Behzod Abduraimov

Behzod Abduraimov
Washington Performing Arts Society
Patrick Hayes Piano Series
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Behzod Abduraimov is a very talented pianist who shows great promise. He handled this challenging proram with great aplomb. My only complaint is that he tends to over-pedal, making the sound muddy.

It seemed clear to me that Abduraimov wanted to play the four Chopin scherzos as a coherent group. That was derailed not only by applause after the first scherzo, but also by a stream of stragglers taking their seats. The precedent set, applause followed the next two scherzos with Abduraimov nodding in acknowledgement, but remaining seated.

Abduraimov handled the scherzos’ technical challenges with ease, and they were very well phrased. There were, however, a couple of muddy patches, and a couple of balance issues between accompanimental passages in the left hand and melody in the right.

As the program notes said, it’s rare to hear the original piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition. Even though I’ve played the piano version, my mind is still heavily influenced by the orchestral version (meaning the Ravel, of course, although I’ve heard others). Apparently, Abduraimov was influenced, too, because he omitted the Promenade after “Two Polish Jews”. That’s a shame, because that particular Promenade relfects Mussorgsky’s pride of ownership: he owned the two portraits which the preceding movement depicts.

The transition from “The Hunt on Fowl’s Legs” to “The Great Gate of Kiev” was a bit anticlimactic. That opening statement isn’t as grand as later versions, but it needs to be grand enough to absorb the energy of the pounding upward scales as Baba Yaga flies off. Just another couple of notches of volume would probably have sufficed.

There were a number of passages of great delicacy: “Tuileries” and “Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua”, for example. And there were some over-pedaled passages (“Gnomus”, and the Promenade after “Bydlo”, and the chant sections in “The Great Gate”). Finally, Abduraimov made the conclusion of “The Great Gate” convincing on the piano, no mean feat in comparison to Ravel’s idiomatic orchestration.

As an encore, Abduraimov gave a nicely delicate performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne in C# Minor (Six Morceaux, Op. 19, No. 4).

Program

Frédéric Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38
Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 47
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52


Intermission

Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition<
  • Promenade
  • Gnomus
  • Promenade
  • Il Vecchio Castello
  • Promenade
  • Tuileries
  • Bydlo
  • Promenade
  • Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells
  • Two Polish Jews, One Rich, the Other Poor
  • (omitted: Promenade)
  • Limoges, The Market Place
  • Catacombae, Sepulcrum Romanum
  • The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba–Yaga)
  • The Great Gate of Kiev


Encore

Pyotr Tchaikovsky Nocturne in C# Minor (Six Morceaux, Op. 19, No. 4)

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Jakub Hrůša, conductor
Sergey Khatchatryan, violin
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

I was tired, but I really wanted to hear the Sibelius, since it’s one of my favorites (and not just a favorite violin concerto). It’s demanding, and I’m afraid Khatchatryan just wasn’t up to it. It was a mostly respectable performance, but not one for the ages. There were passages of extreme delicacy, but they were perhaps too restrained. This concerto is supposed to teem with energy, but it was generally inert. And not always accurate: a couple of passages in the first movement where the soloist plays a duet with the principal viola weren’t flawless, and the winds were unsteady at times in the second movement. Khatchatryan would occasionally slide into high notes after large upward leaps, which he might have been doing intentionally, but I found it unidiomatic. And the last movement lacked fire in the high passages. Those were some lethargic polar bears.

As an encore, Khatchatryan played a solo work, an Armenian song which he didn’t announce very clearly. It seemed like a theme with variations: a statement in a high tessitura; a variation in harmonics; a variation in the violin’s lowest range; a variation in fourths; and finally a tremolo passage that faded away. Khatchatryan showed himself to be a very sensitive performer with excellent technique. I think he’s just not ready for the Sibelius, or maybe he’s not temperamentally suited for it.

As I said, I was tired, and I didn’t want to be disappointed by the Brahms, which is also one of my favorite works, so I left at intermission.

Program

Leoš Janáček Jealosy
Jean Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
  • Allegro moderato
  • Adagio di molto
  • Allegro, ma non tanto

    Sergey Khatchatryan, Violin


Encore

Variations on an Armenian song (NFI) for solo violin


Intermission

Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
  • Allegro non troppo
  • Andante moderato
  • Allegro giocoso
  • Allegro energico e passionato

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman
Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Based on a novel by Roy Horniman
Kennedy Center
Eisenhower Theater

The movie Kind Hearts and Coronets is also based on Horniman’s novel, but even though the musical follows the film very closely, it can’t claim the film as an antecedent because of rights issues. John Rapson gets the Alec Guinness role(s), and he does a phenomenal job. (In the program, his understudies are listed as “For the d’Ysquith Family.) His co-star Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro, the young, guileless heir to the title, who accidentally falls into a life of murder, is very likeable, but Rapson steals the show.

