Medieval Madness at Renaissance Hall
Old Town Alexandria, VA
Reviewed by Verna Kerans
WOW! Great food, great ale, and a real sword fight!
Take yourself back into history with Thomas, the Duke of Salem, and Carla, his queen, in a fabulous Medieval Feast in Old Town Alexandria. The “wenches” (our serving maids) greeted us with a list of funny instructions that our hands were our utensils and the towels on the back of our chairs were our napkins. The special instructions also included standing when the Duke and Duchess arrive, a short story that explained many historical facts about the era when men were men and women were women (and nothing has changed!), and permission to shout “To the dungeon!” and “To the pillory!” when the occasion called for it. I noticed that the more ale the merry crowd drank, the easier it became to shout out “To the pillory!”
A silent friar blessed us before our dinner while a Gregorian chant rang out over his head. He circled the group and then turned around so we could see the message on his back: This space available. Throughout the dinner, the silent friar ran amongst the tables with amusing signs on his back advising us about too many things to even begin mentioning.
The food was plentiful and delicious starting with platters of plump sausages with honey mustard, tasty warm rolls, butter and apple pear sauce served family-style. After the first course of tasty sausages and rolls, great bowls of roasted carrots flavored with sugar and cinnamon and huge joints of roast beef arrived. Each roast was ample to feed groups of six and gentlemen were asked to carve the roasts. But that was not all. The next course to arrive was cornish game hens and each guest got a half a hen--way too much food for me--and little yam tots roasted to perfection. Last but not least, dessert was pound cake with jam guaranteed not to drip on your shirt.
Everyone got a bottle of beer and plenty of refills on water. Designated drivers had a fine selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from. A seasonal on-draught special, Oktoberfest Hacker-Pschorr straight from Germany could be purchased in mugs with a refill later. Also available was meade which I did not drink but my seatmate told me it tasted wonderful.
Between courses, our “wenches” amused us with double-entendre songs that will go right over the heads of any younger guests you’ve chosen to bring. So have no fear: little guests wilt love the knights dressed in genuine armor and during intermission will especially enjoy the sword fight competition that was “no holds barred”. All the time this eating and laughing is going on, music, wenches singing, and the friar running about, you and your seatmates can exchange banter and camaraderie. This is the perfect setting to bring a group celebrating any special occasion. Many people were asked to participate with a few written lines prepared in advance. Try your acting skills. You will have a blast.
The decorations on the wall are of special interest. Tapestries, flags, posters and decorations are all worth looking at when you have a break from the frivolity.*** * * * **** * * * ***
Arena Stage Presents an Inspiring
Reviewed by Hans Bachmann
On November 11, 2016; Closed December 24, 2016
Unlike many of my theater colleagues, I’ve always had a deep regard and affection for Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. However, I never enjoyed their musical Carousel—which made its theatrical debut more that 70 years ago—as much as some of their other works. Director Molly Smith’s refreshing and inspiration reboot, however, has overcome...CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW...
Reviewed by Hans Bachmann
on October 1, 2016
Running through October 30, 2016
For some inexplicable reason, I had never seen a Synetic Theater production before the opening night of its production of Dante’s Inferno. Perhaps it was my trepidation in attending a production that relied solely on movement, even though retelling a familiar story. My reticence was totally unfounded, and to those of you who may have similar reservations, I wholeheartedly entreat you to see this remarkable production.
This evocative production ingeniously conveys the dark elements of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem of lost direction and the poet’s perilous journey through nine levels of hell...
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Kinky Boots Is A Perfect Fit Of A Show
Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
Reviewed by Hans Bachmann
Ran June 14 through July 19, 2016
A stormy night in Washington, D.C. was no competition for the elecric performances on stage on the opening Thursday night of the national tour of Kinky Boots at the Kennedy Center. This musical reboot of a charming 2005 British film about a son's desperate attempt t keep his deceased father's shoe company alive is quite the force of nature itself. With driven anthems and touching ballads written by 80s pop star and LGBT activist Cyndi Lauper famous for the hits "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "True Colors" and a book by Harvey Fierstein who authored La Cage Aux Folles and Newsies, there was plenty of energy on stage to rival the thunder and lightning outside...
Washington National Opera
at Kennedy Center
Reviewed by Verna Kerans
The opera Carmen by Georges Bizet is my favorite opera. The music is outstanding and emotionally moving. You will recognize the music as soon as you hear it. I always tell people this is good opera with which to introduce young people to the genre.
This Carmen was directed by...
