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Kittie Glitter and Elvis Presley // Photo: Studio Vision

Elvis Presley Cracks Jokes While Celebs Throw Punches (Sort Of)

On January 3 and 4, Astro Pop Events celebrated Elvis Presley’s legacy with their 10th Annual Elvis’ Birthday Fight Club at the GALA Hispanic Theatre. Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, is the kind of the star of the show, but people also enjoyed fights, improv and burlesque performances.

The first rule of fight club is to not talk about fight club. This review will slightly break the rule. While Elvis is the main attraction, the event loosely celebrates him. Before the show begins, patrons will hear his music and can grab merchandise. A man in the audience even wore a cape similar to ones Presley wore. Other members of the audience donned glasses that portrayed them with Presley’s iconic sideburns. His image was in the center of the stage, between two wooden cages where fighters would soon enter and exit. A woman in a sparkly dress, Kittie Glitter, joined a Presley impersonator at a table on to the side of the stage. Together they would emcee the show.

The performance stands out because it encourages some audience participation. During the middle of a skit, a member of the audience shouted out to the performers and rather than ignoring it, a member of the cast made a quick remark. The show does more than entertain the audience, but recognizes how important they are and actively engages with them. 

In the beginning, you meet Commodious, Presley’s toilet. Commodious is one of the few reoccurring characters. Commodious serves two purposes. His first purpose is to welcome the audience and begin the show. His second is to hold the traditional quaalaise toss. Audience members can purchase foam pills (noted as quaalaise), and their goal is to throw it into Commodious’ bowl. The cast held a raffle based on what got inside the bowl with the winner receiving a painting of Elvis Presley. 

The show was fun with the unique characters interacting with each other, and fan favorites returning for a royal rumble at the end. The diverse cast was brought to life with colorful costumes, and included real and fictional beings. For example, The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter made an appearance. Dr. Phil also walked through the cage to fight, with the actor who portrayed the TV personality doing an incredible job.

Fights typically had themes. For example, one theme was about different doctors squaring up and throwing punches. There were jokes and even monologues on top of the simulated tussles. 

The show is unique and a break from traditional comedy, best viewed with a drink. The cast drags you out of your comfort zone and makes you laugh at goofy slapstick battles, complete with snarky comments. The performance can be compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, both of which have their own cult following. The cast of Elvis’ Birthday Fight Club recognized this and eagerly handed out a thank you prize and an awards card to returning patrons.

You can catch the performance in Baltimore, Maryland  at Creative Alliance on January 17-18. For more information about that show, click here. For more information about Astro Pop Events, click here.

Photos: courtesy of Ian McLeod

Scoring Stories: DC’s Cleod9 Music

Ian McLeod, a DC native, grew up with a strong passion for music. However, his path diverged when he took an advertisement job. After a year of working in an advertising position, McLeod left and founded Cleod9 Music, where he could produce and compose music for films and storytelling. McLeod’s goal is to help clients tell their stories. 

Cleod9 Music provides filmmakers, businesses, non-profits and advertisement agents with custom music and scores. The team at Cleod9 recently finished scoring Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait, and the film won an Audience Award for the Documentary Feature category in the Austin Film Festival. They have also scored content for brands like REI and Nikon. 

McLeod’s work breathes creativity. When he worked under a larger corporate umbrella, he found his talent constrained. He was charged with choosing music that productions would use, but found the process difficult. He described the procedure as time consuming and cold. 

“This is all how Cleod9 started,”  McLeod explains. “Music was always my side hustle. Throughout college, throughout high school I grew up playing jazz in the city of DC. When you’re playing in those clubs, you’re not just playing jazz; you’re playing funk, go-go, hip hop and an array of different music. So, I quickly realized that I wanted to record that music and I started making beats. So, I actually sold hip hop beats to artists in high school. That’s how I paid my way through summers. And I continued that side hustle in college.”

After a year, McLeod left and started his own company, which is different from competitors because it is a relationship-driven business. McLeod knew how to make music, but he needed to make a mark for himself in the industry. 

“I did not even know how to start a company,” he says. “I actually took the first couple of months when I left my job, and I got together with probably 20 different business owners. I just grabbed coffee with them, and I picked their brain on how they started their companies. I just wanted to learn.”

A relationship-driven company means that the work creates deeper connections. Cleod9 Music is designed this way so clients know they can depend on the service for more than quality work. McLeod hopes to develop connections with even more talented filmmakers and big feature films.

