Magic Time!

The random adventures of a theater buff in DC

Month: May, 2018

The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs

The mystery at the center of this adroit drama keeps getting mysteriouser and mysteriouser: What’s in the small room at the top of the stairs?

Playwright Carole Fréchette has crafted a cagey psychological suspense story, a modern retelling of a 300-year-old French folktale about a young woman who is told by her husband she can open all the doors in the castle except one.

So of course, just as we know a gun introduced in a play is going to go off, we know the door to this forbidden small room is going to be opened. And sure enough, it is.

Read David Siegel’s DC Metro Theater Arts review.

The young woman, a new bride named Grace, is kept like a privileged princess on a fairytale estate. Her adoring and superwealthy husband Henry has built a 28-room mansion, which he has bestowed upon her on one condition: that she leave that small room alone. Curiosity gets the best of Grace, she disobeys Henry, she sets foot into the small room, he finds out—at which point the real menace begins.

Cassie Platt as Grace in The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs. Photo by Tony Hitchcock.

Michael Kevin Darnall creates an indelibly creepy portrait of an oleaginous Henry. Cassie Platt makes Grace’s mettle credible as we watch afraid for where her foolhardy meddling will lead. So one might think this is a scary story about a beautiful princess finding out that her handsome prince charming has a hidden dark side and is actually out to harm her.

But no, that’s not where the playwright wants our minds to go. According to Fréchette, she intended this play to be about what drives Grace, not what drives Henry:

Certainly, we can see Grace as a woman oppressed by her domineering husband, but that is not all that interested me. What I was drawn to from the beginning is the “forbidden,” represented by the closed door, and the desire to enter it…. The conflict I wanted to explore was not so much about the conflict between Grace and her husband, but the more painful one, her own conflict. Grace is divided between desire to live in the comfort offered by the man she loves and her need to put herself in danger to confront a mystery and the truth.

Much as Fréchette might want this script to be more about Grace’s facing down her fear of the abstract unknown than about her relationship to a controlling man she has good reason to be afraid of, there is a palpable tension in the play between those two dramatic arcs. Whose story is being told? hers or his? I think it may be more his than hers. I say this not to dispute the playwright’s interpretation of her own work but to suggest that there is more far-reaching meaning going on in Fréchette play than she may have meant.

Cassie Platt as Grace and Michael Kevin Darnall as Henry in The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs. Photo by Tony Hitchcock..

There’s a subtext whispering through Small Room: the common notion that what a woman doesn’t know about her man won’t hurt her. If he keeps some dark part of his life cabined off from her, compartmentalized even from himself, so what? What harm is there? She never has to know. Only if she finds out his secret, only if she trespasses that mancave minefield in his mind, will his psyche be endangered and his anger aroused.

I think that’s what’s really going on in The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs. It’s a profound parable about the sexual politics of secret keeping. And as such, it’s a brilliantly terrifying horror story, even more unsettling than Spooky Action has let on.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs plays through June 10, 2018, at Spooky Action Theater – 1810 16th St NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006, or purchase them online.

 

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Republic Undone

Going back to Ancient Greece, theater has functioned as a forum for informed public debate—about war, religion, politics, all the issues relevant to the citizenry of the day. The Greeks had a word for it: agon, a consequential debate, a contest of opposed wills with far-reaching fallout. That’s not much what live theater is about anymore. Theater that’s deemed too messagey gets snubbed. Action movies distract the populace with gosh-wow conflict in CGI. Meanwhile, MSNBC, Fox News, and the interwebs are where actual agon has gone.

Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation, based in Flint Hill, Virginia, has been on a mission to reclaim what’s gone missing onstage.

The brainchild of Playwright and Founding Producer John B. Henry, Stone Hill “supports theatrical productions addressing today’s most pressing issues.” Having now attended a trilogy of Henry’s plays written for that purpose, the most recent being Republic Undone, I can report that not only have I learned important stuff about America that other media pay no mind to; I have also enormously enjoyed the stimulating wit in the writing.

The central figure in Republic Undone is Woodrow Wilson, whose star in the firmament of best U.S. presidents has been fading. Not long ago, students at Princeton, where Wilson was president from 1902 to 1910, tried unsuccessfully to expunge his name from its school of public and international affairs because of his staunch support of racial segregation. During his years in the White House (1913 to 1921), Wilson also opposed women’s suffrage until the end of his second term and only then supported it as a war measure.

Dude was a piece of work.

The cast of Republic Undone taking curtain call after performance of Republic Undone at Keegan Theatre. Photo courtesy of Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation.

There’s a speech about Wilson in Republic Undone by Colonel House (Bill Nitze), his top foreign policy advisor, that sounds eerily familiar:

COLONEL HOUSE: I’ve mastered the mysteries of Woodrow’s personality. Everything’s personal. He insists on his own facts. He trusts only the worshipful. So I constantly put him on a pedestal and never contradict him. He has an insatiable craving for reassurance. He‘s an inveterate hater who exalts in making enemies. I’m a captive audience for his temper tantrums. Self-reflection unimaginable.

The passage got a big laugh when I saw the show at The Metropolitan Club but not because it was ha-ha funny; it was more like uh-oh, since by then the play had firmly established its theme of presidential power run amok.

“The President now exercises more unchecked power over American citizens than King George III did over American colonists, which provoked the American Revolution,” Henry said in an interview. “Indeed, we’ve concentrated more power in the hands of one individual than any government in history.”

On this Memorial Day 2018, it’s worth remembering that the Founding Fathers never intended for U.S. presidents to have the power to declare war. The Constitution says explicitly that war shall be declared only by an act of Congress, but for more than a century, presidents have been unconstitutionally initiating war on their own. This fact ought to incense us the citizenry but it never seems to, and media left and right keep mum about it. Meanwhile, Henry writes plays to dramatize how the country got into this mess.

In Henry’s previous play, Republic For Which We Stand, he dramatized the dispute among the Founding Fathers that led to the Constitution’s Declare War Clause. In Republic Undone, Henry traces the psychopathology and politics of our 28th president, who for two and a half years unconstitutionally made the U.S. into a co-belligerent with the Allied Powers against Germany without a congressional declaration.

