Category Archives: Theater

Texas treat

What I would have given to have been able to take notes as I watched the play Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards, at the Kennedy Center this week.

In fact, I had tucked a notepad and pen into my purse, thinking I might be able to capture a memorable line or two for later use. But I was so riveted to the stage (figuratively, of course) that I abandoned the notepad and lived in the moment—for two and a half hours of this one-woman play.

The play is the brainchild and product of movie, television and stage actress–and now playwright–Holland Taylor, also newly deemed my favorite actor.

After having met and admired former Texas Governor Ann Richards, Taylor was inspired to memorialize Richards in a play about her life, à la Hal Holbrook’s portrayal of Mark Twain. She began the endeavor following Richards’ death in 2006.

There’s little arguing that Richards was both an inspiring and polarizing political figure in the United States in the 1980s and 90s, though people around the world were amused by her colorful use of language, her unique and thoughtful perspectives and her unbridled passion for changing the world around her.

I knew about Ann Richards even before she commanded national attention because I worked in the government affairs office of a large Texas corporation when she was State Treasurer.

A memorable line in her keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention was only one of hundreds characteristic of her, many of which I heard for the first time at the Kennedy Center.

Regardless of what anyone thought of Governor Richards, I can’t imagine a soul on the planet who wouldn’t fall head over heels for Holland Taylor’s portrayal. The posture, the mannerisms, the accent—specific to her little part of Texas—were traits flawlessly mimicked, with the help of Tom Hanks’ dialect coach, and the late Stella Adler, the acting instructor with whom Taylor worked for much of her career. The hair—which the late columnist Molly Ivins called “Republican hair” and which my mother used to say looked like Richards had it done at Dairy Queen—was the work of noted wigmaker Paul Huntly.

Ann closes at the Kennedy Center January 15, so there’s still time, and worth the scramble, to last-minute get tickets. If you miss it in Washington, the play heads to Broadway next.

Here, have a peek:

I went with four of my former lobbyist cronies. Now that’s our idea of Girls’ Night Out.

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Filed under Politics, Theater

Stream of unconsciousness

It’s interesting where roads lead. Sometimes a little free association can take us down an amusing path to sparkling treasure.

For me, the starting point was ballroom dancing. As a freelancer, my flavor of the week can be just about anything; this time, it’s dancing. Often when I start a new writing project, I go to sleep with ideas swirling about, in hopes a few will collide and stir creative copy. Other times, it’s just dust.

While listening to the radio on Sunday, I sang along with Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” as I had a thousand times before. It’s a beautiful song. This time, though, I wondered what in the world it meant that “We skipped the light fandango.” I thought about it. Could the phrase be a variation on “trip the light fantastic?”

I always considered trip the light fantastic to be ritzy and glitzy, from another era. I’ve never found occasion to use it in conversation, and certainly never understood where it came from or what it even meant exactly. (For you younger readers, it means to dance nimbly or lightly in a pattern.)

On Monday I woke up mulling my latest writing challenge. Might there be a place for tripping the light fantastic? I looked it up to ensure I understood the meaning and origin of the expression. Good thing too because I learned that, not only did it come from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but “tripping the light fantastic” was sixties drug lingo.

I continued searching. And I found a most delightful poem by John Milton, L’Allegro, published in 1645. It’s 150 lines long; I’ll share just the first excerpt that popped up:

Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Jest, and youthful Jollity,
Quips and cranks and wanton wiles,
Nods and becks and wreathed smiles
Such as hang on Hebe’s cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it, as you go,
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And, if I give thee honour due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free …

Don’t you just love it?

Later in the poem, I found bonus words I’ll tuck away, should I ever be hired to write about beer:

To many a youth and many a maid,
Dancing in the chequer’d shade;
And young and old come forth to play
On a Sunshine Holyday
Till the live-long daylight fail,
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale.

So here’s to A Whiter Shade of Pale.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Music, Quotes, Reading, Theater

Divine misery

It was a fitting backdrop.

Gloomy skies. Hovering gray clouds. Damp, chilly air. Persistent rain, following a month of persistent rain. Profound fatigue. Even a sinus headache. Miserable. Just miserable.

And perfect. Perfect for going to see Les Misérables.

I had given the tickets to my husband for Father’s Day.

We had never seen the show. It was coming to The Kennedy Center on its umpteenth tour, so I thought it was time to see what the 25-year-plus sensation was all about.

I hope it’s safe to divulge that I knew next to nothing about the play. Granted, it’s said to be the longest-running musical in the world, the third longest-running show in Broadway history, based on one of the most notable novels of the 19th century. I should have done my homework but, because the weekend sneaked up on me, I didn’t read up as I normally do before seeing a show.

A friend was kind enough to give me a synopsis over lunch on Friday—between bites and meeting agenda items. Otherwise, I might have surmised that Victor Hugo penned an entire story around a Susan Boyle hit.

After an insufficient night’s sleep, a long morning at church and a big lunch, the first act of yesterday’s matinee was an exercise in foggy frustration, as I struggled to piece together, ce qui au nom de Dieu, was happening on stage. The novel—1900 pages in French, 1400 in English—is composed of 365 chapters, so I cut myself un petit peu de slaque.

I found that the music itself created a story through sheer emotion, even without the lyrics; in fact, my husband and I agreed it was the best score of any Broadway production we’d seen. Otherwise, we’d have been tempted to walk out at Intermission for as well as we could follow the plot.

