- Matthew Jordan (perhaps) explains why I love/d Rollerball so much.
- There’s a ha-ha in Fairfax County. Fairfax Master Naturalist Jerry Nissley visits River Farm.
- See Rosslyn’s gas station-church combo before it’s redeveloped.
- We could have used one of these robots when director Lee was attending rehearsals remotely: Lisa Sniderman collaborates with Open Circle Theatre.
- Thomas Wolf wants to see hard numbers on the Potomac Yard arena boondoggle.
Shame on any legislator who would vote to advance this proposal on such incompetent evidence.
- Restoring Joshua trees in designated wilderness with some camelid assistance.
Mojo Nixon has played his last set. Perhaps the best tribute to him was the name check by The Dead Milkmen in this little ditty:
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
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
A laggard in the 2023 roundups: my year in Metrorail/bus trips.
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.
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?
Craig Lucas’s book for Days of Wine and Roses refers to a cocktail named for Satchel Paige. I am at a loss to find any details about this drink. An in-joke, maybe?
- Rebecca Baumgartner turns a gimlet eye on landfill nonfiction.
(I also have to wonder how many of the conclusions from these endlessly recycled studies are even valid, given the replicability crisis in psychology and other fields. If the Gorilla Experiment turns out not to have been valid this whole time, then I am even angrier about having to read about it 4,000 times.)
- Bilirubin reductase is the enzyme responsible for making your pee yellow.
- Progress was made in 2023 on six neglected tropical diseases. (Hey, former colleagues, a little copy edit love is needed.)
- Bad day from black rock: Casey Ruken tells the story of the Chesapeake Bay asteroid.
It was as if Earth got shot with a bullet.
- Perhaps I should give Appropriate another look. Jesse Green did.
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
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.
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.
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.
To do for next year: get pix of phyllaries!
- Multiple visits to Walker Nature Center, Reston, Fairfax County, Va.—now that I have figured out that I can walk to it
- Roundtree Park and Turkey Run Park, both in Fairfax County, Va., led by Margaret Chatham
- Mason & Bailey Club auxiliary walk: Peirce Mill loop, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. (plus scouting)
- Lichens walks with Natalie Howe and Tom McCoy: Woodend Sanctuary, Chevy Chase, Montgomery Count, Md., Patuxent Research Refuge, Prince George’s County, Md., and Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
- Great Backyard Bird Count 2023 at the Glade and Lexington Estates Park, Fairfax County, Va.
- Geology of the Piedmont, with Andrew Eberly and Bridget Bradshaw, Fauquier County, Va.
- Conway Robinson State Forest, Prince William County, Va., Nancy Vehrs leader
- Meadowood Special Recreation Area, birding with Tom Nardone
- C&O Canal at Monocacy Aqueduct, leaders Marney Bruce and Anne DeNovo
- Hawksbill Mountain, Shenandoah National Park
- At the Clifton Institute (Fauquier County, Va.), show-and-tell (and a little do) American Kestrel research, Eastern Box Turtle research, and Barn Owl banding
- City Nature Challenge at the Glade
- Southside Virginia
- Nelson DeBarros led walks at an acidic seepage swamp and a power line easement
- Deerfield Farm, Upperville, Fauquier County, Va.
- Sweet Run State Park, Loudoun County, Va.
- Clifton Institute-sponsored odonate and butterfly counts, Fauquier County, Va.
- “the grass bunch” at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Va., and Glencarlyn Park, Arlington County, Va.
- Merrimac Farm WMA, Prince William County, Va.—nearly missed Nancy and Harry
- Two Owls Farm bioblitz, Fauquier County, Va.
- Sacramento County and nearby, Calif.
- Deep Cut Meadow, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William County, Va., Bert Harris and VNPS folks leading
- a very rainy NABA count at Huntley Meadows Park and other Alexandria sites
- Riverside Preserve pollinator bioblitz, Fauquier County, Va., led by Bert Harris
- Little Bennett Regional Park (Hyattstown Mill), led by Sujata Roy
- Valedictory walks with Stephanie Mason at Rock Creek Park (with some side discussions about tooth-leaved virburnums) and the C&O Canal from Widewater to Great Falls
- Southwest Virginia
- Tidewater Virginia
- Cleveland, O. area
- Miami, Champaign, and Adams Counties, O.
- Lichens on Wildcat Mountain, Fauquier County, Va., with Bert Harris
- Another Nature Forward foray, this time with Lisa Shannon and Rob Hilton, to Occoquan Bay NWR—that light industrial access road amuses me
- Seneca and Central Loudoun CBCs
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.