Broke-ology marks a number of firsts for the local theater scene: It’s the first full play produced in the Anacostia Playhouse, the first play presented east of the Anacostia River by Theater Alliance, and the first area staging of a drama by Nathan Louis Jackson, whose work has been gathering acclaim since Broke-ology played at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2009. Theater Alliance artistic director Colin Hovde, on record as saying he’s no fan of “kitchen-sink dramas,” has made an exception for Broke-ology, which even features a kitchen sink in the set. “The play is naturalistic,” Hovde says, “but it’s in the spirit of Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, and Eugene O’Neill. It has magical elements but is really about family and people.”
Running August 16 through September 8, Broke-ology is about a father and his two sons who are struggling to support one another after the father’s health fails. The elder son, who has a blue-collar job, expounds on his theory of “broke-ology,” the complex science of being broke. His younger brother returns home following his postgrad studies to find his family resenting his absence. “It’s a powerful story that deals with issues that are relevant to the community of Anacostia, but it is in no way didactic or presumptuous,” Hovde says. “For me, having it be the first Theater Alliance play in Anacostia is about opening a dialogue and beginning a relationship.”
For more than a decade, Theater Alliance was based at Northeast DC’s H Street Playhouse, which moved to Anacostia after rents priced it out of the neighborhood. The company hopes to maintain a presence in the Capitol Hill area while presenting works in its new location. Broke-ology’s cast and crew include Howard alums G. Alverez Reid and Marlon Russ as the father and one of his sons, Helen Hayes Award-winning costume designer Reggie Ray, and New York director Candace Feldman.
Says Hovde: “One of the things I love about Nathan is that as a black writer, he doesn’t write black plays—he writes plays. Broke-ology presents a beautiful picture of a family that happens to be black, but he doesn’t make that the central concern. His is a strong way to approach storytelling and a voice that needs to be heard.”
Broke-ology. August 16 to September 8 at Theater Alliance. Tickets ($25) at theateralliance.com.
This article appears in the August 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Faith Ringgold (left) is widely considered one of the most important African-American artists of the 20th century, but many critics believe her work has never received the acclaim it deserves. While she’s best known for her story quilts from the 1970s and ’80s, an exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s,” looks at her earlier work and the activism underpinning it.
The show—June 21 through November 10—comprises 45 pieces from two series made in the 1960s: “American People,” in which Ringgold fused Picasso’s post-Cubist style with traditional African influences, producing works that showed the paradoxes of integration, and “Black Light,” in which she explored notions of color by abandoning white paint. “It was a vibrant period—there was a lot of writing, talking about expressing the experience of African-American people,” Ringgold says. “I felt, as I still feel, that artists have the job of documenting their times.”
“American People” was considered scandalous for its depictions of race. One painting, “Die,” plays on Picasso’s “Guernica” by imagining a gory street riot. “A lot of people were horrified,” she says. “They didn’t feel it was appropriate to say anything about America that wasn’t positive.” But she was intent on trying to show what it was like to live as an African-American: “I wanted people to feel as though they were facing these people, experiencing part of the struggle. I was trying to give them the experience I had had all my life.”
Now 82 and living in New Jersey, Ringgold runs a foundation, Anyone Can Fly, that teaches children about art history. She continues to campaign for museums to showcase work by women and African-Americans. “Persevere, look, see, feel, and create, and we will know your experience—leave it behind for us in a way that no one else can,” she says. “They could leave me out, but they couldn’t stop me from painting those pictures.”
“American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s,” June 21 through Nov. 10 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. $10. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
This article appears in the June 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
When it comes to art history, says Phillips Collection director Dorothy Kosinski, there are always figures who tend to be neglected. “People get pushed to the margins,” Kosinski says. “It’s somehow easy for art historians and critics to forget about them as artists.”
“Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet”—February 9 through May 12 at the Phillips—examines the personal and artistic relationships among three Abstract Expressionists working in the mid-20th century. Along with the famous artists Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet, the exhibit shines a light on the lesser-known Alfonso Ossorio, whose career as an artist is often overlooked because of his more prominent roles as friend and collector.
Ossorio—born in the Philippines, raised in England, and educated at Harvard—was from a wealthy family, giving him the means both to acquire and to create art. In 1950, he traveled to France to meet Dubuffet and was greatly influenced by the Frenchman’s interests in art brut, or outsider art—work made outside the establishment, without formal training. Ossorio later bought an estate in the Hamptons, near where Pollock had a home.
Showcasing Ossorio at the Phillips is nothing new: The museum’s founder, Duncan Phillips, purchased several of the artist’s works in the 1950s. Kosinski—who got to know Ossorio in the 1980s and describes him as a “really brilliant, challenging, experimental artist”—is thrilled to see this show come to fruition: “We’re proud to bring the story into the public eye and give Ossorio his due as a seminal figure in this story.”
“Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet” at the Phillips Collection. February 9 through May 12. Admission $12.
This article appears in the February 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Twenty-four years after John Malkovich starred in the movie Dangerous Liaisons, the actor is directing a French-language production of the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses, based on the drama by Christopher Hampton, which in turn was taken from a novel by Choderlos de Laclos. The show comes to Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre December 6 through 9, following a run earlier this year at Paris’s Théâtre de l’Atelier.
The new version of the story—about the romantic manipulations of immoral aristocrats Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil—fuses 18th-century culture with modern trappings, so the actors wear corsets and wigs over jeans (Malkovich also helped design the costumes) and text one another love notes and photos. “The book was written when the French had nothing to do but seduce people,” says Théâtre de l’Atelier artistic director Laura Pels, “so it’s historical in terms of presenting the way people lived, but in a modern way.”
Malkovich auditioned more than 300 student actors before selecting a troupe whose members were all under 25, in keeping with the ages of the novel’s characters. While Hampton’s play was nominated for a Tony Award when it ran on Broadway in 1987, Pels says the adaptation is truer to the novel’s spirit: “The French is very saucy, so it would be a pity to have it in English. It’s not that it has to be done in French, but it has to be done in a way that gives a sense of what motivated these people. I don’t think Malkovich would have done it in any other language.”
Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Dec. 6 to 9 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre. Tickets ($60 to $75) at shakespearetheatre.org.
This article appears in the December 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
Detroit is an example of what DC could have been, if the presence of the federal government hadn’t provided an industry impervious to economic gloom. Both cities were left pockmarked and fire-scarred by riots in the late ’60s, but while DC eventually recovered, Detroit now has 40 percent of the population it did in the 1950s—and the empty landmarks to prove it.
The city’s decline is explored in two new photography exhibitions at the National Building Museum, but the takeaway from both shows is, strangely, a sense of beauty. Chilean-born photographer, writer, and filmmaker Camilo José Vergara has captured 25 years of the city’s history in “Detroit Is No Dry Bones,” an exhibition that reverberates with Vergara’s obvious attachment to the place’s gorgeous ruins (he calls Michigan Central Station “America’s Parthenon”). “Detroit Disassembled,” a series of large-scale photographs by Andrew Moore, feels much more bereft, documenting a city that feels largely empty of occupants. It’s impossible to look at the five-foot prints without thinking of the weed-ridden New York in I Am Legend or the bedraggled landmarks in post-apocalyptic TV shows.