Archive for the ‘DC Scene’ Category

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin: That’s All You Need to Know—Theatre

February 24, 2014

Mandy, Mandy, Mandy…What are you doing on “Homeland?”As my heart raced and then melted after he finished singing Some Enchanted Evening, I couldn’t help but think this. And this was just after the fourth number.An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” is everything you’d want from the two…but still you leave the theatre wanting to spend more time with them. The two have known each other since 1978 and it shows. It’s like they can read each other’s musical minds. With just a piano and bass for accompaniment, LuPone and Patinkin entertain for nearly two hours. And what entertainment it is.

As the program begins, the theatre is dark. Then the lights come up with the spotlight on the two, and they begin singing Stephen Sondheim’s Another Hundred People. Patti’s wearing some sort of black/navy jumpsuit with a scarf and Mandy’s dressed in similarly colored shirt and pants. It’s all quite casual and playful and simply wonderful.

It’s hard to get an intimate feel in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre, but somehow these two performers manage to pull it off. Conceived by Patinkin and Paul Ford, the program is sprinkled with remembrances of LuPone and Patinkin, with dialogue from musicals and just chit-chat between old friends and the audience. And often the chitchat turns into a beautiful number. While many of the songs are performed together, each gets a chance to shine in solos. LuPone brings the house down with “Gypsy’s” Everything’s Coming up Roses and Patinkin rips your heart with his rendition of “Passion’s” Loving You. When the two conclude “Carousel’s” If I Loved You, the silence from the audience is palpable. But the program is not all heartache and tears. They have a blast with Kander and Ebb’s Old Folks, and Patinkin goes off the rails in a great way with Sondheim’s The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues.

Tony-award winning choreographer Ann Reinking provides some interesting dance movements for the two using chairs or just their hands. It sounds simple, but it works and brings a bit more pizzazz to the whole production.An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin 1

LuPone and Patinkin sing more than 30 songs and somehow it seems greedy to want more. But I do. And so I ask again…Mandy, Mandy, Mandy…paying the mortgage aside…what are you doing with “Homeland?” Could a musical episode please be in the works? Until that happens, be on the lookout for “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” in your neck of the woods.

4 nuggets out of 4

Who is the Next Comedic Star?—Comedy

January 27, 2014

Who is the next comedic star? From where will the next Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld or Sarah Silverman come? It’s quite possible that this new bright comic will be found at the DC Improv Comedy School Comics Showcase.DC Improv Comics Showcase

Held in the DC Improv Lounge on a Friday evening, not just anyone gets to take the floor (there is no stage). These stars-in-the-making first have to hone their craft in the DC Improv Comedy School—an intense program taught by a professional comedian—someone who actually makes a living doing standup comedy. And what happens when you’ve finished the classes? You have your graduation, doing a five-minute set in the “Big Room” before a real paying audience of everyone’s friends and families. Sure, folks will laugh for their friends, but what about you?

I confess. I am a graduate…in fact, a two-time graduate with about five years between the two graduations. Take it from me, those five minutes can either feel like five seconds or five years. I actually got laughs, applause and got a whole host of new, funny friends. And it’s positively mind-blowing to think that you are performing on the same stage that played host to Dave Chappelle, Kevin Nealon, Jerry, Chris and Kathy, just to name a few (I even wondered if I was holding the same microphone as Kathy—that made me sweat just thinking about it). But I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to keep at it…to keep performing. For me, it was just too stressful.

But the folks I saw Friday, January 24, kept at it…and they were terrific. There were six performers, including my former classmate Leon Scott. All came with different points of view. Depending upon your taste, some were better than others—for me, Leon was one of the real standouts, but all were very good. With more gigs under their belts, who knows what can happen? And the whole evening just cost  ten dollars…quite the bargain for getting in on the ground floor of promising new careers.

The DC Improv also holds improv classes with a graduation performance before a paying audience. I took several of those classes and had the thrill of performing with my classmates.

So, if you’re looking for an inexpensive evening out with the chance to discover new talent, take a look at the DC Improv. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to take a class yourself.

