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Friday, November 5, 2010

Hair Does Let the Sun Shine; Social Network Excellent, Tamara Drewe Pretty Good

From the opening note of Aquarius, "Hair" (above, when everyone is invited on stage for a celebration) at the Kennedy Center is a joy. The actors try to make the Kennedy Center Opera House into an intimate theater and for the most part succeed. Runs through the aisles by actors add to the fun, but the biggest delight is the music. "Manchester, England," "Good Morning Starshine," "Easy to Be Hard," "Hair," and the classic "Let the Sun Shine" (the way that song leads into its chorus is amazing!) keep you humming in your seats. It was a hit in New York and it's a hit here. Go if you can.

I was recently on a biking trip to Provence, France, where one couple was on their honeymoon. He works for Facebook so guess who was at his weddding? Yep, Mark Zuckerberg, the star character of the very entertaining "The Social Network." Aaron Sorkin has written very witty dialogue to support a nerd-hits-it-rich story. I will have to ask my travel friend if Sorkin went a little overboard with the villainous portrait, but it certainly suited his story. It's one of those movies where you never even think of looking at your watch.

The film "Tamara Drewe" is quirky and, at times, a little manipulating, but it creates an atmosphere that's fun to watch. It's about a woman returning to her small English village a little more grown up and with some improved looks. It's based a bit on Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, and I particularly like Gemma Arterton and Dominic Cooper. Stephen Frears is a wonderful director, though this is probably not his best.  Still, I'd recommend for a rental.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Menzel and Hamlisch Defy Gravity

I've regaled the talents and accessibility of Marvin Hamlisch on these pages before. So when I saw that he was leading the NSO with guest artist Idina Menzel I jumped on it. And he would be speaking to us after. It lived up to its billing on Thursday night. Menzel gives you two shows - one as an incredible singer of ballads from Rent, Wicked (the show-stopping "Defying Gravity"), Annie and ones that she wrote herself ("Gorgeous" is gorgeous); and one as a standup comedian (what a funny and lovely person!). If you ever get a chance to see her, please take it. Hamlisch has to be the nicest big talent around. So he saunters out on the stage after the show to talk to about 100 of us. "Can you play The Way We Were?" came quickly. "Can you sing happy birthday to my friend?" "Can you make up a song like you usually do?" His answers: "Ok, at the end." After he answered about 20 questions, not one of them involving The Sting music he wrote or soundtrack from Informant (movie is worth it just for that), he went to the piano. And there came a beautiful Way We Were, followed by a song he just invented called "Oh Boy" (suggested by Idina Menzel's young son who was offstage), and then, sure enough he asked if the woman had her recorder on and then led everyone in "Happy Birthday" to Veronica. Oh, he also apologized for being late on stage afterward. Joe Torre came backstage and Hamlisch is a huge Yankees fan.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Off the Marks

So Peter Marks blasted Signature's Fox on the Fairway. I'm not surprised. But I don't think I agree. Just who is he writing for? He writes a rave review for Studio Theater's Songs of the Dragon, a play that's hardly even watchable - and you can't escape from because it's 90 minutes and no intermission. Half the plays he reviews are on Broadway. I have a place to stay in New York and I hardly get to see that much there! Does the average person in DC? And when I do go, I usually end up at something off-Broadway where the fare is more interesting. So now he takes Ken Ludwig, Holly Twyford and everyone else to task for Ludwig's golf farce. It's not a great play, it may not even be a very good one. But it's enjoyable and deserved better.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Odd Couple Shines at Theater J

Just back from opening night of The Odd Couple at Theater J. They've made the very wise decision of drafting Rick Foucheux as a company member this year, and it immediately paid dividends with Something You Did and even moreso with The Odd Couple. This is one funny play, and Foucheux gets the ornery/lovable Oscar Madison pretty much right. (My Mom recalls seeing the original Odd Couple on Broadway with Art Carney and Walter Matthau, and says she never laughed so hard as in the opening poker scene.) The scene here lives up to expectations as the six actors in this production do a terrific job - just watching Delaney Williams shuffle the deck is fun. Is it still a great play? It's a very good play. The TV show has become so entrenched in at least my mind, that it is hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. Tony Randall (TV's Felix) was an incredible actor - as nauseating as Felix was, you still felt for him. It's harder to say that here, escpecially with J. Fred Shiffman. I'm not sure he makes the part his own. But is that the script? I'm not sure. So I don't know if we care as much as we should later on. An early scene showing the other four poker players coming back in to check on Felix tells me that a little more warmth might be in the script. But this is a small criticism. Nothing wrong with a thoroughly entertaining show these days from a terrific company. Kudos to director Jerry Whiddon. Go see it - there are plenty of half-price deals out there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson Are 'Fair Game' at AFI

After the Washington premier showing of Fair Game ended at AFI Tuesday night - after the audience was obviously elated by this real-life Mata Hari-plus tale - Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson glided down the aisle to assume center stage (with Bourne director Doug Liman and NPR's Neil Conan). Joe started by saying, "I'm not an asshole, maybe just a tough mean son of a bitch." Valerie, glamorous in a shouldery yellow blouse, said to the audience, "I loved how you laughed - you get the inside jokes here!" And so it went for the next half hour or so. Liman said that because Plame Wilson could not divulge everything about her CIA past, he had to piece together some of the big picture. "It was actually the opposite of what this sort of film usually does," said Liman. "Where you have the big parts of the story but have to kind of make up what was said in the smaller moments. Here, they gave me those moments but I couldn't have the facts."
Liman said he was fortunate in the casting of Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. The screenwriter, Jez Butterworth, knew Watts and brought her the script - "days after she gave birth. Just read 10 pages," Liman pleaded. Her was right. Watts knew Penn from two movies they did together and Liman asked her to approach him with the same 10-pages deal. That was enough for him as well.
Plame Wilson explained that prior to her husband sending the famous op-ed to the Times that put everything in motion - writing that Niger did not sell uranium to Iraq - he tried his darnedest to get people to listen to him. The op-ed was not a rash decision, she said. We need to stand up and hold our governement accountable." She welcomed an accusation by a questioner that she was no longer covert well prior to being outed by the White House. "{I was a covert spy when this was perpetrated."
Liman urged people to tell their friends to see this film. "Word of mouth means the world to us."
Plame WIlson said she was able to speak to students from her alma mater, Penn State, the previous night. "I encouraged them to do public service, get a Eurail pass and just go."
Joe WIlson said what he did was not partisan. "Brent Scowcroft has been a good friend of mine for many years and he said that I would have done the same thing to a Democratic president."
It was a special evening to see two larger than life people. Go see Fair Game.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In Person Tuesday Night, the Wilsons and Director Doug Liman!

Let's talk movies. Very quietly, AFI in Silver Spring has added quite a roster of celebrities to its showing of the new film Fair Game Tuesday night. That's the story of glamorous real-life CIA agent Valerie Plame-Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson, directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers). They will all be there Tuesday.

The Avalon Theater is showing Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today for one more week. This film has incredible footage from the first famous Nuremberg Trial after World War II. We see all the Nazi criminals and the prosecutors putting their case against them. There are atrocities from the war, be warned.

Landmark E Street Cinema is still showing Heartbreaker; it's an entertaining movie about a guy who is sent in to break up relationships. Hard to describe, but it's carried out in a fun way and has great shots of Monte Carlo.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ludwig Lends His Signature Form to Signature Theater

Last night, I was fortunate enough to sit behind Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (Crazy for You, Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo) at a dress rehearsal for his new farce, "A Fox on the Fairway" at the Signature Theatre. The play stars the always wonderful Holly Twyford, following up her incredible turn at Signature last year in The Little Dog Laughed. First of all, I have to say that I miss the huge chessboard and pieces outside Signature. That seemed to be a great crowd gatherer and would still be even without Chess playing on stage. (I'm still humming music from that.) Anway, Ludwig has to be one of the nicest "major talents" that I have ever met. I was just helping out there and he introduced himself to me so kindly. He still lives in Washington, despite his many travels to New York and London. It's not fair to review the play at this point in the process. But Ludwig proves again that he is a master of farce, throwing everything in there--numerous doors, mistaken identity, crazy timing, physical pratfalls, unknown relatives, neatly tied together ending--to create an entertaining evening. He told some audience members that he was playing golf with his friend Harry Teeter when the friend suggested that golf could be a pretty funny subject for the play. There was a great "in joke" towards the end when a character started naming members of their golf club. Teeter was one of them, Eric Shaffer, head of Signature another. We're fortunate that Ludwig and Twyford contribute like this to the Washington stage scene. This may not be his best play, but it's original, new, fun and wonderfully acted.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's a Nice Day for This White Wedding

Movie recommendations: Saw a premier of White Wedding last night with the South African meetup group, thanks to Peter Herman. The director was supposed to be there but couldn't make it. The South African ambassador took her place. The film is a funny and extremely well-done road movie of two friends trying to get to a wedding, which happens to be for one of them. It really plays with our stereotypes in a fun way. At times it reaches the far points of farce but never exceeds it. It stays within the boundaries of believability. It opens Friday and I hope everyhone supports it.

