Friday, December 30, 2016

Metro Encounter...Damn that Steak!

METRO TALES


Coming home tonight on the Metro Red Line, I boarded at Dupont Circle and took a seat in the end of the car. It was a lone seat facing neither backwards nor forward but mounted against the exterior wall of the train facing the aisle. Two young African American women entered with me and sat together opposite me and in the last seats on my side, opposite the two women was a man already sprawled. The man was black and wearing a black toboggan hat and a puffy shiny mostly yellow coat and he had a duffle bag with him that he was sort of cradling as he listed like a ship about to come free of its moorings and we were still sitting still in the station... And here's where it gets a little tricky. Drunk? or Psychotic? Only people who are inebriated or mentally ill are as carefree and oblivious of others in public. There was an empty seat between him and myself, and he was kitty-cornered to the young women. As we all took notice of him, I began reading my play program and the women squirmed and pulled out their cell phones. He, for his part, didn't seem to take much mind in us. He was still in the thralls of his last meal and speaking it's praises over and over and over again, "that was one fine steak...he he he he, one fine steak and one fine baked potato! Ho ho ho ho...'at's why I'm so tired... he he he" He chuckled as he spoke and sometimes gave a little chuckle between every syllable as he repeat some form of praise for that steak and potato. The next stopped arrived and both ladies got up and left the train. It was a sparsely populated station and no one new got on. Neither fact bothered my friend has he just droned on and rocked back and forth, now hugging the duffle bag like a pillow. As we approached the next station he said, "I have never had such a sweet, juicy, perfect steak before in my life." He didn't say it to me, but I still looked right at him and smiled. And he noticed and looked at me and went into an even heartier rolling chuckle, as the train came to a stop. He grabbed the straps on the duffle and stood up and I said, to him, "That was a might fine steak!" And his eyes twinkled and he replied, "Yes, it was!" and as he passed me toward the entrance I called out to him, "Sweet dreams, my friend!" He shot me a little side wave chuckling all the way off the train. The older I get, the more I want to just be a part of what comes my way...even just a little part.

My Door for 2017...Is Dressed

I have to say that the majority of traditions that mark my holidays come from Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory". The roots of placing the cards I receive on my front door for the coming year can be found in this passage, I've no doubt.

"The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.

"Who are they for?

"Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o'clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we've ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you's on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder's penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops."


It used to be for many years I would host a gathering at this time of the year with a dinner proper, and then I would read to whole of the story to my guests.  If you're looking for a tradition to share with friends, this might just be the one to start!

Titanic!


Is there such a thing as too much theater? No? Good! I agree. There's good theater. There's bad theater. There's even mediocre, boring, sad, possibly pointless theater. And there's excellent theater. Theater that just thrills you every step along the way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before the show my longtime friend, Laura, and I stopped into Busboys & Poets across from Signature Theater and had a lovely dinner. Mediterranean Pasta with Shrimp for me, thank you. I rarely finish a pasta dish, but this one was so delicious and well proportioned that I happily ate it all and left feeling satisfied and not saturated! Great little DC restaurant chain. And then on to the main event: "Titanic"!
When entering the theater you are greeted by a Lego model of the Titanic...like I stood a chance in hell of not loving this show!




 When entering the theater you are greeted by a Lego model of the Titanic...like I stood a chance in hell of not loving this show! And the program came with a boarding pass that held a partial biography of one of the passengers. Such a clever marketing tool.


What an excellent evening! The staging was stunning and so well used in the execution of the production that it was almost another character in the story. While presented in the round, our seats felt like front and center to the action. All but one of the numbers seemed choreographed in our direction, and I wondered if those sitting along the other cardinal points felt the same way--I truly hope so.

The sound and sound effects were also exceptional. When the ship hit the iceberg at the end of the first half, it was so intense and unexpected that everyone in the place involuntarily jumped in unison! Talk about your communal experience! Not a slacker voice in the company either, and yet some really shone. Among the men Sam Ludwig as Frederick Barrett, Bobby Smith as Thomas Andrews, and Nick Lehan in multiple roles stood out for the emotional intensity of their interpretations. Equally, Iyona Blake as Caroline Neville/Mrs. Thayer hit such notes of excellence, that the audience paused in honor before erupting in applause! In the same way, Tracy Lynn Olivera as Alice Beane and Erin Driscoll as Kate Murphy captured the imagination of the audience whenever they commanded the stage. This ensemble is hellbent for a Helen Hayes nomination. Numbers like "Lady's Maid" and "The Blame" were so inspiring and intense in kind that my eyes pretty much ran a steady stream of approving tears. I just tend to leak when I let go and become a part of something so wonderful as this production. But the most powerful moments were saved for the end. And here's were the director's conceptual eye demands acknowledgement.

