Category Archives: Featured

What does “Sounds Like This” sound like?

By Lauren Linhard- ArtsPost Staff Writer

Eric Hutchinson’s debut album, “Sounds Like This,” is perfect for a summer car cruise with the windows down. It’s catchy, light and fun. Unfortunately, it’s just as catchy, light and fun as any other album by an indie pop artist. Hutchinson has followed in the musical footsteps of Jason Mraz, Mat Kearney and Matt Nathanson. Inspiration has to come from somewhere. But “Sounds Like This” so perfectly mimics the sound and themes of other artists, that you wonder how much of Hutchinson is in his album.

Hutchinson’s career had a false start, originally signing with Maverick Records months before the label folded. His recording sessions came to an end and he went on tour, trying to get his name out there. In August 2007, Hutchinson released “Sounds Like This” on his own record label, Let’s Break Records. A few days later, according to the official Eric Hutchinson website, a high school buddy emailed the famed gossip Perez Hilton a link to Hutchinson’s MySpace page. Hilton recommended the new musician and everything fell into place. By September, “Sounds Like This” was featured in the Top 10 albums on iTunes and was No.1 on the Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Still unsigned, Hutchinson and his album remained extremely successful. Warner Bros. Records picked up the album and officially released it in March 2008.

The key is to listen to “Sounds Like This” three times before making a final decision. The first time is for overall effect, which is decidedly enjoyable. The second is for the musical component, which will seem familiar but impressive. And the third is for lyrics, which you will find…surprising. Hutchinson’s piano skill and sexy voice can easily distract from the lyrics. But when you really listen to the actual words of “Outside Villanova,” which is about having sex with an underage girl, shock is an appropriate emotion. Though sexually questionable ethics isn’t a trend throughout the album, including this song was certainly a risky move.

The album focuses around the popular idea of taking life as it comes. Along with musicians like Jack Johnson, Hutchinson tries to embrace his inner soul to communicate an easy-going existence. During “Rock & Roll” you find yourself craving a day at the beach, or at least a tropical drink, as you sway your hips to the reggae music. The spirit of chill continues with the songs “Food Chain” and “OK, It’s Alright With Me.” Though the album doesn’t come off as generic, it doesn’t come off as entirely fresh either. While some songs seem to be taken directly from a Jason Mraz album, there are moments when Hutchinson embraces his jazzy piano and finally gives us a sound that could be his own.

The album explores a variety of musical genres including funk, reggae and jazz. The assortment of sound keeps the album fresh; however, it also causes a slightly jumble feel. There is such diversity on “Sounds Like This,” it is unclear where Hutchinson’s real musical interest lies.

The good news: Hutchinson is young enough and new enough to gain experience and discover his own sound. Eventually he will sift between the funk, reggae, indie pop and jazz that is “Sounds Like This” to find his musical self. The bad news: the opening of “All Over Now” is alarming close to being mistaken for Taylor Swift’s “Love Song.”

Is three better than two?

By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer

Alice

The world of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

To 3-D or not to 3-D? That was the question when I was on my way to see Disney and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” over spring break this spring.  I had seen “Avatar” in 3-D and been dazzled by the clarity and the believable space James Cameron and his team had produced.  Could Disney really match that? Did I want to wear those glasses, even if it was only for 108 minutes? The answer to the latter was no.

But after seeing it in 2-D, I was left doubting.  Were the little blurs of images I detected gone in the 3-D version?   Did the smoke Absolum blew from his opium pipe billow out into the audience when the glasses were donned? These were questions I needed answered.

Tim Burton brought his signature dark-bordering-on-creepy touch to the much idolized subject of Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice.  Though the movie is titled “Alice in Wonderland,” the story comes from Carroll’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the second installment in the story of Alice Kingsley.  “Alice in Wonderland” is referenced briefly throughout the story as Alice struggles with accepting that what she thought were bad dreams are actually memories of her first experience in Underland. Burton was an excellent choice to bring out all of the more twisted aspects of Carroll’s story.

Little known actress Mia Wasikowska was wonderful as Alice, playing her as a sweet but progressive in her ideas and smart as a tack.  Her accent was lyrical and a pleasure to listen to, and that, along with her iridescent pale skin, made her entrancing to watch.

Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway played the two queens, red and white.  They played to their strengths, Carter as the fiery tyrant and Hathaway as the beloved sovereign. The supporting cast, including on-screen actors and voice contributions, made the experience come alive.  Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry and Crispin Glover shone in their respective roles.

Opposite Wasikowska, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was up to many of his usual tricks: the funny walk and head tilts of Captain Jack Sparrow, the smile, voice and far off look of Willy Wonka. That being said, he did it all masterfully.  His deep Scottish brogue when he tells the tale of the Jabberwocky made the audience smile with pleasure and shiver with dread simultaneously.  Depp’s Hatter was endearing and frightening, and every moment was worth watching. His niche character continues to work wonders.

The story of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” are well known to most if not all of America through the books, numerous television adaptations and the iconic 1951 Disney animated film. Thus, the storyline was not going to be a surprise to anyone, and Disney did not take any liberties with the plot.  How they kept us interested, waiting for the next scene, was with the special effects.

The fabulous world of Underland, conceived out of Carroll and Burton’s eccentric minds, is translated beautifully onto the screen.  The fantasy plants and animals are a far cry from the 1951 Disney animated version.  The two queen’s castles, in their respective glory, stand in the landscape as monuments to dreams of little girls everywhere. The desolate areas destroyed by the Queen of Hearts leave you with chills.  The characters, including weeble-wobble Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum played by Matt Lucas, lurching Stayne played by Glover, and the “globe” headed Queen of Hearts are all created by CGI, computer-generated-imagery, but they look as real as Alice.

Now on to the real question: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Oh no, I’m sorry, excuse me: what was the difference between 2-D Alice and 3-D Alice?

After digesting the 2-D version of “Alice in Wonderland,” I decided that I had to see it in 3-D to see if there was any difference in clarity or brilliance of the special effects. So I paid my fee for the 3-D glasses and got ready for the show.

While the difference was not immense, the forest did look deeper, the room of doors more imposing and the Jabberwocky a bit more fierce.  The blurry scenes of the 2-D were now clear and steady and much more life-like. When Alice is running through the landscape between the Red and White castles, it was much clearer what she was running past in 3-D.

The only disappointing character was the Jabberwocky.  It was not nearly as terrible and frightening as the Hatter’s poem described.  It looked like something out of a claymation fairy tale. Even the 3-D and the bellowing voice of acclaimed actor Christopher Lee could not save it.  That scene was the most frustrating of the entire film.  It seemed like an afterthought, like Burton put more effort into the Bandersnatch’s hut than the epic final battle to save Underland.

The difference of 3-D is never that things jump out of the frame into your face, though we all want that to happen because of the way 3-D is advertised.  The Jabberwoky’s tail did not come within inches of my nose. However, it did complement the creative style of Burton and the fantastical world he created.  To truly experience falling down the rabbit hole, it is worth the extra fee and the cumbersome glasses. My only real disappointment was that the Blue Caterpillar’s smoke did not billow out into my lap.

Art illuminates fragile Lebanese life

By Alexandra Wells

ArtsPost Staff Writer

Photo provided by Katzen Arts Center.

Art, as defined in Webster’s dictionary, is “the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.”  Reflecting the dreams, history and depressing reality of Lebanese culture after its civil war (1975-1990), Convergence: New Art from Lebanon is a gem of an exhibit showing in Washington.

As the first exhibition in North America to introduce Lebanon’s post-civil war art, it expresses both the vigor for and the precariousness of life in Lebanon today and will be at The American University, in the Katzen Arts Center through May 16. The show was co-selected by the Katzen Museum’s director, Jack Rasmussen, and a highly respected Lebanese curator, Amal Traboulsi.

The various peoples of Lebanon have continuously overlapped in their cultures, sometimes violently, since before the birth of Christ.  This juxtaposing of peoples has allowed for vibrant art to be created, partly from the violence that often engulfs the region. Modern-day artists have used the country’s historical convergence of cultures to create the show’s masterpieces.

