Sunday, September 27, 2009

the quality of Quality of Life

Theater: Arena Stage, Crysal City. 1800 Bell St. Arlington, VA.
Metro: Crystal City (Blue and Yellow Lines). Directions here.
Genre: Drama with funny bits
Dates: Through October 18
Rating: 5/5 Starving Artists

I’ll keep this short, as I should be getting ready for services now.

I’m having trouble with The Quality of Life. I can’t for the life of me decide whether it was the acting or the writing that made this play so excellent. I suppose it may well have been both. I know that you are saying that these two things are not opposites, and I agree with you, but there were moments where I was complete enthralled with the language, which bordered on poetry and felt that the actors only barely did it justice, and other moments where the actors took a line that could have seen simple or even cheesy and made it into something special. It was hard to tell what the real power of the play was. I kept thinking to myself, “if I had read this scrip, would I have known it could be this good? Is it that these actors could make a play about paint drying captivating, or are they just working with material that is so good, even monkeys couldn’t screw it up?" I guess we shall have to call it a draw, a fantastic combination of great actors and great material. Even though one may have failed the other on occasion, together, they created something powerful.

It was a crack team, that put together The Quality of Life. It is stunningly acted by Kevin O’Rourke, Johanna Day, Stephen Schnetzer, and Annette O’Toole (who gave me flashbacks to the days when I used to watch Smallville). I was struck by one moment, in particular, where Jannette (played by Johanna Day) says, “just let me hold you Neil” (Schnetzer). Now here’s a line that might well have bordered on the melo-dramatic, and yet in her hands, it came off as desperate and sincere. And then there was the script, by the award winning Jane Anderson. Her evocative language and witty banter gave the show life. There are a couple of riotously funny moments, mixed in with some deeply moving moments. And Director Lisa Petterson should also get a lot of credit for some really great production decisions. The stage was captivatingly set in the burned out wreckage of Neil and Jeannette’s home, an environment that provided a good arena for tempers to flare and passions to ignite.

The subject matter is not an easy one. It is the story of two couples who have suffered great loss. Jeannette and Neil’s house has burned to the ground as they deal with Neil’s terminal cancer. Their cousins, Bill and Dinah (O’Rourke and O’Toole) have recently lost their only daughter in a gruesome way. And yet, in all of this agony, we find moments of true humor and warmth. They are a family brought together, ripped apart, and ultimately sown together once again by their pain. Their loss brings a closeness and intimacy that is hard to find between couples, and harder still to find in a theater. Anderson uses her humor liberally, to teach us about the characters, and show us their strength. They use wit as a weapon, and a shield, and it is this comic writing (and excellent timing) that makes their moments of agony all that much more poignant.

Don’t come expecting an easy, light play. This is not Crowns. But do go, if you want to see something really wonderful.

That’s all I have time for right now. To the Jews who read this, may you have a meaningful Yom Kippur.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Eclipsed by nothing

Performance: Elipsed
Theater: Woolly Mammoth Theater, 641 D St, NW
Metro: Gallery Place-green/red or Archives/Navy Memorial-Green. Directions here.
Genre: A story of the bonds of womanhood
Cost: from $15 for people under 25. $15 rush seats sold 2 hours before curtain. Also, Goldstar has $20 tickets
Dates: Through September 27
Rating: 5/5 Starving Artists

It’s your last week or so to see a world premiere show that is truly stunning. Sorry I am late getting on this review, but if you are looking for something to do this weekend, I highly recommend checking out the latest triumph at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. You won’t regret it.

Eclipsed is the story of five women surviving the second Liberian Civil War. More than anything, it is about the bonds between women; the way they take care of themselves and each other. Each of these women create their own power, though they have different ways of doing it. Some seek power at the end of a gun, others by building relationships with the right men, and others through education or politics. None of these answers is more right than any other, they are just powerful reactions to the same problem: dealing with a feeling of being powerless in a world that is out of your control.

It would be difficult to identify any standout performances, because they were all fantastic. Each actor has an impressive mastery of the Liberian dialect (thanks to some excellent coaching by Tonya Beckman Ross). Woolly regular Jessica Frances Dukes (of Fever/Dream and Antebellum) is joined by the fantastic Uzo Aduba, Ayesha Ngaujah, Dawn Ursula, and Liz Femi Wilson. The ensemble is really incredible, and the play is worth it just to watch the way they work together.

This is not to say it was only the acting that was fabulous. The set really creates a captivating environment, where we can really feel the oppressive degradation that is the LURD Rebel army camp. We experience the squalor of these women’s lives and it helps us to appreciate the physical and metaphorical holes in their lives. And it is a fantastic script by Danai Gurira. She weaves a fascinating story about womanhood and survival that is subtle, and unpredictable, and ultimately hopeful. Director Liesl Tommy also does a noteworthy job of capturing the moments of intensity that make this play so intriguing, like the occasional moments where the wives of the LURD Rebel leader are asked to line up so that he might choose which of them to take back to his tent. While we never see him, we see the trepidation and anxiety in each of these women’s eyes, and these silent moments are big part of what makes this play great.

