Contemporary American Theater Festival 2019: 1

Ellen Fairey’s sharp comedy is set in a North Side Chicago apartment, the setting of, yes, a support group organized by Brian (the earnest Chris Thorn). There is inter-generational friction and laughs (Brian, a young-looking 51, is the “oldest guy working at the Apple Store”), and some serious exploration of today’s re-sorting of gender roles. Brian’s friend Roger (blustery Scott Aiello), an ironworker with a case of the yips, and who’s likely to solve a problem using a baseball bat, experiences at least two happy reversals. A wig worthy of Robert Plant’s shaggiest years (and the color of a pair of oxblood loafers) gets plenty of play. And all of the men, no matter where they lie on the various spectra against which people are measured, have a nice bonding moment over “Dirty Harry” movies.

Continuing CATF’s tradition of ambitious solo pieces, Dael Orlandersmith and Antonio Edwards Suarez collaborate on an autobiographical piece performed by Suarez. Antonio of the play is a young man out of Bushwick with multiple ethnic heritages. A moment of violently reprimanding his son sparks a reverie of Antonio’s roots in Brooklyn, his fractious and abusive relationship with his mother, and (eventually) the story of how he trained as a dancer. The piece is episodic to the point of choppiness, and Antonio’s trip to Russia as an exchange student rather abruptly ends the piece. Jared Mezzocchi continues his excellent work for the festival in projections design.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • Support Group for Men, by Ellen Fairey, directed by Courtney Sale
  • Antonio’s Song/I was dreaming of a son, by Dael Orlandersmith and Antonio Edwards Suarez, directed by Mark Clements

Mason and Bailey: 1

scouting 1scouting 2Scouting Rachel Carson Conservation Park for a nature walk. I think we’ll spend a good amount of time in the meadow, so long as something is still happening in September (persimmons ripening, maybe?). And then maybe a quick jaunt through the woods to Hawlings River.

I spent too much time trying to figure out and photographing the Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis ssp. astynanax) that I submitted to iNaturalist. At the pond, most of the Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) hopped in the water but one guy seemed to think he was invisible.

At the park: 104

From my final weekly report from Huntley Meadows Park:

A somewhat perplexing end to the season.

On 16 June, Kat and Chris reported that warm eggs remained in box #1. The odd thing is that we never did record hatch information for this box, which had eggs as early as 9 March. We observed a Hooded Merganser flush from the box on 7 April, and a Wood Duck on 9 June.

Also on the 16th, a bird remained in box #6; if she was incubating eggs, we didn’t get a count.

On 30 June, I checked box #68. There was evidence of a hatch, but not quite the residue of 8 hatched eggs that I would have expected. Possibly a partial predation?

All told, we fledged ducklings from 9 boxes. I will work up the count details and report them in a subsequent message.

Butterflies at Little Bennett Regional Park

on the lookoutTom Stock led a walk to several meadow-y and glade-y spots in Little Bennett Regional Park, most of them along Clarksburg Road. Sunny day, not beastly hot, a breeze from time to time.

I got some good looks at butterflies that I have seen before (some of them only once or twice), like Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius) and Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) and Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). No pics for the three lifers that I saw on the trip: Northern Broken-Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet), Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris), and American Snout (Libytheana carinenta).

Describe the Night

There are eight characters (seven players) in Rajiv Joseph’s Describe the Night, and nearly as many definitions of “truth” are espoused in the course of the evening. Is truth the accurate and complete description of a scene? Or only “what happens” and nothing of “what does not happen”? Or what someone in power declares to be true?

Can a sufficiently inventive writer (Isaac Babel, in this case, played by the earnest Jonathan David Martin) summon an imaginary blood-infused delicacy into existence? In Joseph’s world, yes he can.

Joseph skillfully weaves together a fantasia from the stories of the historical Babel, the Stalin-era Nikolai Yezhov (the “vanishing commissar”) (company member Tim Getman, showing all sorts of colors), and the Smolensk air disaster of 2010, a crash still smoldering with doubts and alternative explanations. There are deaths foretold that come to pass, a rise to power likewise predicted, and personal timelines interlinked with Atkinsonian levels of coincidence.