Although many works of photography appear in the show, there are also more high-tech mediums, such as video art and digital animation.  The show features 30 talented artists who created more than 50 paintings, sculptures and digital works of art.  Of these unique artistic representations, more than a third of the creators are women who live in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut.

Depressing destruction infuses Nada Sehnaoui’s elegant photographic grid “Rubble,” a 3-by-3 meter collage portraying multiple views of debris in Lebanon.  Artist Nadim Karam created a 16-foot high metal piece of art made solely for this Washington show.  The work brings about bitter feelings stirred up by lives influenced by war, but also by hope, represented by the installment of a cloud-like garden.

Another piece of art, an oil painting on canvas by Marwan Sahmarani, depicts soldiers at night.  This dark work is meant to be a guiding light for future generations to view and then learn from so they can avoid the violence of their ancestors.  Although the work is beautifully painted, Sahmarani writes that it should serve as a reminder of the cyclical patterns of Lebanon’s violent history.

The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center is free and open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., everyday except Monday.  For more information, call 202-885-ARTS.

And the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

With the stage lights dampened to a minimum, John Baldwin Gourley, a quiet and unassuming figure, strode onto the stage of the 9:30 Club.  Clad in a red, white and blue hoodie, the shy and pensive frontman of Portugal the Man donned his guitar and approached the microphone.  The crowd roared in preparation for the band’s performance, but Gourley stood on the stage, motionless and silent.  The dimly-lit stage and creeping wisps of smoke produced by the smoke machine added to Gourley’s mystique.  He faced the right side of the stage, tuning out the audience to find his voice, and moments later kicked right into the opening licks of “People Say.”  With little more than his soft, versatile voice, delicate guitar strokes and support from the rest of the band, Gourley became king for the night.

In only a few short years, Portugal the Man rose to the top ranks of indie rock through unrestrained perseverance and a creative spirit that continually inspires listeners and challenges itself with contemplative, beautiful pieces.  Claiming Sarah Palin’s own Wasilla, Alaska as their hometown, the group formed after the demise of Anatomy of a Ghost, Gourley’s first band with Portugal bassist Zachary Carothers.  The members of Portugal packed up their gear and relocated to Portland, Ore. in 2004.  Since that time Portugal the Man has readjusted its lineup and released five studio albums, currently touring in support of their most recent brainchild “American Ghetto.”  The band’s current lineup is comprised of Gourley (vocals/guitar), Carothers, Ryan Neighbors (keyboard/synth), and Jason Sechrist (drums).

From the outset of the March18 show, it was obvious that the show was going to be a collective family act.  The New York four-piece known as The Dig opened the show, warming the crowd up for the rest of the night with a solid performance led by frontman Emile Mosseri.  They concluded their set by bringing all the members of the other touring bands up on stage to perform a song, attempting to fit at least 15 different musicians up onstage.  The artists each played their own unique instrument, ranging from an added tom head to a bottle of whiskey to a manican leg, passionately attacking their instruments (and the song) in a supportive family atmosphere.  Port O’Brien followed The Dig, adding their brand of folksy California indie to the mix, inviting all of the other bands up on stage once more.

By the time the openers had wrapped up their sets the club was filled to the brim with an interesting mix of plaid-and-tie-dye hipsters eager to rock out to the laid-back musical stylings of Portugal the Man.  Following the opener they went right into “And I,” a crowd favorite from their critically acclaimed album “Censored Colors.”  With Carothers swinging his bass up and down, Gourley bathed himself in the red, green and blue strobe lights, lowering the mic and dropping to his knees under the weight of the song.  The band pleased their hardcore fans by playing a number of songs from their first two albums, including “AKA M80 the Wolf,” “Shade,” and “Church Mouth.”  The majority of songs, however, came from the albums that shot them to success, “Censored Colors” and “The Satanic Satanist.”

Gourley remained humble and shy throughout the set, despite cheers and bursts of applause.  Before playing “60 Years” from the new album and spoken as an after-thought, Gourley half-heartedly suggested to his fans that they “download the new album or whatever.”  The statement was less a matter of disinterest and more indicative of Gourley’s shy and polite persona which, unexpectedly, commanded the crowd as effectively as any bombastic act.  After closing with “The Home,” the fan’s passionate and emphatic cheers for an encore brought Gourley out to stage to perform “Created” solo.  Lighters were raised in the air and the crowd fell into silence as he uttered the first line of the song.  Halfway through the sentence, however, Gourley stopped and stepped back from the mic, chuckling to himself.  Once he had composed himself, Gourley told the audience how deeply he was moved by all of their support over the course of the night.

