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The base jumper, who fell 24 miles to earth in 2012, told an audience about the time he became the first engineless human to break the sound barrier. By Sophie Gilbert
The exhibit “Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space” at the National Air and Space Museum. Photograph by Eric Long, courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of Felix Baumgartner’s record-smashing, 24-mile Red Bull Stratos skydive on October 14, 2012, was also the one thing keeping him alive: his suit. “It was like breathing through a pillow,” the 44-year-old Austrian told an audience at the National Air and Space Museum Tuesday. His claustrophobia inside the pressurized suit got so bad that he fled to an airport in 2010 before he was supposed to take an endurance test, and flew back to Austria. “That was probably the worst moment of my life,” he said. “I was always trying to find my limit, and at that moment, I found it.”

With the help of a psychiatrist he eventually triumphed, and the suit he wore when he broke the sound barrier goes on display Wednesday at the Smithsonian museum, alongside the balloon gondola that carried him above the earth. A panel including Baumgartner, Colonel Joe Kittinger (Baumgartner’s capsule communicator and the previous world-record holder for freefalling), and technical project director Art Thompson discussed the genesis of the project and its future legacy both for military servicemen and for civilians as commercial spaceflight becomes a reality.

Baumgartner’s parachute was the first parachute designed for supersonic freefall, and although his suit was a standard S1034 pressurized space suit, it had to be reconfigured at the hip and arm sockets to allow Baumgartner the posture he required for the jump. His mentor was Kittinger, now 85, who had previously managed a jump from 100,000 feet above the earth in 1960 without a pressurized cabin, meaning he was exposed to temperatures of -94 degrees Fahrenheit—“pretty cold for a redneck,” Kittinger said.

Unlike Kittinger, who only had 33 parachute jumps under his belt when he took his record-breaking jump, Baumgartner had thousands. But the Austrian daredevil initially struggled when it came to convincing his technical crew he was serious. “We had no respect from these guys, because we were an energy-drink company and a base jumper,” he said. “I don’t think in the beginning they really believed in what we wanted to do.”

Ultimately, though, the jump became entirely a team effort; Baumgartner described Kittinger’s voice in his ear on the way up as the thing that helped him the most. “We had his life in our hands, and we knew it,” said Kittinger. Baumgartner described how from the minute he opened the cabin door, he knew he was 50 percent less safe, thanks to his interior environment now being as dangerous as the environment outside it. “I took a last look at the beauty of the earth,” he said. “I could see the curve of the earth, and I looked up at the black sky, which was completely different from normal sky, and I took a jump into the unknown.”

After the panel discussion, the audience asked questions, including what Baumgartner did the night before he jumped. He laughed, then looked uncomfortable. “Are there kids in the audience?” he asked, before describing how he knew there was no way he was going to get any sleep. He was also asked what his thoughts were as he made the jump. “I was so disciplined, so focused, that there wasn’t a lot room left for emotions,” he said. “I was focused on what was coming.”

“Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space,” featuring Felix Baumgartner’s pressurized balloon gondola and suit, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall until May 26, and will eventually be moved permanently to the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles airport. For more information, visit the museum’s website.

Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 04/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
British company Kneehigh’s multimedia production is an extravaganza of charm and whimsy. By Sophie Gilbert
Joe Alessi as Albert, Annette McLaughlin as Mrytle, Jim Sturgeon as Alec, and Hannah Yelland as Laura in Brief Encounter.

The extramarital love affair between Alec and Laura in 1945’s Brief Encounter has always been one of the 20th century’s iconic cinematic romances (burnished amply by the thumping melodrama of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2), but what’s remarkable about it from a 21st-century perspective is how slight it is. Not chaste, although it’s mostly that, too, but flimsy—more an expression of two dissatisfied people finding they’re free to be themselves when they’re with each other than an epic conflagration of emotional intensity.

Kneehigh, a Cornish theater company from the UK, presents its thrilling, endlessly creative production of Brief Encounter at Shakespeare Theatre through April 13, having already staged the show at several stops across the world, including a well-received run in New York. Hannah Yelland, who most recently starred at Shakespeare in the company’s stellar A Winter’s Tale, reprises her Tony-nominated role as Laura, a middle-class housewife who happens to meet a dashing doctor, Alec (Jim Sturgeon), at a railway station. The setting, where much of the show’s action takes place, is apt—what better metaphor could there be for a frenzy of different options and chance opportunities, all heightened by the urgency of time?