202.296.7008, 1140 Connecticut Avenue NW, WDC 20036

(One block north of Farragut Metro on Red Line)

John Oliver: Stands and Delivers at DC’s Warner Theatre—Comedy

November 13, 2013

John OliverSubbing for Jon Stewart as the host of “The Daily Show,” John Oliver was a smash. But was that a fluke…the result of good “Daily Show” writers? Judging from the non-stop laughter at his Friday, November 8 standup performance, John Oliver is one wittily funny man all on his own. Playing to a very diverse audience at D.C.’s Warner Theatre, Oliver provided gentle digs at everyone, including himself.  He immediately had the audience on his side with just his self-introduction. From there the rest of the evening was a piece of cake.

Born in England, but living in the U.S. for the past seven years, Oliver has a unique perspective from which to do standup. He’s one of us, but he’s not one of us. He pokes with affection at the blunders of his birth nation—“how could they send their most hardened criminals to Australia, paradise on Earth? What was the thinking?”  But then he goes off on a riff of U.S. political foibles—Congress has a 10% approval rating…however, polls don’t record sarcasm…badaboom.  No one is spared…not White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Rick Perry or others too numerous to mention. Many American “traditions”—t-shirt cannons, home-run derbies…the list goes on and on—come in for their share of jabs. But to our credit, Oliver says that while America may be a bad boyfriend, the rest of the world is a bad girlfriend.

Many comedians come to the District and flatter us by saying that DC audiences are the smartest. While I like to think that is true, I live here and know that might not be exactly correct.  It’s possible that we’re more up to speed on politics, but otherwise we’re pretty much like everyone. Case in point—in starting a story, Oliver threw out the question to a woman in the front row—“What first comes to mind when you think of Egypt?” Her response? “Sand.” That was definitely not the answer he was expecting. It sent him into peals of laughter. When he recovered, he went off on that response for a good 10 minutes. And with the dexterity of a skilled comedian, came back to that response over and over again.

While Oliver’s routine is splattered with f**k’s throughout, his commentary is clean, good-natured comedy. An evening with John Oliver is like sitting next to your high-school class clown for about 90 minutes of just all-out fun. If you love Oliver on “The Daily Show,” you’ll love and appreciate him even more after seeing his show.

Future performance dates can be found at

4 nuggets out of 4

Detroit: Visit to the Motor City Falls Short—Theatre

October 1, 2013

“Detroit,” the first play of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company season, is terrifically acted and has a great set, but ultimately its story falls short.Detroit1

Written by Lisa D’Amour and directed by John Vreeke, “Detroit” is about two couples who live next door to one another in a close-in suburb of Detroit. Ben and Mary have lived in the neighborhood for a while and Sharon and Kenny have just moved in. Ben is recently unemployed and is starting an online business from home, while Mary works full-time. It’s not clear what Sharon and Kenny do, but Kenny has worked in construction.

As the play begins, the couples are getting together for a barbecue. It’s very much like a first date with someone you don’t know very well. Conversation comes in fits and starts…too much laughter at a joke…that kind of thing. But awkwardly a friendship develops between the couples. More frequent get-togethers occur and gradually secrets about one another are revealed as the gatherings become more boisterous. But how much do the new friends really know about one another?

As noted earlier, “Detroit” boasts phenomenal acting. Emily K. Townley and Tim Getman as Ben and Mary are fabulous. Townley, a Woolly regular, is never bad, and she shines as the unsure, volatile older neighbor. Getman’s role is more understated, but he excels at letting us know there’s more emotion beneath his calm exterior. Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey and Danny Gavigan are terrific as the slightly mysterious, unpredictable younger couple. Their scenes with their respective same-sex neighbors are especially good.

Woolly has configured the stage so that you are looking at the back of the two homes including backyards. Additionally, multi-media gives you the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. The audience is on both sides of the stage (front and back). It does make you feel like you are sitting in on the conversations taking place—the only trouble is that often one of the speaking actors has his/her back to you.

So what is the problem with the play? Despite all it has going for it, “Detroit” feels very static and at some point I just stopped caring. The play’s notes say that “America’s middle class is disappearing, and these two couples begin the play suspended over the abyss.” I didn’t make that connection and the story…the words…they just didn’t engage me.

That said, time spent with the Woolly Company is never a total miss. In “Detroit’s” case, the acting makes up for a lot.

Runs through October 6.

2 nuggets out of 4

The Velocity of Autumn: Terrific in Any Season—Theatre

September 12, 2013

“You know you’re getting old when you start making sound effects for your body.”

