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'The Panties, The Partner and the Profit'

December 23, 2018

The Panties, The Partner and the Profit is the latest collaboration between playwright David Ives and director Michael Kahn at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). It is the fifth and Michael, who is retiring from STC at the end of July, says it’s the final collaboration between him and David. Who knows maybe there could be a sixth if the incoming artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre, Simon Godwin, invites Michael back as a treat for Washington DC theater goers and gives David Ives a chance to redeem himself. 

Michael Kahn and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Michael Kahn and Tony Roach

I only say redeem himself because this play doesn’t seem quite as polished as their previous collaborations like the The Liar and Metromaniacs. Despite that there are plenty of laughs in the first two plays and the audience clearly enjoyed them but after the third play I left the theater feeling frustrated with the ending.   

In this play Ives takes on the works of German satirist Carl Sternheim and his series of plays on the Maske family. They were written as satires of the German middle class, tracing an arc from the Wilhelmine era up to the dawn of World War One. Ives takes these old plays and updates them and in his version, The Panties is set in Boston on July 4, 1950, The Partner is set in New York in 1987, during a pivotal time for Wall Street, and The Profit takes place in Malibu, tomorrow, and as Kahn has said, whatever that means.

Each of the three short plays, done without intermission, tells an individual story in farcical style but they are clearly woven together. But the point Ives seems to want to make at the end of the third play somehow gets lost. It’s as if he hasn’t quite figured out how to get his point across and has instead given the actors lines that seem to have them lecturing the audience. The last play has all six actors on stage together and it’s as if he struggled to find enough for each of them to say. I felt he could have cut fifteen minutes from the production and it would have gained something.  

Julia Coffey and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Julia Coffey and Tony Roach

But this production is more than worth a night in the theater because whatever shortcomings the play may have the talent of each of the actors is showcased brilliantly. They are uniformly superb. Michael Kahn, as he does with all the actors he directs, brings out the best in each of them. They each assume multiple roles in the plays and make each character they inhabit eminently watchable. It is impossible to single out one as the best. Kimberly Gilbert is great as Louise Mask at all ages, making her STC debut. Carson Elrod is incredible as Joseph Mask and he has been at STC before in The Comedy of Errors and The Heir Apparent.  Kevin Isola is wonderful as Benjamin Mandelshtam, and Julia Coffee shines as Sybil Rittenhouse; we saw her at STC in The Merchant of Venice and Pericles. Turna Mete is memorable as Milly Hamilton and finally Tony Roach is great in all his roles believably aging as William Hamilton and showing off his awesome physique as Jack Revere; he has appeared in seven productions at STC including two Ives plays, The Liar and Metromaniacs.

The wonderful sets are the work of Alexander Dodge and are on a turntable so the action can move from one play to the next seamlessly and the costumes are great and designed by Frank Lebovitz. The Panties, The Partner and The Profit is at the Shakespeare Theatre until January 6th. 

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Thirteen Days on the Norwegian EPIC

December 5, 2018

Being spoiled for thirteen days on the Norwegian EPIC from Barcelona to Port Canaveral, FL can be considered decadent. Continental breakfast delivered to the room each morning; a friendly and efficient cabin steward, Charlton, replacing towels twice a day and leaving towel animals on the bed each evening; great meals including seven specialty restaurants; and fun entertainment in an abundance of outlets all coordinated by cruise director, André Gaffney. This all led by a top-notch hotel director Nelson Martins and his secretary Vina Alvarado. 

There is nothing like waking up to a beautiful sunrise and then enjoying a drink each evening watching a beautiful sunset. There were a host of talented performers on the ship none better than the cast of “Priscilla” the show based on the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert.  The three stars of the show, Rohan Seinor as Bernadette, Phillip Schnetler as Felicia and Joe Dinn as Tick were uniformly great. Other cast standouts were Darrel Blackburn as Bob and ensemble members Ashley “Ash” Roussety, Jacob Bivens and Adam Tabellija. Many of us went to see the show twice and were just as blown away the second time.

Going on this cruise was a last minute decision for me. At the Human Rights Campaign Gala in DC I bumped into Scott Moster and his husband Dustin Ruffatto. Scott is the travel agent who booked my cruise through the Panama Canal on the Norwegian Bliss. He said “Have I got a deal for you” and it turned out he did. A balcony cabin for two could be had for less than $2,000 including an unlimited drink package and all gratuities. For deals like this email him at He just about has me convinced to join him on a nine day Baltic cruise in June. 

On this cruise he twice invited all his clients, many like me have become friends, to sailaway parties in his suite including champagne and Hor d’oeuvres. On another evening he and Dustin lent their suite for the evening to two very sweet, handsome guys from Anschede, Netherlands. They did that so Siebren Mossel could surprise his boyfriend Arjan Bremer with a beautiful dinner where he then proposed to him. No surprise to anyone who knows them Arjan said yes. As it turned out they weren’t the only guys to get engaged on this cruise. Guess it is easy to feel romantic out in the middle of the Atlantic with champagne flowing and the stars shining overhead. The other charming and handsome Dutch couple who got engaged are Kevin Rietveld and Matthijs Hagedoorn. We all toasted both couples wishing them long happy, healthy, lives together. 

