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'Everybody' at the Shakespeare: See it

October 23, 2019

Everybody at the Shakespeare Theatre, a play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed with superb insight by Will Davis, is more than worth a trip to the Lansburgh theater. 

Based on the 15th-century play Everyman there is a cast of eight each strong and five of them take turns playing the lead role, a character named Everybody. Each night there is a lottery held in front of the audience to see who plays each role so that all five had to learn the entire play and be ready to play any part. 

The play asks the question “If you are told you are dying and could bring someone with you to face god and review your life who would it be?”  Director Will Davis says “Everybody is a comedy about death.” There are many laugh lines but by the end of the play you are not always laughing rather thinking seriously about what is important in your life. As the play moves forward you realize it doesn’t have to be a who, rather it can be a thing or a feeling, you want with you at death. In addition to the role of Everybody the roles the cast play are; Stuff, Senses, Kinship, Strength, All the Shitty Evil Things, Friendship, Beauty, Cousin, Mind, Understanding and Love. Then there is the role of Death played brilliantly by the redoubtable Nancy Robinette. 

Nancy Robinette, Clare Carys O’Connell, Yonatan Gebeyehu (Photo by: Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre) Nancy Robinette, Clare Carys O’Connell, Yonatan Gebeyehu

What you notice first is the amazing very simple but very effective set, lighting and sound. Kudos to Arnulfo Maldonado for the set, Barbara Samuels for the lighting and Brendan Aanes for the sound and music.

The evening begins when Yonatan Gebeyehu struts down the aisle reminding everyone to turn off their cell phones etc. It takes a few minutes to realize he is not just an usher but rather a member of the cast. His voice resonates and his acting ability shines through as the plays the usher, God and then Understanding. 

I am sure each cast member, when they play the role of Everybody, will bring their own strengths to the role which may make this a slightly different experience each night. Everybody represents all of us, the audience, and I guess that is appropriate as we are all different. Without us being aware of it the cast members are sitting with us as the play begins and their first lines are spoken from the audience before they head to the stage. An effective way to bring us, everybody, into the production. I feel lucky the cast member playing Everybody the night I was there was Avi Roque. They brought something shimmering to the role with brilliant acting. Having read before Avi identifies as Trans/nonbinary may have added to my understanding of who the broad spectrum of Everybody is. There were times during the show when they were not alone on the simple set and they were mesmerizing. Each of the cast members is exceptional. The night I saw the play Alina Collins Maldonado was Kinship/Strength/All the Shitty Evil Things; Kelli Simpkins was Stuff/Senses; Ayana Workman was Cousin/Mind and Elan Zafir was Friendship/Beauty. Ahmad Kamal always is Love and Clare Carys O’Connell always is Girl and Time and they were both great as well.

Avi Roque (Photo by: Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre) Avi Roque

It has taken me two days to decide what to say about this play. Not because I didn’t enjoy it but because it makes one think and try to unravel the layers it has. It makes you think about your own life and the things you think are important. What about your family, your friends, your loves and even the stuff you collect over the years that seems so important at the time. What will be your story when you die? What would you want to say about your own life? 

If you want to see a generally fast moving play, I say generally because there were few times, very few, where it could have moved faster, this is a play for you. If you want to see eight incredible actors ply their craft this is a play for you. And even more if you want to see a play that makes you think about your own life this is definitely a play for you. Everybody will be at the Shakespeare through November 17th.


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Natwar Gandhi’s Memoir: ‘Still the Promised Land’

October 6, 2019

I first met Natwar Gandhi when he was Deputy CFO for the District of Columbia working with then CFO and future Mayor, Anthony Williams. He was a quiet man focused on rebuilding the Districts financial credibility. I had no idea about his background and early life in India but only saw him as an accomplished gentleman who had a Ph.D in accounting and was helping and supporting Williams. 

Natwar Gandhi (Photo by: Natwar Gandhi) Natwar Gandhi

 

I was honored recently when he sent me an email asking if he could send me an autographed copy of his book, Still The Promised Land, and asking for my current address. I was doubly honored when he wrote “Let me take this opportunity to appreciate your wise counsel and guidance that helped me navigate through treacherous political waters of the District while I was its CFO.” I am sure not much I said to Nat were things he didn’t already know, but I treasure the times we sat over lunch at his favorite place, the Metropolitan Club. We would meet and chat about politics and the District.  

