Archive for the ‘theater’ Tag

Celebrity Watching

Went to the opening night of Betrayal:

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz have caused a stampede to the box office by theatregoers keen to keen to see the husband and wife acting powerhouse in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.

The show opened on Sunday, in front of a star-studded audience including director Steven Spielberg, musician Bruce Springsteen and US Vogue editor Anna Wintour at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre who were among the lucky ticketholders.

Others I saw included actor Ian McKellen and his husband. Playwright Tony Kushner and his husband, actress Ellen Barkin, actress Patricia Clarkson, actress Candice Bergen, newsperson Chris Matthews, and of course since Mike Nichols was the director, newsperson Diane Sawyer.

But others desperate to see the show have seen theatre lovers pay $2,500 on the black market to see the new adaptation, directed by ten-time Tony Award winner Mike Nichols.

Read more:–tickets-sell-figure-sums-black-market.html#ixzz2j7UHUaSp

Red Speedo: Class Athletics

Studio Theater in Washington, DC is showing, Red Speedo, a play that sparked thoughts of David Mamet’s best works. Like Mamet, the play looks at people from the lower rungs of American society who are trying to reach the American Dream. They have limited talents and few assets and need to maximize their chances at success in the one shot that they have.

The title character has that shot in the swimming pool. He is attempting to qualify as an Olympic swimmer and he knows the limits of his talents. He has chosen to take a path of performance enhancing drugs that raises questions about his morals and his talents. What will his brother, who has been his sponsor, and representative think about his choices and what will he do? More significantly, he has a coach who is struggling to keep the swim club financially afloat. Will he discover this indiscretion? The lead’s love interest also has an intriguing back history and perspective to be taken into account as well.

We’ve had many of these athletes who has crossed this line, beginning with the Oakland A’s Bash Brothers to San Francisco Giants Barry Bonds. Most notably were cultural icons, like cyclist and philanthropist Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. All deny the activity, worse they fight their accusers to the point of ruining them financially and their reputations, all while knowing that they did take the drugs.

What’s more compelling about the job that playwright Lucas Hnath and director Lila Neugebauer have done is that they have shown how the thinking of the athlete works to justify the taking of the drugs. They have shown how others surrounding the athlete come to terms with tacitly and knowingly accepting this behavior.

The set was sharp, you could smell chlorine when you walked up the staircase. The performances by Frank Boyd, Harry Winter, and Laura C. Harris were strong. Of particularly note was Thomas Jay Ryan, as the older brother.

What made this play powerful was the inclusion of today’s class system in the U.S. Though warped, the older brother’s disquisition on the need to be rich in the US was worth the price of admission.

DC Is A Dance Place

Velocity DC did it again this year. The DC dance festival is in its fourth year and was stronger than ever.

Washington has a wide range of dance companies performing everything from traditional Flamenco dance to Appalachian foot stomping. Saturday night’s began with high energy dance while the host, Peter DiMuro, offered a Top Ten list for being at the show. The first of several good contemporary dance pieces came from Edgeworks. I’ve seen them several times before and their work is often very moving.

As an international city, we get treated to distinctive performances from other countries. Xuejuan Dance Ensemble gave us a beautiful fan dance that made you believe the fan was a partner. The flamenco, from the Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company, lit the hall up as it closed out the first act. Check them out:

Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance opened the second act with highlight reel gymnastics and moves. See below when they were on So You Think You Can Dance.


My partner raved over the contemporary piece called “Y” from Company | E, and our friend could not get enough of the Washington Ballet Studio Company and their sweet, sensitive performance.

DC returned to its international flair with Farafina Kan performing the Sound of Africa, with some amazing drum solos.

Theater J’s Strong Body Awareness

Fall season means children return to school, football starts in college and the NFL, and the theater season begins anew. This year’s off to a great start with Annie Baker’s comedy Body Awareness. Washington, DC theater goers saw her play,  Circle Mirror Transformation, at Studio Theater in the fall of 2010. Body Awareness was written a few years before Baker’s hit, Circle Mirror, but held my interest much more than the latter.

