WORD BECOMES FLESH ‘REMOUNT’

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Photo by C. Stanley Photography

The Defiant Five

The Theater Alliance’s Version 2 of WORD BECOMES FLESH is a muscular and masculine expression of Sweat & Testosterone to the Fifth Power! This ‘Remount’ of the 2003 original is a local follow-up to Theater Alliance’s March 2016 presentation as a male companion and counterpart in repertory with ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf’.

Tightening up on the original production with a more compact stage setting WBF has evolved to what is fast becoming a HIP HOP classic, which was written and conceived by west coast spoken-word poet, dancer, actor and playwright Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who was born in 1975 on the eve of the emergence of HIP HOP’s as a legitimate mainstream genre.

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Marc Bamuthi Joseph actor, playwrite, poet and three-time Grand Slam winner in the National Poetry Slam.

Conceived by Bamuthi Joseph as a series of letters from an unwed father to his unborn son, the play later added a DJ and the choreographed movement of five unique but powerfully unified voices.

Joseph used his credentials as a three-time Grand Slam winner in the National Poetry Slam as early as 1999, and his work was featured in episodes of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry on HBO in 2004 and 2005 well after his first production of WBF premiered in November of 2003 in Oakland, CA.

Add to his performance creds his academic status as a resident professor at Stanford’s drama department teaching spoken word, and you understand that Word Becomes Flesh elevates HIP HOP and the spoken word genre to a new creative level with this all out masculine statement of contemporary art.

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WORD BECOMES FLESH fuses The Drum Line movement culture so familiar to HBCU grads.

Directed by local talent Psalmayene24 who is an Artist-In-Residence at Bowie State and Master Teaching Artist at Arena Stage, the performance breaks out with a pulsating heap of five intertwined black bodies beating as ONE on the floor of the smoky stage of the Anacostia Playhouse and then takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of music, and rhythmic movement that literally takes your breath away.

Justin Weaks sets the tone and tempo from Jump Street as he asks the provocative question, “Can you feel me?, because I don’t do feelings well”.

The well balanced cast of Louis Davis, Chris Lane, Clayton Pelham, Gary Perkins III and veteran Theater Alliance performer Justin Weaks take turns in leading a NON-STOP fast break performance of five fluid players who weave HIP HOP rhymes, HBCU step show moves, and baseline-to-baseline manic action like a well oil team of point guards and power forwards.

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“Early to Rise, Early to Run”

Scenic director Ethan Sinnott creates a dark and foreboding terraced urban landscape and the cast sets the tempo with a frantic “Early to Rise, Early to Run” piece that underscores the violent environment that gives the five protagonists nowhere to hide and no one else to protect their backs but each other.

Their collective range of the cast from the ‘Sensitive Guy’ to the hard core ‘Player’ does not have a weak link. And it comes full circle at the performance’s end as an elder’s vision of a future Man Child becomes reality as the leader of the pack becomes a father and ‘Word Becomes Flesh’.

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The Creative Team of ‘WORD BECOMES FLESH’ including upper left Pslamayene24, and choreographer Tony Thomas below left on second row.

And brilliant director Psalmayene 24 uses every square inch of the Anacostia Playhouse’s intimate black box stage and teams with choreographer Tony Thomas to deliver dynamic movement to complement the prophetic words of playwright Marc Barmuthi Joseph’s defining statement on the pain and pleasure of Black male existence in contemporary times.

Psalm also steals a page from Melvin Van Peebles ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song’ as Clayton Pelham seamlessly shifts the theme to the ‘Scent of potential sex’ and shares the pain and pleasure of the ruthless pursuit of Punani that drives young men’s lives of sexual conquest without consequences.

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Players in hot pursuit of the ‘Potenitial of Sex’ are Clayton Pelham, Jr., Justin Weaks and Louis E. Davis.