Very sad about the death of Carla Cohen, co-founder of Politics and Prose. She was a person who really made a difference in our quality of life. There is a lot to be said for that.

Did you see that Campbell Scott was in the audience for a recent performance of Circle Mirror Transformation at Studio Theater? His wife Kathleen McElfresh is one of the five stars of the excellent play. Rent Roger Dodger if you've never seen it to see Scott at his best.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Free Tickets for Arena Stage Opening Up for Grabs on Friday

Went to Arena Stage's usher orientation/tour last night - wow, it's quite a place! They will have a big grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 23, with music and tours. Tickets are free but must be obtained this Friday, Oct. 8. Go here NOW and register your account so that Friday you can get tickets quickly. They told us last night that E Faye Butler will play Aunt Eller in Oklahoma as just one part of the multi-racial casting. (We were told that additional research done by Arena revealed a pocket of ethnicity in Oklahoma at the time.) Butler is one of the most electrifying singers in the area and has appeared in numerous productions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Vibrator Play Once Again Shows Ruhl Is Among Our Best

It only has this weekend to go, but In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play would be worth the visit. Woolly Mammoth has $15 tickets that they sell two hours before curtain. Sarah Ruhl is one of the country's most important playwrights right now. I don't know if this is a great play, but some of her mechanisms and what she is trying to get at makes her pretty unique these days. Some of the play borders on farce with two doors in constant action - and the climaxes taking place in one room, while the other stays pretty sedate. The wall is an invisible one that disappears in the last act, similar a little bit to Stoppard's final scene in Arcadia, when the wall of time disappears so the characters can connect. We do care about Ruhl's characters. And the play is incredibly entertaining - witness the pleasure of the audience I was a part of. (Woolly is getting an amazingly young crowd these days - all the kudos go to them. Other theaters are very jealous.) Maybe the play just takes its time too much to get there, to the important conversations - and how many orgasms can we listen to. Interesting that after the Post criticized the Mexican ballet yesterday for frontal nudity on the women and not men - saying it's old hat -Ruhl goes the other way in the last scene. That's why she is so important right now. She is breaking rules and going her own way. We have a lot to look forward to from this playwright - and Woolly; their production looks and feels right on, with a terrific performance from newcomer Kate deBuys. Aaron Posner  is THE man in town now, directing-wise, having moved here this year. We are fortunate for that too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Third World' Shows Off Chilean Film-making

Just by luck, I hit it really good tonight at the AFI Latin American Film Festival in Silver Spring. I went over to use a member's pass to get a ticket to Norberto's Deadline, a Uruguayan movie that I'll be leading a meetup to on October 9. (It looks really funny!) And the Chilean film Third World was playing just when I got there. What a beautiful film! It tells three stories - in Chile, Bolivia and Costa Rica - but doesn't worry about weaving them all together. (What a new concept!) What does hold the stories together is a belief in the extra-terrestrials, UFOs and the idea of other life. An eclipse is coming to South America and there just might be something a little magical in the air. And why not. Wonderful acting, and an original script and sensitive directing by Cesar Caro Cruz make for a really top-notch film. Unfortunately, it will not be shown again in this festival, but I will look for it and let you know when it comes around again.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Studio Finds Its Muse; Longview Hosts a Documentary

Studio Theater had a bit of an off year last season. But with David Muse now at the helm - as both the new artistic director and the director of the thought-provoking and entertaining Circle Mirror Transformation - they are off no more. Who thought five everyday people in an acting class could provide so many "moments"? But Annie Baker's well-written play, fresh from a New York Theater Row production last year, gives some five actors a chance to shine and shine they do. My friend thought McKenzie Meehan as the teen Lauren stole the show with her deadpanned reactions to four complicated adults (though part of the point is aren't we all to some extent). I liked Jeff Talbott as unlikely lothario Schultz and Kathleen McElfresh as an emotionally up and down Theresa. But judging from the applause, I think others liked the ubiquitous Jennifer Mendenhall and portly Harry A. Winter as a seen-better-days couple. The play runs 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission, and although I enjoyed the characters it feels just about right. Short scenes keep the acting-turned-psychotherapy classes that we see at a nice rhythm, and when a scene takes a little longer, we know to pay attention - all the way to the very clever ending.
Studio runs a lot of deals for tickets - Goldstar, TicketPlace, DC Film Society - so please keep your eyes out and try to catch this. It looks like Studio is back!

Today's Tip: There's a free documentary tomorrow (Tuesday) night at Longview Gallery called Predictions of Fire - something about the Slovenian Art Movement (won many accolades). Check out If it's Longview, it's going to be a fun evening.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poetry and English Patient Coming to Georgetown U; Arena Stage on Campus Monday

My friend Cinthia and I happened on a very cool lecture series poster tonight at Georgetown University. They will be hosting famous writers with a seminar at 5:30 and a reading and reception at 8pm and they're free! Here are the first three:
9/29 - Fanny Howe, award-winning Irish-American poet/novelist.
10/5 - Tomaz Salamun, Slovenia's greatest living poet
10/26 - Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient and other great novels

We ended up in The Car Barn to see a play that was performed at this summer's Fringe Festival: Drunk With Hope in Chicago starring Tara Handron. It was a powerful performance in an intimate setting. Congrats to Handron for putting in the time and energy to make a captivating night for her audience.

We also went by the Gonda Theater on campus where this Monday Arena Stage will be teaming with Georgetown to present a reading of Two Men of Florence by Richard Goodwin (followed by a reception). The evening is free. There is a lot of cultural exploring to be done on our local college campuses. Remember to catch Jonathan Franzen tomorrow evening at Lisner.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lebanon a Little Too Real; Buster Keaton on the Big Screen

I think I just went to one too many "realistic" films. The Israeli film Lebanon won the biggest award at the Venice Film Festival last year. Saw it at that great place for movies - the second floor of the Avalon Theater. (It's not a great theater but they show all these interesting movies.) I should have believed what the critics were saying: that you'll feel what war is like. I did feel it, but it's just not my thing. The gore reminded me of District 9. Sorry, I should have gone to the French film The Hideaway that was playing in the big Avalon Theater.

I have taken over the reins of the Washington Arthouse Film Meetup from my friend Cinthia. We have scheduled a fantastic meetup for Wednesday, October 20. We'll be going to see The Cameraman starring Buster Keaton in the glorious courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery. I can't recall them having an event like this for the general public. Check out the site and I hope you can join us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Last Train Home Visually Stunning; Franzen Appears on Friday

Last Train Home first played in the Washington area during SilverDocs. I missed it there but caught it tonight at its one-cinema (possibly one-week) run at E Street. Made in China by a Canadian company, the documentary tells the story of a family separated by the parents having to leave their beautiful rural home to find work. They are part of the huge migrating class of Chinese, most of whom are allowed to go home just once all year, during the Chinese New Year. The conflict comes with the two kids and the pressure they face to do well in school and escape the hard lives of their parents. The cinematography in this film is spectacular; what a gorgeous and complicated country this is! Last Train Home is not exactly a feel-good movie; but it shows that things are not predictable anymore even in rural China. (A clever scene earlier in the film shows the parents bringing their daughter a cell phone. The world is a much smaller place these days.) Given the scenery, if you can catch this film in the theater, I recommend you do so. Otherwise, put it on your Netflix queue.

Today's Tip: Star author Jonathan Franzen will be giving a reading at Lisner Auditorium this Friday at 7 pm and it is free. Politics and Prose, of course, is the sponsor. Franzen's new book, Freedom, has been the talk of the literary world of late. For anyone who read his amazing first book, The Corrections, this is a big event.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Free Concerts at LOC and Latin American Film Festival

The Library of Congress concert schedule is out. There are a number of free concerts, and tickets are now available.  Go to and put Library of Congress in the search window. Concerts include the Arcanto Quartet, Talich Quartet, Helsinki Baroque and Thomas Hampson and Craig Rutenberg.

