So let me get this straight: For 11 episodes, Hostages has been selling me the idea that the whole scenario on which the show is based came about because a) the President is a very bad man, and b) Duncan Carlisle is a desperate man who loves his wife so much he’ll do anything to save her—including assassinate the leader of the free world. But in this episode he not only assists in the death of three people to save the President’s life, he also ohhh you know, MAKES OUT WITH ANOTHER WOMAN. I’m no expert on the human condition, but cheating on your terminally ill wife, no matter how mildly, doesn’t exactly scream “devoted ’til death do us part.” Also CBS spoiled that particular plot development in the promos from last week, which robbed the moment of any shock value it might have had. Anyway, let’s talk about what else happened this week!
Carlisle informs the Ski Mask Crew that they’re taking a trip to New York. “I want to see the Empire State Building!” Archer says. “I’m gonna eat seven hot dogs!” yells Kramer. But no, Carlisle explains, they actually have to go because some dudes are planning to do exactly what they themselves have been planning to do for nearly 11 hours of my life—kill the President—just not when and where they want it to happen. So they round up the Sanders family and lock them in a room so nobody pees on the floor while they’re gone, interrupting Brian/Jimmy Cooper’s earnest discussion with his kids about how they really shouldn’t be helping the people who have been holding them hostage. “When this is over I want you to be able to look at yourselves in the mirror,” he says, as Morgan delivers a pitch-perfect teenage eye roll.
Carlisle figures out there are three buildings the sniper could shoot from based on the President’s route, so he asks BJC to get him the blueprints for all three buildings from his firm. BJC, trying to make a point to his children, says he can’t help (“Can’t or won’t?” asks Carlisle in a possible Archer reference, but that’s probably giving this show too much credit). Anyway, ever-helpful Ellen offers to get the blueprints, and Carlisle gives her the key to the room her family is in and tells her if things go badly in New York she should run. For some reason Ellen doesn’t let them out immediately. Instead she goes to BJC’s long-unseen mistress, Samantha, and tells her BJC ran into a little money trouble and needs her help. Samantha gets Ellen the blueprints and then tells her she admires her for standing by BJC. “I only got together with Brian because of how things were between you,” she says. Apparently BJC told ol’ Sammy that their marriage was a lie.
Ellen isn’t thrilled with her husband, but she has other things to deal with, namely helping the people holding her family hostage kill some other people by going through the building plans while standing in a public park. Meanwhile Colonel Blair and Vanessa continue to plot how to get Blair into the Oval Office—their plan apparently involves getting Blair on the ticket with the VP, with whom Vanessa has some sway because she used to work on his staff. She meets with him and lays out all the qualities he needs in a running mate, but instead of suggesting her boyfriend, he’s like, “So do you want to run?” which is kind of great. Blair’s job is to make sure the President gets shot, which will be blamed on a “foreign terrorist cell” (seriously, the writers couldn’t even pick a specific country?), and also that the Ski Mask Crew and the entire Sanders family are taken care of too.
OPENING THIS MONTH
December 5 through 22, Mikhail Baryshnikov comes to Shakespeare Theatre with Man in a Case, an experimental work adapted from two short stories by Anton Chekhov. Read our interview with Baryshnikov about the show.
December 6, Patina Miller, who recently won a Tony Award for her performance in the revival of Pippin on Broadway, comes to the Kennedy Center for the Barbara Cook Spotlight series.
December 10 through January 5, manic and unpredictable comedy duo the Pajama Men returns to Woolly Mammoth with Just the Two of Each of Us. The show follows In the Middle of No One, a hit at Woolly last year.
December 11 through January 5, Studio Theatre kicks off its New British Invasion Festival with Edgar and Annabel, a dark comedy about life in a surveillance state by 30-year-old playwright Sam Holcroft.
December 13 through 29, Keegan Theatre reprises An Irish Carol, its annual staging of Matthew Keenan’s riff on the classic Dickens tale.
December 14 through 22, the Washington National Opera presents The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me, a new work based on Jeanette Winterson’s children’s book about the nativity, narrated by the donkey. Music is by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change).
December 17 through January 5, Elf the Musical sets up shop in the Kennedy Center Opera House. The show is a musical adaptation of the Will Ferrell movie about a well-meaning oversize elf named Buddy.
December 17 through January 19, Joe Calarco directs Gypsy , Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne’s 1959 musical about Gypsy Rose Lee, at Signature Theatre.
