Theatre Review: The Bad Oracle“I like short plays. They get to…

Theatre Review: The Bad Oracle

“I like short plays. They get to the point fast, make it, kill the lights. Short plays are exciting and urgent and an excellent idea for a small theater company like Interrobang. Heavy Hors D’Oeuvres 2 is the stage’s second (duh) go-round at this concept, and I thought it was good the first time and I think it’s even better now. The plays are tighter, the concept cleaner, direction more on point, performances to the max. In fact, I can’t actually say when I’ve spent a more delightful eighty minutes…”

Read on…

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Theatre Review: The Bad Oracle“I like short plays. They get to…

Theatre Review: ‘Black Pearl Sings!’ at Metro Stage

Roz White (left) as Pearl, and Teresa Castracane as Suzanne. Photo by Chris Banks.

Roz White (left) as Pearl, and Teresa Castracane as Suzanne. Photo by Chris Banks.

For years there has been a vogue for documentary plays and films—typically involving familiar historical figures in their formative years, or retelling a famous historic event. Adding fictional elements has always been controversial, however, and has led to two distinct results: on the one hand you have those who write as they please and produce spectacular entertainment that has little to do with the actual history. These hit shows/films raise howls of protest (and more than a few lawsuits). On the other hand you have writers who effectively work with straight-jackets on and who to produce reverent, accurate pieces that—while fulfilling in an academic sense—often leave you unmoved and uninformed.

This raises the question: can you be true to the events you describe, but still inject that magical “what if?” question that casts a spell over your audience and reveals the past in new and vivid ways?

Black Pearl Sings! Is a memorable evening, in an intimate space…

Enter Frank Higgins, a Kansas City playwright who could have taken the well-trod path of a documentary play about folklorist Alan Lomax and his friendship with the famous recording artist Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly). Lomax discovered Leadbelly in a southern prison, and helped to gain the man’s freedom. Leadbelly went on to a productive career as a singer-songwriter, and Lomax’s work has become a vital part of the American songbook. A classic American success story, right?

But given the numerous women who worked in the field alongside Lomax, who gained little or no recognition in their day, Higgins realized in a flash of inspiration that it would be more effective to create two strong female protagonists from the same era, the 1930’s, and explore what these women might have had to endure as both struggled for recognition and careers that their male counterparts (i.e., Lomax and Leadbelly) took for granted.

The result of Higgin’s inspiration, Black Pearl Sings!, is a beautiful, intimate evening that reminds us of the intense struggles faced by women, white and black, in the depths of the Depression. Set in the early 1930’s, we begin at a South Texas prison where Suzanna (the gritty Teresa Castracane) is auditioning women prisoners for a possible “folklore” recording session. Wary of being exploited herself – one man now has an Ivy League career based on her recordings – Suzanna encounters Alberta, “Pearl,” and demands that she sing her something new, to earn the right to be recorded for posterity.

Higgins, from the very beginning, reminds us of the racial dynamic involved in field recordings in those days, and the potential for white re-exploitation of blacks (who had already suffered enough, thanks very much). Pearl and Suzanna eye each other warily, hesitant to reveal too much and leave themselves vulnerable. But once trust is established, a relationship begins and their journey together is one of the most compelling you’re likely to see on this or any other stage.

Roz White’s performance as Pearl is revelatory; it helps that she herself has roots in the Gullah culture portrayed in the play. Her renditions of now-familiar songs will make you forget they were ever sung before, and Castracane’s Suzanna reveals her share of musical chops—with a brief snatch of the Gaelic version of “Barbara Allen” as a special highlight. And White’s rendition of a traditional Gullah dirge (whose origins, it turns out, lie in Sierra Leone) mark a fitting conclusion to Pearl’s journey.

Director Sandra L. Holloway has created a space where two fine actresses can create a solid partnership on stage, and Holloway’s instincts are spot-on in every instance. Particularly memorable is Pearl’s first concert in New York; Suzanna, technically the Mistress of Ceremonies, has to stand by bravely as Pearl literally steals the show. The discreet tension, the pasted-on smile while audience members are encouraged to sing along with Pearl, is priceless.

Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan have created appropriately spare, symbolic spaces for Pearl and Suzanna, from the simple wood planking of an office in a Texas prison to a finely furnished New York apartment, complete with an “authentic” African mask for decoration. Janine Sunday has created the right touches with period costumes for the two women here, and Alexander Keen makes good use of the lighting possibilities with this two-hander.

Given Higgins’ deft touch with the two characters here, it might seem petty to point up a small flaw; but while we learn, discreetly and vividly, why Pearl is in prison we never really learn why Suzanna is estranged from her family. There are hints of an independent streak, but even in the 1930’s this wouldn’t explain why parents and child were not on speaking terms. Higgins is perfectly capable of creating just the right hint or nuance to explain this further, and since he has graciously added new details to the play I would like him to consider one here.

Black Pearl Sings! Is a memorable evening, in an intimate space, and not only do you get to see some great actors interpret a finely written script you get to join in the music yourself; treat yourself to an evening in Old Town, you won’t regret it.

A reminder: finding Metro Stage can be tricky – if you’re coming down the GW Parkway from National Airport you have to wait until Madison Street to turn left, then another left onto North Royal—the theatre is at the end of Royal St. behind the Bastille restaurant.

Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.

Black Pearl Sings! runs from April 21-May 29, 2016 at Metro Stage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria Virginia. Tickets can be ordered by calling the Box Office at 1-800-494-8497 or online.

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Theatre Review: ‘Black Pearl Sings!’ at Metro Stage

Theatre Review: ‘Disgraced’ at Arena Stage

(l to r) Joe Isenberg, Nehal Joshi, Ivy Vahanian and Felicia Curry by C. Stanley Photography.

(l to r) Joe Isenberg, Nehal Joshi, Ivy Vahanian and Felicia Curry by C. Stanley Photography.

Assimilation. The Cherokees tried, or so a glance at American history tells us. Finally conquered by the Europeans, they tried t acculturate themselves, to do what the white man said would render them social equals in the emerging 18th century America: “Be like us. Speak like us. Adopt our ways.” And so they did. They became farmers and planted cotton. They wore the white man’s clothes. They built houses like theirs. They even became Christians. And what did it get them? The Trail of Tears: slaughter, starvation, and near annihilation at the hands of that hot blooded redhead from Tennessee, Andrew Jackson, whose visage on the $20 bill will soon be replaced by the American Moses, Harriet Tubman.

Playwright Ayad Akhtar’s brilliant, astonishing Pulitzer-Prize winning play, “Disgraced,” is breathtakingly realized. Impeccably acted, incisively directly, gorgeously designed, and stunningly powerful. Wisdom abounds.

In the play American-educated Amir is an erudite, Islam-rejecting corporate lawyer. The son of parents born in what became Pakistan after partition, he married Emily, a gentile, redheaded American artist. They live in a spectacular Upper East Side apartment, with a magical view the Manhattan skyline. Yet, in playwright Akhtar’s ferocious plunge into the contradictions of the American Dream, Amir must face his own trail of tears; and the bitter message is the same: Abandon one’s tribe at one’s peril. Trust power at one’s own risk.

Impeccably acted, incisively directly, gorgeously designed, and stunningly powerful. Wisdom abounds.

For those on the outside, supremacist belief systems still take no prisoners. For the Cherokees, it was “Manifest Destiny,” that doctrine that American expansion across the continent was both justified and inevitable. And indeed, throughout history the powerful have rationalized their domination by their own self-serving logic: divine right of kings, white supremacy, Aryanism, caste systems, philosophies bestowing divine supremacy of one group over others. Like American Exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is inherently unique and superior among nations, and that it alone is charged with transforming the world.

In “Disgraced,” Amir eloquently articulates his long disillusionment with the Muslim faith of his upbringing. Nehal Joshi brings a beautifully nuanced, fiercely intelligent empathy to the role. His Amir is multi-sighted like an M.C. Esher tessellation: he sees himself both as America sees him and his culture—suspicious, hostile, dishonorable—and as he needs to be seen—sophisticated, loyal, non-violent. Joshi’s Amir bristles with all those contradictions.

