Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

The Trove: djassi daCosta johnson
May 26, 2011

Mrs. Verini: djassi daCosta johnson, 2 months pregnant.

djassi daCosta johnson adores her “ridiculously amazing family.”  It is in the haven of their embrace and the freedom of their trust that she’s been able to move fearlessly through her life. Her educator parents Awolowo and Orundun, of whom she speaks reverentially, anointed their eldest daughter with the nom de guerre of revolutionary Amílcar Cabral, (Abel) Djassi. Brought together by “the Movement,” the former SNCC worker and the former Black Panther secretary instilled in their four children a sense of activism, pride of heritage, hunger for knowledge, love of movement and spiritual grounding.

When we first met, djassi was a Bantu-knotted, hoodie-rocking Essence magazine intern rapturously in love with her tween sister, Yaya. An admitted “fool for a party,” the fly Virgo moved fluidly between the worlds of academia, professional dance, media and the clubs. More than fifteen years later she feels “blessed to have found my best friend in my little sister,” is planning graduate study and enjoying a dance career that has taken her around the globe, expanded her notions of her art and paved the way for marriage and motherhood.

I spent a recent afternoon with the new mom, her husband Corrado and their delightful daughter, Mirahl in their Brooklyn home as they prepared to summer in his native Rome. Sipping wine, we marveled over the body’s tremendous capacity for healing. Awed by the “wondrous abilities of the human body,” djassi the dancer bowed to djassi the mother. “I always thought I knew my body so well. I’m so proud of what it’s done and what it can do, but then I was also humbled by its limits,” she said recalling the arduous journey of Mirahl’s birth. Her infant warrior woman is a testament to the “strength that humans have and the will to survive.”

After a “normal” pregnancy, a love-filled karaoke baby shower and the full expectation that she, a mind-bogglingly fit woman would move through a water birth with relative ease, life-threatening complications arose. For 42 drug-free hours she labored, but sensing something was “off,” she resisted the urge to push and her midwife took heed. It was discovered that pushing risked strangulation of the baby by the twice-wrapped umbilical cord around her neck as well as uterine rupture and severe hemorrhage for djassi who inexplicably presented with Placenta Increta. Mirahl arrived via emergency Caesarean. Her name hints at the miraculous and its Turkish definition, “little gazelle” befits the daughter of a dancer/choreographer. In homage to Corrado’s grandmother Vera and djassi’s grandmother Lucille, Mirahl carries two middle names, Vera Lu.

Little Mirahl was born December 28, 2010.

Besotted with their baby girl, dja and Corrado are grateful for djassi’s protective intuition and honored by Mirahl’s having chose them. “My parents were very affectionate, I felt one hundred percent unconditionally loved,” djassi muses. “I hope I can pass that on.”

The striking DaCosta Johnson family: Orundun and Awolowo; first-born Mamadou, youngest Djani and…

Camara Yaya and djassi Camara, then and now. Their shared name Camara, means “comrade.”

The Johnson children were all educated in the Montessori tradition, at St. Michael’s where their mother taught. Djassi recalls getting “mommy practice” with Yaya and Djani (eight and ten years younger) when her mom spent summers away in Ohio pursuing Master’s studies in Montessori.  Mrs. DaCosta Johnson would eventually open Central Harlem Montessori, “the only accredited Montessori School in Harlem and the least expensive one in NYC for sure,” djassi says proudly.  Now retired, her dad was a Professor of Sociology at several New York City colleges. “My parents were very clear about being cognizant of our history and the importance of education as not just a privilege but a responsibility.” At the behest of their father, who valued his upbringing in New Haven, each of the children attended high school on the wooded campus of Northfield Mount Hermon in Western Massachusetts and went on to matriculate in the Ivies: Penn (Mamadou) Barnard (djassi) Brown (Yaya) and Cornell (Djani) Djassi is grateful for her father’s vision. “Aside from the obvious academic intensity and advantage it gave me in applying for and understanding the purpose of college, I really had such a formative experience living away from home…I don’t think I would have ever run track, swam, worked on a farm, or really seen myself as a multi-faceted individual. Boarding school let me grow into my own skin at my own pace and feel free to just be. As an adolescent that was priceless.”

Developing sound minds and bodies, the Johnson siblings excelled both academically and athletically. “We were always encouraged to be physical by nature, taught how fun it was to challenge and stretch the body’s capabilities. We grew up doing gymnastics, capoeira, all of us dance — my brothers are shamefully talented despite their lack of interest in training. I had school and ballet and modern classes all week and was able to ‘study’ the house and break-dance culture on the weekends. There are still guys who call me out when I’m uptown like, Ain’t you ‘Dou’s little sister who won that battle spinning on her head way back in da day?”

A 1970’s anti-nukes rally: “I want to GROW not GLOW.” And grow she did into an awesome command of her body.

Her parents have been on the board of DanceBrazil for most of her life. “Growing up, around and backstage with a dance company was amazing,” she says. Her first stage appearance was at age six: a samba with the company in “Orfeu Negro” at Riverside Church.

