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'The Comedy of Errors:' A Brilliant Night in the Theatre

October 2, 2018

One of Shakespeare’s earliest plays The Comedy of Errors is the story of two sets of twins, each with the same name—what could go wrong? Apparently everything that can. When you go to see this play you must leave your logic behind and enjoy an evening of music, farce and folly. Servants misplace their masters and wives overlook their husbands. Chaos reigns. What makes it so great is the joyousness of the entire cast and their brilliant acting. 

The plot is simple. The mother and father of these two sets of twins are shipwrecked when the twins are children. They end up separated not knowing if each other survive. The twins become separated with one of each twin set being together. Their father only knows one of the pairs has survived and goes on a lifelong search for the other two, thinking his wife is dead. As the play begins we see they all end up in Ephesus, Greece and it takes the full one hundred minutes and a barrel of laughs for them to all find each other.  We are living in difficult times and Alan Paul who directs so brilliantly, manages to get in a couple of references to today including ‘a wall’ but this play is a welcome respite from the reality we face. Paul uses the wonders of the setting in Greece and Greek culture to the fullest in this play from cries of ‘opa’ to the dancing.

Matt Zambrano and Tom Story (Photo by: Shakespeare Theatre Company) Matt Zambrano and Tom Story

Those of you who are aficionados of the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) will recognize many in the cast. Paul has said this show is a tribute to Michael Kahn, finishing his final season as Artistic Director, and many of the actors Michael brought to DC audiences over the years are in it. They include among others Nancy Robinette (Emilia the Abbess of Ephesus), Tom Story (Angelo a goldsmith), Ted Van Griethuysen (Egeon Merchant of Syracuse), and Sarah Marshall (Dr. Pinch). Each one a standout on their own and better than ever. But it is Tom Story who from the moment he leads the cast in their entrance who plays his role to the hilt and shines in this production. He is funny, real and brilliant. He somehow manages to stop just short of going overboard as he minces his way through the play interacting with each character. 

Alan Paul who has won numerous awards for his directing will certainly get another for this show. His creativeness shines through in every scene played without intermission. He uses every opportunity to give his actors the time to make a hand-motion, a slapstick moment, an eye roll, and a pratfall to grab a laugh and reel the audience into the farce with them. 

Now on opening night there was an unscheduled half hour intermission when a woman in the audience needed medical attention. The theater staff handled the emergency quickly and efficiently. Michael Kahn took to the stage to inform the audience she was on her way to the hospital and that it appeared she would be ok. He then asked the audience to give the cast a few minutes to transport us back into the play. To their credit and total professionalism, the cast took only a quick moment to draw the audience right back with them; laughing and clapping at their performances. 

The show opened with Eleasha Gamble (the Courtesan), sharing her beautiful voice in song, and the cast led by Tom Story (Angelo the goldsmith) making their entrance together. And so began the farce as we watched how they all managed to miss running into each other for ninety of the 100 minutes of the play. Much of the credit for their ability to do this is the incredible set, placed on a turntable to move each scene along, and designed by the very talented James Noone.  

Since Paul is known for his musicals there should be no surprise the musical numbers including ‘put a smile on your face’ and the brilliant tap dancing routine choreographed by Karma Camp and performed by Matt Bauman, John Cardenas and Justin Nelson bring down the house. 

The two sets of twins are played by Gregory Wooddell (Antipholus of Syracuse), and Christian Conn (Antipholus of Ephesus); and their servants Carson Elrod (Dromio of Syracuse) and Carter Gill (Dromio of Ephesus). Each brings a strength, distinctiveness, creativity and comic presence to their role and make you want to see much more of them. 

The beautiful Veanne Cox (Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus) is wonderful and plays her role to perfection confusing her husband with his twin and then sleeping with the wrong one. Her physical acting is great to see. Folami Williams plays her sister to perfection. J. Bernard Calloway (the Duke) and Matt Zambrano (Tailor) both very talented add to the fun of the evening.  

Each member of the team is crucial to bringing out the full wonder of this production. Gabriel Berry (Costume Designer) has created exquisite designs; Mary Ellen Stebbins (lighting designer) and Christopher Baine (sound design) each add a new dimension to the production. Michael Dansicker (Composer and Lyricist) manages to turn this farce of a play into a wonderful musical. He and Paul have worked magic together and are complemented by Victor Simonson (music director). 

The Comedy of Errors will be at the Lansburgh Theatre through October 28th. 


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In Trump Era, We Need a Robust Human Rights Campaign

September 20, 2018

 Adam Rippon and his mother (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Adam Rippon and his mother

The Human Rights Campaign seems to always top its previous national dinners with both entertainment and a keynote speaker. But last Saturday evening they had a nearly impossible task in matching the reception Hillary Rodham Clinton got last year. In this craziness we are living one cannot help but think of what could have been had Hillary been president including the raft of administration officials who would have been at this year’s dinner.

This year’s keynote speaker was Joe Biden. Dr. Jill Biden spoke first about their foundation and she is quite a person in her own rightThen it was ‘Uncle Joe’ as so many call him who stepped to the podium and got a standing ovation with some shouts of 2020. This was reminiscent of the reception he got when he spoke at the dinner in 2015. He said all the right things and as always with passion. The speech meandered without direction and you couldn’t help but feel ‘I love this man’ and thank him for all he has done; but many in the room said they hoped like in 2015 he would eventually announce he has decided not to run. Reality sets in and he would be nearly 80 when he took office and like with so many of us Baby Boomers, age begins to show.

 

The second major speaker of the evening, former Attorney General Eric Holder, has also made some noise about wanting to run in 2020. He gave a good speech and spoke of the important work he is doing with former President Obama on the issue of redistricting. He is right we need to stop the gerrymandering of congressional districts.

