Some links: 99

A Commedia Romeo and Juliet

Five players offer a 70-minute rollicking reduction of the Shakespeare classic, with two rotating casts (I saw the “Capulet” cast). All characters save the lovers (including would-be lover Paris) are in half masks (designed by Tara Cariaso of Waxing Moon Masks). Ben Lauer’s Jerry Lewis-infused Nurse is a hoot; Bri Houtman’s Juliet hits all sorts of levels in the balcony scene. There was a sweet impromptu moment of audience interaction when a little boy in the audience vocally noted that a bit of schtick was being reused; Natalie Cutcher responded directly to him with a “Right? I know!”

The inevitable deaths are handled tenderly. When Mercutio dies, his mask is left onstage while the actor exits. There’s a nifty moment in the tomb when Juliet awakes and Romeo dies with a kiss: the pair deftly exchange places on the bier. Of course, this is a comedy, so when the corpses are needed for the summing up, scarecrows are used, all the better for tossing about to explain who killed who and why.

All the important bits of text that we remember from high school remain in place, including that weird Queen Mab passage.

  • A Commedia Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, directed by Kathryn Zoerb, Faction of Fools, Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Washington

Mid-winter trip reports

I assisted at Elklick Woodlands Natural Area Preserve for a couple of work days. (More days to come? subject to scheduling.) Park Authority staff are actively managing woody vegetation within several deer exclosures in order to re-establish and extend a rare forest community, known as northern hardpan basic oak-hickory forest. Thousands of trees were planted about five years ago, and those that have survived are about knee height now.

to be trimmedThe management is fairly aggressive: both native and non-native trees, all of them faster growing than the oaks and hickories, are cut back to the ground, for instance these Virginia Pines (Pinus virginiana) which would soon shade out the white oak at the right of the photo.

oak saplingMany of the trees that we’re nurturing are still very small, and have dropped all their leaves at this time of the year. So flags make it a lot easier to find them.


I’m also back at The Nature Conservancy’s Fraser Preserve, now equipped with a new tool: an Extractigator Junior, generically known as a weed wrench. For non-native invasive shrubs like Rosa multiflora and Berberis thunbergii, we need to remove as much of the root as possible. A garden fork and some steady pulling will accomplish this, but a weed wrench gives you some mechanical advantage and is easier on the muscles. The genius of these gizmos is that no springs are involved, so it’s unlikely that you’re going to mash a digit.

A composite of a couple of roses that I pulled: Dropping the tool into position.into position

Closing the jaws around the stems and beginning to pull back on the handle.jaws closed

The extracted crown of the plant.extracted

I’m still finding my touch with the tool. With smaller plants, I have a tendency to snap off the stem rather than pull it out with the roots. The Junior weighs just under ten pounds, so it’s luggable from Fraser’s parking area to our work sites.

Dance Nation: an update: 2

We blocked the first half of scene 11, where The Girls psych themselves up to compete against another team that has boys doing tricks à la Newsies. Director Lee repeated an element from earlier in the show, an almost throwaway to cover a scene transition; in the context of scene 11, it’s absitively chilling and dark. My vocal reaction to the team was “Holy fuck.” Director Lee is pleased.

Days of Wine and Roses

Kelli O’Hara once again dons a 1950s shirtwaist silhouette in a role that quickly turns dark. From her opening song, “Story of the Atlantic Cable,” she owns this show—she is electrifying. Brian d’Arcy James partners her effectively in this somewhat unusual, intriguing score for only three voices (the ensemble is non-singing). I counted at least four instruments of the xylophone-metallophone ilk—great choices by the orchestrators!

The show hews fairly closely to the plot of the 1962 film, written by JP Miller from his Playhouse 90 teleplay. (No credit for Miller? Is the film out of copyright?)

There are a couple of anachronisms in the sound design (beeps in a hospital corridor, for one) that perhaps will be ironed out by the official opening of this remarkable show.

  • Days of Wine and Roses: The Musical, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, book by Craig Lucas, orchestrations by Adam Guettel and Jamie Lawrence, directed by Michael Greif, Studio 54, New York

Kristen Arnesen and her father are of Norwegian descent in this play. My Minneapolis landlord (Mr. Anensen) told me that sen indicates Danish rather than Norwegian heritage, but what do we know?

Some links: 98

Hadestown

A pop rock retelling of the stories of Persephone and Hades (in part) and of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in a campy faubourg of a steampunk New Orleans (a few blocks over from the setting of Rent), with catchy, engaging tunes. In this post-opening cast, there’s a minor pop star (Betty Who) to introduce members of the band; a nice unamplified coda serves as an encore.