The AFI's Latin American Film Festival starts tomorrow with a film from Mexico called Revolucion. It features 10 short films from 10 prominent directors including Mariana Chenillo - whose Nora's Will starts at the Avalon on Friday - Rodrigo Garcia and Gael Garcia Bernal. Check out the full schedule! I saw the Peruvian film The Milk of Sorrow that was nominated for the Academy Award for best foreign film last year. It was very pretty and dreamy but just didn't feel that compelling. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shelby Lyman Eat Your Bishop Out: Chess Is a Hit

Today starts new daily posts for ronndezvous! Hope you stay with us. It will include a new wine column and the usual culture recommendations and receptions.
Let's start with a recommendation. If the definition of a good musical is that you walk out humming its tunes, then Chess at Signature Theater wins going away. I came in singing One Night in Bangkok (do you know the lyrics actually do talk about chess?) and left singing everything else - especially Nobody's Side which Jill Paice delivers in show-stopping fashion. Paice, who was in 39 Steps and Curtains (with David Hyde Pierce) on Broadway combines with Broadway vets Euan Morton and Jeremy Kushnier to make a good musical exceptional. I guess those Abba guys can really write music. Funny, I saw Paice afterward in Harris Teeter and she looked so...ordinary. Onstage, she's anything but. Outside the theater is a giant chessboard and all the pieces set up. I hope they keep it up after the production.  I saw two people playing and about 15 people quickly gathered to watch. It's a great idea - I guess you just have to pray nobody steals any pieces. I'll look for some deals for Chess and report back.

TODAY's TIP: This Thursday at 7:30 pm at Little Miss Whiskey's Golden Dollar on H Street, NE, they will be showing the Best of DC Shorts. The screening is free and well worth the time!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Something You Did Is Something You Should See

I would probably pay to watch Rick Foucheux read my camera operating manual - the one that I have not fully read for the last two years. (Hmmm, not  bad idea for an audio.) Anyway, whether in  Death of a Salesman at Arena, Dead Man's Cellphone at Woolly or the one-night Odd Couple that Theater J did last year and will happily reprise this year, Foucheux always brings surprises to his roles. In the current Something You Did at Theater J, he plays the heavy, which is to say it's a tough role because there's not too much gray in Willy Holtzman's script, based on characters and events from radical underground groups of the 1960s. But Foucheux mixes it up in wonderful scenes with Norman Aronovic as the loveable old lawyer and past love Deborah Hazlett as a woman jailed for 35 years for a bombing that killed a policeman. We know where he's coming from and going but what a pleasure to watch him get there. Same with the rest of the cast. While not a very good show, this IS very good theater. Ninety tight minutes of five excellent actors in a cozy, comfortable theater. Theater J is an excellent company that has had just a few hiccups over the last few years and some great highlights. To be within 20 feet of some riveting scenes makes this a highlight despite the black-and-white characters (and I'm not talking about racial makeup, although it's always a bonus to see multiracial casts. Lolita-Marie does a great job as the prison guard.) Go see Something You Did. They are running a bunch of deals to get people in the door, so check their website.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Noises Off Makes All the Right Moves and Sounds

Michael Frayn's Noises Off is one of theater's best modern farces. It's got all the prerequisite doors, mistaken identity, misunderstandings and - as I mentioned in the film Get Me to the Greek - a need by the characters to accomplish what they set out to do. In this case, it's to put on a play called Nothing On. (We know this because Frayn gives us a hilarious send-up of a program for Nothing On on the back of the real program.)
Keegan Theater does a smashing job with the show in its current production at the intimate Church Street Theater in Dupont Circle - extended to Aug. 29 and half-price tickets available from Goldstar. In the first act we see a rehearsal of Nothing On and start to get a sense of the relationships of the cast and the challenges they face in their roles. In the amazing second act, we see the behind-the-scenes happenings as the show is going on. It takes incredible timing to pull off this act, as objects are tossed, characters intersect and the dialogue goes on both in front and in back of the stage.
Kudos to this theater for this very welcomed summer dollop of fun! Try to see it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Catch a Couple Films Before They Leave

Good news - Please Give has been brought back by the Avalon. I believe this is a better film than the more heralded The Kids Are All Right. The dialogue just rings truer. Daily showtines are 1:15 and 6:15. I've seen some of the best films upstairs at the Avalon including Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 and the recent Let It Rain. Reminds me of the old Janus in Dupont but without that huge column in the middle.

I remember reading that the key to farce - on stage or in a film - is that the characters really need whatever it is they're after. Thus Noises Off, which is currently at the Church Street Theater in Dupont, works because a play has to be put on and the characters and director need it to work (or need to carry out their own desires). In the same way, Get Me to the Greek, still playing at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, works incredibly well because of the desperate nature of the two lead characters. Jonah Hill has to grow up, succeed in getting his musical hero, Alduous Snow (the incredible Russell Brand), to the Greek Theatre for his comeback concert, and make his relationship work - because he has a girlfriend that he should appreciate. Thus whatever happens on the way from London to Los Angeles is believable. It has been said that the greatest achievement of this Judd Apatow team of people - Nichloas Stoller and Jason Segel co-wrote this one - is that they have made romantic leads out of Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen. Hard to argue with that. Oh, Sean Combs almost steals this film. Hopefully, we'll see him in more films.

On stage, Woolly Mammoth Theater will be premiering Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play - fresh from Broadway - with PWYC performances Aug. 23 and 24. This got great reviews in New York but it's just so hard for a straight play to make it on Broadway.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Entertaining 'Kids Are All Right' Could Have Been More

Adam, the high school social studies teacher sitting next to me last night at a screening of the funny but a bit cautious film The Kids Are All Right (3.5 RED DOTS), starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo film - made a great point. He said a line by the high school student at the end of the film was dead on. The problem is that I'm not sure the rest of the film was.
It's certainly enjoyable. Bening reminds us how teriffic an actress she is, especially during a dinner scene where she gets to sing a Joni Mitchell song. Moore is just delectable - funny and pretty without trying. And Ruffalo has loads of fun with the role as a too-good-to-be-true motorcycling stud surro-Dad and sensitive eco-restaurant owner.
What happened here, however, is that the writers set up an unconventional situation - a lesbian couple, each with a teenage child by the same sperm donor - and then went all conventional and predictable on us. So we get the usual extra-marital affair, an interracial relationship that's all about sex, a little drugs, some prettified lebian sex and one amazing college dorm room. It's all very entertaining but it doesn't take us anywhere. I'd much rather have a conventional situation and then be taken somewhere I wasn't expecting.
Funny, at the end of Letters to Juliet, I got a bit sentimental. Here nothing. But it was still a very fun ride.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Content With 'Winter,' A 'Letters' to Open and a Tattoo That's Worth Wearing; Plus a Credible New Jerusalem

Let's talk about movies. Winter's Bone (4 1/2 RED DOTS) begins by showing the everyday, ordinary lives of a family in the back backwoods of Arkansas. Right away, we can tell who must take care of everything - the two young kids, a withdrawn and silent mother, a house. Jennifer Lawrence carries the movie with a combination of strength, beauty, vulnerability, likeability and determination that very few young actresses could pull off. You get sucked into this world where relatives play like the mafia and look like they want to kill you one second and help you the next. It's very powerful, watchable and satisfying.
I'd also like to recommend a couple movies that have been around for a while: Letters to Juliet (3 1/2 RED DOTS) and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (4 RED DOTS). Letters to Juliet is a feel-good movie and there is a definitely a place for that in my world. The scenery of cities like Verona and Siena and the rolling hills of Tuscany make you want to head straight for a winery. It probably could have been a little better with a main character with a little more pizazz than Amanda Seyfried (Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane Kruger), but she's not bad. Christopher Egan shows a slight flash of a young Roger Moore, so let's see if he develops. But I came out of there with a smile on my face.
I really enjoyed Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - despite a couple tough scenes to watch. The methodical style reminded me of the original Insomnia. I am very much looking forward to the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which I think opens this Friday. The crime-fighting duo in Tatto have genuine chemistry, from the first time she opens the door to their interesting sex scene - where she comes in unexpectedly and leaves as soon as it's over, with him wanting to cuddle - to the the final climax (as in conclusion).