This is one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time, so if you’ve got nothing to do tonight, or over the weekend, or next week, I’d highly recommend checking this one out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Art that is... but isn’t... pedestrian

First off, I want to say welcome to any new readers who have joined us over the summer. Don’t for get to subscribe (using the box in the right hand column) so that you can get all my latest posts in your RSS reader or e-mail inbox. And check out this post for more on who I am and why I do what I do.

Now for the news:
It’s that time again. Time for DC’s annual neighborhood arts festival. This weekend, the Penn Quarter neighborhood is going to be bursting at the seams with free culture as part of the annual Arts on Foot festival. This festival has everything, food tastings, wine lectures, and every kind of arts that you can imagine. All the local companies will be participating, including one of the last shows of Shakespeare Theater Company’s Free for all, and performances by companies like Synetic (whom I love), Dizzy Miss Lizzy (the sweetheart of yet another year’s fringe festival),the DC Shorts Film Festival, and many more. This is worth checking out if you are in the neighborhood Friday for the art fest or Saturday for the full festival. You can see a full schedule of event here.

Here’s what they say:
  • A three day juried fine ART MARKET with nearly 100 exhibitors
  • CULTURAL CORRIDORS, supported by The Pink Line Project, filled with hands-on activities by galleries, theaters, museums, and arts organizations
  • RESTAURANT SAMPLING COURTS with 30 high-end eateries
  • O OrganicsTM COOKING AS ARTS PAVILION with demonstrations by some of Downtown’s top chefs
  • World Market® WINE AREA for sampling and seminars
  • Two ENTERTAINMENT STAGES with performances by exceptional local talent
  • NEIGHBORHOOD SHOWCASE with special programming by Penn Quarter Cultural Venues

If you’ve gone in year’s pasts, let us know what you thought in the comments.

What to see: Arts on Foot
Location: All throughout Gallery Place, centered at 7th and F St.
Metro Stops: Gallery Place/Chinatown (green line).
Genre: Free Festival
Cost: What part of free did you not understand?
Dates: 9/11 (art market) and 9/12 (art market and performances)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A perfect Zero

Performance: Zero Hour
: Theater J.1529 16th Street NW

Metro Stops: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directionshere.
: Biogmedy?
: All tickets are half price for people 35 and under (and the Sunday shows are only $30 to begin with). Next tuesday (9/15) they are selling $25 dollar tickets. There are also $12.50 tix from Goldstar.

Through: 9/27

Rating: 4.5/5 Starving Artists

I've got a new review up at DC Theatre Scene. Here's a preview:

A solo show is a difficult thing to pull off. It is a monumental task for one person to keep an audience engaged for a whole show, and the line between wonderful and dreadful is razor thin. But in Zero Hour, Jim Brochu proves he is well up to the challenge. He tackles the complex and contradictory life of Zero Mostel with a flourish that is captivating from the moment the lights come up. Brochu, who also wrote the script, brings this mammoth of the theater back to life for one more night of thought provoking entertainment.

Brochu is as dynamic as the hysterical (in both senses of the word) Mostel, the star of Broadway, film, and TV. The play treats us to an opportunity that may never have existed in life: to be present for an evening in Mostel’s private sanctuary, his art studio. Initially, this setting seemed odd. Why set a play about a famous actor in an art studio? But Mostel is quick to explain that his passion was always painting, and that he only acted “to buy more paint”. I am glad that painting is an expensive hobby, or the world might have been deprived of its Tevye, or Pseudolus or Max Bialystock. And so, we enter Mostel’s inner sanctum. There is, in the play, an unseen and unheard newspaper reporter, asking Mostel questions about his life, but this character seems indulgently willing to let Mostel wander from story to story with few interjections. In this way, the play doesn’t feel much like an interview, but more like watching the inner workings of Mostel’s mind. He interrupts himself, sometimes with a witty line, and sometimes because he appears to have forgotten what he is saying.
Click here to read more

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Quick Hit: now you can tame the shrew for free!

Performance: The Taming of the Shrew
Sidney Harman Hall (610 F Street NW) Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown

Company: The Shakespeare Theatre Company
Metro Stops: Gallery Place-Chinatown (green and red lines)

Genre: Free Shakespeare
: natta, zilch, free, zippo
Through: 9/12 (see below for show times)
We are going:
thinking about next week. We’ll let you know

Who wants to see some free Shakespeare? The Shakespeare Theater Company is doing their annual Shakespeare Free For All, where they provide free performances to the public every summer. As I understand it, they used to be in a park, but now they are back in their theater, which is a really beautiful venue. And The Taming of the Shrew is one of my favorite of the Bard’s comedies. So, if you’re thinking you’d like to see a professional play before the summer is over, but $15 seems like a lot, you can’t beat free. If you saw 10 Things I Hate About You and want to see the original, you can’t beat The Taming of the Shrew. Or, if you are in Gallery Place and need some culture, you can’t beat the Shakespeare Theater at 610 F St, NW.

Here's the schedule for their shows:

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