Junior high was pivotal. She chose as her Phys Ed elective, the dance class of Melvin Jones. The former Alvin Ailey dancer taught the Horton and Graham techniques. Through his instruction, she was ahead of the curve when she auditioned for and was accepted into the Ailey scholarship program years later.

“After boarding school I was hungry to get back to NYC and dance.” Yet she shunned the academic pursuit of dance. A local school would allow her to both train with Ailey and study English and Anthropology.  “A women’s college seemed empowering to me. With alumnae like Zora, Katherine and Twyla, I knew Barnard would be perfect.” Her nine-page appeal to overturn a denied housing grant was successful and though her parents lived only 23 blocks away, she was awarded housing for four years.

She initially found anthropology “daunting and too focused on the other,” but eventually realized that “there is a future in Anthro for participant-observers such as myself, that the preservation of culture can be enacted by those within rather than some extraneous observer.” This will be the crux of her graduate exploration. “I see ways to give back through my art.”

Among her impressive credits (view them and her performance reel at Dancer’s Pro) is her phenomenal performance in Moses Pendleton’s Passion.  A cornerstone of the MOMIX repertoire, Passion is a highlight of djassi’s eight-year tenure touring internationally with the company.

The mind-blowing Passion ribbon solo.

When djassi joined MOMIX, she and technical director/lighting designer, Corrado Verini, “gravitated to each other during after-show dinner to discuss the world, both yearning to talk about something besides dance,” she says.  On an Amsterdam tour they sparked an intense, see-each-other-on-tour, long-for-each-other-off-tour relationship. “We had cultural, linguistic, generational, not to mention the American/Italian, Black/White dichotomies that we both had to get over somehow.  We weren’t convinced right away that we were ready to deal with all of the work that loving each other might entail.” Nevertheless, “it was undeniable for both of us that there was something that kept bringing us back together.” In a yellow silk dress of her own design, djassi wed Corrado in August 2008 in Rome.

dja love.

“Soho Moods,” Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome.  Photo © Nina Contini Melis.

Apart from dance, she’s tapped into other aspects of her creativity through acting, writing (contributing to the book Transculturalism and TRACE magazine) and fashion.  Frequently complimented on garments she’d whip up, she during a tour break in 2001, created a 32-piece collection dubbed the eponymic dja. She sold the line at fairs in Rio and New York.  Inspired by her love of adornment, she has more recently launched the easier-to-produce earring line, Flights of Fancy by dja.

As Calpurnia in an Italian production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo: A.T. Ambrosini

Optical party dress and Flights of Fancy earrings by dja.

As a brisk stroll through nearby Prospect Park rocked Mirahl to sleep, djassi spoke of “spoiling” their winter baby “with Italian summer love at the sea and countryside of Rome.”  Happy for my friends and smitten with their slumbering infant I bade the Johnson-Verini family farewell and buon viaggio.

Il tesoro trovato di djassi:

1. Fame (the 1980 movie.) “My father took me to see it when I was six and I made him sit through it twice. I was like ‘I wanna do THAT!’ I look back on the movie now and realize there were some really adult themes, it wasn’t a movie about dance and fairies. But I was pretty clear that I could be an artist at six years old, so there you go.”

The “Fame” trailer.

2. Aperitivo.  “I have always loved a good glass of wine and 9 years of bartending in New York gave me the opportunity to really understand it.  One of the things I love about Italian ‘time’ as it relates to food is the concept of aperitivo, the precursor to dinner.  In the best bars in Rome and Milan one can go, relax, pay for a glass of wine and feast on the ‘buffet’ offerings.”

“No matter where I am, I rarely have a night without an aperitivo.” Wine photo by Sara Rosso.

3. Languages.  At 28 she lived in Brazil with Yaya and learned Portuguese by immersion. On a tour in Spain, “I got my Spanish better with that guy,” she says gesturing toward Corrado, “He speaks it really well.” After having traveled and toured as an American, she knows that rudimentary English is spoken most everywhere. “So you take it for granted,” she says. “But I find that you get so much more respect by speaking the language and you can really break down so many more barriers by how you speak the language… to take on the culture and the understanding of how people speak the language because of the culture. My sister and I really assimilated into Brazilian life and took on the accent.  A similar thing happened with Italian while living in Italy. I still have a long way to go to perfecting my Português and my Italiano but the ‘way’ I speak fools people and so I learn that much more from each exchange…and the languages are actually very similar. Many words are the same, it’s just ‘sung’ a little differently.”

4. New Year’s Eve in Rio. She’s spent it there a few times with Yaya. “The most meaningful, beautiful, spiritual New Year’s Eves ever!” Once they spent it on the roof of singer Elza Soares‘ Copacabana house, looking down on the glorious sight of the white-clad Carioca multitudes making water offerings to Yemanja. 

Ano Nove: “It’s pretty special. I can’t wait ’til the next one we are able to make.”

