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The King’s Speech – An Enjoyable Night at the Theatre

February 13, 2020

This production of The King’s Speech is definitely worth an evening in the theater. Many know the story or have learned it from watching the great movie of the same name. But in case you don’t know it a short synopsis is helpful before you go.

The play is written by David Seidler and this production is directed by Michael Wilson. It is about a difficult time in England. King George V dies and David (Jeff Parker) his older son is to become King. But David falls in love with a Baltimore socialite Wallis Simpson (Tiffany Scott) who is twice divorced and rather than give her up as the government demands if he is to become King he abdicates the throne leaving it to his younger brother Albert (known as Bertie) and played to perfection by Nick Westrate. England is about to enter the war and Bertie is shy and fragile with a stammer and seemingly not well equipped to lead the nation on the brink of war. 

The story is about how Bertie’s wife Elizabeth (Maggie Lacey) helps him to find a speech therapist to overcome his stammer, which has held him back all his life, as he is thrust onto the world stage after the abdication of his older brother. She finds an unconventional Harley Street speech therapist, Lionel Logue wonderfully and believably played by Michael Bakkensen who becomes not only his speech therapist but his friend. Their success or failure as therapist and patient and as unexpected friends, will seal their destiny, the destiny of England and perhaps the world, in this compelling true story. 

(Photo by: Courtesy Liz Lauren for National Theatre)

The play revolves around the interactions with the famous personages of the time in England including Winston Churchill (Kevin Gudahl) who brings strength to his performance and always commands the stage and the Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang (Noble Shropshire) who brings humor and a dose of reality as we follow the interactions between the Church of England and the monarchy at the time. We find ourselves cheering for Bertie as he finally speaks up and confronts the Archbishop. 

The sets are beautifully conceived by Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet with interesting and effective by Lighting Designer Howell Binkley. The costumes are beautifully imagined by David C. Woolard.

I question a little of the direction as when Bertie is having one of his arguments with Lionel and he is first talking to him from a box in the theater and then comes down into the audience and walks down the aisle back to the stage. There seems to be no benefit to the production for this to happen and my only thought was once they got him in the box maybe that was the only way to get Bertie back on the stage. But again that is a minor quibble. 

The entire cast is good but I found the play does drag a little in the first act. But then all the big action takes place in the second act and the pace picks up dramatically and you leave the theater glad you came to see this show. 

The King’s Speech will be at the National Theatre through February 16th. 


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Time to Stop Bernie Sanders is NOW

January 30, 2020

Now is the time to stop Bernie Sanders before he becomes the Democratic nominee and destroys the party’s chances of taking back the White House. Just as important he would hurt our chances of taking back the Senate. He is not a Democrat, has never been one, and if he becomes the nominee many Democrats on the ballot below him from school board to U.S. Senate will be running for the hills. Sanders’ initials represent what he is about, BS.

 

In states where it appears Democrats have a shot at flipping a Senate seat: Arizona, Georgia and Georgia Special Election (two seats in play), Maine, North Carolina, and Kansas he would be a stone around the candidates’ necks. The same is true for the majority of candidates who helped Democrats take back the House in 2018. Democratic primary voters around the nation must wake up and reject the BS Sanders is trying to feed them. In reality he is simply an old white man, lifelong politician with the huge ego that comes with that, self-described socialist, who sounds like a ‘carnival barker’ shouting and waving his hands in the air. He has a thirty year congressional record amounting to close to ZERO. His speeches bring to mind the words of Shakespeare, “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. From the time he ran as an independent against a progressive former Vermont governor, Democrat Madeleine Kunin in 1986, to his rants against the Democratic establishment he hasn’t changed. He apparently still believes women, the LGBT community, dreamers and African Americans are part of the establishment only out to derail him.

 

He recently embraced the endorsement of Joe Rogan, a sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist. His campaign’s national press secretary said about the endorsement, “Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values. The truth is that by standing together in solidarity, we share the values of love and respect that will move us in the direction of a more humane, more equal world.” So he stands in solidarity with Rogan and thinks Rogan has values of love and respect; again Sanders BS. He sounds just like Trump talking about welcoming white supremacists and neo-Nazi endorsements to his campaign. Disgusting

 

Sanders’s only job in life has been as a politician. He cut a deal with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to win his first congressional election and in return voted against the Brady bill and background checks five times and against allowing people to sue gun manufacturers. He voted for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that resulted in the judicial system putting thousands of young black men in jail and he voted for the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) resolution. “The authorization granted the President the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.” That resolution is still in effect and being used to send our troops over there today.

 

Today he shouts at rallies about a ‘revolution’ he wants to lead. Waiting for the revolution to come in the United States is a little like Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot”. When Barack Obama was elected he quickly found out simply saying ‘Hope and Change’ wasn’t enough to get things done. But the difference between Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders is people within his own Party with the power to actually do something liked, respected and supported Obama. They were willing to work with him to move us forward in many areas including; healthcare, LGBTQ rights, women’s pay equity and a host of others. As Hillary Clinton recently correctly said “nobody likes Sanders”.

