Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bird Watching: Pileated Woodpecker

Many sitings of the Pileated Woodpecker, Phlaeotomus pileatus, in the nearly naked woods along Sligo Creek.

Arena Stage Mead Center Montage: 8 views

Moby Dick @ Arena Stage!

My faith in the value of live theater was fully restored this afternoon and then some! The production of "Moby Dick" at Arena Stage here in DC was like nothing I've ever seen staged here before. The anticipation begins when you enter and see the stage. Centered is a risen slab like a rugged section of a ship's main deck brought back from the bottom of the sea, one both sides are riggings with pulleys and hooks like, but not quite like those on a sailing ship. But the most striking pieces are the "ribs" that leave the main stage floor and arc up about around all the rest to impossible heights--the ribs of a beast. The initial excitement is fully rewarded by a production that is as acrobatic as it is dramatic. This isn't going to be a simple retelling of the story.

And yet the story remains central to the telling in every way. Adaptor and Director, David Catlin holds fast to the actual text of Herman Mellville's American classic every nautical mile on the way. It is, perhaps, the only flaw in that the second half is thus notably longer than the first, and at some point my internal sensibilities kicked in and I couldn't help but wonder what could have been cut for the sake of pacing. Not that any moment wasn't in and of itself magnificent.

The production was a collaboration with Chicago's Lookingglass Theater Company which a presume meant that Arena forked over a bunch a cash and Lookingglass agreed to bring the show to DC as a result--the way one art museum mounts an exhibition and then it tours to the two or three other museums that underwrite it or provide pivotal works. All the actors were from Chicago. And I assume performed these same roles in this production there. So in a certain sense, it was like going to Chicago to see an amazing new work of American Theater without leaving DC!

The company of actors was as amazing as the sets and the costumes and special effects. There wasn't a single slacker in the group, but certainly the performance of Christopher Donahue as Capt. Ahab was the standout performance in this constellation of bright stars. Also of note was Anthony Fleming III's Queequeg whose energy and physical beauty were surpassed by his impeccable timing and wry humor. And Jamie Abelson's presence as Ishmael was the perfect "everyman" for this drama that is so essentially psychological at heart.

Added to the ensemble were a trio of women who all plays incidental roles in the course of the story, but who also acted as muses, as ideas, as living embodiments of concepts as disparate as the Angry Ocean, seagulls with dispassionate commentary, and the very whales the men sought right down to Moby Dick. They were like the witches in MacBeth--potion makers, fate tellers, purveyors of life and death. To this end, they were attired in the most amazing and time-period-sensitive costumes: Corsets, Hoop skirts and Parasols that became Whale bone, whale flesh and whale spouts. This was one amazing spectacle!
Ishmael (Jamie Abelson) and Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III) getting to know one another.

Before the voyage even begins, from the maw of the beast comes the sermon of Jonah.

The Full male cast Cabaco (Micah Figueroa), Mungun (Javen Ulambayar), Stubb (Raymond Fox), Captain Ahab (Christopher Donahue), Starbuck (Walter Owen Briggs), Ishmael (Jamie Abelson), and Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III).

One of the Fate's stirring up a Typhoon.

Out to kill some whales and Cabaco jumps into the ocean out of fear.

Aha battles his demon...
Christopher Donahue as Captain Ahab
I knew I knew the actor who played Ahab from the moment he stepped on the stage.  It nagged at me throughout the performance, but went unresolved until I had time to check his info on IMDB--OF COURSE!  "Law & Order"!!!--it always comes back to "Law & Order".  Season 14, he was the homeless man who murdered over an argument about an orange.  Tight!

Greek Egg Lemon Soup for Leftover Turkey!



2 quarts well-seasoned turkey stock, garlic broth or vegetable stock
1 broccoli crown, cut or broken into small florets
2 cups chopped shredded turkey
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
 Salt and pepper
3 egg yolks
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice(more to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 ½ cups warm cooked rice


  1. Bring stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add broccoli and simmer 3 to 5 minutes, until just tender. Stir in turkey and olive oil and turn heat to low. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until creamy. Whisk in lemon juice.
  3. Making sure soup is not boiling, slowly whisk a couple of ladles of hot soup into egg yolks, whisking constantly. Turn off heat under soup and stir in tempered egg-lemon mixture. Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  4. Distribute rice among six bowls. Ladle soup into bowls and serve.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Silver Belles" #10 in a Autumn of Living Theatrically!

Just home from the first of two Theater Experiences on tap for this weekend. Tonight it was to Signature Threater in Arlington, VA were I've recently seen absolutely astounding productions of "West Side Story" and "La Cage Au Faux." This evening is a new work that they are premiering called "Silver Belles". Yes, it has a decidedly Holiday theme. In this case, it's the story of the Matriarch (Oralene) of the Silver Ridge, Tennessee Silver Belles who is struck by lightning while asking God to strike her with inspiration (every one's a critic), and leaves the annual Christmas pageant at the county home for orphaned children in jeopardy--oh no! Can the remaining three members of the ensemble along with the stage manager pull their shit together and create a show? Will her husband snap out of his grief long enough to write another show stopper now that both the music and lyrics are in his hands? And can the Ghost of Oralene find a way to communicate from the great beyond with each of the afore mentioned characters to coax and inspire another successful Holiday show for the benefit of the little orphans? Hmmmm...

