He Brought Her Heart Back In a Box — Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre
The Virtual Adrienne Kennedy Play Festival
“I’m an American citizen, could you please let me up and breathe?” pleads Teddy Alexander to the police officer who has beaten, dragged, and pinned the young Black college student down in his family’s driveway — the result of a mere broken taillight — and will go on to flip the script, accusing Alexander of assaulting him. The semi-autobiographical drama Sleep Deprivation Chamber is as painfully relevant today as it was when it won the Obie Award for Best New American Play nearly 25 years ago. This Saturday, Nov. 21, Bethesda’s Round House Theatre will begin streaming a digital adaptation of the play directed by Raymond Caldwell and featuring Deimoni Brewington, Kim James Bey, David Schlumpf, and Rex Daughterty. Co-written by Adrienne Kennedy, one of the country’s most prolific yet rarely produced living playwrights, alongside her own son Adam P. Kennedy, Sleep Deprivation Chamber is presented as part of a virtual play festival intended to make more people familiar with the elder Kennedy, credited as a major influence on Suzan-Lori Parks, Robert O’Hara, and Shonda Rhimes.
As the festival press release puts it, “Despite her outsized influence, three Obie Awards, and induction into the Theater Hall of Fame, Adrienne Kennedy is not a household name. This festival is a celebration of why she should be.” Presented in association with the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J., the four-play festival kicked off last week with a production, directed by Nicole A. Watson, of He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box. On Saturday, Dec. 5, Ohio State Murders, Kennedy’s startling one-act exploration of lost innocence and American racism, will be released. The festival concludes with the world premiere of a theatrical adaptation of Kennedy’s 1999 book Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side, directed by Timothy Douglas and starring Caroline Clay.
Four in-depth panel discussions will be posted to Round House’s YouTube page as free supplements to the plays, with titles including “Influence & Imagination” featuring playwrights Zakiyyah Alexander, Haruna Lee, and Paula Vogel (up now); “Acting Adrienne Kennedy” (Nov. 30); “Critical Reflections,” exploring the critical and academic response to Kennedy’s work with the Washington Post‘s Peter Marks and the Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Rohan Preston (Dec. 7); and “The Black Avant Garde” examining experimental works by Black artists and featuring performance artist Daniel Alexander Jones (Dec. 14).
After their release dates, the four plays will be available for streaming through Feb. 28, 2021. Tickets are $15 for each play, or $60 for a festival pass. Call 240-644-1100 or visit www.RoundHouseTheatre.org.
Edge of the Universe players: Kimberly Gilbert, Jamie Smithson,
The Marriage Proposal
A satire critical of marrying for money rather than love, Anton Chekhov wrote this one-act comic farce in the late 19th-century. The quick-paced and quick-witted play proved to be a success with audiences in its day — almost in spite of Chekhov, who is said to have derided farces as “wretched, boring, vulgar.”
Actually, this play sounds like the opposite of that. The Marriage Proposal focuses on a man eager to marry the daughter of his neighbor. Yet Ivan botches every attempt to connect and propose to Natalia, with his passion getting the best of him until almost everything that could go wrong does. Referring to it as “a timely play about three people who just can’t stop arguing with each other,” The Edge of the Universe Players 2 had intended to stage a production of The Marriage Proposal at this year’s Capital Fringe until the pandemic struck.
The company retooled their plans, opting to stage the work as an audio play instead. “In these tumultuous times, a play about people in seemingly inevitable, constant conflict feels very relevant,” reads the press release. Stephen Jarrett directs a production starring a stellar cast that includes Kimberly Gilbert, Cody Nickell, and Jamie Smithson.
The Marriage Proposal is available through Dec. 2. Free, with a suggested donation of $5. Visit www.universeplayers2.org.