The New Jerusalem is getting a lot of good reviews over at Theater J in the DC Jewish Community Center. They are a very polished company and pretty consistent. But for me, this is David Ives (the playwright behind the inventive and entertaining The Liar and the hilarious All in the Timing) Heavy. You can see that he was strongly attracted to this story of the philosopher Spinoza and does wonders to dramatize it to the extent he does. The staging is clever, Michael Tolyado delivers another wonderful performance and Alexander Strain is likeable as always. I would recommend it because Theater J deserves it. But let's hope someone brings back All in the Timing so we can see Ives in all his glory.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Theater J PWYC, A Capitol Night, Longview and Oldtown

Let me mark my return with some previews:
This Monday and Tuesday there will be Pay What You Can performances for New Jerusalem by David Ives at Theater J at the DCJCC, 16th and Q. (I'll be going Tuesday.) Ives is one of America's leading playwrights at this time. His recent adaptation of The Liar at Shapespeare Theater was a linguistic marvel. Mark Twain's Is He Dead did well on Broadway and All in the Timing has some sketches that are now classics. (A first date where a bell rings each time a person says something they wish they could have back.)

Saturday, July 3, there's the rehearsal show for A Capitol Fourth. Performers include Reba McEntire, Lang Lang (!), Gladys Knight, Darius Rucker, David Archuleta and Jimmy Smits. A group called 5 to 5 will be going if you want to tag along. They're a very nice group.

On Thursday, July 8, at 6:30pm, head to the Longview Gallery for one of their excellent openings, "Informed Design." We ran into one of the artists at an opening at Embassy of Argentina on Thursday. (They've just reopened after a makeover - wow, the place is beautiful!) Wanda Wainsten has a thoughtful, cubist style of tango dancers and more abstract pieces. She said that she had to pick just two pieces (from the many at the Embassy) to show at Longview. The last Longview opening featured catered food and an outdoor space to talk.

Saturday, July 10, is one of my favorite events of the year - Alexandria's birthday celebration. It takes place in the evening at the big park on the river, just north of King Street. The Alexandria Symphony plays - and they are always very impressive! - and the fireworks show always seems spectacular as it's right in front of you on the river. Parking is easy and shuttles run from the King Street Metro. (And there's free birthday cake if you don't mind fighting off the kids like I always do.)  :-) Wine also flows.

July 12, I will be leading a group to Screen on the Green for the real Bond - as in Goldfinger. More details to come soon.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Get 'Sophisticated' as Soon as Possible

Sophisticated Ladies has been extended through June 27 which is great news for the Washington theater community. It's really a Broaday-quality production with the added benefit of taking place in a theater, the Lincoln, that has a history with the subject of the play, Duke Ellington. Normally, a play like this in Washington might be lacking the necessary star power. But with Maurice Hines at the helm - and the young and amazingly gifted Manzari brothers tapping up a storm in the seond act - this show has that "power." The songs - like It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, Satin Doll and Don't Get Around Much Anymore (which I'm still humming) - give evidence to the grandness of the Duke. Go through Goldstar or Ticketplace for reduced price tickets.

Movie-wise, things have been pretty slow of late. Please Give is a very good movie, a nice comeback of sorts for Nicole Holofcener after the so-so Friends With Money. The bluntness in dialogue in her scenes for the older actresses are right on and very funny. And it's always good to see Rebecca Hall in something. (One good movie for your video rental list should be Starter for Ten.)  Academy Award winner The Secret in Their Eyes is still playing around. The Argentine film deserved its best foreign film award.  City Island has gotten a lot of good word of mouth and continues to flourish. It's a well-done movie about families that most everyone can relate to.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shuffle Off to 'Buffalo'? Maybe After You've Seen "Pretty'

I found my old Playbill from around 1982 for American Buffalo at the Circle in The Square Downtown in New York. It starred Al Pacino as Teach. Almost 30 years later the Studio Theater has revived the tale of three small-time hoods as Joy Zinoman's departing directorial effort ad Studio chief. Playwright David Mamet has gone on to fame with plays such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-Plow, and films like Spanish Prisoner and State and Main (rent if you haven't seen). The play remains effective - the Waiting-for-Godot, Abbott-and-Costello rhythmic dialogue entertains in the first act - but the production doesn't really soar until the second.  And even then it's tense but not stirring. I'm not sure if it's the production or the play; I would guess that the play needs star power and Pacino brought it. Edward Gero makes a very effective Donny, but Peter Allas's Teach is hard to warm up to. It's a tough role - as the heavy but a sort-of likeable one. Having seen Glengarry Glen Ross a few years ago on Broadway with Liev Shreiber and Alan Alda, I would say that play sizzles a bit more. But the Mamet-ian dialogue, rapid, circular and beautifully paced, can be a treat to listen to.
If you haven't caught Reasons to Be Pretty at Studio, I would head there first. Fortunately it has been extended at least another couple weeks. An assistant at Studio told us that someone tried to figure out which play had more curse words. It was pretty close. 'Pretty's' first scene might win by itself. Its second act is still the best thing in Washington right now.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Some Very Buono Italian Films and the EuroAsiaShorts Is Back!

I've been seeing Italian movies lately - maybe looking to a summer trip this year - and fortunately, one is still around. Mid-August Lunch has a beautiful setup: Gianni has to take care of his Mom in an apartment where rent is due and other debts loom. So when a couple of his friends/collectors need a place to store their Moms and aunt, Gianni can't refuse. Then it's a wonderful 75-minute ride as Gianni cooks, the ladies cajole, talk, stew and laugh, and a terrific ending just happens quickly. You'll smile and come out hungry for macaroni casserole.  It's now playing at the Avalon - try to catch it!

Speaking of short films and Italy, the information is up for EAS2010, the EuroAsiaShorts Festival. Last year, this proved to be an amazing week of films, embassies and receptions. Like last year, the closing night is at the Italian Embassy with a reception.  My only problem is that it is the same night as an AMAZING concert at the Kennedy Center with Raul Midon and Henry Butler.  Everything is free, the shorts and the concert. What a cool city!

Caught Amarcord, a Fellini classic at AFI. Probably not my favorite of his, but you can see so many techniques that other directors borrowed from. The Fellini Festival winds down with Ginger and Fred, Intervista and Casanova this week. Intervista sounds very interesting with interviews with Fellini himself, and two his greatest stars.

Nanni Moretti has been one of my favorite actors, writers and directors since Caro Diario back in 1993, when he rode around Rome on a mini-bike running into all kinds of interesting people including Jennifer Beals, who was still big from Flashdance. In the film Aprile, he drove his pregnant wife crazy trying to come up with a name for their baby. Then amazingly, he switched to drama and won all kinds of awards for The Son's Room, about coping with the loss of a son.
The film Quiet Chaos has a little of both comedy and drama. His wife dies in an accident at the beach and he is left to care for his 10-year-old daughter. Moretti's character cannot let go of his daughter and after dropping her at school tells her he will wait for her there all day - taking off from his job in an advertising firm. In an American movie with this setup, the police would come to take him away or the daughter would run away. But here, it takes on a little of the personality of another wonderful film, Cedric Klapisch's When the Cat's Away - in that he discovers a new world while waiting outside her school: a pretty woman with a dog, the cafe staff nearby, other parents.  And knowing that he is accessible every day, colleagues come to talk with him about work and personal life and family vists like his slightly off sister-in-law - Valerie Golino from Rain Man!  Finally, before we can say that it's getting a little too weird, his daughter saves the day.  See if you can rent this film and others by Moretti (depending what you're in the mood for).

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Folger's Hamlet Shows That To Be Great, Less Is Sometimes More

I never quite noticed just how amazing the language of Hamlet is before seeing the new Folger production. The reason is that director Joseph Haj has gone with an all-white stage, modern but not futuristic in any way. Just as in graphic design where the white background makes the "type" pop, this white background lets us focus on language. We are here to listen to this Hamlet. Characters take their time and it still clocks in at under three hours - probably due to some artful cutting. The speeches are beautifully delivered, foremost by Graham Michael Hamilton as a Hamlet who is pretty sure of himself and the mayhem he wants to create. 