Under John Vreeke’s direction, there’s an additional level to the truth-telling, one of bearing witness. Maria (Kate Eastwood Norris) and Feliks (Justin Weaks), two people caught up in the carnage of 2010, also sit at the edge of the playing area to observe the scenes set in 1989 and 1940. If Maria and Justin didn’t see it, did it really happen?

Another plot thread follows the unexpected rise of Vova (the very skilled Danny Gavigan), from scrawny Stasi agent to a position of much greater, deadly power.

But let us not forget the playfulness of the young Isaac of 1920, inventor of subversive gangster ducks.

  • Describe the Night, by Rajiv Joseph, directed by John Vreeke, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington

At the park: 103

muddy and greenmystery in box 5From my report on last Sunday’s monitoring work:


Our birds continue to surprise. We observed evidence of hatch in 5 boxes, plus another box that (#3) was either hatched or predated. We found a new clutch in box #68; a bird in box #6, which has already hatched out; and birds still incubating in boxes #1 and #10. So we will do one more work day next Sunday, 9 June. This will be a quicker spot-check day, where we only check boxes where we believe there is still activity. But if you’ve got the morning free, please join us.

Both Kat and I took tumbles into the mud.

Kat reports milkweed (Asclepias sp.) in the woods near box #13/#80.

A songbird, otherwise unidentified, has moved into box #5. No eggs or adult seen; the side entrance to the nest is a little unusual.

Rock Creek project: 2

Today’s walk went off pretty darn well. Pulling into the parking lot, I feared that there would not be sufficient spaces for my guests, but the second lot at the Nature Center was quite open.

As people were arriving, I was watching a House Finch in a treetop when Tracie called out, “hey, isn’t that a turkey?” Later, I happened to mention our Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) sighting to the interpreter in the Nature Center, and she was impressed. She said that she hadn’t seen one in the park in her 2+ years there.

Several of the wildflowers that I had scouted along the stream bank had gone by. We had one little remnant patch of Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum). But on the whole, a success. I got to introduce the group to a couple of my favorites, and the Bearcorn (Conopholis americana) patch along Ross Drive was well received (it was vigorously flowering two weeks ago).

My time management was good; we got around in 2:00. We were paced by Cosmo the dog. Alas, I did miss the turnout for Fort De Russy on the way back.

bridge stopNear the Fort De Russy site is a patch of what I’m pretty sure is Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala). (Both it and M. macrophylla are on the park’s species checklist.)

The White Snake

Constellation brings in another joyfully theatrical piece, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of a Chinese folk tale—a tasty mix of beasts of fantasy, music, voice, dance, stage combat, and puppetry. Through many retellings, the core story concerns an educated White Snake (cool and regal Eunice Bae) who can take human form. White Snake falls in love with a mortal man, Xu Xian (Jacob Yeh); despite the cautions of the Buddhist abbot Fa Hai (a rather imposing Ryan Sellars), the two marry.

In some versions (not this one), Fa Hai is the voice of wisdom, helping Xu Xian to see through the world’s illusions; Xu Xian becomes a monk. Here, the retelling follows the love story between White Snake and Xu Xian, with particular emphasis on loving a person (or a snake) for what she is. Fa Hai becomes an evil antagonist, trapping Xu XIan in the monastery. This version also shows the influence of post-revolution China, with a subplot about corrupted magistrates.

Little details power the production, like the lorgnette held for White Snake while she attends to her studies, or the goofy bedroom slippers worn by Xu Xian’s layabout Sister.

Percussionist Tom Teasley is joined by Chao Tian to form Dong Xi (“East-West”), adding Chinese dulcimer to Teasley’s ocean harp and the other tricks in his bag.

There is strong, even deadly magic; there are journeys and rebirths. But there is also an endearing sitcom Darrin and Samantha vibe to Xu Xian and White Snake’s story. Perhaps it’s helped along by sidekick Green Snake (the inventive Momo Nakamura), likewise in human form and plucky servant to White Snake. Imagine Eve Arden transported to the East.

  • The White Snake, written and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman, directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington

Toast

Robert Silverman watches the crew clean up after a performance of True West.

This is the essence of it—there’s your craft, your technique and training, and the direction and the show’s design and all the elements that combine to make a play a play, and then there’s The Thing You Can’t Fake.

And yet… sewing ribbon for typewriter ribbon—gotta remember that. And the potted plant as its own periaktos is brilliant.