably compelling. And finally, the various sections of the performance are connected by a series of spiritual readings from many of the world’s most important and influential texts including the Old and New Testaments, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, and selections from modern writers such as Maya Angelou. This performance will stimulate all of your senses while also making you aware of the many ways in which we all travel together on our spiritual journeys. Highly recommended!

Synopsis: A unique blend of original music, dramatic visual presentations, and storytelling, Mysticism & Music explores humanity's eternal search for oneness with the universe, weaving together scripture and poetry from around the globe in a captivating kaleidoscope of music, movement, and spoken word. Powered by a cross-cultural fusion of exuberant percussion and Chinese dulcimer from award-winning musicians and composers Tom Teasley and Chao Tian, Mysticism & Music invites audiences on a transcendent journey of crisis, ritual, community, healing, and celebration. 


This wonderful new production of Mysticism & Music at the Constellation Theater Company is available through Video On Demand until December 21, 2021. You’ll receive a special link to watch the production, and once you hit “play,” you (and your entire viewing party of friends and/or family) will have 48 -72 hours to enjoy the show! See https://www.constellationtheatre.org/


Constellation Theatre Company performs at Source Theater, 1835 14th Street NW | Washington, DC 202.204.7741  boxoffice@ConstellationTheatre.org

Live Theater performance or Video on Demand: 

Constellation Theater Company Offers You the Choice

By Jim Hoffman and Donna Christenson

Run, don’t walk, to see Man Moon Walk.  It offers everything you have come to expect from the always impressive Constellation Theater Company . . . terrific actors bringing to life their quirky characters in a creatively-designed set brilliantly transformed repeatedly by special lighting effects and creative staging.  In turns thoughtful, playful, passionate and poignant, you’ll be glad you treated yourself to this performance.

After months of pandemic restrictions, it is great to be able to sit in a theater as part of a fully-vaccinated and masked audience to experience the unique pleasures of live performance again!!!  With their new production of Man Moon Walk, Constellation Theater Company offers you the option of attending in person from Opening Night Thursday, August 12 thru August 22.  

If you prefer Video On Demand, your entire household can watch with one ticket purchase, a great bargain for $20.  You’ll receive a special link to watch the production anytime during the run through September 12, 2021.  Once you hit “play,” you’ll have 72 hours to enjoy the show, stopping and/or replaying as much as you wish! See an enticing preview at this link MOON MAN WALK | Constellation (constellationtheatre.org)   

Synopsis: A sweet, soulful, and often surprising tale that transports us to the moon and back.

Spencer, an aspiring writer living in California, returns to his boyhood home in Philadelphia after the sudden death of his devoted single mother Esther. There, he stumbles upon a letter that shatters the elaborate fantasy Esther had concocted concerning the whereabouts of her son’s estranged father.

Journeying through Spencer’s childhood memories as he reckons with the mysteries of his past, Moon Man Walk reminds us that even in the darkest corners of the universe, love and light persist.

Constellation Theatre Company performs at Source Theater
1835 14th Street NW, Washington, DC
202.204.7741  boxoffice@ConstellationTheatre.org  

Chris Botti at the Birchmere

by Dan McKay

Trumpet great Chris Botti and his band wowed sellout crowds on recent consecutive weekend nights. (This review was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in March 2020.)

Opening slow and gentle, with “Gabriel’s Oboe” and the theme from “Cinema Paradiso,” the veteran bandleader led his quintet and three exceptional guest soloists through a wealth of jazz and classical material and bits of funk and rock as well. Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo was featured on many tunes throughout the evenings’ entertainment.