“I just got the chills,” he muttered.  “That’s the first time I’ve ever freaked out onstage.  I almost passed out.  Thanks a lot guys, this is the biggest show we’ve ever played.”

The band sauntered in after Gourley finished the song and went straight into the song “Church Mouth.”  In keeping with the night’s tradition, they brought back the family atmosphere by inviting the other musicians onstage with them to perform a deeply emotional cover of “Strangers” by The Kinks.  For the night, the 9:30 club was turned into more than just a club venue.  It became an intimate family community.

The Search for a Lost Identity

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

For the most part, children are educated in grade school about the founding of this nation through a restricted lens, focusing on poems about how in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue or the American settlements of the English Puritans.  We learn about America’s dark past through slavery and the near destruction of Native American populations.  However, one of the untold stories about the interactions between the first three main groups of people that shaped the nation’s history is the way in which African Americans and Native Americans interacted and mixed with each other throughout American history.  “Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” currently being presented at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a wonderful and eye-opening exhibit about the history of mixed-heritage minorities that were significantly influenced by the development of the United States.

The story is one that is rarely told, or at least rarely explained and taught to the fullest extent.  Most people know that each group has suffered significantly over the last few centuries at the hands of colonial settlers, but little is known about the lives and experiences of those who share mixed ancestry and how the social dynamics of their interactions have shaped our perceptions of these people.  The Indivisible exhibit provides a valuable insight into the trials, tribulations, and successes that grew out of these interactions.

Indivisible is much more than just a museum exhibit, but an ongoing project brought together by a number of dedicated organizers.  All aspects of production for this project were undertaken on behalf of the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.  Aside from the larger organizations, a number of dedicated African-Native American men and women contributed to organizing the research through relationships with tribal communities as well as academic researchers from across the nation.

The 20-panel museum exhibit is located on the second level of the Museum of the American Indian, tucked away to a room near the main elevators.  The panels are divided into 4 main categories (policy, community, creative resistance and lifeways) with each panel analyzing a specific topic supported by copies of primary documents, such as original art, old photographs and slavery records.  In addition to the actual exhibit, the organizers of put together a 256-page book that includes 27 essays ranging from the Cherokee Freedmen debate to the effects of Jim Crow policy on the populations.

The exhibit does not boast any specific interactive or engaging multimedia elements aside from a 10-minute video looping at the back of the room.  However, the strength of the exhibit does not lie in the implementation of new technologies, but in the authenticity and details of the personal testimonials shown in the video itself.  In one testimonial, a young woman breaks down crying, saying that for so long a part of her was “shut off” and that she has been deeply moved by her new sense of belonging.  The need to belong and understand one’s true identity is the crux of the exhibit and is a basic human need that makes the underlying theme of the exhibit relatable to almost anyone.

The exhibit, which debuted on Nov.10 of last year, will be presented at the National Museum of the American Indian until May 31.  Following the Washington stint three copies of the exhibition will tour nationwide at a number of museums and cultural centers that will end in March of 2012.

Double Dagger Tears Up the Back Stage

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

Image Courtesy of Double Dagger website

If you were looking for a dance party that runs the gamut of dramatic physical expression, then The Black Cat was the place to be April 22.  Ranging from the synthpop style of Future Islands to the raucous punk mashing of Double Dagger, the Black Cat came alive for one of the week’s biggest and liveliest shows.

The first artist to hit the stage was Ed Schrader, an odd percussionist whose erratic screaming vocals and drawn out bass moaning stood out from the rest of the performers.  Using nothing more than a kick drum, a microphone and a lamp, Schrader rumbled his way through a number of songs.  He created a mysterious persona.  At first glance he appeared to look pretty anti-rock and nerdy with a striped button-down tucked into a pair of khaki pants.  But once the room went dark (save for a single light shining up on his face from the drum) Schrader pounded away on the drum, screaming and chanting.  While Schrader’s act is very unique, the music itself just felt loud, ill-fitting and at times uncomfortable.  At the very least, Schrader’s sound contains that rare quality where you either love it for its bold rejection of mainstream musical norms or you hate it for sounding like a crazy man with a pair of drumsticks in his hands.  Despite his strange act the crowd still seemed to enjoy the enigmatic figure that is Ed Schrader.