As new works in the theater go, I understand that there are a lot hurdles to cross to see an idea to fruition (Ut Oh, he's giving the ol' "It Ain't Easy to Write a Play" speech...) Before my recent experience with Round House Theater's productions of both parts of "Angels In America," I read an amazing account of the journey that iconic work took from inception to production and beyond. I have the good fortune of knowing Maggie (Margaret) Edson and talking with her about the process that took her play "Wit" from an idea to the stage...amazing doesn't begin to describe the process. I have a very strong feeling that "Silver Belles" found an abbreviated version of this road to realization. 

It's cute. Some of the lyrics are clever. As a cross between a Prairie Home Companion and the Tuna, Texas trilogy of Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, it's frankly neither! I laughed spontaneously twice and both times cuss words were involved. The cover of the program suggests more humor than the production provides. So what has it got? Sincerity. Uneven, bumpy, at times smaltzy and at others almost endearing sincerity. And from what I can tell, this was only its 4th presentation before an audience, perhaps it will age well and quickly.

What would it have taken for me to have liked it more? The price. It was also too damned expensive. I did not get $79.00 worth of entertainment tonight. And how and why it was extended, before it even opened is a mystery to me, too.  And I got no beef with the actors...
Donna Migliaccio as Oralene ricing from the dead to "take charge" of the untimely situation.
Entire ensemble: Peggy Yates (Ruth Ann), Nova Y. Payton (Gloria), Dan Manning (Earl), Donna Migliaccio (Oralene), Ilona Dulaski (Berneice) and Naomi Jacobson (Bo Jack).
Naomi Jacobson (Bo Jack) performing her radio show commercial.
Nova Y. Payton as Gloria.
Ilona Dulaski as Berneice with her taxidermy menagerie...shades of Tuna, Texas.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What I'm Reading #97: Winter Bear Book #2

On the theme of Bear Hibernation in Children's Books versus Thanksgiving, I offer you this second selection. "Time To Sleep" by Denise Fleming is not just a story of a change in seasons, but also of a community that takes care of its members no matter how different they are.

Bear realizes that it's time for Winter and tells Snail. Snail tells Skunk. Skunk tells Turtle, Turtle tells Ground Hog, Ground Hog tells Lady Bug, and Lady Bug tells Bear! But bear has already begun her sleep...

Besides amazingly beautifully illustrations, it's a cornucopia of diversity and teaching about community that is inclusive of the "other".

What I'm Reading #96: Winter Bear Book #1

I confess that I really don't like most children's books about Thanksgiving. Especially those that attempt to tell it's "history". They're just so lacking. They never mention that one of the first acts of the first Pilgrims was to ransack a Native American Village, dig up and steal their winter provisions and desecrate and rob a few graves for good measure all in the name of their God's providence! I dunno why, but they always seem to miss that part.

So instead, I turn to nature and there are a surprising number of books that deal with bears going into hibernation! A topic I am especially fond of these short, cold November days. This one is by Jim Arnosky and is called "Every Autumn Comes The Bear". It's a very simply told tale of a bear that lives on a wooded mountain behind the author's farm and this bear's encounters with the other animals on the mountain on his way to his winter's nap. The medium is watercolor and the images are just luscious! Here are just a few.

Thanksgiving Feast!

I know it's just me, but that doesn't stop me anyways.  A friend upon seeing my spread commented, "If I lived alone, I would probably just eat cereal."  Seriously?  If you don't love yourself a little more than that, how do you plan to love others?  It starts with being good to me...and it helps that I just love to cook!

Well, and it's also NOT just me.  My faithful canine companion, Roméo, is always nearby checking out the lay of the land and picking up cooking tips.  He's so observant that I swear, if he but had opposable thumbs, I wouldn't have to do the cooking any more!

The meal starts the night before with the making of the pie.  This year it was my own take on the classic Buttermilk Pie.  I make mine with pears!

Step one is to quarter a pear, a nice d'Anjou pear, core each quarter and then cut them into five wedges for a total of 20.  Blanch them for about two minutes in boiling water, remove and let cool.   Place your crust in the Pie Dish and then arrange the pear wedges in a fan!

 Add your filling contents:


1 Stick of Butter melted, but not hot
3 Eggs
1 Cup of Buttermilk
1 tsp of Vanilla extract
1 1/2 Cups organic Cane Sugar
3 Tbsp of organic (I prefer King Arthur brand) All Purpose Flour
Ground Nutmeg to sprinkle on top

And Bake @ 350˚ for 50 minutes or until set (the toothpick test!)
Just so you know, you'll be making this wonder often once you've experienced it magic!

Next, first thing in the morning, prepared the appetizer.  I did right after making a breakfast of Bacon, 2 Eggs sunny-side-up and Toast from a bakery purchased French County Loaf (as an aside, there is nothing more essential to life than bread, and I swear to god, I don't buy shitty bread!  You shouldn't either!  Find a bakery and buy the real deal or do without.  You have only got this one life, don't toss it away on industrial produced bread.)  This is important, because I used 3 slices of Bacon in the appetizer.