It’s Body Awareness Week at Shirley College, and the non-traditional Vermont family members Phyllis, Joyce and their possibly autistic son Jared are rocked by a visiting photographer and his ‘male gaze.’  I’d heard about the play through the Jewish Community Center’s Gay Lesbian group, GLOE. They liked that the play simply featured a lesbian couple without making it the center of the action. It’s true that the couple is respected and not made a central part of the story.

What makes the play so strong is that the dialogue is crisp and believable and the performances of all the actors are very natural. In addition, the play allows its characters to grow and for audience members to come to understand them and even like them.

The play raises questions regarding interpreting truth, when to use logic and when to go with instincts, and how to appreciate others who may be quite different from you. The jibes to PC are accurate but seemed a little too easy sometimes, as the US culture has begun to move away from the PC police era of the late 1980s and 1990s.

The playwright’s interview which appears in the program, noted that she wanted to complicate the things that we think of as “stupid.” One method was to have her least mature character call everything that he didn’t like “stupid,” illuminating that it takes a high degree of maturity to give credence to things that you either do not like or strongly disagree with. The Republicans are testing my patience this week.

La Bute Falls In the Forest

Neil LaBute’s recent play, In the Forest, Dark and Deep, appeared as the opening for this year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepardstown, West Virginia. A group of us left steamingly hot Washington and drove out to see the play on Saturday. One of four enjoyed it while another found it interesting. Myself and my husband both anticipated much of the secrets that the play revealed and this led to us having a disappointed feeling.

It is one thing to know that someone might have acted improperly. It’s another to be able to guess what they did and why halfway through the show. We’ve seen almost all of La Bute’s earlier work and this is by far the least interesting or compelling. While one generally does not like many (any) of his characters, we really had disdain for both of these. Further, the rationale for the way they behaved was at best pop-Freud. Daddy didn’t love you enough. Mom never showed us her emotions.

The person who enjoyed the play still wrestled with concern over the playwright’s possible misogyny. Or as she wondered, was he only showing us how the culture treats women. Even if the latter, haven’t we seen the pretty woman who can’t keep herself from going to be with every man so that she can feel pretty and wanted? We’ve seen the low-class brother who expresses his disappointment in rage toward women who he gets involved with.

She also pointed out that the family dynamics in the play intrigued her as well. She made an interesting point about who knows how to push your buttons than your family. She makes a great point. Our siblings and the rivalry among family members can be intense and can show our personal vulnerabilities.

Shepardstown is a really nice, quaint place. We enjoyed walking down the main street and looking at all the different stores, even one for runners. We enjoyed an excellent early dinner at Shahrazade’s Restaurant and Tea Room.

Tasty Big Meal

The Studio Theatre produced another strong play. Part of its Second Stage productions, the DC theater company unveiled The Big Meal by Dan LaFranc.

The play shows five generations of a single family in the Midwest U.S. of today. Showing characters in pairs, quartets and occasionally in larger groupings, the play provides strong and interesting characters. The actors are very strong playing a multitde of roles.

The play addresses the ups and downs of rather middling lives, highs of weddings and romance and lows of jealousy, sibling rivalry, and racism. None of this hits one over the head but instead flows naturally out of the characters. Younger versions adopt good and bad habits of their parents as they age, all the types of things that we each discover about our selves.

The Religion Thing

Go see the new play at the Theater J. The Jewish Community Center in Washington, DC has created a festival of new local plays to be performed by local actors. A great idea in such a rich theater city as Washington.

The Religion Thing opens things up this month. The performances were uniformly very good. The playwright said she wanted to have the play think about it on their way home. The play spurred a good discussion in the theater and I’m sure she succeeded in her goal. It made you wonder what sits in our subconsciousness that may be very important to us.

The Hollow at Signature Theatre

The Tony-winning theatre company starts there new season off with a twist; two shows in rep at the same time. The two musicals are new works and that is great to see.

Saw The Hollow last night and thought it was fantastic. The voices were all strong and most of the performances were excellent. Matt Connor’s music is not of the style where you will whistle most of the songs on your drive to work. The songs and music fit the book perfectly.

The theater describes the show: From the composer of Nevermore and Partial Eclipse, The Hollow is a chilling musical reinterpretation of the classic thriller The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In a devout 18th century village, a mysterious stranger spreading radically new ideas challenges the traditional order. However, when rumors spread of a headless horseman murdering friends and neighbors, the townsfolk blame the outsider for this demonic curse.