“Our business structure is a good one because we are able to tackle a steady stream of commercial work, which keeps our lights on,” he says. “We want to sink our teeth into longer format storytelling. Like short-documentaries, long form-documentaries [and] feature films, because it really gives us the freedom to create something musically and to tell a story musically.” 

Music and scoring can make a commercial or video come to life. It adds another dimension to the medium, and adds a texture that contributes to the story. There are more than 500 original songs in the Cleod9 library, and McLeod’s team adds new music following every project. The deep library allows them to complete lower budget projects on a fast turnaround, which enables McLeod and his team to give bigger projects more time and attention. Notably, the process helps them work with first-time filmmakers. 

“Our goal is to grow our library,” he says. “We want to continuously update it with new music, and we want it to be a go-to resource for filmmakers, especially the DC area.”

Overall, McLeod is drawing attention to the broad spectrum of the DC music scene. His return to his roots, and the success of his company, shows his creative talent for business and for music. McLeod’s story is a story of determination, creativity and change.

 “DC is an underrated music scene,” McLeod says. “It just is. It is not considered a major hub like New York, LA, Nashville or even Austin. But, I think that there is a growing movement here, not just on the performance side, but on the composing side. Film making is a big industry, and it is really starting to grow in the city. And we are trying to help build that movement too. And we just wanted to be a go-to music source for all those filmmakers.” 

To learn more about Ian McLeod and Cleod9 Music, visit www.cleod9music.com.

Shea Van Horn as Summer Camp // Photo: Jason Tucker

Summer Camp Rings In The Raging ‘20s with BENT

A new decade is upon us and the start of 2020 means we can channel (even more than we already do) the infamous Roaring ‘20s, where fashion was iconic and partying wasn’t only a way of life, but a risky thrill (thanks Prohibition). Celebrating the new decade with similar theatricality, this Saturday 9:30 Club will host BENT: Ringing in the Raging ‘20s

With just one year under their belt, 9:30 Club’s quarterly BENT parties have increased in popularity and scope with each event, consistently filling and transforming the venue in new and exciting ways. With a focus on celebrating LGBTQ entertainment, the quarterly parties for 2020 will focus on different decades from the 20th century, including 1970s disco, 1980s Halloween, PRIDE and this weekend’s Raging ‘20s.

BENT will be hosted by Pussy Noir and has a long list of entertainers including DJ L Stackz, Baronhawk Poitier, Lemz vs. Tezrah, Sean Morris, Baby and Majic Dyke. Also, DC DJ Shea Van Horn’s drag persona Summer Camp will debut on the 9:30 Club stage.

“Nightlife does shift and evolve, and some of the things that have changed in the last couple of years are for the better and I think that BENT is a good example of how things have changed to be more inclusive,” Van Horn says. “It’s a mix of DJs and performers and go-go dancers, and I think they’ve done a really great job of being more aware of a fuller queer community.”

Van Horn has long been a staple of the DC LGBTQ entertainment scene says Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director for I.M.P. Back in 2005, he, Chris Farris and Karl Jones created the non-profit, queer performance group CRACK with the goal of providing a space for local performers and artists who fell through the “cracks” of more traditional DC venues. Van Horn also co-produced and co-hosted Pride dance party MIXTAPE at 9:30 Club with DJ Matt Bailer since 2008.

After many years performing and DJing in DC, Van Horn moved to India with his husband and planned to take a hiatus there. His break lasted for about a year, but eventually he met local LGBTQ performers and promoters and dabbled in performing again. Now back in the District after more than two years, BENT’s Raging ‘20s party is more than a debut for Summer Camp; it’s also a return to the DC entertainment scene for Van Horn.

“Each time I get on the stage it still feels incredible and humbling and exciting to be on the same stage that idols of mine have also been on,” Van Horn says, having DJed as himself at 9:30 Club for MIXTAPE numerous times. 

As for it being Summer Camp’s first time at the venue, it will be special Van Horn says, especially as Camp has never performed in front of 1,200 people before. Playing on the theme, Van Horn is looking to bring an old Hollywood vibe to Camp’s performance, and may include visuals as well.

Van Horn adds that the 9:30 crew, especially BENT co-creator Steve Lemmerman, have done a great job in the way they’ve subtly but effectively changed the venue for each party, not just the décor but the energy of the room as well.

“I think they’ve done a really effective job at creating a night that has evolved and built off of the alternative, queer scene in DC over the last decade, but just seems like the next level, the next sort of iteration [of the scene],” Van Horn says.

Schaefer also highlights the shift in energy of 9:30 during BENT parties, saying you can feel the close-knit ties as you wander through the crowd.