Brief Encounter was itself based on Noël Coward’s 1938 short play Still Life, and Kneehigh’s production cleverly incorporates both works, using the medium of black-and-white cinema and a number of theatrical tricks to envelop the audience in the action. We’re in the cinema as the show opens, surrounded by a number of in-character ushers who continually shush Alec when he despairingly tells Laura that he’s fallen in love with her. Laura’s husband, Fred (Joe Alessi), talks to her from inside the film projected onto a white backdrop. To say more would spoil the surprise, but director and adapter Emma Rice manages to find a way to fuse cinema and theater that’s totally ingenious (the film scenes are by Gemma Carrington and John Driscoll).

Also ingenious, although at times it edges toward distracting, is the way Rice pads out the slender scenes between Alec and Laura with vintage songs written by Coward and performed by two musicians (Dave Brown and James Gow) and a handful of actors. Each number considers love, but in a very different way, whether it’s the prim mistress of the station tea counter, Myrtle Baggott (Annette McLaughlin), bemoaning how she’s no good at love or her saucy employee, Beryl (Dorothy Atkinson), crooning how mad she is about the boy while draped seductively around a double bass.

The most affecting is when Beryl’s paramour, Stanley (Damon Daunno), sings, “Go Slow, Johnny” while Alec and Laura are tentatively removing their clothes after having fallen in a lake. Daunno, the lone American among the cast, may not quite nail the Cockney accent, but the way he languorously drawls and plays the ukelele while curled up on a piece of scenery like the man in the moon makes for one of the show’s most emotionally profound moments.

Other devices Rice uses to add dimension to the show include some enthralling trickery with trains, using first the actors, then props, then finally film footage to convey the loud discombobulation of an express going past. There are also moments in which fantasy takes over, as when Alec and Laura, on their first illicit date, appear to be swimming together in a vast glass of Champagne, with the bubbles projected onto the stage’s backdrop. The production uses puppets to portray Laura and Fred’s two children, which is endearing but, like much of the other magical realism within the show, perhaps detracts a little from the intensity of the love affair.

Yelland is infinitely magnetic as Laura, and Rice wisely makes the most of her photogenic features by transferring them onto the big screen behind the stage several times. Yelland communicates Laura’s unhappiness with a palpable sense of hurt, and deftly portrays the guilt she feels at leading something of a double life. Sturgeon as Alec is blandly handsome and agreeably charming, but his character ultimately lacks the dimensionality to truly be compelling—beyond the fact that he’s a doctor with a wife and two sons, thanks to the play’s slim origins, we find out very little about him.

Still, Brief Encounter is a satisfying 90 minutes, thanks both to the skilled performances from the cast (Mrs. Baggott’s fake bottom deserves a credit of its own) and the sheer inventiveness with which Rice and Kneehigh approach theater. This is the kind of show that tests the boundaries of what can be done on a stage, and makes you wonder why more productions aren’t as imaginative.

Brief Encounter is at Shakespeare Theatre through April 13. Running time is 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($30 to $75) are available at Shakespeare’s website.

Posted at 04:31 PM/ET, 04/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
“Brief Encounter” at Shakespeare, Brecht at Signature, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at Arena, and much more this month. By Sophie Gilbert
See the musical Hair at Keegan Theatre, plus plenty more in town this month. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.


At Shakespeare Theatre, Cornwall, England’s Kneehigh theater company presents Brief Encounter. The show—acclaimed in London and New York—is inspired by both Noël Coward’s play Still Life and its 1945 movie version, Brief Encounter, starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Through April 13.

At 1st Stage is Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, a black comedy about the buzz generated when a Hollywood filmmaker descends upon a sleepy Irish town. Through April 20.

Arguendo, a co-commission by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, New York’s Public Theater, and two other institutions, depicts a 1991 Supreme Court decision on public nudity following a case filed by two Indiana strip clubs, as imagined by the New York theater company Elevator Repair Service. Arguendo “is so wittily inventive that it makes you think that the Elevator Repair Service might as well have a go at the Pittsburgh phone directory next,” the New York Times said. April 1 through 27.