The crowd stirred up as Future Islands took the stage, turning the backstage into a fun dance party.  Future Islands takes the emotional vulnerability and synthpop sound of the classic new wave genre and injects it with a heavy dose of raw vocal power.  While the bassist and keyboardist stand still for their performance, the band’s whole show is centered on singer Sam Herring.  Herring pours his heart, body and soul into each song, weaving tales of heartbreak and introspection through the air like a Shakespearian actor.  At one moment, with lips quivering and arms extended, he asked the audience to open their hearts.  The next minute he then fell to his knees, beating his chest to force out his gravelly voice.

Once Double Dagger took the stage, the audience was ready to turn the Black Cat on its head.  The drum-and-bass punk trio from Baltimore exploded onstage in a whirlwind of cacophony, energy and destructively beautiful musical power.  As drummer Denny Bowen tore into his drumset I felt as if my ears were going to bleed from the sheer loudness of the snare and cymbals.  Bassist Bruce Willen threw his instrument around like a madman while singer Nolen Strals contorted his body and wandered in and out of the audience.  Don’t let the glasses fool you, these guys come to a show prepared to tear your face off.

Double Dagger has produced two full albums and several EP’s since the breakup of Strals’ and Willen’s former band League of Death in 2002.  The name Double Dagger doesn’t always get tossed around as much as it deserves, but once discovered will change your life.  Their live performance is nothing less than amazing and forces you to pay attention.  The group has received praise from a number of music critics and even toured with such high-profile acts as The Buzzcocks.

Only a minute into the first song the crowd was converted into one expansive and seething mosh pit, with fans running around and furiously punching the air.  The strength of the pit was especially surprising considering the small size of the room itself.  Strals strolled in and out of the crowd to join in the moshing community.  Whether he was grinding on some unsuspecting woman or wandering aimlessly with a blank stare painted on his face, Strals’ interaction with the crowd will remind you of the beauty of small shows.  Too often fans are forced to stand at a distance from a band in stadiums, concert halls and other venues.  The beauty of Double Dagger’s performance lies in the fan’s visceral connection with the band as both sides of the music experience collided in a celebration of life and community.

The Coathangers Can’t Stop Stompin’

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

In the 1980s, D.C. was the home of a thriving punk scene that churned out such legends as Fugazi and Bad Brains.  While the capital’s rock scene has seen its share of ups and downs throughout the years, it remains ever-friendly to up-and-coming punk bands.  On April 21, in true punk tradition the Black Cat hosted Atlanta rockers The Coathangers along with Sick Sick Birds and (stop worrying and) Love the Bomb.

The night started with a short, yet fun and energetic set by the Washington punk band (stop worrying and) Love the Bomb.  The local group got the crowd riled up with their fast, battling punk guitar riffs and gritty screaming vocals.  It was a bit refreshing to see classic punk spirit and song structures alive and well, with all of its members showing a passion for the genre.  Beginning a number of their songs with the classic “1, 2, 3, 4!” countdown and strumming away with the occasional amp feedback, the group’s stripped-down songs provided a fun introduction to the rest of the night.

The crowd soon grew as Baltimore rockers Sick Sick Birds took the stage, providing their own brand of upbeat garage punk.  The band was riddled with technical difficulties, but as lead singer Mike tended to his guitar, the rest of the band traded clever banter back and forth with the audience about old television sitcoms like Coach and Cheers.  Once the guitar was completely in tune, the singer returned to the mic and busted right back into his excitement, jumping up and down and belting out lyrics with the perfect complementary vocals of his band mates.

Unfortunately for the headlining band, the crowd began to dissipate after the Sick Sick Birds left the stage.  The loyal, local following of the two opening bands translated into a severe loss for The Coathangers.  Although they played to a crowd that was probably no larger than 20 or so people, the all-girl four piece from Atlanta played their hearts out for the fans that stuck around.

