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A water battle at Yards Park, comedy night at Science Club, and half-price wine Sunday. By Jason Koebler
Cool off with frosty drinks and water-balloon fights at Splash Yards on Saturday. Image via Shutterstock.

Thursday, August 7

COMEDY: Every week, Science Club hosts After Class, a comedy night that definitely wouldn’t have cut it at your high school. The topics, presented in seminar/PowerPoint style, are generally ridiculous, fictional, or downright inappropriate for the average US student; plus there’s booze, and all the laughing is likely to disrupt the learning environment. Free. 8:30 PM.

MUSIC: Somehow, roughly a million years after Bradley Nowell died, Sublime soldiers on with some dude named Rome singing. They play all the old hits and even have an album of original material. It’s not exactly like watching a tribute band, though it’s pretty close. If you were a big fan of the original incarnation, it might be worth checking out the show at the Fillmore. Tickets ($56) are available online. 8 PM.

MAZE: The National Building Museum continues to stay up past its bedtime with its late-night block party. Explore the museum’s BIG Maze, then head outside and for some Hill Country barbecue. Tickets ($16) are available online. 5 PM.

Friday, August 8

VARIETY: The formula for Black Cat’s 8x8 night isn’t too complicated if you know your times tables. Eight comedians, storytellers, musicians, and other entertainer-people get eight minutes to wow you. There’s music and dancing both before and after. $10. 9 PM. 

FILM: As quickly as it arrives, it goes away again: Union Market’s Drive-In movie series comes to an end (for now) this week with Casino Royale, the James Bond movie that cashed in on the fad of Texas Hold ’Em in a big way. Show up in a car, or on foot, or on your bike, and watch it outside, maybe with some Union Market snacks. $10 per car. 6 PM.

DANCE: DC9 hosts Coalbxx, the spiritual successor to the extremely successful (and missed) Liberation Dance Party. Deejays Stevie Bxx and Billy Bxx spin indie music and project videos all night while you dance and enjoy $2 drinks between 9 and 11. Free. 9 PM.

Saturday, August 9

BIKE: There’s a fairly grim bike ride happening this weekend—to remember the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, a group will be circling the White House in the radius of a “small nuclear bomb” to send the message that nuclear weapons are not okay to have. It’s a laudable goal, and the event seems to be happening in capital cities around the world. Then, because it’s DC, there’ll be cocktails afterward. Free. 9:30 AM.

CLOWNS: Clowns Without Borders is a group of, well, clowns, who travels to war zones and places in crisis and hopes to bring some joy to the children there, Patch Adams style. They’re hosting a fundraiser at the Trapeze School of New York (DC edition, of course), where you’ll see acrobatics and trapeze from the pros; there’ll also be face-painting, balloon-twisting, juggling, and a photo booth. Tickets ($15) are available online. 8:30 PM.

ART: The Corcoran opens its doors fo’ free at its Summer Saturdays series. There are only a couple of weeks left before you have to go back to paying again—and only a few weeks after that until the museum takes on a very different look. This week, there’s a free sketching class at 10:30 and a trivia contest at 3.

WATER: Yards Park hosts Splash Yards, perhaps the coolest-sounding party of the summer. Essentially it’s a huge water battle and tiki party, featuring super soakers, squirt guns, buckets (no hoses), water balloons, beer from Bluejacket, frozen drinks, live music, pools, water slides, a misting tent, and lots more. I won’t even bother to continue listing the stuff that’ll be there—just check it out. Free. 2 PM.

Sunday, August 10

DOCS: In partnership with the Environmental Film Festival, the National Museum of Natural History hosts The Extreme Life of the Sea, a series of short documentaries about, what else, how freakin’ weird and tough ocean life is. Marine scientist Stephen Palumbi and his son will be around to talk about some of the docs and sign books after the event. Tickets ($8) are available online. 3 PM.

WINE: A good way to wind down the weekend—or have Sunday Funday: Petworth Citizen and Firefly are both offering half-price bottles of wine for most of the day. Both spots have good food, as well, in case you aren’t totally on a liquid diet. All day at Firefly, 5 to 11 PM at Petworth Citizen. 

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

Posted at 10:05 AM/ET, 08/07/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Aaron Posner’s riff on Chekhov’s The Seagull returns in all its profanity-laden glory. By Tanya Pai
Rick Foucheux, Brad Koed, and Darius Pierce in Stupid F**king Bird at Woolly Mammoth. Photograph by Stan Barouh.