Violinist Caroline Campbell shared a beautiful duet with Botti on the achingly beautiful “Emmanuel.”  Later in the gig, she displayed virtuosity across a wide array of genres and delighted the audience each step of the way in a medley that started with the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” sliding deftly into “Yankee Doodle,” then a country-style hoedown tune before rocking out with the band joining in on Led Zeppelin’s `70s hit “Kashmir.”  Like Botti, Campbell collaborates in classical music with opera tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Botti’s talented quintet also crushed a couple 1960s classics -- Burt Bacharach’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” that was a huge hit for Dionne Warwick, and Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green.” Davis composed the latter piece for his #1 hit album “Kinda Blue” (Voted #1 all-time Jazz album by readers of Downbeat magazine) which, featuring modal harmonies throughout, has always been more about mood than specific formal chord progressions.

Propelled by tight-yet-supple rhythms from the core of drummer Lee Pearson, bassist Reggie Hamilton and pianist Eldar Djangirov, the band seamlessly grooved through jazz, pop, classical and funk.

Botti, now 55, recognized the Birchmere as a special venue which helped launch his early career several decades ago. He introduced awesome saxophone player Andy Snitzer, with whom he often played together back in those long-ago days.  Snitzer “killed” several solos throughout the evening’s long gig.

Two guest vocalists – of totally different styles -- kicked up matters in the second half. Sy Smith, a lively soul singer from Hillcrest Heights, MD, belted out the jazz standard “The Very Thought of You” and sauntered through the crowd on a romp of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”  Smith began her career leading a six-person D.C. go-go band called "In Tyme".  With a B.S. degree in psychology and a minor in music therapy, she moved to Los Angeles and has sung together with Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston and many other famous musicians.  “Christmas in Syberspace” is her latest album, featuring “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, which was the spark of her interest in music as a young girl.

Between pieces toward the end of the concert Botti, now 55 and as much a bandleader with stage presence as a trumpet-player, explained that he asked world-renowned soprano Renée Fleming for an up-and-coming tenor.  She recommended young tenor Jonathan Johnson, a native of Macon, Ga., who has performed in recent years with Patrick G. & Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Johnson, with great tone, range and control, sang a goosebump-inducing version of “Nessun Dorma” From Puccini’s opera “Turandot,” as well as a lovely version of Sarah Brightman’s “Time to Say Goodbye.”

A standing ovation brought the band back onstage for a surprise encore of drummer Lee Pearson singing the ever-popular “What a Wonderful World.” A standard of Louis Armstrong’s later years, Pearson belted it out in a gravelly voice which, with eyes closed, easily conjured up the image of “Satchmo” himself.

The Birchmere, a full-service dinner club, is located at 3701 Mount Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305 .  www.birchmere.com/

Native Americans Inspire Modern Composers and National Cathedral Audience

By Dan McKay with photos by Donna Christenson

Emmanuel Black Bear in full tribal gear.

North America had well-developed musical traditions centuries before European discoverers colonized this continent. Indigenous tribes settled in their own territories across the land and developed their own languages and musical traditions.

The nave of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC proved to be a surprisingly perfect venue for a delightful evening of both authentic Native American music and later pieces reflecting such influences in more modern compositions for vocal and string ensembles from renowned Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, Italian composer Ferrucio Busoni, the 20th Century American composer Arthur Farwell, and 21st Century compositions by Americans Curt Cacioppo and Jerod Tate. 

Opening with a spirited, attention-getting Lakota hand-drum and vocal solo dance down the main aisle by Emmanuel Black Bear in full tribal gear, a large audience that filled many pews was treated to a splendid concert that was as informative as it was musically robust, enjoyable and diverse.

An ongoing controversy about the authenticity of turn-of-the-20th-century composer Arthur Farwell was played out in three pieces on the program, contrasted against truly authentic Native American music pieces. Several other 20th and 21st century interpretations of various tribes’ musical styles were also performed variously by string ensemble, chorus and solo piano.

PostClassical Ensemble (PCE) conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez presented a marvelous program of both indigenous tribal American music and dance that also highlighted composers who have been influenced by the culture and music.  

