Photo: Tuan Nguyen
Photo: Tuan Nguyen

U Street Music Hall Presents Julius Jetson

Up-and-coming electronic music producer and DJ Julian Ragland, also known as Julius Jetson, will be making his headlining debut at U Street Music Hall this Friday. On Tap caught up with this local talent to get the inside scoop before his upcoming show.

On Tap: First things first. Where did the pseudonym Julius Jetson come from?
Julius Jetson: I was in a history class junior year of college doodling and spelling out my name in different ways when I wrote “Julius Jetson.” I kept rereading it and thought, “That has a really good ring to it.” And it just stuck.

OT: How long have you been playing music in the DC area?
JJ: I began playing back in 2012 when I was in undergrad at the University of Maryland. By 2014, I was playing four days a week while I was still in college. It was during college that I started my first company where we would host two parties a week and max them out. While I was DJing a lot, the frequency of shows helped me pay my way through college.

OT: In electronic music today, more artists are saying they don’t have a genre. What genre of electronic music would you say you fit into, and what differentiates this sound?
JJ: I would say I fit into house music, and a subgenre called G-house. My sound is unique because it’s heavily influenced by 2000s rap from Atlanta. I’ve been able to study it and implement samples from old Atlanta vinyl. It’s basically the glory years of Atlanta hip-hop, and I think that period speaks more heavily than other time periods [in rap music]. The combo of hip-hop and house music is something that I want to introduce to everyone. I get to use throwbacks while incorporating house sounds without changing the vibe completely. I love that I can introduce my two favorite music types in one.

OT: Why is Friday’s show significant to your career, specifically in the DC area?
JJ: I started learning the ins and outs of planning events at U Street Music Hall in 2011 for a group of guys that were regularly throwing parties at the location. I then became an intern for U Street, and after that my first event collaboration with them was in 2013. It’s cool that I can return to the venue where I first starting gaining experience in DC. We’ve kept a great relationship over the years, so this is really exciting for me.

OT: If you could perform with one artist, who would it be and why?
JJ: Probably Bijou. I first heard his music two years ago, and hit him up on social media to connect musically. From that point on, we have been friends and kept in touch. We both resemble the same genre, and it’s awesome to see that he’s coming to DC and bringing more light to our genre. [You can catch him at Flash this Wednesday.]

OT: What are you plans for the spring and summer? What’s your ideal venue or festival for performing?
JJ: I’ll be playing a local festival in June, and I’ll liking be making my way out to L.A. and Miami this summer. My ideal set would be played at Coachella’s Do LaB stage.

OT: Where do you see yourself in five years?
JJ: I would love to be touring in five years. Ideally, I’d like to have my own label and throw major parties in Miami, Barcelona, Ibiza and Amsterdam for all the main house music conferences.

Hear Julius Jetson and Rawle Night Long at U Street Music Hall this Friday at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 or free before 11 p.m. if you’re 21+.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com

 

 

Photo: Jerry Skiscim / Artwork by Brendan L. Smith
Photo: Jerry Skiscim / Artwork by Brendan L. Smith

Sparkplug Collective’s ‘Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us’ Inspires and Resonates

When searching for the words to describe Sparkplug Collective’s newest exhibition, all that comes to mind is “resonant.” Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us is a rich exploration of our deepest selves, challenging viewers to examine the space between who we are and how we present ourselves.

I was lucky enough to attend opening night this past Friday at Cultural DC’s Flashpoint Gallery in Chinatown. Walking through the space, it was clear each artist’s work held deeply personal – as well as societal – meaning. The exhibition, which examines our cultural obsession with selfies, raises powerful questions about how people mold their identities.

“The show is really a meditation of sorts,” says Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin, a Sparkplug Collective artist. “There’s an abstract, investigative meaning behind our work.”

The show’s artistic diversity only adds to its richness. Each piece was crafted with strikingly different mediums, utilizing glitter, video projectors, mirrors – even a metal birdcage.

Take Brendan Smith’s “Humanity Digitized.” The mannequin-like sculpture consists of aluminum foil, wire, circuit boards and 19th-century tintype photos. A large, vintage camera sits in place of the mannequin’s head, reminding viewers of the show’s central theme.

