Community Palette

'The Woman in Black' – Brilliant, Scary and Fun

December 8, 2019

The Woman in Black is a ghost story written by Susan Hill, about Arthur Kipps haunting experiences at Eel Marsh House. In this story Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor, is instructed as a last attempt to keep his job, to visit Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of the late Alice Drabow and to review any relevant documents left by her, the deceased owner of Eel Marsh House, an isolated windswept mansion with tragic secrets hidden behind its shuttered windows, as a prelude to the sale of the house. 

The book was adapted as a play by Stephen Mallatratt and had its first performance at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, UK in 1987. After seeing it you will understand why people are still flocking to see it. When the play begins it is thirty years later and Arthur is preparing to tell his story of that time to his friends and family. He has hired a professional actor to help him to tell the story. We see him return to the site amidst the eerie marshes and howling winds of England’s forbidding Northeast Coast on Christmas Eve with the actor he has hired to help him exorcise the terrors of that horrid time long ago. Arthur arrives in Crythin Gifford to attend Alice’s funeral where he first relates seeing the woman dressed in black though apparently no one else does. 

Robert Goodale and Daniel Easton (Photo by: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre by Tristram Kenton) Robert Goodale and Daniel Easton

Director Robin Herford has staged this play so well he manages to have the two characters, Kipps and The Actor, keep you fully enthralled for two hours. Herford says about this play “It is the magic of theatre, made possible only by that most precious and under-used of commodities, the audience’s imagination. This piece relies extremely heavily on it, as all the good theatre should.”

Now, while not all of us in the audience may have a great imagination, Herford ensures that we will be aided not only by the wonderful book or adaption of it as a play but by an amazing company of talented and creative artists. He brings the play to life for us though use of the lighting design by the talented Kevin Sleep, Scenic and Costume design by the imaginative Michael Holt and the often scary sound effects by Sound Designer Sebastian Frost. 

Then there are the two actors on stage who keep us enthralled the entire time. The brilliant Daniel Easton as The Actor; and playing so many roles in this story the extremely talented Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps. When you add all this together, then stir the pot a little, you end up with one of the most fun evenings I have had in the theatre in a long time.  The Woman in Black will be at the Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh through December 22. I urge you to get your tickets now.

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RENT: Still Powerful, Still Relevant

November 12, 2019

It has been over twenty years since the Pulitzer and Tony Award®-winning masterpiece RENT opened on Broadway. RENT was first seen at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994. On January 26, 1996, RENT opened in New York City off-Broadway before moving to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. I was lucky to have seen it in New York and many times in the ensuing years including the London production, and consider myself lucky to have seen this powerful production. It packs the same powerful punch it did when I first saw it.

Joshua Tavares, Shafiq Hicks (Photo by: Courtesy Amy Boyle for National Theatre) Joshua Tavares, Shafiq Hicks

When it opened on Broadway it was hailed as brilliant and today it is still brilliant and speaks truths to so many diverse audiences around the world. RENT is based on Puccini's La Bohème and follows for one year the lives of seven young artists who are struggling to make it in New York. Together they are faced with issues that still resonate with today. They fight for acceptance as same-sex couples, face homelessness, struggle with AIDS, and making it in a society which doesn’t always accept them. But despite this it is a play about hope and love. They face their struggles together as friends and through it all the love comes shining across the stage powerfully and you end up loving them all as you cry for them and laugh with them and hope for them. They remind us how important friendship is and how important it is to open oneself up to love. 

This play is about the music. Classic songs like "One Song Glory", "Take Me or Leave Me", "I Should Tell You", "Light My Candle", and "Seasons of Love". All sung to perfection by this incredibly talented cast. It is impossible to single any one of them out they are all so good. Cody Jenkins as Mark Cohen, Coleman Cummings as Roger Davis, Aiyana Smash as Mimi Marquez, Shafiq Hicks as Tom Collins, Joshua Tavares as Angel Dumott Schunard, Kelsee Sweigard as Maureen Johnson, Samantha Mbolekwa as Joanne Jefferson, and Juan Luis Espinal as Benjamin Coffin III. The tour also features Zare Anguay, Rayla Garske, Lexi Greene, Ysabel Jasa, Caira Asanté Lakota, Stephen Rochet Lopez, Benjamin H. Moore, Carlina Parker, James Schoppe, Jason Tyler Smith, Kevin Stevens and Sam Van Vleet.  