“We hear a lot from friends that are in different cities across the country that are talking about BENT, and that’s something that is really flattering and encouraging,” Schaefer says. “What I would say is probably the most gratifying aspect of it isn’t just the fact that it sells out each time, but the feel once you walk in, and that really is a sense of community.”

Don your best flapper dresses and pinstripe suits and head to 9:30 Club on Saturday, January 4 for BENT: Ringing in the Raging ‘20s. The doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets $20 and are going fast. For more information, visit www.930.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: courtesy of Drew Gibson

Virginia Native Drew Gibson Returns To Pearl Street

When Richmond native Drew Gibson released his debut album Letterbox in 2007, the singer/songwriter quickly developed a strong local following, with songs that harkened back to American days of country-blues and songwriters of yesteryear.  

By 2015, now living in Sterling, VA, Gibson came out with the critically acclaimed 1532, his third album, one that had a theme of family. Dedicated to his dad, who passed away a few years prior, the recording included tales of Gibson’s family beginning with its roots in Scotland.

After the success of his first concept album, Gibson returned to the format for his latest release, Shipbuilder, which came out in 2019, and carries a theme of water throughout.

“I felt that having a concept drew people in to my prior record, and it made it more special to have a theme,” he says. “As successful as that record was, I was really worried about how to follow that up because it was so personal. Over the course of time, I developed the theme about water metaphorically talking about the ups and downs of life.”

He considers Shipbuilder his best work to date and is happy his fans are enjoying it just as much as 1532

On January 5, Gibson will be performing a free show at Pearl Street Warehouse located on DC’s District Wharf, one of his favorite venues.

“It’s a full band show and we’ll be playing stuff across all four of my records,” Gibson says. “It will be a little less emphasis on just the new one, and really spanning equally among all four.”

Playing live is always an exciting time for the singer, and he’s happy to be kicking off the new year with this intimate show at a time when the band is at the best it’s ever been.

“Instrumentally, we can all breathe a little bit with expansion of solos and the night is going to be a lot of fun,” he says. “These are some of the best musicians in not only DC, but even on the entire coast.”

Gibson knew at a young age that he wanted to be a musician. Although he wasn’t a fan of his four years of piano lessons, once he found a guitar in his home, he taught himself how to play and started a band with friends. 

“As you start to feel good about something, it breathes your drive to do it,” he says. “I started writing songs and went out solo in college. Throughout my life, I had mini-successes that have kept me going, and I feel blessed that people are enjoying my albums and I get good reviews.”

Being heard wasn’t always easy. Although it was easy to get songs online, because so many others are doing that as well, attracting a following took some time. Gibson built that up by playing live shows mostly in the DMV at places like Jammin Java, the Birchmere and of course, Pearl Street. 

In 2020, Gibson hopes to release a live recording and will continue touring and playing throughout the area.

“Being on stage is one of the most enjoyable things I can do you just get that chill,” Gibson says. “I get it from feeding off of other guys in the band and hearing how they attack a solo. And I love communicating with an audience. I just enjoy sharing my music.”

Drew Gibson will perform at Pearl Street Warehouse at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 5. Admission is free. For more information about the artist, click here.

Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; 202-380-9620; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

Photo: courtesy of The Roots

The Roots Take Center Stage At Kennedy Center

A decade ago, The Roots were already one of the most dynamic and potent bands in the world; then they got the call that made them one of the most popular. If you’ve heard of “The Legendary Roots Crew” from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you probably recognize them as the house band for Late Night and now The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The group – in an expanded form featuring more keyboards and percussion – excels at their on-air role, pulling out new walk-on music for each guest, playing along to numerous musical sketches, and sometimes going head to head with other rappers in “freestyle” games. It’s this last category of sketches that reveal a sliver of the group’s full potential as frontman and emcee Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter weaves dense rhymes that flow like warm honey.

All of that late-night talk show band workhorse talent comes from The Roots’ long years on the road and deep study of creating one of the most fulfilling live experiences in hip-hop. Live sets often reflect some of the hits from the group’s 11 studio albums – including the monumental breakthrough album Things Fall Apart – and the deep jazz, classic soul and R&B roots that fuel the symphony that surrounds Black Thoughts’ raps. In fact, the group also digs into some of the sounds that inspired them, including classic hip-hop tracks like Kool G Rap’s “Men at Work,” R&B party anthems like Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and heavily-sampled, well-beloved soul numbers like Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” The Roots’ live set can be like a jazz show in that way, a spontaneous, dynamic mix of music; with Black Thought and drummer Questlove’s propulsive attack pushing you out of your seat.

