Archive for the ‘DC Scene’ Category

Selma: Doesn’t Quite Measure Up to Excellent Performances—Movie

January 18, 2015

In spite of some very good performance, “Selma” still feels and falls a little flat. Directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb, “Selma” is about the 1965 March for voting rights from Selma, Alabama to the Montgomery state capitol and the events leading up to the March.


“Selma” opens with Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Coretta Scott (Carmen Ejogo) getting ready for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony for which King is a recipient. This scene is important for showing us not only the esteem with which King is held, but in presenting, in a very subtle manner, the dynamic between Martin and Coretta. It’s loving relationship, but seems a little strained. From Oslo we go back to the United States where we meet Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey), a nurse in a rest home. It’s through her that we see how difficult it is for African-Americans to register to vote, regardless of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the courthouse, in an effort to register to vote, we watch Cooper going through hoops to answer ridiculous “qualifying” questions, the answers to which, no American would have the answers. It’s that scene and one other horrific scene which set the movie up perfectly for what is to come and demonstrates perfectly why the Selma marches are necessary and why King believes that it is so important that they happen on his time-frame, not President Johnson’s.

As King prepares for the initial march we are introduced to members of both the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Meeting at the home of old friends, the two groups discuss strategy and while SNCC favors a more aggressive approach, it acquiesces to the more non-violent pursuit of King’s SCLC. The resulting initial Selma march is shown in all its brutality. It and the aftermath are well-done, albeit very difficult to watch.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., David Oyelowo is outstanding. He never seems like he is doing an impersonation and his performance feels very genuine. Signing on to the film in its early 2010 origins, “Selma” became a passion project for him and he does King proud. A very unglamorous Oprah makes for a very compelling Annie Lee Cooper and in some ways, Cooper is the heart and soul of the film. Carmen Ejogo as Coretta gives an outstanding portrayal. Her performance is a very dignified one, much like the real Mrs. King many of us have seen or about whom we have read. Stephen James as a young John Lewis is also very good. In fact, the entire supporting cast is extremely good. Not so good, two important leads…surprisingly Tom Wilkinson as President Johnson and Tim Roth as George Wallace. Their accents and performances seem more like caricatures than the real people. To be the successful politicians they were, there had to be more to them than what we see on the screen. And perhaps it should be pointed out that these two actors are English and maybe this is what causes them to overdo the Southern drawl to cartoon levels. Oyelowo and Ejogo are also English, but neither lay the accent on so thick and are much more believable in their roles.

There has been some controversy about how President Johnson’s and Rev. King’s relationship is portrayed. That is something for historians to discuss. Regardless of what truly happened, no one can doubt that the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for true equality and the right for all Americans to vote, regardless of the color of their skin, was and is an important, hard-fought battle. There most definitely is a moving connection as we watch the final March take place and Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.This reviewer just wishes that the rest of “Selma” packed more of an emotional wallop. Some scenes do, but others do not and it’s hard to say just why that is the case. When the film is mixed with real footage of the day, more of that emotion resonates. There’s just not enough of that to bring “Selma” to that next level.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4


Famous Puppet Death Scenes: Death Does Not Become Them—Theatre

December 28, 2014

“We are all dying each moment; we’re dying as I speak,” says puppet Nathan Tweak in his opening monologue for “Famous Puppet Death Scenes.” He is correct…part of me died a little watching this recent offering from the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Created and conceived by Canada’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop, “Famous Puppet Death Scenes” is extremely imaginative and humorous in spots, but when it’s not funny, it just sits there and I do mean sit. The “play” consists of 22 little scenes enacted by puppets. Some scenes have humans taking center stage as well. Most of the scenes have a brutal tone to them as suggested by the title. Some of the scenes are shockingly funny in their violent end…the first time. But too often the same act is committed several times in the same scene and, hence, loses its surprise and its fun. Other times, the same violence is enacted in a different scene.

The male actors who do come out on stage to either perform with the puppets or do scenes on their own are immensely talented in their expressions and in their physicality. But no amount of talent can make waiting for a huge eye to blink either amusing or entertaining.

“Famous Puppet Death Scenes” is directed by Tim Sutherland, Peter Balkwill, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer and stars Nicholas Di Gaetano, Pityu Kenderes and Viktor Lukawski.

Once again, “Famous Puppet Death Scenes” is extremely original and the puppets are made to do some very unusual creative acts. But is it entertaining? For this reviewer, the answer is, “sadly, not very.”