If that sounds like a heavy slog of a play,  I assure you it’s not. The script is briskly comedic and epigrammatic, and it is performed in signature Stone Hill style by so-called citizen actors—people who have other professional lives but are doing Henry’s play because it matters. What crackles in the show is not just the script’s wit; there’s something captivating and refreshing about watching real people from a real polis acting out real people who shaped our nation’s history. As a theatrical technique, it casts all of us as “We the people.”

Hugh Hill as Woodrow Wilson and Faith Lewis as Ellen Axson Wilson in Republic Undone in rehearsal at The Metropolitan Club. Photo courtesy of Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation.

Among the script’s pleasures is its depiction of the women in Wilson’s life, including his mother, his wives, his mistress. The exchanges between Wilson and his feisty first wife Ellen Axson Wilson are especially choice (and Hugh Hill and Faith Lewis ripped into their roles and arguments with relish):

WOODROW: The United States must take the Monroe Doctrine global. We can only do that by replacing our separation of powers with British executive supremacy. Checks and balances are anachronistic. To be a world power, the President must dominate Congress and the judiciary.
ELLEN: The center of our universe is liberty and peace – not domination and war…. God gave you eloquence. God gave you brilliance. God gave you industry. But God sent me to give you judgment and wisdom.

Later, in an aside, Ellen says

Without me, he’d be a Captain Ahab.

As Ellen is strategizing Woodrow’s ascent to the White House, he has an affair with Mary Peck (Molly McCartney), a socialite he met in Bermuda. In a speech that Hillary could likely relate to (and maybe Melania too), Ellen says,

Now the White House is within our reach. And what do you do? You risk everything! I’m sick and tired of being the only adult in this marriage.

Founding Father James Madison was a firm proponent of keeping war power out of the hands of U.S. presidents, and in Henry’s clever conceit, the Ghost of Madison (Bruce Fein) perches amusingly in a tiny tomb and narrates Wilson’s wayward ways. Thus it is the Ghost of Madison who sets up the scenes in which we learn other cracks in Wilson’s character.

MADISON: Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, the drum majors among the suffragists, infuriate Woodrow. They plant the National Women’s Party headquarters on the edge of Lafayette Park within shouting distance of the White House. The day before Woodrow’s inauguration, Alice and Lucy lead thousands of women in a protest march.

 

Pat Nicklin (left) with Suffragists in Republic Undone in rehearsal at The Metropolitan Club. Photo courtesy of Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation.

An ensemble of suffragists holds up signs as in a photograph documenting the historical event (which foreshadowed the January 2017 Women’s March). Then with stirring lead vocals by Pat Nicklin as Alice Paul, they sing an authentic song of the women’s suffrage movement, the chorus of which goes

Brothers we must share your freedom
Help us and we will

We learn from Republic Undone that Wilson’s administration was the first to jail suffragists, and in prison when they went on a hunger strike they were made guinea pigs for forced feeding, sensory deprivation, and other torture techniques still new in the U.S. arsenal of human rights abuses.

We also learn that Wilson hosted the premiere of D.W. Griffith’s notoriously racist film Birth of a Nation at the White House.

MADISON: Woodrow endorsed the white supremacy of his era. He excluded coloreds at Princeton. He campaigned as a second Lincoln to attract colored support, but he governed with the racism of South Carolina Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman to placate southern bigots. He re-segregated the federal workforce, fired colored officials in the South, and turned a deaf ear to lynchings.

Hugh Hill as Woodrow Wilson, Bruce Fein as Ghost of James Madison, Hermond Palmer as William Monroe Trotter in Republic Undone in rehearsal at The Metropolitan Club. Photo courtesy of Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation.

In a barbed exchange in the White House, William Monroe Trotter (Hermond Palmer), “Harvard’s first colored Phi Beta Kappa,” confronts the president:

WOODROW: Segregation is good for everybody. The Supreme Court blesses separate-but-equal.
TROTTER: They enforce the separate but ignore the equal. We’re the untouchables. White co-workers the Brahmans.
WOODROW: I’m all for progress. It’s just change I can’t stand. You must be patient. After all, it took us more than two centuries to abolish slavery.
TROTTER: The time is over for taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. The time has come to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Whereupon Wilson tells Trotter to leave.

As rumblings of war begin abroad, Henry now shows us how our nation was led into it by a man who has been established, despite his comic Dagwood Bumstead charms, as fundamentally white and male supremacist.

MADISON GHOST: Ellen presciently foresaw the Great War would beget European hecatombs and a spike in civilian deaths. Her spirit animates the women’s peace movement featuring parades in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. With the vote, women might have silenced the trumpets of war.

In the most moving scene of the show, Pat Nicklin and the ensemble of women return to sing a song from the period, the chorus of which is

There’d be no war today,
If mothers all would say,
“I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.”

Republic Undone next takes us into some complex international diplomacy issues, which I’ll not attempt to distill. But even when the history thickens, the central debate of the play, its agon, remains crystal clear, as in this jarring argument between Wilson and his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan (John Lesinski) after Wilson unilaterally made America a co-belligerent:

BRYAN: Your oath is to defend the Constitution. Not Britain. Not humanity.
WOODROW: You don’t define American interests. I do. What’s good for me is good for America.
BRYAN: The Constitution defines American interests. Not you. And what’s bad for the Constitution is bad for America.

Later, just before Bryan resigns in disagreement with his boss, Wilson puts this kicker on the argument:

I’m the Commander-in-Chief! International law is whatever I say it is.

In a brilliant denoument—the conscience equivalent of a Greek deus ex machina—Henry closes Republic Undone with an imagined scene in the afterlife in which Wilson apologizes to all whom he hurt. He apologizes for blessing white supremacy, for opposing women’s suffrage and endorsing torture of suffragists, for spending more on war than the nation had spent in all the years before… His mea culpa goes on and on.

If only that part of this powerhouse political play were headline news and not a fantasy.