What's interesting to me is that Beckett, Pinter, Stoppard - with whom the Folger had its biggest triumph last year with Arcadia - and Mamet - his classic American Buffalo will be on stage any minute at Studio - are the playwrights known for language.  Where meaning sometimes takes a backseat to sound and rhythm.  But here, at times, we also just listen for the rhythm, the poetry and the sheer sounds without thinking about meaning.  Although what this language-first version also acccomplishes is better comprehension. We can decipher the words a bit better when they're not rushed.  It's like when I once saw Ian McKellen break down Shakespeare in his brilliant one-man show: "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow," he began with the start of Macbeth's great speech. "Is everyone with me so far?"

Probably the only shortfall of this type of production, where we are mesmerized by the actors and the words, is that the tension might be reduced a bit. When we do get to the last scene and the inevitable bloodshed, it feels a bit like an anticlimax - like how can anything top the amazing speeches that we've been treated to all night. But that's all right. The swordplay is carried out very dashingly, the characters die in pretty quick order and we look forward to Fortinbras coming on stage and sending us home reasonably happy. I think this is the perfect approach for a theater like the Folger and their amazing space. The audience is so close to the action, that it's a rare time when you can really concentrate.  The Folger has had a brilliant year, with a diverse and spirited Much Ado About Nothing, a playful and inventive Orestes, and now a smartly "plain" Hamlet with a terrific cast. (Lindsey Wochley will be heard from soon again in this area after her stirring Ophelia, and Stephen Patrick Martin lets Polonius deliver a solemn "To thine ownself be true" speech before letting everyone catch on to his bluster.)  Get thee to the Folger.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A British Author, Swedish Jazz Group and an Argentinian Film - What a Great Place to Live!

Some recommendations:
1) I saw Ian McEwan read from his new novel, Solar, last week at a packed Folger. Haven't read it yet but the chapter he read - very convincingly! - sounded fascinating. The last question of the Q&A was, Can you tell us how you came up with the structure of Atonementand especially the ending? Wow. This reminded me of years back when someone asked John Irving a similar question about one of his novels. He answered he saw an Indian man crossing the street in Toronto and wondered how he got there. So he created this incredible back story. McEwan said that he envisioned a young woman - he didn't know the time or place - who jumped into a fountain to retrieve something. Then she had a little sister (Briony) who was putting on a play. And then the time and place came into his mind. He then addressed the ending, where the reader is told that the last part of the book - the apparent happy ending - was made up by Briony who is now a very famous old novelist (played by Vanessa Redgrave). McEwan said there is no doubt or duplicity in this ending. This was the only way that Briony could make up for what she did, for the lives that she ruined. There was no happy ending. Signing books later, McEwan was very personable and friendly with customers - nice to see.

2) Two music groups to check out - one is Saffron Caravan, an eclectic mix of Jewish and Middle Eastern musicians. See their recent performance at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.
The second is a Swedish folk/jazz group called Jaerv. You can go onto their Website and hear some of their music - both instrumental and vocals. Definitely has an Irish feel to it. Put June 17 on your calendar - that will be the evening for the House of Sweden rooftop jazz festival this year. More deatils to come.
Also put June 12 on your schedule with 10 stars. The Kennedy Center will be celebrating the 13th anniversary of their Millennium Stage AND the always-amazing 2010 International VSA Festival Closing Ceremony. I would travel miles to see either Henry Butler or Raul Midon play and sing. They will BOTH be playing this evening and it's free! We'll put together a big Meetup so stay tuned.

3) The foreign film Oscar winner has just been released - The Secret of Their Eyes - and I can highly recommend it. Part thriller, part romance and very well told, it was the most impressive of last year's five nominated films - although A Prophet is also quite a film.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Recommendations on Stage, Film and in an Art Gallery

If you're in the 7th Street area, head to 625 E Street for the art show, I Dream Awake. It is the first in a new series of shows called "pop-ups," developed by Amy Morton, a former art seller in Alexandria. The show takes up the floor in the old Numark Gallery, one of the best gallery spaces in the city. Michael O'Sullivan had a very nice write-up in Friday's Post.

Reasons to Be Pretty at The Studio Theatre. The film Greenberg has received some buzz, but when you compare it to a new Neil Labute play, there is no comparison. The question in both, as art forms, is can you be mean-spirited and still have an audience warm to you. Of course, the answer is yes, but we have to be made to care at some point. In this play - which gets intense performances from all four actors (Ryan Artzberger, Margot White, Thom Miller and Teresa Stephenson) - Labute starts off with a TIRADE. Steph is leaving boyfriend Greg after she has been told by a friend that he described her looks as something ordinary. No time for comfort here. Then we meet that friend, Carly. She and her husband Kent work with Ryan and have problems of their own. Like Greenberg, we don't like these characters at first. But Labute knows this and wants us to care. He just wants to take us out of our comfort zone befrore bringing us back to a situation we are familiar with.  It's brilliant really. The second act has two amazing scenes: when Greg and Steph see each other at a restaurant a few months later, and when Carly confronts Greg about her husband's funny ways. We do like these people now because we see ourselves in them - or at least in their situations. The tenor is lower but the stakes are higher. In Greenberg, there is never a reason to care. The best thing in the film is Greta Gerwig, who plays the 25-year-old love interest. It seems inconceivable that she would stay around this 40-year-old inconsiderate person - a Ben Stiller who's not even funny. Try to see Reasons to Be Pretty - you won't be disappointed.

A Prophet is still playing around at the Landmark theaters. It creates a world in prison and then stays true to that world. Again, as stated above, we start to CARE about the lead character and what happens to him, and thus we care about the film. It's long but I think worth it.
They took in Yellow Handkerchief already, but put it on your list of rentals. It's a feel-good film with a great performance by William Hurt, and good work by Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne (whom I read was in DC with Alfred Molina to go to the Phillips; they're starring a play about Rothko on Broadway). And having Maria Bello in a film never hurts - although even that didn't save The Cooler.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Four Broadway Stars Talk - and Laugh About - Theater; Catch the Video!

It's nice when I can recommend something incredible that happened and lead you to a video. Four great Broadway actors - Zoe Caldwell, Audra McDonald, Richard Thomas and John Glover - spoke about their craft Monday night at the Kennedy Center. The program took place to shine light on the Terence McNally "opera" plays that the Ken Cen is putting on the next month: Lisbon Traviata, Master Class (with Tyne Daly) and Golden Age. Caldwell and McDonald won Tonys for Master Class on Broadway a few years ago. McNally, who was in the audience, said that he wrote the play for Caldwell. At 76, the English actress remains elegant, beautifully spoken and FUNNY. She recalled having to meet McNally in Big Fork, Montana, to go over the play. "I stayed at a dreadful motel," she said matter-of-factly. "Indoor/outdoor carpeting for the fishermen who stayed there." Peter Marks, The Washington Post theater critic, moderated the discussion, discovering that McNally often calls actors himself to offer them the roles. Can you turn them down? "He doesn't really give you that option," McDonald said. Thomas, who told the embarassed Marks that it was okay to mention his John-Boy past, said he appreciated the full theater experience that McNally writes, compared to say, the 90-minute David Mamet play, Race, that he currently co-stars in on Broadway.Thomas, McDonald (Dr. Naomi Bennett on ABC's Private Practice) and Glover (Lex Luther's father on Smallville) all defended their TV lives a bit - with a wink - with Thomas saying, "Our lives are not subsidized." (He looks wonderful, by the way, still with silky brown hair.) Though there was a shared laugh when Marks asked Glover with a straight face: "Did you feel that Smallville was well-written?"
McDonald, who I have seen in numerous productions like Carousel, Ragtime and 110 in the Shade - and signs one of my favorite all-time songs - Stars and the Moon - said that Caldwell taught her so much and was (with another wink) "the best leading man I ever had." Her daughter is named Zoe and the name, she happily displayed, is tattooed on her shoulder. At the end, McNally stood up and turned the compliments back to the stage: "They were all just words till you four said them." One other funny moment had Glover talking about Lisbon Traviata and then saying to Marks, "You're going to review it, aren't you?" Everyone laughed and Marks didn't know what to say except yes. Later, in the lobby, he acknowledged that he tries his best to stay unbiased.
These programs are among the best - and economical ($15) - that the Kennedy Center does. On Thursday April 22, the spotlight goes to gospel with the great Mavis Staples and Dr. Billy Taylor as two of the guests. On Monday, May 3, Frank Loesser will be the subject and shows like Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business will provide the music.