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Destiny of Desire
Arena Stage Kreeger Theatre
Reviewed by Verna Kerans
WOW! What a fun show! You still have a week to catch this wonderful play at Arena Stage. It closes on October 18, 2015. In keeping with a special celebration of women playwrights, Arena Stage presented Destiny of Desire. Written by Arena’s resident playwright, Karen Zacarias, it was inspired by the telenovelas that are a staple of Spanish TV. It has everything: music, great dancing, and a very talented cast. Everyone in the cast is Spanish but the story is in English so have no fear - you can understand every word.
Before the show, Ernesto del Rio greeted the audience...
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Washington National Opera 2014-15
Season Opens with Mystical Tale of Love in the Rainforest
Seen Sep 26 2014
Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Florencia in the Amazon is a fanciful gem of an opera about love in its many forms. WNO opened its 2014-15 season with a beautiful interpretation that range true. It seemed perfect.
How could it not? Director Francesca Zambello was instrumental in creation of the opera in the early 1990s as a commission of Houston Grand Opera, and co-commissioned by LA Opera, and Seattle Opera. And she directed the premiere production in Houston in 1996. It was an immediate success with audiences, and has been in many productions since. But this was the first in Washington.
It was inspired by the writing of Gabriel García Márquez, primarily Love in the Time of Cholera, with libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, a former student of Márquez. It is all about love, and it involves cholera, but in entirely different context. There are no actual quotes from his work, and there was no attempt to copy his style. It is in Spanish. It was composed by Mexican-born Daniel Catán.
As introduction to each performance at the Kennedy Center, Ms. Zambello recalled meeting with Márquez, Catán and Fuentes-Berain during the drug wars of the early 1990s. Under protection of Colombian troops, they met first in Márquez’ walled compound, then flew by open helicopter to the southern tip of Columbia where the action begins along the upper waters of the Amazon.
Since that time, Mr. Catán has died at 62 in 2011 and Mr. Márquez, at 87, just this past April.
The story is the return of Florencia Grimaldi from a 20-year career as an opera star in Europe to her hometown of Manaus, at the edge of the Brazilian rain forest, where she hopes her singing will draw Cristobaldo, her lover when both were young. He was last seen entering the jungle in search of the super-rare Emerald Muse butterfly.
The production is something of a star vehicle for Christine Goerke, who has emerged as an American diva as she has found perfect outlets for her dramatic-soprano voice, especially in the Elektra of Richard Strauss.
As Florencia, it is she who had the extended arias, concluding with the final scene in which her long aria displayed her range, from rich mid-tones to highly colored heights. The visual conclusion was a stage-filling projection of the rare butterfly, with Florencia’s body as that of the butterfly. She realizes at that point that she is enveloped in the spirit of her lost lover.
Wonderful and flexible as she was in voice, Miss Goerke was the opposite in her movements around the set. The set, by the way, had only one physical piece: the river steamboat on and around which all the action took place. Mounted on a smooth-working turntable, it moved into many different positions, and along with artful projections gave a believable sense of moving down the river.
The second love story involves Rosalba, a young reporter who has been gathering all the information she can for a biography of Florencia. She hopes to meet her when they conclude the trip from Leticia to Manaus. She is the object of the affection of Arcadio, the nephew of The Captain and second in command. The captain hopes to convince Arcadio that life aboard the ship shuttling between Leticia and Manaus doesn’t have to be a prison. He hopes the young man will mature enough to take command. Rosalba returns the affection, but fears being actually in love because she is obsessed with her mission in pursuit of Florencia. She doesn’t want to be distracted.
Andrea Carroll showed her lovely, more lyric, soprano to beautiful effect as Rosalba. She is a consummate actress, and her supple movements added extra life to her singing. Arcadio was Patrick O’Halloran, the only current Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist in the cast. He didn’t have many outlets for his tenor, but he was a very effective actor.
That brings us to Riolobo. While the crew is in starched white uniforms, he’s in local, very casual dress. But we realize at the outset that he’s the most important figure on the boat. Norman Garrett played the part to perfection. His rich baritone was first to sing, and he fit the lush music of Catán as if born to it. Riolobo was ever present, and we soon understood that he was the spirit of the river, and he guided the ship in more ways than taking a turn at the wheel.
In the big storm that grounds the ship, Riolobo appears in spirit form—with wings, no less—and appeals to the gods of the river: “Do not destroy the world.” Then he physically flies away. I know that sounds over the top, but done so smoothly it didn’t seem so. I don’t find a credit for the flying technology, but it was extremely well done.