Production Program Credit
Director: Rick Davis; Associate Director: Howard Coon; Costume Directors: Deverell Pedersen, Dorothy McGhee; Drama Poo Bah: Richard Squires; Humorists: Richard Rymland, Travis Brown; Constitutionalist: Bruce Fein; Moral Philosopher: Tuck Grinnell; Scenic and Props Artist: Howard Coon; Photography & Video: Ray Boc; Social Media: Max Mohr

Performer Program Credits
Ghost of James Madison: Bruce Fein; Alice Paul, Hattie Woodrow, Citizen: Pat Nicklin; Woodrow Wilson: Hugh Hill; “Tommy” Wilson: Maeve Cuiba; Joseph Wilson: Howard Coon; Jesse Wilson: Deverell Pedersen; Ellen Axson Wilson: Faith Lewis; Lord Grey, Messenger, Policeman: Dante DeVito; Mary Peck, Suffragist: Molly McCartney; Colonel House, Andrew Carnegie: Bill Nitze; Lucy Burns, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Suffragist: Hali Jilani; William Monroe Trotter: Hermond Palmer; Joseph Tumulty, Judge, Doctor Cary Grayson, Speaker of the House: Peter Stenner; William Jennings Bryan: John Lesinski; Edith Galt Wilson, Suffragist: Gail Kitch; Lloyd George: Travis Brown; Kaiser Wilhelm II: John Schmitz; Kaiser’s Wife Augusta Victoria, Suffragist: Sandy Read; Ludendorff: Wolfgang Schaefer; Clemenceau: Colin Davies; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge: Bob Randolph

Running Time: One hour 35 minutes, with no intermission.

Republic Undone played May 23, 2018, at Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation performing at The Metropolitan Club of the City of Washington, 1700 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C.; May 22, 2018, at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St NW, Washington, DC; and May 19, 2018, at Castleton Theater, 663 Castleton View Rd, Castleton, VA. For news of future performances, subscribe to Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation event updates.

LINKS to coverage of the first two plays in John B. Henry’s trilogy:

Magic Time!: ‘Republic For Which We Stand’ at United States Capitol Visitor Center

Magic Time! ‘Arguing with God’ at Woman’s National Democratic Club

VIDEO: Republic Undone as performed at Keegan Theatre May 22, 2018

 

 

10 Million & The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Among the rich offerings in The Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba festival were two extraordinary works of theater, each performed but twice: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, from Teatro El Público, and 10 Million, from Argos Teatro—both companies based in Havana. I saw Petra at its first performance, in time to post a review before its second (“a zippy-campy live-action cartoon befitting someone certifiably crazy in love,” I called it). Impressed with Petra, I then decided to check out 10 Million, which I caught at its second performance. And wow, what a provocative double bill!

If I could have reviewed 10 Million in time to urge more people to see it, I would be raving about the performance of Daniel Romero as He, the central character. 10 Million—which takes its name from Castro’s overreaching target for the 1970 sugar harvest of 10 million tons—is an autobiographical theater piece created by the renowned Cuban Writer-Director Carlos Celdrán. The set (designed by Celdrán) is stark, uniformly gray, stepped platforms and a back wall that serves as a chalkboard. There are three others in the cast: Maridelmis Marín as Mother, Caleb Casas as Father, and Waldo Franco as Author. All have passages of first-person and narrative direct address to the audience, so we get to know them each as characters and as actors, and all are excellent. But Romero is the magnetic young man who commands our attentive concern, propels the emotional momentum, holds together the whole show—and not just because he strips down for onstage costume changes. He compares to a younger Gael García Bernal and he may be even better.

Daniel Romero as He and Caleb Casas as Father in 10 Million. Photo courtesy of Argos Teatro.

But wary that “here’s what you missed” recaps of short runs can be a frustrating read, I’ve chosen instead to reflect on the experience of seeing the two works sequentially: On that point what struck me most was how dramatically, openly, and differently they each handled a central character’s gender nonconformity—and how relatedly sexual politics played out in each work’s theatrical world.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is the story of an unrequited same-sex obsession set in a world of high fashion, and 10 Million is a coming-of-age story about a probably queer boy set against the Cuban revolution. Both works have origins in a gay artist’s autobiography. Petra is based on the 1972 film that thinly disguised German filmmaker Ranier Maria Fassbinder’s own unrequited sexual obsession with a young man. The play 10 Million is explicitly about several decades of Celdrán’s life beginning as a preteen in the 1960s.

In style of presentation, the two works could not be more different. Petra is done in outlandish and gaudy drag, its emotions over the top; 10 Million is relayed intimately and dreamlike, its emotions couched in the personal voice of Celdrán’s journal. Yet between the two works is a resonance about gender dissonance that still plays in my mind.

Yanier Palmero as Marlene and Fernando Hechavarria as Petra in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Photo by Waldek Zelazewski.

There are several nesting boxes of gender variance in Teatro El Público’s production of Petra: a gay man’s story first told in a film through lesbian characters has been adapted for the stage with the female characters played by men. As in nearly all drag, when men playing female are performing male projections of women’s lives, Petra on stage entails a degree of microaggressive misogyny costumed as admiration. The presumptive upside of such theatricality, or so the argument goes, is that by revealing gender to be performativity, it destabilizes hegemonic gender. The counter-argument is that by exploiting misogynist tropes, drag serves to congeal gender hierarchy. This debate has raged for decades and I raise it not to resolve it but to point out that viewed in the context of a society suffused with toxic macho, the sexual politics in Teatro El Público’s Petra are flamboyantly against the gender grain.

Caleb Casas as Father, Daniel Romero as He, and Maridelmis Marín as Mother in 10 Million. Photo by Manolo Garriga.

In 10 Million, the character He is the child of a bitter divorce. We first meet him during one of the months in summer when his Mother has agreed to let him visit his Father. The boy’s relationship with his Father is portrayed as loving and deeply tender; the boy’s relationship with his Mother, strained and borderline abusive. She is a rising star in the Revolution, a beautiful, domineering, and driven woman captain, who disdains what she perceives as weakness in her ex-husband for his disinterest in politics. Mother’s antagonism toward Father leaves the boy fearful and ashamed, and things take a turn for the worse when she determines that the boy himself needs to be toughened up on account of “his strange behavior.” The play never actually says the boy is gay but it doesn’t need to. He is shipped off to an all-male boarding school for “therapy” where he is all alone, “the new one, the weird one,” and thrust into boxing matches and other brutalizing means to make him man enough for the Revolution. In one of the play’s many telling scenes, the boy is instructed to draw a man and a woman on the chalkboard. He draws stick figures. As if to humiliate him, the teacher then draws a female with breasts and hips and a male with broad shoulders.

