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Mirian Katrib and Joseph Kamal // Photo:: Margot Schulman

Arena Stage’s A Thousand Splendid Suns Depicts Family Dynamics Under Normalized Violence

To commemorate their 70th season, Arena Stage has pledged to “[lead] the way in gender equity and racial diversity by reflecting those values both on and off the stage.” In keeping with this commitment, A Thousand Splendid Suns, based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hossein, premiered in the Mead Center for American Theater on January 17, shedding light on gender oppression in the Middle East. 

Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma and directed by Carey Perloff, A Thousand Splendid Suns recounts the journey of an unlikely friendship between two Afghan women in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The play runs through March 1. 

The scene is set with pedestrians crossing a desert configured by a flamboyant orange backdrop, exquisite silhouette cutouts forming mountains and clouds fashioned out of metal wiring. Perfectly designed by Ken MacDonald, the set artistically speaks to the country’s landlocked mountainous landscape. 

As a boy runs on stage with a kite (a nod to the novelist’s first piece of fiction, The Kite Runner), the story commences with beautiful traditional Islamic music comprised of horns and echoing chants, filling the space with an air of sincerity.

Dawning a long voyage as the sun peaks, a family is found on what could be easily mistaken for a picnic but is soon realized to be a pile of items to be sorted and discarded in preparation for their migration.

The family’s forthcoming voyage is quickly halted as a bomb erupts with blinding lights shining on stage. In complete disarray, chaos ensues as villagers frantically move around the stage. 

Lying unconscious amidst the rubble, the protagonist is “rescued” by her male neighbor. Upon awakening, she discovers she is orphaned and is swiftly tricked into marrying a married man, who promises a sanctuary in a land unfavorable to women.

Covering the span of approximately two decades, where regimes and cultures shift in a war-torn city, A Thousand Splendid Suns nestles comfortably in a normalized violence-absorbed community. As tensions grow due to continuous bombing, lessening resources and looting induced upheaval, family dynamics are severely tested.

Elevating the authenticity of this narrative is the dynamic performance of the family. Comprised of actors who identify as Middle Eastern,  including, Iranian-American, Afghan-American and Indian-American, as Perloff explained, the emotions emoted resonate immensely, strengthening the much-needed messaging. 

Mirian Katrib (Laila) offers a sublime performance as a naively optimistic adolescent girl turned radical mother, courageously opposing the oppression of her husband. As she matures and recedes to adolescent years, reinforced by shifting lighting effects, Katrib distinctly embodies the character with each scene. 

Supporting the character of Laila is the stoic Mariam, played by Hend Ayoub. Initially disapproving of their nuptials, fearing the second-class status she will assume, Mariam grows tolerant and even loving as she and Laila raise Laila’s children. 

Playing opposite of Laila and Mariam is the boisterous Rasheed, played by Haysa Kadri. Kadri successfully personifies the stereotypical oppressor, using gaslighting techniques to manipulate and control his wives. Unable to cope with his dilapidating surroundings, he insights fear with each manic episode, creating a contentious environment where only brotherhood and servitude can survive. 

What Perloff has done is successfully facilitate a space to unpack social-norms of the Middle East. Aware of the potential risk of teetering towards or perpetuating a message of Islamophobia, A Thousand Splendid Suns cares to offer balance, introducing multiple male figures who encourage the educational development of their female counterparts and offspring. 

Filled with unfathomable realities, needing to be depicted more frequently, A Thousand Splendid Suns is an extraordinary account of perseverance and joy in a time of darkness and hopelessness. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns is showing at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater until March 1. Tickets are $41-$95 and can be purchased online here.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth Ave. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Photo: Teresa Wood

The National Ballet Of Canada Brings Timeless Sleeping Beauty To Kennedy Center

The National Ballet of Canada is on tour in the District for a whirlwind week of performances at the Kennedy Center, including the classic The Sleeping Beauty (January 28-February 2) and Works by Forsythe, Kylian, and Ratmansky (January 28 and January 29), the latter comprising a mixed bill of seven modern shorts.

The intent behind the eclectic pairing of productions was to showcase the strength and diversity of the company’s talent, offering multiple rolls for many young and up-and-coming dancers to take the stage alongside seasoned principals. 

