Archive for February, 2013

The Convert: Returning to Roots—Theatre

February 26, 2013

The Convert,” the Woolly Mammoth’s latest production takes you through a lengthy roller-coaster of emotions, but it is so worth the ride.

Written by Danai Gurira and directed by Michael John Garcés, “The Convert” takes place in Rhodesia (today called Zimbabwe) in the mid 1880’s. During this time, the English colonized the country and tried to impose its culture, traditions and religion upon the people. Some accepted the English way of life, while many “resisted.”The Convert

“The Convert” introduces us to three types of Africans comprising mid 1880’s Rhodesia: highly educated Africans who have converted to Christianity; less educated Africans who have learned English, but not necessarily converted to Christianity…or are Christian by day and traditional by night;  and finally, the Africans who have refused to be colonized in any way.

We are first introduced to Jekesai (Nancy Moricette), escaping from an unwanted marriage to a much older village elder. She finds refuge in the home of her Aunt Mai Tamba’s (Starla Benford) employer, Chilford (Irungu Mutu). Chilford, an educated African, has embraced Catholicism and has come to believe the ways of the white man are superior. He takes Jekesai under his Catholic wing and renames her Ester.  At first Ester is completely overwhelmed by Chilford’s home and  airs. But she is a quick learner and her conversion as portrayed by Moricette is astonishing to behold. A lesser actor might make Chilford a dandy or a strident fool. Somehow Mutu manages to present him sympathetically and we find ourselves caring about him and his future.

Prudence (Dawn Ursula) is another highly educated African, a friend of Chilford and engaged to Chilford’s friend, Chancellor (Alvin Keith).  One isn’t really sure what lies beneath her mannered, manicured façade until revealed in the final scenes. It’s a very complex part and Ursula is magnificent in it.

Erik Kilpatrick and JaBen Early, as Ester’s uncle and cousin Tamba respectively, represent the rebelling class in Africa…the natives who refuse to “assimilate.” Although we understand where they are coming from, they aren’t portrayed kindly (and why should they, given the situation?). These are tough roles, but the two actors handle them well.

Shockingly, “The Convert’s” three hours pass by fairly quickly. Each character is given his/her due and every morsel of dialogue is important. You find yourself thinking during the play, and you’re still thinking at the play’s end.

“With “The Convert,” not only do the characters come full circle, so does the Woolly Mammoth. Woolly’s acting is always top-notch as are most of its plays, but “The Convert” provides us with the intimacy of the old Church Street theatre, often missing from the beautiful new theatre. Part of the stage is constructed like a runway and it brings the actors closer to the audience, much like the old Woolly. The only complaint is that sometimes the actors are standing right in front of one another so that some of the audience can’t see the actors’ expressions. However, that is a small complaint in three hours worth of mind-boggling entertainment. “The Convert” is a dramatic wonder…beautifully and forcefully written and performed. It should not be missed.

4 nuggets out of 4

Through March 10

Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW, Washington, DC

Bandolero: A Real Top Chef Winner—Restaurant Nugget

February 24, 2013

There hasn’t been a terrific new restaurant in Georgetown in sometime. Thanks to Mike Isabella’s Bandolero, the drought is over.Bandolero

Bandolero’s menu is very extensive…with a wide variety of tacos and enchiladas, fish, meat and chicken dishes as well as vegetable entrees and sides. While the plates may be small, the Mexican flavors are not. It’s small plate dining at its best.

I began the evening with the Bandolero Marguerita which went down sooooo well. Very tasty.  Then my friend and I both ordered the Wild Mushroom tacos accompanied with butternut squash, pickled onion and crispy pepitas. Served three on a plate, they were delicious. We also went for the side portion of Crispy Brussels. The sprouts were prepared with tamarind crema and coconut-habanero sauce. Scrumptious is the perfect description for them. My friend was extra hungry so she also ordered the Queso Fundido which was made with chorizo, poblano, manchego and a sunny egg. As instructed by our waiter, she stirred the dish and then ate everything but the plate. Safe to say she was happy with her choice.

We both wanted dessert, but couldn’t choose one dish to split so we ordered two and split them. Problem solved! We tried the Torta Chocolate which was a coco mousse with banana gelato and the Tres Leches, made with tapioca, meringue and mango sorbet. Words cannot describe how absolutely delicious these two desserts were. If we could have licked the dishes clean we would have.