Daniel Romero as He in 10 Million. Photo by Manolo Garriga.

For most of 10 Million, the Mother as written is a cold-hearted ballbreaker who tries to turn her son against his Father. “A woman with power is stronger than a man with power,” she says. Celdrán gives the Mother a passage near the end when she speaks of her disappointment in the Father and her regret that she married him with what seems intended to make her character somewhat sympathetic. But for the most part she’s anything but, and since she is Celdrán’s creation, his report is all we have to go on.

What’s fascinating to me is the way both Petra and 10 Million both play into and upend gender norms. Neither goes so far as to be what I would call revolutionary, but seen in the context of the Cuban Revolution, nor are they status quo.

I cannot say whether the programming choice to pair these two works was made so that if experienced side-by-side they would stimulate a mental conversation about revolution and gender. That’s certainly not what I would have expected to come out of Cuba, given the country’s reputation for not being particularly LGBTQ friendly! But if opening DC audiences’ eyes to a newly opened Cuba was at all a festival objective, count it a smashing success for at least this one theater lover.

Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.

10 Million played two performances, May 19 and 20, 2018, at Argos Teatro performing at The Kennedy Center’s Family Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC, as part of the Artes de Cuba festival, which runs to June 3, 2018.

For tickets to upcoming events, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

 

The Remains

They have such a tasteful, immaculate, picture-perfect kitchen, how could their marriage be such a sorry mess? That’s a crass way to ask the question, but the answers are beautifully nuanced in Ken Urban’s new play The Remains, a riveting comedy that mourns a gay marriage on the rocks.

Set Designer Wilson Chin has indeed built a kitchen, a vision in stainless steel and white, that William-Sonoma fans would swoon over. We are, the program tells us, in Boston’s South End in 2014, and here we meet two men who got married ten years ago, just as soon as same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts: Theo (a stolid Glenn Fitzgerald), who seems already stricken with some sorrow as he prepares a salad on the cooking island, and Kevin (a magnetic Maulik Pancholy), amiably at work writing about Kierkegaard on his laptop at the kitchen table.

Maulik Pancholy (Kevin), Naomi Jacobson (Trish), Danielle Skraastad (Andrea), Glenn Fitzgerald (Theo), and Greg Mullavey (Len) in The Remains. Photo by Teresa Wood.

They have invited for dinner Theo’s doting mother Trish (Naomi Jacobson) and professorial father Len (Greg Mullavey) and Kevin’s force-of-nature sister Andrea (Danielle Skraastad) because they have some news they wanted to tell in person. The big disclosure (which doesn’t come till nearly halfway into the play) is that Theo and Kevin have decided (mutually and amicably, they say) to get a divorce. That’s technically no spoiler because really what The Remains is about is the backstory of that decision, the details of which Urban doles out suspensefully with the fascination of a page-turner. “It’s complicated,” as the expression goes—but to say so of this gay divorce does not to do justice to the snappily funny and ultimately wrenching writing and acting that Director David Muse has fine-tuned before us on the Studio Theatre Mead stage.

We genuinely come to believe that their marriage once was solid and the love that was is not gone. Trying to put a happy spin on the announcement, Kevin says to all assembled:

Kevin: There is a lot of love still. Between us. I mean. Theo and I have been a couple for seventeen years. And so. Even though we will no longer be married, my love for him, that hasn’t… that hasn’t changed. He is. Theo is the love of my life….

And later, while Kevin is out, Theo confesses to Andrea in sadness:

Theo: I love your brother more than anyone.

As the play steadily lets us in on what went wrong and why (and with whom)—details best discovered not given away—we are put in a plaintive kind of place. We are watching a relationship unravel that might have gone on but couldn’t, and there’s no “if only” or “what if?” to make it mend.

Glenn Fitzgerald (Theo) and Maulik Pancholy (Kevin) in The Remains. Photo by Teresa Wood.

On top of the first-rate cast, the production features superb stagecraft (including lighting by Jesse Belsky and sound by Matthew Nielson) that near the end holds startling surprises, not unlike the unsettling breakup that Urban has made us privy to. And for anyone inclined to philosophical reflection, there is enormous pleasure to be had in Urban’s weaving of ethical reflection into the script. Kevin is into Kierkegaard and Len is a Hegel scholar, and there is some byplay between them that in a sly way comments on Theo’s and Kevin’s impending divorce:

Len: We face ethical dilemmas every day. A decision must be made. But most days, it’s not a question of one choice being right and the other being wrong. Either choice is right and wrong, to some degree. That’s the tragedy of life.
Kevin: Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard’s version of tragedy is superior to Hegel’s…. He called the experience of the tragic hero, “the suffering contradiction.” You want two things and you cannot have both of those things. And so you suffer. Even if you choose. Especially if you choose. Cause you want both things. And any choice means loss.

Glenn Fitzgerald (Theo), Naomi Jacobson (Trish), Maulik Pancholy (Kevin), and Greg Mullavey (Len) in The Remains. Photo by Teresa Wood.

In one sense, The Remains is a uniquely gay dramedy, a narrative particular to two men who once seemed a perfectly compatible couple but who now face consequences particular to their sexualities that are pulling them apart. Put simply, The Remains is a landmark play that faces forthrightly the fact that gay divorce necessarily accompanies marriage equality. But with extraordinary precision, The Remains also achieves a universality, raising poignant questions not unfamiliar within many a heterosexual marriage—questions about truthfulness and trust, questions about loneliness and lust…

See it with someone you love, someone you live with, someone you like a lot, or someone you might like a thoughtful laugh with.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Remains plays through June 17, 2018, at Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.

 

Flood City

I would not have thought that a play about dreadful disaster could be done as a droll and delightfully dark comedy, but Playwright Gabrielle Reisman did. Having lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans, she sought to find theatrical form for what she witnessed there about survivors’ resilience in the face of mass catastrophe. She did not want the work to be a glum bummer, as she told me (in so many words) when we chatted on opening night. It had to be good-humored and funny and hopeful. And by golly that’s exactly what’s now on stage at Anacostia Playhouse in Theater Alliance’s regional premiere of Reisman’s Flood City.

The correlative calamity Reisman chose to write about was the 1889 Great Flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when a shoddily constructed dam owned by rich people gave way after a deluge and 2,000 working-class townspeople drowned, their homes and belongings washed downriver.