Vogue: Return to the ’90s
Last March, the Congressional Chorus was set to go with the kind of choral cabaret it has become known for over the years — in this case, a trip back to the musical era of the 1990s, a decade that launched with Madonna’s ballroom culture-appropriating hit “Vogue.” And then, just as they were ready to strike a pose, the pandemic struck a blow. Eight months later, the group will perform a de facto highlights reel from that show, offering favorites as selected by the choristers themselves and presented as the first concert of the 2020-2021 season. Featuring the full auditioned adult chorus plus the organization’s a cappella Chamber Ensemble and the NorthEast Senior Singers, the program also serves as the organization’s first full-length virtual concert.
Artistic Director Chris Urquiaga calls the experience “a big learning process” for all involved. That process, in which all singers and featured artists performed and recorded their parts separately, began with Urquiaga creating “guide tracks” for each song to help “the first singers from each section record their parts, singing along to my piano part and the guide so that we can try to give the sensation of a blended choral.” The recording experts with Arts Laureate helped coach the ensemble through the process, while Steve Benzek served as video editor. Meanwhile, choreographer Darryl Pilate and dance captain Kelly Griffin led a group of dancers to supplement the vocal performance of “Vogue” along with a joyous anthem by another diva that came later in the ’90s decade, “I Just Want To Be Happy” by Gloria Estefan. Calling it “very upbeat and positive,” Urquiaga considers the song, and the concert in general, “the ideal medicine for the times we’re living in.”
Vogue: Return to the ’90s will stream beginning Saturday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m., followed by a virtual after-party and Q&A session, from www.youtube.com/CongChorus. Free with a suggested donation of $20. RSVP requested for access link. Call 202-629-3140 or visit www.congressionalchorus.org.
In many ways, the year 2020 has turned out to be a breakthrough year for Dua Lipa, although not in the way the 25-year-old pop star had planned. The aspiring gay-popular diva kicked things off in the grandest and gayest way possible: a headline performance at Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras at the end of February. Exactly one month later, Lipa released her sophomore album Future Nostalgia, which packed in “a whole lot of disco-pop brilliance” and providing “some much-needed joy,” as Metro Weekly music critic Sean Maunier wrote in his review. It certainly was an auspicious start to the year for Lipa, and the London-born artist of Albanian descent was gearing up for an extensive worldwide arena tour in 2020, likely culminating in her first stadium tour through the U.S.
At this point, a U.S. tour is unlikely before 2022 — especially given that the initial European dates of Lipa’s Future Nostalgia Tour have been pushed all the way back from the spring of 2020 to the fall of 2021. During the ongoing pandemic, Lipa has busied herself with production projects, including Club Future Nostalgia, the mixtape-styled remix collection released in August and put together with help from DJ The Blessed Madonna plus guest contributions from Missy Elliott, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Mark Ronson, Stuart Price, and Masters at Work. Even more significantly is Lipa’s upcoming global livestream Studio 2054. Set to stream next Friday, Nov. 27, the online concert is billed as a “multi-dimensional live experience” that is “more live movie than regular live show,” and one in which Lipa will sing, dance, move, and groove “with an interstellar cast of guest stars, surprise performers, acrobats, and artists” — including Belgian singer Angèle and English singer FKA Twigs — all shot in a warehouse in London with custom-built sets.
An official description of the livestream goes over the top in elaborating on details, calling it a “kaleidoscopic, rocket-fueled journey through time, space, mirrorballs, roller discos, bucket hats, belting beats, throbbing basslines, and an absolute slam dunk of the best of times in global club culture throughout the decades.”
Studio 2054 will stream via LiveNow on Friday, Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. in the Eastern U.S. Tickets are $14.99, or $20 including pre-show footage and a virtual After Show Party with Lipa and guest DJs. Visit www.dualipa.com.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings — Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
“What Have You Done for Me Lately,” Janet Jackson’s breakout hit from 1986, is barely recognizable in the funkified rendition offered up by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The same is true for Prince’s “Take Me With U,” which the unreconstructed soul and funk ensemble originally transformed for a tribute project to the Purple One. Both covers, which can take a few listens to fully appreciate, are standout tracks on the group’s latest collection, an all-covers set whose title stems from “Just Dropped In,” the psychedelic rock song that was the first major hit for the late Kenny Rogers. As it happens, the cover also became the very first recording made at the DaptoneHouse of Soul in 2002.