Smith’s use of digitally sourced materials adds a layer of complexity to the sculpture’s design. His choices reinforce the exhibition’s overarching message, encouraging viewers to examine his work – and the meaning of selfies – more deeply.

“I hope it causes people to pause for a moment and think about the amount of time they spend in the digital world, and how that affects their relationships in reality,” Smith says.

Other works included selfie-inspired pieces by Sparkplug Collective artists Michael Booker, Delesslin “Roo” George-Warren, Megan Maher, Jerome Skiscim, Casey Snyder, Jerry Truong and Yurcisin.

There’s no doubt the show raises questions that are deep and relevant. What struck me the most, though, was not the exhibition’s meaning, but the spirit behind it.

At the question and answer session held at the end of the evening, I learned what truly made the group a collective. Every artist, though from vastly different creative and cultural backgrounds, spoke candidly about their investment in each other’s artistic growth.

“We challenge each other with our varying perspectives and backgrounds,” Yurcisin says.

Perhaps this is the secret behind the exhibition’s resonance. The show is a creation born not from one creative mind, but from many – minds that endeavor to inspire others, as well. Together, Sparkplug Collective has shaped an exhibition that is profoundly personal, yet strongly universal. It is an artistic experience that promises to move us all.

Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us runs through March 11. The Luce Center Artist Talk, featuring Sparkplug Collective artists, is on Sunday, February 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The event is free and open to the public.

Flashpoint Gallery: 916 G St. NW, DC; 202-315-1305; www.culturaldc.org

Photo: Kayla Marsh
Photo: Kayla Marsh

Taste of Japan’s 2017 Best of the Best: Daikaya Group Honored for Authentic Ramen

A night of honoring Japanese culinary prowess turned into two-and-a-half hours of exploring traditional yet modern Japanese cuisine at Mess Hall in Brookland on Tuesday evening. The Daikaya Group (Daikaya Ramen/Izakaya, Bantam King, Haikan), a welcome addition to our ramen-loving city, was the 2017 recipient of this year’s Taste of Japan Honorary Award. The Taste of Japan Committee Washington D.C. and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan cohosted a reception to celebrate the Daikaya Group’s creative use of authentic Japanese ingredients.

Taste of Japan kicked off the evening with a sophisticated bar ranging from a glass of chardonnay to a Japanese whiskey and ginger ale-based cocktail. There was also a table set up with three different types of sake that each had a subtly sweet taste and natural carbonation. Waiters stepped out of the kitchen one at a time with trays serving dainty sushi plates as appetizers. Japan-imported rice was delicately crafted into sushi rolls from KAZ Sushi Bistro, including salmon nigiri with wasabi zuke and a tasty tuna sushi roll, among others.

After the room was warmed up with fresh sushi and refreshing cocktails, the award ceremony began with different members and representatives speaking to the crowd about the legacy and diversity of Japanese food. It was an interesting yet complex education about tradition, passion and the Americanization of Japanese food that eventually concluded with the award presentation to the cutting-edge Daikaya Group.

Daikaya’s visionaries are Daisuke Utagawa, Yama Jewayni and Chef Katsuya Fukushima, who opened the groundbreaking ramen house in 2013. The trio humbly accepted the award together. Each of their three restaurants (including Bantan King and Haikan) represents a unique take on Japanese food, with Daikaya focusing on authentic ramen noodles. These noodles are Sapporo-style ramen, which is one of the most popular ramen styles from Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. The soup stock needs over 16 hours of preparation to create a delightful and intricately flavored broth, which is a combination of chicken, pork and beef flavors. Daikaya’s labor-intensive, one-of-a-kind recipes are the reason they’re one of the hottest spots in DC right now. The whole audience was reminded that ramen is to be eaten quickly and without talking to anyone – and is meant to be slurped.