5. Dancing With My Family. “You can’t take the six of us anywhere with good music and some space because we all love to partner dance. We are all Salsa-proficient improvisers.  My dad made sure the girls could follow and the boys could lead. Holidays are three couples on the dance floor or a few of us dancing while the others play the congas, bell and berimbau…and my mom can lead a good funga anywhere.”

The Sisters Johnson get their dance on.

6. Hats.  She often tops her look with one of the many chapeaux she’s collected in her travels.

Some faves include Trilbys from Spain, select vintage and a conical spire from Chile.

7. High Heels.  “I looove a good pair of heels, and I love to get good bargains on them. One of my favorite pairs is from El Mundo on 145th and Broadway near where I grew up. They are gorgeous.”


“Don’t they just make you want to Salsa?Carlos by Carlos Santana pumps.

8. Fearlessness. “Without that concept in my life I wouldn’t have done what I’ve done. From thinking I could make a career of dance to traveling the world–something I wanted to do, but do with a purpose to meeting Corrado through work and believing in following my heart.”

Holiday Island, the Maldives.

9. Oasi Naturista di Capocotta. She loves the freedom of the nudist oasis in Rome. “I used to be a bit prudish about my breasts and then I realized I had to shed my Western issues and embrace my origins on this European beach. They have the most amazing restaurant with people eating on silver plates with huge wine glasses in different arrays of nakedness. It’s one of my favorite places to go in the summer.”

Easy atmosphere and the freshest catch.

10. gDiapers. “I just couldn’t fathom that in 2011, I should be complacent,” knowing that conventional disposables degrade in 500 years. “How is that responsibly leaving my child a planet she can thrive on?” An Earth-friendly diaper hybrid, gDiapers feature inserts (either washable cloth or flushable, biodegradable disposables) to absorb waste.  The new gMom has become an ardent brand evangelist: “no rashes, sooo much less waste and the refills break down in 50 days!” With an in-house washer during her Roman sojourn she’ll use the cloth option exclusively.

Good for the baby, good for Gaia (and they appeal to Mommy’s fashion sensibilities.)

Advertisements

The Trove: Craig Wallace
May 11, 2011


We’ve relocated!  View our story on Craig at inthetrove.com.  Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craig Wallace before his performance in Jennifer L. Nelson’s “24,7, 365” at The Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Though I met Craig Stephen Wallace, he of the resounding voice and commanding presence, about twenty years ago, I’ve seen him more in the past year than in all the years before, owing to seeing the respected thespian in multiple productions. I’d heard of the DC-based actor’s ascent over the years through our friend, filmmaker Kelvin Phillips, so when familial responsibilities brought me back to my native Washington, I checked out the prolific performer as he robustly embodied embattled arts administrator Sterling North in “Permanent Collection,” doting father Tom Fairchild in “Sabrina Fair” and bourgie bro’ Beau crossing the tracks in “24, 7, 365.” 

Fresh from an end-of-March appearance with John Lithgow in “The Trumpet of the Swan: A Novel Symphony,” at the Kennedy Center, Craig went straight into rehearsals for a unique Folger Elizabethan Theatre adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. We caught up for a very quick, but yummy bite at Capitol Hill lunch fave, We the Pizza to discuss his journey from an only child, “a shy kid who loved books, TV and music” to a confident, respected member of a thriving theater community.

Born and raised in Rochester, New York Craig stumbled upon his calling in high school when given a choice to take American Literature or Drama: A Practicum. He selected the latter thinking it was the easier of the two.  The instructor, actress Betsy Bourcy “saw something in me. I fought her tooth and nail but she forced me to audition (for the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls.) It was a watershed moment in my life, I never looked back.”

He spent his undergraduate years at Howard University deejaying frat parties and hosting college radio under the moniker Synbad Starr. “Truth was,” he says, “I was an egghead nerd trying to find myself.” He relishes those days. “College taught me how to have an opinion. At Howard I learned how to think, graduate school taught me how to act and in that progression I found myself.”

With fly folks, though shy, the future Funkateer always had presence.

An internship at The Folger was a career-making move. “I was watching the actors tackle the language and I knew that I wanted to learn the skills to tell classical stories. I also love the music of poetry and how rhythm plays such a vital part in speaking verse text. I did my first Shakespeare play, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ in 1987 when the Shakespeare Theatre Company was at The Folger.” He has since then covered most of the Shakespearean canon: from comedies “Twelfth Night” to “Troilus and Cressida;” tragedies “Hamlet” to “Coriolanus” and histories “Henry V” to “Richard II.”

Bardic: Caius Ligarius in “Julius Caesar,” (Shakespeare Theatre Company) Othello in “Othello,” (Folger Theatre) Brother in a Caribbean-set “Much Ado About Nothing,” (Folger Theatre) Escalus in “Romeo and Juliet” (Shakespeare Theatre Company) and in “Antony and Cleopatra” (Shakespeare Theatre Company)

Upon receiving his MFA from Penn State, he might have headed north with Broadway dreams but he returned south to the Districtbecause of a job opportunity. I stayed because I kept working. There was, for me, no real reason to leave. This is a flourishing theater community. I believe there are 80 professional theaters in the DMV region. I’m not sure it’s as diverse as it could be. I’m not saying there is racism involved, but in region where there are a lot of people of color, there should be more of us onstage….and I’m not sure if that’s our problem or theirs….probably both right?

