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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.