The Daikaya team served two different types of delectable ramen dishes for dinner. The chicken in Bantam King’s shoyu paitan ramen was roasted all day and cooked in butter, and that extra juice at the end was made to go over a different rice dish as an American fusion concoction. The comforting warm broth was the superstar in this dish, and it was totally acceptable to drink it from the bowl like cereal milk until it vanished. The more popular of the two ramen dishes was Daikaya’s lox and bagel aburamen. This dish allowed the noodles alone to truly shine with intense flavor and delicate texture. There was an obvious spicy kick to the dish, which had everyone in Mess Hall talking about it. To get the full effect of lox and bagel, Chef Fukushima suggested mixing it all together so that the dollop of cream cheese on top was spread throughout every noodle. The spiciness combined with hints of saltiness made the lasting impression of an everything bagel with noodles added.

Some small tasty plates included somen salad with agebitashi, and soba with sweet soy gelee and renkon chips presented by M’s Kitchen. The must-have dessert of the night was the fuyuu persimmon. These persimmons were imported from Japan just for the event, and they were definitely worth it. Sliced on a toothpick, this orange fruit was perfection with its cantaloupe color and texture, and a subtle hint of cinnamon. The sweetness and satisfying crunchiness were just enough to cleanse our palate at the end of a long night of feasting.

Taste of Japan Committee Washington DC packed this event with award recognition and incredible Japanese food, while showcasing the legacy and diversity of Japanese culture and how it’s been incorporated into the Western food industry. To see more about the Daikaya Group and their restaurants, visit their website. You can also learn more about the Taste of Japan organization here.

Photo: Courtesy of MCT Management
Photo: Courtesy of MCT Management

Joe Purdy Brings Protest Song to The Hamilton

In these days when #protestisthenewbrunch in DC, there couldn’t be a better time for folk rock musician Joe Purdy to come to town. An Arkansas native, Purdy has been a significant and often underrated figure on the American folk revival scene for a decade and a half, and has put out a new release almost every year since his debut in 2001 (way before the genre’s coolness got, well, revived).

Tonight, Purdy brings his guitar, suspenders, shaggy beard and deep, gravelly voice to The Hamilton, where he’ll be promoting his latest record, Who Will Be Next? Fitting to the times, the album diverts slightly from the style of his previous work, which combines the best elements of blues, ballad and rock – to draw more directly from traditional American protest songs.

With Who Will Be Next?, Purdy has written an album that satisfies his “determination to honor the giants of American folk” like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, while “addressing immediate transgressions” experienced and witnessed by many Americans in recent years.

Rhett Miller, lead singer of the alt-country band the Old 97’s, will join Purdy onstage at The Hamilton. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20-$39.75.

The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; 202-787-1000; www.live.thehamiltondc.com

Photos: Courtesy of Kimpton Hotels
Photos: Courtesy of Kimpton Hotels

Warmth and Home Cooking at Firefly

On a recent chilly evening, I climbed the steps of Dupont Circle staple Firefly. It’s a cozy restaurant featuring reclaimed materials, low ceilings with intimate lighting, a broad expanse of beautiful bar, and a tree – yes, a tree – rising through the center of the dining room. The indoor/outdoor vibe has been bringing a little magic to visitors and locals alike for years. In October, Executive Chef Jammir Gray took over the kitchen, reviving the restaurant’s American comfort food theme with fresh takes on classic dishes and new menu items, while respecting and retaining regular favorites.

Chef Gray hails from San Francisco, and has worked all over the country for the Kimpton hospitality brand. She was thrilled when the company offered her the chef post at Firefly, an opportunity to shine and share her love of traditional American fare with each customer who walks through the door.

“Jammir is such a talent,” says Julia Hobbes, PR specialist for the Kimpton brand. “She really gets the concept and [has the] ability to marry different cuisines.”

Chef Gray’s best-known dish is a family recipe she’s taken with her from restaurant to restaurant – the pozole, a slow-cooked soup made from pork shoulder, hominy, red cabbage, cilantro and crispy tortilla. Most people who know someone with Mexican heritage have tried this dish in someone’s grandma’s kitchen. This version is exceptional, mixing different textures with just the right amount of heat awash in a broth I just might sell my soul for to have another taste.

Firefly serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers a particularly popular menu to the brunch crowd, who sip on $3 mimosas and dine on lemon ricotta pancakes, shrimp and grits, and steak and eggs. Or try the “urban picnic,” which includes Firefly’s famous deviled eggs and pickled vegetables.