Upon hearing their name, it is obvious that these four girls could care less about being prim and proper.  With songs titles like “Nestle in My Boobies” and “Suck My Left One,” these girls hit the stage with ferocity and high-squealing vocals that point a middle finger at anyone doubting their abilities.  The band got its start in 2006 after playing a joke show at a house party and released their first 7” in 2007.  Since that time they have produced two full-length albums, the latest of which was 2009’s “Scramble” on Suicide Squeeze Records.

As the band set up their equipment, it was hard to tell just how much energy they would put into the show.  Keyboardist Bebe Coathanger stood quietly behind her instrument, staring around the room, seemingly disinterested and in a daze.  However, as soon as the music kicked in she came to life.  Throwing her unkempt hair from side to side and contorting her face as she screamed into the microphone, Bebe danced and played her way through the set with explosive energy.  Bassist Minnie laid down her bass grooves in the back while guitarist Crook Kid bobbed up and down and drummer Rusty beat her drumset to death.

It’s almost impossible to define the sound of The Coathangers, minimalist in a lot of respects but energetic and chaotic.  The slower “Stop Stomp Stompin’” quickly transitioned into the fierce, garage sound of “Getting Mad and Pumpin Iron” in which the girls proudly proclaim that they’ll “break your f***** face.”  Their in-your-face attitude and lively stage presence resembles a persona closer to The Runaways than The Donnas, proving that an all-girl band can truly rock out with as much audacity and irreverence as any male counterpart out there.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is anything but an “Infidel”

By Alexandra Wells
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Fair use image provided by author's website.

Having all your life’s decisions made by the male head of a family is unimaginable to many Western women. However, this is the way that some Muslim women in the Middle East are raised, it is then “normal.” One woman who grew up in this climate is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who tells a unique tale in her memoir, “Infidel.”

Ali explains herself as a woman who went from quietly submitting her will in Saudi Arabia to loudly announcing her thoughts in Dutch politics. She opens with a scene of herself at age 5, sitting on a grass mat in Somalia with her grandmother, and reciting her ancestry, “I am Ayaan, the daughter of Hirsi, the son of Magan.” As she falters for a second, her grandmother quickly speaks up to the nervous Ali, telling her, “If you dishonor him you will be forsaken. You will be nothing…”

The autobiography is extremely touching, a gripping read that is hard to put down. Ali uses descriptive prose to describe dire situations: her escape of an arranged marriage, the numerous death threats she received after her co-production of a controversial film and her atrocious beatings and female mutilation as a child. She manages to step back from the situation at hand and discuss the roots of her problems.

Many times when people are physically and emotionally downtrodden, they choose to curl up and ignore the outside world. In Ali’s case, she did the exact opposite and decided to help bring freedom to other oppressed women around the globe. Her political and religious positions are extremely liberal, especially for a female coming from a Muslim background, and for this she has suffered but not given up.

Her father disowned her when she chose to stay in the Netherlands and earn her degree in political science. Fundamental Islamists sent her death threats and tried to tarnish her public image. Ali however, has remained stalwartly committed to her cause of women’s rights, her voice bold. Her current method of reforming free speech for women in Muslim countries is through her election to the Netherlands’ House of Parliament, where she serves as a Representative.

She does not try to make herself out to be innocent or angelic and she recognizes that she had to be selfish in order to make it to where she is today. A sense of regret in hurting her strict Muslim family comes through during her recollection of childhood, but she does not waiver in her decision to fight religious injustice, which directed primarily towards women. She is truly resilient, springing back into action when it looks as if all the doors in her life are closed to her.

Seeing Ali’s thoughts turn from basic religious submission to questioning the dogma is an out of the ordinary change, but the true transformation in her life comes about when she begins to turn her thoughts into actions. Her deep sense of right and wrong, coupled with a curiosity and intelligence, allow Ali to learn from her life lessons rather becoming bitter and resentful. Sheer courage emanates from her pages, as she concludes her book saying, “Even with bodyguards and death threats I feel privileged to be alive and free.”