The Thursday, January 30 Opera House performance of The Sleeping Beauty in was indeed an ensemble piece – and perhaps fittingly so, as it was this staging, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, and revised by Artistic Director Karen Kain in 2006, that put the then-young Canadian company on the map in 1972.

Set to an equally famous score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty is an epitomic full-length work known both for exaggerated spectacle of costume and design, and its technical demand.

Principal dancer Jillian Vanstone, who performs the lead role Aurora for the January 31 and February 2 performances (and also danced the Petite Mort in the contemporary shorts), has been with the company since 1999.

Sleeping Beauty is always a little intimidating – it’s classic, long and requires stamina. I really love it but at the beginning [of a run] it’s always a little mentally daunting,” she says. 

But what does it mean to perform The Sleeping Beauty in 2020, in DC? Timelessness aside, is this “romantic” tale of a helpless princess cursed to 100 years of slumber by an evil witch, and whose only hope for survival is the kiss of a prince truly important or even appropriate to perform here and now?

“It is a challenge to update [a work like this] or make it relevant for this century, and I think there’s room here for that,” Vanstone says. “What I do think is a little interesting about our version is from what I understand, the director wanted more of a strong character as Aurora, not just this demure pretty thing. Someone regal and strong. She has, especially in the third act, this regal authoritative feel about her and so I try to bring that out.”

Thursday evening’s packed Opera House indicates that while perhaps not thematically on point for today, lovers of the ballet still flock to this work for a reason. The pageantry was transformative: Ornate costumes, dreamlike scenery, Tanya Howard’s floating Lilac Fairy and, of course, a live orchestra playing Tchaikovsky took the beltway audience to a land far and away – which may have been just the remedy to reality some sought. 

One unfortunate aspect of the pageantry was that costumes often obstructed the dancing – though by no fault of the dancers themselves, who nevertheless seemed to navigate the heavy fabrics, feathers and props with as much grace as possible. 

And despite the reimagining of Aurora’s character as more than a demure damsel, taken as a whole, the male dancers of the company outperformed their female counterparts during this performance, particularly in demonstrations of strength. Especially notable talents were Naoya Ebe as Bluebird and principal dancer Harrison James’s Prince Florimund. 

James, who joined the company in 2013 as a member of the Corps de Ballet, was promoted to principal dancer in 2016 and won the Rolex Dancers First Award for his performance as Alexei Vronsky in Anna Karenina, Oberon in The Dream and the title role in Apollo

In contrast to “hammering home the excitement and energy” of Forsythe, or a piece like the Petite Mort, which James describes as “so innately musical and human,” the young dancer says The Sleeping Beauty is, “a monolith – everything you want and expect to see from classical pure ballet, which of course makes it a little more challenging to take on.”

The National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Sleeping Beauty continues at The Kennedy Center through Sunday, February 2. Tickets are $29-$149. 

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

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Next To Normal Anything But Normal At Kennedy Center

DC theatergoers are in for a real treat as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, Next to Normal, visited the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, bringing a tale of how mental illness takes a toll on a suburban family.

With the original Broadway director, Michael Greif, taking the helm in this inspiring and informative tear-jerking production, onlookers are sure to feel admonished at the deadly cycle of depression.

Leading the all-star six-person ensemble is Emmy and Tony Award nominee Brandon Victor Dixon (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Shuffle Along) as Dan and Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen) as Diana.

Dixon personifies a grief-stricken father whose avoidance tactics prove detrimental to his family. However, as the all-American Dad, he uses his broad register to capture audiences in a musical spell.

Jones delivers an illustrious vocal performance most comparable to Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease mixed with Stevie Nicks, showcasing a dynamic range from whimsical ballads to heartfelt songs during her character’s spurts of mania.  

Dan and Diana have been married for more than 16 years and have battled varying degrees of mental illness within their family. Though their time together is riddled with trauma, their love nearly trounces every setback.

The couple is an eccentric and quirky pair that uses coarse language that proves refreshingly candor. Continuous sexual innuendos, some quite literal, are expressed creating a necessitated comedic cloud of relief.

Set to contemporary music, Next to Normal is fresh, daring and required viewing. Similar to that of the Broadway hit RENT (also directed by Greif), this performance splendidly uses ballads and rock music to hone the dark truths of psychosis.