But I was there for dinner and cocktails. There are plenty of options for both vegetarians and carnivores. The veggie pot pie is a hearty alternative to meat, featuring several kinds of mushrooms, a sinful chestnut cream gravy and homemade puff pastry, while the freshly formed cavatelli simply melts in your mouth, flavored with lamb, sofrito, oregano and pecorino Romano cheese. The mini-pot roast is better than going home for dinner (sorry Mom!) with its juicy, tender beef swimming in a shallot au jus and accompanied by braised veggies and mashed potatoes.

Chef Gray is also a delightfully accomplished baker. The former pastry chef insisted we try her sweet potato cake, another recipe from her vault of favorites. She incorporates chunks of roasted sweet potato into the fluffy cake, which deliciously surprises the diner, and the nutmeg sponge candy and marshmallow frosting hit just the right note without being overly sweet.

Accompanying this decadent feast was a selection of playful cocktails that will make any grownup gleeful. Mixologist Brendan Ambrose treated me to several unforgettable concoctions I vowed to introduce to all my friends. First, the most impressive:  the Transformation3, which is literally three cocktails in one. It starts out as a gimlet (my favorite drink), this one with Tanqueray and a basil-lime muddle. At its center is an “aviation sphere,” a lovely, blue-colored, frozen cocktail-within-a-cocktail made with Maraschino liqueur and crème de violette. As it melts, the entire drink is infused with color and a new taste all together.

Ambrose couldn’t have been more attentive to detail as he explained the chemistry behind the craft cocktail, and then, with a twinkle of mischief in his eye, he brought out the Campfire. This play on a Black Russian mixes kalua, vodka, coconut and an allspice-walnut liquor created in-house. It’s served in cedar-smoked tumblers with marshmallows roasted tableside – the perfect way to end the evening and the meal at Firefly.

Firefly: 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; 202-861-1310; www.firefly-dc.com

Sweet Potato Cake

Acorn Squash

Photos: Kayla Marsh
Photos: Kayla Marsh

Bell’s Hopslam Ale: Michigan’s Game-Changing Brew

Last weekend was full of a few firsts for me – my first time at a dive bar, my first time finding street parking in DC and my first time falling in love with an IPA. I recently heard the buzz about Bell’s new Hopslam Ale, and it seemed like people were going crazy to get this Michigan beer. Ivy & Coney, a cozy little cash-only, Chicago-themed bar in DC, was given three kegs of Hopslam last week. At $6 a pint, I was lucky enough to snag some from their last one. I am no beer expert, but I do know that I like hoppy beers and easily crushed two glasses of the stuff.

The first dive into my first glass of Hopslam was as fresh and smooth as can be. The hops were complex and well-balanced, gliding down my throat with a pungent taste that kept my taste buds at ease. This wasn’t a completely crisp beer that I would usually enjoy and lean toward, but the lack of high carbonation didn’t bother me one bit. I was going back and forth between tasting citrus and floral notes, but neither taste overpowered the other. There was even some sweetness, a honey-like flavor swirling around in the hoppy brew. The alcohol by volume is 10 percent, so I made sure to fill up on tasty tacos and a full glass of water before moving one inch out the door.

Ivy & Coney isn’t the only bar in the area that was able to get a few kegs of this beautifully balanced beer, but bartender Will Sexton told me that they get about 20 phone calls a day from fellow beer lovers asking if the bar still has Hopslam on tap. In one week, they’ve managed to tap out two kegs and are on their third as of yesterday.

This bad boy is only available in the DC area once a year, and with a shelf life of six months, it’s understandable why this fresh, hoppy beer is such a hot commodity. I strongly suggest that beer drinkers everywhere make some phone calls to see where they can grab a six pack. I know that’s what I’ll be doing!

Learn more about Hopslam at www.bellsbeer.com.