 

Despite the BS Sanders is selling he has never been a leader in any movement whether it is women’s rights, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, disability rights or immigrant rights. People must understand shouting and waving your arms about and selling what was once called ‘snake oil’ isn’t being a leader. It may play to the crowd, and seems to be playing to young people, but in our system of government it doesn’t work to move a progressive agenda forward and for over thirty years in Congress Sanders record of accomplishing practically nothing is proof of that.

So I beseech Democrats who want to beat Trump, those wanting to move a progressive agenda forward, and Independents; please choose a candidate other than Sanders. If you are sick snake oil can be alluring and seem like a quick remedy; but real medicine which may be harder to swallow and take a little longer to work is always the better choice.

The changes we want will only happen if we reject the carnival barker and vote for a person willing to do the hard work to get things done. It means electing a person who understands that the government our founders set up, the constitution they wrote, requires an understanding of the word compromise. Something Sanders has shone he doesn’t. Compromise, without giving up our principles, is what has allowed us to move the progressive agenda many of us want forward even if it is a step at a time. Say a resounding NO to Bernie Sanders in the caucus and at the polls.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.


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'Pipeline' at Studio Theatre – Brilliant, Riveting, Important

January 21, 2020

Pipeline is a brilliant play by Dominique Morisseau superbly directed at Studio Theatre by Awoye Timpo.  It is the story about the school to prison pipeline that impacts so many children in high poverty areas but it is so much more than that. 

Andrea Harris Smith (Photo by: Courtesy of Studio Theatre by C. Stanley Photography) Andrea Harris Smith

The play revolves around Nya, a single African American mom who teaches in a high poverty school and is very conflicted about how to bring up her teenage son Omari. She is divorced from his dad and wants to give Omari every opportunity she sees many of her students don’t now and may never have. His dad is paying for the private school and thinks it is better to have Omari in a boarding school than staying in the neighborhood school in which his mom teaches. When Omari ends up in an altercation with one of his teachers which could not only get him kicked out of school but have a long term impact on his future we see her terrified as she tries to understand him, and the rage within him, which led to his fighting with the teacher. She doesn’t know how to help him. 

David Muse, Artistic Director of Studio says "Dominique Morisseau writes from a place of deep understanding and familiarity, both with the subject matter and people at the center of her plays. Though it isn’t set in a specific city, it feels close. There is no doubt that our audiences will see DC reflected to some degree in Pipeline, which will make their reactions to it all the more interesting. It’s a play that brings both clear-eyed analysis about the damage systemic racism does and deep recognition of literature’s power to reflect and transform lives."

According to Morisseau’s biography “for Pipeline she draws on her and her mother’s combined six decades of experience as educators. She was also inspired by Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, an explosive examination of how the American criminal justice system targets Black men, and heavily biased press coverage following the murder of Michael Brown.”

I will never fully understand what Nya, Omari and Xavier (Omari’s father) are feeling or going through. I watched this show from the perspective of how I was born and lived my life; a cis white man of privilege born in Harlem who taught school in Harlem. I never taught a Caucasian student and Omari reminded me of some of the students I taught as a substitute teacher one semester in a Junior High School. As the play ended my first thoughts were I wish I had seen this play before my short teaching career began. Every teacher should see this play because even if you don’t fully understand all of it you will gain a perspective you might not have had before. It will make you a better teacher and maybe a better and more understanding person.

Andrea Harris Smith and Justin Weaks (Photo by: Courtesy of Studio Theatre by C. Stanley Photography) Andrea Harris Smith and Justin Weaks

Andrea Harris Smith as Nya is brilliant and you feel her pain and her love for her son every moment she is on stage. Justin Weaks is riveting portraying the rage Omari feels and he brings a new dimension to his character and to his relationship with his family in every scene. Even in the few scenes he has with his father Xavier (Bjorn DuPaty) you feel his pain as he himself struggles with the rage within him and where to direct it. Pilar Witherspoon is wonderful as Laurie the long-time teacher struggling to do good but not quite sure how in today’s world of education and Ro Boddie as Dun the security guard who also wants to do good by the teachers and students in the school but feels hamstrung by circumstances. It is impossible not to get involved with them as you watch their interactions on stage. Arnulfo Maldonado (set designer) has designed a perfect yet simple set and Jesse Belsky (lightening designer) has complemented each scene with great effects. 

I left the theater after the play thinking I understood a little more about Nya and Omari’s life but quickly realized again I could never fully understand what makes those whose experiences in life are so different from mine tick. I understood a little more about institutional and systemic racism and felt I had a better understanding than ever before about where the rage in an incredibly smart kid like Omari could come from. It was eye opening.  I have spent what I thought of as a lifetime fighting inequality and racism yet walking out of that play realized again how far those fights are from being won.  

No one should miss seeing Pipeline which will be at the Studio Theatre through February 16th.


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