Though he works steadily as an actor, he “began teaching acting at George Mason University just to supplement my income. These days, in addition to GMU, I also teach for The Shakespeare Theatre Company, The Theatre Lab and serve as a Folger Theatre teaching artist at Cardozo Senior High School.”

His passion for theater is shared by his girlfriend, Kimberly Schraf, whom he met when they both appeared in a 1994 production of Molière’s “The Misanthrope.” They once again graced the same stage in last Fall’s production of “Sabrina Fair” with Kim in the deliciously witty role of Julia Ward McKinlock. She has also narrated over one hundred books on tape including Little Altars Everywhere, Bee Season and The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

Outstanding Supporting Actress Nominee (for “Show Boat) Kim and Craig at the 2010 Helen Hayes Awards.

When asked about his influences he says “I have always been inspired by Malcolm X. He is discipline personified. Just got the new book on him, can’t wait to crack it.” He adds, “I do have directors and professors in my life that have given me insight on myself and my acting and I found them to be very helpful in my career.In that career he’s breathed life into the words of not only Shakespeare, but such esteemed playwrights as Anton Chekov, August Wilson, George Bernard Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, Howard Sackler, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tennessee Williams and Tony Kushner (whose “Angels in America,” secured Craig a 2000 Helen Hayes Award nomination for his portrayal of the nurse, Belize.)

Clockwise from left, an illustrious career: Lopakhin in “The Cherry Orchard,” (Everyman Theater) Usumcasane in “Tamburlaine,” (Shakespeare Theatre Company) “The Underpass” (Davis Performing Arts Center at Georgetown University) Beau in “24, 7, 365,” (Theatre of the First Amendment) Flip in “Our Lady of 121st Street,” (Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company)The Mayor in “Fucking A,” (Studio Theatre) Brother in “Much Ado About Nothing” and Boy Willie in “The Piano Lesson” (The Hangar Theatre)


Clockwise: Sterling North in “Permanent Collection,” (Round House Theatre) Tom Fairchild in “Sabrina Fair,” (Ford’s Theatre Society) The Aviator in “The Little Prince” and Booster in “Jitney” (African Continuum Theatre Company)

Craig was invited in 2006 to join a coterie of esteemed speakers at a birthday tribute to Abraham Lincoln at the White House. He honored the 16th President of the United States by reading  an excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation.

On the staging of “Cyrano” he says rehearsal has been intense, “we started blocking the first day…As all good art it’s gonna get ugly before it gets pretty.”  Of his role as the villainous DeGuiche he says, “I just want him to be full-bodied and complex. If we do it right, you will hate him at first, but come to an understanding about him by the end. Phew!”

De Guiche taunts Cyrano (Eric Hissom)  Photo: Carol Pratt

What’s next on the horizon? “I’ve got some upcoming acting and directing jobs after Cyrano closes. Looks to be a busy summer and fall! I’m just beginning to direct. I’ve already directed a couple of things (“Tommy J and Sally,” “Mio Cuore – My Heart” and “Children of Medea”) and I’m still learning.

As I finished my ginger root soda, he bounded off to rehearse the show I look forward to checking out next week.  (The Folger Elizabethan Theatre production of Cyrano runs through June 5th.)

And without further ado, Craigslist:

1. Storm. Craig and Kim fell deep in doggie love eight years ago with the arrival of a gorgeous Husky mix in their lives. “Together we are three the hard way! And I love every minute of it.”

Snow Storm: in her element, achieving canine Nirvana.

2. Funk. “The music, the way of life.” On his Facebook “About,” he says simply,  “I’m just livin’ and jivin’ and diggin’ the skin I’m in.”

Classic funk: the landing of the Mothership.

3. Watching TV. As a child, it was “cartoons, of course and all the PBS fare–Sesame Street, Electric Company, etc.  As a teen, I was big into Twilight Zone, then 60 Minutes. For years I never missed it.” Some other faves include Treme, the Law and Order franchise, Dexter, Damages, The Wire and Flight of the Conchords.

The Treme opening sequence. Music by John Boutté.

4. Newspapers. Especially the Sunday papers.

He consistently reads the The Washington Post, natch, and the Sunday New York Times.

5. Shakespeare. The work of the Bard has been integral to his double-decade career.

Once you get the hang of it, it is really a wonderful feeling to have his words roll off your tongue!

6. Getting to know a new city when I work outside of DC.

His role last year in the pivotal role of “Boy Willie” in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson took him to the Hangar Theatre in the college town and gateway to the Finger Lakes, Ithaca, New York.

7. Cooking. “I look at the food section of The [Washington] Post every Wednesday. If something looks good, I’ll make it.” 


“My specialty is roasting whole chickens on the grill.”  Photo via Healthy Delicious.