The production is based on the original direction by Michael Greif (Tony and Drama Desk Nominations, RENT), and re-staged by Evan Ensign. Original Broadway creatives Marlies Yearby (Choreography), Angela Wendt (Costume Design), and Tim Weil (Music Supervision and Additional Arrangements) are joined by Jonathan Spencer (Lighting Design), Keith Caggiano (Sound Design), MiRi Park (Associate Choreographer), and Matthew E. Maraffi (adapting original scenic design by Paul Clay). 

I would say to anyone who reads this, “Don’t miss this great show”. It will only be here at National Theatre through Sunday, November 17th so get your tickets now.

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Viking Danube Cruise

October 28, 2019

Friends and I decided to take a river cruise for the first time and to be honest we chose Viking because of all the ads we had seen while watching Downton Abbey. Those ads really worked. It was going to be eight days on the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg and we signed up for Viking’s three day add-on package to Prague. Knowing getting any sleep on a plane is always impossible for me I flew to Budapest a day early to get acclimated before boarding the ship, the Viking VAR. We had been told we could board by 11:00 am and there would be a buffet lunch available.

Synagogue in Budapest (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Synagogue in Budapest

My first afternoon in Budapest was spent walking about seven miles around the city mostly on the Pest side of the Danube. After a good night’s sleep I met my friends in the morning and we boarded the VAR. The first thing that struck me as different from all the other times I had taken cruises was the apparent lack of any security. We were met at the top of the gangplank by smiling crew members who offered to carry our bags on board and by the person who I found out was the Program Director, Dawn Vago. The first time we were asked for any ID was when we stopped at the reception desk after we were already onboard and they asked to see our passports. It was as if we were back in a slower, safer time and it was kind of exciting.

The ship was to be our hotel for the night even though we weren’t sailing till the next day. Dawn suggested we may want to do some exploring on our own and after a nice lunch we did. Our cabins weren’t going to be ready till closer to 2:00pm. We knew we were going to take part in the shore excursion the next morning, one of the daily excursions included in the fare, but there were some places not on that itinerary we wanted to explore.

So we proceeded back up the gangplank again with no special security or ID and headed first to the Jewish Synagogue which we had heard was the largest in Europe. It is a very impressive building in Moorish style architecture. There is a huge beautiful sanctuary with two balconies and it can accommodate up to 3,000 people. We stopped in the Raoul Wallenberg courtyard with its ‘Tree of Life’ sculpture with the names of Jews who were murdered by the Nazis in World War II inscribed on each leaf. There is also a small cemetery attached to the synagogue.

From there in order to be ecumenical and because we heard it was a spectacular building, we walked to St. Stephens Cathedral for our next religious experience. It didn’t disappoint. Inside were stunning murals, lots of gold leaf and beautiful sculptures. We learned that it and the Parliament building are the tallest in Central Budapest where no buildings are allowed to be built taller. From the cathedral we headed toward the Parliament building walking along the river front. On the way was another memorial to Jews killed in the war. This while a simple memorial was incredibly moving. It consisted of the shoes of men, women and children left at the water’s edge after their owners were told to take them off and leave them behind before they were thrown to their death in the river. It is a stark reminder of what happens when we come face-to-face with man’s inhumanity to man. Today the people of Budapest were welcoming and charming.

Shoe Memorial to Jews thrown in the river and drowned by Hungarian Nazis (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Shoe Memorial to Jews thrown in the river and drowned by Hungarian Nazis

After seeing the Parliament building which looks very much like Westminster in London, a huge impressive building on the waterfront, we started back to our ship. Once again no one asked us for any ID as we walked down the gangplank. Our staterooms were now ready and we went to unpack and get ready for a relaxed evening on the ship. I got the chance to meet two other people I hope to chat with at more length during the week; Hotel Manager Oliver Ulz and Captain Gabor Szegedi. I was also introduced to Executive Chef Rexie Santos, and after dinner knew if I wasn’t careful I could gain quite a few pounds on this trip.

The evening was relaxing and we sat in the beautifully appointed lounge with drinks and without exception the crew was helpful and all had smiles on their faces at all times. We found out our morning shore excursion would begin at 8:00am. It was a great start to the cruise.

All seven of my Viking Danube Cruise blogs are on my personal blog and you are welcome to browse them at your leisure if you like. 

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