We had the good luck to run into Bandolero chef/partner, Mike Isabella of Top Chef fame, who was kind enough to chat with us. He couldn’t have been nicer or more down to earth. We’re also big fans of his Penn Quarter Graffiato restaurant so we can’t wait to try his new Greek restaurant  coming to the U Street corridor in June.

But back to Bandolero. We ate every morsel of food put before us, had a terrific time and the very helpful wait-staff made a great dining experience even better. The menu has so much from which to choose…even for us vegetarians. I’m looking forward to a return visit very soon.

3241 M Street, NW, 202.625.4488

DGS Delicatessen: Noshingly Good—Restaurant Nugget

February 24, 2013

DGS, a new-age, non-kosher deli, is a more than welcome addition to the DuPont Circle community. It might not serve up the exact kind of food as your Bubba or Katz’s, but what it does prepare is tasty and plentiful.DGS

Chef Barry Koslow’s menu is familiar and new at the same time. Yes, you can order the traditional DGS Reuben, but if you’re a vegetarian like me, you can dine on the Grilled Eggplant Reuben—made with eggplant, emmenthaler cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and rye bread. This was to die for. The combination of ingredients was mouth-wateringly good. My dining companion tried the Israeli…hummus, cucumber salad, pickled beets, sprouts, feta and pumpernickel.  She ate every crumb on her plate. The couple on one side of me ordered the DGS Cobb Salad…avocado, corned beef, blue cheese, gribenes, mixed greens and champagne vin. Although they were shocked by the enormous portion, that didn’t stop them from eating the whole thing. The couple on the other side tried the Knishes…lamb merguez , lentil and raisin mustard. They downed ever morsel.  A friend has been there several times. She thought the Warm DGS Pastrami was a tad too smoky, but loved the Challah French Toast and don’t get her started on the Flanken… beef short ribs braised with Tunisian spices, figs, spinach and fresh mint.

And the pickles? OMG! DGS brines its pickles on the premises and they are as God intended…sour and wonderful.

DGS does serve dessert. While they all sound intriguing, my friends and I have not gotten past the Teiglach… Hungarian Doughnuts with toasted almonds. The portion is huge and they are absolutely DELICIOUS.

You’ll also find a full complement of cocktails, soft drinks, wine and beer. I plan to try at least one of each on future visits.  And there will be future visits. The fabulous food is matched by the terrific wait-staff. They are friendly, knowledgeable, but not intrusive.

You might stop in for a nosh, but you’ll be back for more.  Mazel tov, DGS!

1317 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 202.293.4400, open seven days a week

Beautiful Creatures: Acting Beautifully—Movie

February 21, 2013

Vampires, witches, werewolves, zombies, warlocks, fairies. Who knew there were so many other-worldly beings walking the streets of the United States? “Beautiful Creatures” offers up yet one more for our consideration—casters.

While “Beautiful Creatures” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, no one can deny the outstanding performances of its two leads, Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert. These relative newcomers to the screen are absolutely fantastic, especially Ehrenreich…more about him later.beautiful creatures

Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese and based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, “Beautiful Creatures” is another take on Romeo and Juliet. Romeo in this instance is Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate and his Juliet is Englert as Lena Duchannes. Alternative rock band, Thenewno2 featuring Dhani Harrison (Beatle George Harrison’s son), has scored the entire movie and it is outstanding, complementing “Beautiful Creatures” perfectly.

Set in Gaitlin, SC, a stereotypical, small, redneck town, Ethan meets Lena on his first day as a high school junior. New to Gaitlin, she’s immediately on the receiving end of some malicious talk and gossip because her family is rumored to be devil worshippers. Ethan, however, is more enlightened than most of his peers. He finds her back-story intriguing (the fact that she’s pretty cute doesn’t hurt either) and after a hellish first day of school for Lena, the two have a near miss car accident on the way home. This almost-collision leads to some of the smartest, wittiest dialogue between two people that I’ve heard in ages. It’s perfection! Are these two in any way believable as 16- and 15-year olds? Not in the least? Do I care? NO.