8. Collecting music. The former DJ still has vinyl and says, “When I get time to find some room in the house, I’m going to set up me stereo, pull them out and have some fun.”

Some of the albums which “changed the way I think about music.”

9. Having Cocktails. He’s not beholden to any particular watering hole. “It’s more about the company than the spot.”

Photo Morgan Sheff via Cocktails and Cologne.

10. My Home.  After intense immersion in scripted lives it’s always good for him to return to his own.

Photo, Chris in Plymouth.

The Trove: Henry Adebonojo
August 12, 2010

With the same great love for capturing the moment through the moving image as for distilling the essence in a single frame, cinematographer/ photographer Henry Adebonojo is “happiest when I am making pictures.” I met the courteous and quiet Henry in passing many moons ago as he, fan of foreign cinema, was headed to Tower Records on 66th Street, home of “the best collection of foreign films in NYC hands down,” as his colleague in the film biz (my then-beau) and I left the self-same place in a round of music shopping.   Our paths would cross here and there but it would be years later before Henry and I had a “real” conversation and his other “twin” emerged in Gemini glory: erudite and given to animated conversation about literature, music, film, politics and racing.

Henry spent his Lagosian adolescence during the rise of Afrobeat, leaving in 1978 to complete his A-Levels (college qualification exams) and continue on to university in Great Britain, where his interest in photography was sparked in earnest. He completed his undergraduate degree in Law at the University of Buckingham and went on to study International Law at the graduate level at University College, London.

Returning to the city of his birth in 1984, he entered the film business the following year with a production assistant gig.  Working his way up the through the ranks, he became a cinematographer in 1993. He has enjoyed a career which has taken him across the United States and as far away as Mozambique, South Africa, post-genocide Rwanda and Italy, where he traveled with Spike Lee to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for the film, Miracle at St. Anna. Poignantly, James McBride’s fictionalized account of the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre in World War II Tuscany and the sacrifice of African-American Buffalo Soldiers brought Henry to the hilltop village of Sommocolonia, the very place, he’d learn that his own uncle, the 21-year-old PFC Macleon Johnson, gave his life in service of the US Army in December 1944. Visit his blog, Fewer Words, for the moving account.

Henry Adebonojo and the Uncle he never knew, the heroic Buffalo Soldier, Macleon Johnson

Shooting the likes of the late Gordon Parks, (for his Emmy-nominated work on Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks) George Clooney, Chuck D, Marisa Tomei, Dave Chappelle and the POTUS, Barack Obama, he’s cut a wide swath across the mediums of music videos, commercials, promos, documentaries and short films. The one position which has remained elusive is the Director of Photography spot on a feature film, but he’s up for the challenge, and looks forward to its inevitable occurence.

Though motion pictures are his bread and butter, he is making a concerted effort to shoot the still photos that he too loves.  His images, even those which depict atrocity, reflect his inherent empathy. He brings a tender humanity even to inanimate objects.

A glimpse of the sacred amid the rubble of the most unholy, the skulls of the murdered faithful in a Rwandan church, 2004.


“Esperanza Spalding,” May 2009. A quiet moment for the jazz bassist.

“Waiting for Wesley,” Ilha de Mozambique, 2005.  On a location scouting trip in Africa for Danny Glover’s intended feature, “Toussaint,” star Wesley Snipes “was like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Wherever we went a crowd formed and people followed on foot behind the car that carried him around.”

View his work, both moving images and still photography at his website, HenryAdebonojo.com.

Because I’ve rolled with Henry to some wonderful jazz performances (such as the Heath Brothers at Birdland and Sir Ron Carter with his Juilliard colleagues, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Carl Allen, Ron Blake and Benny Green in a super-tight set at Dizzy’s), it comes as no surprise that Jazz should figure prominently in the aficionado’s trove.  Read on to discover his other treasures.

1. The Masters of Jazz. Henry has completely immersed himself in the world of Jazz and though he is well-versed in the music of many artists, two stand out for their bodies of work: Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. “Any thing those men produced is a soul-stirring emotional ride for me.  I recommend the lesser known Milestones as a landmark album for Miles.  And for Sir Duke, I recommend one of his later works from 1967, Far East Suite, which is rich in the complex orchestration for which he is famously known.  I especially love Ad Lib on Nippon.”  The bibliophile adores Geoff Dyer’s self-labeled work of “imaginative criticism,” But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz.  “It merges beautifully my love of Jazz music and stories with my tendency to daydream.” As for jazz films, the 1988 documentary, Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser is it. “There is a moment in the film where Monk is at an airport in Europe and he is briefly separated from Nellie [his wife] as she is handling passport stuff.  He stands staring at people to-ing and fro-ing through the airport and in his typical mad mathematician methodology he breaks out in a spin and a brief jig – the kind he is wont to do on stage. It’s a personal moment, a moment of release.  When I am in a particularly stressful moment or situation, my mind wanders to Thelonious.” (Skippy and Crepuscule with Nellie are favorites.)