There’s one more love story; a married couple locked in a power struggle. Paula (Nancy Fabiola Herrera) and Alvaro (Michael Todd Simpson) do nothing but squabble until the big storm. Alvaro is lost overboard, and Paula realizes how much she loves him, a love so strong that the gods are moved to return him safely. Herrera’s the only native Spanish-speaker in the cast, and her mezzo was lovely in the language. She’s a veteran of other Catán operas.
Talking on deck after the storm, Rosalba tells Florencia how crushed she is by the destruction of her notebook containing all she has learned in support of her thesis that Florencia is the perfect example of a free woman. When Florencia suggests that much of the “truth” she has collected may be invention, Rosalba finally realizes that she has been talking with Florencia herself and discards the ruined notebook. Rosalba’s the one who becomes free; free to accept love with Arcadio. Arcadio, for his part, showed in the storm that he was able to take control of the ship, and guide it back into the channel.
I’ve left the gods of the river to last; though they are on stage at almost all times. Choreographed by Eric Sean Fogel, the four men and one woman displayed a range of skills from athletic, to balletic, to gymnastic, and everything in between. Between Riolobo above and themselves in the water, the sense of mystery of the Amazon was maintained constantly.
What about the scheduled concert in Manaus? What is truly important is the journey, not the destination, as we so often hear. The port is closed because of a cholera epidemic, so they cannot dock. We aren’t to ask what they did next.
Dancers in opera don’t often get the individual credit they deserve, so remember: Durell Comedy, Alison Mixon, Christopher Pennix, Matthew Steffens and Ricardo Zayas. All except Comedy were appearing with WNO for the first time.
The orchestra was led with vigor—sometimes maybe just a little bit too much—by rising young conductor Carolyn Kuan.
Projections were a major part of the staging, and designer S. Katy Tucker was responsible. Super titles were by Kelley Rourke, as almost always. She seems to translate just about any language just about flawlessly, at least in a way that satisfies us in the seats.
I should mention that Melody Moore, as scheduled not as cover, played Florencia Sept. 24. I’m familiar with her, and she’s quite wonderful, but I didn’t see the performance so I can’t comment.
Next opera up for WNO is a new production of Puccini’s La Bohème, Nov. 1-15.
Fiasco Theater Shakespeare’s
‘The Two Gentlemen’
Is Finely-Tuned Fun
Folger Theater, Washington, DC
Runs Apr 17 - May 25
Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Washington audiences have their first chance to see the innovative Fiasco Theater of New York in a production of Shakespeare’s early comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It’s a not-to-be missed chance. It runs through May 25.
Like a finely-tuned string quartet (well, they actually are a sextet, but you get the idea) the four men and two women make their fast-paced way through the non-stop word –play, confusing message, and double-entendre humor. You won’t miss any of that last because they underline it.
Fiasco Theater, just four years old, started as an idea for six young actors and MFA holders to make their own work rather than wait for someone to call. A very favorable New York Times review led to early success and a producer for the second season. The success hasn’t stopped. The six founders since have found lots of other work, but they continue to perform in ensemble as much as possible.
Their method is to create a full experience of Shakespeare on an empty stage, using only a few simple props and no more than a suggestion of costume changes. The Folger Shakespeare Library is so elegant that the stage is hardly bare. Since the actors simply move to the back of the stage when they are off, costume changes are very limited lest “bare” become a corporal reality.
The result can be a little confusing. Emily Young first appears as Lucetta, maid in waiting to Lady Julia (Jessie Austrian). Minutes later, and for most of the play, minus headpiece and apron she is Lady Sylvia, the object of affection for the same men who lust over Julia (Noah Brody as Proteus and Zachary Fine as Valentine. Paul Coffey and Andy Grotelueschen play the other various male characters.
They play musical instruments, sing a little and one even (very convincingly) plays a dog.
To try to tell the contorted plot wouldn’t get across the humor that is at once both broad and subtle.
The program notes contain a brief essay on the idea that the central same-sex relationship (really just two men who are close friends) seems to be elevated over male-female marriage. Maybe, but no such deep thinking is needed to enjoy the polished fun.
Fiasco got its start with its production of The Bard’s early tragi-comedy Cymbeline. That plot is even more complex, and more than 20 characters are involved. Multiple productions to critical acclaim attest that it can be done. A Times review called it one of the most clear ever. Folger audiences will get a brief chance to see for themselves May 28 through June 1.