The orchestra had a sort of G&S operetta sound to it. I don’t know if that was intentional, but I thought it was appropriate. The set was a stage-within-a-stage, and in general, the show was presented as flashbacks while Monty writes his memoirs in prison. (Unlike the censored American version of the movie, Monty recovers his memoirs just before the curtain.) There were some clever stage bits. During “I’ve Decided to Marry You”, there is a nominal hallway with two doors—one to the room where Sibella has been hidden, and one where Monty is becoming engaged to Phoebe—allowing a touch of farce, as Monty desperately tries to prevent the two women from meeting. During “I Don’t Understand the Poor”, the family portraits in the backdrop move aside to reveal the bewigged company who sing backup to a befuddled Lord Adalbert. And, this being the 21st century, there are computer graphics, too. During “Inside Out”, as Henry runs back and forth upstage, he’s chased by swarms of CGI bees.

There are a couple of slightly cringey songs. “Better With a Man” has obvious homoerotic undertones, but I don’t think it crosses the line into homophobia. And “Lady Hyacinth Abroad” is funny, but it has some caricatures (Egypt, India, “Africa”) of the sort that Ed Dixon got flack for when Signature produced his Cloak and Dagger a couple of seasons ago.

In a nice touch, during the curtain call, Rapson is dressed as Chauncey, the last of the D’Ysquiths, currently working as a janitor, and Massey pulls a small belladonna blossom out of his jacket pocket (he put it there halfway through the first act) and hands it to Rapson—who pops it in his mouth as the two walk offstage.

Cast:
Monty Navarro Kevin Massey
Miss Shingle Mary VanArsdel
Sibella Hallward Kristen Beth Williams
Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr John Rapson
Tour Guide Megan Loomis
Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith John Rapson
Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith John Rapson
Miss Barley Lesley McKinnell
Lord Asquity D’Ysquith, Sr John Rapson
Henry D’Ysquith John Rapson
Tom Copley Matt Leisy
Phoebe D’Ysquith Adrienne Eller
Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith John Rapson
Newsboys Matt Leisy, Ben Roseberry, Megan Loomis,
Kristen Mengelkoch
Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith John Rapson
Lady Salomé D’Ysquith Pumphrey John Rapson
Actors Ben Roseberry, Matt Leisy, Christopher Behmke
Lady Eugenia Kristen Mengelkoch
Mr Gorby Christopher Behmke
Chief Inspector Pinckney Ben Roseberry
Guard Matt Leisy
Magistrate Christopher Behmke
Chauncey John Rapson
Ensemble Christopher Behmke, Matt Leisy, Megan Loomis,
Lesley McKinnell, Kristen Mengelkoch, Ben Roseberry
Dance Captain Sarah Ellis
Fight Captain David Scott Purdy
Crew:
Director Darko Tresnjak
Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge
Costume Designer Linda Cho
Lighting Designer Philip S. Rosenberg
Sound Designer Dan Moses Schreier
Production Designer Aaron Rhyne
Hair & Wig Designer Charles G. LaPointe
Makeup Designer Brian Strumwasser
Orchestrations Jonathan Tunick
Music Director Lawrence Goldberg
Production Stage Manager Daniel S. Rosokoff
Choreography Peggy Kickey


Musical Numbers:
Act I
“A Warning to the Audience” Company
“You’re a D’Ysquith” Miss Shingle, Monty
“I Don’t Know What I’d Do” Sibella
“Foolish to Think” Monty
“A Warning to Monty” Ensemble
“I Don’t Understand the Poor” Lord Adalbert, Ensemble
“Foolish to Think” (Reprise) Monty
“Poison in My Pocket” Monty, Asquity Jr, Miss Barley
“Poor Monty” Sibella, Ensemble
“Better With a Man” Henry, Monty
“Inside Out” Phoebe, Monty
“Lady Hyacinth Abroad” Lady Hyacinth, Ensemble
“The Last One You’d Expect” Company
Act II
“Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?” Mourners, Lord Adalbert
“Sibella” Monty
“I’ve Decided to Marry You” Phoebe, Sibella, Monty
“Final Warning” Ensemble
“Poison in My Pocket” (Reprise) Monty
“Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” Lord Adalbert, Company
“Stop! Wait! What?!” Monty
“That Horrible Woman” Sibella, Phoebe, Inspector, Magistrate, Guard
“Finale” Company


Orchestra: piano, clarinet, oboe/English horn, bassoon, French horn, trumpet/piccolo trumpet, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass, drums/percussion

Noises Off

Noises Off
By Michael Frayn
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre

Noises Off (as in “noises offstage”) is one of the quintessential British farces. There are (if I remember correctly) eight doors on two levels and a landing, and there are the usual comings and goings and people passing unnoticed. Each act ends, of course, with a complex sequence of musical doors.