The musical made me think about human beings acting in tribal ways and about the ability to use fear to maintain power. The citizens of the town are of Dutch descent and they look askance at outsiders, particularly New Englanders (who represent the English who defeated their Dutch ancestors).

This tribal/ethnic worldview is currently dominant in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be rearing its ugly head in Lybia soon. The divisions will make forming a nation state a challenge and will promote sectarian violence and cronyism is government. The US military is in the middle of these struggles with no end in sight and it is costing this country a great deal of money in a time when we need money to address a declining economy.

The show brought up thoughts on how fear is used to retain power. There are authoritarian regimes that use real fearful things, like the threat to kill, to retain power. In the Hollow one is left to wonder if killing is also being used to maintain control. The religious right is also using fear as a device to gain and retain power in the US.  They have demonized Obama in a similar way to the character in the show and have blamed circumstances ranging from health care costs to the debt on his Presidency.

Theater Day and Evening

Hit three theatrical events yesterday.

Signature Theater/Target day had musical performances from upcoming shows: The Hollow, The Boy Detective Fails, Hairspray, Xanadu

Went upstairs and watched a master class in dance. She broke down simple moves from Hairspray so the students could try to keep up. Later she told us that there would be double and triple the moves that we saw in the production number.

After watching roller skaters doing dance moves in the parking lot in the 100 degree heat, we had enough.

Went to Fringe Festival and saw Alice, a play that humanizes the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. Sometimes it felt a little more like a history lesson than a drama but…

Later that evening went to see the fifth of six versions of the Match Game at Studio Theater. Great fun with the celebrities of Washington trying to outraunch each other.  Michael O’Sullivan, Tim Tate, The Sweater Sisters, Mark Lewis, David Catana, and Rick Klein did really well. Almost reminded me fondly of the old game show from the 1970s with its double entendres, puns, titillation. Good job done by all!!!

Hotel F#ck

Fringe Festival in Washington, DC.

Seen some real dogs over the years, but some fun ones too!
Hotel Fuck at Fort Fringe by Washington Shakespeare Company was energizing and intriguing.
Two friends walked off mad. One said it was worst thing he’d ever seen by twice.
Performances were amazing.
Richard Foreman’s Off-Broadway show from the late 1990s questions sex, desire, how we think, wish fulfillment.

Does going somewhere else, a place, a vacation make us behave differently than we do at home? If we don’t get sex would we get it because we went to the Hotel Fuck?
If we are ignored, won’t we still be ignored.
Hotel Fuck contains full nudity and yet makes it look trashy, unattractive, challenging our notions of the body and desire.
Is Hotel Fuck a metaphor for the commercialization of sex? The play asks what are we buying and do we have any control over our desires, over sexual feelings, even over whether that desire is turned upside down into a sentimental feeling.

A review:

You could make up a lot of things in your head about a play called Hotel Fuck before ever entering the theater. Written by Richard Foreman for the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre in 1998, Hotel Fuck (hereinafter to be referred to as HF) makes it its business to defy description and assault your sensibilities, most  particularly regarding any remnants of prudishness you might have left regarding the act of sexual intercourse.

Photo: Dru Sefton

It has an interesting beginning. It has a lengthy, eventually tedious middle filled with raunchy comedy, enervating ensemble work, some outstanding individual performances, sound and fury aplenty…… but no ending. After an hour or so, it just stops.

So WTF happened? Well, nothing really. HF is sort of a combination of Waiting for Godot and the Kingston Trio’s “Charlie on the M.T.A.”: “Well did he ever return, no, he never returned and his fate is still unlearned. He will ride forever through the streets of Boston. He’s the man who never returned.” (repeat over and over several times) If you can wrap your mind around Samuel Becket on the same stage with the Kingston Trio you can start to get a sense of the 2011 version of Foreman’s 1998 avant garde play. But don’t hold me to that.