Several elements are done right, beyond the perfectly executed score and vocal prowess. But I must say, the five-member band, optimally positioned behind the two-level scaffolding, will cause you to leave the theater exhausted from the excessive foot patting, body-rocking music that earned the Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Filled with a multitude of timely social themes, Brian Yorkey’s masterpiece will have you questioning your stance on how to best treat patients coping with bipolar disorder and more.

Several avenues are considered to offset the symptoms brought on by trauma but at what cost? Big pharma, shock therapy and hypnotherapy are all referenced during the nearly 2 hour and 20 min production, all introducing another layer of complexity to an already crowded experience.

As Diana visit with her doctor, a cascade of pills is administered to counteract the constant cycle of depression and anxiety. To no surprise, this path to healing is quite turbulent, which marks a downward spiral leading to rock-bottom, where only enlightenment can be gained with hope for a better tomorrow.

To best prepare for the emotional journey that is Next to Normal, pack some tissue. Between the music, artistic emoting and the general plot, sniffling will surely be uncontrollable during this viewing experience. 

Next to Normal is showing through Monday February 3 at the Kennedy Center. Tickets are $79-$189 and can be purchased here.

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

Andrea Harris Smith as Nya in "Pipeline" // Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Studio Theatre’s Pipeline Depicts Correlation Between Struggles Past And Present

In one poignant scene in Dominique Morisseau’s play Pipeline, Nya, a black mom who teaches in a resource-strapped city school, shares the poem We Real Cool with her students. The Gwendolyn Books poem used to be a favorite of hers. But now its message hits a little too close to home.  

On another part of the stage, shrouded in darkness, Nya’s son Omari acts out the lines of the poem: “We skip school. We real cool… We jazz June. We die soon.”  

It’s the last line that chokes Nya up.  

When it was time to send her son to school, Nya chose a predominantly white college prep school, thinking this would give him a brighter future than the decaying urban alternative where she has taught for decades. But now Omari is in trouble. He hit a teacher and ran away. Suddenly, Nya fears she has made the wrong decisions for her son. Or worse: That regardless of her choices as a parent, her son will be caught up in a system that has led generations of black boys to live in America’s shadows.   

Pipeline’s title refers to the school-to-prison pipeline many young men of color face in America and the broken education system that feeds into itMorisseau was inspired to write Pipeline after reading Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, which traces racism in America with a direct line from slavery to today’s education inequality and high rates of incarceration for people of color.  The play runs through February 16 at Studio’s Mead Theatre. 

“Dominique is such a master at taking very big societal issues and harnessing them into characters’ lives, desires, dreams, and truths,” Awoye Timpo says

Timpo is directing Pipeline at Studio Theatre this month. This is her third time directing a Dominique Morisseau play and it’s this ability to personalize big societal problems through the lens of individual characters that keeps drawing her back to the material 

What makes Pipeline a great, great play, is that it asks some very big questions about who we are, where we come from, what we aspire to be and what stands in the way of us achieving those things,” Timpo says 

And it does so through the lens of a mother and son whose problems are instantly relatable. In Pipeline, we catch the characters in a deep moment of crisis

“From the moment we meet Nya, we are watching her try to figure out if her son’s actions are a result of her own personal failure as a mother,” Timpo says. And the weight of that question is enormous. 

Actor Justin Weaks weighs in on Omari’s struggle.

“This is a young man trying not to be anything but himself, but it’s hard. It’s hard to navigate when you’re operating as a token and feel that from the students, the faculty, everyone. It’s hard to discover who you are when you have so many people telling you what you are or what you should become.” 

As Nya and Omari struggle to connect over the course of the play, Morisseau encourages audiences to reconsider the legacy of America’s past.

If you are trying to save someone, how do you contend with how we got here as you think about how to move forward?” Timpo asks. 

“I think what we have to understand when it comes to educating young people,” Weaks adds, “is that these are complicated human beings who have come to be educated. They are dealing with things at home that we may not know about, things that are very specific to that human. Difficult behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has a source and it’s important to understand where these kids are coming from in order to give them the education they need.” 