As a real connection develops between the two, Lena reveals that she is a caster and that she comes from a family of casters. Casters are beings that are capable of performing magic spells…they can change weather, cast allusions…just to name two. The movie doesn’t go into a lot of detail about what else casters can do, but you are led to believe it is a lot and much of it not good).  As a caster, when Lena turns 16 in a few months, her true nature will emerge and guide her to either the light or the dark side. Lena is afraid that she will turn evil like her cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum), or her mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson). Her uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) has purposely brought Lena to Gaitlin to keep her safe and lead her to the light, but he is fighting the two-pronged attack from Ridley and Sarafine as well as the unwitting interference from Ethan. How Lena and Ethan battle all these various forces makes for a sometimes confusing, but always fascinating story.

Some of the acting may appear over the top, but given the nature of the story, it works. Emma Thompson, in particular, seems to have a lot of fun with her role, and that just serves to make the movie better. Jeremy Irons is also well cast as the concerned uncle. The rest of the supporting cast—Rossum, Viola Davis,Thomas Mann, Eileen Atkins and Margo Martindale—is  terrific and not what one might normally expect from a movie targeting teens.

Ultimately, however, “Beautiful Creatures’” success rests with its two leads—Englert and  and Ehrenreich.

As Lena, Alice Englert is not your typical ingénue.  The daughter of director Jane Campion, she’s attractive in a Lily Collins kind of way, and she can act.

But the real find of “Beautiful Creatures” is Alden Ehrenreich. He’s not conventionally attractive, but he is adorable. As  a precocious intellect, his way with the Southern dialect, his handling of his fast, quippy dialogue… Ehrenreich‘s just utterly fabulous…even if he doesn’t seem 16. I felt like I was discovering a young Dustin Hoffman…and hopefully someday soon I will learn how to pronounce his name.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

DuPont Starbucks: Tim Gunn Couldn’t Have Done a Better Makeover

February 19, 2013

Stealing from Barbra Streisand’s Oscar acceptance speech…”Hello Gorgeous!” The newly renovated Connecticut Avenue Starbucks is worth every penny spent on its renovation. Now a two-story coffee shop, it’s cheery, light and airy.

The first floor offers several seating areas and best of all, you’re no longer sitting on top of one another. The first floor also has two large, clean restrooms with changing tables.starbucks-stairs-dupont-e1342110520892

Adventure upstairs and you are in for a treat. There are couches, tables, tables and chairs and plenty of outlets for laptops. Unlike the second floor at the Georgetown Starbucks (M Street NW, near Wisconsin), whose top floor feels like an afterthought, the DuPont Starbucks doesn’t need to provide customers with flashlights so they can see where they are going. It’s actually bright… like stepping into your own living room. It’s wonderful! One can only hope the Georgetown manager will take a page out of this Starbucks’ playbook and do some sprucing up.

Oh, yes, they still sell coffee.

Starbucks, 1501 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Identity Thief: Couldn’t They Steal a Better Script—Movie

February 17, 2013

Directed by Seth Gordon with screenplay by Craig Mazin and story by Mazin and Jerry Eeten, “Identity Thief” is fun and pleasant enough with some laughs, but provided with a superior script, co-stars Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman could have brought so much more to the screen.Identity Thief

“Identity Thief” starts with an interesting premise…one that many of us can appreciate. What happens when your identity is stolen and before you have time to realize this, your credit cards are maxed out, your bank accounts drained, you’re wanted by the police and your good reputation is no more? In this case, the victim, Bateman, decides to go to Miami in pursuit of the thief, McCarthy, and bring her back to his Denver hometown to clear his name. At first the action is pretty funny.  Jason Bateman is one of the best straight man in the business (along with Paul Rudd). Watching his ire build is a master class in “straight-man acting.”  And Melissa McCarthy may be the best physical comedienne/actress since Lucille Ball. Together they have terrific chemistry. But eventually the ying and yang of their relationship grows old. Thirty minutes of editing, especially those with Eric Stonestreet’s Big Chuck character and the two skip tracers, would have done much to tighten up the script.

What’s interesting about Bateman and McCarthy is that both are first-class actors. As he proved in “Juno” and now in “Identity Thief’s” low-key scenes, Bateman is more than capable of performing excellent serious work. McCarthy has some dramatic scenes in “Identity Thief” that tug at your heart. She’s really a well-rounded (no pun intended) actress. After her upcoming “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock, let’s hope she gets a chance to do something with less physicality or, unfortunately, she may come to be viewed as a one trick pony when she is so much more.

Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman are really terrific comic actors who need better material to showcase their talents. Let’s hope we have the opportunity to see them in something better soon.