Speaking of Dr. Taylor, I saw the jazz legend up close on Saturday night at the Kennedy Center at a Jazz Club show of pianist Shelly Berg. He was sublime and varied - finishing with a Fats Waller tune - and I will let you know when he is around again. These are also amazing forums - $25 (and no minimums) to sit a few feet away from some musical geniuses. Only one more remains this year - this Saturday March 27, as Toshiko Akiyoshi, one of the great female jazz pianists ever, plays.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Clybourne Park Is Definitely a Neighborhood You Want to Spend a Couple Hours in

As we take our seats at Woolly Mammoth for the revelatory and elegant Clybourne Park, we see people sitting everywhere - in the balcony, on the sides, behind the stage (my friend thought there was a mirror) and most importantly in the upstairs room of the house on stage. One young man sits there thinking, moving a bit. We'll soon learn he's an important part of the play, not given any lines, but the "cause" in a cause-and-effect play that examines not just race relations but the way people talk to each other. 

Simply put, if you like theater, go see Clybourne Park. It's not long and Woolly has all kinds of deals, so you have no excuse. In a brilliant conceit, it takes the Chicago neighborhood where the Youngers of A Raisin in the Sun were hoping to get to and, in 1959, shows how the white neighbors react to a black family moving in. That family is not present but might as well be because the white family's maid and her husband are. Even one of the characters, Karl Lindner, who fights the move in Raisin, shows up here. Then in the second act, we move to 2009 when a white family wants to move into what is now a mostly black neighborhood. The black family now represents the neighborhood, and with a couple real estate people present, the situation quickly deteriorates into racial jokes and defensive mechanisms. Writing in The New Yorker about a concurrent Off-Broadway production, the wonderful writer John Lahr calls the second act "a dance of civility" turned into "a fracas of fulmination."

It would be interesting to see the New York production to look for the differences. It's an unusual - and very fortunate for us - situation that we get to see a new play the same time as New Yorkers do. I was able to go to one of Woolly's PWYC performances, whereas tickets for a well-received Off-Broadway play start at $50-plus. I'd like to try to get a hold of Bruce Norris and see how this happened; it appears that Woolly has a relationship with him, having produced his Unmentionables a couple years ago. Acting-wise, for me, Mitchell Hebert as Russ and Dawn Ursula as Francine stand out, but there doesn't seem to be a wrong note. In a season when Studio has been bad, Arena so-so and Woolly its uneven self, this play shines. Go see it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bethesda Artists and the Incomparable Environmental Film Festival

We had close to 40 people for our Single Volunteers Bethesda Art Walk last night. The highlights: the pottery of John Snyder at Waverly Street Gallery. He was nice enough to explain his whole process to us. His kiln is large enough to accommodate close to 200 items at a time!  Who knew? He explained how one glaze can account for several different looks depending on location and time. The pots were large and multi-colored, and really stood out in the good Waverly space.
A second highlight were the photographs from Friends of the National Zoo members at Washington School of Photography. And a third highlight and the biggest surprise was a new gallery: Gallery 360, full of photographs of Italian hill towns, C&O Canal, rusted cars (beautiful!) and back-lighted scenic vistas.  Good luck to this worthy new gallery on the scene.
Next week: The Georgetown Gallery Gaze!

It's all about the Environmental Film Festival for the next two weeks - starting Tuesday. This, in my opinion, is the city's best festival.  Most events are free and many are at embassies - and it is hard to miss on a good film.  We went to the Festival Launch Party Wednesday night and heard Nora Pouillon talk. Like everything else they do, it was first class - a guacamole station from Rosa Mexicano! Here are my early recommendations for the Festival:
Tuesday 3/16 - Canadian Embassy film is probably filled, so head to the Gala Hispanic Theatre for Utopia, a United States premier from Spain
Wednesday 3/17 - I always like the offerings from the Swiss Embassy in this festival. At 6:30, check out Un Petit Coin de Paradis, about the eco-transformation of a Swiss ghost town. rsvp
Thursday 3/18 - Let's stay with the free stuff: artist John Gerrard will deliver an illustrated lecture at the Hirshhorn Museum at 7 pm.
Friday 3/19 - The Inter American Development Bank hosts To the Sea, about a father's attempt to connect his son to his Mexico before his wife takes him back to Italy.

More to come!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

We're Back With the Good, The Bad and The Pretty

First, the good. The National Archives continues to show the Oscar-nominated documentaries tonight through Sunday. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers plays Thursday (there's a Meetup group going if you want to join), Friday is The Cove which I reviewed here a few months ago:
"It is a powerful documentary about the slaughtering of dolphins in an incredibly beautiful area of Japan (talk about a juxtaposition). The star of the film is Ric O'Barry, the guy from the old television series Flipper. Apparently, have dolphins to save and O'Barry will be there, even at whatever age he must be now (70+?). The movie unfolds like an undercover spy operation as a team of do-gooders must infiltrate this well-guarded cove to get the footage they need to expose the bad guys. I was engaged but not enthralled; it just didn't have the payoff that say the Enron movie did a couple years ago. But at some point (hopefully between meals), you should see it."
Saturday comes Burma VJ and Sunday Which Way Home, two docs I know less about.

Kudos to Theater J for putting on a hilarious reading of The Odd Couple last week with Floyd King and Rick Foucheux (and others including Arena's Delaney Williams). What would we give to have a full-out version of the still-funny play with those two wonderful actors? I'll ask Theater J head Ari Roth next time I see him.

NEXT, THE BAD. There seems to be a growing trend for what you think would be community-building events to lower the lights and raise the techno-music. One big example was the ill-fated Pecha Kucha at the Austrian Embassy a couple weeks ago. They took $20 from you, showed self-serving presentations of Haiti, and then lowered the lights and raised the volume so that you could not see or talk to anyone! It's my understanding that part of Pecha Kucha's mission is to highlight emerging artists, designers and architects (who give short presentations) and then encourage the crowd to talk with and about them after. When I raised the issue with the beautiful sister organizers Rouzita and Bita Vahhabaghai, one of them laughed at me. I guess I'm not pretty enough.
This week I attended a premiere for the new South Korean movie Mother at the new W Hotel, site of the old Hotel Washington. I am glad to report that the rooftop remains one of Washington's nicest spots, especially once the weather warms up. Also, the young staff at the hotel was incredibly nice, courteous and respectful (including very sweet elevator operators). The problem was that the event organizers lowered the lights so that you couldn't see anyone.  We left for the film - and settled in for a dark, depressing film by an obviously talented director. But coming after seeing Oscar Best Foreign Language Film nominees Ajami, Milk of Sorrow and White Ribbon, myself and my friends Cinthia and Abe walked out in a daze, hardly saying a word. We agreed that we definitely need to see an uplifting film.

I love the Studio Theater and the people who work there but their season this year has been abysmal. We saw That Face on Sunday and just didn't buy the premise. The acting was fine enough, but the plot of a Mom and a son in the same bed, a torturer daughter and her friend, a torturing vixen, didn't resonate. I'm not sure what made this a hit in London, but it's a long way off from last year's tremedous Blackbird at Studio. Let's hope the last two plays - Mamet's classic American Buffalo and Neil LaBute's latest, Reasons to Be Pretty - help salvage this atypical season for Studio.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Webre's 'The Great Gatsby' Is as Good as This Life Gets!

There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his own illusion. It had gone beyond her; beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Washington has a treasure in Septime Webre, artistic director of The Washington Ballet, and it's time we unbury and salute him. He has constructed a new ballet/show/spectacle - The Great Gatsby - that has such "colossal vitality," originality, talent and "creative passion" on display, that you can't look away. Brilliantly, Webre has recruited a top-notch live jazz band and the incomparable talents of Will Gartshore, E. Faye Butler - her "I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" brings down the Eisenhower Theater house - and the Savion-like tap dancer Ryan Johnson. What makes the evening so wonderful is that Webre puts all this talent within one of the greatest frameworks of the English language. The story works with scenes colorfully and lavishly played out, from Gatsby's Charlestonish parties to teas and lunches in Manhattan to the frightful scenes on the highway and at Gatsby's pool. The music also succeeds wonderfully, as a conglomeration of new tunes by Billy Novick and old ones from Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington among others. When in recent memory has such creativity and originality been on display like this in Washington?
Tickets are still available - it runs through Sunday - but they're very expensive unfortunately. If you can afford it, however, it will be worth it. I'm no expert on the dancing, but I am pretty good on pace, creativity, theatricality and a good story. And Gatsby has it all. One wishes it could stay with us longer. I need to go read the book again!
What other ending could rival this one:
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further...And one fine morning - So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Environmental Film Festival and All's Welles That Ends Well for this film and Sala Thai Gig

The Environmental Film Festival is out with their schedule. This is what I believe to be the best film festival in Washington. Most showings are excellent and free; some take place at beautiful embassies, and some have receptions. They've added a Festival Launch Party this year; it's $20 but I think worth it. One catch is that you need to rsvp for some of the showings, especially ones at embassies and with receptions. Take special note of Dutch Embassy on March 18, Swiss on March 17, French on March 21 and Dumbarton Oaks on March 25. Those are wonderful venues!