“The performance includes fog, gun shots, smoking, brief nudity, and copious use of the word ‘f**k.’” Thus reads a disclaimer on Woolly Mammoth’s website regarding Stupid F**king Bird, which returns to the theater after its 2013 world premiere and subsequent eight Helen Hayes Award nominations. Bird is playwright Aaron Posner’s irreverent, darkly comedic take on Chekhov’s The Seagull—and in case the title wasn’t a tip-off, this is not your garden-variety piece of theatah

Bird, directed by Howard Shalwitz, focuses on seven people: Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris) and her lover, Trig (Cody Nickell); Emma’s brother, Sorn (Rick Foucheux); her son, Con (Brad Koed), and his aspiring-actress girlfriend, Nina (Katie DeBuys); Con’s friend Dev (Darius Pierce); and the bitter Mash (Kimberly Gilbert), whose hobbies involve penning nihilistic ballads set to ukelele music. The characters’ relationships are tangled: Emma is jealous of Nina’s youth and dismissive of her son’s grand creative ambitions; Nina is attracted to Trig’s fame (and he to her “perfect breasts”); Dev is in love with Mash, who in turn pines for Con; and Con is stymied by his love for Nina and his need for creative fulfillment. Each character is an archetype—the aging star; the famous cad; the tortured artist—and represents a different facet of the playwright’s personality: hubris, insecurity, cynicism. But they’re also people, flawed and foolish, and the uniformly excellent cast embody them in a way that feels lived-in enough to make every passive-aggressive argument and on-again, off-again romance believable. (Foucheux is especially enjoyable as the wry psychiatrist with near-superhuman patience for the foibles of those around him.) 

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Posted at 02:30 PM/ET, 08/06/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Museum exhibitions, gallery shows, and events to check out. By Tanya Pai
The Sackler Gallery presents a large-scale installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota beginning August 30. Photograph by Sunhi Mang.


“Hawaii by Air,” open at the National Air and Space Museum through July 25, 2015, explores the journey to one of the most remote US states, from the early days of flight to the present, as well as the impact of increased tourism on the area. 

At the National Geographic Museum August 5 through November 30 is “Mars Up Close,” an exhibit that lets visitors explore the red planet through images, interactive displays, a full-scale model of the Curiosity rover, and content from the new book Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission by Washington Post writer Marc Kaufman.

On display at the National Portrait Gallery beginning August 22 is “Portraiture Now: Staging the Self,” a bilingual exhibit in collaboration with the Smithsonian Latino Center that examines the works of Latino artists across a variety of media, questioning the idea that portraits can represent individuals’ identities. Through April 12. 

As part of the Sackler Gallery’s Perspectives series, Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota constructs a large-scale installation of hundreds of pairs of shoes encased in a multitude of red threads attached to a single point. Visitors will get the chance to see the artist and watch the work being installed during a public viewing period August 18 through 21. The work is on display August 30 through June 7.


At the Torpedo Factory beginning August 5 is “Dog Days of Summer,” a fine art photography exhibit focused on depictions of sultry late-summer days. The show, juried by Kathleen Ewing, runs through August 31. 

The Art League’s “ ’Scapes,” running August 6 through September 8, exhibits a variety of scenes, from cityscapes to natural landscapes, done in a range of styles. 

August 8 through September 6 at Flashpoint is “Between Fact and Fiction,” a showcase of mechanical objects that artist Adam Hager has disassembled and reassembled in ways that flip their intended purpose. 

Gallery Underground presents “Making Their Mark: Art Brut,” an exhibition produced in collaboration with the art-therapy program Purple Art, which focuses on wounded veterans and individuals with disabilities. Through August 23.  

Washington Printmakers Gallery (in its new Georgetown space) hosts the 17th annual National Small Works Exhibition, featuring 50 prints by artists from all around the US. The exhibition is juried by American University’s Jack Rasmussen, and runs concurrently with a solo show by Diane Alire, the grand prize winner from 2013. Through August 31. 

“ApocalyptiCAT” at the Goethe-Institut displays a selection of woodcuts and papercuts by German artist Franca Bartholomäi. August 27 through October 10. 


This month’s Phillips After 5 happens on August 7. The theme is “American bounty,” and you’ll find food trucks, a bourbon tasting, and live bluegrass. 