This is the ultimate in-the-theater play that was mentioned in the notes to Shakespeare Theatre Company’s double bill of The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound. In this case, a hapless theater company in the boondocks is preparing Nothing On, by Robin Housemonger—a typical farce involving a young woman in her underwear (“small clothes”), men dropping their clothes, unconsumated sex, and general miscommunication. Act I is the dress rehearsal of Act I of Nothing On (although it’s more of a technical rehearsal: there’s a lot of argument about that) at the Grand Theatre in Weston-super-Mare. Act II takes place a month later: it’s Act I of Nothing On again, this time seen from backstage at the Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. Act III (following Act II without intermission) is, yet again, Act I of Nothing On, this time seen from the front.

In Act I, it takes the cast forever to get through Act I of Nothing On. They argue with the director (who makes his entrance through the orchestra seats, and occasionally appears in the balcony) over direction and motivation. Their romantic relationships get tangled, and the seeds of doom are sown.

In Act II (the backstage view), the complex relationships between the actors are deteriorating (Selsdon Mowbray’s drinking, for example, is out of control), and there’s a fair amount of backstabbing and sabotage going on. We get to see the petty fighting and bickering, which miraculously lines up the the play going on onstage (i.e., upstage of the set, partially visible through various doors and windows). The mathematical precision is comparable to a triple fugue.

In Act III, the performance has gone to pot. The complex movement of plates of sardines collapses in a mess on the floor that the actors slip on. There are blown lines and a flurry of improvisations at the end as the actors try to salvage the act and get it to limp to an end. There’s also a bit of collapsing set (a trope which The Play That Goes Wrong takes to unparalleled heights).

The cast is generally excellent, although in the second act it was hard to follow all the deteriorating relationships. A lot of the “conversations” are mimed—because they’re backstage, and they can’t make noise that would disrupt the action “on stage”)—and it wasn’t always clear just what messages they wanted to convey to each other. On the other hand, there was some wonderful business with an ax, and the classic prank of tying someone’s shoelaces together led to some seriously athletic movement.

It’s hard to believe that Noises Off is over 30 years old. Its comedy is timeless. Well, except for the fact that Frayn has been tweaking it to keep it from aging, most recently in 2000. But the core of the play, the mathematical precision of that second act, is one of the marvels of modern theater. I can’t believe it took me so long to see it for the first time.

Cast:
Nothing On Noises off IRL
Mrs Clackett Dotty Otley Andrea Martin
Director Lloyd Dallas Campbell Scott
Rober Tramplemain Garry Lejeune David Furr
Vicki Brooke Ashton Megan Hilty
Assistant Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor Tracee Chimo
Flavia Brent Belinda Blair Kate Jennings Grant
Philip Brent/Sheikh Frederick Fellowes Jeremy Shamos
Company & Stage Manager Tim Allgood Rob McClure
Burglar Selsdon Mowbray Daniel Davis
Crew:
Director Jeremy Herrin
Set Designer Derek McLane
Costume Designer Michael Krass
Lighting Designer Jane Cox
Sound Designer Christopher Cronin
Original Music Tod Almond
Hair and Wig Designer Paul Huntley
Comedy Stunt Coordinator Lorenzo Pisoni
Dialect Consultant Elizabeth Smith
Production Stage Manager Linda Marvel

The Critic & The Real Inspector Hound

The Critic
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher

The Real Inspector Hound
By Tom Stoppard

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Lansburgh Theatre
in association with Guthrie Theater

This was a fascinating pairing of plays. They’re both about the relationship between theater critics and the theater, and what happens when the line between the two blurs. In Sheridan’s play, the line is blurred when a critic decides he wants to jump the footlights and write a play. His colleagues take this opportunity to make a fool of him (which he, of course, misses completely). In Stoppard’s play, the boundary is crossed in a more surreal fashion, like Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author: the two critics get sucked into an Agatha Christie–style murder mystery.

STC’s Literary Manager, Drew Lichtenberg, elaborates on these similarities in his entertaining program notes. (Favorite observation: “Both plays stare into the abyss of theater history. The abyss stares back and calls for its line.”) Both plays, for examples, are responses to earlier plays. The Critic is Sheridan’s adaptation John Dryden’s The Rehearsal (written in 1672, a century before The Critic), while Stoppard’s play is a parody of drawing room murder mystery plays like Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Lichtenberg points out that, while earlier plays featured plays-within-a-play (“The Mousetrap” in Hamlet—I had forgotten that that was what it was called—and “Pyramus and Thisbe” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), The Rehearsal is one of the first “in-the-theater” plays, where the production of a play is the main focal point of the action. (One of the crowning examples of this is Noises Off, which I will finally be seeing shortly.)