Round House Theatre presents Two Trains Running, August Wilson’s drama exploring life in an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh. April 2 through 27.

At MetroStage, John Vreeke directs The Thousandth Night, a spin on the Scheherazade story, about an actor in 1943 France who attempts to get a stay of execution by playing 38 characters from The Arabian Nights. April 3 through May 18.

The 89-year-old actor Hal Holbrook returns with Mark Twain Tonight, his one-man show about the American writer, which he first performed 55 years ago. At National Theatre April 4 and 5.

At Round House Silver Spring, Snow Angel, David Lindsay-Abaire’s 1999 play, set in Vermont during a blizzard, is this year’s Sarah Metzger Memorial Play, staged by high-schoolers in memory of a local theater student who died in a car accident. April 4 through 12.

Local actor Tom Story makes his directorial debut at Studio Theatre with Moth, a dark play by Declan Greene about two teens who fall into despair after being bullied at school. April 9 through May 4.

Olney Theatre reprises Once on Thus Island, the 24-year-old musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Rocky) about a girl on a Caribbean island who tries to bring a community together. April 9 through May 4.

The second play in Theater Js Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival is Golda’s Balcony, William Gibson’s play about Golda Meir and her journey from immigrant to teacher to prime minister of Israel. Tovah Feldshuh, a Tony nominee for the Broadway run, stars. April 10 through 27.

Psalmayene 24 presents the final installment of his hip-hop trilogy at Imagination Stage in Cinderella: The Remix. The play reimagines Cinderella as a wannabe deejay and musician in a world where girls are shut out. April 12 through May 25.

At Folger Theatre, Fiasco Theater, a small New York company, premieres its newest production, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “Fiasco . . . reminds us what theater, at its simplest and most powerful, is really for,” New York magazine wrote. April 17 through May 25.

At Signature Theatre, Matthew Gardiner directs The Threepenny Opera, Brecht’s satire about London beggars with music by Kurt Weill. April 22 through June 1.

Arena Stage presents Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Lieber and Stoller, famous for being Broadway’s longest-running musical revue. April 25 through June 8.

At DC’s Source, Constellation Theatre’s Allison Arkell Stockman directs The Love of the Nightingale, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1989 play depicting the Greek myth of Philomela, who was transformed into a nightingale after an assault by her brother-in-law. April 27 through May 25.

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Posted at 12:12 PM/ET, 04/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The ten-year-old musical about misfit tweens gets a charming revival downtown. By Sophie Gilbert
Vishal Vaidya (background), Kevin McAllister, Kristen Garaffo, Carolyn Agan (background), and Vincent Kempski in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

What might Abraham Lincoln say if he knew that almost 150 years after his death, an actor would be standing in the very same room where John Wilkes Booth assassinated a president, singing a musical number about an unwanted erection?

To obsess over unfortunately public protuberances, though, is to do a disservice to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the gently risqué and mostly charming musical about a bunch of misfit tween spellers currently playing at Ford’s Theatre. The show, which debuted ten years ago, came through the National Theatre in 2007 and had a run at Dupont’s Keegan Theatre in 2011, during which time most of the topical jokes revolved around Anthony Weiner and his own unfortunately public display of exuberance.

Ford’s current production, directed by Peter Flynn, doesn’t do anything to reinvent the tried-and-tested formula of the show, but it does prove that a wealth of TV shows such as Glee and The Big Bang Theory haven’t yet exhausted our desire to see nerds triumph. Ably leading the pack is Rachel Zampelli as Rona Lisa Perretti, a real-estate agent and former spelling champ who acts as host alongside the emotionally disturbed vice principal Douglas Panch (Matthew A. Anderson).

Among the spellers are civil-rights advocate Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Kristen Garaffo), whose unfortunate name comes from her two overbearing gay dads; Olive Ostrovsky (Caroyn Agan), whose father neglects her and whose mother is on an ashram in India; Leaf Coneybear (Nickolas Vaughan), whose whole family tells him repeatedly that he’s an idiot; and William Barfée (Vishal Vaidya), whose entire life has been spent telling people his name isn’t pronounced “barfy.” There’s also Chip Tolentino (Vincent Kempski), whose distracted thoughts about a fellow spellers’ sister leads to his premature ejection from the contest and the aforementioned song, “Chip’s Lament.”