On August 23, Torpedo Factory hosts its second Art Material Market, giving local artists a chance to buy, sell, and trade supplies used to make their crafts. 

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 02:37 PM/ET, 08/05/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Dirty Dancing, Shakespeare Theatre’s Free for All, and the start of Signature’s 25th-anniversary season. By Tanya Pai
Josef Brown, Amanda Leigh Cobb, and Britta Lazenga in Dirty Dancing at the National Theatre. Photograph by David Scheinmann.


Signature Theatre kicks off its 25th-anniversary season with Sunday in the Park With George, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer-winning 1984 musical that takes its inspiration from a painting by Georges Surat. August 5 through September 21. 

Landless Theatre Company stages a progressive-metal twist on Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim’s musical about a murderous barber. August 7 through 31 at Warehouse Theater.

At Anacostia Arts Center, the Pallas Theatre Collective presents a musical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 story The Fall of the House of Usher. Tracey Elaine Chessum directs. August 13 through 31. 

In She Kills Monsters, presented by Rorschach Theatre, a teen creates a fantasy world to escape reality; after her death, her sister explores that world and must learn to control the creatures there. August 15 through September 14 at Atlas Performing Arts Center

Shakespeare Theatre’s Free for All presents The Winter’s Tale, the Bard’s comedy about a jealous king and the daughter he exiled. This is a remounting of director Rebecca Taichman’s 2013 production, which Washingtonian’s Sophie Gilbert called “transcendent.” August 19 through 31. 

Scena Theatre presents two works by Irish playwrights at Atlas Performing Arts Center this month. First is Shining City, Conor McPherson’s drama about a Dublin man who, haunted by visions of his dead wife, turns to a therapist who has her own problems. The play runs August 16 through September 21. And in the world premiere of the one-woman show Molly, by George O’Brien, Danielle Davy portrays the mistress of famed Irish playwright J.M. Synge. August 23 through September 21. 

Dirty Dancing, the 1987 Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey movie, comes to life at the National Theatre in this stage adaptation that features all the songs made famous by the film’s soundtrack, and presumably Baby refusing to stand in corners. August 26 through September 14. 

Theater J stages Yentl, an adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” which examines issues of gender equality and sexuality. This production—not to be confused with the Barbra Streisand movie musical—features new songs by Jill Sobule. August 28 through October 5. 


Binge, Washington Improv Theater’s five-week show performed by its six ensembles, continues through August 9 at Source Theatre

The BFG closes August 10 at Imagination Stage

An Evening With Danny Kaye closes August 16 at American Century Theater

The Campsite Rule is at Anacostia Playhouse through August 16. Read our review

Stupid F**king Bird closes August 17 at Woolly MammothRead our review

The Lion King closes August 17 at the Kennedy Center. Read our review

Gidion’s Knot is at Herndon’s NextStop Theatre August 28 through September 14, in a co-production with Forum Theatre. Read our review

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 01:52 PM/ET, 08/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The director dives to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in this new documentary. By Michael Gaynor
Director James Cameron shows off his explorer side in Deepsea Challenge 3D. Image via Shutterstock.

Two years ago, an unlikely person made a perilous journey almost seven miles underwater to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Titanic and Terminator director James Cameron piloted the 24-foot Deepsea Challenger to the deepest part of the ocean, and his record-breaking dive is the subject of a new documentary, Deepsea Challenge 3D.

The world doesn’t have many explorers anymore. The era of Jacques Cousteau and Sir Edmund Hillary and expeditions into the unknown has faded, mostly because there’s not much left that remains unexplored.

That is, except for the sea. As Cameron explains in his opening narration, we know little about the extreme depths of our own planet, so he partnered with National Geographic for an expedition to pick up the mantle. If the prospect of a Hollywood blockbuster director suddenly becoming a scientific explorer seems a bit off, the film goes to great lengths to show it’s for real.

Opening with reenactments of a young Cameron playing adventurer from inside a cardboard box, the documentary tracks his fascination of the ocean’s mysteries through his own filmography—first in 1989’s underwater sci-fi thriller The Abyss, followed, of course, by Titanic in 1997.