“Famous Puppet Death Scenes runs through January 4.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

1 ½ nuggets out of 4

Bill Maher: Bitingly Funny No Matter the Venue—Comedy

September 15, 2014

Bill Maher enjoys such a devoted fan base that people (including me) will come to his show even when they’re not exactly sure what show they are seeing. Do we have tickets for HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” or our tickets for a live taping of an HBO special of his stand-up? In the September 12 crowd in which I stood outside DC’s Warner Theatre, we finally realized we were to be a part of Maher’s comedy special following his also live “Real Time” at DC’s Sidney Harmon Hall. Confused? No matter as long as you‘re entertained and boy were we ever.


Turns out Maher’s warm-up act was Maher himself as we watched his  “Real Time” show on the television provided by the theatre. Once that concluded our audience was treated to a play-by-play account of Maher’s motorcade/foot race to the Warner Theatre by none other than Keith Olbermann and filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore had a very funny line referencing Maher’s donation in the 2012 presidential election, by commenting that a “million dollar donation to the Obama campaign evidently buys one a police motorcade.” Whatever. On stage, Maher seemed no worse for wear from doing back-to-back shows. He opened his act with, “I had to run three blocks at breakneck speed to get here. Thank, God, I’m white.” And with that we were off.

Keith and Michael

Despite Maher’s liberal leanings, no one is safe from his caustically funny routine…not Democrats, the President nor the Clintons. But he saves his special bites for Republicans, Congress, racists and religion. Surprisingly, the only person to come out relatively unscathed was the Pope, referring to him as the “Joe Biden of Catholicism”…affectionately calling him, “Frank.”

One line that brought the house down was about the Republicans wondering how they could have lost twice to “Cedric the Entertainer.” But then he went on to say how hard it was to feel sorry for them when they “nominated the world’s oldest man for President who then chose the world’s stupidest woman for his running mate.” The partisan crowd absolutely lost it at that point. Some of Maher’s best small bits were about Donald Trump’s feud with him and John Boehner’s evident hormonal problems which cause him to cry.

Maher admits to showing his age when it comes to social media and taking and posting pictures of one’s private parts, saying he “associates typing with term papers, not sex.” His hour of levity ended with what else—a not to be repeated penis joke.

A Bill Maher comedy special comes with no applause signs. None are needed. The man is smart, energetic, and most important of all, hilarious. The next time his show comes your way, should take every opportunity to go see him…even if you are a religious Republican. Just bring your sense of humor and you’ll have a terrific time. For now, check your local listings for both his HBO shows—”Real Time” and the “Live From DC Special.”

4 nuggets out of 4

Freer Sackler: Welcome Relief From the Mall—Restroom

August 11, 2014

The Freer Sackler Gallery has many restrooms from which to choose, depending upon where you are in the Gallery. On this particular afternoon I was going to see a film in the Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium. Entering the Gallery from Independence Avenue, and after having my purse inspected, I made my way to the closest restroom near the guard. On a hot, humid August day, this room provided a refreshing break—cool and light—just what the doctor ordered.Freer Sackler

The restroom has four stalls and one handicapped booth, all with automatic flushers. There are four sinks, each with soap dispensers and a wall of mirrors above the sinks. The room has two paper towel dispensers and, for a change, there is no waving of hands or other gyrations necessary—you just pull the paper. At 1:30 p.m. the restroom was still neat and fully stocked. The room has a changing table and a little couch on which to sit.

This is a great place to be before partaking in some culture in other parts of the Gallery, attending one of the Gallery’s movies or just taking a break from the heat.

Freer Sackler 1050 Independence Ave SW,Washington, DC

Mandarin Oriental Hotel: A Gift from the Gods—Restroom

July 9, 2014

Ladies: Had a tough day in your dingy, grey, government building? Feeling like an unappreciated slug? Need to freshen up for a hot evening out? Amidst a sea of DC blandness, an oasis of splendor appears at 1330 Maryland Ave SW—the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.mandarin-oriental-washington-dc

Walk into the hotel like the queen you know you really are and head straight to the back, past the posher than posh glass-enclosed handbags and jewelry displays.

Open the door on the right and slip into the lap of luxury that awaits you in the Mandarin’s ladies’ restroom. Let all of your senses drink it in…the mirrors, the lighting and the hidden stalls to your left. To call them stalls is really an injustice. In reality, they are more like beautiful closets, each with its own wooden door. There are five of these “closets” and two larger handicapped “closets.”