Then Chris Lane and Louis Davis do a deep dive into the Legacy of HIP HOP and its hard, fast and mean spirited musical messages as they Pop and Lock their way across the stage until Gary Perkins reminds everyone of how black men ‘Gave up on Good Music’ as they transform the stage like ‘FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE’ and glide through MOTOWN moves that remind the audience of the romantic songs of the 1970s, 80s and 90s that the baby makers used to get next to their love interests!

(Foreground): Louis E. Davis and on Back Row Justin Weaks, Gary Perkins, Chris Lane and Clayton Pelham, Jr.

Time Out before we Face the Future as Fathers.

But when all was said and done, the reality of fatherhood brings the story full circle as a Grandfather’s premonition results in the birth of a young black man child as WORD BECOMES FLESH! The Theater Alliance will host a series of Art, Dialogue & Action sessions following each future performances during the WBF’s month-long run with a series of new works , conversations, and community workshop to explore the diversity of the African Diaspora.

Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes

The Cast & Creative Team of ‘WORD BECOMES FLESH’ after the opening performance at the cozy confines of the Anacostia Playhouse!

This one hour high energy cutting edge HIP HOP performance is not to be missed and is running as a companion to the Word Becomes Action Festival, a series of new plays which runs September 11 through October 9 at the Anacostia Playhouse. The festival’s goal is to bring local artists, researchers and non-profits together in conversational community workshops to encourage tangible action and positive change as it explores the diversity of the African Diaspora. Visit www.theateralliance.com for the complete performance schedule.

MAYOR’S ART AWARDS CAPTIONS

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Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes

Mayor Bowser presents ‘LIFETIME ACHEIVEMENT’ award to Wilhelmina Cole Holladay for her role in founding the National Museum for Women in the Arts!

In a celebration of the $2.9 Billion Dollar ‘Creative Economy’ Mayor Muriel Bowser topped off a month long celebration of #202CREATES with an evening of prestigious awards to senior icons and newly minted talent.

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Awards Gala Chair Jose Alberto Ucles graciuosly welcomes Wilhemina Cole Holladay as she and her husband navigate the RED CARPET run way at the historic Lincoln Theater next to the new mural of Barack and Michelle Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl!

The Lifetime Achievement award went to Wilhelmina Cole Holladay founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts over 35 years ago in 1981, after a lifetime of collecting art since the 1960s.

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DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Executive Director Arthur Espinoza, Jr., presents the ‘DISTINGUISHED HONORS’ award to local Jazz Legend Dave Yarborough.

But the house favorites were Dave Yarborough, the jazz musician and Duke Ellington mentor and teacher who received the Distinguished Honors award, Ari Roth of Mosaic Theater who received the Visionary Leadership award; and local writer Taylor Johnson, who received the Larry Neal Writer’s Award.

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The Larry Neal Writer’s Award winner Taylor Johnson thanked her parents for their patience and support in her developmental years that led to this award.

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DANCE PLACE founders Carla Perlo and Deborah Riley in between new Artistic Director Christopher Morgan are joined by Sheila Alexander Reid, Director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Office and others to congratulate DANCE PLACE for their ‘EXCELLENCE IN PERFORMING ARTS’ award.

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Three time Arts Award Chairman Jose Alberto Ucles presents the ‘VISIONARY LEADERSHIP’ award to Ari Roth of MOSAIC THEATER as Ryann Richardson attends.

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DCMetroTheaterArts critic Ramona Harper congradulates Ari Roth of MOSAIC THEATER on ground breaking performances such as the curent run of ‘DEVIL’S MUSIC’, ‘CHARM’ and ‘HOODED’ that offer work to young artists from the LGBTQ community.

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Kay Kendell the evening’s DCCAH Chair is surrounded by the guys who really make the Arts Awards work, Executive Director Arthur Espinoza, Jr., and Gala Chair Jose Alberto Ucles!

The evening was wrapped up by a finale dance performance by SOLE Defined that had DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities Executive Director Arthur Espinoza; Commission Chair Kay Kendal and Awards Committee Chair Jose Alberto Uckles cutting a rug and bringing the house down before the evening was capped off by a decadent sweet desert and wine bar reception.

