Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kafka's 'The Trial' in the Time of Trump @SyneticTheater

If you believe in the inherent justice of legal systems, you will have that faith shaken if you take in the Synetic Theater's version of Franz Kafka's The Trial, now being performed at their Crystal City stage venue.

In his unsettling eerie, existentialist tale, Kafka original's novel presents the story of a man, known only as Joseph K, who is prosecuted by an inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime never revealed to him or the audience. During both Synetic's play and the novel it was based on, Joseph K. wanders through a labyrinth of bureaucratic legal proceedings which make no sense to us or our world of reality.

Some critics contend the visionary work can be read as a cautionary tale detailing the de-humanizing, terror-filled aspects of powerful fascist, dictatorial and totalitarian regimes. Seeing the play in that light produces a foreboding feeling for those who fear the anti-democratic positions of current President Trump and his administration.

Synetic's decision to cast all the play's characters but Joseph K. as insects (a nod to Kafka's most famous short story "The Metamorphosis," where the protagonist wakes up one morning to find himself turned into a giant bug), creates an even sharper distinction between Joseph K.'s humanity  and the bureaucratic insensitivity and senselessness of the court.

In deciding to turn the novel into a version of the play, Synetic director Paata Tsikurishvili says he was most struck by the tale's overriding sense of disorientation. "This seemingly nonsensical buildup of conflicting ideas and actions are things that we humans are exposed to throughout our lives," Tsikurishvili writes in The Trial's playbook.

Kafka's protagonist struggles against an invisible law and an untouchable court that he can't comprehend or fight. Tsikurishvili  says he was drawn to the tale's combination of bizarre surrealism and moments of complete clarity.

"Like K., we don't know what is going on, and yet, it's perfectly obvious what's going to happen to him. And even with that inevitability, the story is full of suspense as expectation and reality collide," the director says.

"As humans, we struggle for clarity and meaning, but then are faced with reality with a total lack of meaning. And that's where Kafka's kind of facial absurdity arises. It was these kinds of contradictions and paradoxes through the story that drew me to it," he added.

Monday, January 29, 2018

50 Years Later, a Look at The Bloody Tet Offensive @TheNewseum

John Olson can barely remember taking the photograph.
He snapped it, at age 20, during one of the bloodiest battles of the Tet offensive, a series of simultaneous attacks that began Jan. 30, 1968, and led to the most sustained fighting in the Vietnam War.
The picture — the most important he’s ever taken — shows a half dozen Marines sprawled atop a mud-crusted tank. One man’s arm and eye are bandaged. Blood coats another’s leg. In the foreground, a third man lays atop a wooden door his comrades used as a makeshift stretcher. His shirt has been ripped off because, in the center of his chest, is a bullet hole.
Now, 50 years later, Olson’s eyes lingered on that image, the centerpiece of “The Marines and Tet,” a new exhibit featuring his photographs at the Newseum in downtown Washington. He adjusted his dark-rimmed glasses and took a deep breath.
“I have next to no memory,” Olson said of the iconic moment.
To keep reading this story, which first appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hannah Wicklund & the Steppin Stones @TheHamiltonLive

It was billed as the Sibling Rivalry Tour 2018, but although you could spot siblings at The Hamilton Live Saturday night, there was definitely no rivalry to be found.

The featured act, the up and coming guitar trio Hannah Wicklund and the Steppin Stones was preceded by a one-hour opening set from The High Divers, led by Hannah’s older brother, Luke Mitchell.

While Mitchell handled guitar and lead vocals for his four-piece band, he performed as the drummer for his sister’s trio. Family friend and fellow Charlestonian Kevin Early provided bass for both groups.

Mitchell commented on the family affair in the middle of his set. “We’re billing this as the Sibling Rivalry Tour, but I’m nothing but proud of Hannah. I don’t know if you all know, but it’s pretty tough for a woman to make it in the music business and Hannah is doing a kickass job,” Mitchell said.

Hannah returned the accolades during her set. “My (7-year-older) brother is here playing drums with me. How cool is that?” the 20-year-old Hannah, who is already developing a strong following in the DC area, rhetorically asked the crowd.

Interestingly, the Hamilton Live show came on the same day Hannah’s new album titled Hannah Wicklund and the Steppin Stones was released.  “This will be kind of like an undercover release party,” Hannah noted, explaining that the trio would be playing all 10 songs on her new album in order. “We’ve never done this before, but we’ll try it and see how it goes,” the young guitarist, who is being compared to Susan Tedeschi and The Pretenders Chrissy Hynde, said.