Perfecting “The Liar”

We went to see a tech/dress rehearsal of “The Liar,” a new show opening this week at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington. Excerpts from students’ impressions follow:

Photo provided by the Shakespeare Theater Company

Charlie Carroll:

When observing a comedic play, it’s easy to believe that the witty verse, precise timing and hilarious slapstick simply come out of a well-developed script.  After observing a dress rehearsal for David Ives’ adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s “The Liar,” it became clear just how much work goes into perfecting the tiniest details of a play.

The version of the play presented at the Lansburgh Theatre is what Broadway playwright David Ives describes as a “translaptation,” a translation of the French original, tweaking certain character traits and plot points to adapt the screenplay to modern times while remaining true to the spirit of the story.  “The Liar” tells the story of Dorante (Christian Conn), a smug, French aristocrat who continuously lies to get everything he desires.  Dorante uses his charm and cunning wit to fool his father and friends and win over the affections of the beautiful Clarice (Erin Partin) and Lucrece (Miriam Silverman).  However, for every lie he tells, Dorante must construct at least two more to get himself out of each unfavorable situation created by his tangled web of deception.

Upon entering the Lansburgh Theatre, the beauty of the golden lobby immediately drew me into the spirit of the theatre.  After being greeted by one of the production assistants, our class was led into the actual theatre.  Spread throughout the theatre were a number of soundboards, wires and other logistical instruments with production assistants weaving in and out of the aisles working to make sure the rehearsal ran smoothly.

The director of the play, Michael Kahn, sat directly in the middle, leaning back nonchalantly in his seat with a large microphone sitting in front of him.  The stage was empty, save for the beautifully designed set.  At Kahn’s command, Tony Roach, who plays Alcippe, appeared onstage as the stagehands retracted the balconies overlooking the stage, morphing the set from a pristine plaza setting to the inside of a lavish French house.  As Roach awaited Kahn’s cue, he stood in place mouthing his lines to himself, mimicking sword parries and thrusts in preparation for his short monologue.

Kahn was nothing less than demanding, allowing Roach to recite his lines for no more than 10 seconds before he asked the actor to start over.  This process would continue once Roach had satisfied Kahn’s demands.  The set was returned to the beautiful outdoor plaza, with a poodle-shaped bush, surrounded by a circular stone bench, set as the centerpiece.  For at least ten minutes David Sabin, who plays Dorante’s father Geronte, was asked to re-do his opening, barely making it past his first couple of lines each time.

By the time Conn made his way onto the stage with Adam Green, who plays Dorante’s trusty servant Cliton, the director spent the following two hours going over what amounts to no more than a 10-15 minute scene in the actual play.  Kahn’s direction ranged anywhere from Dorante’s placement and lighting under a balcony to specific hand gestures made between him and Geronte during their conversation.  Although Kahn’s loud commands were made a bit too frequently, the attention to detail and subtle changes made a world of difference.  By the end of the scene the actors perfected their comedic deliveries, hinting at a promising future for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s latest production.

David Lewis:

The director, of course, is the maestro. But it’s interesting to see the actors themselves suggest ways they can best portray their roles. It is here you get to see the actors at their most vulnerable, pacing around the stage while trying to remember their lines and figuring out what they should do and say to capture their characters and environment.

Though much of the play’s humor will come from the movement and dialogue of the actors, seeing many of these characters walk one by one onto the stage with their over-embellished costumes, especially the men, will also give the audience laughs.  The costumes reflect — and spoof — the exuberance of the period.

Alexandra Wells:

… The director, Michael Kahn, a god of the theater world, embodied everything that I stereotypically conjure when I visualize any brilliant man of the arts. He was extremely attuned to detail, and also knew when to let the actors explore their own characters via poses, ad libbed dialogue or facial expressions.

Tauren Dyson:

Play rehearsals are not supposed to be fun … the process is supposed to feature a bunch of mercurial actors who can’t get along with the director and constantly blow lines. Watching the Shakespeare Theatre Wednesday, it seemed as though the cast and crew weren’t aware of what they were supposed to be doing. That is, they exhibited none of the aforementioned characteristics … and worked well together.