Compounding the meta-ness of The Critic is the fact that this production is actually an adaptation of the original. Its full two acts have been condensed into a single act: one scene for each act. And while some of the language has been modernized, it still captures some of the artificiality of earlier centuries’ theater practice (and it’s performed in full-on 18th-century costumes). The first scene/act is somewhat episodic, and serves largely to set up the second scene/act, in which the two critics, Mr Dangle and Mr Sneer, offer “helpful” criticism to Mr Puff as he directs a dress rehearsal (of sorts) of his play, “The Spanish Armada”. The sight gags are wonderful (the scene ends with a mechanical roiling sea backdrop which goes wonderfully awry) and there are plenty of verbal jokes.

Sheridan’s The Rivals gave us the eponymous Mrs Malaprop, but less well-known, The Critic gave us puff pieces, or puffery. Mr Puff isn’t really a critic so much as a shill, writing his reviews in advance of the play, often for a fee. He describes the various sorts of puff pieces: “Yes, sir, puffing is of various sorts. The principal are, the puff direct, the puff preliminary, the puff collateral, and the puff collusive, and the puff oblique, or puff by implication.” Mr Puff is the principal foil of the play, as he responds with slow-witted diligence to all of Dangle’s and Sneer’s recommendations for “improving” his play. Robert Stanton did an excellent job, as he also did with the critic Moon in the Stoppard.

I’m not saying too much about the Stoppard play, because it is, after all, a mystery, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. I will say, though, since the title is a bit spoilery, that I did guess who the real Inspector Hound was. But there was no way I could have predicted the plot twists involving the two critics (although I did figure them out shortly before they were revealed).

I had seen a technical rehearsal last fall: they were working on the second act of “The Murder at Muldoon Manor” (the play the two critics were attending). It was interesting to see how Kahn was working his way through some of the blocking issues. At one point, Mrs Drudge (wonderfully played by Naomi Jacobson) is serving tea to four characters who are playing cards. She offers them cream (“White or black?”), then she offers them sugar, and finally she offers them a buiscut. At first, she simply stood in place, reaching over the table to dispense each item. Then Kahn had her walk around to each player, offering from the right, which involved walking around a long divan, and squeezing between the divan and Major Magnus’s wheelchair. The scene took much longer, of course, but the slow repetition was funnier—as witnessed by the small audiences laughter. That was an easy decision for Kahn to make. Another bit of action presenting a problem was Hound’s second entrance. The one Kahn wanted simply involved too much time (Robert Dorfman had to make a mad dash behind the stage, and he just couldn’t make it in the time allowed). I think that would have been better, but in the end Hound made his entrance through a gap that wasn’t really an entrance (which I found distracting, even though the set was rather impressionistic).

It was also interesting to see the déjà vu version of the second scene—which gets repeated, with Birdboot (one of the critics) taking the place of another character. It’s fascinating—and typical of Stoppard, I suppose—how easily Birdboot takes over the other character’s words, or even substitutes his own, giving each conversation a completely different cast. And the second time around, the card game degenerates into something resembling “Calvinball” from Calvin & Hobbes.

Brit Herring is credited as the Radio Voice. I had to google him to make sure that was a real person, and not some sort of credit obfuscation (like in a couple of other murder mystery plays that I won’t mention because spoilers). But he’s real. I wonder if he also played the corpse that lies on the stage virtually unnoticed for most of the Stoppard. He’s also one of the locals. At the technical rehearsal, it was explained that this is a co-production with Guthrie Theater, and after it completes its run here, it will transfer to Minneapolis. By design, half the cast are Minneapolitans, and half are from DC or NY. But the corpse is hired locally, so he won’t transfer with the production.

Cast:
The Critic
Mr Dangle John Ahlin
Mrs Dangle Naomi Jacobson
Servant / Prompter Hugh Nees
Mrs Buxom / Actress 1 Sandra Struthers
Signora Décolleté / Actress 2 Charity Jones
Mr Sneer Robert Dorfman
Sir Fretful Plagiary / Actor John Catron
Mr Puff Robert Stanton
The Real Inspector Hound
Moon Robert Stanton
Birdboot John Ahlin
Mrs Drudge Naomi Jacobson
Simon Gascoyne John Catron
Felicity Cunningham Sandra Struthers
Cynthia Muldoon Charity Jones
Major Magnus Hugh Nees
Inspector Hound Robert Dorfman
Radio Voice Brit Herring
Crew:
Director Michael Kahn
Scenic Designer James Noone
Costume Designer Murell Horton
Lighting Designer Mark McCullough
Sound Designer Christopher Baine
Composer Adam Wernick
Fight Director Paul Dennhardt
Period Movement Consultant Frank Venturea
Assistant Director Craig Baldwin
Production Stage Manager Joseph Smelser
Assistant Stage Manager Elizabeth Clewley
Fight Captain Robert Dorfman

The Pearlfishers

The Pearlfishers (Les pêcheurs de perles)
By George Bizet
Libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré
The Metropolitan Opera

Bill Cerri, the longtime morning classical announcer on WETA, thought Pearlfishers was significantly superior to Carmen. This is the second time I’ve seen it (the first was an indifferent production years ago by the defunct Baltimore Opera Company), and I still don’t see what Bill saw in this opera. Yes, it has some lovely music, but it’s not packed with memorable numbers like Carmen. Basically, it has two, both in the first act.