You may remember Cameron’s 12-year absence from feature filmmaking after that (finally broken by Avatar in 2009). What was he doing in the meantime? Undersea documentaries, actually—exploring a few famous shipwrecks, tracking down rare deep-sea animals with NASA scientists, and other aquatic adventures. In one scene, a question asked by Cameron’s wife—“Are you a filmmaker who does exploring on the side, or an explorer who does filmmaking on the side?”—becomes a central theme to his character.

Cameron’s childlike delight in sitting at the bottom of the ocean and watching all the “critters” float past gives a unique insight into a man usually accused of being among the most autocratic of filmmakers. “This is my church,” he says at one point, while cloistered in a cramped submersible under 16,000 pounds per square inch of pressure.

The rest of the documentary proceeds in a way not unlike a standard Cameron action blockbuster—the race against time to finish the project, the life-threatening risks, the against-all-odds final mission. That last part includes a cameo from Rolex watches—one of the expedition’s sponsors—in what could be one of the most absurd moments of product placement ever captured on film.*

But what, in the end, do we learn from this adventure? After all, it is a science expedition, but so much of the documentary’s focus is on Cameron that we don’t get the larger picture. There’s a perfunctory scene explaining how the trench might give researchers more insight into how tectonic plates affect volcanoes and tsunamis (and thus help us protect ourselves from them), but that’s about it. We see Cameron’s sense of wonder at all that he’s seeing, but the grander purpose is elusive.

But maybe that’s the point: that the depths Cameron sank to are still so mysterious and dark that this is far from the final journey. The director may have three Avatar sequels in production at the moment, but it’s plain to see where he really wants to be.

Deepsea Challenge 3D opens August 8 at West End Cinema, AMC Loews Shirlington, Regal Ballston Common, AMC Hoffman Center, and Rave Cinemas Fairfax Corner. Find Michael Gaynor on Twitter at @michael_gaynor.

*Okay, it’s too good not to explain: Cameron’s submersible includes a robotic arm used for picking up samples from the ocean floor. He’s sitting at the bottom of the trench when, out of nowhere, he decides to “check the time” by swinging the robot arm up to the camera and showing off—what else—a Rolex wristwatch strapped to the arm. Followed by a clearly forced comment about how it’s still ticking seven miles deep. Ha!

Posted at 11:16 AM/ET, 08/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Comedy at Little Miss Whiskey’s and two nights of author talks. By Jason Koebler
This week gives you the chance to meet Jodie Picoult and other authors (and get your books autographed). Image via Shutterstock.

Monday, August 4

FILM: Screen on the Green continues tonight with Key Largo, a Humphrey Bogart film noir from 1948. Tensions run high in—surprise—Key Largo, as a hurricane approaches and a whole hostage situation goes down. Bring a blanket to the National Mall and post up to see how it all turns out. Free. Sundown. 

COMEDY: Every week, comedians at Little Miss Whiskey’s attack you with joke missiles at La Bomba, featuring funny people from DC, Baltimore, and everywhere in between (there’s not a whole lot of in between, but there is some, as I’m sure you know). Drink specials ($4 DAB tallboys, $5 rails) run all night. Free. 7:30 PM.

Tuesday, August 5

MUSIC: Bar Dupont hosts a summer concert series called, appropriately, Dupont Live! This week, singer/songwriter Oren Polak takes over the outdoor patio, playing his airy traveling tunes. Sip a fancy cocktail and watch the people pass by. Free. 7 PM.

Wednesday, August 6

BOOKS: It ain’t cheap, but it’s not every day you can chill with the author of My Sister’s Keeper. Okay, yes, Jodi Picoult has written a whole bunch of books; her newest one, Leaving Time, doesn’t come out until October, but you can get it early this week at Arena Stage. The event includes a buffet dinner, a copy of the book, a chocolate tasting, a dessert bar (in addition to the whole chocolate tasting), live music, and a meet-and-greet with Picoult. Tickets ($95) are available online. 5 PM.

KARAOKE: If meeting an author just isn’t your thing, head to Hill Country for its weekly live-band karaoke. It’s been a while since you’ve done karaoke, right? You should probably change that. Free. 8:30 PM.

Thursday, August 7

LITERATURE: Brooklyn’s Papercut Press publishing house is taking over Busboys and Poets on Fifth and K streets, Northwest, to show off some of its new works of fiction and poetry—authors will be in town to do readings and signings, and people from the DC Zinefest will be on hand to talk about how the lit scene is changing in the city. Free. 6:30 PM.

