I wish that I could put it on my upcoming list, but I will just have to enjoy it from afar: The Floating Piers, by Christo, is installed on Italy’s Lake Iseo through 3 July.

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Optimal swiping

“…a speed of 10 to 40 inches per second (i.p.s.) is the valid range for MetroCard acceptance by the Swipe Reader/Writer (SRW) device of our turnstile.”

The Morning News

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Clybourne Park: an update

Dry tech today, so I was off seeing other shows and catching up on the e-mail pile. Our company publicist circulated a questionnaire that she will use to write a preview piece for one of the local online theater mags. Some of Lennie’s questions and my answers:

1. What drew you to Clybourne Park as a director/actor?

When I first saw this show at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company six years ago, I wrote : ‘Have you ever had this experience? A play finishes its first act, and as the house lights come up for intermission, you think, “that act was so polished and well-constructed that it could stand by itself; I could go home now and be happy.” That’s how we felt at the act break…’ That’s how strong this material is.

3. In his 2011 review of Woolly Mammoth’s second production of Clybourne, Peter Marks of the Washington Post said that “the play rummages, if you will, in the eternally unfinished basement of American race relations. It is a play about people thinking they don’t sound exactly the way they do.” Your thoughts on that? Actors, how does his second sentence apply to your character(s)?

It is ever a challenge (probably greater than the one I describe in my answer to #6 below) to separate what you know, as a person, that your character sounds like from what you know and feel is going on inside that character. It is a tempting trap to put quotation marks around what your character says and does, to telegraph to the audience, “I, the actor, am not this uninformed/foolish/nasty/hateful person that I am playing.” And I think that everyone in our cast has done a good job of stepping around that trap.

4. Another review quote — when Clybourne opened on Broadway in 2012, Ben Brantley of the New York Times said, “This play probably will be topical for many years to come. That’s bad news for America, but good news for theatergoers, as ‘Clybourne Park’ proves itself more vital and relevant than ever on a big Broadway stage.” That was two years after its Off Broadway premiere. Flash forward to now, four years after the Broadway premiere. Is Clybourne again — or still — “more vital and relevant than ever”? Why?

You betcha. One of the smart things that Bruce Norris does, via the echoes down the half century from 1959 to 2009, is to call out our propensity to slap a label on something (or someone) and think that we have understood it. The character Bev, in 1959, refers with some discomfort to a young man in her community; he has what today we would call Down Syndrome, but Bev has only the word “mongoloid.” In the second act, Kathy (played by the same actor), speaks briefly, thoughtfully about a niece with Asperger’s Syndrome. Will not audiences of 2059 hear Kathy’s words and find her just as benighted?

5. What’s the importance of the specific link to A Raisin in the Sun?

Well, perhaps it is a recognition of the potency of Langston Hughes’s poem, “Harlem,” from which the image is drawn: “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?” That such a simple eleven-line poem could spark Lorraine Hansberry’s full-length stage play, a musical adaptation, and now Bruce Norris’s answer play, is astonishing.

6. As an actor or director, what’s been your biggest challenge with this show? Creating two characters? Recreating the house during
intermission? Something else?

Simple mechanics: falling down, safely, in such a way that I can fall down again the next night.

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Species preservation and coffee agriculture meet: Ed Yong explains the conservation prospects for the Red Siskin (Spinus cucullata).

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An Octoroon

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins brings us An Octoroon, his very strong post-modern and post-theatrical adaptation of an 1859 melodrama by Dionysius Boucicault (in turn, a version of a novel by Thomas Maine Reid). It’s genuinely provocative, on several levels, from the visceral (an historical image projected on the stage at a key point hits its mark) to the intellectual to the spectacular; Boucicault was writing and producing in the genre that demanded big theatrical effects, and this production both comments on that genre and makes good on its promise, with a outsized KABOOM!

Jacobs-Jenkins helps us out by framing his adaptation with direct address by two different versions of the playwright (one played by an African American and one by a European American [James Konicek, with the voice of an angelic bassoon]) in which he explains the creative and production challenges of reconstructing a pre-Civil War potboiler that calls for a cast of 21. In this way, he prepares us for an distanced approach to the material that he has reworked and appropriated for his own means—in a way that his misbegotten Appropriate does not. (Perhaps one’s reactions to that other play depend on whether one takes the title as an adjective or a verb.) Jacobs-Jenkins thus calls to mind another master and occasional mishandler of irony, surfaces, and the reality beneath, Herman Melville.