Performers in this exquisite evening included the PostClassical Ensemble and its Cathedra choral group conducted by Michael McCarthy, violinist and PCE concertmaster Netanel Draiblate, and featured the musicians from the Lakota Music Project of South Dakota, including vocalist Emmanuel Black Bear. Noteworthy performances also include those of internationally prominent pianist Emanuele Arciuli and baritone William Sharp.

Dvorák’s “Larghetto from Violin Sonatina” showed nuances of Native influence, though this early proponent of “Indianist” music never tried to directly mimic their raw, authentic sounds. Dvorák was nonetheless keenly interested in the native music he found here. (His beloved “New World Symphony,” in fact, is replete with allusions to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.”) Dvorák conceived the “water music” middle section of the larghetto at Minnehaha Falls on a trip he took there in the summer of 1893.

In Ferruccio Busoni’s four-movement 1915 “Indian Diary No. 1” for solo piano, played beautifully by Emanuele Arciuli, also artistically evoked some sonic images of Native tribes.  Both Dvorák and Busoni weaved derivative influences of indigenous music they heard across America but neither ever sought to re-create authentic tribal sounds.

Arthur Farwell, on the other hand, did.  Three of his early 20th Century compositions on the program showed his closer affinity and integration of sounds from pre-Colonial era Americans.  Mr. Arciuli pounded out percussive solo piano versions of Farwell’ 1905 “Pawnee Horses” and 1904 “Navajo War Dance No. 2” to impressive effect. 

With baritone William Sharp, a duet of Farwell’s 1908 “Three Indian Songs” included “Song of the Deathless Voice,” “Inketunga’s Thunder Song” and “The Old Man’s Love Song.” The collaboration between vocals and piano was tight-knit and very effective. 

The 16-part a cappella Cathedra then belted out lively 1937 vocal rearrangements of “Pawnee Horses,” “The Old Man’s Love Song” and “Navajo War Dance No. 2” to conclude the first half of the wide-ranging program.

PostClassical Ensemble conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez 

At intermission, Dakota flutist Bryan Akipa provided the crowd with relaxing and meditative selections on three of his own hand-carved wooden flutes in descending ranges.  The bright acoustics of this great cathedral added to the haunting effect for Akipa’s flutes as well as the opening drum-dance, choral and instrumental selections.

The second half of the program leaped forward 80 years from Farwell’s era, with deeper penetration of Native American sounds, starting with Ohioan Curt Cacioppo’s 1999 “North American Indigenous Songs for Chorus,” including “Zuni Lullaby,” “Taos Moonlight” “Creek/Cherokee Deer Conjuring Song” and “Huron Carol (quodlibet).”

Dakota flutist Bryan Akipa

Two original compositions by Jerod Impichcaachaaha Tate, a Chickasaw from Oklahoma, followed: his stirring 2008 “Shakamaxon for String Orchestra” and the calming “Resolution” from his eight-movement 2015 “Standing Bear for Baritone and Strings,” both of which were Washington, DC premieres. (Shakamaxon was the Lenape Indian village that bordered present-day Philadelphia.  It’s where William Penn signed the 1682 treaty with the Lenape tribe that paved the way for modern Pennsylvania while leaving the tribe holding the short end of the negotiating stick. “Standing Bear” honors the Oklahoma-based Ponca tribe, which was forced to move from Nebraska to the “Indian Territory” of present-day Oklahoma.) 

The compositions of Mr. Cacioppo and Mr. Tate also incorporate both historical perspective and moral dimensions that are native to indigenous Americans (e.g., generosity and sharing, pity and compassion, respect and honor, patience and tolerance, humility, bravery, fortitude and principles, wisdom and understanding.) 

A key difficulty in capturing indigenous tribes’ sounds comes from the difference between the European tradition of major and minor scales compared to tribal reliance on vocalizations outside of any such harmonic structure.  In a post-concert Q&A session, Mr. Arciuli described some difficulties, noting that string ensembles and choirs can more easily mimic vocal “glissandos” – seamless pitch shifts up or down -- of notes, whereas piano notes can be “bent” only so much by the pedals below.  