Mother Courage and Her Children
Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theatre
Runs Jan 31 through Mar 9, 2014
Reviewed by Verna Kerans
When I read that Mother Courage was going to be a musical, I cringed – but I had forgotten about Mahogany, Three Penny Opera, and so many others too numerous to mention here. A musical in the Bertolt Brecht sense is different from an Andrew Lloyd Weber or an Oscar Hammerstein and the Mother Courage at Arena is spectacular. As I overheard someone say as we milled about before the show, “It’s seamless”. And, yes, it was that and much more.
The role was made for Kathleen Turner. After Lotte Lenya, Brecht could have had her in mind. She was wonderful. That golden throaty voice. The role could have been written for her.
Her supporting cast was also very strong, especially her daughter Kattrin (Erin Weaver) and her two sons, Elif (Nicholas Rodriguez) and Swiss Cheese (Nehal Joshi). We have seen both Joshi and Rodriguez in Oklahoma! last year as the Traveling Salesman and Curly --- both great roles.
Mother Courage has one mission in life… SURVIVAL. Follow the war and sell her goods, especially a lot of vodka. She is free with her hospitality and fierce in her determination to keep going. She loves her children and wants only the best for them. She also wants a lot of money. Those two goals do not always mesh.
When she finds a chicken, she knows she must sell it for the highest price she can get and in the process she finds herself aligned with a cook who sees a future with her but without her daughter. This remark, of course, causes Kattrin to flee. As I watched Kattrin throughout this play, I marveled how much she could express making only guttural sounds. What a difficult part that awards her so much attention!
James Sugg wrote the music to the lyrics that Brecht included at the beginning and the end of each act and using similar techniques to enliven each act reminiscent of Kurt Weill. The song that really seemed to channel Weill for me was sung by the flashy, red-booted whore, Yvette (Meg Gillentine), whilst making her rounds. With her little feathered hat, she reminded me of a lot of scenes from Mahogany that Audra McDonald had done a few years ago. The stamp of Weill in that song stuck in my mind longer than any other song that Sugg wrote for this remarkable production.
Molly Smith directed this fantastic production and stated that she was very proud of this work that followed her goals of Perseverance Theatre in Alaska. The lighting was by Nancy Schertler and the translation of this edition was by David Hare. The set is spare with brown and black color and a cart that Courage pulls around the stage throughout the performance. The only spot of color are the red boots that intrigue and enliven the difficult life of Kattrin.
After seeing this play I got out my heavy enormous book about Brecht, Brecht and Co.: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama by John Fuegi. It is published by Grove Press and when I got my copy it only cost $20. Reading about Brecht is fascinating. He was a genius but at the same time had a few strange habits and was a great womanizer. I can recommend this book. You will not be able to put it down.
You should also not miss this production which only runs through March 9, 2014. Call for tickets at 202-488-3300 or stop by Arena Box Office at 1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington, D.C.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Arena Stage at the
Mead Center for American Theater
Reviewed by Verna Kerans
Runs through Jan 5, 2014
In 1983, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier starred in the movie version of this story. In case you are too young to remember this movie, it created quite a stir. Basically, white girl falls in love with black man. He happens to be a doctor so that made the story a bit more palatable for the squeamish. How much has changed? A lot, as a matter of fact. Now we can openly talk about this and laugh and realize that things definitely have changed.
Back in 1967, there were not a lot of mixed marriages so bringing that to the screen was a challenge but the actors were so wonderful that the movie had no chance of failing and brought to the forefront a lot of what was changing in our country.
Todd Kreidler helped adapt the play with the assistance of Kenny Leon. They adapted the play from the original screenplay by William Rose.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner (you will remember him from The Cosby Show) plays Dr. Prentice. He has met the pretty young daughter Joanna Drayton, played by Bethany Anne Lind, while they were working together. It won’t give anything away to say that both sets of parents are opposed to this union and therein lie some of the best lines. This is an extremely funny play with lots of good messages. Others in the cast include Lynda Gravátt as Matilda Banks; Eugene Lee as John Prentice, Sr.; Valerie Leonard as Hilary St. George; and Michael Russotto as Monsignor Ryan, along with Atlanta-based actors (who appeared in the True Colors production) Andrea Frye as Mary Prentice (originally as Matilda Banks), Tom Key as Matt Drayton, and Tess Malis Kincaid as Christina Drayton.