This production, by Penny Woolcock, is opulent enough. But the opera is fairly static: it’s basically limited to the interaction among four characters. So the chorus fills up the stage, but their movement (such as it is) is not always clearly motivated. For example, in the third act, as Nadir and Leïla are singing their duet before being cast on a funeral pyre, there are two supers carrying a statue on a board across the stage. The entered stage left down stage, and circuitously wound their way stage right up stage. At which point they exited. What was that about? I thought maybe they were bringing the statue to place it on the altar as part of the ritual, but no, off they went. They transited solely to provide some small bit of movement to an incredibly static scene.

And there were some weird time period clashes. The set looked like it could have been on the other side of the island in South Pacific: there was definitely a 1940s vibe to the set. (All sorts of corrugated metal and barrel pontoons.) The crowd were all dressed in typical south–Asian peasant clothes, but at the beginning of the first act, there were three men dressed like Jehovah’s Witnesses, distributing … something. Pamphlets, encouraging the people to vote for Zurga as absolute leader, I guess? And at the beginning of the third act, Zurga is in an elaborate office, with bookshelves full of books (well, they’re painted on the backdrop), and he consoles himself by pulling a beer out of his mini–fridge and lighting up a cigarette.

The singing was fine. The audience applauded wildly at the end of “Au fond du temple saint”, arguably the best–known number, even though it wasn’t a knock–your-socks–off rendition. Matthew Polenzani’s performance of “Je crois entendre encore”, towards the end of the act, however, was really excellent: Polanzani sang those high phrases to softly and lightly, with absolute control.

I enjoyed the performance, but now, having seen a really good production, I don’t feel the need to see it again. Sorry, Bill, I’ll stick with Carmen.

Cast:
Zurga, Village Headman Mariusz Kwiecien
Nadir, a pearl diver Matthew Polenzani
Leïla, priestess of Brahma Diana Damrau
Nourabad, high priest of Brahma Nicolas Testé
Crew:
Conductor Gianandrea Nosedra
Director Penny Woolcock
Set Designer Dick Bird
Costume Designer Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer Jen Schriever
Choreographer Andrew Dawson

West Side Story

West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Original Direction and Choreography by Jerome Robbins

You can’t deny that West Side Story is a brilliant musical, and Signature’s production was top notch. Certainly, they pulled out all the stops, with a cast of 30 and an orchestra of 17. And the opening number, with the Sharks and the Jets entering with Robbins’s balletic moves, is still a bit startling, but it quickly becomes “normal”. Also a bit startling, at first, is just how young the Sharks and the Jest sound. They are, of course, all young men in their twenties, or at most early thirties, and mens’ voices don’t really mature until after that. This is evidenced again, at the beginning of the fight scene at the end of the act, when the men are all singing at the bottom of their register. There’s a lack of resonance, even though they’re all miked.

And that’s something else that bothers me: the miking of the cast—and of the orchestra, sometimes (although I don’t think that was the case in this production). Singers who rely on mikes don’t really learn to use their voices. When this musical premiered in 1957, the cast wasn’t miked, and I’m sure they were heard perfectly well over an orchestra which was probably at least as big as this one. (On the other hand, the orchestra in the original production was in a pit, and not on a balcony above the action, as it was in this production.)

At least the men were understandable. Many of the women were unintelligible. I suppose you can make allowances for Maria, when she’s singing at the top of her register, but a lot of “America” was lost to poor diction. (I will note that Natascia Diaz, as Anita, was always perfectly intelligible. Her role isn’t quite as high as Maria’s, but she’s also a much more seasoned performer.)

The staging was particularly involving. The thrust stage was surrounded on three sided with balconies made of metal walkways, and when the cast went running up and down, they rattled like fire escapes, adding to the general sound picture. The leads all did a good job, but I thought it was a bit disturbing that Maria, arguing with Anita about her virginal white dress, looked all of fourteen (Juliet’s age in the original play). But at the end of the musical, when Maria is mourning over the slain Tony, she really commanded the stage: it was an impressive performance.