Ivy & Coney: 1537 7th St. NW, DC; 202-670-9489; www.ivyandconey.com 

DSCN0821

Bell’s Hopslam Ale

Ivy & Coney Bar

Ivy & Coney Bar

 

Photo: www.kennedy-center.org
Photo: www.kennedy-center.org

American Ballet Theatre’s ‘Swan Lake’ Released an Ocean of Emotion

When I look at something beautiful, I tend to cry. I don’t overtly sob (I’m not that hormonal), but a silent tear or two will stream down my face as if it’s nothing at all to wash away the meticulously placed blush from my cheeks.

And it is something. My Naked blush/bronzer/highlight trio was not cheap.

The infamous trickle of tears happened when I first saw the Washington Monument upon moving to DC last June.

It happened when I saw Michelle Obama’s face at Trump’s inauguration, because she was throwing so much glorious shade.

And it happened last night in the opera house at the Kennedy Center, beneath the most gorgeous ceiling I have ever seen, when I witnessed the pure beauty that was the American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake.

Last night was my first time in the Kennedy Center, and my first time viewing Swan Lake since I was a dancer in my youth. Let me start by saying I was blown away as soon as I entered the building.

The opera house was stunning, with ruby red carpeted floors and golden detailing on nearly every surface. I knew from the get-go that I was in for a treat.

After I took my seat and fixed my eyes to the stage, I noticed a curtain made of scrim, and as it lifted after the prologue, the immaculate world where the dancers would play for the next two hours was revealed.

The ballet opened with Princess Odette (Hee Seo, South Korea) falling under the spell of an evil sorcerer, von Rothbart (Patrick Ogle/Thomas Forster), and accompanied by quite the impressive orchestra.

I have always been a fan of live orchestras during performances, and Swan Lake was no exception. The infamous score came to life in new ways under the direction of the conductors, and despite being familiar with the music already, it seemed as if I was hearing it for the first time.

The ballet continued with Prince Siegfried (Cory Stearns, New York), coming of age and searching for the woman he will marry, as he will soon become king. Despite the Queen Mother’s (world-renowned Nancy Raffa) best efforts to introduce him to eligible princesses, Siegfried escapes the party, where he ventures into a moonlit clearing in the woods and first discovers Princess Odette, who miraculously transforms from swan to princess right before his eyes.

Cory Stearns’ portrayal of Prince Siegfried was lovely to watch, and I found myself wanting more and more. He glided effortlessly through the air with every leap. Aside from his technique as a dancer, Stearns’ theatrical performance was pure. He reacted in a manner that was noticeably honest, without overdoing it as one could find to be easy to do in playing for such a large audience. He was a pleasure.

Act two was a tale of forbidden love laced with the undeniable beauty of both Stearns’ and Seo’s craft and onstage chemistry. It was clear the two longed to be together, but the passion came to a halt when von Rothbart returned whisking Princess Odette away into the darkness, and the audience was left to ponder both fates as we broke for a 20-minute intermission.

When we returned for act three, we saw Siegfried’s struggle to choose a wife at the ball, until Odile, the Black Swan (Seo), arrived and seduced him, and very well, I might add. He agreed to marry her, only to be fooled after he saw an image of Princess Odette grieving at the castle doors.

Hee Seo’s portrayal of the Black Swan was breathtaking. There was an added layer of personality thrown into the mix that we didn’t see as Odette. She was still poised and elegant, but her eyes were razor sharp and focused on her prey as she floated weightlessly around the stage, landing every jump and sticking every pirouette in perfect harmony with the orchestra. She would flash a conniving smile when she locked eyes with the prince. It was captivating and one of my favorite moments from Seo.

After rushing to the lake after Odette, and in a heartbreaking conclusion, Siegfried and the princess realized their fatal end as being the only way the two can be together as lovers. Because of Siegfried’s promise to marry Odile, Odette was forever doomed to remain a swan unless she took her own life. Siegfried promised to take his too if it meant the two can be together, and the curse would be broken.

The lovers took their owns lives, and the ballet ended with the two reuniting in life after death in what was the prettiest death scene I have ever witnessed.

The audience roared with applause and countless “Bravos!” And it was well-deserved. The principal dancers blew it out of the water, but the company as a whole was unstoppable throughout the duration of the ballet.

Although this was a grand production, it was the smaller gestures I appreciated the most, such as a slight smile from a dancer or a flick of the wrist or shake of the hips to signify the ruffling of a swan’s feathers. Every detail was rehearsed and perfected.