8 oz of Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese
8 oz Sour Cream
1/2 Cup of Mayonnaise
1 pkg frozen chopped Spinach
1 little jar of marinated Artichoke quarters (chopped up without the liquid)
3 strips of Bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 Cup of finely grated Parmesan Cheese
Some additional grated fresh Parmesan Cheese on top before baking

Bake @ 325˚ for 30 minutes and then Broil for an addition 90 seconds or so to lightly brown the top. I served it with a couple of varieties of Potato Crackers (Spinach/Garlic and White Cheddar Cheese)

On to the main event!  The Menu for the Day:

1) Roasted Turkey Breast (compliments Snyder's Market in Silver Spring) with Gravy and Three-Leaf-Clover Roles.
2) Old-fashioned Green Bean Casserole with Bacon Ritz Cracker topping.
3) Maple Syrup glazed Carrots with fresh Ginger and Mandarine Oranges
4) Savory Bread Pudding with Kale and Wild Mushrooms (in place of a stuffing)
 The results in their full glory!

1 bunch Kale, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp extra virgin Olive Oil (to use in place of the Bacon Grease or to supplement it when cooking the Kale--see below)
½ pound Baby Portobello Mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp fresh Thyme leaves
1 Garlic clove, crushed then minced
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
A loaf of French Country Bread, cut into 1" cubes (I used about 80% of the loaf and gauged it off of the size of my baking dish)
1/2 Cup Gruyère cheese, grated 
1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 eggs

2 cups low-fat milk

I set the bread cubes out over night to dry out.  I also used the breakfast's bacon grease to sauté the sliced Mushrooms first, and then separately the chopped Kale along with the Garlic and some Kosher salt.  I combined the eggs, milk and Thyme from my garden in a blender.  Once the other ingredients were in the casserole dish, I poured the egg-milk mixture on it and let it sit for 30 minutes before baking it.  Cook @ 350˚ for 50 minutes.

3 large Carrots
2 Tbsp Butter
A healthy splash of Vermouth
1 root section of fresh Ginger (about 3 oz), peeled and sliced into little wedges
1 small can of Mandarin Oranges
Vermont Maple Syrup (the REAL DEAL)
Ground Cinnamon to garnish

You will first sauté the sliced carrots in the Butter and Vermouth.  Toss them and then cover them and let them cook for about 10 minutes on a medium heat or until they are shiny but not soft.  Next arrange them in a shallow baking dish with slivers of fresh Ginger and Mandarin Oranges.  Drizzle with generous amounts of Maple Syrup, add the remaining liquid from the sauté pan and some of the juice from the Mandarine Oranges--and then drizzle some more Maple Syrup on top.  Cover with Aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes @ 325˚  How handy it is to have a double oven at times like these!
 My finished plate!
And desert later in the day!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Washington Choral Society Concert

In my "Year of Living Theatrically" I will occasionally toss in a curve ball.  The past Sunday's Washington Choral Society's performances would certainly qualify.  I was draw to this by the Berlioz Requiem, which I knew was a major work of Choral and Orchestral significance.  I had also heard that the staging would include satellite clusters of Brass players to replicate the original performance in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  Many venues do not allow for such an opportunity.  

Going on line to buy my ticket, I went through the usual hoops on the Kennedy Center website and was thrilled to have the last seat smack dab in the center of the 1st tier balcony!  How perfect, eh?
 This was my view of the stage!
 And THIS is where my seat was in reference to the largest satellite Brass section!--like WTF, right?  My seat is the one just beyond the armrest with the program.
 Here I am after the brass players arrived to give a real look at my proximity!  I felt apprehensive about this.  How would it be to sit in front of instrumentalists who would be playing forte most of the time?

As fate would have it a very charming woman sat down next to me and we had a delightful time chatting. She was very put together, very energetic, maybe ten years my senior. She told me about her first European tour after college and how as fate would have it, upon returning the Kennedy Center was being inaugurated with a premiere performance of Bernstein's Requiem on her birthday! Beside herself, she just showed up without a ticket, and in the lobby someone approached her and asked her if she was looking for a ticket. She said yes, and the gentlemen gave her his and disappeared. I never mind going to the Theater alone--something interesting always happens.

We discussed the problem of our seating and at intermission she bid me farewell for a better option somewhere else.   I remained for a time and then realized that she was spot on.  So I also left (as did most of the people sitting in our section).  I went out to the 1 tier lobby and asked an usher to help me.  She was so accommodating and soon I was sitting next to my new friend again!
 Our nearness to our former seats.
Our new view of the stage.

En toto, I would have to say that the first two pieces: 1) the "Wir setzen uno bit Tränen nieder" from the St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach and the "Take Him, Earth" requiem by Steven Stucky were amazing and well done.  The Berlioz Requiem was both enthralling and annoying.  Even at our distance the blast of music from the brass distracted and influenced the quality of my experience in a very negative way.  I honestly felt cheated by what else seemed like a magnificent performance.