Next take a look at the individual sinks. Each sink has its own mirror and each comes with bottles of Gilchrist and Soames soap and lotion for your cleansing 1 (3) When you are done, dry your hands with the monogrammed towels. Can they really be paper? To the touch they feel more like a luxurious 1500 thread count Egyptian cotton, but paper they are. photo 3 (2)It’s almost as if this is where paper goes to die. It seems like a sin to throw them away, but there is a beautiful wooden chest in which to discard 2 (3)

You can check yourself out in the full-length mirror and then it’s time to go. It will be hard to leave, but the rest of the evening…or day awaits.

Side Show: Perfection Squared—Theatre

June 23, 2014

The reimagined production of the musical, “Side Show,” currently playing at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, is as close to perfection as a play can come. A dramatic story beautifully sung and acted by every single cast member, “Side Show” is a stunning piece of work. This new production (in association with the La Jolla Playhouse), adds depth with fresh material to the 1997 Broadway musical, and is directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon,with music by Henry Krieger, book and lyrics by Bill Russell and additional book material by (3)

“Side Show” is based on the real-life story of Daisy and Violet Hilton,conjoined twins born in early 20th century England. Abandoned by their mother at birth, they were put up for adoption and raised by a woman who put them on display, charging money to see them. When the twins were young, the woman married a circus side-show manager who made them the featured act in his show. He treated them horribly, considering the two to be his personal property. While on tour in the U.S., the girls finally gained the where-with-all to sue for their freedom and won their suit. They were now able to make their own choices. But would they really ever be free and just what would their future hold? In dramatically entertaining fashion, “Side Show” gives us the before and after story of that freedom.

“Side Show” takes on the freak aspect of the girls’ lives head on with a terrific opening number, “Come Look at the Freaks” (although these days, a tattooed woman is not all that freakish). We are introduced to each member of the show by circus owner, Sir (Robert Joy), with standout performances from each cast member.  We then meet the twins, Daisy and Violet (Emily Padgett and Erin Davie). The two look amazingly alike, but they have very different personalities. Daisy is an extrovert who likes fame and attention, while Violet is more introverted and wants a husband and home. But what they both desire more than anything else is to be treated, as they tell us in song, “Like Everyone Else.”

Daisy’s and Violet’s freak show existence is given a huge jolt in Texas when smooth-talking  talent agent, Terry (Ryan Silverman), and vocal and dance coach, Buddy (Matthew Hydzik), visit the show. Under their tutelage the twins grow more confident and when Terry encourages them to sue for their freedom and leave the show for the Orpheum Circuit, they do just that. It is a hard break because the circus cast has become their family. But with loyal friend, Jake (David St. Louis), leaving with them, the separation is made easier and their hopes are high as they begin their tour. But will they get the lives they imagined? Will they be happier? Who’s to say.

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie are equally fantastic. Their singing—either in unison or apart—is absolutely beautiful. Through their voices we really understand the highs and lows of the twins’ lives. How these two actresses manage to sing, dance and act so closely together every day is unimaginable. Theirs is a spectacular performance.

With the twins’ closing song of the first act, “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” you might think nothing could top that performance. Then the second act begins. Shortly thereafter Ryan Silverman’s Terry takes center stage, ruminating over his conflicting feelings for Daisy with a “A Private Conversation.” His voice fills the theatre in show-stopping theatre magic. Just when you’ve begun to recover emotionally and wonder if “Side Show” can possibly soar any higher, David St. Louis’ Jake comes forward to profess his love for one of the sisters in “You Should Be Loved.” It’s another heart-stopping moment of song.

In addition to the acting, singing and dancing, the costumes are also spectacular. The sisters wear gorgeous dresses throughout, and the costumes and makeup for the other characters are equally impressive.

“Side Show” is not a happy, go-lucky musical, but musical theatre in the very best sense of the words. It’s theatre you won’t soon forget.

“Side Show” runs through July 13.

4 nuggets out of 4

Lewis Black’s The Rant is Due: Paid in Full—Comedy

April 13, 2014

Lewis Black was in vintage form for his Thursday, April 10 show, “The Rant is Due,” at DC’s Warner Theatre. That is a good thing. Full of rage, venom, and just out-and-out funny, Black was on fire.The Rant is Due

So what was it this time? Black is from the DC area and given the fact that the show started late because he was stuck in Cherry Blossom traffic, he was certainly handed a jumping off point from which to rant. And rant Black did…beginning with the once upon a time stupidity of two-lane Virginia vs. three-lane Maryland. Then it was on to pedestrians and  traffic patterns. And don’t get him started on the tourists. Their poor ears must have been burning.