After a decade playing it up on Fallon’s shows, releasing their own studio projects and full collaboration albums with the likes of John Legend and Elvis Costello, and recording one of the most popular NPR Tiny Desk concerts with neo-soul powerhouse Bilal, The Roots cap off the 2010s with their first headlining show at the Kennedy Center. The group will take over the Concert Hall on December 29, turning the room that houses the National Symphony Orchestra into a South Philly house party for a pre-New Years blowout.

“Questlove and Black Thought are founding members of the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council,” Simone Eccleston, Director of Hip Hop Culture at the Kennedy Center, reminds On Tap. “Therefore, having The Roots at the Center reflects a natural progression in our relationship with them.”

Historically, The Roots have graced DC with a show or two this time of year and have played at the Kennedy Center before as part of tributes, honors shows and other special programs, but this will be the first time the group takes center stage at that great temple to the arts. This show also marks the last show of the year for the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop programming, which had a remarkable second year of events and performances, including notable headlining sets by De La Soul, Robert Glasper, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Flying Lotus, as part of the REACH opening festival in September.

The Roots continues the line of performers embodying the highest principles of the art of hip-hop, something that is at the core of all the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop program.

“It is important to have artists like The Roots at the Kennedy Center because they reflect the very best of who we are as a culture,” says Eccleston. “Their live performance is a masterclass in musicianship, showmanship and lyricism. They have helped to shape and redefine the American canon so it’s only fitting that they would perform at the nation’s performing arts center.”

The Roots went national at the beginning of the decade, and it’s fitting that they end it at one of the biggest stage’s in the nation’s capital.

For more information about The Roots or their performance at the Kennedy Center, visit here.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.reach.kennedy-center.org

Photo: courtesy of Dan Silverman

Prince Of Petworth Presents Different Look At DC

If you clicked the “crime” tab on the popular blog, the Prince of Petworth, and scroll down, here is what you would have seen over a one week period in December:

December 10: Update: Arrest Made. Security Guards reportedly stabbed and hit by car at the Basilica; Police in Standoff in Brightwood with Suspect

December 12: “Apparently someone was in the treeline shooting at police officers near the 7-11 not far from Catholic University”

December 16: What the Hell Went Down This Weekend? 10:20 a.m. Saturday Shooting Homicide in Brentwood; Shots Fired in Shaw; 10-11 year old sought in a robbery investigation in Columbia Heights

If you were to read the blog, perhaps better known around town as PoPville, on a regular basis, you would think we’re living in a war zone. The blog creator Dan Silverman has been blogging about DC since 2006 and notes, “Crime in DC has always been bumping up and down. It’s cyclical.”

Silverman would know. By creating a space where users can post crimes as they occur, his blog documented crime, arguably, much quicker than any mainstream news outlet in the District.

The first time I met Silverman was when I invited him to do a podcast with my then host and I in 2013. Upon greeting him in the lobby of the studio in Eckington, his curiosity for DC was palpable. Before even shaking my hand he excitedly went on about how the building across the street looked totally different years ago. He was intriguing to me for a variety of reasons. Many people I knew or heard of had talked about writing “The Blog of Washington,” as if it were the great American novel, but few actually did it. And if they did, far less found a way to make a living off of it.  There he stood: short, blonde and New York as hell, knowing more about the happenings of my city than I did.

“I started the blog because of development,” Silverman says. “You kept hearing, this is coming, that’s going to happen, and I’m like what? Where? Couldn’t find anything about it. And I’m a pretty obsessive person. If I want to know about it, I really want to know about it. I don’t want to read about it once a month or once a week. I said, yeah, what the hell, I’ll start it myself.”

He did and it became extremely popular. But one additional way it proved extremely effective is by allowing real time access to information about crimes in DC. Yes, The Washington Post covers violent crime thoroughly, but doesn’t operate with the speed of a site built to function like a social media platform.

“A lot of our crime posts are user generated,” he says. “Reports as they arrive. A shooting will occur and 60 seconds later someone is messaging me about hearing gun shots.”  

The nation’s capital is a fast growing city. Cranes decorate the sky as do homeless tents on our sidewalks.  And since this is DC, with perhaps the most opinionated demographic in the country, the response to this urban sprawl and some of its pitfalls are varied. This includes crime, which is something Silverman is acutely aware both from emails and the comment box on his blog. 

“What’s crazy is there will be a post about a beating or robbery and someone will comment or email, ‘I’m glad they got beat up.’ Now that’s f*cked up. That person just got seriously injured,” Silverman says.  