The crowd of Wicklund enthusiasts who jammed the stage area demonstrated warm appreciation for the first two tracks, the powerful “Bomb Through the Breeze” and the driving, but haunting “Ghost,” both of which had been released for preview prior to the album’s arrival.

After playing the track “On the Road”, Wicklund noted the lyrics are a tribute to the freedom expressed in the classic beat novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac. “Kerouac … I think that’s how you say it,” Wicklund said with a laugh. “That South Carolina school system. I’m never sure.”

The album closes with the much softer “Shadowboxes and Porcelain Faces”. “This is our version of social commentary,” Wicklund said. “This one is definitely for people who like to listen to lyrics.”

Wicklund and the Steppin Stones were then joined by keyboardist Mary Alice Mitchell, her brother’s wife who was celebrating her 29th birthday on this night, and High Divers’ drummer Julius DeAngelis for two encore covers. “I know we’re not alone in missing Tom Petty,” she said before she and her brother shared lead vocals on Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

The augmented Steppin Stones ended their show with an extended, jam-driven version of Neil Young’s classic “Rockin in the Free World,” which Hannah noted was one of the first two songs her father ever taught her on guitar.

Wicklund’s new album, which was produced by Sadler Vaden, the guitarist for Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, and this current tour are expected to bring Hannah’s impressive talents as a vocalist, songwriter and powerhouse guitarist to a much wider audience.

But Hannah, who is already being heralded for her virtuosity by Guitar Player Magazine, is no stranger to live performance.

She formed her first version of the Steppin Stones when she was a mere 9 years old. By the time Hannah had graduated from high school, she had performed more than 1,000 shows. As word of her talent began to spread, Wicklund and an ever-evolving group of Steppin Stones began opening for acts such as The Jefferson Starship, The Outlaws, Kansas, Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and, most recently, fellow southerners The Marshall Tucker Band.

In interviews, Wicklund always credits the covers she played over the years for the insights she gained into her playing, singing, and songwriting. “To craft a song well, you look at whose songs you love,” she tells music writers. “I love that we were a cover band because we got to see what worked and what didn’t through other people’ music and, as a three-piece group, how to make it work.”

There’s no question that Hannah has found how to make it work. You should definitely check her out the next chance you get. You can also check out more great acts coming to the Hamilton Live by clicking here.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

How Does 'Homeland' Reflect Our Trumpian Times?

The gritty spy thriller “Homeland” has a way of incorporating very real elements — like the fake-news phenomenon, tension between a president and the intelligence community, and the war on terror — into its high-drama story lines.
 The show’s seventh and penultimate season, which premieres Feb. 11 on Showtime, looks like more of the same ripped-from-the-cable-chyrons action.
We chatted with showrunner, writer and producer Alex Gansa about how he (sometimes) nails the details of intelligence-gathering, filming this season in Richmond, and the unexpected thing he has in common with President Trump.
To keep reading this article, which first appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

An Unseen Story Behind the Story of the Movie 'The Post'

“The Post” is a great film, and you should see it. I’d say that even if it wasn’t about the institution that for the past 30 years has put food on my table and clothes on my back.
Steven Spielberg’s movie, like this newspaper, is full of interesting characters, but one of the most interesting doesn’t appear on screen. His name is mentioned only once, in passing, somewhat dismissively.
“She got rid of Al Friendly,” one of the boardroom suits says of Katharine Graham’s decision in 1965 to ease out the paper’s top editor to make way for a “pirate” named Benjamin C. Bradlee .
People who knew Alfred Friendly may have cringed a little at that line. His son Jonathan took it in stride when he saw the movie last week in Florida.
“It wasn’t the end of life for him,” Jonathan said.
Al Friendly was managing editor of The Washington Post — the title executive editor didn’t exist then — from 1955 to 1965. 
To continue reading this article, which first appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

King Assassination Continues to Reverberate Today

Peniel E. Joseph
The assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis on April 4, 1968, continues to reverberate throughout the nation in large and small ways almost 50 years later. 
In many ways our nation is still trying to recover from King’s death and the opportunities for racial equality, economic justice and peace — what King referred to as a “beloved community”— that seemed to recede in its aftermath.
Fifty years after King’s assassination, struggles for racial equality appear as acute now as they did then, except the juxtapositions between signs of racial progress and the reality of continued racial injustice are even more stark.  The “post-racial” symbolism in the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president existed uneasily alongside the harsh reality of mass incarceration of black and brown men and women, boys and girls. Just as 1968 ushered in the last of the long hot summers that began in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray triggered urban rebellions in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore that recalled the fits of racial unrest that gripped the nation 50 years ago.
To keep reading this article, which first appeared in The Washington Post, click here.