Suffice it to say that this is a show that benefits from program notes by the dramaturg and two company staffers concerned with things literary.

The script—and this production—attacks the question of appearance vs. reality by employing a black actor in whiteface, a white actor in redface, and another actor in the crudest of minstrelsy’s blackface (and “lawsa-lawsa” dialect). Certain characters act and speak as if they were on a stage in the 1800s, ready for their turn at Ford’s on 10th Street, while others (the entertaining Shannon Dorsey as Minnie) speak in the most contemporary of hip-hop vernacular. Pre-recorded underscoring accompanies expressive live cello work by Katie Chambers. A character eats a real banana, seated on a stage whose floor is covered in bits of cotton… representing, what exactly? A disaster effect is a blatant borrowing of a sight gag perfected by Buster Keaton nearly a century ago.

This is not to take away from the stage chops on display by Jon Hudson Odom in the triple roles of BJJ (one of Jacobs-Jenkins’s standins), George (the hero), and M’Closky (the mustache-twirling villain). The third-act cliffhanger calls for Odom to execute a knife fight with himself: smartly done!

  • An Octoroon, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Nataki Garrett, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington

At the top of show, BJJ drinks off half of bottle of what looks to be whiskey. Woolly hasn’t seen such an interesting draught since Rob Leo Roy nightly chugged an bottle of Yoo-Hoo in The Food Chain.

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Eastern Tiger Salamander

My species account/term paper for Amphibians and Reptiles is posted.

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TIL an infielder must be positioned in fair territory when the ball is put in play.

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Almost there

Only two—two—cases of guinea worm have been recorded this year. Jason Beaubien has the update, and Robert Siegel checks in with Jimmy Carter re The Carter Center’s efforts to eradicate the disease.

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At the park: 87

One more report from the nest box monitoring team for the season:

box 61, 2016This year is turning out to be quite successful. Two more Wood Duck boxes have hatched out (box #61 at left), bringing the total to 8 successful WODU nests and 3 HOME nests. This is not counting boxes #1 and #3, which may have been predated, even though a second look turned up some egg membranes. We did see 3 young mergansers in the vicinity of these boxes.

We have at least two boxes still incubating (#6 and #77). #6 will be a second clutch for that box. #68, down at the end in the cattails, has 6 eggs, but it is perhaps a drop nest — we have not been checking it regularly.

We’re done with all-hands work days for the season. Kat and Chris, if you could check #6 and #77 in a couple of weeks, that would be good; I will spot-check #68 probably in two weeks on 19 June, or I will check it a week after that.

Paul, was is Wood Duck eggs that you saw in #68?

A Wild Turkey crossed the entrance drive as I arrived this morning. Paul spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker, down along the reach of Barnyard Run that they are partial to. Many tiny toadlets were crossing the trail as we walked out to the wetland.

Thank you all! I will post a wrap-up message, probably some time in July.

3 kindsOur boxes support life of all kinds. This the the top of box #67, showing examples of three lichen growth forms: crustose (clinging to the substrate), foliose (peeling up like a leaf), and fruticose (bushy, like Reindeer Lichen).

compositerosetteThere is a little patch of one of our hawkweeds, Rattlesnake Weed (Hieracium venosum) centered on a tree along the Cedar Trail, right before it divides to make a loop. I’ve keyed this flower out before, but this time around I was able to get some passable images. The purple-veined leaves of the basal rosette are the ID clincher.

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Macbeth: a recollection

Reston Community Players is planning a commemorative booklet of reflections and remembrances to celebrate its 50-year mark. I offered the following story, told by many people since the event. This is my version:

I was a supernumerary in our production of Macbeth in the winter 1993 time slot, directed by Jan Belcher. I filled in the background for the battle scenes; I was a servant opening doors and setting tables; I supported the Bloody Captain during his speech; that sort of thing.

Jan was bluntly opposed to the tradition/superstition that the name of the play not be spoken within the confines of a theater, and she broke the taboo loud and clear on load-in day. Perhaps she was justified: the show went on to weather its share of mishaps and technical delays, but no more than usual.