The show’s ingenious use of audience interaction has always been one of its strongest qualities. Three theatergoers, picked before the show starts, join the spellers onstage as bee participants, prompting improvised digs at their appearance by VP Panch. (On press night, Anderson announced that one such speller said he was joining the Peace Corps, because “when you think gentle white guy, you think me.”)

These moments of unpredictability offer some respite from the otherwise mostly rote musical numbers by William Finn (the book is by Rachel Sheinkin). An early ensemble song, “Pandemonium,” is suitably scattered, although “Magic Foot,” an ode to Barfée’s atypical method of spelling, ends with an ingenious tap display choreographed by Michael Bobbitt. The most charismatic solo number from a speller comes from Marcy Park (Felicia Curry), an overachiever who sleeps three hours a night and isn’t allowed to cry, but who has some truly spectacular gymnastic skills as a result.

Both Flynn and set designer Court Watson have fun with the Lincoln theme—there’s a sign for “Lincoln’s Waffle House” hanging from the ceiling, and several of the kids express their delight at spelling words onstage at the site of a successful presidential assassination. The production also gets a visual boost from costume designer Wade Laboissonniere (possibly a former speller), who gets to express the kids’ eccentricities through Boy Scout badges, boxy blazers, and two-tone denim.

The one problematic performance is Kevin McAllister’s Mitch Mahoney, a “comfort counselor” doing community service whose posturing feels almost offensively stereotypical throughout the first half of the play (predictably, his early aggression is softened by the charm of the spellers). McAllister is much less cliched during his double duty sporting an apron as Logainne’s less pushy dad. Still, as ten-year-old musicals go, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has managed to stay notably fresh, possibly thanks to its enduring celebration of individuality and sesquipedalian language in all their ungainly splendor.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is at Ford’s Theatre through May 17. Running time is about one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($18 to $67) are available at Ford’s Theatre’s website.

Posted at 04:31 PM/ET, 03/31/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Thirty-six hours in, the kidnappers are focusing on someone within the White House. By Sophie Gilbert
True Detective season two. Just kidding, it’s Dunn and Finley racing through a hotel. Photograph courtesy of NBC.

We’re now 36 hours into the Ballard School kidnapping, and even though the parents of the missing children are among the most powerful people in the world, and even though one of them has already been caught assisting the kidnappers under duress, only now has it occurred to the FBI to start keeping an eye on, duh, the parents. This makes things fairly complicated for Agent Dunn—does she keep an eye on herself, since no one else knows her secret? It’s also nice to finally know that we’re operating under a kind of 24x12 time here, where each episode comprises exactly 12 hours where neither Dunn nor Finley nor anyone in the employ of the government gets any sleep.

Frank Beckwith (which feels like a very House of Cards-y name, don’t you think?), the President’s chief of staff, is next on Gibson’s call list, and because it’s impossible for the kidnapping team to smuggle a burner phone to him as they have with all the other parents, they instead place a call directly to him on a national security line. Much easier. Gibson wants Beckwith to call his very important friend General Osborne and set up a top-secret meeting. On the agenda? Truth and pain. How they didn’t make that the title of the episode, I have no idea, but yes, it’s most certainly a summation of Gibson’s greater mission here.

Dunn goes to interview the President and the First Lady and doesn’t think Finley should go, because he lost their son and all, but luckily they aren’t mad, because they know he got shot by Hearst and did everything he could and lots of other platitudes. The parents are being used by the kidnappers, Dunn tells them, and she works for those kidnapped kids, not the President, so if something shady happens, she will most certainly be investigating, no matter how big his Oval Office is. The President tells her that he swore an oath to the American people that he will not betray, even if that means letting his son die, so she’d better bring his son home before that’s a decision he’s obliged to make. Oh, and FLOTUS wants Finley to hurt the kidnappers whenever he does find them.

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Posted at 12:29 PM/ET, 03/31/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A comedy roast of WMATA and a welcome-to-spring happy hour with Tanqueray. By Jason Koebler
Head to Bar Pilar to welcome spring on Wednesday. Photograph courtesy of Bar Pilar via Facebook.

