Monthly Archives: January 2010

A House Dividing: Ford’s The Rivalry

Robert Parsons and Rick Foucheux

What ho, presidential history nerds: My review of Ford’s Theatre’s new production of Norman Corwin’s The Rivalry is up over at DCist.

Corwin is still alive, kicking, lecturing and teaching at the University of Southern California, by the way, at the improbable age of ninety-nine. Among the dozens and dozens of fine radio plays to his credit is one called The Plot to Overthrow Christmas that he wrote (in verse!) more than half a century before FOX News alleged the existence of any such thing. I used a little snippet of it in my audio holiday card the year before last. Sir, my hat is off to you.

Loneliest Number: The Four of Us

Dan Crane and Karl Miller

We’re supposed to forgive our enemies, drink less, play fair, love but one person at a time, measure ourselves not against others. When our friends succeed, we’re expected to be happy.

That is what is supposed to happen.

Of easy choices and pain-free obedience are boring stories made. Itamar Moses 2008 two-man-play The Four of Us is never dull, and given the picayune-ity of its stakes, that’s much more than the faint compliment it sounds like.

Moses’s deliberately paced narrative dissects a friendship among two boys-to-men over a ten-year period. We meet David and Benjamin in their mid-twenties. One’s a playwright, the other a novelist who, as comes to light during an increasingly fraught after-dinner chat, has just had the nullifying prefix “aspiring” blasted off of his title in spectacular, quit-your-day-job fashion.

David is still struggling, and Benjamin’s sudden promotion to a more rarefied realm of the cultural stratosphere — and his insufferable aloofness about it, believably conjured by actor Dan Crane — is tough for him to take. He worries aloud if his pal has considered that his $2 million payday mightn’t be, “in some way, totally spiritually corrupting.” It really isn’t about the Benjamins for Benjamin, but try telling that to a guy who doesn’t have any. Continue reading

Constellation’s Three Sisters, Give or Take

Amy Quiggins, Nanna Ingvarsson, and Catherine Deadman

Life is hard. Life is hard and long. Life is hard and long and cold and pointless, and so it shall be for our descendants a thousand years from now, until at last, perhaps, the mystery of creation is revealed. Until then, we must suffer and endure. Any respite from said suffering and endurance shall be brief, and shall chiefly take the form of alcoholism, gambling, infidelity, and should we be so lucky, duels.

No wonder Anton Chekhov thought his plays were comedies!

Constellation’s Theatre Company’s new production of his Three Sisters finds some levity amid its pervasive existential gloom, but not nearly enough of it to prevent this handsome but staid production from feeling like a march through the Russian winter. That isn’t automatically a reason to stay away, but we don’t feel the weight of its tragedy, either — the characters seem to be miserable mostly because their creator says so. The result, despite a handful of memorable performances, feels listless and underdeveloped. Continue reading

I’m with Coco, Too: This Time It’s Horribly Personal

Well, that’s that. Nothing important has happened in the world, but Conan and NBC have reached détente. Tonight’s Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien will be the last. Conan is walking away with more than $30 million in eff-you dollars, and NBC will pony up another $12 million in severance pay for his staff, said to number around 200 people. ($60k per if everyone gets an equal share.) A non-disparagement clause will bind Conan from talking any more smack about his soon-to-be-former employer, at least for a few months. Fear not, the rest of the world will pick up the slack, I’m sure. Best of all, he’ll be free to return to TV as soon as September 1st.

So far, so good-as-could-have-been-expected. But all wars claim casualties. I don’t just mean Conan’s lifelong dream. He understands now that the Tonight Show he coveted and the network that put it on haven’t existed for eons. Since he wrote that brilliant “People of Earth” letter last week rejecting NBC’s plan to put him behind Leno yet again, he’s been hotter than ever. While he clearly never would have chosen to have it go down this way, this whole saga has helped him shake off the mantle of history that seemed to hold him back at 11:35. We should all be the beneficiaries of such profound kicks in the creative pants — and be so richly paid to have them. Continue reading

Signature’s goodly Wife, Long on Persuasion

Whatever scenario Doug Wright had in mind when first he interviewed Charlotte von Mahlsdorf with the aim of writing a play about her, we can safely assume it was something more conventional than his prismatic meta-biography, I Am My Own Wife.

Wright’s single actor, multi-character opus won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2004, more than a decade after Mahlsdorf first began recounting her strange (and possibly tall) tale into his tape recorder. Along the way, the playwright grappled with a Berlin Wall of writer’s block, beguiled by premise-thickening revelations about a subject he’d initially hoped to venerate as a hero. But the complexity that so confounded him turned out to be the very thing that gives his play about a cross-dressing furniture collector in fascist East Germany an unlikely universal resonance.

Director Alan Paul’s absorbing new Signature Theatre production of I Am My Own Wife is — sorry — an ideal marriage of performer and material, entrusting its 36 roles to the versatile craftsman that is Andrew Long. Biographies seem more suited to the solo-performer approach than do other kinds of stories: We are vast, we contain multitudes, etc. Continue reading

A Cool Party, Until That One Guy Started Yelling About the IMF: Thievery Corporation at the 9:30

Another January, another Thievery Corporation residency at the 9:30 Club. Don’t forget:

1) Earplugs; and

2) Drugs (optional).

At the home opener of a five-night stand, DC’s veteran purveyors of instant, worldly, ambience for your dinner party or client presentation delivered the fair-trade goods for 135 minutes, at fidelity-obliterating, sternum-rattling volume. It’d be tempting to say the often listless affair was a comme ci, comme ca concert but a good dance party, if not for the inconvenient truth that an only slightly larger portion of the crowd was shaking it than on a typical 9:30-hosted night of indie rock. That couldn’t have been great for the video shoot taking place. Continue reading

Separated at Blitz, a ghost is born Again

You probably noticed this last year when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s It’s Blitz! came out, but I just caught it now. Is its egg-crushing cover intended to portend a sequel or rebuke Wilco’s 2004 a ghost is born?

Probably not. About the only commonality that leaps out at me among these two albums is that both found their makers using synthesizers and what I’ll call, for want of a better descriptor, more self-consciously artificial sounds than they had in the past. Wilco’s prior outing, their 2001/2 breakthrough yankee hotel foxtrot, probably had as much or more studio-generated soundcape on it than ghost, but the bleeps and bloops were less conspicuous, disguised as found tape or intercepted radio interference. And foxtrot didn’t have a 12-minute ambient “sound installation” (as Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy called it) embedded in its penultimate track.