But this is the climate we live in: Anger, frustration and dissent have a home in DC.

“We’re seeing a lot more assaults, a lot more weapon use,” said Anwar Graves, former assistant U.S. attorney for the the city, now associate counsel at O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

When asked about what age groups he was seeing commit these crimes he said, “When it comes to the age groups it truly does vary. The defendants are getting younger and younger, unfortunately. We are having a lot of juveniles that we are trying as adults.”

Which begs the question, what on earth is contributing to this?

“A defense attorney said that once you get to age 8, if they haven’t found a way to make sure you are in a safe environment by [then], you are becoming more at risk to commit a crime,” Graves says.  

Through the Prince of Petworth blog, Washingtonians gain a different lens into crime in DC, more specifically in their own neighborhoods but due to the frequency of these posts, it also raises the question: Is crime in DC actually getting worse?  

Silverman’s blog was intended to be upbeat and positive, and should absolutely be celebrated for being a go to for all of the curiosities of DC, but since its inception, the site also unfortunately provides an aperture into a city in pain.

For more information about Prince of Petworth, visit Popville.com.

Harrison Bryan as Christopher // Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Round House Theatre’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time” Highlights Neurodiversity

The expression is “walk a mile in someone’s shoes,” but wouldn’t it be easier to just to take a peek inside of their mind? That’s what Round House Theatre seeks in their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Based on the best selling book of the same name, the play allows audiences to see inside the mind of Christopher Boone. This coming of age story about a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum comes to life with stunning visuals and graphics.

Christopher is extremely smart and enjoys math (or maths as they say in England, where the play takes place,) video games, his pet rat Toby and being a detective. He doesn’t like figures of speech, being touched or strangers. When accused of killing his next-door neighbor’s dog, his curious nature comes in handy. Despite his father telling him to stop snooping, Christopher discovers that this case is much bigger than he thought. 

Christopher’s story is not one that’s often portrayed on stage. Representing the neurodiverse community was not a responsibility that Ryan Rilette took lightly. As Round House Theatre’s artistic director and co-director of the play, he wanted to portray Christopher as an accurate depiction of a person on the spectrum but also show that Christopher’s story is only one of many. 

“As we started to work on it, and with every play that we do, we try to figure out what is the community surrounding that play?” he says. “What is the right audience for the play? And more importantly, who do we need in the rehearsal room to help us tell the story? In this case, it was very important to us to make sure we had teens, as well as adults on the spectrum who could give us their feedback on the play.” 

“Throughout the whole building, one of the things you’ll see is that we’ve said over and over again the phrase ‘If you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.’ So, we have art by other people on the spectrum that is upstairs, as part of a partnership with Visarts, and clings in the windows downstairs.”

Round House’s production of the play is unique from the Broadway or West End shows in the way that media is used. While known for its projections and high sensory lights, videos and sounds, Rilette and co-director Jared Mezzocchi didn’t want to overwhelm the audience as the original production attempted to do. 

Christopher is highly sensitive to touch and sounds. To address Christopher’s sensory processing disorder, something all people on the spectrum suffer from, Rilette used red scribbles or what he calls “billows” projected on the stage to visualize what it would look like if Christopher were to be yelled at or touched. 

The characters love of computer games is also used to visualize aspects of the script. At one point the giant clear screen, serving as the background for most of the projections, becomes a game of “Tetris.” A scene where Christopher is recounting his day could be seen as mundane but is transformed into a hilarious monologue in which Christopher is a Mario-like video game character. 

“We started to go, well he’s also a gamer. There’s a scene where he’s playing ‘Tetris’ and talks about computer games and his dad says ‘you like those.’ So we thought, given that he’s a computer gamer, what if we used first-person video games as a way to show some of these ideas. What if it’s just like he’s in his own video game inside his head, which can also help with the way in which the play jumps around in time.” 

Under the direction of Rilette and Mezzocchi, actor Harrison Bryan adapted the way in which he portrayed Christopher. He focused more on who the character is as a person. Playing Christopher the second time around at the regional level, Bryan’s portrayal was humorous, passionate and showed the many multitudes of Christopher’s personality. 

The Curious Incident may not  be typically thought of as a holiday show. There is no Santa or Christmas magic. However, the play’s ability to create empathy for its characters and appeal to audience members of all ages and abilities makes it a must-see show this season. Not only does it inspire the encouragement of others but also belief in your own abilities. At the end of his journey, Christopher asks: “Does that mean I can do anything?”       