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

Posted at 10:11 AM/ET, 08/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A thoroughly modern love story inspired by sex columnist Dan Savage’s famous relationship mantra. By Missy Frederick
Rachel Manteuffel and Matthew Sparacino in The Campsite Rule. Photograph by Brian S. Allard.

Mrs. Robinson, she is not. Sure, The Campsite Rule is ostensibly about an older woman initiating a younger man (only by a decade) into the world of sex. But the play refreshingly avoids clichés and sermons and instead focuses on the unlikely connection between two quirky adults—even if one of them is technically a bit more “adult” than the other.

The players in question: Susan (Rachel Manteuffel), a sexually experienced Classicist who always has a witty, if often ridiculous, response at the ready; and Lincoln (Matthew Sparacino), a college freshman also accustomed to diffusing situations with humor, even if his jokes can fall even flatter than Susan’s. The two meet cute (and a little pretentiously) firing quotes at each other at a college keg party, and stumble into bed together despite—or maybe because of—their awkward exchanges. The scene is very funny (was World War I really the gayest war there ever was?), but it takes a while to settle into writer Alexandra Petri’s consciously clever, if not-so-realistic style of dialogue.

The play’s title comes from an expression popularized by Dan Savage of “Savage Love” fame: It means if you’re an older partner, it’s your responsibility to leave your younger partner in at least as good a shape as he or she was when you began your relationship, just as campers try to leave behind as few traces as possible at their campsite. That means no STDs, no pregnancies, no baggage—you get the idea. It’s clear Susan has no intention of violating such a rule with Lincoln: As they continue to see each other, she’s kind, she’s fun, and she’s basically up for anything, within reason. But the play’s conflict hinges on whether she might be willing to consider something more than just sex with someone who doesn’t fit neatly into her life as a boyfriend.

Director Megan Behm blocks the play tastefully without condescending to the audience—The Campsite Rule isn’t shy about depicting sex, oral and otherwise, but it doesn’t get overly salacious, either. The action takes place on a sleek set with a zippy, contemporary soundtrack. Petri’s script has an empowering sensibility while never feeling preachy. Susan is confident and matter-of-fact about her wide array of sexual experience, and also tempers her friend Tina’s (Hazel Lozano) shame when she begins berating herself for making a mistake with a married man. (“You’re my friend,” Susan counters soothingly, when Tina starts calling herself a jezebel.)

It takes the actors—part of the Washington Rogues company—a few minutes to warm up and get comfortable in their roles, but the performances in The Campsite Rule are generally strong and rather endearing. Though her character switches a bit abruptly from spastic academic to seasoned sexual tutor, Manteuffel is vibrant and winning as the complex Susan. Dorky but gentlemanly Lincoln feels like an adorably relatable creation in Sparacino’s hands. In general, Campsite Rule is a satisfying modern love story (well, modern “like”, anyway) that gently subverts any knee-jerk reactions the audience might have.

The Campsite Rule is at the Anacostia Playhouse through August 16. Running time is about one hour and 30 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($20) are available through the Washington Rogues website

Find Missy Frederick on Twitter at @bylinemjf

Posted at 11:24 AM/ET, 08/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A benefit for City Dogs Rescue, the DC MeetMarket, and two music festivals at Merriweather. By Jason Koebler
Meet adoptable furry friends at the City Dogs Rescue event on Thursday. Image via Shutterstock.

Thursday, July 31

PUPPIES: City Dogs Rescue is throwing PuppyPalooza, a rescue event at Thomas Foolery—there will be a bunch of dogs at the bar that you can play with and also adopt if you’re a responsible human being. There’ll also be thousands of dollars worth of gift certificates and prizes raffled off, with all proceeds and tips going to City Dogs. Free. 6 PM.

MUSEUM: The National Building Museum is throwing the first of its Summer Block Party Late Night parties. You’ll be able to hang out at the Hill Country barbecue pop-up, explore the museum, and navigate the BIG Maze, perhaps after having a spiked lemonade or two. Free. 5 PM.

Friday, August 1

COMEDY: West Virginian Jared Logan has been featured on Comedy Central, College Humor, and TBS, and at the Chicago Just for Laughs Festival. He’ll be at Black Cat with Max Silvestri (from Gawker, Grantland, Eater, and apparently from standup comedy) and one other comedian. Tickets ($12) are available online. 9 PM.