“Epistrophy,” sets up the airport scene about seven minutes into this clip. It is the perfect composition for Monk’s ecstatic whirl.

2. Compact Cameras. “I’ve been enjoying the miniaturization of my personal visual tool kit.  Sometimes I don’t feel like lugging around big cameras and dealing with the attendant attention.” He purchased an Olympus EP2 in January. “It has a lower profile than my Canon camera and accepts a plethora of lenses via adapters.  It is more discrete than the beloved Leica of many a photographer and the image quality while not quite up to the Canon, serves my purposes very well.  I love to use my Voigtlander 58mm 1.4 lens on it.  Great resolution on that lens and tack sharp.” A birthday gift from his “beloved friend, Kevin Ladson,” Henry’s Flip video cam, with its diminutive size allows him to “enjoy shooting those candid moments that a larger camera would destroy.  I don’t have to worry about things like focus and exposure. I just shoot and have fun with it.”

Mighty minis: Olympus PEN EP2 and the Ultra Flip HD video camera.

3. Auto Racing. “Nothing provides the kind of adrenaline kick for me like I get when I am behind the wheel of a fast car.  That car may be a Go Kart or a race car, but the feeling is the same.  The purposeful direction of aggression with a host of other people who are guided by the same principle and all happen to be heading in the same direction.  I don’t get that feeling from anything else I do.  For Go Karting I head up to Mount Kisco to GPNY (a modestly priced experience). For race cars I go to Skip Barber Racing School (a ruinously expensive experience).  I plan to do Skip Barber before the year is out.”

H.O.A. in the driver’s seat.

4. Wrist Watches. He owns several and keeps them in rotation. “They are my jewelry and change with my moods.  I love all my watches, but I have two ‘favourites,’ both have black dials and were bought to mark trips abroad.”  An aviation chronograph from Russian watchmaker Poljot “is the only manual winding watch I own.  I love having to wind it the way I used to do the watches I had as a kid.”

Henry was drawn to the “interesting combination” of steel case and gold numerals and hands in the square-faced watch from the La Carrée collection of French watchmaker Louis Erard.

5. Fountain Pens. “I enjoy process and although I don’t use them often, I love to fill a fountain pen with ink, write on some fine absorbent paper and watch the ink settle in the way my mood or emotion might do on a particular writing.  I occasionally pop into the Fountain Pen Hospital in downtown Manhattan to see what’s on offer.  I have a Parker I love and a Conklin that I picked up there.  I’d love a Namiki-Pilot, but the ones I like are too rich for my blood.”

Photo, PressSmart.com.

6. Francis Coppola Claret. Though he claims “an unsophisticated palette,” he knows what he likes in wine: good, red and affordable. Until he celebrates an Academy Award or Grand Prix win, the $20 range suits him fine. “I find I cannot go wrong with the Coppola Claret.  I can only imagine his wines are made with the same attention to detail as his classic films.”

“Never had a bad bottle of the stuff and it does not break my bank.”

7. Busboys and Poets. “In our fast changing world where process and tactile experience is being steadily replaced by a virtual one, I hold on for dear life to those of my past.  I miss record stores – even the ones that sell CDs.  Bookstores are going the same way.”  The D.C. cafe and bookseller,  “Busboys is a reminder of what it really is like to sit back and smell the rose or coffee depending on your preferred metaphor. In the case of Busboys, it’s more like smell food and touch books.”

The Busboys and Poets Bookstore is run by Teaching for Change.  Photo, Susanna Raab for the New York Times.

8. Contemporary Nigerian Authors. “Emerging Nigerian Writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) and Chris Abani (GraceLand) are rocking my world right now.  They are brilliant story tellers who owe a great deal to the writers who came before – Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe – but have an up-to-the-minute, romantic, free style of writing.  They are essential to an understanding of Nigeria’s past, present and future.”

Exceptional prose from two of Nigeria’s finest contemporary writers.

9. Fela Ransome Kuti and the Koola Lobitos “are important to me because of the well deserved popularity of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, but they are equally important.  The two are inseparable.  I urge anyone interested in the latter to acquaint themselves with the former. I was a kid growing up in Lagos when Hi Life music was all the rage and distinctly remember the transformation Fela went through and the long journey to embrace he endured (especially by the class from which he came – little known but he was seen as a kind of class traitor because of his embrace of common folk).  It’s a more profound story than the musical could ever encompass.”

Soundtrack to a Nigerian childhood.

10. Passing Strange. The musical, the film, the cast recording have particular resonance to his life.  “I lost my mother when I was 14 years old.  My life has had a certain un-balance to it ever since.  I have not begun to reckon with that until fairly recently, to grasp some of the dimensions of altered states resulting there from.  I think boys who lose their mothers at a young age have particular stories, unique stories.  Passing Strange also resonates because of the awkwardness of career choices that remain unsettled in us and the ways we are required to embrace that in order to move forward.”

Henry was overjoyed to serve as camera operator on the Spike Lee-helmed, filmed version of the Tony-award winning musical.