“Some people who are neurotypical, who have not dealt with neurodiverse people before, can look at them like they’re damaged. They see the disability and not the ability. I feel like the beautiful thing about what we’ve done is we’ve shown how incredibly creative and rich Christopher’s inner life is.” Rilette says. “So, I would hope that [ the audience] would go away and look at other people who are not neurotypical like they are and see them in a different way. I hope neurodiverse audiences come in and can enjoy the show and say “That’s not exactly me because everyone is different, but I believe that this is a neurodiverse person. This is an interesting person that I see parts of myself in.”   

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs until December 22. For tickets or more information, visit here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240.644.1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Halibut Cheek // Photos: Lanna Nguyen

Southeast Asian Cuisine Meets Southeast DC At Phing Tham

After quietly opening in late fall, Chef Andrew LaPorta’s Pesce Too pop up restaurant has transformed into a permanent space for his love letter to Southeast Asian cooking: Phing Tham.   

Instead of focusing on a specific country for his latest endeavor, the cozy second floor restaurant (located in Bullfrog Bagels’ upper level) celebrates the entire region and at its best with fresh ingredients and simple preparation.

Drawing from his time spent living and working in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia, the dinner menu is split into two main sections reflective of the concept’s name: Phing and Tham. The former is a nod to traditional cooking methods using a charcoal grill, and features a range of seafood and other proteins prepared accordingly. The latter refers to the sounds made from salads as they’re prepared with a mortar and pestle. 

Menu highlights include halibut cheek with pigeon pepper and garlic; glazed spare Ribs made with black bean, a chili rub and an Instagram-worthy Giant Prawn with garlic and shrimp oil. Grilled octopus is pulled from one of Pesce’s list of fan favorites, but prepared with a honey chili glaze instead of the polenta and cherry tomatoes that it’s currently served with at the Dupont Circle seafood destination. 

Steamed clams with Chinese sausage

Guests can pair their proteins with flavorful, punchy salads and vegetables including mango mixed with brown sugar and chili; green papaya with tomatoes and cilantro; and long beans prepared with chili, garlic and tomatoes. The à la carte options of these smaller plates allow guests to pick and choose a variety of dishes to taste their way through the menu.

The bottom third of the menu features a shortlist of larger, shareable selections. Here, LaPorta has added a rotating curry of the week – the base of all curries are made by his wife, who is from Laos. Expect to find staples like mee ka tee with pork, egg, shredded cabbage, long beans and bean sprouts over rice noodles on the revolving list of curries (plans for a fish head green curry are in the works). Whole grilled fish served with bones in tact and a platter of lettuce, herbs and accoutrements to make lettuce wraps is a hands-on dining experience. Rounding out the Table Plates is a large format dish of steamed clams with Chinese sausage in a ginger broth served with sticky rice. LaPorta makes the Chinese sausage himself and plans to add more varieties down the road. 

A rainbow of house-made sauces neatly arranged on a tray accompany all dishes – the greens, yellows and reds of chilies, fish sauce and soy act as spice augmenters. Although most dishes LaPorta sends out of the kitchen are “unapologetically spicy,” guests can dial up the heat level with everything from Sambal Olek to a condiment simply named “Green Sauce,” which combines layers of flavors from roasted green chili, Datu Puti, and soy. These spicy sidekicks are a familiar sight and nostalgic in a sense. One in particular has been dubbed by LaPorta as “SE Asian Mother Sauce” and is a staple in many Asian households – a combination of fish sauce, garlic and red chili. 

To help balance the heat from the menu, bar director Sarah White has devised a cocktail list to complement LaPorta’s dishes while cooling off diners. The Smooth Operator with gin, cucumber, ginger, aloe, lemon and bubbles is one such libation. A cocktail titled Southeast x Southeast mixes whiskey, coconut, kaffir lime, lemongrass and bitters to create an almost broth-like beverage and doubles as a dessert drink. A cheeky menu addition, The OG Truly, pokes fun at the recent millennial trend – and is in essence, a vodka cranberry.

Southeast x Southeast

Part of LaPorta’s mission with Phing Tham is to showcase traditional Southeast Asian cooking styles, incorporating spice but not for the sake of spice by presenting quality ingredients and letting them speak for themselves. He’s making dishes authentically flavorful without overthinking and adding too much, something he’s noticed in other restaurants of similar fare around DC. His goal is to remain true to the essence of what makes this type of cuisine shine: simplicity. 

Phing Tham is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Bar opens at 4:30 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation, visit here.