Quick Takes:
Check out my friend Stephanie's new blog called The Good Taste Review. She's funny so I bet the blog will be too....My friend Brian, an amazing blues guitar player, will be playing his final 4th Saturday Sala Thai Bethesda gig on February 27 after a 5-year run!  Should be an exciting evening!....Me and Orson Welles is still hanging in at the Avalon Theater. I enjoyed this film as much as any last year. Please try to get to it if you haven't seen it. It's an old-fashioned feel-good, intelligent film.

Friday, February 12, 2010

2 Degrees of Separation Between Bourdain and Me

Watched a very cool episode of No Reservations this week, featuring host Anthony Bourdain driving around the Hudson River Valley with one Michael Ruhlman, food author (Ratio), Iron Chef judge and yes, that's him above on the left during my recent trip to food blogging camp in Ixtapa, Mexico! (We went on a field trip to taste the local mole sauce and tamale.) Check out Bourdain's guest blog on Ruhlman's Website.That led me to Ruhlman's own blog post about taking part in the episode - very, very interesting insights about Bourdain. Ruhlman wrote a book about the Culinary Institute of America, located in that area. Most interesting in the show was Bourdain and Ruhlman's trip to the unbelievable Mohonk Mountain House, built in the late 1800s, and Bourdain's dinner with Bill Murray, who lives in the area. Catch this episode next on Travel Channel on Feb. 15 at 4 pm.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Free Terra Cotta Tickets and Having Hart, Holly and Posner Makes Orestes Soar

Just a reminder that National Geographic is still giving out 200 free tickets every Wednesday to the Terra Cotta Warriors Exhibit. The tickets are for 6 pm entrance. We got there around 5 pm - it looked like the last people got in line around 5:30.  My friend Cinthia and I posed with oen of the faux warriors at the end of the show. But there are plenty of real ones inside; the exhibit is worth seeing, though not really running out for. It is staggering to realize that the warriors were not excavated until 1974!  Some even later.

Definitely worth running out for is Orestes at the Folger Theater. The Folger has been putting on some of the best theater in town for years now. Aaron Posner, who directs Orestes, has been responsible for much of it including the Helen Hayes-winning Measure for Measure in 2007 and last year's Arcadia (which may well win the award this year.). As in Arcadia, he has the amazing and versatile Holly Twyford, starring. This is Greek Tragedy Lite, playful in the way Woody Allen was with Mighty Aphrodite. Playwright Anne Washburn invented her own language for the very funny Internationalist, which played at Studio a couple years ago (also with Holly!). Here she has written a 100-minute, sort-of faithful story that highlights a splendid five-woman chorus and Holly at her best in an opening prologue. Speaking with cast members afterward, I found that it was no coincidence that Rebecca Hart sounded so great in the chorus. Based in New York, she also has a band called Rebecca Hart and the Sexy Children that has played some cool places including Joe's Pub at the Public Theatre. I didn't get a chance to ask her if she'll do any outside singing during her stay in Washington. Let's hope so.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Red and Brown Water Tantalizes But Stick Fly Delivers

I went to two quality plays this week with wonderful African American casts. But the feel and reaction to both plays was different. At Studio Theatre, Tarell Alvin McCraney's In the Red and Brown Water continues the lyrical and gritty qualities that he started a couple years ago with the better The Brothers Size, as he follows a young woman through her maturation and growth. (In the Red and Brown Water actually comes before Brothers Size; one of the characters is starting his career in this play.) The language remains fluid and haunting, and the actors sizzle with vibrancy, but the story floats out there more - it's harder to get a handle on it. The mostly white crowd was kind in its applause but certainly not overwhelming.

At Arena Stage, Stick Fly tells about a well-to-do family in Martha's Vineyard and the interesting women that the two sons have brought home to meet their parents. One of the women is the amazing Nikkole Salter who co-authored and starred in In the Continuum at Woolly Mammoth a few years ago. She is worth the price of admission. Lydia R. Diamond's play is not a great one, but the feelings seem right and story feels accessible - and how often can we say that any more about a play. August: Osage County felt that way as well, but more over the top and haunting. The esteemed director Kenny Leon - who the program says will direct Denzel Washington in Fences on Broadway later this year - brings humor and warmth to the proceedings. The audience was at least half African American, of all ages, which is great to see. When it ended, the audience rose to its feet to applaud, I think because good old-fashioned, intelligent theater is hard to come by these days - in any color.

It's too bad that Sticky Fly has to end Sunday; it hasn't gotten the word of mouth that it deserves.

Friday, January 29, 2010

American Century's Play as Solid as 'Rock'

I met Leigh Anna Fry at a community theater forum at Clark Street Playhouse a couple months ago - I think she saw that I didn't know anyone there (and that doesn't happen often!).  And she was incredibly nice. Then I got to enjoy her work on TV in a Patty Hearst docudrama and now in a new production by the American Century Theater called Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. Unfortunately, the picture above isn't her but Kari Ginsburg, who stars in the play. I took a picture of Leigh Anna and Kari after the play and I guess their prettyness made me jumpy because the photo's not in focus. 

Anyway, the play is a delight. It's old-fashioned. George Axelrod (who?) wrote this in 1955. He had also written The Seven Year Itch, which became a movie starring Marilyn Monroe, and he went on to adapt the three great plays into three great movies: Bus Stop, Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Manchurian Candidate. Rock Hunter made a star out of Jayne Mansfield, and Ginsburg does well in the role, with a healthy mixture of sexuality and ambition. Fry also does nicely with her secretary role, as does newcomer Donald Osborne as the ordinary guy and Steven Lebens as the devil in the guise of Irving LaSalle.  It's very worth seeing! And I promise a good photo of Leigh Anna very soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Ode to My Food Blogging Camp in Mexico (with Links to 24 Great Blogs!)

Greetings Food Bloggers across the culinary plains,
I’ve come to say thanks for your secrets of the grains
To celebrate and graduate our wonderful class
And compliment you all on your exuberance and sass.
So let’s raise one last toast of tequila and grappa
For an ixceptional week in ixciting Ixtapa
And hope you all harvest your sites and sow your seeds
And don’t get too blogged down in RSS feeds.
I’m truly humbled in your blogospheric presence
Of raptured baklava and deeply-smoked pheasants.