Is there anything Lewis Black does like? Tahiti. Dear God, how he loves Tahiti. To quote, “Lose your f**king kids in the store…get out and get on the plane. It’s the Garden of F**k Eden.  His best line about Tahiti was: “I was confused about my feelings about Crimea and after three days in Tahiti, I don’t “f**king care.”

Then it was back to what he hates. What Black seems to despise more than anything and anyone are politicians…especially the ones responsible for the government shutdown. While he was going on and on, I had a thought—perhaps if these politicians came to his show and listened to what Black had to say and the audience’s reaction to him, they might think twice about ever shutting down the government again.  Calling John Boehner “the mood ring of politicians,” and taking on President Obama for the healthcare web site failure…no one and nothing was safe from his hysterical ire.

Some of Black’s best barbs came in response to the audience’s demeanor. For whatever reason, some audience members felt it was OK (it’s not) to shout out. Given his disposition, this was risky, but Black handled them masterfully and one of his top lines of the evening was, “perhaps we should decorate the set with library books so people will know to be quiet.” Ouch!

Black had two opening acts—John Bowman and Joe Kashnow. Bowman, Black’s long-time show companion had some terrifically droll observations about performing at Penn State during the Sandusky trial. His riff about Justin Bieber was very funny, calling him Michael Jackson in reverse (think about it and it will hit you). Kashnow was recently profiled in the Washington Post. He is a wounded Iraqi war vet who was one of several chosen to appear in the recent documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.” Kashnow did about 10 minutes and shows a lot of promise. His bit about dying on the installment plan was extremely clever and amusing.

But face it—folks came to hear Lewis Black say things many of us think, but pay him to say it funny. He didn’t disappoint.

4 nuggets out of 4

The German Doctor: Terrifyingly Real—Movie

April 8, 2014

We’ve grown so accustomed to watching creep-fests–Hannibal, The Following and, most recently, True Detective–portray the most gruesome acts to humans and the human body in stunningly artful forms, we forget that atrocities happen in real life to real human beings and they are not so prettily done.  “The German Doctor” forces us to remember.

The German DoctorProduced, written and directed by Lucía Puenzo, based on her novel, Wakolda, “The German Doctor” focuses on the Nazis who took refuge in Argentina after WWII, some of whom continued their horrific practices of experimenting on humans in order to “create the perfect race.” “The German Doctor” is part history, part mystery and most especially, completely compelling.

Set in 1960s Argentina, “The German Doctor” first presents us with Lilith (Florencia Bado), a young girl playing outdoors, unaware that she’s being watched by a man (Àlex Brendemühl). They strike up a conversation over her doll and she reveals that although she’s very short, she’s actually 12. One gets a weird feeling about him and wonders if his interest in her is sexual, but that proves not to be the case. He next encounters Lilith’s entire family in a “chance” meeting as the family is getting ready to move out-of-town.  Lilith’s mother, Eva (Natalia Oreiro), has inherited her parents’ hotel in the mountains and they are moving in order to take over its management. Introducing himself as a doctor, he tells the family he is heading in the same direction as them, but since he is unfamiliar with the country-side, asks if he can follow them. Lilith’s father, Enzo (Diego Peretti), seems a bit wary, but he agrees and as they make their way there is some bonding during some tough driving conditions. It turns out that the doctor is staying practically next door to the family and, thus, he is gradually and easily able to insinuate himself into their lives as someone they all come to trust, especially Lilith and Eva.

But is their trust misplaced? Just who is this mysterious doctor? “The German Doctor” proves that people can have suspicious feelings, but somehow their desire to see the best in others can outweigh their good sense to see what is right in front of them.

Selected as the Argentine entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, “The German Doctor” is terrifically acted and will have you thinking long after the credits have rolled. It is well worth seeking out.

This film is set to release April 25. For those lucky enough to live in DC, the “Good Doctor” will also be shown at Filmfest DC in April. For more information, visit

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

We Are Proud to Present: An Explosive Insight—Theatre

March 9, 2014

The Woolly Mammoth Theatre production, “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915,” is very much an in-your-face play about race relations and the creative process.

WAP-web-imageWritten by Jackie Sibblies and directed by Michael John Garcés, “We Are Proud to Present” takes place in a warehouse-like setting where six actors are developing a play about the German colonization of South West Africa and the atrocities that occurred during that colonization. The actors are only known as Black Man, Black Woman, White Man and White Woman. As they attempt to find the voice of the characters and the play through the use of real letters written by a soldier to his wife, Sarah, their own feelings about race bubble to the surface, resulting in an explosive finale.