Lolita Marie as Val in Flood City. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The opening of Flood City evokes that event with shocking vividness. Out of the darkness, Sound Designer Matthew M. Nielson blasts the roar of crashing water crushing everything in its path. Lighting Designer Max Doolittle illuminates a ceiling by Scenic Designer Andrew Cohen and Properties/Set Dressing Designer Patti Kalil where chairs, lamps, windows, and other oddments seem afloat atop rippling reflections. In this stagecraft tour de force, it is as if we the audience—seated on opposite sides of a wide rustic dock—are ourselves underwater. Then two mournful figures emerge, two women who miraculously survived: Val (Lolita Marie), who lost her entire family, and Stacey (Kari Ginsburg), whose family was spared. In an agony of antiphonic poetry, these two awesome actors tell of the epic horror and hardship and then suddenly…

Lolita Marie as Val in Flood City. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

In walks Producing Artistic Director Colin Hovde to give his chipper pre-show speech! Marie and Ginsburg are like: who is this dude? and what’s he doing in our scene? And instantly we the audience are given permission to find this and all the rest of the play’s astonishing juxtapositions hilarious.

Kari Ginsburg as Stacey in Flood City. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

I found the humor in Flood City so distinctive in form and voice, in fact, I’m tempted to brand it Reismanesque. A choice example is the character of Clive, played terrifically by Ryan Tumulty, who appears with a six-inch length of pipe sticking out of his skull lodged there by force of floodwater. The pipe functions as an absurd running gag (Tumulty cringes in pain anytime anyone touches it, and he’s so convincing I winced each time too). Reisman also utilizes Clive’s head ornament in a crazy-weird subplot where connivers hustle his freakish healing powers.

I know: on paper, how can exploitation of Clive’s misfortune be funny? How can we both feel his pain and laugh at the con? By some comic alchemy, Reisman pulls it off.

Running through Flood City is even a shrewd metacommentary on the exploitation of misfortune. For instance, there’s a scene where Val and Stacey sell small personal objects found after the flood as souvenirs to “disaster tourists”—each trinket with a touching story they make up.

In another flourish of dramaturgical derring-do, Reisman takes the story of the Great Flood natural disaster and layers onto it the story of an economic disaster that occurred in Johnstown a century later: In 1992 Bethlehem Steel shuttered its plant and put its entire labor force out of work.

Kerri Rambow, Ryan Tumulty, Matty Griffiths, and Jarod Shamberger in Flood City. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Val, Stacey, and Clive stay in the flood story yet they sometimes walk into the factory story still dressed in Costume Designer Kelsy Hunt’s distressed period garb. Four other actors appear in both stories, their time frame readily readable thanks to Hunt’s impressive costume plot.

Kerri Rambow as Miss Duncan and Lolita Marie as Val in Flood City. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Jared Shamburger is Evan, an amusingly inexperienced guard trying to maintain order after the flood; then he becomes Brick, a laid-off factory worker. The amazing Kerri Rambow is a persnickety nurse tending to flood survivors; then she becomes Carol, a brash barkeep serving the laid off. Matty Griffiths also transits deftly back and forth in time, making swift costume changes in between, first as Kelly a charlatan then as Greg an unemployed steelworker. And Carlos Saldaña is first Mr. Stewart, a newspaper photographer sent to document the disaster (in another silly-serious Reismaneque twist, Mr. Stewart has Stacey pose as a corpse, there being no actual bodies left about). Saldaña as Dale then joins his busted buds carousing at Carol’s bar.

Ryan Tumulty and Jared Shamberger in Flood City. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

None of this time traveling and character shifting could work without the clarity and vigor that Director Jenna Duncan has emphatically provided. And Movement Director Jonathan David Martin stages not only some combat but some charming choreography, the exhilarating high point of which has the company in the bar paired off in couples and dancing to “Tunnel of Love” played on an antique jukebox.

Near the end both the flood and factory narratives converge in Reismann’s imagining of an economic boom brought about in Johnstown when the steel plant gets converted to a gambling casino—a dubious basis for community prosperity if ever there was.  And Reismann’s signature comedy that comes of juxtaposing discordant elements reaches its sentimental-cynical pinnacle when we are exhorted by her resilient revelers in the casino,

Feel your luck now!
Every day you are alive you are lucky!

Funnily enough, that’s not exactly a feel-good ending. We’re all thisclose to catastrophe, we’re all just shooting craps—but isn’t our fortune just hilarious? Well yes, damn right—to hear Gabrielle Reisman tell.

Flood City at Theater Alliance is an immensely enjoyable and wildly original ride on a torrent of audacious comedy. It’s like comic relief for when disaster relief is not enough.

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

Flood City plays through June 17, 2018, at Theater Alliance, performing at The Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 202-241-2539 purchase them online.

 

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Obsessional unrequited love is what prompts Petra von Kant’s bitter tears in the 1972 German film by Rainier Werner Fassbinder. The movie is a languid immersion in the self-absorption of a semi-successful fashion designer who falls disconsolately for a young gold-digging model named Karin. Meanwhile, Petra has a servile personal assistant named Marlene whom she treats imperiously, knowing full well that Marlene harbors a repressed passion for her.

Fassbinder is said to have written the film Petra, and the 1971 play on which it is based, on the heels of his own unhealed infatuation. Fassbinder had fallen hard for a young black Bavarian actor who had figured out how to lovelessly push Fassbinder’s sugar daddy buttons. In Fassbinder’s loosely autobiographical film, all six characters are women played by women dressed to the nines. Petra is as much an art movie as a fashion show. And the film is a classic gay male transliteration of a closety male-male drama into a usurped lesbian vocabulary.

Yanier Palmero (kneeling) as Marlene and Fernando Hechavarria as Petra in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Photo courtesy of Teatro El Público.

Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba has imported a Spanish-language stage production of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant directed by Carlos Díaz, founder of Havana’s Teatro El Público. Authorship is credited to Fassbinder, but in Díaz’s conception, four of the six women characters are played by male actors: Fernando Hechavarria as prima donna Petra, Yanier Palmero as put-upon servant Marlene, Roberto Romero as Petra’s catty friend Sidonie, and Luis Manuel Alvarez as finagling ingenue Karin. (Petra’s daughter Gaby and mother Valerie are played straight, so to speak, by Alicia Hechavarría and Clara García.)