2 nuggets out of 4

Warm Bodies: It’s Got Brains…and Heart—Movie

February 13, 2013

“Warm Bodies” finally gives zombies some long overdue, positive screen time and they take the ball and run with it. Well, run may be the wrong word…slog, amble…might be more accurate, but who cares? Bottom line…in one fell swoop, Warm Bodies has rehabilitated the zombie image from fear-inducing flesh eaters to confused, lonely souls really looking for hugs…and dare they hope…love and understanding.Warm Bodies

Directed by Jonathan Levine with screenplay by Levine, based on Isaac Marion’s novel, “Warm Bodies” take a fresh look at the zombie life through the eyes of R, a perfectly cast Nicholas Hoult. R “lives” with a group of zombies in an airport. Through R we learn that zombies have friends, although the lack of communication skills makes sharing confidences difficult. R’s best friend and wingman is M (Rob Corddry). Watching the two of them evolve their friendship is almost worthy of a movie featuring just them.

Unlike vampires who feed on blood, zombies need human flesh in order to survive. It’s during one of the searches for “food” that R and his compadres come upon Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her friends. Amidst the ensuing battle between humans and zombies, Julie’s and R’s eyes lock and both are “done for.” Love at first sight aside, R still kills and eats the brains of Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), albeit out of her view. We learn from R that eating the brains is the best part of a human and that feasting on someone’s brain gives the zombie the memories of that now deceased being.

R rescues Julie from impending doom and the two of them begin to connect. Through this connection, R begins to experience some changes and those changes eventually make their way to the brotherhood of zombies.

“Warm Bodies” is the antithesis of  the “Twilight” films. Although Julie looks like a blonde Bella, Julie actually smiles. Bella’s father accepts her relationship with Edward, but as a sheriff seems blithely unaware early that Seattle has a vampire population. Julie’s father (John Malkovich) is not quite as understanding, and as leader of the remaining humans in his city, is all too aware of his zombie problem. As far as leading men go, Edward is no match for R. Even in R’s spaced-out form, his eyes are a wonder to behold. “Twilight” is somber while “Warm Bodies” doesn’t take itself all that seriously and its dialogue is extremely witty. Finally, unlike “Twilight,” everyone in “Warm Bodies” can act and, boy, does that make a difference.

“Warm Bodies’” supporting cast is great. Dave Franco’s role is brief, but done well and John Malkovich keeps the crazy to a minimum and is highly entertaining to watch. Analeigh Tipton, as Julie’s supportive best friend, Nora, is building a solid body of terrific work (a lucky loser in Cycle 11 of America’s Next Top Model), most recently seen as the love-struck babysitter in “Crazy, Stupid Love.”

“Warm Bodies” is not “Romeo and Juliet,” but its heart is warm and it does the zombies fellowship proud. It’s a fun time at the movies.

3 nuggets out of 4

The Motherf**ker with the Hat: Not As F**king Great As It Could Be—Theatre

February 12, 2013

An outrageous title does not a great play make. Despite terrific performances by all, Studio Theatre’s “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” falls short…although at 2 hours and no intermission it doesn’t feel that way.  An explosive study of relationships—the yings and yangs, trust, deception and the many facets of love, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” starts off well. However, the constant fighting, bickering and speechifying ultimately weighs the play and audience down and keeps it from becoming as terrific as it should be.The Motherfucker with the Hat

A five-person play with a minimalistic set, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” takes place in New York City. Jackie (Drew Cortese), on parole from prison and committed to sobriety, has just landed a job. Armed with flowers and other goodies, he rushes to the apartment he shares with long-time girlfriend, Veronica (Rosal Colón) to celebrate the good news. All is well until Jackie notices a man’s hat in a corner of the room that doesn’t belong to him. He demands to know who’s the The Motherf**ker with the Hat” and when Veronica doesn’t come clean, he rushes off to seek lodging and comfort from his sponsor, Ralph D (Quentin Maré).  Ralph and his wife, Victoria (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), have their own volatile relationship and keeping Jackie in their midst doesn’t help their situation. Added to the mix is Jackie’s Cousin Julio (Liche Ariza), a fitness freak and the play’s voice of reason.