December 19 through January 12, Theater J presents Our Suburb, a world premiere by Darrah Cloud about an interfaith teenage romance in 1970s Illinois directed by two-time Tony-winner Judith Ivey.
December 25 through January 19, Flashdance comes to the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Thirty years after the movie about a dancing steelworker in Pittsburgh, the musical revives hits such as “What a Feeling” and “Maniac.”
December 25 through 29, the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess stops by the National Theatre. The production is a new adaptation by director Diane Paulus and playwright Suzan Lori-Parks.
One of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s hallmarks is an intense curiosity. Widely considered the greatest dancer of his generation, he trained in ballet in the former Soviet Union before defecting to Canada in 1974. Since then, he’s been artistic director of American Ballet Theatre; performed in theater, TV, and film; and founded the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a multipurpose organization in New York City that showcases performing artists from all disciplines.
December 5 through 22, Baryshnikov comes to Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre with Man in a Case, an experimental work adapted by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar from Anton Chekhov’s writing. The show incorporates theater, movement, music, video, and other elements to tell two of Chekhov’s short stories—the first about a teacher crippled by conventionality in turn-of-the-century Russia, the second about a man who falls in love with a married woman.
“They’re very quirky and very different from Chekhov’s plays,” Baryshnikov says. “With this conservative person who’s against any kind of progressive thinking, there are parallels to what’s happening now in this country. Because that story was a bit short and about a tragic and unresolved love affair, they suggested I bring in the other story about love.”
Of all his acting roles—including on the final season of Sex and the City—avant-garde theater seems to interest him most. When he first arrived in New York with only rudimentary English, he found he appreciated experimental productions more than Shakespeare or Eugene O’Neill: “I could have gone to see Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but it didn’t make much sense to me. Avant-garde theater was so arresting that I stayed, even though half or three-quarters of what was said passed me by.”
Baryshnikov, 65, continues to dance, which he says is easier now than it was five years ago because he’s “in better shape and a little lighter and a bit smarter about it.” He also spends much of his time working on behalf of his arts center. “In Europe,” he says, “government spends so much on art and art education, and there’s incredible theater in Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, and Scandinavia. Here we are much more conservative. The people who wrote the Constitution never thought about art. How to protect your freedom is one thing, but how to educate your children is another.”
He has no plan to stop performing anytime soon: “Where I am right now—it is scary at times, but that’s the way I like it, I guess. I scare myself, and then I try and overcome it.”
Tickets ($45 to $105) are available at shakespearetheatre.org.
This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Washingtonian.
Monday, December 2
FOOD: Industry takeover nights at Mike Isabella’s Graffiato keep getting bigger and more elaborate. This month, Isabella gives up the kitchen to Greg Basalla of Boqueria, the team behind Level in Annapolis, and Top Chef contestant Eli Kirshtein, of Atlanta’s the Spence. As always, you’ll get free small bites at the first-floor pizza bar and specials on craft cocktails stirred up by one of the guest mixologists. Half of all proceeds will be donated to Martha’s Table. $10 (cash only). 10 PM.
Tuesday, December 3
TALKS: The DC Office of Planning has just launched the Lobby Project, a plan to temporarily use some of the city’s vacant space for events and other fun things. The first event and/or fun thing is called Nerds in NoMa, a series of happy hour talks about pressing issues in DC, complete with beer, wine, food, and a bunch of smart people discussing urban issues. This week, reps from BicycleSpace, the DC Office of Planning, and VerdeHouse will take over the lobby of 1200 First Street, Northeast, for the first topic: Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: Better Cities. It’s a somewhat vague topic, but it should encompass new development, public transportation, and the benefits of creating a bike-friendly city. Free. 6 PM.
Wednesday, December 4
DATING: Cause PhilanthroPub is using Scandal, which somehow morphed from hilariously bad to a must-see over the past few years, to explore the implications of infidelity and deception. The discussion will explore when—if ever—it’s okay to cheat, as well as other tough topics, with booze to help fuel the discussion and prizes for the groups that spend the most at the bar. Tickets ($10) are available online. 6 PM.
Thursday, December 5
PARADE: You know Santa, but do you know Krampus, the dude who punishes bad little children? Get to know him with H Street’s Krampusnacht, a parade and celebration on H Street that starts with a gallery reception at Gallery O on H and ends with a dance party at Little Miss Whiskey’s. Wear a Santa outfit or dress up like Krampus, a horned satyr. $10 suggested donation. 6 PM.
Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at email@example.com, or find him on Twitter.
Ugh, Brody. Not even the gloriously orange follicles peeking through your shiny bald scalp can make up for your emulating Carrie and going insanely rogue this week—and getting one of the handsome beardy Seal Team members (Jared Ward) killed in the process. Ugh, Saul, for chewing your lucky gum in the hope that it would make up for this ridiculously stupid and improbable plan. Ugh, Carrie, for getting all quivery when you thought Brody was dead (again). And ugh, Javadi, for being such a colossal douchelord, as usual. Thank goodness Saul’s resting all his hopes for peace in the Middle East on you, given that you take out human beings more wantonly than a sociopathic 15-year-old playing Grand Theft Auto.
Much of tonight’s episode, “Good Night” was conducted under cover of darkness, which could be a metaphor for the act of surveillance and the murky world of the CIA but was more likely just a convenient way to make a soundstage/abandoned field in Charlotte look like Iraq. Brody, now fully recovered from the drug addiction and the diseases and whatever else he picked up in Caracas, flew to the Iran/Iraq border with the Seal Team, from where he'd attempt to cross over to Iran and seek asylum as an enemy of America. On the way there he taught Handsome Beardy #1 (Donnie Keshawarz) how to turn his socks inside out and wear the fresh side, which is pretty fastidious for a guy who was sleeping on a bed of used syringes and stewing in his own filth not two weeks ago.
Wednesday, November 27
MUSIC: Outside of Independence Day, there’s no more American holiday than Thanksgiving, and there’s no musician more American than Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, Bruce himself will probably be cleaning his house so his family can come over or something, but Bruce in the USA, the best Springsteen cover band out there, will be playing at the Hamilton. They’re not just some random musicians: People in the band have moonlit for Blue Oyster Cult, Hall & Oats, Queen, the Temptations, and more. Tickets ($29.50) are available online. 7:30 PM.
KARAOKE: Hill Country’s live-band karaoke is still running tonight. Bring your friends visiting from out of town to see what they’ve got onstage. Free. 8:30 PM.
Thursday, November 28
FILM: Take a pre- or post-dinner trip out to AFI Silver for a screening of the original Wizard of Oz, which seems like a pretty good way to spend time with Grandma if you guys aren’t into watching football together. Tickets ($12) are available online. 3 and 9:30 PM.
DRINK: If you need to get out of the house, many bars will be closed, but Black Cat is open for business as normal starting at 8, and Sticky Rice’s two weeks of DC-imposed prohibition is finally over, so you can stop by to sing some karaoke. Otherwise, you can fight the Black Friday (Thursday edition) crowds—or, you know, just watch football and go to sleep early like everyone else.
FREE STUFF: Check out our roundup of free (non-food-related) things to do today and the rest of the week.
When did Brian become the only sane character on the show? This week he quite reasonably points out to his wife and daughter that they have been drinking some serious Kool-Aid of Krazy, but to no avail. Also Carlisle’s mysterious motivation for killing the President is—spoiler alert—literally just that he’s trying to save his wife’s life. Not that that’s a small thing, but I have a really hard time believing that someone in law enforcement would embroil himself in a conspiracy that involves killing several people, including the President of the United States, just because he wants to keep his family intact. To the recap.
Previously on Hostages: A bunch of people died. Ellen found out Carlisle’s wife is the President’s secret illegitimate daughter. Carlisle forgot to shave. This week: Hostages gives us a lesson in how NOT to use rape as a plotline on TV. Where Scandal’s scene was horrifying and brutal to watch, it was also given emotional heft and importance and wasn’t thrown in as shorthand for “This character who lacks any previous development is a bad guy—really, we swear.” So basically POTUS raped Anne Carlisle’s mother back when he was a young senator and she was a young journalist, then tasked his adviser, Burton, to kill her to cover it up. Burton couldn’t go through with it, so he smuggled her out of the country where she “died in childbirth,” and he raised the child as his own. When Anne got sick, he told Carlisle the deal, and Carlisle paired with POTUS’s enemies to concoct the plan. But Ellen, deep in the throes of Stockholm Syndrome, is convinced she can help him find a way to save his wife and get out of the situation. She looks at Anne’s medical records and finds a partial match donor, then tracks down her address with Duncan’s help. Of course the woman is Anne’s long-assumed-dead mother. She had no other children so she can’t help with the whole bone marrow thing. Guess they’re still going to have to kill the President!