As Bobby Smith sang "Mr. Andrew's Vision" in his character's final desperate attempt to redeem the horror around him, from the nether regions of the theater's upper climes debris of suit cases and boxes and pieces of chairs slowly decended and dangled all around him until suddenly, without any warning some of the actors dove from above suspended in and among the debris. At first, they appeared to be "swimming" and then floating lifelessly. It was so fucking intense. I nearly felt like I could have reached out and touched the floating body of the bellboy Edward... I had no hesitation about standing at the end in ovation. 
 The cast in the amazing in the round sets--spectacular!
Sam Ludwig with shovel singing "Barrett's Song" from the boiler room
John Leslie Wolfe and Florence Lacey as Isidor and Ida Strauss founders of Macy's Department Stores
The cast in "What A Remarkable Age This Is"
The cast in "Lady's Maid"
Kevin McAllister as First Officer William Murdoch and Matt Conner as Second Officer Charles Lightoller--Ice Berg Dead Ahead!
Christopher Bloch as Captain E. J. Smith, Nicholas Lehan as Harold Bride telegrapher, Lawrence Redmond as J. Bruce Ismay, and Bobby Smith as Thomas Andrews--calling out for help, but none is nearby...
The Strauss' performing "Still" having decided to die together.

Peach Upside-Down Cake

It's easy!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

An Irish Carol @ Keegan Theater



Way back when I first envisioned doing a lot of local theater this fall, I wanted to go to as many different theaters and productions as possible.  I was aware of this theater on Church Street in the Dupont neighborhood.  It opened its doors two years after I moved to Takoma Park and it was just half a block from historic St. Thomas Episcopal Church were Integrity, DC met and with whom I was a board member from about 1995 to 2000.  Back then it was called fittingly enough "The Church Street Theater" and it began the reinvention of this wonderful building that was originally built as the gymnasium for a local private school.  Over the years the Church Street Players waned and a new group took the place over and renamed it the Andrew Keegan Theater in 2009.  This group bought the building outright and then renovated, revealing it's present form in 2013. 
And I have to say, it's absolutely an amazing performance space which creates rapport with the actors by it's shear warmth and proximity.  My seat was in the second row dead center--actor eye level.
This production was conceived of by me as my Christmas Break show.  (And then came along "Into The Woods" at the Kennedy Center Dec 25!...and "Titanic" at Signature Theater tomorrow evening, DEC 29)  Oh well.  If you're going to be up-staged, you certainly could do a lot worse!  So, how small is Keegan?  Well, they don't bother to print tickets.  You arrive and a handsome young man at a laptop looks up your will call and then uses a sharpy to write your seat on you program.  Well, except after he named my seat, he asked, "Do you want me to write that down for you?"  And my look caused him to quickly add, "No.  I bet you've already memorized it..."  Bingo, chico!  

So what is "An Irish Carol?"  It is a play that Keegan has done now for the past 6 years.  It was written by one of their own company members--the theater does outreach to Ireland, I'm not completely clear on that relationship.  It takes place in a pub, and features a pub owner not unlike Scrooge, who experiences a wee epiphany over the eve of Christmas.  No ghosts.  Just customers.  It's sincere as the day is long...and gratefully 90 minutes in length.  The actors were good and they milked the script for all they could get out of it.  Not a bad script, but one that proves once again just how hard it is to write a play.  What it lacked: energy, subtlety, passion.  What it had: sincerity, sweet characters, lousy Irish accents!  But at it's price range I can forgive it's warts. 
Kevin Adams as David "Scrooge" and Mike Kozemchak as his little brother, Michael
Pub regular, Frank, played by Timothy Hayes Lynch, and Polish bartender "Bob Cratchet", Bartek, played by Josh Adams 
The Cast: (L to R) Mike Kozamchak - Michael, Mick Tinder - Richard, Matthew Hirsch - Simon, Caroline Dubberly - Anna, Timothy Hayes Lynch - Frank, Kevin Adams - David, Josh Adams - Bartek, and Mark A. Rhea - Jim (and director)

Metro Tale: The Giggly Man


Coming home tonight on the Metro Red Line, I boarded at Dupont Circle and took a seat in the end of the car. It was a lone seat facing neither backwards nor forward but mounted against the exterior wall of the train facing the aisle. Two young African American women entered with me and sat together opposite me and in the last seats on my side, opposite the two women was a man already sprawled. The man was black and wearing a black toboggan hat and a puffy shiny mostly yellow coat and he had a duffle bag with him that he was sort of cradling as he listed like a ship about to come free of its moorings and we were still sitting still in the station... 