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Arthur Espinoza took the lead on the Soul Train line to close out the FINALE along with the SOLE DEFINED dancers as Chair Kay Kendall looks on!

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Jose Alberto Ucles was having so much fun that it became infectious as the ‘professional’ dancers try to keep up!

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Event Chair Jose Alberto Ucles turned the FINALE out with his Calypso King performance that shocked and astounded the sisters from SOUL DEFINED!

SCHOOL FOR LIES A 16TH CENTURY POETRY SLAM

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The cast of The School For Lies featuring Alexander Dodge’s lush aqua blue parlor setting.

For those of you who appreciate an old fashion verbal throw down, with vampish mean girls slinging humorous insults with dagger eyes while one of the central male characters works out a little gender identity problem with shocking Drag Queen resolve, then check out the hilarious Shakespeare Theatre Company’s final season production of ‘SCHOOL FOR LIES’’.

I got to warn you, this is a comedy with rapid fire couplet code words in verse. Imagine a French ’HAMILTON’ a hundred years before the 1776 Revolution, when powdered white wigs and puffy shirts with legs stockings were the style!

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Cody Nickell as the transgender Fat Cat Philinte features the powdered wig and legs stockings that Costume Designer Murell Horton nailed.

SCHOOL FOR LIES is so outrageously funny, with gender bending rapid fire ‘femsplaining’ dialogue, that it makes this one act play seem like an HBO one hour Saturday night special. Thanks to Costume Designer Murell Horton, it could almost make a Straight Guy with a Queer Eye want to dress in Drag!

CLASS PAY CLOSE ATTENTION – For those of you, who missed English Lit, get ready for some ‘Iambic Pentameter’, which is nothing but five lines of poetry that does not rhyme, AKA blank verse. Then you have to understand playwright David Ives brilliant vision and use of “translaptation”, or the ability to translate a 400 year old French language play with a modern twist.

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Victoria Frings as the fetching widow Celimene, comes face-to-face with brutishly blunt Frank, played with authentic an Alpha Male swagger by Gregory Wooddell.

Now you are ready to head to the theater, but before you go, you need a WWE WrestleMania type Lineup Card. Here are the protagonists: Frank, an obnoxious American style Alpha Male played with authentic swagger by Gregory Wooddell who is too Blunt to Hunt; Celimene, with the accent on ‘Mean’, the hot young widow cautiously rating her top draft choice suiters with a dismissive air, played with a New Age feminist forward leaning attitude by scene steeling Victoria Frings.

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The virtuos Arsinoe, played with a Lilly Tomlin touch by Veanne Cox, is overcome by Frank’s pheromes.

So the other Mean Girl, who has become the face of ‘LIES’ is Veanne Cox, who channels the Lilly Tomlin, Ernestine the telephone gossip queen juicy role of Arsinoe, the shameless pillar of virtue who seeks out the worst in her female rivals. Think Joan Rivers on a red lip shaped lounge asking you “Can we talk?”

Arsinoe is a vector for the gaggle of lawyers who chase slander suits among the rich and famous, whenever her salacious lies hit the street. “Don’t think I’m gossiping. I just report!” says Arsinoe in true Louelle Parsons Hollywood gossip columnist style!

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Arsinoe does the ‘Doggie Walk’ to work off her ‘Histeria’!

And these bitches can talk. Without revealing the plot, which is too outrageous and funny to translate in five unrhymed lines, all the women want a female superior position and ruthlessly pursue their sometimes misplaced desires on Frank, whose nose becomes wide open when he gets a whiff of Celimene’s petty coat!

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Horny ‘Wing Woman’ Filinte is Celimene’s air head ugly sister who can’t seem to land a suiter.

“Love the Sinners, Hate the Sin” is the order of the day in 1666 Paris, but with a HIP HOP and Valley Girl ‘Like , You Know?’ sidebar by Celimene and her crew of hottie wing women featuring Doris Schmidt as Eliante, AKA ‘Filatio’ who can’t seem to score a date, much less a husband.