The question continually posed by If/Then, the strong yet unfinished musical trying out at the National Theatre before it heads to Broadway, is what if? To what extent can a decision made in the blink of an eye impact the course of a life? This concept—not exactly an unfamiliar one thanks to movies such as Sliding Doors, from which If/Then appears to borrow a substantial amount of its story—can start to feel gimmicky throughout the course of the show, particularly given the heavy-handed lighting used to clarify the narrative. But these are just minor quibbles compared to the showstopping performances on display. As far as opportunities to see stars belting out songs go, this one goes gangbusters.
Directed by Michael Greif, If/Then stars Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked) as Elizabeth, a 39-year-old city planner who moves to New York after ending her loveless marriage, and whose life subsequently splits into two forks after she decides whether to listen to a musician (Sexy Guitar Guy, a title Tyler McGee needs to put on his résumé) play in Madison Square Park. Carefree, stop-and-smell-the-roses/listen-to-the-music Elizabeth becomes Liz, who’s still neurotic and obsessed with quantifying all her options but lets loose enough to go on a date with Josh (James Snyder), a handsome doctor back from his second tour with the Army. Uptight Elizabeth becomes Beth, gets a fantastic job, falls into an unhappy relationship of sorts with her bisexual best friend, Lucas (Anthony Rapp), almost dies in a plane crash, and ends up successful and miserable after all that leaning in.
Liz/Beth’s different stories are illustrated by lighting effects—cold blue for Beth, warm red for Liz. It’s a device that feels like it was added last minute for clarity, and it detracts a little from the spectacular set by Mark Wendland, above which trees loom over the stage and stars and neon maps of the New York City subway appear as if from nowhere. The show is at its strongest when Liz and Beth’s worlds collide, as they do at the end of the first act at a birthday party on a rooftop when both versions of Elizabeth find themselves pregnant by a different man (again, Sliding Doors).
Early in the show, the character of Elizabeth feels clichéd, what with her extreme anal retentiveness and her constant attempts to calculate decisions out of numbers. “I’m not sure how to quantify sexy,” she tells her friend Kate, plated by the spectacular LaChanze, who won a Tony for her role in The Color Purple. But as Liz and Beth emerge, Menzel does a good job showing how each character changes—Liz becoming more open and accepting, and Beth hardening to the point where she impulsively kisses her boss (Jerry Dixon). Decisions have consequences, we’re told over and over again, and Liz/Beth’s different paths demonstrably affect not only her own life but also the lives of those around her.
If/when the philosophizing gets a bit much, the songs are ample compensation. The music and lyrics are by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the team behind the Tony-winning show Next to Normal, and while there are a few duds (through no fault of Rapp’s, “Ain’t No Man Manhattan” is a dullard), Lucas’s “You Don’t Need to Love Me” is a genuine heartbreaker, as is Liz’s “Learn to Live Without.” Rapp, best known for playing dorky Mark alongside Menzel in the Broadway and film versions of Rent (the former of which was also directed by Greif), is unexpectedly charming as even more dorky Lucas, a hapless and crunchy housing activist whose happiness is intertwined so tightly with Liz/Beth’s own. And as winsome and kindhearted Josh, Snyder is exceptional, managing to save his too-good-to-be-true Army doctor from becoming boring and delivering his solo numbers—especially “Hey Kid”—with chops galore.
But it’s Menzel’s musical, and everyone else is just living in it. The Idina superfans you’ll almost certainly run into in the ladies’ room at intermission already know all the lyrics, and understandably so—the way she delivers her songs is just thrilling to watch, even if she seems to be holding back a little in the first act. One imagines it’s hard to play a character as unshowy and awkward as Liz/Beth while simultaneously winning over the whole of the audience in the National’s 1,676-seat theater, but Menzel does it, and also manages countless costume changes while flitting between Liz and Beth. If/Then is a long way from perfect—the choreography by Larry Keigwin in particular feels alarmingly clunky—but it’s definitely captivating at moments, thanks to some lovely songs and a deservedly acclaimed star.
If/Then is at the National Theatre through December 8. Running time is about two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets ($58 to $228) are available via the National Theatre’s website.
Wednesday, November 27
Library of Congress: Civil War Thanksgiving
While the first day of thanks dates back to colonial times, it took hundreds of years for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday. Learn the story behind this evolution in a noon talk led by Connie Carter of the Science, Technology & Business Division.