Cast:
The Jets
Tony Austin Colby
Riff Max Clayton
Action Ryan Fitzgerald
A-Rab Ryan Kanfer
Baby John Joseph Tudor
Snowboy J. Morgan White
Big Deal Tony Neiderbach
Diesel Kurt Boehm
Gee-Tar (Jacob Beasley)
Graziella Jennifer Cordiner
Velma Colleen hayes
Minnie Jamie Howes
Pauline Shawna Walker
Clarice Cami Spring
Anybodys Maria Rizzo
The Sharks
Maria Mary-Joanna Grisso
Bernardo Michael Gracetta for Sean Ewing
Anita Natascia Diaz
Chino DJ Petrosino
Pepe Ryan Sellers
Indio Jacob Beasley for Michael Gracetta
Luis Eric Rivas
Anxious Zachary Norton
Rosalia Katie Mariko Murray
Consuelo Olivia Ashley Reed
Teresita Jasmine Alexis
Francisca Ilda Mason
The Adults
Doc Bobby Smith
Lieutenant Schrank John Leslie Wolfe
Officer Krupke Russell Sunday
Glad Hand Bobby Smith
Captains
Dance Captain Tony Neidenbach
Fight Captain Kurt Boehm
Crew:
Music Director Jon Kalbfleisch
Choreographer Parker Esse, based on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins
Director Matthew Gardiner
Scenic Designer Misha Kachman
Costume Designer Frank Labovitz
Lighting Designer Jason Lyons
Sound Designer Lane Elms
Wig Designer Anne Nesmith
Production Stage Manager Kerry Epstein
Associate Choreographer Jessica Hartman
Assistant Choreographer Tony Neidenbach
Assistant Stage Manager Allie Roy
Assistant Director Phillip Fazio

Orchestra: piano, 4 reeds, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, drums, percussion, bass, 3 violins, cello

Musical Numbers

Act I
Prologue Orchestra
Jet Song Riff & Jets
Something’s Coming Tony
Dance At The Gymn Company
Maria Tony
Balcony Scene Maria & Tony
America Anita, Rosalia, Consuelo, Francisca, Teresita
Cool Riff & Jets
One Hand, One Heart Tony & Maria
Tonight Jets, Sharks, Anita, Tony, Maria, Riff, and Bernardo
Act II
I Feel Pretty Maria, Consuelo, Rosalia, and Francisa
Somewhere Company
Gee, Officer Krupke Jets
A Boy Like That/I Have a Love Maria & Anita
Finale Maria & Tony

2015 Top 10 Theater Productions

I saw 80 theatrical productions in 2015—that includes plays and musicals, but not concerts, operas or ballets. That’s a respectable number, yes? A number of critics and bloggers have been assembling their Top 10 lists, so I thought I’d do the same. These are in chronological order.

King Hedley II by August Wilson — Arena Stage

I’m a little late coming to the works of August Wilson, but I’ve decided that, in addition to seeing all 38 plays in the Shakespeare canon, I want to see all ten of Wilson’s American Century cycle. I saw The Piano Lesson at Olney last year, and two this year (both on this list). The production in Arena’s Fichandler was intense and gripping.

Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl — Forum Theatre

Passion Play played in DC several years ago, but I didn’t get around to seeing it. It is structured as a set of variations: in each of it’s three acts, some troupe in a different era is staging a passion play. There are parallels and contrasts, as the same cast shifts characters from one time period to another.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang — Arena Stage

I’ve seen a fair number of Chekhov plays, and I’ve seen Aaron Posner’s riffs on The Seagull (Stupid Fucking Bird) and Uncle Vanya (Life Sucks), so Durang’s hommage seemed like fun. Was it ever. The cast was absolutely brilliant. I saw it again in late summer at The Cape Playhouse, and I didn’t think that production’s Cassandra and Spike were quite up to the level of their Arena counterparts.

The Fire and The Rain by Girish Karnad — Constellation Theatre Company

Constellation’s forte is the epic play, and Karnad’s adaptation of an episode from the Mahabharata certainly fits the bill. Dallas Tolentino gave a breathtakingly athletic performance as Arvasu, and the rain which Indra sends at the end of the play to end the seven–year drought was magical and cathartic.

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard — Shakespeare Theatre Company

This was actually a staged reading sponsored jointly by STC’s Education branch and the National Academy of Sciences (in whose auditorium the reading took place). An all–star cast presented a masterful performance of Stoppard’s complex play. It’s mind–boggling that Stoppard isn’t a native speaker of English.

The Producers by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan — Olney Theatre Center

God, what fun. Comedy doesn’t get much better than this. Olney pulled out all the stops for this one.

One In The Chamber by Marja-Lewis Ryan — Forum Theatre

This was a special Forum production, taking place in the Mead Theatre Lab @ Flashpoint, rather than at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre. The Mead is tiny: there can’t have been more than 50 people in the audience, and the action took place in a cramped bit of floor space. The performances were outstanding all round, but especially Adrienne Nelson as the mother, and Noah Chiet as Adam, the teenager who accidentally shot and killed his little brother. It’s a searing, gut–wrenching play, which got as good a production as anyone could want.