Monday, March 31

TRIVIA: The Brixton’s weekly trivia night has been taken over by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, which will insert special Billy Shakes-inspired questions throughout the night to promote its staging of Henry IV Parts I and II. If you win, you can get free tickets to the play and other special prize packs. Free. 7 PM.

Tuesday, April 1

COMEDY: Go back to the Brixton for its monthly comedy roast—this month, the lucky verbal assault subject is WMATA, so you can relieve some commuting-related rage with the help of some professional comedians. Free. 8 PM.

Wednesday, April 2

DRINKS: Tanqueray and Brightest Young Things take over Bar Pilar for a free welcome-to-spring happy hour, featuring two special, delicious-sounding gin cocktails. The food at Bar Pilar ain’t too shabby, either, so you can make a night out of it. Free (RSVP required). 5:30 PM.

Thursday, April 3

ART: Shaw’s Bistro Bohem hosts Undead Presidents, a night showing off the cartoony works of artist Jim Gutierrez. The event features a deejay, good drinks, good art, and small bar bites (which hopefully don’t include any human flesh to go along with the whole zombie president theme). Free. 7 PM.

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at, or find him on Twitter.

Posted at 10:19 AM/ET, 03/31/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The prodigal son—and daughter—return. By Tanya Pai
Papa Pope is in professorial mode this week. Photograph by Eric McCandless for ABC.

After last week’s emotional episode, Scandal was back to full soapy glory. Everyone was in the mood to get frisky, and Shonda Rhimes did her best to make us hate El Prez. To the recap.

The big news this week is that the First Son (Dylan Minnette) and Daughter (Madeline Carroll) have returned from the boarding school that apparently won’t let them out for national holidays or vacation but will release them to appear in a televised interview. Olivia is trying to juggle finding the source of B613’s funding so the Dream Team can cut it off and prepping the Grant family for this big live interview—no small feat, since in case you haven’t noticed, the Grants aren’t exactly the Cleavers. FLOTUS and El Prez remind each other that they’re a “happy couple,” while Olivia sits down to talk with the kids, and Jerry’s caginess makes her ask the Dream Team to look into what he’s been doing. Meanwhile, Olivia and El Prez go back to fooling around in front of the Oval Office window (seriously, why?), and FLOTUS and Andrew Nichols decide to do the dirty in a White House room with French doors that don’t lock and very gauzy curtains. Olivia, fresh from her bout of adultery, sees FLOTUS and then Nichols coming out of the room separately and, unbelievably, tells Nichols to stay away from Mellie. He immediately becomes my hero by looking her straight in the eye and saying, “Glass houses, Olivia.”

There’s also the small matter of a foreign terrorist named Dmitri who showed up outside Baltimore and then disappeared. To where? Oh, just the trunk of Charlie’s car. He and Quinn have kidnapped him at Ballard’s request, and torture him for information while Charlie continuously interrogates Quinn about Huck breaking into her apartment. “Do you want me to kill him?” he offers, which is a thing ONLY Quinn would think is sweet. Charlie also asks Quinn to move in (my notes: Ew), and she nicely tells him she changed the locks and has a gun, then goes back to gleefully power-drilling into Dmitri’s body. Charlie’s a lucky guy.

Papa Pope calls Olivia and tells her to stop digging into B613 because, being an all-powerful, all-seeing secret agency, they know when people are “traipsing” through government buildings digging up old budgets, and he’s already had to call in more than one favor on her behalf. She reminds him he was the one who said she’s responsible for dragging everyone into the light, including B613, and asks him for information, but he hangs up on her.

Back at the White House, Karen asks her mother why she chooses to stay with a cheater. “Nobody’s perfect,” FLOTUS says. Proving that point is Jerry, who, Olivia has just found out, has been running an anonymous anti-El Prez Twitter account, which includes a photo of him with a Photoshopped Hitler mustache that is amazing. Also he bought a Reston for President T-shirt online, which El Prez digs through his bag to find and then yells at both the kids. Karen runs out of the room—and straight into the room where FLOTUS is getting cozy with “Uncle Andrew.” This show goes from hilarious to gross in a heartbeat.