The writers expanded the original movie by adding a priest and the parents of Doctor Prentice. Since it has been so very long since I saw this movie, I am assuming the movie had a maid who is funny but in this production, the actress delivers all her lines with her back to us as she exits Arena’s stage and I missed nearly every one of her lines. I know they were good as the audience on that side of the stage laughed loudly.
This play has everything: humor, poignancy, reflections on race, down-to-earth feeling, and lots of surprises.
When Arena set out to present this, they asked Todd Kreidler to expand the story with Kenny Leon, to make for a fuller, more meaningful plot. David Esbjornson has taken charge as director, and he says that Kreidler is largely faithful. Guess is still set in 1967, yet Esbjornson thinks the play will come across as “slightly rougher than the movie.”
The play will run through January 5, 2014. Don’t miss it. I loved it!!!
Call the Box Office at 202-488-3300.
Arena Stage at the
Mead Center for American Theater
Runs July 2011 – October 2, 2011
Reviewed by Verna Kerans
My summer vacation included a much-anticipated visit to the newly-renovated Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where, after a $135-million renovation, Arena completed its first year in the new space.
Under the direction and foresight of Molly Smith, Artistic Director, Arena has established itself as the premier Regional Arts Performing Space.
The brilliant design of Bing Thom, a Vancouver architect, turned Arena into the Mead Center for American Theater, linking the two already-built theatres and adding a third.
While the renovation was taking place, Arena performed in Crystal City and Washington, D.C. I remember Allen Lee Hughes, resident lighting designer at Arena, showing me how the new concept would work. We examined a small mock-up of the future look which joined all the theaters, offices and rehearsal spaces. Another small theater, called the Kogard Cradle, was then built under the same roof. You really have to see this to believe how awe inspiring it truly is with huge supporting columns and beautiful glass windows that overlook the waterfront on Maine Street South West Washington.
Molly Smith, Artistic Director at Arena directed Oklahoma! last season. It proved to be so popular that she decided to bring it back for a run that extends until October 2. During August, tickets are 50% off which is a wonderful opportunity for taking the kids and introducing them to live theatre.
The show is a dynamic reflection of multi-cultural America. Called "Indian Territory" when the state of Oklahoma was originally being settled, this show takes place just after the turn of the century when many different races and nationalities were moving there. White, African-American, Indian, and Asian, just to mention a few, were attracted to this newly-opened land.
With winning songs by Richard Rodgers and Roger Hammerstein, i.e., People Will Say We’re in Love, Surrey With the Fringe on Top and the rousing Oklahoma! being sung by a fabulous cast, what more can be asked of a show? This Oklahoma! is as fresh, but with this casting more relevant, than it was when first written in 1943. The original production was the first show in musical theatre history to further the plot through songs and dance. Never before had a musical integrated music, dance and plot in order to tell a story. 1943 was a definitive time in musical theatre when Oklahoma! opened at the St. James Theatre in New York.
Starring in Oklahoma! at Arena are: E. Faye Butler as Aunt Eller, Curly by Nicholas Rodriguez, Laurey by Eleasha Gamble, Will Parker by Cody Williams, Ado Annie by June Schreiner, and Ali Hakim by Nehal Joshi. What a cast! The voices are uniformly wonderful. I was really hoping Curly would ride in on a horse while singing Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’. In that I was disappointed, but his knock-dead looks could win over any girl, so it is impossible for Laurey to resist him. June Schriener as Ado Annie is perky, just a little bit devilish and can easily wrap all the boys around her finger... especially sweet Will Parker. Ado Annie’s other suitor is Ali Hakim, who reminds us of the migration to the West of all the enterprising carpetbaggers that popped up after the Civil War. Jud Fry (Aaron Ramey) has a gorgeous voice and for the first time (for me) in this musical he wasn’t as creepy as he is usually depicted. The trapdoor in the floor was used to full advantage and rises up as Jud’s claustrophobic bunkhouse. It’s obvious that all the cast members have great backstories which contribute to making this a winning show.
Everyone in the cast, leads, singers and spirited dancers were in colorful costumes by Martin Paklidinaz. The original choreography was done by Agnes DeMille and, in this revival, choreography by Parker Esse is energetic, romantic and a little bit risqué in the dream sequence. The mood-enhancing lighting was by Michael Gilliam and the functional, clever set included a specially-built house over the seats which accommodates a twelve-piece orchestra under the direction of George Fulginiti-Shakar.
Of all the opportunities in D.C., we highly recommend Oklahoma! which plays at Arena until October 2. Call the box office at 202-488-3300. And remember: you can buy tickets at 50% off until the end of August. The Arena is located at 1101 6th Street SW.