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Frank becomes the Fashion Plate after falling for Celimene, as the clueles suiters, Clitander played by Cameron Folmar; Acosta, played by Liam Craig; and Oronte, played by Tom Story look on with wilderment!

Philinte is one of the central male characters played with an over-the-top CIS gender feel by Cody Nickell, who successfully works off a little gender identity problem with shocking Drag Queen resolve. And I can’t ignore Liam Craig performance as Acaste, who deserves a major Shout Out as a member of the talented ensemble cast, who plays the rich but clueless member of the line of fools who hopelessly pursue Celimene’s hand in marriage.

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Frank finally ‘gets over’ as he swoons and spoons Celimene!

By the way, the play opens to a lush aqua blue parlor setting with a rich color scheme featuring Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge’s stylish touch of a red lip-shaped couch, complimented by a 16 quadruple dresser drawer with a lady’s ladder. It seductively lures you in and the stylish set never distracts from the dialogue.

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The full cast of The School For Lies and the French lush life parlor designed by Alexander Dodge.

SCHOOL FOR LIES is so hot, it has already been extended through July 9th by The Shakespeare Theatre Company at the Lansburgh Theater on 7th Street in the Penn Quarter entertainment district near the Verizon Center. For tickets and show schedule GOOGLE www.shakespearetheatre.org

JAZZ -TONY MORRISON’S TRAUMATIC TIME MACHINE

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Violet and Joe during happyer times when she is gifted a ‘Parrott’, played by Avery Whitted.

JAZZ is the Center Stage world premiere of Nobel Prize winning Toni Morrison’s middle piece of her BELOVED trilogy that chronicals a tragic Harlem love triangle that takes a violent turn.

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The performance opens with a death watch as family gathers to give a ‘proper burial’ to Dorcas, played with sensuous abandon by Jasmine Bathchelor the wild young woman caught in the middle between her older Sugar Daddy lover Joe Trace, played with the world weary burden of a traveling salesman by Leon Addison Brown, and the young Dandy Acton who dances into Dorcas’ life as Warner Miller, a dead ringer for one of the Jackson Five.

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Only Alice Manfred as the motherly figure could console Violet after her loss and spiral into near madness.

But Shanesia Davis as Violet the betrayed wife, who spirals into madness, evolves as a central character from the knife wielding mad woman at Dorcas’ funeral to a soulful, forgiving shell of a woman with the patience and encouragement of Mother figure True Belle played with authentic black matronly maturity by Michele Shay.

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Violet’s mother Rose Dear and Young Joe meet and fall in love on a rural Virginia farm.

JAZZ is not a musical, but captures the mystical power of the Harlem jazz culture and its impact on the Great Migration of southern blacks to the Mecca of urban culture. In this electrically charged environment dance and jazz music both define and corrupt the fast paced life of country immigrants trying to make sense of life in the big city.

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The cast and creative team including Director Kwame Kwei-Armah and Playwright Nambi E. Kelley celebrate a successful opening night at the new Deering Lounge.

“I’m a huge fan of Toni Morrison, and of JAZZ in particular. It’s an important chronicle of the human experience, and although it takes place in the 1920s, the story’s themes still resonate today,” said Baltimore Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. “I’m thrilled to direct such a talented group of actors and designers and to bring Playwright Nambi Kelley’s vision to life on the stage in Baltimore.”

The magic of Center Stage’s production of JAZZ is Playwright Nambi E. Kelley’s masterful interpretation of Morrison’s work of literature, which are notorious for their nuanced difficulty to discern truth from mythical characters and time stamps.

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Dorcas and her naive friend Felice fantsize about being the dance floor Belles of the Ball.

Joan Sullivan, a Paul Lawrence Dunbar graduate and avid Morrison reader and audience member captured the essence of the play best. She was first exposed to Morrison in a gifted and talented track in high school, but found that she had to re-read ‘BELOVED’ and other Morrison masterpieces in college and later as an adult to fully appreciate her style. “It takes maturity to understand Morrison, and I will be downloading “JAZZ” and reading it again to fully re-connect and open my mind to what the play delivered”!