Morisseau is known for incorporating the works of African American artists of previous generations into her plays. Gwendolyn Brook’s We Real Cool is a huge presence in Pipeline, as is Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son, the story of a young black man whose crimes are portrayed as the inevitable outcome of a society that treats black men as criminals. Through these nods to writers of the past, Morisseau weaves their work into her own writing, creating a sense of legacy and reminding us that the struggles of the past are the struggles of the present.

It’s like she is saying that we have these ancestral spirits who are lurking inside us. The way she lets those writers vibrate in her work is really exciting,” Timpo says.  

“We as black artists now are standing on the shoulders of so many generations of artist who have come before us,” she continues. “The beautiful thing about Pipeline is that Dominique is capturing the sights and sounds of this moment in time even as we can feel the presence of other writers inside her work.”  

Pipeline runs through February 16 at Studio Theatre. Times and tickets vary by date. For more information abut the play, visit Studio’s website.

Studio Theatre: 1501 1rth St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

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

 

John Leguizamo // Photo: courtesy of National Theatre

John Leguizamo Uses Latin History For Morons As Hilarious Call To Action

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons is a one-man show that begins in a way that used to make me roll my eyes when I witnessed it as a student: A tweed-clad teacher whirls into the spotlight, arms full of books, ordering students to quiet down, “we have a lot to get through today, there’s no time for fun.”

Except, where my teachers were overworked, underpaid, forced to prepare way too many listless students for one standardized test after the next, Leguizamo takes his audience on a side-splitting crash course in Latin history that should be taught in every school. Seriously. We need to hear this.

The profanity-laced Latin History for Morons also proves every comedian sulking about how “comedy is dead!” because no one laughs at their archaic, problematic jokes dead wrong. After a successful run on Broadway in February of last year, Latin History for Morons came to DC’s National Theatre for three days in November

The show covered the stories of long-ignored Latin historical figures that Leguizamo discovered while doing research. The story is part educational and touchingly autobiographical, detailing a difficult time in Leguizamo’s relationship with his son as he helped him face racist bullies and trouble at school.

The historical figures and stories that Leguizamo discovered were found in a desperate attempt to uncover a Latin hero for his son’s school project – and build confidence and pride in his cultural heritage. Discovering that he couldn’t find a single one in his son’s history book, Leguizamo hit the books himself. 

Leguizamo not only tells one compelling story after the next, he cites himself and comments on the books he used. His journey through history points out commonly overlooked facts, like that Spanish conquistadors didn’t defeat native tribes with superior military skills, but with the sheer force of their own diseases.

His show walks us through the DNA breakdown of modern Latin Americans, the specific tribes that lived in America before Christopher “Columb-ass” “discovered” it, colonialism and the horrors that colonists brought to the Americas. 

Although he takes us through history, Leguizamo doesn’t shy away from current politics. He tells the story of the selfish Montezuma, who betrayed his own people only to be tricked by “Putin, err, [Hernán] Cortés.”

The show also made fantastic use of props and costume. Leguizamo makes use of a chalkboard through the entire show, scribbling hilarious, haphazard maps and notes while he lectured. He drew his map of the Americas while nailing a Bob Ross impression, pointing out that DC, is where the impeachment hearings were happening to uproarious cheering from the crowd.

Leguizamo transformed himself from teacher to caricatures of historical figures with ease and creativity. His Andrew Jackson was created by running chalk through his hair. His Montezuma pranced around in red underwear while Leguizamo’s pants were used as a headdress later. 

When I was first assigned a one-man show, I was skeptical. How entertaining can one person on a stage be? But Leguizamo was rarely still. He danced, sang, scribbled on a large chalkboard constantly and never stopped talking, somehow only needing a couple of short seconds to catch his breath in between each bit. 

Despite Leguizamo’s energy and levity, the show took on some serious issues. While the conversation about representation is often focused on movies, TV shows and books, Latin History for Morons points out that erasure from the history books is kind of the first step. His call to action is for more comprehensive education that doesn’t vilify or completely ignore the existence and contributions of an entire race. As someone whose people are only ever portrayed as the bad guys in history books, it’s a call that resonates.

Leguizamo not only pointed out the erasure of Latinx people from American history, he also talked about how it impacts him. While re-enacting one of his own therapy sessions, Leguizamo’s therapist asks him: When you think of someone brave, who do you think of? When you think of a genius, who do you think of? And Leguizamo’s own answers were telling: They were all white people. 