American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center is not to be missed. Performances run through this Sunday, January 29. Tickets start at $59. For more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org.

The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Courtesy of Strathmore
Photo: Courtesy of Strathmore

John Cleese Live at Strathmore

Monty Python fans are in for a treat. Comedy legend John Cleese handpicked Monty Python and the Holy Grail to be screened at the Music Center at Strathmore this Friday, followed by a conversation and Q&A with NPR’s Glen Weldon. We caught up with Strathmore Vice President of Programming Joi Brown about Friday’s event. Read on for the inside scoop.

On Tap: Why did the Strathmore team decide on Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the screening? To me, it’s the obvious choice (an all-time favorite of mine and in my opinion, the best Monty Python film!) but I’m curious what led to your decision to screen Holy Grail rather than say, Life of Brian.
Joi Brown:
Thankfully, the film selection was made by Mr. Cleese himself. With so many great film options, it was a relief to have that important decision made by the person most qualified. We couldn’t be more pleased!

OT: Who will Cleese be speaking with onstage before he takes questions from the audience? Will the focus of the conversation be on Monty Python or extend to other parts of his career? (My fingers are crossed for some gems about A Fish Called Wanda!)
JB:
The evening will be moderated by NPR’s Glen Weldon, who’s interest in pop culture and comedy make him an ideal host and guide for our conversations. I’m sure he’s neck deep in preparations and refreshing his memory watching films and clips. Glen will have questions prepared for Mr. Cleese, and will also take submissions from the audience.

OT: How much time is planned for the conversation? What about the Q&A?
JB:
The conversation and Q&A will last about 75 minutes following the 90-minute film screening.

OT: What kind of crowd do you hope Strathmore will attract for this performance?
JB:
I’m really curious to see what the Monty Python demographic will look like. I’m assuming it will include people who lived in my dorm, some of my relatives, [and] people who hang out in coffee shops and still visit record stores. It’ll no doubt be an eclectic mix, since Monty Python and John Cleese’s career in film have touched so many different viewers over the years.

OT: Will silly questions really be encouraged? How do you feel about hosting a room of diehard Monty Python fans in the Music Center?
JB:
John Cleese likes having a wide range of questions – anything is fair game from his entire career. I’m sure people will not be surprised to find he’s agile on the impromptu responses, and he’s willing to go from extremes of silly to more serious reflective conversations about his work. We’re ready for the gamut when he comes to Strathmore!

OT: What would you say sets Cleese apart from other comedians who’ve performed at Strathmore? Why are you personally excited to welcome him to the Music Center?
JB:
Not sure we’ve had many British living comedy legends at Strathmore. And this event is much more conversational than standup, so we are not getting a prepared routine that is the same in every city. The evening is completely off the cuff, authentic and unique.

OT: And last but not least, what is your favorite Monty Python skit and/or Cleese performance?
JB:
Love the movies, but Fawlty Towers is my pick!

Don’t miss seeing John Cleese in the flesh, plus a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at the Music Center at Strathmore this Friday. Tickets start at $55, and the event will run approximately 165 minutes.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org

Photo: Courtesy of Mosaic Theater
Photo: Courtesy of Mosaic Theater

Mosaic Theater’s ‘Charm’ Tackles the Complexities of the LGBT+ Community

Mosaic Theater’s Charm is not a play for everyone. But it’s a story everyone should see.

Based on the true life of the Chicago LGBT icon Mama Gloria, Charm tells the story of Mama Darlena, an older transgender woman of color, and the charm school she starts for gay and trans kids at an LGBT+ youth center in the Windy City.

B’ellana Duquesne is magnificent as the lead in Mosaic Theater’s production at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theatre, directed by Natsu Onoda Power. She charms you instantly with her drawl and smile. She exudes warmth and humor, and you know that she’s going to build you up if you’re feeling down. She is that grandma that will tell you to suck it in and sit up straight, but will cover your face in kisses and feed you until the buttons on your jeans pop. You feel this especially at the end of the first act, in a climactic scene where Mama Darlena comforts Beta, one of her students, after he reveals that he’s been beat up by a local gang for being transgender.