Chris (Stephen Spinella)

Accepting the fact that you are getting older and dealing with that fact is the theme for the amazing dark comedy, “The Velocity of Autumn.” Written by Eric Coble and directed by Molly Smith, “The Velocity of Autumn” is Arena Stage’s new play and it is a winner.IMG00256-20130912-2024

The play stars Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella as mother and son, Alexandra and Chris. When the curtain opens, we find Alexandra barricaded in her Brooklyn apartment.  She’s threatening to blow up her Park Slope home, and, in truth, her home is an explosion waiting to happen. She knows her other son and daughter (only referred to but never seen) want her to move into some kind of elder care facility, fearing she’s too old to care for herself…and as she later confesses, she has experienced periods of confusion. Making an unexpected, hilarious entrance into her apartment is Chris. He’s come at the behest of his siblings to talk their mother safely out of her apartment.

And what a talk it is. Chris left Brooklyn 20 years ago, never to return. As he tells Alexandra, he didn’t feel free in New York. The more the two talk, the more Chris…and the audience…realize that son and mother have so much in common. Chris is an artist like his mom and has her sensibilities. Like her, he is afraid of growing old.

The two actors are astounding; they actually seem like mother and son. You can see Parson’s face visibly light up when she talks about her character’s love for art and her son. And as Spinella talks about suicide, his life out west, art and how he felt growing up, it feels very real…the audience is so quiet, you can literally hear a pin drop.

Eric Coble’s writing is phenomenal. The characters are completely drawn and the dialogue is chock full of witticisms that mean something.  When Alexandra says, “I don’t know how to be old,” you find yourself nodding in agreement. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a line about aging resonate more than when she exclaims, “I’m not me anymore, whoever me was…soon there will be less and less me.”

There are expectations that “The Velocity of Autumn” will make it to Broadway. If that happens, it is Broadway’s gain. But right now “The Velocity of Autumn” is in DC and you should take every opportunity to see it.

Runs through October 20, 2013

Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC  20024

4 nuggets out of 4

The Book of Mormon: Say “Hello” Now—Theatre

August 7, 2013

Like “The Book of Mormon,” I believe.  I believe The Kennedy Center’s production of “The Book of Mormon” is the best musical I have seen in quite some time. You can believe, too. Believe all the hype that surrounds this amazing show.Book of Mormon-KenCen

Frequently the touring production of a Broadway hit can be a letdown. But it’s hard to how imagine that what you’ll see at NYC’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre could be any better than what you’ll see at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC.

With book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, “The Book of Mormon” takes an irreverent look at the “selling” of Mormonism. In truth, however, this play could be about any organized religion that seeks to spread its message and gain converts (see Bill Maher’s “Religulous”).  “The Book of Mormon” is really smart, extremely creative, funny, offensive and loving…yes loving. With “South Park’s” Parker and Stone at the helm, would you expect anything else? Their series is routinely profane and hilarious, but it’s also full of heart. So it is with “The Book of Mormon.”

“Mormon” is the story of Elder Price (Mark Evans) and his follower, Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill),  and their efforts to bring Mormonism to Uganda. It’s about losing faith and finding it again.

The Kennedy Center cast is phenomenal. The two leads are absolutely fantastic. O’Neill is terrific as follower Cunningham who finds his confidence and voice in Africa. It’s impossible to believe that this is his professional debut as a theatrical performer. How is that possible? He delivers his lines like a Broadway veteran and sings and dances with abandon. I thought, at first, that he might over shadow Evans’ Elder Price. I was wrong.  Evans holds his own and then some.  His Price is the Mormon who has always done what’s expected of him and is used to being viewed as “the chosen one.” When he is sent to Uganda rather than the hoped-for Orlando, his faith is severely tested. Price manages to reinvigorate his beliefs in the number, “I Believe.” At that moment, Mark Evans owns the stage and it’s positively magical.

The supporting cast is extremely strong. Samantha Marie Ware’s Nabulungi has an especially beautiful voice and does a great job at conveying naiveté and joy.

Each number is choreographed to perfection and the sets and costumes are astounding. “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” in particular, is a stand-out as are the opening and closing versions of “Hello.”

The Kennedy Center‘s “Book of Mormon” production runs through August 18. The touring company will be making the rounds of other cities throughout the year. Be it NYC, DC, Chicago or any city, for that matter…see it! See it! See it!