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In an imaginary moment of regret, Violet shares a moment with her rival Dorcas.

JAZZ is a metaphor for the exhilarating pace of life that consumed Joe, Violet and Dorcas. Joe needed a place of peace and quiet from his long days on the street as a door-to-door salesman and couldn’t stand the smell of the burning hair of Violet’s customers. The naïve country girl Dorcas was easily impressed by gifts of Joe’s perfume, but wanted more of Harlem’s high life. And Joe lusted after the young ‘high yellow gal’ as an escape from his faithful but dark-skinned wife as Morrison deftly spun a tale of authentic colorism to highlight and capture Violet’s grief.

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In a final flashback, Joe reflects on his tragic choice between Dorcas and Violet.

JAZZ is a mesmerizing time machine that takes you back to Joe and Violet’s humble beginnings in turn-of-the-century rural Virginia and flashes forward to the end of World War I when black New Yorkers took great pride in the Lenox Avenue parades that showcased  the return of the 369th Black Hellfighters Regiment. Five years later, Dorcas would leave the violence of East St. Louis riots join the migration to Harlem that would double the black population to over 327,000 souls squeezed into less than 4 square miles.

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Leon Addison Brown delivers a powerful performance as Joe, a tortured ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN’ black Willy Loman like-charachter.

JAZZ is a traumatic 90 minute trip into a migratory time machine that the young creative team of Nambi E. Kelley and Kwame Kwei-Armah has re-imagined for a modern audience

JAZZ opened last Friday, May 26th, and closes Sunday, June 25th and is well worth the 45 minute drive to Charm City for Washingtonians, but I strongly invite you to allow enough time to arrive early and drink in the deep educational and cultural experience of Center Stage’s marvelous new space. For more information, visit www.centerstage.org or call the box office at 410.332.0033.

‘FEAR EATS THE SOUL’ EXAMINES THE TOLL OF IMMIGRANT ANGST

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Morrocan mechanic Salem finds the love of a lonely widow in a dive bar as regulars watch a Dark Gypsy slow dance.

Imagine a world two generations ago in the 1970s when the first wave of non-white immigrants struggled to carve out an existence in post-cold war Germany.

FEAR EATS THE SOUL examines a very personal story of an unlikely couple’s struggle to survive and find love in Germany. Helen Hayes Award winning actress Nanna Ingvarsson capture the angst and essence of Emmi, the aging Polish widow who unexpectantly finds love and desperately clings to her young husband despite being despised by her fellow Deutschland friends and family.

Add the smoldering on-stage chemistry that veteran Oscar Ceville brings to the stage as Salem, the hard working auto mechanic from North Africa and the dozens of dizzying roles that Scena’s ensemble cast delivers and the pressure cooking clash of cultures quickly boils over.

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Salem and Emmi’s marraige is strained by the constant disaproving eyes at every simple social encounter.

Director Robert McNamara directs Scena’s climactic performance of their 30th Anniversary Season by bringing the smoldering chemistry of award winning Nanna Ingvarsson as the matronly cleaning woman Emmi crosses paths with Oscar Ceville as the hard working auto mechanic Salem who passes his time gambling and drinking in a working class bar.

Salem is intrigued by Emmi’s guarded aura as she stumbles into his favorite bar to avoid a downpour, and Salem breaks the ice while ‘Dark Gypsy’ plays in the background, and the swarthy Moor catches her off guard by asking her to, “Dance with me”!

For the next 90 minutes the ensemble cast of a dozen polished performers transforms the black box ATLAS THEATER into a revolving musical chair matrix of German industrial style building blocks of fast paced short acts that follow the desperate couple’s struggle against rigid social norms, and the biased judgement of family, co-workers and merchants who distain and don’t understand their unconventional relationship.

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Salem suffers the indignity of being shown the door of shopkeeper Herr Gruber played to a vicious Nazi turn by Colin Davies.

