Community Palette

Strange Interlude: Must See

April 11, 2012

An evening with Eugene O’Neill is always interesting and I recommend that no one miss this great production of Strange Interlude at the Shakespeare Theatre.

When he wrote Strange Interlude and it appeared on Broadway it was as a six hour play with a dinner intermission. It won rave reviews, a Pulitzer Prize and played for over 400 performances, unheard of at that time. Now a six hour production would be hard to do in today’s theatre world. But Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre and director extraordinaire has trimmed it down to a more manageable length, keeping the story intact and providing for a totally engrossing evening, well worth the investment of your time. 

It is the story of Nina Leeds’ (Francesca Faridany) life and loves, often unfulfilled, that keeps you enthralled. Faridany is passionate and brilliant in the role.  The story covers 25 years of Nina’s life and begins when her father (Ted van Griethuysen) revealing that he was against her marriage to Gordon, never seen but who left for the war without marrying her and whose plane is shot down at the beginning of the play.

This event leads to Nina’s changing her life, becoming a nurse, leaving the comfortable cloistered life she was born into, and entering a period of promiscuity before determining to look for “happiness” via a new marriage and children.  Nina’s life for the next twenty five years revolves around her four men; her husband Sam (Ted Koch); Ned (Baylen Thomas) her doctor and lover; old family friend Marsden (Robert Stanton) an author with Victorian views and a clear lack of understanding of even his own needs and desires, and her son Gordon (Jake Land).

The audacity of this evening in the theatre comes from Michael Kahn’s willingness to stage this play, which he has pondered for literally decades, and bringing his passion for it to today’s audiences. Times were very different when it was first staged nearly 100 years ago. But Kahn’s genius is making it work today and finding an amazing cast (including; Rachel Spencer Hewitt, Tana Hicken, and Joe short) who bring the characters to life in a way that we can relate too. It is Freudian and serious, and with Michael’s shrewd direction the humor that is part of these characters and their lives is brought out fully. By evening’s end you realize that at different times you loved and hated, understood and were appalled by everyone in it. Adding to the production is the great but spare set design by Walt Spangler and costumes by Jane Greenwood.

Added to my experience with Strange Interlude was having drink’s with the cast after the show and finding out how much they appreciated the opportunity to act in this O’Neill masterpiece and how they all felt that Michael Kahn brought out the best in their performance.

Don’t miss this amazing night in the theatre. It may be many years before Strange Interlude is presented again. It will be at Shakespeare Theatre’s beautiful Harman Hall until April 29th.


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13 Little Chancellors

March 27, 2012

The D.C. Council once again is interfering in the education of our children by passing legislative mandates that usurp the authority and role of the Mayor and the Chancellor.

This kind of meddling has never been productive and won’t be now. What it does is set up a situation where the responsibility for education moves solely from the Mayor and the Chancellor back to being shared with 13 individuals who don’t all have expertise in education. While they may all be well meaning that isn’t enough. They aren’t educators.

The Council recently passed legislation calling for all high school students to take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams and to apply to college or another post-secondary institution in order to graduate. While this may sound like a great goal the question has to arise that with a current drop-out rate of close to 50% shouldn’t the first goal be to keep children in school? Shouldn’t we leave it to educators to make the determination on what mandates to require of students who are in high school and ready to move on to higher education? In addition to the required testing the bill the Council passed also stated that all 3 and 4 year olds be ready for kindergarten. What does that actually mean? In 1989 George H. W. Bush convened an Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. He invited the nation’s Governors and business leaders and they came up with six goals. The first being; ‘All children will enter school ready to learn’. While not many of the six have been met that was one that clearly then and now still causes the most problems. The reason being that this has to do much more with families and outside influences than it does with schools and educators.

The Council has a short memory. What they agreed to only a few short years ago was that they have the right to vote to approve the Chancellor but beyond that they would stop micro-managing the schools. In abstaining from voting on the bill one member did remember that. It was reported that Councilmember Tommy Wells said, “I agree with the measure’s goals, but I don’t believe that the city council should be taking on the role of the school board. I think that it’s too possible to politicize school policy, and so in general I believe there should be a very bright line…”.

Councilmember Wells is right about this. There has to be a bright line and the Council appears to have crossed it in a way that will not benefit our students or the system. In addition the Charter School Board executive director, Scott Pearson, testified that the bill was ‘overreaching’ and did not have the support of the charter school community which today enrolls nearly 40% of D.C. public-school students. 

Hopefully the Council will step back and remember what they agreed to as we move toward raising the standard of public education in the District. Unless they do this could be the first step in what could become the road back to a dysfunctional school system with too many cooks in the kitchen.


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Let the Chips Fall Where They May

March 7, 2012

The raid on Jeffrey Thompson’s home and office and on Jeanne Clarke Harris’s office by federal investigators has created another political free-for-all in the media. Everyone is trying to figure out what happened and why and jumping to conclusions without the facts.

Jeffrey Thompson (Photo by: TCBA.com) Jeffrey Thompson

As someone involved in political campaigns since the age of 12, I realize that anytime there is money floating around in campaigns there are always people looking to get some or to curry favors by giving some. In our efforts to clean up campaigns we need to be careful we don’t make things worse. Councilmember’s Wells and Cheh are proposing solutions that could make it harder to raise money which could be good but will that then mean only wealthy candidates can run?

D.C. moved into the big-time when Adrian Fenty raised over $3 million for his first campaign and then over $5 million for his losing reelection bid. It wasn’t that long ago when reporters in this town thought raising a million dollars was too much. In 2006 Fenty became furious when told he shouldn’t consider running unless he could raise $1.5 million because he didn’t think he could. Today that kind of money gets you out of the starting gate.

The District of Columbia has moved quickly from being a small town to being a big city with the complex issues that big cities have. But in many ways we are still a small town and our political scandals seem overwhelming. We have few politicians and comparatively few people with real money involved in the political system so that when one person gets caught doing something wrong, or there is the hint of something wrong, the mud splatters all over the place.

Growing up in New York I saw a lot more scandals than D.C. ever had but there were so many politicians that a few scandals here and there didn’t throw everyone for a loop. There are of course just plain dumb politicians, but that isn’t an appellation anyone could apply to Vincent Gray. He is often considered the smartest person in the Wilson building. I still believe that he had no intention of doing anything wrong when he was convinced to run for Mayor. Clearly there were people around him who may have thought differently and were motivated either by greed or by the knowledge that to run a successful campaign you needed big money quickly. Does lack of intent to do wrong exempt Gray from responsibility, NO! But I just suggest before we assign personal guilt we let the U.S. Attorney finish his investigation and let the chips fall where they may.

There is a running commentary in the press and among some activists about what Congress will think and how what our politicians do will impact their actions. I think we need to get away from that discussion. The worst that has happened to DC in my 32 years here is the Control Board. If we look at D.C. today we are a stronger, bigger and better city than before. We have survived Marion Barry and some of his cronies going to jail and Marion himself going to jail. Developers in this town won’t stop investing if there is more wrong-doing uncovered because despite our politicians this city is a great investment and it is growing. The scandals haven’t stopped anyone from moving here and they won’t. So I think we should focus on what is great and happening here instead of spending time wringing our hands.

I am all for cleaning up politics but how do you explain newspapers in town that chastise current politicians but don’t give any coverage to the ones running against them? We will survive Harry Thomas and anyone else found guilty of a crime because we are bigger than our politicians. We are a great city and its time to focus on that and sell that. The investigations will go on and when we see the results the chips will fall where they may.


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