Fassbinder, who died in 1982, was not around to object (as did also-gay Edward Albee, who famously forbade all-male productions of Who’s Afraid…?). So here we have in the Kennedy Center Family Theater a gay-male narrative about boy-toy betrayal that got dressed up in women’s clothes and is now out of the closet as an homage to drag.

Um, what?

The result is an eye-filling, over-the-top melodrama that is never quite funny enough to be a comedy and never quite genuine enough to be a tragedy. Instead, it plays somewhere in the self-mocking, maudlin, and muddled middle, as though some Ru Paul also-rans had said, “Let’s put on a play.”

The production is indeed fun to watch. Set Designer Roberto Ramos Mori imagines von Kant’s bedroom atelier decked out in couture, wigs, haberdashery, and studio lights focused on a big white bed, whereupon much lolling and writhing transpire. Light Designer Carlos Repilado over-augments mood shifts so we can’t miss ’em and nicely makes the auditorium’s side walkways part of the show. And the costumes (inexplicably uncredited) are a fashionista’s fantasia. In the film Petra changes her wig three times; here she dons more than a half dozen whole outfits, as though the play might well be about someone who strangely can’t stop changing clothes.

Yanier Palmero as Marlene and Fernando Hechavarria as Petra in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Photo by Waldek Zelazewski.

Director Díaz sets a brisk pace and introduces sight gags galore: at one point, for instance, Karin and Marlene are both on their back with their legs bicycling in the air, for no apparent reason except it gets a laugh. The telephone, which rings garishly loud and often, is handled nimbly as a silly prop. Whether one can put up with Hechavarria’s incessant histrionics as Petra will be a matter of personal taste, but there’s a manic freakout scene when Petra in high dudgeon starts throwing booze bottles about, and it’s the kind of horrifying that can be hilarious.

For anyone reliant on the supertitles, as was I, they go by so faintly and fast one necessarily misses some of the show’s delights. Nevertheless one gets the distinct impression this was intended as a zippy-campy live-action cartoon befitting someone certifiably crazy in love—and on that it delivers.

Running Time: One hour 35 minutes, with no intermission.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant plays one more performance tonight, May 17, 2018, at Teatro El Público performing at The Kennedy Center’s Family Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC, as part of the Artes de Cuba festival, which runs to June 3, 2018.

For tickets to upcoming events, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

 

Burst

The sudden incapacity of their mother is the occasion for three siblings and their cousin to gather at a Boston hospital in Amy Leigh Horan’s touching and perceptive new family dramedy Burst, just opened in a lovely Parlor Room Theater production. The title refers to the mother’s burst brain aneurysm. She’s off stage in a coma. Everyone is hoping for and expecting her recovery. But…

“I googled it,” announces the gangly teenage cousin Kira—in a bubbly-awkward performance by Tori Boutin—who then reads from her smartphone the dire prognosis.

So we pretty much know where this play is headed. But the beautiful way it unfolds—the affecting and surprisingly humorous way it gets there—is what holds our rapt attention.  As tightly and tenderly directed by Bridget Grace Shaeff, there’s not a moment in Burst’s 90 minutes when its characters’ truths are not treasured.

Tori Boutin (Kira) and Robert Pike (Stephen) in Burst. Photo by Amy Horan.

The set by Ember DiSalvo is a generic waiting room with bland seating, beige walls, institutional tile on the floor, and the implicit behest to be calm and be patient because you’re likely to be here a while.

Alison Talvacchio (Erin) and Robert Pike (Stephen) in Burst. Photo by Amy Horan.

The first two siblings we meet are the oldest, twenty-something Erin, and the youngest, high schooler Stephen. Both live at home with their mom., their father having passed some years ago.

Erin takes to heart her firstborn responsibility to both her mother and her younger brother, and in Alison Talvaccio’s nuanced performance we sense also a grownup’s weight of incipient grief.

Stephen, with his emotions churning from sullen and morose to brash and exuberant, is Horan’s most complex character. He’s absorbed in his iPad, hands in pockets in his hoodie, by turns sulky and antic, and in Robert Pike’s impressive performance also the production’s most arresting.

When middle sibling Ally, who lives in New York trying to make it as an actor, shows up with her boyfriend Steve, sparks fly. “You’re not around,” says Erin resentfully. And indeed Ally intends to fly back for an audition she deems more important than her dying mom.

Ally as written is a bit of a flibbertigibbet, her self-centeredness well conveyed in Mo O’Rourke’s performance. She and Steve her kind-hearted and level-headed beau might seem an unlikely match, but Thomas DiSalvo’s performance makes the relationship plausible.

One might not think the serious implications of the mother’s health crisis would occasion much levity, but Horan’s deft comic touch is evident throughout. A high point of the show, for instance, is when Stephen gets everyone to join him on a hilarious “Wobble Baby” dance.

Mo O’Rourke (Ally) and Thomas DiSalvo (Steve) in Burst. Photo by Amy Horan.

Dramaturgically the most original element of Burst is the fact that Stephen, Erin, Ally, Kira, and even Steve each have a turn delivering a monologue as if to the mother in her room in an ICU.  Though these poignant passages don’t tell us much about the mother—who remains a passive placeholder until the stunning final scene—they play like telltale heart monitors wired deep inside those giving them voice.

Costume Designer Julie Cray Leong also pegs the characters and their context. Stephen, for instance, wears a Fenway T. And Kira wears a sparkly tiara with cat ears, which she cutely leaves as a gift for her nonresponsive aunt. Lighting Designer Dean Leong gracefully shifts our focus between the waiting room and the ICU. And Sound Designer Frank DiSalvo Jr.’s music choices include artists mentioned in the script, from John Denver to Eminem, and function wonderfully as emotional breathers between scenes—the way a movie will cut away to a long shot of scenery going by, so we can absorb what just happened before the story moves on.

Burst turns out to be not so much about the stricken parent at its center as about the apprehensions and deep affections among immediate family members now sharing a loss that is unspeakable—except Horan allows us to hear.

“The one person that I told everything to every single day is gone,” says Stephen near the end.

Anyone who has known or anticipated such a loss will leave Burst deeply moved.