At that time, Jones was a 40-something New Yorker working as a security guard who had all-but given up on becoming a recording artist after some two decades of trying. Then she stumbled into a recording session with a couple of producers whose horn-fueled soul/funk sound would go on to power a slew of hits for artists ranging from Amy Winehouse to Bruno Mars. While they never reached that level of mainstream success, the multi-racial collective known as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings nonetheless scored legions of fans with their prolific output of original material, all of it thoroughly and proudly steeped in the gritty, grisly soul and funk sound of the Civil Rights Era. Over the years, the powerhouse frontwoman has been called the female James Brown — and the comparison goes well beyond the mere fact that the two actually share a hometown of Augusta, Georgia.
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In) features songs popularized by Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Woody Guthrie, Gladys Knight, and the Marvelettes. The covers album, released late last month in digital format, stands as the second posthumous set issued since Jones’ untimely death in 2016 at the age of 60 after a multi-year battle with pancreatic cancer. (It follows 2017’s Soul of a Woman, the band’s last album of original recordings.) Just Dropped in… will also be released in a special limited-edition vinyl format intended for gift-giving on RSD Black Friday on Nov. 29. Visit https://sharonjones.ffm.to/covers and www.recordstoreday.com.
Hillwood Christmas Tree — Courtesy Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens
Season’s Greetings at Hillwood
Every year, the Hillwood mansion and estate, tucked away in the leafy, hilly Van Ness area of Upper Northwest, becomes a sight to see for the holidays. Fortunately, that hasn’t changed even during the pandemic. “Hillwood remains a safe way to enjoy the holiday splendor with precautionary measures in place,” reads the museum’s website. That’s especially the case with a theme inspired by the new publication A Garden for All Seasons: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood, which documents the way Post created a garden paradise with a diverse and verdant array of trees, shrubs, and plants across the estate’s 13 acres, offering something to see all year long. Outside in the gardens, guests can take in conifers such as blue atlas cedar and false cypress showing off their evergreen boughs, while holly and witch hazel provide bright spots of color.
Still, the real action, as ever, is indoors, where large, glittering Christmas trees have been decorated to glorify different seasons. Guests are warmly welcomed in the mansion entry hall by the sight of a tree ornamented with the colors of fall, mostly by way of natural objects, such as leaves, mums, pumpkins, and gourds. Meanwhile, the tree in the French drawing room provides a sense of calm with an overflow of peonies and tulips blooming in spring shades of soft pinks, peaches, and whites. The large tree in the dining room bursts with the colorful annuals, vivid blossoms, and tropical plants heralding summer, including dahlias, cockscombs, and snapdragons cut from the garden. Finally, there’s the elegant winter-inspired tree in the pavilion, ornamented with verdant kale, magnolia leaves, and intricate branches, and accented with orchids in glass bulbs, all blanketed by a skirt of cool snow.
For those who would prefer a virtual holiday Hillwood experience, the museum will offer a Virtual Holiday Décor Tour led by designer Ami Wilber on Dec. 8; two Virtual Floral Design Workshops in which Wilber will show how to craft one-of-a-kind holiday arrangements, on Dec. 9 and Dec. 11; and an Online Winter Adventure with the Snow Maiden, an immersive storytelling experience for children led by performer Natasha Mirny, on Dec. 12.
Season’s Greetings opens Nov. 24. Hillwood is located at 4155 Linnean Ave. NW. Timed-entry tickets are required in advance during the pandemic. Suggested donation of $18. Call 202-686-5807 or visit www.hillwoodmuseum.org.
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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.
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