Not everyone in the audience had read Eurydice’s story in high school, to judge from the scattered gasps heard at a critical moment—which nonetheless felt a teeny bit unmotivated: Orpheus has a song about doubt, but the song wraps up and then he makes a bad choice.

Phillip Boykin as Hades makes the strongest impression among this cast, seductive and menacing in “Hey, Little Songbird.” In the band, Brian Drye on trombone and glockenspiel shows off his chops.

  • Hadestown, music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York

Here We Are

A scrumptious, nutritious first act, distinctively Sondheim, and a sumptuous second act by Ives (who would want to leave such a beautiful room, as designed by David Zinn?), both of them capturing the spirit and many of the specific elements of Buñuel’s source material. There are open flames and punctured water pipes, but fortunately no cellos are sacrificed.

A meta moment in the first act entails the most effective use of bringing up the house lights that I’ve seen in many a year, a trick that is otherwise worn out. The Bistro à la Mode is reminiscent of The Philadelphia, a similarly cursed eatery imagined by Ives. A three-quarter circular bench that flies in is a simple effect, if the resources are available, but it left me envious nevertheless.

Outstanding in the cast is Dennis O’Hare in a number of roles, including the “enabler” who sings the frequently noted patter song about the lack o’ latte, all bananapants jumping intervals, and the imperious majordomo Windsor who is not what he seems. Jeremy Shamos has a sweet acrobatic move to catch a falling smartphone.

  • Here We Are, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by David Ives, inspired by the films of Luis Buñuel, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, directed by Joe Mantello, The Shed, New York

Three long escalators to reach the performance space in The Shed left me feeling a bit like I was headed for the 400 level in the Capitals’ arena.

I will be making a point of recognizing orchestrators, having read Darryn King’s profile of Jonathan Tunick.

Dance Nation: An update: 1

And we’re back in the theater!

About six weeks ago, I signed on as an assistant stage manager for Silver Spring Stage’s production of Dance Nation, by Clare Barron. This was my way of easing back into theater after the long hiatus that started in late winter 2020. I figured that the Stage would find someone else to call the show—I had too many planned conflicts during the rehearsal period to commit as stage manager. Well, it turns out that finding a stage manager on shortish notice for a show in March is even harder than finding a substitute WATCH judge for that interval. So after some schedule negotiating, I agreed to SM the show. I’m only slightly boggled.

My last stage management gig was Incorruptible, also for the Stage, with Leta directing, 15 years ago now. Hmm, I wrote up some lessons learned from that project. I should try to implement some of them.

Dance Nation is a highly theatrical show, with wild dynamic levels in the text, adults playing tweens, and surrealist moments. My only familiarity with Barron’s work was a production of Baby Screams Miracle at Woolly Mammoth seven years ago. A number of the cast are young, in training at Studio Theatre—some fresh blood for the Stage as it jumps into the 21st century repertory.

Director Lee had been out of town for most of December, so we did table work via Zoom, and that worked out rather well, as far as I can tell. We had our first in-person meeting with the cast yesterday evening, mostly facilitated by intimacy director Julia. We set some shared guidelines for rehearsal, including “Land the plane,” that is, “Listen to yourself and when you’ve made your point, stop.”

I had already set up my prompt script, but the scripts package from Samuel French came with a pre-punched 8-1/2 by 11 script and binder for me. I feel like a big boy now.

Meterstones, 2023

Small accomplishments during the year, not otherwise accounted for. Not major milestones, but bigger than inchstones.

  • Served as a teacher’s aide for English Empowerment Center for three terms.
  • Reorganized the space behind my desk to be more Zoom-worthy. Artificial backgrounds are just evil, even if you have a green screen.
  • Reached level 6 of WaniKani.
  • Along with my various community science projects, I pulled-chopped-yanked-sawed a lot of non-native invasives. All told, I logged almost 300 service hours for Virginia Master Naturalists, and I’m three-fourths of the way to 1000 hours of service. On one survey trip, I found a really interesting parasitic fungus of alder trees that causes a gall-like response.

Oh! And something I stopped doing: I retired from NPR, closing the books on a 42-year career in software development.

My year in hikes and field trips, 2023

I got that 20-park badge!

To do for next year: get pix of phyllaries!

Another middling successful season of monitoring nest boxes at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Va. I have also joined the Monday morning bird walks (with plant detours with Nancy) from time to time.