Of particular note is sultry Karin Rosnizeck as Frau Kargas the bar owner and Salem’s side chick when he tires of domestic life with Emmi. She adds a white hot performance as a black laced dominatrix ready for a quick dark chocolate fix, and compliments the blond Arian tribe of bar flies and stoic working class Frauleins who try to make Emmi’s life miserable.

Not to be outdone by the vixens is Colin Davies as Herr Gruber the soup Nazi-style grocer who refuses to serve Salem, and Rashard Harrison as the auto shop foreman who mercilessly mocks and shames Salem when Emmi shows up at work after he disappears for a few nights of carousing and gambling.

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Emmi is the Boss of the maintenance staff, but her Polish background is looked down upon by the Arian cleaning crew.

FEAR EATS THE SOUL is a stage play adopted from a 1974 original cult film that won 2 Cannes festival awards that was created by eccentric German actor, screen writer and Avant guard filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder who lived hard and died young at 37 in 1982 of a lethal drug overdose. This emotionally powerful drama centers on timely topics such as race, immigration and class.

Robert McNamara and SCENA have a long history of producing Fassbinder’s socially provocative works. In 2013, Nanna Ingvarsson also starred to great acclaim. In SCENA’s production of Fassbinder’s WWII drama The Marriage of Maria Braun.

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“FEAR EATS THE SOUL” was a cult film sensation that won two Cannes Film Festival awards in its heyday!

SCENA Theatre brings the best international theatre to Washington, DC and stimulates cultural exchange between theatre artists, locally and worldwide. Founded in 1987 under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert McNamara and Managing Director Amy Schmidt.

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‘FEAR’ cast members including Nanna Ingvarsson with bouquet, Oscar Ceville, embassy rep Natalia Nagy, Jen Bevan, the fetching Karin Rosnizeck and director Robert McNamara celebrates at opening night After Party @ Queen Vic.

So step out of your comfort zone and help SCENA celebrates its 30th year with the U. S. premiere of ‘Fear Eats The Soul’, that runs through June 4th at The Atlas. It is a meal for the mind best served cold with a stein of German lager which you can find up the street on “H” at the Queen Vic where you can wash down the lasting impressions of this timely Euro tale of immigrant conflict.

 

 

HOT MUSICAL MESS @ KENNEDY CENTER COME TOGETHER GALA

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Taj Mahal, Jim James, Shawn Colvin and wanna-be David Duchovny fill the Kennedy Center stage with a mixed bag of Beetles blues and rock.

At their annual Spring Gala that raised a cool $2 Million in support of arts in the community, the Kennedy Center chose A Celebration of John Lennon: COME TOGETHER as its theme. I was excited when I saw the best graphic backdrop I’ve ever seen at the KEN CEN, with colorful signature bifocals that Lennon was known for.

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Afa and Aaron Dworkin of the Sphinx Organization accept the THE HUMAN SPIRIT AWARD.

Add to that an exceptionally inspiring message from Afa and Aaron Dworkin as the super couple received a much deserved Award For The Human Spirit for their work in Detroit with The Sphinx Organization that promotes diversity in the arts, and I was on cloud nine as I anticipate “LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS” and other Beetles classics.

And then David Duchovny best known as Fox Mulder of X-Files fa me took the stage as the MC. After a downer monologue that wasted at least 12 minutes, he was allowed to sing, along with three other real musicians to kick off the musical portion of the event.

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Esperanza Spaulding kicked off her shoes, picked up her oversized acoustical bass, and added some soul to the Beetles “COME TOGETHER” musical fest.

The salvation of the show was Esperanza Spaulding’s second appearance at the Kennedy Center in less than a week, as she followed up her collaborative tribute to Abbey Lincoln with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves, with a spirited ‘drop the mike’ and oversized bass performance with the Rennie Harris ‘PureMovement’ free style dance group from Philly.

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Legendary blues artist Taj Mahal rocked the house with his version of the Chuck Berry & Beetles period of collaboration.