Phing Tham: 317 7th St. SE, DC; 240-855-8178; www.pescetoo.com

 

Astro Lab Alfie American Stout, Seasonal Barrel Aged Sagamore Spirit and the Figure of Speech at Round House Theatre's Fourth Wall Bar and Cafe // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

Round House Theatre’s Fourth Wall Bar and Cafe Creates Community Among Theatergoers

I have a typical procedure when going to a theater. I like to get there early but not too early, I want the doors to the seats to already be open. Then, I pick up my ticket and take my seat. I feel this is pretty standard for most theatergoers. Except for when seeing a show a Round House Theatre.

When going to see their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I thought I arrived too early because no one had taken their seats yet. Instead, people gathered around the bar or were sitting at tables having actual conversations. The kinds of conversation between strangers that happened before people went on their phones and avoided eye contact.

This was Round House’s intention. Artistic director Ryan Rilette says the theater wanted to be a place for audience members to congregate and talk about performances while also being able to enjoy a drink or meal.

Spread Trio // Red Pepper Hummus, Spicy Whipped Ricotta, Spinach & Artichoke Dip // $9 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

“So much of what Round House does is about big C community, about trying to build community through our work. With every show we do, we’re reaching out to different groups trying to figure out what is the right kind of audience for this show? How do we build the community around the show?” Rilette asks.

“The idea of using our space to build community, we already have a space that a lot of people will rent, but how do we find a way to increase dialogue among audience members to make it a more comfortable experience and to really create more of a sense of community? This bar and cafe was the idea.”

Butter Chicken and Rice // Tandoori Chicken in Mild Tomato Curry // $10 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

I decided to order one of the specialty drinks for this production, a Figure of Speech
made of Linganore mead, Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and lemon juice. While I expected to be a wallflower, two ladies who were also sampling the cafe menu quickly join me. We chatted about our excitement and knowledge of the show. I had never had such an enjoyable pre-show experience.

After the show, the actors (including an adorable golden retriever puppy) came out and greeted audience members. While it was odd hearing them without the show’s required British accents, it was an intimate experience getting to revel with the cast.

“I feel like we as a society are so disconnected from each other,” Rilette says. “Our virtual connect through social media, email, phones and everything is our primary connection. It used to be that the church fulfilled this function for a lot of people as a place to gather, turn everything off and be able to communicate, but less and less people go to church. I feel like arts are a deep connection that asks big questions and is a chance to meet like-minded people and converse with them about what you just saw. To me, when that all clicks together, there is nothing better.”

Harvest Bowl // Wild Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, Super Greens, Truffle Vinaigrette // $13 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

Rilette imagined a space that was inviting and created community, but it also needed to have really good food. Food and beverage manager Hudson Tang decided to take the Fourth Wall Bar & Cafe to the next level by including themed items as well as using all local purveyors.

“It can be hard to come up with ideas for a themed menu,” Tang says. “Since [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime] takes place in England, it was a bit easier.”

The British-themed menu includes dishes inspired by Indian cuisines such as Butter Chicken and Aloo Gobi as well as traditional English treats like breakfast quiche, steak and stout pie and Beef Wellington. In addition to their Figure of Speech cocktail, they also have Toby consisting of Tenth Ward Autumn Liqueur, Tenth Ward Caraway Rye, Paromi Cinnamon Chai and vanilla syrup. For a non-alcoholic option, the strawberry float is a delicious combination of coconut milk, strawberry syrup and ginger beer.

Spicy Veggie Pie // $8 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

The menu rotates with each show but what remains is the bar and cafe’s commitment to supporting local vendors. Linganore Wines of Mt. Airy, MD, Lotus Grill & Bar of Bethesda, MD and Moorenko’s Ice Cream of Silver Spring, MD are a few of many local purveyors to be featured.

“It can be a challenge finding vendors with good food that holds, but it’s important that everything is sourced locally and thematic,” Tang says.

Astro Lab Alfie American Stout, Seasonal Barrel Aged Sagamore Spirit, and the Figure of Speech // $8, $13, $11 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

The Fourth Wall Bar & Cafe opens one hour prior to curtain. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs until December 22. For tickets or more information visit here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240-644-1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Photo: Little Fang Photography

Machine Dazzle Puts Artistic Twist On Holiday Sauce Costumes

Being the decorator of a bonafide genius isn’t for the faint at heart. At least that’s what I imagine when considering the dynamics between Machine Dazzle and MacArthur Fellowship, unofficially known as the Genius Grant, recipient Taylor Mac, known for his genre-bending drag performances. 