Runs through August 18

4 nuggets out of 4

Hirshhorn Museum: Beliefs, Dogs and Hangers Wow the Senses

August 1, 2013

I never thought that Malcolm X and I would have much in common until I paid a visit to the lower level of DC’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. There, on a wall, in big, bold letters is his quote, “Give your brains as much attention as you do your hair and you’ll be a thousand times better off.” Wow! That sums me up in a nutshell. This quote is part of a remarkable exhibit, “Belief + Doubt,” by artist Barbara Kruger. Phrases in caps are mounted all over the lower level lobby—walls, doors, escalators, floors and bookstore. Made out of vinyl, the quotes are in black, white and red and come in a variety of sizes. They speak to our assumptions and doubts, magnified to the nth degree. The exhibit is really a feast for your eyes and brains and is on display through 2014.Belief

From the “Belief” area I ventured to other parts of the museum. A trip to the second floor, right off the escalator, brought me face to face with Dan Steinhilber’s white hanger sculpture—a virtual forest of hangers.  Part of the “Over Under Next” display, I don’t know why, but I found this display absolutely fascinating. It stopped me dead in my tracks. This exhibit runs through September 8.hangers (3)

Through his “Here and There” exhibit, Peter Coffin has a variety of artistic works on display, but for me nothing tops or will ever top his massive, creepy dog sculpture. This untitled work of art is mammoth and sinister looking. The canine’s blue eyes against its brown “skin” are very “Cujo”-like eerie. They seem to stare into one’s very soul.  And don’t get me started on the pointy ears. You want to touch this piece just to be sure it’s only art. But rules aside, you fear one touch would make it spring to life and devour you immediately. Coffin’s exhibit is on display until October 6.Peter Coffin's Untitled Dog

There’s nothing staid or old-fashion about the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. You discover something new every time you go inside. If you haven’t been, what are you waiting for? If you have taken a tour, perhaps it’s time for a return visit.

The Hirshhorn is located on the National Mall at the corner of 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW. Admission is free.

A Better Tomorrow: See It Today—Movie

July 15, 2013

Wild gunfights, almost operatic in nature, help make John Woo’s 1986 “A Better Tomorrow” so much more than your standard violent for violent’s sake movie. Shown as part of the 18th Annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival (DC), “A Better Tomorrow” gives today’s audience the opportunity to view director Woo’s early work as well as that of actors Chow Yun Fat and Leslie Cheung … and see why all three became big stars.A Better Tomorrow

At its core “A Better Tomorrow” is about two sets of relationships and what happens when they intersect. The first revolves around the friendship of two criminals working for a major Hong Kong crime syndicate involved in counterfeiting–Ho (Lung Ti) and Mark (Chow Yun Fat).  The second centers on Ho and his brother, Kit (Leslie Cheung), who is beginning a career in law enforcement. Kit is unaware that his brother is a criminal and he eventually discovers Ho’s involvement under horrible circumstances.  It’s that discovery which causes an estrangement between the two and drives much of the plot forward.

Chow Yun Fat is a force of nature. He simply dominates the screen without even trying. His wicked smile lights up the room and yet he can give an empathetic turn as well. And I have to note that what he can do with a toothpick is astounding–I have never seen someone smoke with a toothpick in his mouth and, to be honest, I found that fascinating. Leslie Cheung is wonderful as the impulsive and stubborn Kit. Lung Ti’s role is the least flamboyant of the three, but his performance is the heart of the movie and he is terrific.

The supporting cast is very strong. Waise Lee’s understated performance as Shing is riveting. He is wonderful as Ho’s and Mark’s novice partner-in-crime with plans of his own. Mention must be made of Emily Chu’s portrayal of Jackie, Kit’s girlfriend. When we first meet her she is the klutz of all klutzes, but by film’s end she has morphed into someone of substance. In a movie dominated by machismo, she is a real standout.

With “A Better Tomorrow” John Woo’s career as a director took off in earnest and it’s easy to see why. He pays attention to details… from the clothing to the cigarette smoke to the pointing of the guns. His gunfight scenes are something to behold and the movie’s explosive finale merits the price of admission (if the Freer and Sackler Galleries charged admission).  I kept waiting for Mark to shout, “Yippee Ki Yay, mother f**kers!”  It would have been wholly appropriate.