My favorite bit, though, was one that truly unites us across cultures: la chancla. While portraying his mother, Leguizamo’s version of the flip-flop is one that soars across the room to teach him a lesson and then flies back into his mother’s hand like a boomerang. In Egyptian Arabic, it’s called a shib-shib, but either way, it’s a tool of discipline that strikes fear into the hearts of brown kids everywhere. 

Although Leguizamo’s “Latin History for Morons” is no longer playing in DC, you can still experience it the next best way: Netflix.

For more information on the National Theatre’s upcoming slate, visit the website here.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.com

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Samuel Adams) conducts his orchestra for the Viennese court in Folger Theatre’s Amadeus // Photo: C. Stanley

Folger Theatre’s Amadeus Deals With Questions of Hate and Immortality

When visiting the Folger Theatre located in the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill, patrons will witness and appreciate the craftsmanship of five 15th Century styled harps reaching soaring heights, fixed within the dimly lit ligneous theatre. After a short time, visitors will soon come to realize these grand instruments evolve into a metaphoric prison cell restraining court composer, Antonio Salieri in his self-made abyss, where lies envy and resentment, his only comrades.

Set in 1823 Vienna, Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, directed by Richard Clifford, opens with echoes of gasps and whispers, serving as rumors circling an empty 18th-century wheelchair. Two actors named Venticello enter expounding on the tales of events that took place thirty years prior. The play runs through December 22.

“Who killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?”

The question is immediately answered, purportedly, once a seemingly aged Salieri, played by the dynamic Ian Merrill Peakes, takes his seat in the vacant chair. Rolling back and forth, Peakes delivers an almost believable performance as a man confined and matured by unforgiving transgressions. The alteration in his tone of voice, and the quivering words spoken, warrants audiences’ trust in his elder persona. Oddly, glimpses of humor and strength dissipate his “grandfather” façade, making for a unique transition to 1781 that monopolizes this modest 2-hour and 45-minute production.

For the 31-year old Salieri, Peakes fully embodies the stoic and oddly physically mature nature. Ranting on about his God-given gifts, his commitment to composing operas “in the name of God,” and his desire to reign as the supreme composer worldwide, Peakes’ endearing portrayal elicits feelings of empathy for someone fearing to lose their earned and widely coveted position on top.

Relying on hearsay, Salieri forms a notion of Mozart, played by the boyish Samuel Adams, that is inevitably disastrous to himself.

After meeting Mozart and witnessing his talents, that are far ahead of the times, Salieri begins to plot mischievously against Mozart.

In all honesty, Clifford’s recreation of Amadeus is genuinely clever. Capturing elements exemplified in the Tony Award and Oscar-winning renditions, Clifford brings forth a production that relies solely on the exquisite oratorical capabilities of its cast members, and the elegantly pristine garments perfectly positioning viewers in an 18th-century opera house.

Though music serves as the foundation of this story, and the source of contention, theatergoers should not expect live vocals or a grand orchestra, but rather recordings that manage to prompt well-deserving chills. Classical tunes and operatic arias play through the sound system and more than suffice in depicting Mozart’s musical prodigy and the growth in Salieri’s antipathy.

Perfectly parallel to Peakes’ menacing antics as Salieri, is Adams’ charming, yet infantile and vulgar disposition of Mozart. Personifying Mozart is a task Adams achieves with each breath. His occasionally nervous but often obnoxious shrill of a laugh and multi-color hair is both humorous and infectious.

Even though Adams prances and crawls onstage, spewing uncouth verbiage, he maintains an air of innocence that allows his unceasing advancements in his artistry.

Supporting Adams is Lilli Hokama as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s fiancée. Hokama introduces a lightness to the narrative that is needed to pierce the tomfoolery of Mozart and the bitterness of Salieri.

Sashaying around the stage, Hokama appropriately flits with grace as her garments adorned give nodes of lushness. Though she may be initially perceived as a dolt, with time, she proves to be quite a force to be reckoned.

When she rifles with the prospects of infidelity, her inner strength surfaces, paving a precise way forward during a patriarchal time.

In the original production and film, the themes within Amadeus hold firm, and Clifford’s take relishes in each one respectfully.

