Community Palette

'Richard the Third' – Violent but Riveting

February 13, 2019

Richard the Third is a violent play. After his hit production of King Charles III, David Muse returns to the Shakespeare Theatre Company to direct Richard the Third, a mesmerizing chronicle of the megalomaniac’s rampage to the throne. According to David “It’s about a heartless man, a con artist, a man obsessed with winning and power, a misogynist, a spinner of news and misinformation, a man who thrives by beating others, a man who uses and discards people. It’s about how a country responds to a leader like this. We watch people negotiate with their own mortality, align themselves with power and resist secretly if at all.” 

Actually after seeing the play one leaves the theater thinking there is something vaguely familiar to the premise.  Then you realize we are going through something similar today in the United States with Donald Trump. While at the moment he may not be personally ordering the killings they are happening and he is a lying, misogynistic and despicable man. It felt so incredibly appropriate the person to finally take down Richard in this production is played by the talented Evelyn Spahr cast as the Earl of Richmond. Surely David had this in mind when he cast her. In the play the Earl is crowned the first Tudor King, Henry the VII. Just dreaming, but maybe not, wouldn’t it be great if a woman took down Trump to become the first female President?

David Muse is a brilliant director and he brings out the best in his actors. Matthew Rauch commands the stage as Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He is appropriately venal and yet you laugh at some of his antics even while being appalled at all the people he needs to have killed on his way to becoming Richard the Third. He even convinces the Lady Anne of Neville the talented Cara Ricketts, who hates him, to finally marry him only to have her killed. 

(Photo by: Tony Powell, Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre Company)

The entire play takes place on one stark set designed by Debra Booth. It looks like a dungeon room in the castle conveniently located near the ovens making it easier to cremate the bodies and to gas those Richard orders killed including the two young children of King Edward IV, David Bishins, who is disposed only after Richard has managed to have his own brother, George the Duke of Clarence, Cody Nickell, knocked off first by being stabbed and dumped in a barrel of water.  

I can’t mention them all, there are twenty-eight in the cast, but all are uniformly good. Some who stand out are Lizan Mitchell as Margaret of Anjou, Christopher Michael McFarland as the Duke of Buckingham, Derrick Lee Weeden as Lord Hastings, and the two murderers David Ryan Smith and Matthew Aldwin McGee. Movement Director Steph Paul, Music and sound designer Lindsay Jones and Fight Choreographer Robb Hunter have all done a great job lending excitement to the evening. 

It is not a play I would bring children to but if you are not averse to seeing some violence and want to see some exciting Shakespeare with brilliant acting I would urge you to go. Richard the Third will be at the Sidney Harman Hall through March 10th.

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'School of Rock -The Musical:' Fun for the Entire Family

January 20, 2019

School of Rock -The Musical, book by Julien Fellowes with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater is now at the National Theatre and it is a fun night for the entire family.

The story is simple. Dewey played to perfection by the very talented Merritt David Janes is a wannabee rock star. He is broke and gets tossed out of the band he started and wants to win the Battle of the Bands a rock music competition. At the moment he is living with and mooching off his best friend Ned (Layne Roate) and Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Madison Micucci). Ned is also a wannabee rocker who has given it up to become a teacher and when a school calls to offer him a substitute job Dewey is the one who answers the phone and figures it’s a way to make some money and tells them he is Ned and agrees to take the job. So Dewey goes to the Horace Green, a private very chi-chi elementary school where parents spend $50,000 a year to send their spoiled kids and introduces himself as Ned to the Principal, Rosalie, played by the incredibly talented Lexie Dorsett Sharp. The rest of the story is about how Dewey gets the kids to be his rock band so they can enter the Battle of the Bands.

Mystic Inscho (Photo by: Evan Zimmerman-MurphyMade) Mystic Inscho

But the story is not what you are going to this show to see. What you are going to see and what will blow you away are the kids with their amazing talent. When the show opens there is taped announcement from Andrew Lloyd Weber who says, “If you are wondering if the kids in the show will be playing their own instruments the answer is YES!” It’s a good thing he says it because if he hadn’t you wouldn’t believe it. They are all so talented. Dewey works with his class and each student gets a designated role in the band including;  costume designer, back-up singer, bass guitarist, keyboard player, drummer, lead singer, and a band manager. Summer (Sami Bray) who Dewey gives the job of band manager to as she wants to be teacher’s pet and at first isn’t into the music quickly makes it clear to the audience she has great acting chops. 