Some of the film’s subtitles make no sense and cause the movie to be hard to follow at times. And, yes, a little of the movie is dated…the music…the technology. But the story itself is timeless and so is the action.

If you’re looking for one of the best in this genre, you can’t do much better that “A Better Tomorrow.”

The 18th Annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival at the Freer and Sackler Galleries runs through August 4. Admission is free and the final films are a tribute to Leslie Cheung. For more information go to

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Second City’s America All Better: Relapses from Laughing—Theatre

July 13, 2013

The Second City has put down stakes at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre and DC is the better for it. “America All Better” takes a look at America yesterday and today and no topic, I mean no topic is off-limits.America All Better 2

There is a certain rhythm to what the Second City troupe does. There are very short pieces followed by a longer piece. Some bits are scripted, some pieces are improvised. You might not get all of the short bits—they fly by so fast. At my performance there was a short piece about eavesdropping and it went by so quickly, most folk didn’t have time to process that the skit was about the Obama girls (Hint: it happens at the very beginning).

My showing had a very funny piece having to do with manatees per an audience suggestion. Some physical comedy was involved and it was hysterical.  Another piece was about gay marriage, and for this skit they used a member of the audience and brought him on stage. He was a very good sport and really added to the skit’s humor. A blind date piece in which one of the participants is so socially awkward that he has scripted every possible response to questions in advance was extremely funny, as was a segment near the end about what girls in the future can anticipate. Other funny short pieces were about the NRA, guns, Facebook and photography—Lincoln and Anthony Weiner…use your imagination. Are there misses? Yes…not every skit is a winner. The bit about Jesus addressing Congress was funny, but ran too long. The angry black woman piece was not especially funny or clever and could have used some editing. But in a performance with so many high notes, these are just a couple of hiccups.

The troupe—Aaron Bliden, Martin Garcia, Sayjal Joshi, Scott Morehead, Niccole Thurman and Claudia Michelle Wallace–is extremely talented. They can all sing, dance, act and of course, improvise. I found Joshi to have an especially terrific voice and personality and Martin Garcia seemed exceptionally versatile. The musical director, Jacob Shuda, also contributed mightily to the evening’s fun.

Although Second City is native to Chicago, the company had enough references to local DC life—not just national politics—to give it a real DC feel.  If you’re looking for an evening full of laughs, there’s no place better to be than at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre and The Second City’s “America All Better.”

Run extended through August 18

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

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Much Ado About Nothing: No, Much Ado About Something—Movie

July 8, 2013

Confession: While I am an admirer of Shakespeare, I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon. I absolutely love what Whedon has done with Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Although filmed on a shoestring in black and white in his own backyard (and what a backyard this is), Whedon’s film feels every bit as rich as Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 extravaganza.Much ado

“Much Ado” may be one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays. The plot is fairly simple. Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) are in love with one another…good thing, because they are too prickly to be good for anyone else. However, both are too proud to admit their attraction until friends and families conspire to bring them to their senses. But there is a roadblock to their happiness—Benedick’s friend, Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Beatrice’s niece, Hero (Jillian Morgese). They are about to be married until Hero’s virginity comes into question. Watching these events unfold, one has to remember that Shakespeare wrote this play in the late 1500s and even though this movie is filmed in the present day, we are in a 1500s mindset. Got it? So one does have to stifle the urge to run up to the screen and slap Claudio. In any event hilarity and romance ensue.

While not a big-name cast, “Much Ado” features actors from Whedon’s television shows, and these actors have come in full Shakespearean mode.  Alex Denisof is terrific as the full-of-himself Benedick, showing true slapstick chops never witnessed in “Buffy” or “Angel.” Amy Acker’s too smart for her own good, Beatrice, is divine, and Acker displays a real flair for comedy. Together, she and Denisof make sparks fly. Although played for laughs, as he should be, Nathan Fillion is terrific as Dogberry, careful not to go over the buffoonery top. In addition to Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese, Reed Diamond and Clark Gregg turn in great supporting performances.

Filming in black and white really does justice to “Much Ado’s” darker moments, lending a Hitchcockian tone to some of the sinister plotting. An added bonus to the movie is the setting to music of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Whedon meshes these beautifully into the film.

Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing”  proves that sometimes less is really just right. Even Shakespeare would approve.

4 nuggets out of 4

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