And here's where it gets a little tricky. Drunk? or Psychotic? Only people who are inebriated or mentally ill are as carefree and oblivious of others in public. There was an empty seat between him and myself, and he was kitty-cornered to the young women. As we all took notice of him, I began reading my play program and the women squirmed and pulled out their cell phones. 

He, for his part, didn't seem to take much mind in us. He was still in the thralls of his last meal and speaking it's praises over and over and over again, "that was one fine steak...he he he he, one fine steak and one fine baked potato! Ho ho ho ho...'at's why I'm so tired... he he he" He chuckled as he spoke and sometimes gave a little chuckle between every syllable as he repeat some form of praise for that steak and potato. The next stopped arrived and both ladies got up and left the train. It was a sparsely populated station and no one new got on. Neither fact bothered my friend has he just droned on and rocked back and forth, now hugging the duffle bag like a pillow. 

As we approached the next station he said, "I have never had such a sweet, juicy, perfect steak before in my life." He didn't say it to me, but I still looked right at him and smiled. And he noticed and looked at me and went into an even heartier rolling chuckle, as the train came to a stop. He grabbed the straps on the duffle and stood up and I said, to him, "That was a might fine steak!" And his eyes twinkled and he replied, "Yes, it was!" and as he passed me toward the entrance I called out to him, "Sweet dreams, my friend!" He shot me a little side wave chuckling all the way off the train. 

The older I get, the more I want to just be a part of what comes my way...even just a little part.

Rockwell Kent's Burial of a Young Man

I can't tell you how many times I've been to some museums. Part of it was that my ex- worked at both the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection, which gave me uncommon access to both, as well. At the National Gallery we attended every opening gala from the autumn of 1994 through the spring of 2002. That's how I came to consult the recently late John Glenn's wife on Chinese fruit at the dessert buffet, and eat a meal featuring a side of morel mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns sitting next to the notorious RBG! and pee next to the former PBS anchor and presidential debate moderator, Jim Lerher.


It has been a great gift to have access to such amazing art and for some years I made it a practice whenever I visit any museum, but expecially one with which I am very familiar to let my eye choose one or two works and spend some serious time just "being" with the art. Let it speak to me, tell me it's secrets. Today at the Phillips, one of those paintings was this one by Rockwell Kent called "Burial of a Young Man".
Before long I am channelling my inner Sister Wendy. My front teeth go slightly buck, and I begin reciting the narrative of what I am seeing in my mind: This was a work that Kent accomplished between 1908 and 1911. It reflects his experiences in stark places like Alaska and Greenland where he travel many times and stayed for many weeks to months. He even took a lover in Greenland. (Sister Wendy always finda a way to being in the sex!) The brush strokes in the painting are crude, rudimentary, harsh. The mourners nearly a uniform group of faceless silhouettes until you come the widow and her daughter who are dressed in an ephemeral crystal blue like angels floating in a forest of mortals. And the body of the young man floats, too--prone and naked, without shame, free from the trappings that burden and overwhelm the mourners. Next to him walks his spirit, as naked as he, but invisible to the others. And look at the mountians. All of them are formed with contrours of a maudlin shade of blue, shadows of forms that flow like water, like terrestrial tears weeping for this young man's untimely death. It's a magnificent work!

And what SIster Wendy's spirit doesn't know, but I do, is that this painting was not a random purchase by Duncan Phillips. It was purchased in 1918, after the death of his beloved brother in the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Few if any other of the works in the collection held for Phillips the emotional resonance of this painting. It is also significant that the Phillips Collection itself owns more Rockwell Kent paintings than any other gallery in the United States; Kent himself donated the vast majority of his large works to the Soviet Union in protest of his coming under suspicion of being a communist during the McCarthy Witchhunts of the 1950's. One of the things I love about Kent, his "in for a penny, in for a pound" devil may care approach to life. Today, his greatest works reside in 3 museums in Russia and 1 in Armenia.

A City Of Statues


Washington, DC is also a great city of statues. Many are equestrian and hold court over traffic circles named in the honor of their honoree. Across from the Phillips Collection is a different sort of monument to man walking on his own two feet. It is fittingly larger than life and parallels the Embassy of India. I dare say he doesn't need to be named to be known.