ART: A brand-new art space is opening up in Northeast, right near the border with Mount Rainier. It’s called ReCreative Spaces, and it’s launching with a big party, featuring early viewings of its first solo show, which explores how Japan’s Edo period still has relevance today. For the party, there’ll be deejays, food and drink, flower arrangements, and dance performances. Free. 7 PM.

MUSIC: The Mad Decent Block Party comes to Merriweather, featuring Dillon Francis, Diplo, Sleigh Bells, Flux Pavilion, and lots more. Doors are in the afternoon, so try to skip out of work early—but even if you can’t, the show runs all night, so you’ll still get to see plenty of the acts. Tickets ($45 to $75) are available online. 2 PM.

FILM: For my money, Finding Nemo is top two or three Pixar movies. But you don’t care about my money, and neither does Union Market—its drive-in movies are free if you walk up or bike, and just ten bucks if you drive. There’s all the food and drink you’ve come to expect from the space, and there’ll be games and activities before the movie gets started at sundown. Free. 8:30 PM.

Saturday, August 2

DANCE: New York City’s DJ Rekha takes the train (or a plane or a car or a bus, I don’t know how she travels) down to DC for a dance night at Black Cat. Rekha is known for starting Basement Bhangra in New York—it’s a mashup of traditional Indian dance music with hip-hop and pop, and it always makes for a good time. Tickets ($12) are available online. 9:30 PM.

DANCE: Beardyman isn’t your typical dance deejay—yeah, he uses the loops and beats you’ve come to know and love from the genre, but he’s also a master beatboxer, so you’ll be hearing a lot of that at his Eat, Sleep, Shave, Repeat tour stop at U Street Music Hall. Tickets ($15) are available online. 11 PM.

MUSIC: It’s a big weekend for festivals at Merriweather. The annual Summer Spirit Festival is happening, featuring Lauryn Hill, Janelle Monae, Raheem DeVaughn, Talib Kweli, and lots of other rap, hip-hop, and R&B acts. Tickets ($46 to $125) are available online. 3 PM.

MARKETS: The DC MeetMarket, a monthly fair at the corners of 15th and P streets in Dupont Circle, features live music, food, arts and crafts, and more than 40 local vendors selling clothes, handiworks, cosmetics, and other things. Its organizers say please bring your dogs—they love markets, too. Free. 11 AM to 5 PM.

Sunday, August 3

COMEDY: Grand Central hosts live comedy every Sunday night. The shows feature local amateurs trying to break into the business and professionals who have performed at the DC Improv and the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse. Free. 7:30 PM.

FILM: The Made in Hong Kong Film Festival continues at the Freer/Sackler Galleries with The Way We Dance, a film about Hong Kong’s hip-hop street dancing scene. The 2013 movie was a box-office smash overseas, and won several film festival awards, but it rarely gets screened in the United States. Free. 2 PM.

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

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 07/31/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Stephen King’s bloody tale of high school angst gets a song-and-dance makeover. By Tanya Pai
Emily Zickler as the blood-soaked prom queen in Carrie the Musical. Photograph by Igor Dmitry.

First things first: You do not need a poncho to protect yourself from blood spatter while watching Carrie the Musical. Second: With all due respect to the musical as an art form, if you have been trying to convince your musical-hating friend to “just give them a chance,” this is probably not the production you want to use to prove your point. 

The iteration of Carrie currently at Studio Theatre is actually the second version of the musical. The original, which debuted on Broadway in 1988, was a commercial and critical disaster; despite closing after just three days, it managed to lose $7 million dollars, leading the New Yorker to run an article in January 2012 titled “Is Carrie the Worst Musical of All Time?” The team behind the original—Lawrence D. Cohen (book), who also wrote the screenplay for the famous 1976 Brian De Palma movie; Michael Gore (music); and Dean Pitchford (lyrics) reunited for this off-Broadway effort. But despite an earnest, energetic staging at Studio (directed by Keith Alan Baker and Jacob Janssen), it’s not totally clear why they decided to resurrect their bloody work. 