Amy Leigh Horan’s new play has a promising future on other stages. Catch it now its first time out.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Burst plays through May 27, 2018, at Parlor Room Theater performing at the Callan Theatre in the Hartke Theatre Complex on the campus of Catholic University – 3801 Harewood Road, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 340-8623, or purchase them online.

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now

If KISS were starting out today, they’d be trying to get noticed on a streaming music site like Spotify. And followers would find their tour dates on apps like Bandsintown. Or maybe the masked marvels would land a recording contract simply by racking up views with a vid on YouTube. But back in the pre-digital day, the music scene was different, not only for performers and fans but for local presenters and venue owners.  Turns out those seismic shifts in the music industry could precipitate some poignant backstage family drama, as we learn from Playwright Laura Eason’s fond tribute to that time, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now.

For anyone torn between whether to check out an edgy rock club or catch some captivating characters on the legitimate stage, Keegan Theatre’s DC premiere of Eason’s play has got you covered. As directed with verve and grace by Brandon McCoy, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is rockin’ live theater about live rock music.

Susan Marie Rhea as Bette, Chris Stezin as Hank, Jessie Power as Lena, and Kevin Hasser as Toby in The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The play is set in 1992 in Chicago at a grungy rock-band bar owned by Hank, who for a quarter-century has hosted shows by a who’s who of up-and-coming and now name-brand bands. Both Hank’s Bar, as the dive is called, and Hank himself have become legendary. As executed by Set Designer Matthew J. Keenan and Properties and Set Dressing Designer Cindy Landrum Jacobs, the joint’s fading glory is evident in every dank detail. There’s cheap beer on tap, a messy collage of paint and posters on the walls, crushed plastic cups and other trash from last night’s bash on the floor. A sign in a hallway reads: “We know our restrooms suck. Deal with it.” We get the picture and almost the stink. And Sound Designer Veronica J. Lancaster selections of pre-show and inter-scene tracks from the likes of The Clash, Gun N’ Roses, Bush, and Nirvana are a mellow time tunnel for those who were around back then.

The play sets out to dramatize a point in pop culture history when DJ’ed raves were in ascendance and live-music venues were losing business. And the crux of this conflict gets played out in a father-daughter relationship that is as moving as any I’ve seen on stage. The very compelling Chris Stezin plays fifty-something bar owner Hank, a man whose place in the rock-scene sun still shines for some but is slowly but surely being eclipsed.  His scrappy, adoring daughter Lena, ebulliently played by Jessie Power, can go toe-to-toe self-assuredly with her dad or any other man.

Chris Stezin as Hank and Jessie Power as Lena in The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The going between dad and daughter gets tough when Lena begins dating a hip DJ named Nash. “I hate DJs,” says Hank bluntly. We sense some of a father’s familiar angsting when the daughter who loves him now falls for another man. But with this suitor, the stakes are even higher because Nash represents the music-biz competition, the next wave, the crowds that won’t come round anymore—and Hank’s “dated taste.” Hank waxes nostalgic about “a time when music meant as much as anything,” “when music sent people out of their minds.” And in Ryan Sellers’s nimbly emotive performance as Nash, we see both the charmer Lena fancies and the future Hank fears.

There’s a family backstory. Lena’s biological mother was an addict and is out of the picture. Lena was raised by Hank and his second wife Bette, now his ex, who is complicatedly still around, and agitatedly portrayed by Susan Marie Rhea. The bar’s history is itself almost a character—Stevie Nicks, KISS, The Clash, and other names are dropped.  And Hank’s sole employee Toby—who sweeps up, keeps the books, and has a crush on Lena—is an adorably awkward nerd in Kevin Hasser’s warmly amusing performance.

The plot sputters a bit when the landlord’s son Joey shows up demanding a 20 percent hike in the rent, at which point Lena and Nash concoct a plan to raise cash by throwing a DJ’ed rave in an adjacent empty warehouse. The unsympathetic rent-collector twist is a tired trope, but Josh Sticklin’s menacing yet ingratiating turn as Joey is so fun to watch we don’t mind.

Ryan Sellers as Nash and Jesse Power as Lena in The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Eason can get to the emotional core of her characters, though, in surprising ways. Hank, for instance, has a heartbreaking speech to Lena in which he remembers the feelings that accompanied his decision to raise his motherless child:

I keep thinking I’ll get over it. For years, I’ve been hoping, O.K., when she can sit up, I’m not going to be so attached. O.K., when she can talk, when she can walk, O.K., when she’s 10 and like a little person, I will not feel this.

But he can’t.

I can’t stop loving you.

And we do not hear a catchy song hook. We hear the all-access feelings of an honorable father for his child.

For fans of both live rock music and live theater, Keegan Theatre’s production of The Undeniable Sound of Now is a terrific twofer. It’s got a heart that beats like a drum kit, and it packs a wallop like a subwoofer.

Running Time: One hour 55 minutes, including one intermission.

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now plays through May 27, 2018, at The Keegan Theatre—1742 Church Street NW, Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.

 

Iron & Coal

The sheer magnitude of the concert event was enough to inspire wonder and awe. More than 200 musicians packed the Strathmore stage and a balcony above—two orchestras, three choirs, a rock band—plus animated projections on a widescreen scrim and a stadium-scale light plot flooding the hall. For two nights only, Jeremy Schonfeld’s 2011 rock concept album Iron & Coal got mega-sized. The effect was gloriously spectacular and overwhelmingly beautiful—and also dramatically not quite focused.

Composer Jeremy Schonfeld, creator of Iron & Coal, at the piano as Music Director David Bloom conducts members of Contemporaneous and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras. Photo by Jim Saah.

Composer/lyricist Schonfeld created Iron & Coal as a tribute to his German Jewish father, Gustav Schonfeld, whose story is gripping: At the age of 10 he was sent to Auschwitz and survived along with his father until liberation. Then, reunited a year later with his mother, who also survived, Gustav grew up in the United States and became a renowned medical doctor, much lauded in his lifetime. (He died in 2011 on the very day his son’s Iron & Coal was mastered.) Portions of his autobiography, titled Absence of Closure, were incorporated into the concert program. He was “the first refuge kid from war to be bar mizvahed” at his synagogue in St. Louis (“The boy who lost his childhood becomes a man today”). He tells vividly of his post-traumatic nightmares. The snippets from Gustav’s memoir make one want to read more.