Phillips Collection Holiday Exhibitions: Jacob Lawrence and Whitfield Lovell


After lunch, I went over the Phillips Collection since I was in the neighborhood and visited some old friends in their collection and toured a pair of exhibits that are about to close. 



The first was the complete works of Jacob Lawrence's Migration series. His iconic rendering of the movement of African Americans from the rural south to the industrial north and west coast. The museum owns part of the series and usually has it on desplay, to see all 60 in one place gives the individuals works a collective significance not unlike those hundreds of thousands of Black Americans risking the unknown in search of a better life. 




A last little gallery contained half a dozen contemporary works inspired by the series. This is where the little print of the lynched man was--chilling. 





The other special exhibition was an exhibition of the works of Whitfield Lovell from his Kins series and related works. I first encountered Lovell back in March at the Seattle Art Museum with two of his works on display in their recent acquisitions gallery. He combines beautifully rendered portraits with common and profound objects. Some works are done on "found" wood. While admiring one of this works an African American couple standing nearby were discussing it, when the man just said, "Why have I never heard of this artist before?" And I thought the same thing.

I Shall Live!

My doctor liked what he saw in my appointment on Tuesday.  He apparently thinks I good to go to outlive 2016...no small feat these days...  To celebrate the end of my fast and successful blood letting for biannual work-ups, I went first to Kramers Books & Afterwards CafĂ© for brunch and "Croque Madame".  OMG, I'd forgotten how decadent and rich this dish was!
But the best part of the appointment came out of our discussion of a wee issue that I mentioned to him back in June.  This involved my plumbing and changes to the sexual aspects of it.  He gave me some advise and I took it to heart at the time and then ignored it.  Sure, the change in things was annoying, but not debilitating, and I guess I just expected some changes as I got older...

This time he folded the needed the tests into the routine blood work.  Prior to this, my doctor asked, "So how frequently are you sexually motivated?"

I immediately made a down-turned face of "Oh golly disappointment" and said, "Well, actually it has effected my libido. I'd say maybe only 3 or 4 times a week now..." And what happened next was so unexpected by me, and then so obvious that it delighted my heart to no end. He just burst out laughing! And he tried to contain it, but he couldn't. And my face took on the new expression of "is what I just said unusual?".... Eeek! And his laugh basically said, "If I could only get my libido angst ridden patients to that point--I'd be a genius!"

Life is good, my friends!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Time To Go "Into The Woods" Again!

Just in from attending the Fiasco Theater Company's touring ensemble of their Off-Broadway revival of Sondheim's "Into The Woods" at the Kennedy Center. WOW! I was the first personal to jump to my feet at the end, but I was not the last. Such a wonderful, high energy reimagining of the original with a pared down cast of 10 actors plus the piano player. Everyone but the Baker assumed two or more rolls. The vocal quality was outstanding across the board and the actors delivered the well-healed lines with a freshness and clarity that made so much of the production feel new and better.

I love this show so much that I was waiting for each song with great anticipation, and highlights included: "Hello Little Girl" performed by Anthony Chatmon II as the Wolf and Lisa Helmi Johanson as Little Red Ridinghood, "There Are Giants In The Sky" performed by Philippe Arroyo as Jack, and "No More" performed by Fred Rose as the Baker's Father and Evan Harrington as the Baker. The later being a surprise as it's not really one of the traditional show stoppers. The most consistently compelling cast members were Philippe Arroyo as Jack, Lisa Helmi Johanson at Little Red Ridinghood/Repunzel and Darick Pead who's Milky White politely stole every scene, and who's Repunzel's Prince and step-sister Florinda also gave you your money's worth. And honestly, everyone was amazing--these folks just had exceptionally good performances tonight.
My Box Seat view of the stage
You can see the sets were a collection of odd backstage objects became everything from a seamstress' dress form transformed to a magical tree where Cinderella's mother was buried to a stage ladder turning into Repunzel's tower. The music was primarily maintained by an onstage piano player who had an occasional narrator's line, but the actors themselves were suddenly playing the cello, or a trumpets, or a banjo or a bassoon! etc. And no one left the stage...they simply faded into the edges and when necessary made seamless costume changes. I have to say, no better way to spend Christmas evening in my book, and I splurged at purchased a box seat so that I would have my own comfortable chair to sit it, too.




As fate would have it, a rather eccentric slightly inebriated women had the chair next to mine... She arrived just before the show started and the gin on her breath sat down four steps before she did. She proceeded to retrieve items from her bag to keep a cocktail of her own concocting going throughout the show, but she was otherwise unobnoxious. I can appreciate a quiet alcoholic.