As described by Mr. Black Bear, “When I sing, I don’t even think about hitting certain notes.” Instead, he explained, his focus is on capturing and delivering the “feel” of the song in his chest, relating to the time and place where he’s singing it, honestly and authentically, regardless of intonation, all of which my change and vary throughout each piece.  

A ton of credit is well deserved by Joseph Horowitz, PCE’s executive director and the entire PostClassical Ensemble, the Lakota Music Project, and the host team of the National Cathedral. 

The relationship between indigenous tribes and the Americas clearly remains unfinished, but this concert brought together much musical and some cultural understanding in an erudite and delightful way!

Stormy Weather:  See It, Rain or Shine!

By Donna Christenson

Nigel Rowe as Ariel                            photos by RX Loft  

On a stormy Sunday afternoon I headed to the Atlas Theater not knowing what to expect from Stormy Weather. Very loosely based on the characters in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this cabaret-style musical play, through the character of Sycorax  (Michelle Rogers), explores the stories of so many women erased from history, disenfranchised, enslaved, exploited or dismissed for generations. Voiced intermittently in songs popularized by Billie Holiday, the complicated blending of such diverse elements turns out to be absolutely mesmerizing. 

From the opening notes and narrative in the pitch-dark room, and as the lights begin to glimmer on stage, we are drawn into a different world. Jazzy rhythms and tribal drum beats from excellent musicians accompany us on our journey throughout the performance, leading us down unexpected paths.  Music, movement, magic and humor abound.

The evening would be well worth it if only to hear the marvelous musical repertoire associated with Billie Holiday, as interpreted by the extremely talented Nigel Rowe as Ariel.  From the dynamic notes of the opening number “Stormy Weather” to the poignant “In My Solitude”, the lively “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” to the somber heaviness of “Strange Fruit”, Rowe provides a tour-de-force. The mood changes frequently throughout the course of the story and often within one song, and there is never a false note. 

If the tribal drumming seems particularly authentic and compelling, be aware that it was composed, designed and performed by Jabari Exum (Caliban). Specializing in West African drumming, he played a skin-covered drum called a djembe. In addition, his vocalizing of drum and other percussion sounds was fascinating to watch and hear.  Notably, his credits include consulting on the extraordinary drumming and dance sequences in Black Panther. Wakanda forever! 

Jabari Exum, Nigel Rowe, Michelle  Rogers, & Matty Griffiths   

Rounding out the cast as Prospero, Matty Griffiths presides over Prospero’s Waterfront Bar and Grill, and serves as every man to the women characters evolving through time.  As in previous IN Series productions, most notably the marvelous recent opera Butterfly, sets are minimalist but very creatively combined with lighting and staging to produce maximum effect. 

The IN Series works with D.C. artists and communities to create innovative theater grounded in opera and song, reimagining these forms, folding in an expanding range of aesthetic and cultural traditions. IN Series productions tend to have rather short theater runs, with only six performances of this delightful show, so drop what you are doing and get some tickets right now!  

To purchase tickets for Stormy Weather, visit Atlasarts.org or call (202)-399-7993. Stormy Weather is at ATLAS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 1333 H St NE, Washington D.C. 20002 running October 19 – October 27.  

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.  

photo credit: Stella K

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.

About theatreWashington

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/  

As soul legend Donny Hathaway, a don't-miss performance by Kelvin Roston, Jr. who wrote, acts, sings and plays keyboard in this powerful one-man show.  

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/

Republic Undone

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.

 Tickets VA May 18th   

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.

 Tickets DC May 21st    

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.  

photo and editor Donna Christenson

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


photo by Donna Christenson

The real-life Liza Jessie Peterson captured in profile as the audience viewed her image on screen.

The Agitators

 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.  Photo first row: 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/