Salomé by Yaël Farber — Shakespeare Theatre Company

Billed as an “adaptation”, this play was even less closely tied to Oscar Wilde’s version than Posner’s plays were to Chekhov. It’s a complete re-imagination of the story (which, in the Biblical original, doesn’t actually give a name to the title character). Farber’s version is told from Salomé’s point of view, and it gives a credible, positive motivation for Salomé’s peculiar demand for the head of John the Baptist.

Fences by August Wilson — Everyman Theatre

This was my first visit to Everyman Theatre in Baltimore, and it was an incredible production. Troy Maxson is a frustrating protagonist: he’s a generally good man, with a major, alienating flaw—which he embraces as much as his good side. And like King Hedley II, this play has a touch of magical realism (it’s stronger in this play), something that probably contributes to my sister’s lack of interest in Wilson’s work.

No Exit by Jean–Paul Sartre — Nu Sass

This was the first Nu Sass production I’ve seen, and it was intense. Performed in the tiny Chaos on F space—basically the second-story front room of a converted row house—, this takes the prize for smallest space. There were about twenty-five folding chairs surrounding three sides of a tiny performing space. (Actually, it was probably bigger than the Mead Theatre Lab, both in terms of the actual room and the performing area, but the Mead Theatre Lab crammed in more seats at the expense of the stage.) I remember this play from high school (having participated in a staged reading of some sort), but I had never seen it performed.

Honorable Mentions

Kid Victory by John Kander and Greg Pierce — Signature Theatre Company

Merchant of Venice (Original Pronunciation) by William Shakespeare — Baltimore Shakespeare Factory

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard — Folger Theatre

Jumpers for Goalposts by Ed Sheeran — Studio Theatre

Dear Evan Hansen by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul — Arena Stage

Dogfight by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul — Keegan Theatre

Friendship Betrayed by María de Zayas y Sotomayor — WSC Avant Bard

Bad Dogby Jennifer Hoppe-House — Olney Theatre Center

Avenue Q by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx — Constellation Theatre Company

Holiday Memories by Truman Capote (adapted by Russell Vandenbroucke) — WSC Avant Bard

One in the Chamber

One In The Chamber
By Marja-Lewis Ryan
Forum Theatre
Mead Theater Lab, Flashpoint Gallery

I wasn’t sure I wanted to take this play in, but then I read Christopher Henley’s review on DC Theatre Scene, and I decided to go. I am really glad I did, because this is probably one of the best productions I’ve seen all year, and certainly it had two of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

The director, Michael Piazza, made this statement about the play: “This is not a political play in its aim. It’s an examination of a family and of a tragedy that involves hot-button political issues, but it is crafted in a way that the politics is kind of left to the audience to grapple with, instead of the play itself making a clear political statement.” This is largely true. The precipitating event—Adam accidentally shooting his brother Joey—could have been some other sort of accident. The primary focus of this play is the disintegration of a family following a traumatic incident. Each of the family members deals with the tragedy in a different way, none of them well. The father drinks, and works extra hours to avoid his family. The mother drinks seriously: she drinks vodka out of a large travel coffee mug, and as her daughter points out, her tipping point (at which time she is seriously drunk) is 11 AM—around the time the social worker arrives. The daughter, meanwhile, is even more cynical than most girls her age, and is, in her mother’s words, “promiscuous”. Adam seems to be handling it best, but he’s hollow inside. And the social worker is completely out of her depth. She has insufficient training to handle the situation (she keeps making faux pas in her questioning), and she is overwhelmed by the family’s torrential emotions.

The Theater Lab is tiny, and the seats are right on top of the disheveled set. This is a very intimate venue, and you really feel like you’re in the room with the family as they have their several interviews with the social worker. The attention to detail in the set is amazing: it really does look like people live there. The entire cast is strong, but two performances really stand out. First, Adrienne Nelson as Helen, the mother: she is still distraught from the events of six years ago, and she feels partly responsible for the accident. After all, she didn’t take the extra 30 seconds, walk the extra seven steps, to secure her revolver before before going up to check on her daughter. Over the course of the play, she slowly crumbles inside, and then explodes. Noah Chiet’s Adam, on the other hand, is sweet and soft-spoken, self-effacing, and understanding of what his foolish, playful act has done to his family and himself. But Adam is hollow, and the pain of his family’s disfunctionality is more than he can bear. The end of the play is harrowing, and both Nelson and Chiet turn in Helen Hayes-worthy performances.

There was a talkback session after the play, with former Vermont legislator Linda Waite Simpson talking about some gun legislation she worked on while in office. All of the sessions were generally with pro-gun control speakers, and the audience the night I was there seemed to focus on gun laws. (Apparently no “gun lobby” speakers accepted the invitation to join a talkback session.) But no gun law could have prevented the accident in this play: not even the law that Rep. Waite proposed (which would have punished the mother in this play for her negligence). There are no simple answers, and this play isn’t limited to gun–related questions. It really is a challenging play, and it got a phenomenal performance from an amazing cast.

