The New York smash hit Buyer and Cellar is now at the Harman Theater n D.C. through June 29th. On Saturday Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre and Tom Mounteer, super lawyer and member of the Founders Council of the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, hosted a fun opening night soiree for the star of the show Michael Urie and his partner; writer, actor, producer, Ryan Spahn at Mounteer’s beautiful D.C. home. When introducing them to the crowd Kahn spoke of Urie’s amazing talent and drive and said that we will also be hearing a lot more from his partner Spahn who Kahn vouched for as a great actor.
There was a glittering crowd in attendance and among them were versatile actor Tom Story, former Theater Washington Board Chair Victor Shargai, director AlanPaul, writer/producer EricTipler, Dean of the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences Jeff Ackman and his partner grants manager at the DC Arts Commission, Stephen Mazzola. Also there was well respected theater and film critic Tom Mondello, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s managing director Chris Jennings, and from the Mayor’s office senior communications officer Rob Marus.
The one-man play starring Urie is about an unemployed actor who ends up working in the cellar ‘mall’ of superstar Barbara Streisand. The concept came from a book which Streisand wrote in 2010 where she mentioned in passing that she has what she called a personal ‘mall’ in her Malibu mansion where she has her antique collection and all the other collections she has acquired over the years. Jonathan Tolinswho wrote the play took that snippet and has written what everyone who has seen it says is one of the ‘funniest plays in years’. In the play unemployed actor Alex More finds work with Streisand as shop-keeper of this fictional mall with Streisand as his only customer. Urie who plays both Alex and Streisandhas been playing them and a handful of other characters in Buyer and Cellar for over a year at the small Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York.In a recent Metro Weekly cover story Urie said how much the audience matters to his work in this show because as he said, “You’re not getting a full Barbra.” Urie doesn’t do Streisand in costume but all who have seen him say he still manages to make you believe he is her.
Urie and Spahn credit Kahn with the idea to bring Buyer and Cellar to D.C. Urie was a student of Kahn’s at Julliard over ten years ago and when Kahn saw the production at the Rattlesnake he suggested that it would go over well in D.C. From that suggestion Urie and Spahn now have a national tour planned which will take the show from D.C, to Chicago, San Francisco and then Los Angeles. I asked Urie if hopes Streisand will come to see the show in LA and he had mixed feelings about that. While of course it would be great he doesn’t want her to feel offended in anyway. Her publicist Ken Sunshine did see the show in NY and Urie said he loved it so maybe he will bring Streisand and surprise Urie one night.
For an evening of fun and laughter in the theater I suggest you call and reserve your tickets TODAY for Buyer and Cellar. Remember it’s only there till June 29th.
This year talented playwright Peter Byrne managed to come up with a funnier script for Will on the Hill than last year and that must have been hard to do. The only help he gets is that members of Congress seem to do and say funnier things each year (mostly unintentionally) and that of course helps. As in the past the play was directed by the very talented Alan Paul who recently won a Helen Hayes Award as best director of a musical for his direction of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Will on the Hill is the annual fundraiser for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Education Department which reaches over 25,000 children in schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District. This year’s event, Co-chaired by The Hon. Tom Davis, Bernie McKay and Gene Procknow, raised over $460,000.
It is the one time of the year that members of Congress let down their hair and let go of their egos and a little pride and participate in this great special production. They were joined this year by a stellar crew of professional actors including Hannah Yelland, who recently starred in Brief Encounter; Harry Hamlin, star of stage, screen and television; Nicholas Bruder, a Drama Desk award winner for Sleep No More; and John Keabler who theater goers saw recently as Hotspur in Henry lV Part 1 at the Shakespeare Theatre.
Members of congress who generously joined in the fun included among others representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Dina Titus (D-NV), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Tim Rice (R-SC), Jared Polis (D-CO), Jim Moran (D-VA), and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS).