The Gentry Lands in Brooklyn
October 23, 2009

Years ago before marriage added motherhood and the Adams to her name, I met Nichole R. Thompson Adams on an indie film project.  In recent years I’ve come to live in the same nabe as the Clinton Hill homeowner/real estate broker/performer.  Just the other day as she walked her palm-sized pup we bumped into one another and spoke about neighborhood changes.  With a characteristically beaming smile, she shared that her one-woman show, Black Girl, You’ve Been Gentrified is being staged at Cherry Lane Theatre’s Cherry Pit.  “Come out, for ten bucks you get the show and a beer…it’s fun.”  From the promo:

Race, culture, class …Jamaican born and Brooklyn raised, Nichole Thompson-Adams has just a few things on her mind.  The neighborhood around her is changing.  Is Nichole changing too? Revel in the zany and poignant experiences that told her quite clearly, she’s been gentrified.

Glad to see that the jovial John Y. Church III (with whom I’ve done commercial work) is directing Nichole in her self-penned piece, I plan to check out one of the two Monday performances on October 26 or November 23 at 8pm.

Gentrified

The Cherry Pit

155 Bank Street

(West Beth Complex)

989 2020

Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined”
March 30, 2009

I am hugely enamored of the work of playwright and 2007 MacArthur Fellow, Lynn Nottage. From laughing heartily and feeling the first flush of love with a date at her Fabulation, or the Education of Undine, to obsessing over costuming her beautiful, Pulitzer-nominated, turn-of-the-century play, Intimate Apparel, many wonderful moments of the past few years have been punctuated by the enjoyment of her work.

Last Thursday was another such moment when I took in a performance of her latest staged play. In 2005, Ms. Nottage, who feels a “social responsibility” to give voice to the voiceless, traveled with her husband, filmmaker Tony Gerber and the director with whom she is most closely aligned, Kate Whoriskey, to Uganda (more stable than the neighboring embattled Democratic Republic of Congo) to speak with Congolese refugee women and gather their stories. The resulting Mother Courage and her Children-influenced piece is the powerful Ruined, on stage at the Manhattan Theatre Club through May 2, 2009.

Set in the recent past in a small mining town in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo (props to the scenic and sound designers), Ruined introduces us to Mama Nadi, proprietor of a bar/brothel that keeps the local miners and soldiers lusts for Primus beer and paid sex sated and ironically the women whose bodies are offered for consumption, safe. For food and shelter in a weapon-free zone (patrons are asked to remove their bullets before entering Mama’s doors) the women provide housekeeping duties and sexual favors– always with condoms. An odd bit of safe haven in a region where women are often brutally ravaged in unprotected, non-consensual sex in great numbers and left “ruined” thus shamed and unwelcome in their villages.

Saidah Arrika Ekulona’s turn as the Brechtian entrepreneur Mama Nadi is flawless. Though Mama’s livelihood depends on the spoils of desperation and devastation, she unapologetically views prostitution as an act of defiance rather than defilement, a choice. Josephine, as portrayed by the lithe Cherise Boothe, is the proud daughter of a village chief whose excommunication has brought her into Mama’s fold, her gift of dance used as enticement, a weary-feistyness that keeps her (like Intimate Apparel’s 1905 prostitute, Mayme) moving toward something more. Russell G. Jones, nuanced as the sensitive Christian, brings the violated girls, Salima and Sophie and ultimately, love to Mama’s insular world.

Quincy Tyler Bernstine’s poignant portrayal of the tragic Salima, “You will not fight your battles on my body anymore,” brings tears to the eyes. We actually feel for Chike Johnson when he, as Fortune realizes the err of his ways and seeks redemption and reunion with his wife. Christian’s “ruined” niece Sophie cannot be offered as a prostitute, so she earns her keep in song, performing at the bar. With her large, expressive eyes and clear, beautiful voice, Condola Rashad shows us the spirited hopefulness that remains with Sophie in spite of the constant pain that wracks her abused body.

There are moments of wrenching gravity and yet the play is rife with humor. As in life, there is the mercy of levity, momentary reprieve that along with hope allow us to move through the now with the belief in a better tomorrow.

Here, the playwright Lynn Nottage and actor, Saidah Arrika Ekulona discuss Ruined with WNYC New York Public Radio.

ruinedposter

Condola Rashad on the promotional poster.

I have to admit that I was taken aback by the fact that the little being, the reason for belly bump camouflaging on The Cosby Show, (as Clair Huxtable, Phylicia Rashad’s real-life pregnancy was hidden behind props) was performing beautifully before me, a grown woman. Fugit hora.

The Incomparable Helga Davis
March 10, 2009

It was many years ago and the venue is now a blur, but the memory of first hearing Helga Davis perform her Feet of Clay is seared into my very soul. I’d known Helga from her day gig at a showroom I frequented in the 1990’s. In her intense gaze was a depth that revealed so much more than the confines of a desk job might suggest and I suppose the beautifully measured cadence and sonorous speaking voice should have tipped me off, but I was unprepared for what I was to experience when she opened her mouth to sing. I was dumbstruck by the power and clarity of her voice.