Brutal language is exaggerated perfectly, presenting the often-hidden crudity within aristocratic life.

Sex is referenced countless times as the source of inspiration in the artistic realm and is frequently deployed as a tactic enacting one’s power over another. God as the life-giver and taker is most haunting as lamentations transcend varying degrees of religious discourse. But all in all, the two themes that resonate most profoundly are hate and immortality.

I once heard that hating someone is like taking poison and expecting them to die. At the core of this theatrical masterpiece lies this fundamental truth. As Salieri hopes to live on forever through his musical accomplishments, his disdain for Mozart has the opposite effect. He marvels at the unending growth of Mozart, scheming continuously to undermine his success, only to spiral deeper into the void of unrelenting spite, where absolution is never achieved.

Amadeus is showing at the Folger Theatre located in The Folger Shakespeare Library through December 22. Tickets are $42-$85 and can be purchased online at www.folger.edu/theatre.

Folger Theatre: 201 East Capitol St. SE , DC; 202-695-7263; www.folger.edu/folger-theatre

Photo: courtesy of Mintwood Place

Mintwood Place Elevates Happy Hour Menu

Three talented chefs – all who have made the rounds in DC’s fine dining scene – have helmed the kitchen as chef de cuisine at Mintwood Place since it was first opened by owner and RAMMY winner Cedric Maupillierin in 2012. Two years ago that title was taken over by Le Diplomate alum Matthew Cockrell, and this year he decided it was finally time to revamp the Adams Morgan brasserie’s happy hour menu.

“The happy hour menu before was just sad,” Cockrell says of the restaurant’s previous bar and lounge offerings. “It was literally just discounted portions of our regular menu.”

The menu, which will change throughout the course of the year, has since been updated with several modern French-inspired dishes that can’t be found on Mintwood’s regular dining menu. On the cocktail and sweets end, bar manager Matthew Wilcox and pastry chef Stephanie Milne have created new additions in line with each other’s respective expertise as well.   

The first iteration of the new menu at Mintwood Place is appropriately seasonal with a few inventive surprises. Wilcox concocted three new cocktails, two of which taste like autumn in a glass. There’s what he calls The Cayuga, a mix of rye whiskey, riesling, spiced cider, grenadine and tarragon; and Anjou Can Tell Everybody, a classy concoction of cognac, Anjou pear, lemon, lime and Peychaud bitters. For those who appreciate when a beverage includes a little snack for an all-encompassing flavor experience, the latter comes with a pear slice affixed to the rim of the glass. 

“My idea was to make a pear Sidecar,” said Wilcox of his fall-inspired interpretation of a traditional Sidecar, which is typically made with orange liqueur. 

Where the first two libations act as an ode to fall flavors, Wilcox turned to a sour cherry aperol for the third cocktail, All Over the Map. Sour cherry liqueur and pineapple juice are mixed with chamomile bitters and soda to create a light and refreshing cocktail. Here, Wilcox proves that just because it’s fall, that doesn’t mean you have to conform to the season’s staple flavors and spices. 

Chef Cockrell took the same philosophy to heart when thinking up new bar fare to add to the happy hour menu. A standout item includes a nod to DC’s own mumbo sauce, which is incorporated into incredibly tender smoked duck wings that come with a light and tangy take on coleslaw. The scent of this dish wafts from across the room when it makes its way from the restaurant’s open kitchen to your table.

Then there’s the comfort food: gooey skillet mac and cheese and crisp corn fritters paired with a chervil remoulade dip. It’s admittedly difficult to go wrong with food options that are covered either in warm and melt-y cheese or fried. 

Carnivore lovers will enjoy the chef’s charcuterie board which includes wild boar salami, pate, port wine onions and chicken liver mousse (a staff favorite). An artfully plated, warm and mouth-watering lamb merguez with chickpeas, cucumbers and beet hummus is equally satisfying.

These dishes, among the other selections from Mintwood’s new bar and lounge happy hour menu, are all shareable and less than $10. 

There are plans to add other seasonal dishes to the happy hour menu including moule frites with tomato and garlic broth with pancetta, fennel and crème fraiche, house-made duck and pork rillettes with pickled onions and rustic bread, and house-made Italian meatballs with tomato-basil sauce. 