Conversely, his abstract artist wife Emily–lyrically played by Ivy Vahanian—has embraced her own understanding of Islam. Ironically, her accelerating artistic career is fueled by her admiration for and emulation of sophisticated & ancient Islamic aesthetic motifs. Vahanian gives Emily an impassioned earnestness and a graceful ruthlessness; her Emily is talented, gracious, and strategic and, in a microcosm of Manifest Destiny, she seamlessly takes her place at New York’s artistic table.

Like their sleek, spacious apartment rising phoenix-like above the hustle of the city, Amir and Emily are beautiful and cultured and successful, the very picture of contemporary sophistication.

As the play opens, Emily is painting a portrait of her husband as a modern adaptation of Velasquez’s famous portrait of his enslaved African assistant, Juan de Pareja. The layers of paradox abound; Amir poses, his Westernized secularism firmly in the grip of irony.

Amir’s’ young nephew suddenly arrives; his birth name is Hussein but he’s taken to calling himself Abe, irony aside. Passionately played by Samip Ravel, Abe beseeches his uncle Amir—a one-time public defender–to advise his mosque’s recently arrested imam for taking donations the authorities assume must be terrorist-bound. Raval gives Abe an authority that belies his youth and a charm that lends his character emotional gravitas.

Still, Abe’s Uncle Amir at first refuses to help; as the most culturally different attorney at his Jewish law firm, Amir knows only too well the professional risk of any negative association with a politically imaged Islamic community. But his wife Emily—convinced that her husband’s colleagues will see the purity of Amir’s intentions–convinces him. Sure enough, Amir’s name and the name of his law firm are characterized as advocates for the quickly vilified imam in a New York Times article. Amir, rightly, is horrified at the consequences to come.

Into this political conundrum comes Isaac, curator and kingmaker in the New York art scene. He wants to see Emily’s recent work for possible inclusion in a major show. Emily’s fervent embrace of Islamic influences and her utter lack of irony–as well as her beauty and the mysticism of her work–delight him. Joe Isenberg brings an easy assurance and dazzling art-speak to Isaac; his Isaac has made the fractious New York art world his own, and has transcended his own outsider status as a native Midwesterner.

Later, Isaac and his corporate lawyer wife Jory—a colleague at Amir’s same law firm—arrive for a celebratory dinner, to toast Emily’s inclusion in the show. Felicia Curry gives the accomplished Jory the quickness of a brilliant legal mind, coupled with spot-on, comic timing. Curry brings down the house time and again with her deadpan rebuttals to her husband Isaac’s feeble remarks.

As the liquor flows, the levity and airy chatter of these 1 percenters evaporate, and playwright Akhtar and Director Timothy Douglas expertly peel back their façades. The subtext, the hidden logic, the unspoken resentments and distrusts of these four people–a Muslim, a Jew, an African-American, & a Caucasian–ricochet around the stage like ionized electrons. They are each freighted with hostilities and presumptions and misunderstandings too deeply embedded to shed and too agitated to hide anymore. In an anguished moment of confession Amir speaks about the visceral pride he, even as a disaffected Muslim, feels when his dis-empowered tribe revolts, even violently, against a dominating force. In one of the play’s most electrifying moments—with the silhouette of the Ground Zero monument shining through the window—Amir is pressed by their dinner guests to speak about his reaction to 9-11. An audible gasp goes up from the house, and it is clear that this is no ordinary American play.

Betrayals surface, dark secrets emerge, unholy alliances are revealed, relationships implode, and soon Amir emerges as the shattered embodiment of the play’s title: Disgraced.

And when his nephew Abe reappears at the play’s end needing his uncle’s legal help himself to withstand the FBI’s pressure to become an informant lest he lose his visa, the young man spits out the most passionate, coherent entreaty for a marginalized people’s reclamation of their world that this playgoer had ever seen.

The entire production of this magnificent play soars. Direction by Timothy Douglas rivets the audience throughout. Set Design by Tony Cicek captivates. Costume Design by Toni-Leslie James perfectly captures the play’s uber chic world. The Lightning Design by Michael Gilliam is positively magical.

Advisory: Brief profanity, adult themes. Appropriate for ages 13 and above.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

In The Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St., SW, Washington, DC 20024, through May 29, 2016.

Tickets: or 202-488-3300.

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Theatre Review: ‘Disgraced’ at Arena Stage

Celebrities Spotted Enjoying White House Correspondents Weekend in D.C.