Ballard shows up at the Oval Office, and El Prez tells him to return Dmitri, to which Ballard says, “You don’t tell me to do anything because I’m not your bitch.” He tells El Prez his whole job is to hold babies and comfort people and look pretty, and he’s the one who actually runs the country. Insane power trips look good on Scott Foley, I have to say. Then in comes Cyrus, who rushes at Ballard and tries to attack him. El Prez tries to hold him back, as Cyrus screams that Ballard killed James, and then eventually he gives up and collapses on the couch. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Jake says as he leaves, and El Prez gazes after him perhaps realizing he’s made a huge mistake. Once Cyrus catches his breath he says brokenly that had James gone public he would have brought down Sally and the administration and the entire executive branch, so really Jake was just doing his job—“serving at the pleasure of the President, just like the rest of us.”

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Posted at 02:08 PM/ET, 03/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A controversial but important play has a stripped-down staging directed by Sinai Peter. By Sophie Gilbert
Michael Tolaydo and Kimberly Schraf in The Admission. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

Donald Rumsfeld suffered much derision for his garbled statement about known knowns and unknown unknowns in the year leading up to the Iraq War, but being in the uncomfortable position of knowing what we don’t know sustains much of the tension throughout The Admission, Motti Lerner’s new play at Theater J.

From the moment Giora (Danny Gavigan) is informed of a dissertation that points fingers at his own father, among others, for killing hundreds of Arabs in the village of Tantur in 1948, the hard facts of what actually occurred become less important than the question of whether they should be uncovered or laid to rest. It’s a question Theater J has grappled with, too, after the controversy that arose when its decision to stage The Admission was announced. Lerner, Theater J artistic director Ari Roth, and the packed house in attendance on opening night obviously believe in the imperative of art to examine impossible questions, while protest groups have decried the company’s “blood libel” against Israeli soldiers, saying that accusations of a massacre of Palestinian villagers are groundless.

Theater J’s response to the controversy was to pare down the production from 34 performances to 16 and present it as a “workshop” run, with minimal design elements. It’s a decision that ultimately benefits the show enormously—Sinai Peter’s streamlined show places the emphasis on the actors, primarily the haunted Gavigan, carrying the physical scars from his own time serving in the army in Lebanon in the two crutches he uses to get around; and Michael Tolaydo as his father, Avigdor, who uses maddening, labyrinthine explanations to excuse himself both to his family and to his own conscience.

The play is loosely based on Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, in which another wounded veteran confronts the guilt of his previously unimpeachable father, meaning there’s also a romantic conflict in Giora’s life that in this particular context often feels like a distraction. Giora is engaged to Neta (Elizabeth Anne Jernigan), with whom his parents desperately want him to settle down, but he still carries an Olympic-size torch for Samya (Leila Buck), an old colleague at the university where he teaches, and an Israeli Arab whose brother (Pomme Koch) has benefited from Avigdor’s altruism, but whose father (Hanna Eady) attempts to stab him in what appears to be a fit of madness but is considerably more complicated.

The show hinges on Giora, and Gavigan’s strong, layered performance carries the weight of the production. Giora bears his own guilt for killing women and children while targeting terrorists as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon, and his brother died in combat, giving him some insight into the impossible morality of war even before his father’s implied guilt begins to take over his life. At the end of act one, Avigdor confesses that his regiment killed, yes, but only 70 at most, not the 150 or even 220 that he’s accused of massacring, and that he was compelled to continue shooting to calm down the angry mob of thousands who surrounded him. The timing of this statement feels unfortunate, because it diminishes the tension of act two and makes Giora’s constant entreaties to his father start to feel a little repetitive.

It’s possible the show might function better as a single-act production with a faster tempo—at its current pace, the two-hour running time feels overly ponderous, even with the bombshells flying around the stage like Giora’s infamous grenades. Having revelation come in the middle of the show lets some of the air out of the bubble before its inevitable implosion. Still, Peter’s remarkably sophisticated “workshop” manages to elegantly consider the thorny dilemma of opening old wounds. The Admission’s case, and one Theater J offers significant proof for, is that it’s a necessarily painful stage in the overall process of healing.

The Admission is at Theater J through April 6. Running time is two hours, including one intermission. Tickets ($45) are available via Theater J’s website.