The play explores the complexities of the LGBT+ community across class, gender identity and race – an important facet to include, especially when most of the viewing audience may only have academic knowledge of LGBT+ issues and ideas. In one scene, D, the gender-queer director of the LGBT center, corrects Mama Darlena’s pronouns, repeating over and over that D, is not “Miss D” or a her, but just D and a them. It’s a concept that Darlena has a difficult time grasping, insisting that when she was coming of age, being called a t- – – – – was the best thing one could be called. There’s an ongoing conflict with D and Mama about whether or not the gay and trans youth in the charm class should be learning etiquette based on strict, heteronormative gender roles, something which mama doesn’t have a problem with, but may make liberal audience members cringe.

The biggest difficulties in Charm come not so much from Mosaic’s production of the play, but rather the story behind it. Written by a white, cisgender (a term meaning that your gender identity corresponds with your birth gender) man, Charm deals primarily with the story of people who are trans, Latino, black and disabled. This is a concern given the erasure of trans women of color in the history of LGBT+ activism in the U.S. The scene when we’re first introduced to the youth center kids is a bit cringeworthy, as you try to figure out how much of these characters are based on stereotypes. Thankfully, as the play continues, more about each character is revealed, dispelling this concern.

While gender-queer Duquesne plays Mama, the majority of the trans characters are played by non-trans people. This has been a point of contention with DC’s trans community since the announcement of this production. Transgender people of color, especially women, are the biggest victims of hate crimes. According to the Human Rights Campaign, over 20 trans people were victims of violent crimes in 2016. Advocates say this is because of a fear rooted in the idea that trans women are not actually women, but rather men in dresses lying about who they are, and that fear can culminate in a violent death. Although Mosaic recently held a panel discussion with members of Casa Ruby, a local organization for trans people of color, some local trans activists and voices argue that not casting trans people to play trans roles feeds into this violent idea that trans women are men. This is why Charm may not be a play for everyone.

But, it’s a story that everyone should see, especially people who are not part of the LGBT+ community. Stories about trans people are not often seen in the media, unless they’re sensationalized or violent. Charm is an important first step in changing the narrative of trans people in the eyes of others.

Catch Charm at Atlas Performing Arts Center through January 29. Tickets start at $20.

Lang Theatre at Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; 202-399-7993; www.mosaictheater.org

Photo by: Courtney Sexton
Photo by: Courtney Sexton

Truth and Dare Variety Show: Ladies, Let Your Freak Flags Fly

Whoever said DC doesn’t know how to get freaky obviously never attended Church Night at Black Cat, any number of cabarets around town or the latest in the District’s sideshow offerings – Truth and Dare. The performance series is the lovechild of Michelle Carnes of the DC Weirdo Show and Tija Mittal of Charming the Destroyer. A combination variety show/live storytelling event, Truth and Dare is no subtle celebration of la femme: it’s a lot of vagina and a few extra boobs in just the right places.

Photo by: Courtney Sexton

Photo by: Courtney Sexton

This Monday’s rendition was set upstairs at The Passenger (newly reopened in Shaw), and along with Mittal, Carnes and Carnes’s alter-ego, Dr. Torcher, the show featured appearances from veteran storyteller Stephanie Garibaldi of Story District and sideshow hostess extraordinaire Mab just Mab. What set the show apart from others in the same realm was the balance between serious (even when comedic) storytelling, and traditional sideshow skits. Between fire-eating and straightjacket-stripping, we heard carefully woven tales about Garibaldi’s experience as a 21-year-old fertility goddess in Mexico and Mittal’s lesbian love story that wasn’t, all rounded out by a tastefully tassled tri-titty twirl from Dr. Torcher.

While there are a few kinks to be worked out and the show could benefit from a bit more structure, overall the content is thick and the characters are compelling. I’m curious to see how deep these ladies take their Truth and Dare.

Mittal has a free comedy show at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at The Carolina Kitchen, 2350 Washington Pl. NE, DC. She is also included in the Story Districts “Sucker for Love” lineup on Feb. 11. More information, and tickets, are available here.