 

The program also featured trailblazing Virginia Del. Danica Roem and candidate for Nevada Secretary of State, Nelson Araujo. Unfortunately those at the dinner didn’t get to hear Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia who earlier in the day had addressed HRC leaders and members from across the country. But Andrew Gillum, hopefully the next governor of Florida, was in the room.

Andrew Gillum- Democratic Candidate for Governor in Florida (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Andrew Gillum- Democratic Candidate for Governor in Florida

 

HRC’s President Chad Griffin spoke eloquently addressing the sell-out crowd of more than 3,600 people at the Walter Washington Convention Center. His words were similar to those he spoke last year when he said “It’s not enough to resist the hateful policies and attacks coming from the Trump-Pence regime — we’ve got to accelerate the pace of progress toward full equality and secure protections for LGBTQ people in states and communities across the country. That’s why we’re going on offense with the largest grassroots expansion in HRC’s 37-year history. Our grassroots army of over 3 million has proven that, even in the face of unprecedented challenges, we can make incredible progress and defeat the hateful politicians who’ve been emboldened by Donald Trump when we organize and mobilize.”

Terry Bickham, Andy Bailey, Dustin Ruffatto, Scott Moster (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Terry Bickham, Andy Bailey, Dustin Ruffatto, Scott Moster

He said because of our work and that of our allies we can be proud record numbers of LGBTQ+ candidates are on the ballot in November running for school board to state legislature, from governors to members of Congress. He reminded the crowd “we have 51 days of work before we can claim victory for all those candidates and that will only happen if we VOTE.”

 

Actress Anne Hathaway received HRC’s National Equality Award. One of the biggest ovations of the evening came for Adam Rippon, Olympic figure skating champion who has used his voice to speak out for the LGBTQ+ community in a way that has reached millions. Adam introduced Shea Diamond, a transgender woman of color, who sang and wowed the audience both with her voice and the words of her song. Comedian Dana Goldberg hosted the live auction which raised nearly $300,000 for the organization.

 

There is much people find to criticize about HRC. The dinner as always was attended overwhelmingly by white people of privilege. It is stunning how much money is in the room. This year, two people competed with the winning bid being $100,000 for a cruise to Antarctica. I have criticized the organization many times over many issues. But reality is the people at the national dinner and those at similar dinners across the nation (and many of their members who can’t afford to attend the dinners but donate) understand organizations like HRC need money to exist and to do their work. Make no mistake the work they do is important.

 

In today’s world we need HRC and Griffin is doing a good job leading the organization. We can argue with one or the other of the decisions the organization makes but I for one am glad they exist and continue to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community here and around the globe.

 

This column first appeared in the Washington Blade.


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John McCain: A Republican, A Hero, An Enigma

August 30, 2018

John McCain is many things. He is a Republican, a hero and an enigma. I respect and honor his service to the nation during war and peace but was not sorry he lost especially in the general election when the person he lost to was Barack Obama. In his last Senate campaign he took an ultra-right wing position on immigration to satisfy his Arizona constituents. He was a rich man who once couldn’t remember how many houses he owned.

He is an enigma in so many ways. Every time he did something I agreed with friends would remind me of where he stood on so many issues. He opposed a federal minimum wage, voted for privatizing Social Security and even once voted against a more robust education bill for veterans.

 

As he did during his last Senate campaign he often took positions to try to get elected and then backed away from them. One example was during a presidential primary campaign, when McCain sharply criticized leaders of the religious right as “agents of intolerance” allied to his rival, Gov. George W. Bush, and denounced what he said were the tactics of “division and slander.” McCain even singled out Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as corrupting influences on religion and politics and said parts of the religious right were divisive.” Then in an interview in March 2007, David Brody for CBN news asked McCain about these comments, “Do you regret saying it? Do you feel like you need to apologize for it at all? To which McCain responded, “I was angry. And sometimes you say things in anger that you don’t mean. But I have put that behind me. It’s over.”

 

McCain often mixed religion with politics forgetting the Constitution regarding the separation of church and state.When interviewed in 2007 by Beliefnet, a website that covers religious affairs, McCain was asked if he thought a non-Christian should be president of the United States. He answered, “I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who has a grounding in my faith.” Later he said, “I would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and defend our political values.” But later added his belief that “America is a Judeo-Christian nation.”

 

McCain voted against federal funding of birth control and sex education and against spending $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy by education and contraceptives. He also voted more than once against legislation requiring insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to also cover birth control. Yet he voted yes on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

 

In 2017, his vote saved the Affordable Care Act when he voted against abolishing it making a strong statement on the floor of the Senate about not passing legislation that hadn’t gone through proper order, which included all the committees and hearings. But even before the applause for that speech died down he apparently reversed himself by voting for the Trump tax bill even though it included significant last minute changes made behind closed doors.

 

In 1983, McCain opposed creating a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and only reversed his position when Arizona rescinded a King State holiday and there was an economic boycott and image problems for the state. Then in April 2008, McCain said, “We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I made myself long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King. I was wrong.”

 

When it came to LGBTQ rights he was against a federal right to gay marriage wanting it left to the states and he voted no on a bill that would have extended the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation. He also voted no on giving the LGBTQ community job protections. Yet he was a strong supporter of Eric Fanning, an openly gay man, speaking out and fighting for his confirmation on the Senate floor when he was nominated as Secretary of the Army.

 

You can understand how much McCain will be missed when looking at the acquiescence and sycophantic behavior of the current Republican Congress to the despot in the White House. Agree or disagree with him his voice and wisdom will be missed.

There are millions of Americans of all races, genders, nationalities and political persuasions who honor him and thank him for his service to our nation.

 

This article first appeared in the Washington Blade.


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