Scholar Signs: Visible Language, reviewed. PLUS: The Keller-Bell letters, parsed!

Miranda Medugno and Sarah Anne Sillers (C. Stanley Photography)

Miranda Medugno and Sarah Anne Sillers (C. Stanley Photography)

My review of Visible Language, an ambitious original musical in English and American Sign Language being performed at Gallaudet University, is in today’s Washington City Paper. One of the play’s concerns is Alexander Graham Bell‘s relationship with Helen Keller, whom he met as his student, but who became a close friend of Bell and his wife, Mabel.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, undated photo.

Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan, undated

I’ll say. While researching this review I found several pieces of correspondence spanning a 25-year period between Bell and Keller in the Library of Congress. I haven’t made anything approaching a serious attempt at scholarship here, but I read the letters I found and I was moved and amused by the story they tell, or at least suggest.

In chronological order, to the extent possible:

This one, which Keller wrote to Bell on George Peabody College for Teachers letterhead, is dated only with a month and day. It’s purely cordial. She talks about addressing the German Scientific Society of New York in English and German, and telling them “every deaf child should have a chance to learn to speak.” Which was Bell’s belief, too, according to the musical. His rival, Edward Miner Gallaudet, believed that sign language, rather than speech, should be the primary method of teaching the deaf to communicate. That’s the conflict that drives Visible Language. Continue reading

Hey, Read This: “Sex Parts,” My Best Friend’s Washington Post Magazine Essay About Stage Boinking

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I was an admirer of Rachel Manteuffel’s writing for years before I got to know her, so kindly disregard that she’s my best gal when I say unto you that it is imperative you read her essay in today’s Washington Post Magazine entitled “Sex Parts.” (Not her title, by the way.) It’s about her decision to take a role in a play last summer that required her to perform a pair of sex scenes as explicit as I can ever recall seeing on stage–and I’ve been getting paid to review plays for six or seven years now.

The play was The Campsite Rule, a wicked-smart sex comedy by Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri. Not enough people saw it. There was no WaPo review, for numerous, complicated, and infuriating reasons, though my Washington City Paper colleague Trey Graham gave it an admiring notice, as did most of the theatre websites in town. I badgered my friends to go. I made sure I had my tickets to return on closing night before I plugged the show on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hourso confident was I that the local DC contingent of the million people who download that podcast each week would instantly snap up all remaining seats once I told them about this smart, funny, sexy play written by and directed by and starring smart, funny, sexy women. I didn’t even mention the explicit sex!

Shows what I know. Continue reading

WaPo Book Review: Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll

David Bowie in Nic Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth."

In tomorrow’s Washington Post – the part of it that’s already out today, in fact I review Peter Bebergal’s Season of the Witch, a book that actually manages to make the intersection of rock and roll and the Occult seem boring. The Bowie photo is from Nic Roeg’s creepy movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, wherein the Thin White Duke plays an alien visiting Earth from a drought-stricken planet.

But other than the skull cap and the contact lenses, that’s what he really looked like in 1975 when a 19-year-old Cameron Crowe interviewed him. His raging abuse of cocaine during this period had made him paranoid, and specifically convinced that witches were trying to steal his semen to create a homunculus. According to Bebergal. I regret that I couldn’t find space to mention this in my 500-word review. (I don’t remember anything about that in the Bowie biography I wrote about in the Dallas Morning News a few years back, but my memory is worse than useless.) Continue reading

The Good Books: Sex with Strangers and Elmer Gantry, reviewed.

This is my last pair of Washington City Paper theatre reviews to be edited by departing managing editor Jonathan L. Fischer, who as I mentioned last week is moving on to become a senior editor at Slate. I’ll miss having him edit me every week but I know he’ll do great things there. Godspeed, Jon.

WaPo Book Review: One Lucky Bastard: Tales from Tinseltown

private-signing-with-roger-moore

“Passion without pressure” is how Roger Moore describes the kissing technique he says in his (second) memoir that Lana Turner taught him in 1956, a century or so before he replaced Sean Connery as 007. Gross. This poor girl. Gross.

Roger Moore was 45 when he made his first debut as James Bond ­ — older than Sean Connery, who’d played the role in five films before he got fed up and abdicated, then was coaxed back and quit a second time – and approximately 110 by the last the last of his seven appearances as 007 12 years later. On the DVD extras for Live and Let Die, his 1973 debut as the superspy he and no one else refers to as “Jimmy” Bond, Moore tellingly bemoans the “30 minutes of daily swimming” he endured to develop the not-particularly-athletic physique he displays in the movie. In the three Bonds he made in the 80s, he rarely looked hale enough to survive a tryst with one of his decades-younger leading ladies, much less a dustup with punch-pulling henchpersons like Tee Hee or Jaws or May Day.

Such was the strength of the Bond brand: Audiences would buy that this guy, who looked and acted like the world’s most condescending game show host, was an elite assassin, as long as he looked good in a tuxedo. Which just happened to be Moore’s primary, not to say only, skill.

Continue reading

The Spoils of War: FURY, reviewed.

I expected that David Ayer, the writer of Training Day and the writer-director of End of Watch and Sabotage, would make a gritty World War II combat picture. But I was surprised how much an interest his film takes in the plight of civilian women, and its willingness to show American soldiers behaving badly during the “Good War.” My NPR review is here.

Bringing Out the DC Dead

Collage on brown package paper affixed to interior window at Fort Fringe, Oct. 5, 2014The flood of new words from me posting today and tomorrow includes this Washington City Paper feature on DC Dead, Rex Daugherty and Vaughn Irving’s “zombie survival experience” set in the former Fort Fringe at 607 New York Ave. NW, and likely, if not certain, to be that storied old wreck’s final show now that the Capital Fringe Festival has officially moved a mile and change east, to the H Street NE corridor.

The photo (click to enlarge it) is of something I saw taped up to the inside of one of the windows in the second-floor room where they used to assemble the festival’s schedule using sticky-notes on the Sunday I visited to report the story. The City Paper photographed CapFringe founder Julianne Brienza there for my cover story about the festival in 2010, and they’ve reused those pictures many times in the years since.