Cruising is often a form of escapism where you can forget the real world exists. On this cruise the real world did occasionally intervene. It surprised me how many people from around the world wanted to talk about the American midterm elections which occurred while we were at sea. Every American I met had voted before they left home. Some of the guys I met had been on a similar cruise when Hillary lost the Presidency in 2016. They like me were hoping not to repeat that depressing night. Since the time difference was four hours it was late night by the time we could get results either online or from the three news stations on the ship’s TV; BBC, MSNBC and FOX. 

So I and many others decided instead of staying up late we would wake up early to get the results. No sense possibly getting depressed and also going without sleep. So the morning of November 7th as we cruised into Madeira, Portugal, there was great excitement, and it wasn’t only among Americans, when it became clear Democrats had won big. The excitement and conversations continued over the next few days as the Democratic blue wave rolled on.  

The Captain handled a threatened tropical storm well when he decided to change one of our stops at the last moment from St. Maarten to Antigua and we ended up with great weather. Some members of the LGBTQ+ community on the ship shared information that sexual activity between same-sex partners is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. Some wouldn’t go ashore while others made a point of going ashore and exploring the beautiful island.  

The next day we docked as scheduled in St. Thomas, the American Virgin Islands, where everyone went through immigration as it was the first American port we reached. It took a few hours to get nearly 4,000 passengers and 1700 crew processed but it went smoothly and the weather in St. Thomas was bright sunshine, hot and humid. There were two other mega-ships lined up at the dock along with the EPIC. Then it was two more days at sea to Port Canaveral. 

As my cruise came to an end I began to dream of my next one. As many have said, “Take your first cruise and you become addicted”. It happened to me. 

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'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical'

December 2, 2018

A great fun evening in the theater. It is especially enjoyable for those of us of a certain age who made up most of the audience on opening night at the National Theatre for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical directed by Marc Bruni.

The cast led by the luminescent Sarah Bockel who transforms herself into Carole King, is uniformly wonderful. Suzanne Grodner as Carole’s mother Genie Klein has nearly all the funny lines in the show and delivers them with great timing. Dylan S. Wallach is totally believable as Carole’s talented and troubled husband Gerry Goffin.  Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann who also has some good laugh lines was great. He and Alison Whitehurst as his writing partner and eventual wife, Cynthia Weil, are a joy to watch and listen to. Alison’s ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ which she uses to introduce herself to Don Kirshner, James Clow, is a showstopper. One jarring note for me was the portrayed of Neil Sedaka singing ‘Oh Carol’. I have seen Neil Sedaka in concert and didn’t think it did him justice. 

The show opens with Carole King sitting at the grand piano. Then her singing ‘So Far Away’ is a reminder of the time that seems long ago when the music was easy to understand and so many of the singing groups and individual performers didn’t write their own music sang other peoples’ words and music.  This was before the Beatles who really changed all that. 

Sarah  Bockel  (and  Dylan  S.  Wallach) Gerry Goffin at Queens  College (Photo by: Courtesy production company by Joan Marcus) Sarah Bockel (and Dylan S. Wallach) Gerry Goffin at Queens College

My memories of the groups who sang King’s songs; the Shirelles, the Drifters, The Righteous Brothers and individuals like Little Eva come from watching them on the Ed Sullivan show. The ensemble performers who make up the various groups are all great singers and have the choreography of the groups down to a tee. The Scenic design by Derek McLane is interesting and moves seamlessly from Carol’s home, to Kirshner’s office, to what was clearly meant to bring the Ed Sullivan show to mind. The costumes by Alejo Vietti are great and the lighting by Peter Kaczorowski adds immeasurably to the feel of the show. Clearly Susan Draus, music director, Jason Howland, Music Supervisor and Steve Sidwell who does Orchestrations, Vocal and Music Arrangements are key to making this an enjoyable evening of musical theater. 

Beautiful is about Carole King’ life but the story is simply a way to showcase her iconic music. One gets a little background as to how a Brooklyn born girl, living through a troubled marriage, came into her own as an international star giving  concerts at Carnegie Hall.  

My seatmate at the theater, who is from a younger generation, told me after the show while he really enjoyed the music and the songs wondered about a time when so many became number one hits. He said he would go home and google Carole King as he had really never heard all that much about her. Hearing that made me feel old.

Clearly the memories this music brought out for me weren’t there for him. For me it was impossible not to tap my foot and move my body a little bit in my seat with each number and think about all the sweet sixteen party I attended where we played those 45 records.  Each new song brought back new memories of my youth. 

The later day Carole King, the environmentalist and fighter for causes is not in the show. It stops with the release of the iconic album Tapestry, her second album. The last two songs in the show sung by Sarah Bockel, ‘(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman’ and the iconic ‘Beautiful’ have you leaving the theater believing the world can still be good. 

Beautiful will be at the National Theater through December 30th and it is a delightful evening whether you know the music or you are hearing it for the first time. 

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