The Shakespeare Theatre Company is a Tony Award winning company led by the inimitable Michael Kahn. Michael is in the Broadway Theater Hall of Fame and last year was presented an honorary CBE by Queen Elizabeth. He joined the cast last night at what he thought was the last moment portraying the candidate. However his staff had planned it well in advance and handed out Michael for President buttons at the buffet dinner after the show.
Will on the Hill is just one of many great things happening at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and I urge people to take a look and plan an evening or a number of evenings in the theater.
The arrogance of the D.C. Council may have hit a high point with the recent slight-of-hand by Chair Phil Mendelson with his last-minute, only 18 hours before the vote, tax plan. But this isn’t the first time they have blatantly disregarded voters and residents on issues. The D.C. Council overturned term limits voted on by the people; they put off the election of an independent attorney general, which the courts are now remedying, and they consistently slip in last-minute budget items for one group or another often to advance their own political interests. While some of those last-minute items may be worthwhile, slipping them in without discussion constitutes a total lack of transparency and is wrong.
The arrogance of the Council chair was apparent when he said, “The burden is on the public to pay attention to what we’re doing,” when questioned about some of the last-minute provisions of the tax proposal he slipped into the budget. We pay Mendelson nearly $200,000 a year and Council members $125,000 for a part-time job as well as generous staff budgets so it is outrageous that he tells us to pay attention as an excuse for his wheeling and dealing behind closed doors.
The public has a right to expect better. The final report to the mayor by the Anthony Williams-led Tax Commission is 86 pages of detailed discussion and recommendations. The mayor made determinations on the appropriateness of the report to current tax policy and recommended a budget based on the set of recommendations he felt were appropriate at this time. He submitted his budget to the Council and held budget briefings for citizens in each of the city’s eight Wards. The Council held hearings on the budget and changes were made to the mayor’s budget.
What happened next is what is causing grave concern among many people in the District. Mendelson, maneuvering behind closed doors, made major changes to the budget he submitted to the Council for a vote. He apparently got clandestine agreement from a majority to approve this dramatically changed budget and agreement that no hearings were necessary. This clearly is not the way to run an open and transparent government. The question isn’t whether some of the changes were good, but rather that the Council chair and his minions should be required to make their case to the people and not proceed with this slight-of-hand.
It is my guess that Mendelson decided his seat was safe in the November election, and could coerce the Council members who are running in contested elections suggesting they couldn’t oppose tax cuts. Under his plan, millionaires will now get to pass on up to $5 million to their heirs with no inheritance tax.
In choosing which taxes to raise, Mendelson expanded the sales tax to a slew of new services but was careful to choose the ones he thought opponents would be less able to organize against. He decided not to tax law firms, non-profits and other businesses, which the Williams commission also suggested be taxed with a local services fee on non-government D.C. employers of $100 per employee per year. This fee would make up a little for the more than 1 million people a day who come into the District to work from Virginia and Maryland yet pay no taxes. It was designed to cover services they use such as police, fire/EMS and street cleaning.
One service Mendelson chose to tax was gyms, including trainers and yoga classes. He blatantly disregarded the fact that many people use these services for health reasons and often at the direction of their physicians. These services help seniors control their blood pressure and get off medication. They stem the growing diabetes epidemic, helping people get regular exercise and assistance in controlling their diet. I go to a trainer at the suggestion of my orthopedist after two knee replacements for regular and supervised exercise to help keep my knees limber and functioning. Regular exercise in a controlled environment can also stem the ravages of arthritis as people age.
Mendelson also disregarded the fact that the District already has a relatively broad sales tax base for services, covering 74 of a possible 183 services listed by the Federation of Tax Administrators. The District taxes far more services than Maryland (49) or Virginia (29).
I urge the Council and chair to rethink what they have done before taking the second vote on this budget on June 17. It is time to become truly transparent, which they all claim they want to be, and stop the slight-of-hand method of approving budget changes. If Mendelson feels confident these changes are what the people would approve if given the chance to weigh in on them, and he could be right, then have the guts to hold hearings giving the people their say.
This article was first published in the Washington Blade