Corinne Bailey Rae, Judy Collins and Taj Mahal also added some much needed flavor as executive music director T Bone Burnett mailed in a pedestrian and forgettable evening of obscure Beetles music with one exception – “IMAGINE” that featured a slow motion duet by vanilla soul artist Amos Lee and Corrine Bailey Rae.

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English GRAMMY award winning artist Corrine Bailey Rae contributed her silky vocals to the most recognizable Beetles hit “IMAGINE”!

But the great thing about the Kennedy Center is they always reward their heavy hitter donors and supporters with a lavish After Party on the terrace level that includes a chance to meet and mingle with the stars and throw down on the dance floor where I even saw arch conservative Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos cut-a-rug as DJ DUG played the hits.

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos loosened up and was one of the first political celebrities on the dance floor.

But with the exception of a few awkward jokes by Duckovny, it was a fun and non-political night under and around the stars, where the PureMovement team dancers showed out and set the pace for the evening!

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Visual Deceptions Clothing Company designer and lead dancer Phil Cuttino of PureMovement (in orange TShirt); is joined by fellow dancers including Mariah Carey look-a-like at the after party.

MACBETH MADNESS WITH A MODERN CAPETOWN TWIST

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Photo courtesy of STC by Scott Suchman.

Macbeth & Lady Macbeth’s played with an unmistably chic third world aristocratic air by Jesse Perez and Nikkole Salter are triumphantly greeted by the palace guard in a coronation of power.

Something culturally relevant and revolutionary is taking place at the Shakespeare Theater Company with their “New Directors for the Classics” series. The current production of MACBETH is the best example of selecting a rising non-traditional star to re-tell an ancient classic in modern terms.

Shakespeare’s tragic tale of palace intrigue and murder takes on a whole new look and Afro-centric vibe thanks to the direction of South African visionary Liesl Tommy.

“I want this Macbeth to have a sense of what’s happening in the real world. I’m interested in this show being as immediate as possible”, said Director Tommy. And she delivers by transporting the tale of a Scottish castle to a developing Third World country dominated by a mad oligarch and his ambitious childless wife.

Get ready for an unexpected bloodbath of guerilla warfare campaigns, as the show starts with a noisy BANG of a regiment of soldiers with an arsenal of AK-47 pyrotechnics. The director then deftly transitions Macbeth’s rise to power to a majestic scene of African Royal splendor and pageantry thanks to the ambitious vision of Lady Macbeth as a Jaguar limousine transports the conquering King and his Queen to their new throne.

The director’s South African roots as a child of Apartheid come into full fruition as she reinterprets the Witches prophesy of Macbeth’s rise to power and his fellow general Banquo’s destiny to sire a line of kings. She sees them as diabolical white colonial sorcerers with HI TECH powers that use Instagram posting of murdered victims to confirm their kills and PowerPoint projections to advance their ruthless exploitation of political chaos.

For those of you who may have missed the Shakespeare seminar while you were struggling to get your law degree, you should broaden your theatrical horizons and check out the current run of MACBETH. Leave your English Lit stereotypes of dark dungeons and hard-to-hear British accents at the doors and let your imagination run free as you enter the fabulous confines of Sidney Harmon Hall, which transforms its expansive stage into HI TECH battlefield turned banquet hall.

Production phot courtesy of STC by Scott Simpson.

Court assassins Anu Yadav and Brayden Simpson serves as the renegade palace guard as Brett Johnson as the surviving son Fleance monitors the madness.

Because you may not recognize the play from the contemporary collage of images, you WILL remember and recognize the stunning presence of two Howard University BFAs, Nikkole Salter who absolutely slays the role of the mad and demented Lady Macbeth, and Petronia Paley as the murdered rival Duncan.

Salter and Jesse Perez as Macbeth are the face of this daring and audacious production, as she regales in her African head dresses and flowing gowns and he in his Cesar Chavez paramilitary garb that takes you around the Horn of Africa on his way to the battlefields of Scotland.

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Macbeth informs Lady Macbeth of his murderous deed and the bloody instruments of his cruel late night execution of Duncan.

