Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LAST WEEK TO SEE TWO IMPRESSIVE SHOWS

Two wonderful shows are closing this Sunday, and there are some great deals to see them. If you are going to be around DC for the weekend, and you're looking for something to do (besides on Thursday, of course) I've got two great tips for you.

Performance: Angels in America
Theater: Forum Theatre, now at Round House, 8641 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20910 (next to the AFI movie theater)
Metro stops: Red Line, Silver spring
Genre: Political and social dram-mentary
Cost: $25, $15 for under 30.
Dates: Through Nov 22
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Starving Artists

I already wrote about Part 1: Millennium Approaches. All I can say is that part two was even better. Even the parts of the first half that annoyed me are less noticeable in the second part. I discussed it with Lady AWsome and our friends Z and M and we've decided you don't need to see the first part in order to see the second. If you can find a friend to give you a 5 minute explanation of Millennium Approaches (or you can read this), you should be fine. If you can only see one part, make sure it's the second. It's a bit on the long side, but definitely worth seeing.

Performance: Full Circle
Theater: Woolly Mammoth Theater, 641 D St, NW
Metro:
Gallery Place-green/red or Archives/Navy Memorial-Green. Directions here.
Genre:
Political satire, or so says nytimes
Cost:
For the final week of the show, all remaining tickets are $15 when you order online and use the promo code 710. How cool is that.
Dates:
Through Nov 29
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Starving Artists

Last week was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I hate to date myself like this (thought "20Something" is kinda a giveaway anyway) but that means I was 4 years old when the wall fell. So needless to say, the time period isn't etched into my memory like it is for people who are a bit older. I wasn't an avid consumer of news on world affairs when I was 4. Surprised?

But none of this makes Full Circle, the play currently being produced by at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company any less accessible. The play takes place on the eve of the fall of the wall, and mentions a number of historical figures and events. I have to say that a little history about some of these might have been helpful, but it certainly wasn't a breaking point (see below for a Wikipedia reading list)

But what makes this play truly interesting and unique has nothing to do with the subject matter. The most intriguing part of the play is the staging. The production is part of a movement of site specific works called Environmental Theater. The action takes place all over the building, and the audience literally follows the actors as they move from scene to scene and room to room. It's definitely one of the most thought provoking productions I've seen in a long time. If you're in the mood for something completely different, this is the play to see (just wear comfy shoes).

Wikipedia reading list:
Berlin wall
Erich Honecker
Environmental Theater
Heiner Müller
Berliner Ensemble

Monday, November 23, 2009

Music Mondays: The Beat Goes On

I love music - not the fleeting way in which people have loved dancing wedding ceremony videos or POGs (remember those?); this is a long term love affair that began in the early 80's. Pots and pans from age three (favorite record to jam to was Steve Winwood), saxophone from age eight, guitar from age seventeen, and a cappella in college.

While I can't comment on whether or not I have musical talent, I can claim to have experienced ears. They have listened to thousands of CDs (first one was "So Much for the Afterglow"), downloads (ahh..., college), video views (Youtube murdered my free time), and concerts (from performing and viewing vantage points).

I hold a special place in my heart for live music - no recording can capture the sounds, sights, and smells of a live show. There is a certain thrill associated with going to a stadium and singing dancing with the masses, though I find it no less exciting (and sometimes far better) to see a musician up close in a small bar or club where the music jumps out at you and there is always the possibility that you just might make some personal connection to the music, venue, or performer.

I am thrilled to be guest writing on District Beat. If you've read the blog before, you know that DC is a veritable beehive of music and culture; it seems quiet from the outside, but look more carefully and there are tons of amazing things happening. If you've lived in DC for a while, you also probably know that you won't find many of the places that make DC one of the best cities for young people in guidebooks or on the "main drag" - you need to know someone who has that inside view. Someone who knows where to look and whom to ask for all the cool stuff going on in this town. Lest you forget - 20Something is still your theater theologist, your cultural curator, and your local liaison to all things artistic in Capitol City. I just hope to open new doors for you in the realm of local live music. Maybe one day I'll be considered your music maven or your reverend of all things rock, but, at least for the moment, I'll keep the my head out of the clouds and just hope to bring you the best of the best that DC music has to offer.