Amid my own emotional upheaval her lyrics penetrated, “Why has the sun gone away? Who’ll keep the promises made today? You have to make your own way…” Her simple words, epiphanic, expelling the shrapnel from my then war-torn heart.

From her early days with Greg Tate’s band Women in Love, to her role as the disciple Hilarion to Carl Hancock Rux’s Anthony in the Robert Wilson/Bernice Johnson Reagon collaborative staging of Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, Helga has made artistic choices that push the boundaries of her own comfort level as well as ours, luring us into ecstatic exploration with her.

Two years ago today she was featured on WNYC ‘s Evening Music Spotlight in a revelatory, hour-and-a-half long interview interspersed with highlights from her body of work. Do carve out the time to allow yourself to luxuriate in this treat of Helga courtesy of New York Public Radio.

hd_sb

Helga Davis from Sharon Bridgforth’s delta dandi Touring Company.

West Side Story
February 2, 2009

I looove the Academy-Award winning film, West Side Story.  It’s been a favorite since I was a child.  From the brilliant opening sequence to the wall-graffiti end titles, I was glued to the television set every time it was re-broadcast. I would compare and contrast the original Broadway cast recording with the film’s soundtrack album, both in my mama’s record collection, and twirl about my room singing and loving Rita Moreno’s simple but saucy lilac dress in costume as Anita.

I was not yet born during its original theatrical run and was delighted to see it on the big-screen for the first time just over a year ago when it was screened alfresco at the foot of the majestic Brooklyn Bridge with the Manhattan skyline providing dramatic back drop.  It was thrilling to see it in this format, in all its Technicolor glory.

wssdumbo

Having watched the PBS broadcast of the film just days before I traveled to celebrate the holidays in Washington, DC with family, I had the Stephen Sondheim-penned lyrics on my mind when my sister piled our mother and me into the car to head downtown for a “surprise.”  I broke into song, “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way…” and subjected my family to the entire songbook.  Just moments after I screeched the last note I looked up to see in the distance, the marquee of the National Theater which read in bold, distressed red lettering, “West Side Story.”  I screamed.

We took our seats and I felt like a little girl again as the orchestra began the familiar overture, excited by the specter of experiencing the live performance.  Now Arthur Laurents, librettist of the original 1957 production, and director of this revival “abhors” the film I so love. Russian-born Natalie Wood horribly accenting Maria, “Make it no be true”  was just one of the inauthentic elements from the film Laurents endeavors to redeem in the classic retelling of Romeo and Juliet. He, for instance, insisted upon casting Spanish-speaking actors, not just anyone with rudimentary knowledge of high-school Spanish in the roles of the “Sharks” and the women in their lives.  Much of their dialogue and lyrics is spoken and sung in Spanish with English subtitles. Argentine newcomer, Josefina Scaglione is classically trained in opera and performs Maria beautifully.  The scenic design by James Youmans and lighting by Howell Binkley place us solidly in Doc’s Candy Store, in the gym, in the shadows of the Upper West Side streets.

I was fully engaged in the first act and looked forward to the resolve, but only moments after we returned from intermission, a siren blared and an evacuation order announced due to a smoke situation.  The brave men of the DC Fire Department arrived, quickly assessed the situation and declared the space safe.  I must admit, I wasn’t thrilled with the second half, but I am not certain if the potential threat of death by fire didn’t ruin the momentum.  I’ll gleefully give it another go later this month when it begins its Broadway run at the Palace Theater on February 23.

wss_logo

Thorough ‘Good
July 25, 2008

I recently saw, within days of the late Thurgood Marshall’s 100th birthday, Laurence Fishburne become the civil rights legend in a 90-minute inspired “lecture” which understandably has won the actor both the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Outstanding Solo Performance in Thurgood and garnered him a Tony nomination.

I’m always impressed with actors who can pull off a one-man show, and does he ever.  When we, as latecomers were escorted to our seats by an usher, he addressed us in character, beckoning us welcome from the lectern as if we were tardy law students at Howard University.  He further admonished a couple in the audience who’d been speaking through his monologue, letting them know that they’d been heard and he would be happy to entertain their questions or comments after his “lecture.”  Ad libs aside, he continued without skipping a beat.

With a simple, effective set (Scenic Design, Allen Moyer) and appropriately minimal wardrobe adjustments (Costume Design, Jane Greenwood) the man christened “Thoroughgood” in turn-of-the-century Baltimore emerged to share his journey through segregation to his historic appointment to the highest court of the United States.

Fishburne’s impeccable turn as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice was full of humanity, humor and fitting dignity.  His nuanced postural shifts and gradually hoarsening voice aged him with a subtlety that sidled quietly into the consciousness leaving the audience wowed by the passage of time.

The limited engagement has been extended to August 17.  See it if you can.

Laurence Fishburne as “Thurgoodat the Booth Theatre

Here’s a video clip from back-in-the-day when newsmen like Mike Wallace smoked during interviews with prominent newsmakers like Thurgood Marshall.