Cast:
Jennifer Liz Osborn
Helen Adrienne Nelson
Adam Noah Chiet
Charles Dwight Tolar
Kaylee Danielle Bourgeois
Ruthie Grace Doughty
Crew:
Director Michael R. Piazza
Scenic and Properties Designer Katie Sullivan
Costume Designer Lyn Chiet
Production Stage Manager Jenn Carlson
Assistant Stage Managers Curt Gavin, Henry Kramer
Technical Director Christian Sullivan

How We Died / Bones in Whispers

How We Died of Disease-Related Illness
By Miranda Rose Hall
Bones in Whispers
By Kathleen Ackerley
Longacre Lea Productions
The Callan Theatre at The Catholic University of America

I wasn’t particularly impressed with How We Died of Disease-Related Illness. Miranda Rose Hall would seem to be a young playwright—she’s now a Playwrighting MFA candidate at Yale. This play has a very Fringe-y feel to it. There are some very funny moments, but it’s very episodic. Some of the episodes are part of a larger arc, like Trish’s recurring entrances in more and more important roles (janitor, administrator, doctor, chaplain, candidate for governer), and other episodes portray the increasing spread of the “disease”. But some episodes don’t contribute much forward movement, and to the extent that they’re amusing, they only contribute to the feeling that this is more of a revue than a play with a plot.

There’s a fair amount of slapstick, particularly in the way the “disease” manifests itself: the patients’ internal organs seem to be changing into guacamole, and they keep extracting or expelling long skeins of green gauze: the prime symptom of the unnamed but contagious disease, which is diagnosed by the ability to name a series of trivia questions (state sports, state birds, state dances, and so forth). There’s a certain surreal quality to the play, and it’s firmly rooted in the theater of the absurd. But if the play had something to say, I missed it.

The set was an interesting modular arrangement of walls and a large counter. The cast rearranged things during short, semi-blackouts, which, in itself, was okay, but it tended to interrupt any momentum the play had. Ashley DeMain was good as Trish, who ascends to greater and greater responsibility over the course of the play. And Alejandro Ruiz was good as Neil, the patient zero.

Kathleen Akerley’s Bones in Whispers was an interesting foray into post-apocalyptic science fiction. In this case, the apocolypse was “Death Day”, about six months ago, when almost the entire population of the planet simply dropped dead. Those who survived are caught up in a web of superstition which fills the absence of any logical explanation for their survival. They wander in small groups, which become their “families”, and on some regular basis they are forced to repeat their family’s “ritual”, that is, whatever it was that they were doing when everybody else dropped dead, and they didn’t. In the case of the first family we meet, it’s a jazzercise routine. This family is exploring a hospital as a possible base for survival, when they’re interrupted by a second, and eventually a third family. We get to see how the different characters react to this upheaval in their lives, and how they envision moving forward. Like any family, there are frictions between members, and these frictions shift and change as two of the families merge.

We find out bits and pieces of the characters’ backgrounds, not always complete. For example, what exactly is Joel’s background? Is he as nefarious as Conner says? We don’t find out. I’m not sure if I’m disapponted that this topic was left undeveloped (I mean, why make the suggestion if it’s not going to be pursued?), or if I’m content with the fact that life is messy, and not everything gets tied up nicely with a bow.

The ending is … okay, if you don’t think too hard about it. It’s a 1950s or 1960s sort of ending, but not the hard science of Asimov or Clarke. It’s more a pulp sci-fi ending. The science aspect of the play is a bit weak in general. There have been too many detailed post-apocalyptic novels, movies, and TV series for anyone to completely get away without serious attention to the science of the situation. But then, there is this thing called “willing supsension of disbelief”.

Cast:
Pregnant Patient/Jean Christine Alexander
Pregnant Patient’s Boyfriend/Luke Tom Carman
Lockjaw Patient/Conner Tamieka Chavis
Trisha/Knife Family Ashley DeMain
Medical Orderly/Taylor Vince Eisenson
Bill/Isaac Séamus Miller
Neil/Paul Alejandro Ruiz
Hannah/Knife Family Amal Saade
Lisa/Knife Family Tia Schearer
Hiccoughing Patient/Fritz Kathleen Ackerley (for Jorge A. Silva)
Pt Patient, Medical Orderly/Joel Matthew Alan Ward
Crew:
Director, Set Designer, Choreographer Kathleen Ackerley
Assistant Director Ann Lathrop
Lighting Designer John Burkland
Costume Designer Gail Stewart Beach
Sound Designer Neil McFadden
Scenic Designer Britney Mongold
Technical Designer, Set Consultant Mark J. Wujcik
Stage Manager, Props Designer Solomon HaileSelassie
Movement Coach Tyler Herman
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.