Just weeks before their Holiday Sauce performance at the Kennedy Center on December 12, I spoke with Dazzle, Matthew Flower, responsible for envisioning award-winning masterpieces and costumes worn by Mac onstage, and by Diane von Fürstenberg and Cara Delevingne at the 2019 Met Gala.  

The holiday-themed performance is set to feature Mac upending traditional Christmas expectations with Dazzle, music director Matt Ray, a band of eight and NPR’s Ari Shapiro.

In the lead up to this week’s show, Machine Dazzle is the definition of booked and busy.

“I don’t have time to have goals because I’m already busy,” he says laughing.

Between shows at the Guggenheim and on tour with Taylor Mac, and a host of other engagements, time for him is truly a priceless commodity.    

Fortunately, while on location at Harvard University, co-directing and creating costumes for a queer cabaret show featuring six students who provide commentary on Harvard politics, I’m given time to hear of the artist’s thoughts on the holidays, why Holiday Sauce is a must-see and how Dazzle’s design style distinguishes from contemporaries. 

On Tap: How do you select your projects?
Machine Dazzle: Any opportunity to exercise the brain is good. I appreciate a challenge and I love meeting all these interesting people along the way and doing a project like this at Harvard allows me to do all those things. I am a yes person; I will always say yes. Unless I’ve worked with someone before and it just wasn’t great. I love new adventures and new people, but the job must be interesting and challenging. I need to be able to do what I want to do. I can’t have anyone who’s too precious about anything. There needs to be room for a layer of art, that may or may not necessarily exist in the script. 

OT: What’s novel or special about your contribution to the production on which you collaborate?
MD: I’m an artist in the realm of costume designers. What designers don’t really have is an agenda, they don’t necessarily have a story to tell. They are visual; they are engineers. An artist takes it further and tells a story and makes some social commentary. In other words, no one can tell me how to do my art. You can tell someone to make something for Bob’s character, but I bring a layer of art to the production.

OT: How do you explain the success behind your partnership with Taylor Mac?
MD: Taylor lets me do whatever I want. Never once has he told me what to do. He trusts me to bring something interesting to the table. A lot of people really love his costumes and that’s thanks to me, and thanks to him for letting me make my work. 

OT: What did Taylor Mac say when bringing Holiday Sauce to you?
MD: The first year, Taylor Mac came to me and said we’re doing a holiday show and we need two costumes. I knew that I wanted to distinguish these costumes from other costumes I’d made for [Mac] in other productions. I definitely wanted them to have a holiday flare, or my take on holiday. So, the first thing I thought of when thinking of the holiday was naughty and nice. I made one costume that was very naughty, and I made one that was kind of nice. DC’s show is different from the past two years, though, because he’s wearing four costumes this time. In addition to the other looks, I thought of two faces of the kitchen, one where you’re in the kitchen baking cookies, the other outside in a winter wonderland. 

OT: Are the holidays a special time for you?
MD: My birthday is during the holidays, it’s December 30.  People would always say, “Oh, no! You got cheated!” But they had it all wrong. When I was a child maybe it felt like that, but the truth is it’s the best time of year to have a birthday because everybody is in celebration mode. It’s a beautiful time of year to do anything. I’m not a religious person, I don’t believe in God. I believe the god is the self, the highest self-possible. We have the universe we have each other, we have microcosm and we have macrocosm. I believe in the winter solstice. I believe in the changing seasons. In the darkest day of the year, which lends itself to the season of giving, when people are in need. That’s what I think about during the holidays. [However] I love certain rituals and traditions. I love the decorated tree, I love leaves, I love lights, I love caroling, I love the onslaught of winter and preparing for the next year. It’s a really great time of year to have a party!

OT: What’s makes Holiday Sauce different from other seasonal productions?
Machine Dazzle: We keep building the show, every time we tour, we make it bigger and better. Plus, we’re bringing it to cities that we’ve never been to before. No one in DC has seen it before. There’s a choir in it and we want the choir to get bigger. I want the scenic elements to get bigger. The costumes are going to change and get bigger and better. It’s going to be more of an extravaganza. 

OT: What’s the secret sauce that has your audience or following growing with each additional year?
Machine Dazzle: You just have to keep coming back to see. It’s like the people who go to see the [Radio City] Rockettes show every year. It’s not that different every year. But you still go. They do it every year and people live for it. And if you can go and look at that every f**king year you can go to our show which is actually changing and getting better. 

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce is showing at the Kennedy Center in the Opera House on December 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39-$129 and here.

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