White House Ellipse: National Hanukkah Menorah Lighting
The lighting of the world’s largest menorah draws thousands of spectators each year. The event includes performances by the United States Air Force Band, the Three Cantors, and violinist Miri Ben-Ari, as well as hot latkes and donuts. Tickets are free but required; order online.
Thursday, November 28
Kennedy Center: Thanksgiving Day Swing Dance Party
A belly full of turkey is no excuse to avoid the dance floor at this throwback evening from 7 to 9. Enjoy dance lessons from Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg along with live music from the Tom Cunningham Orchestra.
Fillmore Silver Spring: Giving Thanks
Give thanks for your blessings by assembling takeaway care packages for those in need at this community gathering with live music and seasonal treats from 11 to 3. If you’re unable to make the event, the Fillmore is accepting donations of food, clothing, and toiletries until November 27.
Friday, November 29
National Harbor Tree-Lighting and Fireworks
The folks at National Harbor sure know how to light a shrub with style, with more than 200,000 Christmas lights adorning the 65-foot tree. A fireworks show adds even more sparkle to this night of holiday entertainment and shopping, running from 7 to 8:30.
Reston Town Center: Holiday Parade & Tree-Lighting Sing-Along
Who needs the crowds of New York City to enjoy a good holiday parade? The Reston Town Center will be hosting a day of post-Thanksgiving cheer to kick off the season, complete with its own procession, Santa visits, and a tree-lighting and sing-along. The parade is at 11; the tree-lighting and sing-along are at 6.
Too often, political conversations around a family dinner table end up with uninformed ideologues shouting at each other. In That Hopey Changey Thing, the conversation actually proves to be enlightening.
It takes some time to get to that point, but it’s worth the wait. Initially, Richard Nelson’s play is concerned with setting up the familial dynamics of the Apple clan, who are also the subject of Sweet and Sad, running in repertory at Studio Theatre. (That work, set on September 11, 2011, is focused on the 9/11 attacks—a reference point, but not the focal point for That Hopey Changey Thing, which is set a year earlier.) The family is a fascinating one, made up of four siblings with varying degrees of passion for liberal politics, as well as their uncle Benjamin (Ted van Griethuysen), a renowned actor suffering from memory loss.
Along for the ride is Tim (Jeremy Webb), another actor who happens to be the young lover of Jane (Kimberly Schraf); the performer has a knack for pulling Benjamin out of his internal world and getting him to actually articulate what he’s been experiencing during his years of dementia. Any time van Griethuysen resurfaces from his character’s stupor, he commands the stage.
Nelson lets the audience gradually get to know his characters and figure out exactly how they relate to one another. The play is entirely set at a dining room buffet table, intimately fashioned by designer Debra Booth; director Serge Selden smartly blocks the activity so it feels realistic, like the audience is spying on an actual conversation. Barbara (Sarah Marshall) is the de facto matriarch, who initially seems tense and jittery about her siblings coming into her home but soon relaxes into familiar patterns with them. Her sister Marian (Elizabeth Pierotti) is an abrasive Democratic organizer with knee-jerk liberal loyalties; her other sister, Jane, is a cultural anthropologist of sorts, at work on a book about etiquette. Shaking things up is Richard (Rick Foucheux), a civil-servant lawyer whose departure to a private firm has his family questioning his political loyalties, even before he makes them start questioning their own assumptions.
Hopey Changey proves to be just as engrossing whether it’s presenting abstract criticisms of the Obama presidency or just examining how its characters interact. Marshall, a master of comic timing, is hilarious expressing her nervousness that her sister Jane is watching her every move, hoping it will lead to some sort of behavioral revelation she can use for her book. As Richard, Foucheux can seem cold and condescending as he describes his newfound political cynicism to his sisters, but he still collapses into giggles when they torture him with tickles, as they did when they were younger. Eventually, Richard guides That Hopey Changey Thing into a bracing critique of the current administration, but it happens in a way that just feels like people sitting around, gradually spitting out their pent-up frustrations and realizations. Perhaps the most poignant one comes from Marshall’s Barbara, who reveals that warring 21st-century America may have more in common with the ancient Greeks and Trojans than we ever would have imagined.
That Hopey Changey Thing is at Studio Theatre through December 29. Running time is one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($39 to $75) are available via Studio Theatre’s website.