Except for one night.

The first scene with the witches featured a dead body made of styrofoam, hung as on a gibbet. The three weird sisters (Maggie Geuting among them) did a dance around it, and at the end of scene, performed a wash-up move, cueing the flyman to take the corpse out.

But on this night, the corpse missed its spike and sailed all the way up to the top of the flyspace. We heard a loud bang as it crashed into the grid.

OK, nothing to see here; the play continued.

Lady Macbeth (Penny Cupina) came on for the letter scene. Halfway through the scene, one of the plastic corpse’s legs detached and fell to the deck, with a small crash but no ceremony. The stage manager said, “David, there’s a leg on stage. Can you help us out?” “Uh — sure thing.”

I came on to execute my next assigned gate-attendant maneuver, perhaps a little early. I strode over to the chunk of loose set dressing, scooped it up, and tried my best to hold it upstage of my body.

The gates being opened, Macbeth (Tel Monks) and his entourage entered as I skedaddled off stage and disposed of the artificial limb — to everyone’s relief.

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IWLA Bethesda-Chevy Chase herps

Our final field trip with Rachel Gauza’s class took us to the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, 600-odd acres near Poolesville and McKee-Beshers WMA. Out host was Larry Anderson. Our targets were snakes, but we didn’t score well with that taxon. However, we found plenty to look at off the West Woods trail. Please don’t mind the nearby gun range.

structureAs you might imagine, deer management is an advanced art here, so it’s not uncommon to see nicely developed understory vegetation. Although we did see patches of the usual non-native invasives, we also saw some good natives—lots of Pawpaw (Asmina triloba), some Smilacina, a chance encounter with a bellwort, not yet in flower, Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) on the ridgetops; Cathy spotted Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense).

today's mystery: 1today's mystery: 2I tried to puzzle out some ferns, unsuccessfully. This possible myxomycete also caught my attention.

chubby tailAnd we did see some herps! Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris), too hoppy for my camera, and multiple Marbled Salamanders (Ambystoma opacum). Rachel says that this is the first time that she’s seen Marbleds on the property.

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Trash = props

Eight set designers and dressers tackle the problem of designing for The Flick, by Annie Baker. Electromagnets in blackout—brilliant!

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At the park: 86

The latest from our nest box monitoring:

A quiet, drizzly Sunday morning, but a sufficiency of activity to report. Upstream, Kat and Chris report hatches in boxes #4 and #7; and at the other end, box #67 hatched as well. We have a second clutch going in box #6, by the big pool, as well as clutches going in boxes #77, #5, and #61. When I opened #61, the Wood Duck flushed and executed a fine broken-wing distraction display.

Of our 16 boxes, we have had nesting activity in 14 of them….

Let’s do this again in two weeks on 5 June and check all boxes, and then one more time on 19 June to spot-check the stragglers.

hello: 1hello: 2Just a few days ago, I remarked to my herps instructor that we had never stepped on a Snapping Turtle in the wetland. And then yesterday, I came dang near close to doing just that…

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Drain Lake Powell? Abrahm Lustgarten writes that it could happen, and indeed be for the best.

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Journey to the West

Mary Zimmerman’s Journey to the West is another of her masterful renderings of ancient texts as modern theater, and it receives an equally masterful staging by Allison Arkell Stockman’s Constellation Theatre Company within the friendly confines of the Source Theatre space. The ensemble cast portrays episodes from the pilgrimage of the monk Tripitaka, drawing on a Ming dynasty novel that in turn adapted mythic materials from 1000 years earlier. The evening is packed with theatrical storytelling.

We watch very entertaining personified animals who accompany Tripitaka on his journey to the wellsprings of Eastern religion—strongest of these is the yogic, gymnastic Dallas Tolentino as the Monkey King. (This is basically a superhero road trip movie, with better karma.) There are trickster’s personality exchanges, a lengthy fight in slow motion, and multiple distinct water effects achieved with banners. The magnificent cornucopia of costumes are by Kendra Rai; composer/musician/sound designer Tom Teasley crowds numerous effects into his small space, including an inventive rendering of a pig at the trough.

  • Journey to the West, by Mary Zimmerman, directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington

There were several respectful younger audience members at this matinee performance, but with a running time of 2:50, some budding theatergoers may find it a bit long.

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