Monday, March 22, 2010

Music Monday: Rock Out At A Synagogue (Venue Review)

Getting to see top notch musicians up close and personal is usually reserved for those with deeper pockets that we have at District Beat; front row tickets can ofter cost upwards of $100 - enough for about three months of groceries if you live outside the beltway, or three mixed drinks if you live in the Dupont neighborhood. I can't justify paying more than about $50 to see a show unless I am seeing one of my absolute favorite bands, so I often seek out venues that host real talent and leave ticket prices low enough that I can still eat during the week of a show.

6th and I Historic Synagogue, which is located in Chinatown, is just such a venue. I've gone there to see Matt Nathanson (an acoustic rocker who was great), Imogen Heap (a less than acoustic alternative-er who was less than great), and Hadag Nachash (an Israeli hiphop and funk band that was utterly fantastic).

The venue is actually a synagogue (place of Jewish prayer), but don't let that scare you - it is set up for serious music. It seats about 600 (I'm not sure about this - this number is based on my visual estimate only) on two levels that form a "U" shape around the stage. Every show I've been to has had pro sound and a big concert vibe - similar in many ways to the size and vibe of the 9:30 club.

So why should you check out 6th and I? A few reasons:
  • The "U" shape of this smaller space allows every seat to be within 100 feet of the stage.
  • They find absolutely kickin' talent that people in their 20s and 30s (read: you) should love (upcoming shows are HERE)
  • Ticket prices are totally reasonable - most shows cost between $11 and $40.
Insider info:
  • You don't have to pay rip off Ticketmaster fees - Call their box office and they can give you a lower total price as long as you are willing to pick up from will-call. Man! I am not friends with Ticketmaster.
  • Get there early or get burned - If you check out the 6th and I site, you'll notice that many of their shows sell out. That means that the place will be packed and there definitely are bad seats in the corners of the room - and they don't sell tickets with seat numbers. Your best bet is either the standing area and first few rows of seats or the first few rows in the center area of the balcony - to get those seats, you'll have to show up more than 30 minutes before the show.
  • Hang out to meet the band - Because 6th and I wasn't originally a venue, the bands don't have a huge area in which to hide. Hang out by the back exits if you want to meet them after the show.
I'll let you all know when I go there next.

- TheClubScout

PS - Has anyone been to 6th and I for a show? What did you think of the venue?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Josh Kornbluth: Good for Theater J?

Performance: Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews
: Theater J, 1529 16th Street NW
Metro Stops: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directions here.
Genre: Daddy's little monologue
All tickets are half price for people 35 and under (and the Sunday shows are only $30 to begin with). Anyone can get half price tickets before with promo code WARHOL. Also goldstar has tickets starting at $15.
Rating: 2/5 Starving Artists

When Josh Kornbluth takes the stage at the beginning of Andy Worhol: Good for the Jews? at Theater J, he begins by saying "I don't get it". I left this world premiere saying the same thing. Well… maybe that's not entirely true. I think I got it. I'm just not sure why he thought I needed to see it.

Kornbluth's monologue tells the story of how he was asked to write a monologue responding to Andy Worhol's controversial Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century when the paintings were on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Yes, it's a monologue about writing a monologue. Deep, I know.

My primary concern with the play was that the whole thing felt a lot more like a drash than theater. A drash, for those who don't know, is a Hebrew term for a short sermon, most often about the bible. A drash usually attempts to relate the biblical themes to modern life. It would seem as if Kornbluth set to utilize this structure to relate his own life to Warhol's Jews (and in this, I quickly learned, I have almost no interest). For eighty minutes, Kornbluth goes portrait by portrait, using each as a jumping off point to talk about seemingly random parts of his life.

Well, not entirely random. He tells us in the beginning that he was surprised to be asked to do a play about Andy Warhol because his work has a "very specific niche": talking about his relationship with his communist father. The rest of the play seems like an unabashed attempt to make sure that this play is no exception. The result make the work feel a little… strained. Some of the connections he draws seem surprisingly natural, like his discussion about how his grandparent's wanted their son to grow up to be the next Louis Brandeis, and how this was a major part of the reason them finding his father to be such a disappointment. But others seem forced to the brink of absurdity. A few (most notably Sigmond Freud) were too difficult to even attempt, so he gives them only a passing reference and hopes we won't notice. And so, in the story that he weaves, threads are picked up and dropped at random, with no regard for a larger aesthetic. It creates a tapestry that is less than beautiful.

All of this might be forgivable, if the performer were a particularly compelling storyteller. Unfortunately, he does not deliver in this regard either. He is a notably nebbishe presenter. He stands awkwardly on stage, playing with his fingers and giggling at his own jokes, and then he turns to saunter to another part of the stage to stand awkwardly there for a bit. The play seems well written, there were a few thoughtfully worded jokes and comparisons, but delivered in a sort of improv/storyteller format that could be charming but isn't. I think, perhaps, that this play would be more interesting if I was familiar with Kornbluth's work. It seems like the "Kornbluth doing Kornbluth doing Warhol" might have a certain kind of appeal to a "very specific niche" audience, but it was lost on me. Maybe this is a lot like Warhol; I've always felt like his work was particularly interesting in light of his other work.

All of this contributes to a play that is decidedly unmemorable. It was not in any way offensive. I didn't need my time back. I just didn't think much of it. At the end of it, as I looked back on the title, I thought, "is Andy Warhol good for the Jews?" And I had to answer, "Who cares?" Josh Kornbluth didn't seem to care much. He spent almost no time trying to answer this question. So why should I? I think Andy Warhol's Jewish portraits had as much impact on the Jewish people as Josh Konbluth's play had on me: Little, if any.

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