 

After sending him my address Nat sent another email with his wonderful sense of humor on display writing “the book is on its way to you for your reading pleasure, however, if you have any trouble sleeping, please open chapter 12 that deals with taxation and that should put you to sleep right away, even if you are suffering from insomnia.”. Well even if chapter 12 may do that this book is great read and helps us to understand again how America to so many is still the ‘promised land’ where with hard work anything is possible. It is Nat’s appreciation to our country and in many ways the story of so many immigrants, my parents included.

 

Nat writes about his book “The book narrates the story of my life that began in a dusty Indian village with no paved streets, no electricity, no telephone and no running water, and ended up in Washington, DC where I had the chance to play a crucial role in the financial rejuvenation of the nation's capital as its chief financial officer. It is a classic immigrant story that reaffirms my faith in the United States as a nation of immigrants, full of opportunities for all those who come here, work and remake their lives. Only through an enlightened, judicious and measured immigration policy can America achieve its manifest destiny as a great nation.”  

 

This is a book about both Nat and the District of Columbia. It is the story of how a few people fought to bring our city out of bankruptcy. There is a foreword by Alice Rivlin who knew Nat well and so admired him as a man and for his work. Reading this book you will come to realize Nat is a multi-faceted person; he is an accountant, a writer, an actor, a husband and a father. Reading his story in Still the Promised Land will once again make you realize if we allow the policies of the Trump administration toward immigrants to stand we all lose as individuals; but more than that the nation loses. 

 

 

 

 


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Alphonso David Shines at Human Rights Campaign Dinner

September 30, 2019

This was one of the most low-key dinners HRC has had in many years. Very few members of Congress, they were on recess, and little star-power except for the amazing Ricky Martin who received the HRC National Visibility Award. The keynote speaker was Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). 

 Peter Brett and Kyle Walton (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Peter Brett and Kyle Walton

But none of that mattered because the new President of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Alphonso David, was the real star of the night. He made an auspicious start with his first speech which was both inspirational and galvanizing. 

Alphonso is the first person of color to lead the organization in its 40 year history and the time is right. He is a brilliant choice.  According to his Wikipedia page Alphonso was born in Silver Spring, Maryland and at the age of one his family moved to Monrovia, Liberia. His family was immersed in politics with his father becoming Mayor of his city and his great uncle, William Tolbert, was President of Liberia. During the coup in 1980 his uncle was assassinated and his father incarcerated and later sought political asylum in in the United States. Alphonso came back to the United States and attended college and law school here. 

During his speech Alphonso teared up as he told the story of how his father reacted when he told him he was gay, disowning him and telling him he would rather he had never been born. But it clearly molded who he is as an out and proud gay man of color willing to stand tall and speak out for himself and his community. Alphonso has been an attorney with Lambda Legal and before taking the position with HRC was Chief Counsel to Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. After he walked the red, or in the case of HRC blue, carpet at the dinner I had the chance to say hello and he laughed when I mentioned to him my first meeting with Andrew was when he was nineteen during the Mayoral campaign of 1977 which Mario Cuomo lost to Ed Koch. 

 Samir AL-Hawamdeh and David Franco (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Samir AL-Hawamdeh and David Franco

As I said he was the star of the evening. His speech ‘The Dream; seeing beyond ourselves’ more than once brought people to their feet. It made people think. He began forcefully asking the crowd, “Who are you? — An immigrant, an American or both? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Straight? Black, White, Latinx, Asian or Native American?”  Going on to say “We all have identities that deserve to be respected and celebrated. But today we are at a crossroads in this nation, where our identities will either serve as a tool to achieve liberation, or as a tool to further oppress us.” That was the crux of his speech. That we must respect each other and see ourselves when looking at someone different from us. He went on to name the eighteen transgender women of color who have been murdered this year and saying, “Regardless of how we self-identify, we share a common dream -- the dream of full equality. It is the dream that led Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to fight back at Stonewall. It is the dream that led Harvey Milk to run for public office. It is the dream that led Edie Windsor and Jim Obergefell to fight discrimination all the way to our nation’s highest court. It is the dream that led each of you to get involved with this incredible organization. And it is the dream that brought me here tonight. The promise of this organization and this movement must be fully realized. As I stand before you as the first person of color to lead the Human Rights Campaign in its nearly 40 year history, I promise you I will fight as hard and as long as necessary to make the dream of full equality a reality for all of us. All I ask in return is that you make that same promise. As the great Toni Morrison said, “the danger of losing humanity must be met with more humanity.” 

People jumped to their feet with the recognition HRC has a new leader who will motivate our community, stand tall and fight for us. The people in the room committed to joining him in that fight.   


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