Apparently Christopher Henley, who both directed and played a principal role in the piece, has a fascination with Foreman’s work and decided the Fringe Festival is the perfect venue for it. Bravo, I say. It is, indeed, the perfect venue. Henley and his cast are to be congratulated for making some very fine chicken salad out of some dusty old chicken feathers. The Fringe Festival has a share in their triumph having given Henley the freedom he was seeking to explore the outermost edges of what he and his crew can do.

They have forged an ensemble piece here that literally carries the audience along on the sheer strength of their energy and ingenuity. The play is wonderfully choreographed and moves at breakneck speed, barely giving one time to laugh at some of the terrific comic moments generated by a fine cast.

It was almost impossible to take my eyes off Jay Hardee who gives one of the finest funniest female impersonations I’ve ever witnessed. Hardee employs a variety of accents ranging from Nazi German to honeydew, deep-south Alabama to red-neck Arkansas. He moves in and out of them so quickly, complimented by some excruciatingly funny facial contortions, that I was not entirely certain even he knew which accent was coming next. And there was never a doubt as to his sex on stage. He is all woman.

Frank Britton, as Giza von Goldenheim, commanded the stage from time to time and rivaled Hardee with his flair for different personas and voices and his comic timing. Henley himself, taking the role of Tony Turbo, is a dead ringer for Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. He is every bit as funny as Palin when the situation calls for mock indignation or perhaps just the right twist of an off color insult.

Henley is to be commended in particular for his direction. This company threw its heart and soul, as well as the rest of its body parts, into this show. Their group dynamics were as precise as a Ballanchine ballet, and their timing was impeccable. The imagination employed in the use of a variety of phallic props was terribly clever and often side-splittingly funny.

James Majewski and William Hayes have the misfortune of sharing the stage with Hardee, Britton and Henley. Both are young and exceedingly earnest yet do not have the distinguishing physical features and natural comic presence of the others. They are fine actors, however, and blend in seamlessly when it’s time for the ensemble unit to click into action (which is quite often)  – no small feat by any means. Gabriel Swee does nicely as the playwright’s pawn, a sort of twisted “Deus Ex Machina,” as well as with an impressive variety of walk-on characters.

The performance does get a little tedious at some point. It is mostly loud and fast without much variety in the pace or tone until it slows down near the very end before coming to that aforementioned screeching halt. I began wondering when and how it would end at some point and stole furtive glances at my watch only to be drawn back lest I miss something really, really funny and adventuresome.

All in all, it is a bravura performance on the part of WSC and more than enough to whet the appetite to see one of their main stage presentations.

A note about the rating system: Were I to rate the play on the basis of its strengths and weaknesses as a script, it would get a 1 (lowest rating). Were I to rate only the energy, cleverness, and theatrical prowess of the directing and acting, I would be tempted to give it a 5 (highest rating). Because it is such a thoroughly enjoyable theatregoing experience and in spite of the weaknesses in the script, it deserves a “4.”

Here’s a negative review:
The dramatic conflict of Hotel Fuck, if there is one, is the cast’s search for the elusive hotel, and the fear that they will end up at the antithesis of the hospitality they seek: The Hotel Beautiful Roses. If this sounds to you like not even pretentious crap, but sheer crap, I would not order you to turn in your dramaturg’s credentials, you philistine! But almost out of spite, ideas rise from the steaming crap: the tension between beauty and brutality, a sexuality that replaces mature intimacy with adolescent show; the power of profanity, and the diminishing returns on its overuse; and the ability of good actors to create a semblance of drama where there seems to be none.

A few of the actors make the best of the material. Swee and William Hayes. the latter of whom was recently seen in The Room Live at the AFI, take the material as seriously as they can, and Hayes has a few monologues that would not seem out of place in a Real Drama, if said drama were about the search for an elusive Hotel Fuck. But there’s only so much even a good actor can do with lines like, “I’m a big turd,” and the rest of the cast is directed to camp it up to High Heaven. I am not a fan of deliberate camp — the knowing, winking, Hey I get it’s a joke tone. But that tone has its adherents, and If you like your actors to relentlessly mug for an audience, then Capital Fringe has a show for you.

Hotel Fuck is precious and can’t help but scream its unsubtle intentions.There are relatively quiet interludes scattered throughout its 70 minute duration, but only the dedicated follower of camp will want to wait that long.


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