For anyone not familiar with the story, based on a 1975 novel by Stephen King, it goes like this: Carrie (Emily Zickler), a shy and awkward teen raised by a fanatically religious mother (Barbara Walsh), has trouble fitting in at school. She gets her first period in the worst possible place—the shower after gym class, surrounded by her peers, who torment her mercilessly. The upside is that Carrie’s entry into puberty unlocks some latent telekinetic powers, which she uses—first unwittingly, then on purpose—to defend herself against her attackers. Out of guilt, nice girl Sue (Maria Rizzo) convinces her boyfriend (Robert Mueller) to take Carrie to prom, giving queen bee Chris (Eben K. Logan) an opportunity to humiliate Carrie on a grand scale by rigging the prom-queen contest to get her crowned and then dumping a bucket of pig’s blood on her in front of the whole school. Carrie goes berserk, telekinetically seals everyone in the gym and starts a fire that kills all of them, and goes home to beg forgiveness from her mother, who, convinced her daughter is an instrument of the devil, stabs her in the back. A dying Carrie kills her mother, and in the end only Sue is left alive to tell the story. Uplifting, right?

Musicals have been made of stranger source material—Jerry Springer: The Opera, for instance—but the disconnect in Carrie lies in how it glosses over the essential darkness of the story in favor of jaunty song-and-dance numbers. Of which there are plenty: 25, to be exact, packed into a show that clocks in at under two hours. This gives the cast barely enough time to breathe, let alone act, between songs; it seems a few of the numbers that mostly just enforce a running theme could be cut without any detriment to the story.

The bigger problem, though, is that most of the musical numbers serve the gruesome purpose of turning the subtext into text. Every seemingly inexplicable cruel act perpetrated by a high schooler is immediately explained, in minute, rhyming detail with choreography to match; every motif is spelled out in giant neon letters. Scattered references place the action in the present day—one character mentions uploading a video of Carrie’s shower freakout—but there’s none of the cynicism or snark that could help these teenage characters feel more genuine to a contemporary audience. (Other false notes: Sue’s unrealistically perfect boyfriend Tommy, and a possibly gay character whose sexual orientation is consistently played for laughs.) 

That said, the talented cast does their best with the material. Eben Logan as Chris has a powerful presence and delivers an outsize performance. Jamie Eacker is charming as the sympathetic gym teacher, and Barbara Walsh nails the terrifying, wide-eyed zealotry of Margaret White. (Maria Rizzo’s Sue, on the other hand, comes off a bit one-note.) As for Carrie herself? Emily Zickler is too polished to be completely convincing as wallflower Carrie, though she’s impressive in the climactic scene, managing to emote even while drenched in fake blood that she has to wipe out of her eyes as she sings. 

The staging is simple—Luciana Stecconi’s set is minimalist, and the characters spend most of their time in the same high-school-appropriate ensembles (costumes by Kelsey Hunt). This keeps the focus on the story, which at its heart is about the horrors of adolescence and the desire to fit in no matter the cost. Those are bitter pills to swallow—but in this case, a spoonful of sugar doesn’t make them go down any easier.  

Carrie the Musical is at Studio Theatre through August 3. Running time is about two hours, including one intermission. Tickets ($20 to $40) are available online

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 10:20 AM/ET, 07/30/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Virgin Mobile’s annual music festival at Merriweather won’t happen this year. By Tanya Pai
Robin Thicke headlined the 2013 FreeFest. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

This has been a rocky year for local music festivals. First the summertime-staple Fort Reno concerts were canceled—though thankfully organizers managed to get them reinstated. Now comes word that the annual Virgin Mobile FreeFest, held in the fall at Merriweather Post Pavilion, has also been nixed. 

Says Seth Hurwitz, chair of I.M.P. (which owns Merriweather) and one of the producers of FreeFest: “The Freefest was this fantastic product of a crossroads of Branson and some very creative people at Virgin. The mixture got shaken up every year, and it always settled at the last possible moment for that year. That was part of the spontaneous magic that everyone could pick up on I think. Unfortunately, the pieces are not all there right now with Virgin. Whether they are again who knows. But the Freefest concept is fantastic and we are exploring options to continue it at Merriweather.”

So what does that mean? We’re not really sure. We’ve reached out to Virgin Mobile for (hopefully less-vague) comment, and will update when we hear back. In the meantime, we’ll be pouring one out for the event, which since 2009 has been giving Washingtonians the chance to see big-name acts (which last year included Vampire Weekend, MGMT, and Icona Pop) for a price even cash-strapped college students could afford—that is, free. 

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 04:44 PM/ET, 07/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()