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Serge Selden, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” is a play of huge personalities, save one…Ralph D. His low-keyness is very deceiving and it’s his actions that actually serve as the catalyst for much of the play’s conflict. It’s a tricky performance to pull off and Maré nails it. Drew Cortese and Rosal Colón are great together and their scenes are cringe-inducingly realistic. Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey has a smaller role than the other actors, but her work with Cortese and Maré are especially good and she portrays the role of put-upon, betrayed wife with genuine disgust and weariness.  Liche Ariza’s Julio provides much-needed comic relief in a volatile, tense play, but as his stage time increases, we realize that there is more to his performance than first meets the eye.

“The Motherf**ker with the Hat” is not bad…it’s just not as great as one thinks it will be. Ultimately it eventually betrays the audience and its terrific actors.

Through March 10

Metheny Theatre in the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington, DC

Hughie: Is That All There Is?—Theatre

February 12, 2013

In what is a pretty underwhelming, fairly short play (slightly under an hour), Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie” does provide the theatre-goer with two good performances.

Presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company and directed by Doug Hughes, “Hughie” is set in a 1928 New York City third-rate hotel lobby. When the play opens we gaze upon the hotel night clerk, Charlie Hughes (Randall Newsome), who’s bored beyond belief. To pass the time he imagines himself engaged in the various activities he hears outside. This is relayed to the audience through the play’s constant voice-over. His boredom is broken when Erie Smith (Richard Schiff) enters the lobby.playpages_hughie

Over the course of the play, Erie unburdens himself to Charlie…and burden it is. From Erie himself we learn that he’s a gambler–horses in particular–whose luck has taken a turn for the worse since the former hotel night clerk, Hughie, died. In fact, he’s in mourning and hasn’t been himself since Hughie first went to the hospital. Charlie is more than anxious for Erie to go up to his room so he can get back to daydreaming, but after a few fits and starts, the two begin to take to one another. As that happens, Erie begins to feel his luck might be changing for the better.

And that, my friends, is “Hughie.” In short, out with the old, in with the new.

Schiff is very good as the down on his luck gambler. You can literally feel the loneliness…the weariness…oozing out of his bones. As the new night clerk, Newsome compellingly portrays tolerance turning into interest and friendship as he begins to take a shine to Erie.

But good performances aside, this feels like a slight of a play. When it’s over, you’re left wondering, “Is that all there is?” The short answer is, “yep.”

 

Through March 17

Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC

Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Closing; Just Be There—Theatre

February 12, 2013

The Round House Theatre’s production of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a testosterone-filled theatrical experience that should not be missed. Directed by Mitchell Hébert, this play features brilliant performances by all with not one dead minute that allows you to think about plans for the next day. It’s just that great.

Set in 1984, “Glengarry Glen Ross” is the story of Chicago real estate salesmen, scratching to make a living, hunting for sales leads and doing whatever it takes to get those leads. It’s not a pretty picture, but boy, is it fabulous to watch.  The play begins in a Chinese restaurant as we follow three different sets of two salesmen or clients and then the action seamlessly moves to the office. No one seems happy with their lot in life. Selling is hard. The highs of a sale are euphoric, but the downs can be more traumatic…where’s the next sale…who has the good lead…have I lost my mojo?Glengarry Glen Ross

As noted earlier, all the actors give tremendous performances, but Rick Foucheux, Kenyatta Rogers and Alexander  Strain must be singled out for special kudos. Foucheux is no stranger to DC audiences and as Shelly Levene, the down on his luck salesman who needs just one good lead to turn things around, or so he believes, literally reeks of desperation. This is one of Foucheux’s best portrayals ever. Strain’s Richard Roma simply astounds. He masterfully handles Mamet’s dialogue and his inflections are sheer perfection.  Kenyatta Rogers’ character, John Williamson, the sales manager, starts off slowly and we wonder what he’s all about. But once he gets going, watch out. His scenes with Foucheux are especially dynamic.

Mention must be made of James Kronzer’s scenery. The Chinese restaurant is spot-on and when it transforms into the sales office, you will gasp in awe.

When you watch “Glengarry Glen Ross,” you can’t help but think of the other terrific play about salesmen, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Both provide pretty bleak pictures of the salesman’s life.  “Death” looks at the lonely life of the salesman on the road, while “Glengarry” showcases the inner working of the office and its camaraderie and competitiveness. I don’t know why anyone would choose the life of sales, but that life has inspired dramatic masterpieces.

When you exit the Roundhouse’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” you’ll have witnessed theatre in all its richness. It’s what theatre is all about.

Through March 3

Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814


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