So dice a mango and glaze a banana
For the storytelling wit of lovely Steve-Anna.
So much group talent can be a little unnerving
Better give me A Plate Full of whatever Claire’s serving.
I’m off to join Foodspiration for some eatin’ and explorin’
With the ever-so-adorable Justin and Lauren.
We’ll examine every basil leaf and edible palm frond,
Then go for a guac dip in the refreshing Sonndapond.
Yikes! The Smithsonian has run out of museum wax!
So much for snapping my fiberglass-built snacks.
Take ice cream, toothpicks, shoe polish and stay calm
And you get a new definition of an ‘Adam Bombe’;
And you know Matt Bites will make it look amazing,
Flashing pictures after the construction and glazing.
As for me, just clam sauce please and a bowl of spaghetti
And let me sit next to Stephanie Stiavetti.
(A guy can dream, can’t he, of his culinary heaven.)
I promise, Ms. Wasabimon, no glutens, yeast or leaven.
Alas, reality beckons, in its finest spanakopitan chorus
Telling me to head to my favorite Dianasaurus.
Did anyone ever see her the slightest bit dour?
Or not wearing a spectac sundress and matching flower.
Actually, with whom among us wouldn’t I love to cook?
I’d gleefully stream with any of our Brook(e)s
Be it the Food Woolf and her dicey posts,
Or Self Preservation and her orange toasts.
THAT would be the coolest of cool, man,
Except if I could go hang out with the Ruhlmans,
Wonderful words and pictures all night and all day,
We’ll snap, Ratio and rock all the way.
Then I’ll rest and sit down with Spoon and Chair,
But only if Diane is kind enough to share.
Hey, I’ll Write for Food if Owen and Dianne are by my side,
Anyone recommended by Bourdain travels in my ride.
Speaking of travel, it’s off to Japan for a quick gaze
To read Nancy’s “anime”ted musings on Indigo Days.
And, of course, we’ll stop in Norway for an Oslo meal,
So fly me to Lekkermunn and the adventurous Cecilie.
Then I’ll parlez vous my way to the City of Light
To visit our Parisian Panissian, the bonbon of good bytes.
From the first day, David couldn’t be nicer (a dream!)
So I’m Living the Sweet Life now, caramels and ice cream.
There’s nothing vanilla about Vanilla Garlic’s sound track,
Garrett makes the Capital seem anything but a Sad Sac,
And Stephanie is so humble about her Copykat beginnings,
Not mentioning the thousands reading her spinnings.
A Beach Home Companion could not be any more enticing;
Sarah’s amazing photos are like the cake AND the icing.
And I’m already a Frantastic Food Franatic!
I mean, she does live TV with no delay or static!
Tonight I’m eating chimichangas, courtesy of Recipe Girl
Knowing Lori is behind it, I’ll give it a whirl.
Next. I’ll. Try. Casey. In. All. Her. Jersey. Glories.
Does. It. Get. Any. Better. Than. Good. Food. Stories?
Well, sitting with Richard, Gary and Jane, shooting the breeze,
Is pretty great company (and getting no check please)
Wait, running off in the distance, is that a silver balloon?
No sillies, it’s just pretty Perre and The Runaway Spoon!
I’d catch it but it’s taking off so fast,
Which reminds me to always save the best for last.

Elise simply reminded us of all we need to know,
Simply Recipes, darling, is my new favorite place to go.
And Todd and Diane, they frame, shoot and splice, (so supple!)
Just try tearing me away from White on Rice Couple.
Alas, I thank Jaden for making this amazing trip take flight;
What a bouillabaisse of campers, a parfait of delight.
She’s incredible, with her care, her hard work and her texts,
Steamy Kitchen may be the new Oprah by the time we meet next.
Wow, I guess I’m done! Hooray! It’s time for a beer!
I hope we can Ronndezvous again, same time, next year!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food Films to Recommend

In honor of my week at Food Bloggers Camp, rent these food movies if you're in the culinary mood (and let me know any of your suggestions):
Julie and Julia: It takes two separate stories--Julia Child's culinary march to fame in Paris--and then, 50 years later, Queens (the place not the band) government worker Julie Powell's attempt to bake, brown and bone her way through Child's cookbook. You can't have two more excellent, likeable actresses than Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The film moves so humorously and intelligently from story to story that I was disappointed each time it went to the other.
Secret of the Grain
No Impact Man
Babbette's Feast
Like Water for Chocolate
Food Inc.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
Mostly Martha

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thumbs 'Ups,' French Connections & 'Ties' That Bind: The Top Films of 2009

Here are my top films of 2009. I would love to see some of yours.  These are films that moved me in some way, shape or form (in no particular order). I have also added some runners-up and one special film that I almost forgot.

Up, Up in the Air, Me and Orson Welles, Still Walking, In the Loop, Julie and Julia, An Education, Secret of the Grain, The Damned United, The Hurt Locker, Crazy Heart, Summer Hours, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (most overlooked)

Up in the Air
I can't say it made me feel the best; losing a job and being out of a relationship are feelings that run deep for anyone. But Jason Reitman knows how to make good movies. Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga proved to be great foils for George Clooney; their scene in the airport talking about relationships was priceless.

Me and Orson Welles
I'm a huge Richard Linklater fan and I think that this is his best film yet. (Sorry Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.) I love the show-within-a-show formula, with everything pointing to the Welles production of Julius Caesar in the end. Christian McKay is dead-on as Welles and Zac Efron (who knew?) can really act. Also has a great supporting cast led by Zoe Kazan, Ben Chaplin and James Tupper.

The moment towards the end of the movie when the Ed Asner character looks into his book of memories and sees it from a different light is one of the best film moments of 2009. It's a wonderful movie for people of any age, giving hope to people of any age. (Speaking of which, I need to see it again!)

Still Walking
This Japanese film also dealt with moving on in the face of tragedy - and gives hope at the end. A family comes together years after the oldest son son died saving the life of a young boy in the ocean.  The scenes with the now-young man returning for his annual visit to the family are hard to watch but beautiful at the same time.  PS - There was another Japanese film this year called Nobody to Watch Over Me that I saw in Santa Barbara but has not been released. Rent it if possible!

In the Loop
This is the film I laughed hardest at this year. Wow, rapid-fire dialogue, great characters and funny situations create a non-stop The Office meets Fawlty Towers meets American Buffalo (given the seriousness of the situation and foul language).

Julie and Julia
This underrated gem made making a sweet, rhythmic and time-switching movie look easy, but it's not. I enjoyed the back-and-forthness of the story, always wanting more when they switched away. Needless to say, acting was great including Stanley Tucci as Mr. Child and the beautiful (and currently pregnant) Amy Adams.

An Education
When the four leads - Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper and Rosalind Pike - were out on a "date," all was right with the film world. How about the scene at that great jazz club?  Throw in bits of Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams and Alfred Molina, and an excellent script and direction, and you have an extremely enjoyable movie to watch.

Secret of the Grain
This wonderful, overlooked - thanks in Washington to a silly Washington Post review - French film about a Tunisian community in a coastal town had perhaps the best dinner scene in films since Babette's Feast. The director likes to stay with scenes for a long time, sometimes leading to sheer joy, as in the dinner and belly-dancing scene, and sometimes to sheer agony, as in a scene of a wife complaining about her philandering husband. Either way, it's a brilliant film.

The Damned United
This film, featuring great performances from Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall, has all the makings of a terrific movie to watch: a troubled good guy and his faithful sidekick, a bad guy, an exciting story, and a couple personal epiphanies - and it accomplishes everything in a tidy time period.  It's based on a true story; I liked the way they showed real photos of that time in the credits.

The Hurt Locker
From the beginning scene with the amazing Guy Pearce, you could not take your eyes off this film. I know the armrests had extra wear after I finished with them. It has an engaging life-and-death story to go along with valuable scenes that show the humanity of the characters.

Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges gives his best performance since The Fabulous Baker Boys as, ironically, another singer in this Virginia-born-and-bred film about surviving and going for it all in the great West. Beautiful scenery, strong performances from Maggie Gylenhaal and Colin Farrell, and a Robert Duvall sighting (sans politics) makes this an old-fashioned well-done movie.

Summer Hours
I don't remember everything from this gorgeous French film that brought back memories of My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle - those lovely French scenery films that made us all long for those childhoods. But I do recall the ruminative scenes at their summer house that transported me to some of my best times. Then, the family in-fighting, that we all can identify with, gave the film a serious reality that lifted it above those older movies.

One Special Film. I went to see author/doctor/rock-star equivalent Atul Gawunde last night at Politics & Prose and saw the dvd for a movie that I almost forgot. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. I saw it last year at the Avalon's tiny upstairs screen and thought it was incredible. The director intersperses between this grainy late '60s game film and interviews with the same players today - with no narration! And it works incredibly well as both an exciting game and a wonderful comment on those times versus now. Three women sitting in front of me knew nothing about football and loved it as well. Some famous names from the film: Tommie Lee Jones (a player on Harvard), Meryl Streep (the girlfriend of a Yale player), Brian Dowling (Yale quarterback who is the BD in Doonesbury), and Calvin Hill (the Yale halfback who went on to star in the NFL).

My next 10:
Adventureland (almost made top 12 - very nicely done) , Sugar (should have got more exposure), Bad Lieutenant (fun to watch Cage!), 35 Shots of Rum (nice to see some different characters focused on), The Messenger (awesome performances), Beaches of Agnes (my favorite documentary), Goodbye Solo (rent all his films), The Informant (I love Marvin Hamlisch's score), Star Trek (please let JJ Abrams make the next James Bond movie - with Clive Owen) and 500 Days of Summer (good fun, rent Brick).

And yes, Avatar was very exciting to watch!

Let me know some of your favorites!