But we hung in. Between acts, we re-read the program synopsis and hoped for the best. Besides, we had great seats.

The curtain rose on the second act and all became sharply clear. My headache even went away. The social and spiritual themes came  to light—grace, forgiveness, sacrifice, redemption, love. I cried as the finale was sung, first by Jean Valjean and then by the ensemble. I put on the CD last night and played the song several more times.

I might need to see Les Miz again. In the meantime, I now have one more selection to add to my funeral playlist: “Finale,” and isn’t that fitting as well?

Subject for another day: Do you have your funeral music picked out?


Filed under Music, Theater

Wilde night out

While many Washingtonians were reveling in the spirit of St. Patrick or cheering on their NCAA picks at the Verizon Center, I was at the Shakespeare Theatre having just as much fun. 

It was quite early this morning when I finally got home. The Shakespeare is right across the street from Verizon and both events let out at the same time. It was March madness on the subway and, from what I could tell, there were only two of us on the train who had not come from a basketball game or an Irish bar—one of the cast members and I.

Thanks to a generous friend—the same one who took me to see George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession there last summer—I enjoyed a delightful performance of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, a clever comedy about integrity, political pressures, sky-high expectations and misunderstood relationships. The play had some plot similarities to Mrs. Warren’s Profession, including discovery that one’s wealth sprang from shady beginnings. I also noticed that, after writing their plays in the late 19th century, both Shaw and Wilde were reprimanded for indecency, Shaw for his theme of prostitution and Wilde for personal behavior.

In a review appearing yesterday, The Washington Post criticized the play; not the production or the acting or the directing or the sets or the costumes. The Post just didn’t like the play. The Baltimore Sun was more favorable. I found it beautifully written and superbly funny.

As I was waiting on the train platform to catch the subway home, I noticed among the throngs of revelers, the young man who had played Prinz Frederich von Glücksburg in the play, standing alone with the earbuds of his iPod tucked into place, waiting for the same train. In the time it took me to exit the theatre and walk to the subway, he had exited the stage, shed white tie and tails, pulled on skinny jeans and skate shoes and walked to the subway.

We boarded the crowded car and, a couple of stops later, much of the crowd exited. Prinz Friedrich found a seat and I sat down next to him. I wanted to compliment his performance and the way he delivered all of his lines in impeccable German.

I had met this young actor, Logan DalBello, a couple of times before. I know he’s a high school senior who is thoughtfully planning his next move. He has great drive and ambition for an acting career and immense talent to match. For the last several months, in addition to applying to colleges and auditioning for university theater programs, he has gone to school at 7 a.m. and rehearsed at the Shakespeare from noon to midnight. While his friends no doubt are expressing senioritis and spring fever, he is doing eight performances a week.

Sitting on the train, where he probably wanted to decompress and collect his thoughts for the next day, he graciously indulged my compliments and questions. He even asked me what I liked best about the play.

I loved the play, of course, but what I liked best was sitting next to him on the ride home.


Filed under Theater

The oldest profession

Here’s a trivia question for you.

What do Lynn Redgrave and Amanda Quaid have in common?

Lynn Redgrave, the award-winning actress who passed away in May, and Amanda Quaid, daughter of actor Randy Quaid and also a talented actress, both played Vivie Warren in the stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.

Why am I telling you this?  For several reasons that I hope you find as interesting as I do.  If not, come back tomorrow when we’ll be talking about the Fourth of July.

In 1976, my godparents flew me up to New York to see Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  It was an enormous thrill to take the shuttle up by myself, go to Lincoln Center, see this an outstanding play with my aunt, uncle and cousin, and then have dinner in the city.

The play starred Ruth Gordon as Mrs. Warren and Lynn Redgrave as her daughter, Vivie.

The night before last, a friend was kind enough to take me to see the Shakespeare Theatre Company perform Mrs. Warren’s Profession in Washington, D.C.   It starred Elizabeth Ashley as Mrs. Warren and Amanda Quaid as Vivie.  And, of course, some notably accomplished male actors, including Ted van Griethuysen, Andrew Boyer, Tony Roach and David Sabin (and may I just say that Sabin was brilliant?).

For those not familiar with the play, which was written in the late 19th century, it is a comedy about a young woman who learns that her privileged upbringing was made possible by her mother’s profitable career as an owner and manager of brothels around Europe.   I’d love to get my hands on the script.  It’s hilarious.

It has been written that the character of Vivie, who at a young age had already begun a career in the business world, was known as the “New Woman” when the play was written in 1893.  In fact, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s literary associate Akiva Fox notes that “Shaw called Mrs. Warren’s Profession his ‘play for women.’”

Shortly after the play was first performed in London in 1894 (two years before Ruth Gordon was born, by the way), it was censored for dealing with the subject of prostitution.  These days that’s hard to imagine.

Lynn Redgrave, who played Vivie in 1976, had just starred in the movie The Happy Hooker the year before.

As for Ruth Gordon, prior to Mrs. Warren, perhaps her best known role had been Maude in Harold and Maude, which dealt with the oddest of male-female relationships, between an 80-year-old woman and a 19-year-old boy.

I am not connecting any dots here and there are many degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.  Just some things I found interesting, that’s all.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Theater