The ‘Game of Thrones’ plot quickly thickens after Macbeth’s triumphant rise to power turns dark and murderous after he vanquishes his rival Banquo played with riveting power by McKinley Belcher with surgical brutality as Lady Macbeth serves as the cleanup nurse. The king and queen spiral into a fit of madness capped by Banquo’s haunting return to a state banquet that sets the stage for their ultimate equally bloody demise.

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The bloody ghost of Banquo played by McKinley Belcher confronts the King and Queen.

But what will blow your mind is the diversity of the cast that includes 20 men and women of color of the total cast of over 25, including breakout performances from Washingtonians JaBen Early, last scene in Roundhouse Theater’s ‘Father Comes Home From the Wars’ and Anu Yadav who broke onto the DC scene 10 years ago with her one woman HIP HOP production of life in public housing with ‘CAPERS’.

Production photo courtesy of STC by Scott Suchman.

Chaos reigns as the ghost of Banquo again visits the court of Macbeth during a state banquet that startles the aristocratic guests into the reality that Macbeth is a mad and demented King.

Fellow Wholly Mammoth company member Naomi Jacobson is all business as the ring leader of the witches dressed in androgynous corporate black suits and a shock of blond hair as the only female witch among the king whisperers.

Add to that the amazingly agile work of ensemble cast members and Morehouse Men Brett Johnson, who joins fellow HBCU alum JaBen Early on stage and at the After Party in Scottish kilts, and you will marvel at the success of the Shakespeare Theater Company’s commitment and delivery of diversity and upward career mobility of homegrown talent on stage as no other arts community short of New York City can.

Production photo courtesy of STC bu Scott Suchman.

David Bishins and Tim Getman join Naomi Jacobson as the KGB type White Witches that deliver Macbeth’s prophesy in the guise of colonial interloppers.

So save yourself a trip to NYC and boogie on down to Sidney Harmen Hall and catch MACBETH during their five week run before Memorial Day and Text “STCTeach’ to 71777 and help the theater support educational programs that expose youth to the arts.

© 2017 Malcolm Lewis Barnes

AN EMOTIONAL BJF TRIBUTE TO GEORGE DUKE Jazz musicians and performance have a reputation for wearing their emotions on their sleeve. And that was the case when Chante Moore, Phil Perry and Everette Harp paid tribute to their mentor and friend in a ‘Remembering George Duke’ performance at the Berks Jazz Fest earlier this month. Duke who passed away in 2013 of leukemia, produced three of Chante Moore’s first five albums between 1992 and 2008, when she went solo without her then husband Kenny Lattimore on ‘Love The Woman’. The Super Couple would later divorce and go their separate ways, but not before crossing paths with Phil Perry and Everette Harp who were also produced by Duke and collaborated on a number of albums over the years. “We miss him”, said Perry as he broke down in tears on stage with a loving embrace from Chante Moore after a sweet duet. And after that emotional moment band leader Harp invited monster bass man Michael Manson of ‘Dukey Stick’ fame and along with Brian Bromberg, Brian Simpson and the Berks Horns, that wrapped up their two hour set with a joyous rocking tribute to the man who made the ‘Dukey Stick’ famous!

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WEST COAST JAM TRIPLE THREAT OF BROWN, BRAUN & ELLIOT Led by Rick Braun, Richard Elliot and Norman Brown, the Berks got a triple dose of the cutting edge WEST COAST JAM sound as they took a cut from Elliot’s ‘Summer Madness’ CD, originally produced by Rick Braun to showcase the new experimental format. Norman Brown and his ‘West Coast Coolin’ sound was the perfect complement for the trumpet of Braun and the sax and electronic flute that Elliot showcased on ‘EUROPA’ . Add special vocal guest Lindsey Webster and the Berks was treated to three of the heavy hitters in the evolving sound of Smooth Jazz. And I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take it all in from the VIP section of the spacious and acoustically perfect Double Tree by Hilton ballroom, the new home base of the Berks Jazz Festival. © 2017 Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

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