So, for the next few months, I'll be scouring DC for stadium acts and dive bar house bands and all things in between. I'll look through calendars at jazz bars, metal clubs, coffee houses, and area theaters. I have two simple goals: 1. To share great venues and artists with you, and 2. To show you how much there is in this city. Look for posts from me a 2-3 times a month (on "Music Mondays") and feel free to post comments on what I write and email me (theclubscout@gmail.com) with any interesting upcoming shows.

"The music is all around you. All you have to do is listen" ~August Rush

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yonkers is just fun to say

Performance: Lost in Yonkers
Theater
: Theater J, 1529 16th Street NW
Metro Stops: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directions here.
Genre: Dramedy
Cost:
All tickets are half price for people 35 and under (and the Sunday shows are only $30 to begin with). Goldstar has tickets starting at $12.50
Rating: 4/5 Starving Artists

In 1991, a new play premiered in DC, by a well known playwright. The play received mediocre to awful reviews. The chief drama critic for the Post, Lloyd Rose, wrote that the playwright "has been writing plays for 30 years and he still can't handle the basic elements of dramaturgy." The play then went to Broadway, where it continued to receive some mediocre reviews. Later that year, it also won the Pulitzer Prize. It ran on Broadway for two more very successful years, and was made into a film in 1993, staring Richard Dreyfuss. I think that this is an important lesson for us critics. Sometimes we have no idea what we are talking about (maybe most of the time for me). That play, btw, was Lost in Yonkers, which is being staged in DC for the first time since its 1991 debut. Theater J rolls out the red carpet for Neil Simon's triumphant return, in the hopes of redeeming the play in the eyes of Washingtonians, and I think they may just have done it. The production is, over-all, very strong. There are a few really fun performances, and a strong vision for the design. Tana Hicken and Holly Twyford are particularly noteworthy as Grandma and Bella. Twyford's performance is full of joy and warmth, and Hicken's presence on stage is enthralling. It was fun to see them reunited, as we enjoyed them both in Studio's Road to Mecca (back before I was blogging). And I thought that the 16 year old Max Tallsman was really great as the young Max, who, along with his brother Jay (Kyle Schliefer), is the central character of the play.

There were a lot of really interesting design decisions. I thought the set was wonderful. Daniel Conway does a great job of recreating Grandma's Yonkers apartment, in which the play is set. There were a lot of very subtle touches – like having a breeze come through an open widow and rustle the curtains – that really brought the environment to life. And the sepia color scheme gave everything the feeling of being set in a sort of timeless past.

I was really intrigued by Director Jerry Whiddon's decision to have the actors use some old time comedy timing that was reminiscent of an Abbot and Costello sketch. It's hard to explain what I mean here, but it's a kind of old fashioned timing and over the top delivery of which the Marx Brothers would have been proud. It seems Whiddon had two choices: either to go for a more lifelike bent like this, or to give it a more classic comedy feel like this (sorry for the high school production in that link, but it was the best example I could find). Either would be ok, but his route does not do too much to help you connect with the characters. Perhaps this style is somewhat implied by the setting of the play and its banter-ish dialogue, but I was still struck by how strongly they went in this direction. I'm not sure if I loved it, but I was impressed with the consistency of the approach. It was used appropriately throughout.

I'm not sure why the show got so thoroughly panned in '91. It's an interesting little piece, though perhaps a little predictable. It has some interesting characters with a fair amount of depth and humor. I can't tell you exactly why the critics didn't get the show in 1991, but I'm glad that it's back so we can give it a second chance.

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