Jeremy Walsh:

… Unfortunately, the adaptation tried to get a little too creative by interweaving classical language and ironic phrasing with hints of the modern world.

For example, Dorante’s beeping wristwatch plays an important role in the scene’s elaborate lie. Hints such as a digital watch are apparently dropped randomly … but the play doesn’t seem to explain why these characters from nearly five centuries ago wear digital watches and send text messages. … Disregarding this misguided attempt to connect modern society should be easy for the modern audiences because the hilarious jokes and beautiful setting will occupy their attention and keep them thoroughly entertained.

Elise Lundstrom:

We observed the inner workings of this scenes, the actors and Kahn going back and forth on what made the most sense on stage and what techniques had the most comedic effect. We were encouraged to laugh if things were funny, and laugh we did.

Elizabeth Ward:

Another reason to get excited is in the show’s details. Set in 17th century Paris, the production is lavish in set and costume. One parlor scene is encompassed by tall, black-and-white Victorian panels and accentuated in chartreuse accessories: a chandelier here and a sitting bench there. This then seamlessly opens up onto a street scene centered on a poodle-shaped hedge and two apartment balconies lined in magenta and yellow daisies.

Leslie Byford:

Whether it was how something was said, or how they entered or exited, Kahn seemed to value their opinions (something I’m not sure many directors take into consideration) … no matter how many times he stopped and started a scene over, the actors and the rest of the production team didn’t seem to mind. He managed to keep things light with his own brand of humor …

Arrien Davison:

With every punchline, the director would stop the performance … that line would be funnier if you lean against the wall, he would say. I initially thought he was just being picky … but after the actors took his suggestions and made those changes, it was, indeed, funnier.

Local history remembered at National Portrait Gallery

By Lauren Linhard
ArtsPost Staff Writer

The National Portrait Gallery looks out at today’s Penn Quarter. Modern and bustling, the area houses the International Spy Museum, The National Museum of American Art, and the Verizon Center. So much more than a tourist trap, the quarter is defined by decades of history and culture. The “Glimpse of the Past: A Neighborhood Evolves” exhibition documents that evolution, from the late 1800s to what you see today.

The exhibit is a collection of photographs chronicling the changes around the old Patent Office Building. The photos were donated by various organizations including the D.C. Preservation League, the Library of Congress and The Historical Society of Washington.  Each wall of the Allan J and Reda R Riley Gallery is dedicated to a different part of the neighborhood: F Street, 9th Street, G Street, and 7th Street. The title wall features a series of photographs and captions narrating the Patent Office’s transition to The National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art.

Though it initially seems a brief walk-through, the exhibit becomes a timely reminiscence as families from the area point out pictures to their children. A strong sense of Washington pride echoes in the gallery. “Look,” said one father to his daughter, “this is what the metro use to look like.” Another mother pointed to a picture saying “This is where we live! This is Washington.” There is an obvious pleasure at having an exhibit dedicated to home.

The F Street and 9th Street wall gives a before-and-after account of the area. It describes the modernization program, led by Alexander R. Shepherd, the head of the Board of Public Works. By the 1920s the surrounding neighborhood was thriving with restaurants, department stores and entertainment.  This section also includes photos narrating the history of the Masonic Temple on F Street, Velati’s candy store on the corner of 9th and G, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Library.

The G Street and 7th Street wall depicts the gradual decline and eventual rise of the Penn Quarter. This section documents the five days of rioting in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The photos of the riots are paired with photos of the crumbling Hecht Company building. The display marks the development of the Metro in 1976 and the opening of the Verizon Center in 1997 as landmark moments in the revival of the district.

The exhibit includes an interactive component featuring photos taken by local artist Chris Earnshaw. He focuses on the area during the 1960s and 1970s.

The gallery is connected to the second-floor balcony, encouraging visitors to gaze out at the current Penn Quarter. For those who aren’t fluent in the history of Washington, the ability to contrast the before-and-after of the exhibit and the view outside enhances the historical message. There is tangible evidence that the modern world seen from the balcony directly reflects the history and culture inside the gallery.

The “Glimpse of the Past: A Neighborhood Evolves” exhibit will be showing at the National Portrait Gallery till January 2012. The history, culture and admission is free.