Jeremy writes in a program note that he “set out…to create an album honoring the stories and history so richly engrained in the fabric of my family and the Jewish experience at large.” Thus the Shoah casts a shadow over the work, prominently in its references to “Mourner’s Kaddish,” “Yedid Nefesh,” and other Jewish prayers. But even more indelibly, the shadow of Jeremy’s father looms over the work. Gustav was a man of towering moral stature against whom Jeremy cannot but measure himself. And Jeremy’s musical vocabulary for the emotions in that complex father-son connection is, aptly enough, rock.

Musicians from Contemporaneous and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, with singers from Young Artists of America, the Strathmore Children’s Chorus, and the Alexandria Harmonizers. Photo by Jim Saah.

During the entire concert, as on the album, there is a musical conversation between the mournful and prayerful language of Jewish heritage and the pulsing questing of contemporary rock—all consolidated inside a sumptuous orchestral and choral soundscape. It is as if the central concept of the album was really to reconcile as an oratorio something mere oratory could not.

I listened to the album a lot beforehand. It’s really good (and readily available on Spotify; see link below). But nothing prepared me for how gorgeously enormous it would sound at Strathmore.

I am not a music critic; I do theater. I look for the storytelling, the characters; I try to engage with the meaning and values in the action; I listen for the language, spoken and unspoken. So it was that my ears pricked up at a particularly portentous moment about one third through the program.

Lincoln Clauss (foreground) as Young Father in Iron & Coal, Music Director David Bloom (background). Photo by Jim Saah.

Three characters are established in the story: Jeremy Schonfeld, at a piano center stage, plays Son (himself). Standing in a small set stage left, composer/singer/actor/director Rinde Eckert plays Father (Gustav). And in another small set stage right, actor/singer Lincoln Clauss plays Young Father (Gustav in his youth). Eckert’s and Clauss’s liquidly clarion voices are thrilling. Schonfeld’s has a reedier, grittier edge; you sense he’s lived the rough emotions whereof he sings.

In a composition that begins with Schoenfeld’s setting of the liturgical prayer “Yedid Nefesh” and transitions to a boppy rock song called “Good Man,” Schoenfeld sings some verses that are laden with too-precious internal rhyme (as is characteristic of Iron & Coal):

It’s too hard to swallow, the victory is kind of hollow
And it keeps on following me wherever I go
Down to the marrow and on the broken wings of a sparrow
It’s a harrowing journey learning to reap what you sow

Actor Rinde Eckert as Father in Iron & Coal. Photo by Jim Saah.

Then powerfully, Son and Father sing a duet; then even more powerfully Young Father joins in, and the three reiterate a lyrical hook that seems to home in on why this story needed to be told:

Am I a good man?
I don’t know.

Despite the occasional lyrical banality, personal matters of great moral moment are at stake here. In his program note, Schonfeld tells us

As I labored to create Iron & Coal, I was faced with several difficult decisions: What is the story I am trying to tell here? Is it mine? Is it Dad’s? Why am I doing this, and for whom?

Those questions linger in the work itself, which wants to keep present the weight of history—the circumstances that Gustav narrowly survived—and at the same time wants to reckon with Jeremy’s own coming of age as the son of a Holocaust survivor. It’s a tall order. In the concert version Father wonders, “Did I survive for a reason?” Then later as though on faith he answers, “We survived for a reason.”

Iron & Coal animation by Tom Selzer.

Projection Designer S. Katy Tucker and Animation Designer Tom Selzer give chilling context to this narrative with such images as coiled barbed wire, faceless human figures, a still of Gustav’s elementary school classmates, none of whom but Gustav survived. English lyric surtitles helpfully appear on the screen as well.

Early on, Son sings, “Dad, you will always be my story.” It is a line sung on Jeremy’s behalf, yet in a sense on EverySon’s, for the work is unabashedly a paean to patriliny: It’s about Jeremy and his father and his father’s father and his father’s father’s father and so on. Women go unmentioned except Gustav’s mother and wife, who each get maybe 15 words—a curious minimization given that what makes these sons Jewish is the fact their mothers were.

One senses that the entire opus wants to uncover the meaning of Jeremy’s life in the shadows of both history and his father—which could have been an ennobling dramaturgical throughline had Jeremy’s character arc been better crafted for the big stage. Musically, the complex passions in that character arc come through with magnificent clarity. As a composer, Schonfeld creates a conversation between himself and his heritage that is blissful to listen to. And as symphonically amplified in the vast Strathmore hall, the message in the music soars.

As a lyricist, however, Schonfeld does not do his characters’ story justice. What works in small as a concept album sounds at concert scale too random, too driven by clever but empty rhymes, too emotionally discontinuous to resonate. Like son like father, perhaps, his words struggle to be worthy of his music.

PROGRAM
Mourner’s Kaddish
Aliyah / The Waiting
Save Me
Yedid Nefesh
Good Man
Bad Man
Man Questions God
Center of the Universe
Nothing Really Matters / Stop, Stop
If Ever
Piece of Me
Shema Yisrael
Time
Iron & Coal / I Gotta Song
Story of Love

CREDITS
Produced by Strathmore and Beth Morrison Projects
Creator and Performer   Jeremy Schonfeld
Director   Kevin Newbury
Music Director and Arranger   David Bloom
Projection Designer   S. Katy Tucker
Animation Designer   Tom Seltzer
Movement   Natalie Lomonte
Video Engineer and Programmer   Paul Vershbow
Production Stage Manager    Lindsey Turteltaub
Video Assistant  Michael Clark

Featuring
Jeremy Schonfeld
Rinde Eckert
Lincoln Clauss
Contemporaneous
Alexandria Harmonizers
Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras of Strathmore
Young Artists of America
Strathmore Children’s Chorus

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Iron & Coal played two performances only, May 3 and May 4, 2018, at the Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in Bethesda, MD.

READ an interview with Jeremy Schonfeld by my DCMTA colleague David Siegel:

In the Moment: ‘Iron & Coal’ Creator Calls His Work an Ode to a Ravaged Soul (at Strathmore) by David Siegel

LISTEN to Jeremy Schonfeld’s concept album Iron & Coal on Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/3E15PXxWWExYlgnEmvhyZp