King Hedley II

Wilson set his agon in the back yards of three Pittsburgh row houses. By contrast, the set for this production is spare, with nary a building in sight: nearly the only nod to realism is the patch of stony ground where King tries to grow flowers. To a certain extent this abstract approach works: Stool Pigeon’s opening prologue is given to the rest of the characters, who generally remain onstage throughout the evening. One gets the sense of a ritualistic retelling of a Greek tragedy. And the squared-off space of the Fichandler is the perfect setting for King’s Act 1 closing monologue by Bowman Wright, lightning escaping from the bottle. Would that the ring speeches on the pro wrestling circuit could be as terrifying.

E. Faye Butler produces some powerful, throaty vocal colors in her reading of Ruby. And André De Shields gives us a clear-headed Stool Pigeon. Thrust into the role of the community’s savant (now that the multicentenarian Aunt Esther has passed), their Teiresias manqué, Stool Pigeon never falls into the trap of mere mumbling craziness.

  • King Hedley II, by August Wilson, directed by Timothy Douglas, Arena Stage Fichandler Stage, Washington
Posted in Reviews, Theater
| Comments Off


So, picking up some vibration in the air or other, I recently watched Keep On Keepin’ On (2014), Alan Hicks’s documentary about the relationship between veteran jazz trumpeter Clark Terry and the young pianist Justin Kauflin. The film was thin in the areas I was curious about, namely Terry’s career in the 1940s and onward—his departure from the Duke Ellington orchestra gets only an offhand mention, for instance—but it does a good job of telling the story it wants to tell. Terry was an influence on so many players, and he continued to nurture talents like Kauflin’s into his 90s. His body ravaged by diabetes, Terry kept on teaching.

My familiarity with Terry’s work is rather limited, but he was a gateway drug for me, like Dave Brubeck. I have a vinyl recording of Terry performing live with the Ohio State University Jazz Ensemble; this would be early 1970s, as I bought it after then band played a high school assembly for us. His work with the horn impressed me less than his vocal work, especially his signature piece “Mumbles,” an encore bit of rhythmic whimsy.

Anyway, it came as a slight shock to learn that Terry had died just this past week, as Reuters reports. Another one gone, but we have his recordings (more than 900 of them!) and his students.

Posted in In Memoriam, Music
| Tagged | Comments Off

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

The songbirds were exceptionally chatty on this rather cold day, so I was able to rack up a nice 22-species total for my count down along the Glade stream valley. And unless I’m mistaken, this is the first time that I’ve seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the count. One of the resident Red-shouldered Hawks was hunkered down, roosting in a tree with three crows, all of them trying to stay warm.

just a few geese in the distanceI usually stop first at Lake Audubon to check on possible waterfowl. Nothing much happening today in the partly iced-over lake, just a half dozen Canada Geese at the edge of binocular range.

Posted in Birds and Birding
| Tagged | Comments Off

Understood completely

Colonel Cathcart was impervious to absolutes. He could measure his own progress only in relationship to others, and his idea of excellence was to do something at least as well as all the men his own age who were doing the same thing even better. The fact that there were thousands of men his own age and older who had not even attained the rank of major enlivened him with foppish delight in his own remarkable worth; on the other hand, the fact that there were men of his own age and younger who were already generals contaminated him with an agonizing sense of failure and made him gnaw at his fingernails with an unappeasable anxiety that was even more intense than Hungry Joe’s.

—Joseph Heller, Catch-22, chap. nineteen
Posted in Quotable
| Comments Off

Works in the Old World, too

In the past, when I’ve posted about shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee (for instance, here, here, and here), the research focus (by scientists like Ivette Perfecto and Russell Greenberg) has been on Central American farms and neotropical migrants. New research indicates that birds in Africa and Eurasia also benefit from shade cultivation in Ethiopia (the cradle of all domesticated coffee), as Brian Clark Howard reports. Ethiopian coffee farmers are under the same pressures to convert to intensive “sun coffee” production that their New World counterparts face.

“Importance of Ethiopian shade coffee farms for forest bird conservation” is now in press. Co-author Cagan H. Şekercioğlu

suggests that the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center or the Rainforest Alliance, which certify bird-friendly coffee from other countries, should consider extending their programs to Ethiopia. Certification allows farmers to recoup a price premium, which can help deter the impulse to convert farms to full sun or otherwise develop their land.

Posted in Agriculture, Birds and Birding
| Tagged | Comments Off

Competing voices

Emily Graslie and Ernesto Ruelas go birding by ear (and occasionally, by eye) in the western Amazon.

So that’s what a toucan sounds like.