What happened in South West Africa and its people was horrific. But while the acting in the play is phenomenal, somehow the plight of the country gets lost amidst the device used to tell its story—the thought process. We’re actually watching the thinking that goes into putting on a play…we get to see what normally goes on behind closed doors, before we get the final product on stage. For me, as an audience member, that became more interesting. How does an actor get into character? Do they take the work home with them? Do feelings linger? How do actors make the characters real to themselves? “We Are Proud to Present” showcases all these questions and this is the part of the play I found utterly fascinating, even though that wasn’t supposed to be my takeaway, I am sure. Adding to my conundrum was the ending. To be honest, I didn’t understand the change in the actors and in talking to other audience members…they didn’t either.

Each actor gets his or her chance to shine and all are terrific. Dawn Ursula seems to be the director/actor for the play within the play and is wonderful. She has the most expressive face and voice and “We Are Proud to Present” showcases her talent. Holly Twyford is wonderful when playing Sarah. Joe Isenberg and Andreu Honeycutt are ferociously and scarily brilliant as the younger male actors and Michael Anthony Williams and Peter Howard are both great as the voices of reason throughout the play.

As one has come to expect from a Woolly Mammoth production, the set design from Misha Kachman, while sparse, is outstanding and works beautifully.  Meghan E. Healey’s costumes are also spot-on.

Perhaps “We Are Proud to Present” tries to accomplish too much. Although it will give you something to think about, it ultimately misses the mark.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4



Seminar: Sign Up Now—Theatre

February 25, 2014

Just as “Inside Llewyn Davis” was a cautionary tale for those contemplating a career as a singer, the Bethesda Round House Theatre’s production, “Seminar,” puts the fear of God into those thinking they might be the next great novelist. Written by Theresa Rebeck and sharply directed by Jerry Whiddon, “Seminar” is a dark, but often funny look at the creative process and those who think they have the “gift.”

Seminar “Seminar” opens with a group of four 20-something writers gathering in a NYC apartment for a writing seminar with renowned novelist, Leonard (Marty Lodge). As we first meet them, save for Izzy (Laura C. Harris), none of them seem terribly likeable–all having that stereotypical NYC pseudo-intellectual aura about them. But as we get to know them, we begin to see that each really has a ton of insecurities–as writers and as human beings.  This becomes even more apparent when Leonard enters the fray and begins to critique each one’s work.  But Leonard is not without his own problems, coming with his own baggage as well as a mega-chip on his shoulders. What made Leonard the way he is? Do any of these writers have any kind of potential to make it? And just what constitutes success? “Seminar” attempts to address these questions and does so, for the most part, very satisfactorily and entertainingly.

Rebeck knows whereof she speaks. She’s enjoyed success as a playwright and writer for many television series. As the creator of 2013’s “Smash,” she also knows what it’s like to have one’s world upended when things don’t go according to plan. She brings all of this experience to her play, giving “Seminar” a huge dose of reality.

“Seminar” comes with a terrific cast. While all are very good, the standouts in this ensemble are Lodge, Katie deBuys as Kate and Alexander Strain as Martin. deBuys, so wonderful in Woolly Mammoth’s “Stupid F***king Bird” of last season, continues to shine.  It’s in her character’s apartment that the seminars meet and, therefore, she’s in nearly every scene. Her face is able to convey a variety of emotions that can be seen from the most distant seats. When her work is criticized, anyone who’s ever tried to write can identify with her reaction. Strain is terrific as the writer who’s really afraid to put his work out there. He actually fears criticism. His Martin is the member of the group with the most potential and the most psychological problems. The chip on his shoulder rivals that of Leonard’s, which might not be too unusual, since he is the most like Leonard.  Finally there is Marty Lodge. His character stirs the plot and as such he is fantastic. He very realistically portrays someone who has known what it is to have great success, lose it and try to rebuild. His Leonard is cunning, mean-spirited, belligerent and ultimately genuine.

A shout out must be given to James Kronzer’s sets and Ivania Stack’s costumes. The clothes are absolutely spot-on for this group and rarely does one hear applause for a set change as I did the night I was in the theatre.

If you love great acting in a witty, entertaining play, “Seminar” should be on your radar. It runs through March 2, so there is still time to get your ticket.

Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814, Box Office: 240.644.1100

3 ½ nuggets out of 4


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