There are so many other incredibly talented kids in the show I can’t mention them all but some who just stand out along with Sami are Cameron Trueblood an incredible drummer, Mystic Inscho a lead guitarist extraordinaire,  Grier Burke whose beautiful voice is perfect as the lead singer, and Theo Mitchell-Penner who is just amazing on keyboard. Remember all the kids appear to range in age from eight to twelve. What would be fun is to follow some of their careers, the ones who want to stay in the business, and see where they are ten years from now. Surely many of these kids are the stars of the future.

 Merritt David Janes, Lexie Dorsett Sharp (Photo by: Matt Murphy) Merritt David Janes, Lexie Dorsett Sharp

The play is directed by Laurence Connor who directed Les Misérables on Broadway and in the UK and choreographed by Joann M. Hunter. The music director, and this is all about the kids and the music, is the talented Martyn Axe.

So for a fun night in the theater great for all ages I would recommend getting a ticket to School of Rock -The Musical while it’s at the National through January 27th. 

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Human Rights Campaign Celebrates the New Congress

January 7, 2019

January 3, 2019 was a historic day. Nancy Pelosi regained the Speakership of the House of Representatives and more than 100 women took the oath of office in the House and twenty-three in the Senate. Progress is being made but there is still a long way to go. 

Within the new class being sworn in were members of the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, a Native American and the youngest African American woman ever elected. This is the most diverse Congress we have ever had and we must hope along with new representation will come some new ideas and the ability to move the nation forward. 

Mark Takano (D-CA) Chad Griffin, President, HRC (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Mark Takano (D-CA) Chad Griffin, President, HRC

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) invited members of Congress and their own supporters to a party to celebrate all the work they did to make this happen. HRC is the largest advocacy group for the LGBTQ+ community in the nation and while not everyone agrees with all they do or how they do it no one should question the success they had this past year. They do make a positive difference. 

While not all the new members of Congress attended many because of the scheduled late votes and others who were just exhausted from the excitement of the day, there was a good representation of the Congress there. Those attending included Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN); Members of the House Mark Takano (D-CA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) Donna Shalala (D-FL), and David Cicillline (D-RI). 

Among other elected officials seen in the crowd were Brian Sims state representative from Pennsylvania and Secretary of State – elect Katie Hobbs from Arizona. Chad Griffin outgoing President of HRC introduced the members of Congress who spoke for about two-minutes each, which might be a record for their shortest speeches. Mark Takano proudly reminded everyone he will shortly be referred to as Chairman Takano, as he will become Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, only the third openly gay Chair the first being Gerry Studds and the second being Barney Frank.

Surely celebrations like this show how far we have come in what is really a very short time. It was great to hear the Speaker of the House say from her podium the Equality Act is a priority for her. In today’s world of instant gratification it seems like it will have been a really long time in coming if it passes considering the first bill was introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-NY) in 1974, a member of Congress I had the honor of working for. But to understand the timeframes of moving equality forward and gaining progress we only have to look to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) first introduced in the 1920s which is still not ratified. 

It was a pleasure to chat for a few moments with Chad Griffin who will be moving on once HRC hires a new President. He is staying to make sure there will be a smooth transition and he can be justifiably proud of what HRC has accomplished during his tenure. They have grown exponentially and have set up offices around the nation. They have come through the most successful year ever when it comes to having a winning ratio of the candidates they supported. He leaves a great legacy to the person who follows him to build on. He said he chose to leave now to give his successor the chance to start what will be an exciting and important run-up to the 2020 elections. Chad will be missed but as he himself said no one is indispensable and there are many people out there who will be able to lead HRC and our community to new heights. 

Amy Nelson, June Crenshaw (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Amy Nelson, June Crenshaw

The real heroes in many ways at the celebration were the supporters of HRC who gave money and endless volunteer hours so the newly elected LGBTQ+ members of Congress and those members of the community who won other races across the nation could succeed. As Hillary Clinton wrote, “It takes a village”, and the village of the LGBTQ+ community is strong and vocal. We don’t always agree with each other, we fight with each other as every family does, but we do share one goal; full equality both politically and economically for all. I saw many of the staunchest supporters of HRC and fighters for our community there including Amy Nelson and June Crenshaw, Christofer Horta now working as an LA for Donna Shalala, Steve Clemons Washington Editor for the Atlantic, Lt. Brett Parsons of the DCMPD, and Aaron Tax of SAGE among so many others. They represent the true heroes of our community’s success. 

One only hopes there will be many more such celebrations in the future. This column first appeared in the Washington Blade.

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