Mintwood Place intends to include vegetable sides such as Chef Cockrell’s signature ratatouille with lemon quinoa and shaved turnips and parsnips. Pear onion tartlets will also be available along with autumn soups like split pea with Tasso ham, wild mushroom with crispy wild rice, and butternut squash with spiced pepitas. Mountain pies (also known as “Campfire Sandwiches”) will return by popular demand with apple, fontina and tarragon, Dijon and ham, gouda, caramelized onion, and frisée flavors.

The aforementioned happy hour specials at Mintwood Place are available Tuesday through Friday, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Saturday, from 5:30-7 p.m. and Sunday, from 5:30-9 p.m. Draft beer is available for $5, as well as select red, rosé, white and sparkling wines for $6, a featured cocktail of the day for $8 along with the new selection of bar snacks, priced from $5 to $10 each. Dishes rotate monthly and are available exclusively in the 31-seat bar and lounge.

For more information about Mintwood Place, visit www.mintwoodplace.com.

Mintwood Place: 1813 Columbia Rd. NW, DC; 202-234-6732; www.mintwoodplace.com

Christian Montgomery // Photo: Cameron Whitman Photography

Constellation’s Little Shop of Horrors Plays the Hits

Once again, Constellation Theatre Company has demonstrated their mastery of smash hit musicals during the opening of its 2019-20 Season, dubbed Free Your Passion, with the cult classic musical Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Nick Martin. 

Drifting very little from the Hollywood blockbuster hit, Martin’s plays the hits, making this intimate production a grand experience. 

Down on Skid Row, theatergoers will greatly appreciate the sublime performance of Christian Montgomery, as he leads the all-star cast as famed Seymour Krelborn. Keeping true with the quirky humdrum persona that is Seymour, Montgomery offers a brilliant comedic touch eliciting infectious laughter throughout the two-hour performance. 

Surpassing Montgomery’s timely quips and clumsy faux pas is his versatile vocal repertoire. His effortless delivery of numbers “Grow for Me” and “Suddenly, Seymour” will leave viewers desiring more. 

Montgomery is not a lone powerhouse vocalist in this ensemble, including the simply delightful Teresa Quigley Danskey, who dazzles as a redheaded version of Audrey, climbing to lofty vocal heights prompting chills. Though she strays from the intentionally dimwitted Audrey from the film, she delivers on the vulnerable damsel in distress quality, essential for the character.

Then there are the “doo-wop girls” Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette, played by Selena Clyne-Galindo, Chani Wereley and Alana S. Thomas. With these ladies, it’s all in the details. Their well-balanced harmonies, subtle glances and laughable appearances in the background elevate this production. In addition, their eye-catching, exquisitely executed threads fashioned by costume designer Frank Labovitz helped this trio earn applause at each score’s end. 

In the story, as in real life, the true attraction is the insidious beautifully exotic Audrey II, perfectly voiced by Marty Austin Lamar. Designed by MattaMagical, and motioned by puppeteer Rj Pavel, Audrey II draws onlookers’ attention with each scene, as it steadily grows presenting vibrant hues of green and purple, rousing echoes of awe and jaw dropping expressions. 

Even the thick New York accents are a simplistic layer enhancing this production’s virtue.  

Though rare moments occur where one can see a pair of green legs behind the dancing potted plants (which could be remedied by an added layer of leaves early on), the designs within this production do not disappoint. From the apparent grimy concrete jungle to the bare flower shop, set designer A.J. Guban and props designer Alexander Rothchild’s produce a setting that transports audiences to an authentic 1960’s Skid Row. 

I must not forget to mention the “Steve Martin-like” Orin performance by Scott Ward Abernethy. Completely derived from the film, Abernethy takes very little risks in personifying the sleazy dentist who abuses Audrey throughout the play. While you will loath him consistently with every appearance, his death by laughing gas scene will leave you ill from giggles, perfectly ending the first act with a climatic punch. 

All in all, Constellation’s Little Shop of Horrors boils over with talent and grit, capturing the uncomfortable truth of domestic violence, with a beyond enjoyable musical extravaganza. 

Little Shop of Horrors is showing at Source now through November 17. Information and tickets are $19-$55 are available here.

CulturalDC’s Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7800; www.culturaldc.org