The celebrities — actors, actresses, singers, and even our beloved journalists — have stormed Washington, D.C.

No, not for Broccoli City Festival, which is also happening this weekend. Instead, they’re here for President Barack Obama‘s last White House Correspondents Dinner. The red carpet is set to be rolled out on Saturday night, but celebs are already in town enjoying plenty of pre-Nerd Prom receptions.

This year’s host comedian Larry Wilmore was spotted last night at The New Yorker’s annual kick-off party at the POV Lounge inside the W Hotel. The fete was hosted by David Remnick.

Reality star turned actress Nene Leakes was spotted at The Hill & Extra’s 2016 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner Weekend Party at the Embassy of Canada last night.

Journalists Don Lemon, Tamron Hall and A.J. Calloway also took to the red carpet.

“House of Cards” actor Michael Kelly, who portrays Doug Stamper, was also spotted inside the Embassy.

Across town, Vivica A. Fox brought young actor Jessie Usher along with her to Time and People’s pre-party at the St. Regis Hotel.


Omarosa was also seen there, having fun in the photo booth, along with child stars turned daytime TV personalities Candace Cameron Bure and Tamera Mowry. Comedian and star of the film “Keanu,” Keegan-Michael Key was also seen cozying up to Gayle King inside the party.


And actress Rosario Dawson hosted her Voto Latino media reception — it’s seventh annual — at the Hay Adams Hotel last night.

Michael Eric Dyson along with his wife Marcia also attended.


Photo credit: Various


Celebrities Spotted Enjoying White House Correspondents Weekend in D.C.

Recap: Bytes & Bylines Party at Spanish Ambassador’s Residence Kicks Off WHCD

The 2016 “Bytes & Bylines” party kicked off White House Correspondents’ Dinner Weekend on Thursday night.

Notables, ranging from the tech sector to the Hill, along with media types gathered at the private residence of His Excellency Ramón Gil-Casares, The Ambassador of Spain to the U.S., for the fete.

spanish whcd (2)
Bytes & Bylines co-hosts Layer3 TV CMO Eric Kuhn, left, TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett, Veluxe CEO and founder Susanna Quinn, Ambassador of Spain to the U.S. His Excellency Ramón Gil-Casares and John McCarthy

Veluxe CEO and founder Susanna Quinn, TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett, Layer3 TV CMO Eric Kuhn, and political strategist John McCarthy co-hosted the event, which was sponsored by D.C. real estate development firm Saul Urban.

Also spotted inside the affair were Congresswoman and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson, Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, South African Ambassador Mninwa Mahlangu, actor Spencer Garrett, ABC 7 anchor Jummy Olabanji with fiance, Buzzfeed writer Darren Sands.

spanish am (2)

Guests sipped on authentic Spanish cocktails, such as sangria and flavored gin and tonic concoctions, crafted by José Andrés. They also savored bites grilled on a special barbecue stationed on the ambassador’s patio.

Photo Credit: Joy Asico


Recap: Bytes & Bylines Party at Spanish Ambassador’s Residence Kicks Off WHCD

Spotted: Rihanna Hits Up Drai’s Nightclub

Rihanna was spotted partying inside Drai’s Nightclub on Thursday night. The “Work” singer was in town on her Anti World Tour, which stopped by the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Rih Rih didn’t come alone. Instead, according to our spies, she partied with friends during an installment of “The Coolest Party with DJ Esco.”


Tourmate and former boyfriend Travis Scott took the Drai’s stage the following night after their concert.

Just saw @badgalriri at #Drais in #Vegas

A photo posted by Sam Unwin (@samwin555) on Apr 29, 2016 at 4:48am PDT



Spotted: Rihanna Hits Up Drai’s Nightclub

Ann Taylor Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Style + Life + Fashion

This Mother’s Day, Ann Taylor has the perfect presents to say “thank you” to the mothers in your life. Show the woman who works around the clock how much you care for her with gifts such as the pretty pineapple skirt, intriguing gingham pants and crisp safari-inspired ensembles. For versatile gifts,…

The post Ann Taylor Mother’s Day Gift Ideas appeared first on Style + Life + Fashion.


Ann Taylor Mother’s Day Gift Ideas