Posted in Birds and Birding
| Tagged | Comments Off

Mary Stuart

Many strong D.C. area actors combine to perform this this play of historical fiction, written in 1800. The payoff comes in the second half, a meeting in the woods of the two royal antagonists, Queen Elizabeth of England (a bottled-up Holly Twyford, until she explodes) and the eponymous Queen Mary of Scotland (Kate Eastwood Norris, beaming with paradoxical purity). And it’s a good payoff, but perhaps not enough to redeem the first half, laden with exposition and little lyricism, a challenge to the actors’ breath control. Rajesh Bose presents an interesting take on Lord Burleigh, hard-line adviser to Elizabeth who counsels her to execute Mary posthaste: he parks himself on stage and avoids superfluous movement. One is put in mind of a 16th-century Jabba the Hutt.

  • Mary Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller, in a new version by Peter Oswald, directed by Richard Clifford, Folger Theatre, Washington
Posted in Reviews, Theater
| Comments Off

An American scene

It was given to me, in the nineteenth century,
to spend a lifetime on this earth.
Along with a few of the sorrows that are appointed unto men
I have had innumerable enjoyments;
and the world has been to me, even from childhood,
a great museum.

—Lydia Davis, “Our Village,” adapted from a manuscript by Sidney Brooks (1813-1887)
Posted in Quotable
| Comments Off

Small steps

It’s possible that I’ve overlooked this bin at my local Whole Foods, but I think not. Whole Foods has been partnering with the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance for some time now to collect wine corks for recycling. I’m really glad to see this new collection point in Reston.

Posted in Recycling and Sustainability
| Comments Off

Full of noises

Peter and Tuska are part of a colony on the planet Oasis. Far from being alien or exotic, living conditions on USIC’s base are designed to be stiflingly mundane, right down to the piped-in music:

They were sitting at a table in the USIC mess hall. Tuska was tucking into spaghetti Bolognese (whiteflower spaghetti, whiteflower “mince,” imported tomato sauce, imported herbs) and Peter was eating a pancake (100 percent local). The air was full of noises: the sound of rain pelting rhythmically against the windows, the mingled conversations of other employees, the clattering of metal trays, the scraping of chairs, the opening and shutting of doors, and Frank Sinatra crooning “My Funny Valentine.” It all seemed a grossly excessive amount of bustle and chatter to Peter, but he knew the problem was his perception, and he must try to get in the swing of it. The metaphorical swing, that is: no amount of effort could reconcile him to Frank Sinatra.

—Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things, chap. 17
Posted in Annoyances, Quotable
| Comments Off

Long Road Home

It was quite a pleasure to see a full evening’s program from Company E, after having seen this young modern-dance organization at the VelocityDC Dance Festival showcase. The opener, the duet “Alma,” introduces an intriguing twist: the floor is liberally scattered with Granny Smith apples. Finding a way to execute the piece within this self-imposed structural obstacle makes for a dance with a fresh, improvisational vibe—quite satisfying. The piece also flirts with that silly pass-the-orange game that our hip parents used to play. (The company has filmed a site-specific version of “Alma” at a temple in Shanghai.)

“Jerky Boy’s Dream,” a premiere, takes us into mid-century pop dances: frugs and jitterbugs. If the choice of music is uneven (The Tijuana Brass is lovely camp, but really, do we need to hear Mrs. Miller?), the fourth dance of the suite, in which the pair manipulate each other like love-struck marionettes, is very sexy.

Paul Gordon Emerson’s “Falling” is a beautiful signature piece for the company, executed this time by Vanessa Owen and Robert J. Priore: an insistently yearning, driving movement from stage right to left, with holy music by Arvo Pärt.

The evening’s other premiere, the ensemble dance “Dialogue of a Portrait,” is powered by late-century techno by Autechre and others. Seven dancers gradually amass in a tight pool of light before bursting into hard-edged, robotic movement: this is what social dancing will look like when there are twenty billion of us on the planet. But let’s hope we’re not wearing this unflattering makeup.

  • Long Road Home, Company E, Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, Washington
Posted in Dance, Reviews
| Comments Off

You’re standing on my neck

Chris Kopcow and I see eyes-to-eyes on Daria.

Since the show went off the air, there really hasn’t been too much like it.

Posted in Radio and TV
| Comments Off

[Insert fishing metaphor]

Geoffrey K. Pullum copy-edits a phishing attempt.

Posted in Annoyances
| Comments Off

Step back!

Lauren Ober interviews Randi Miller, the voice of Metro’s “doors closing” announcements.


Posted in Transit in D.C.
| Tagged | Comments Off

New database

This looks promising: the New Play Exchange has just launched,

a crowd-sourced, open-access database of plays, playwrights, and producers built for everyone who makes, looks for, and loves new work for the theatre, will become available to everyone with access to the internet.

Posted in Theater
| Comments Off