Posted at 01:30 PM/ET, 03/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Mother Russia’s hold is strong. By Benjamin Freed
Philip tries to remember where he parked the spymobile. Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn for FX.

Perhaps we were wrong to ever believe Philip was warming to the United States. In an episode that takes place during the 36 hours following the Jenningses’ street fight over a Russian defector, Philip goes cold as a Siberian winter when he’s tasked with holding the big brawler who didn’t die from Elizabeth’s repeated trunk door slams and recovering Anton Baklanov, a physicist the Soviets are trying to capture and spirit back to the mother country.

Philip is supposed to be the soft one on creeping American values, but by the end of “The Deal,” Baklanov is calling him a “monster” and questioning if he has a shred of humanity in him. And after a day and a half locked up with the thug—who turns out to be a Mossad agent trying to keep Baklanov, his fellow Jew, out of the KGB’s hands—Philip is as unsympathetic as he’s ever been. Matthew Rhys does some of his best work to date in keeping Philip focused on the mission, even when the shackled-up Mossad agent needs to use the decrepit toilet in the abandoned building where he’s being held.

Maybe it’s having to wipe the ass of an unfriendly government’s agent only to be clobbered in the head with the lid of the toilet tank that reawakens Philip’s patriotism, but the entire sequence is a staunch reminder that Philip, no matter how much he appears to soften toward America, is, at heart, a brutally efficient spy. In the episode’s closing act, while Baklanov sobs for mercy as Philip drives him to the boat back to Russia, Rhys’s face doesn’t move.

“No feeling, no humanity. You may as well be dead,” Baklanov tells Philip. Maybe the words sink in, but they don’t help.

With Philip dealing with the big, tough Israeli, it falls to Elizabeth to handle Martha, and Elizabeth’s first-season getup as “Jennifer,” the frizzy-haired sister of Philip’s alter-ego “Clark,” shows up at Martha’s pad for some girl talk. Since we saw her last season, Martha has apparently not moved away from the phone, leaving “Clark” message after message about how she’s going to list him as her husband on an FBI security clearance form, to the point where a KGB phone-tapper picks up and dispatches Elizabeth to clean Philip’s laundry.

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Posted at 12:09 PM/ET, 03/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Cherry Blast, a citywide scavenger hunt, and a hot-dog-themed art show. By Jason Koebler
Art Enables hosts the intriguing-sounding Night of 1,000 Hot Dogs on Saturday. Image via Shutterstock.

Thursday, March 27

PARTY: Lights, Camera, (Collective) Action! is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a party at Room & Board featuring a DC Brau open bar, vegan hors d’oeuvres, live music, dancing, and, cuz you probably have a pretty stressful life, a free massage table. If tickets ($30) sell out online (they’re running low), a limited number will be available at the door. 6 PM.

ART: Drones can be used to bomb and spy on people, but they can also be used to monitor endangered animals and find missing people—and apparently they make pretty good dancers, too. Dancer Veronika Bayer’s partner will be a small drone at “She Who Dances With the Drone,” a one-night-only free performance at the Embassy of Austria. Free. 7:30 PM.

Friday, March 28

DANCE: Looking for a new dance party? CoalBox at DC9 features indie dance jams and music videos plastered all over projectors on the walls. To get the courage to hop up on the (admittedly very small) stage and do your thing, Jim Beam and Pinnacle Vodka drinks are $2 between 9 and 11. Free. 9 PM.

COMEDY: Don’t Block the Box, Wonderland’s super-cheap but good standup comedy night, is back this week, featuring Adrian Rodney, who has performed on NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity and has opened for some nationally touring acts. Openers include Nate Johnson, Jheisson Nunez, and Chelsea Shorte. Afterward, things turn into a crazy dance party. $3. 7:30 PM.

DANCE: Black Cat has two good dance parties, but unless you feel like shelling out for both, you’ll have to choose one. Close 2 the Edge features deejay Dredd spinning golden-era hip-hop and early dance tracks backstage, while the main space is going ’80s with everything you’d expect it to: leg warmers, Spandex, and big hair. Your choice.

’80s Mayhem: $10, 9:30 PM

Close 2 the Edge: $7, 10:30 PM.

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Posted at 09:56 AM/ET, 03/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()