Familiar by Danai Gurira (Wooly Mammoth Theatre)

Familiar is written by Tony-nominated playwright Danai Gurira (who was born in the US, but raised many years in Zimbabwe). She can be seen in the newest Marvel movie- Black Panther.  (Listen to a recent NPR interview w/ Gurira here: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/17/586172340/danai-gurira-on-her-black-panther-role-she-protects-what-we-would-have-been). Familiar is Wooly’s entry into the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. The play is directed by Theater J artistic director, Adam Immerwahr (one of Gurira’s long-time collaborators).

Donald (Kim Sullivan), a low-key lawyer and partner in his firm, and his high-strung scientist wife, Marvelous (Inga Ballard), are getting ready for the wedding of their older daughter, Tendi (Sharina Martin). Their younger daughter, Nyasha (Shannon Dorsey- I’ve seen her in All the Way and Octoroon), has recently returned from Zimbabwe, and is full of excitement and stories. Unlike religious/straight-laced lawyer Tendi, the much younger Nyasha is a free-spirited musician still finding herself. (Nyasha reminded me of Beneatha Younger, the idealistic/Afrocentric college girl from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.) 

Two sisters of Marvelous have come over for the wedding: Margaret (Twinkle Burke)- an adjunct professor who loves wine and Anne (Cheryl Lynn Bruce)- a traditional woman (who stayed behind in the old country). Tendi invited Anne to help w/ the roora (bride price) ceremony, despite the fact that she and her mother don’t get along. Marvelous is shocked, as she does NOT approve of roora. However, Tendi and her white fiance/nonprofit worker, Chris (Drew Kopas), want to honor the elders in this way. It turns out that Chris needs a go-between for the ceremony, so he brings in his younger brother/former soldier, Brad (Andy Truschinski). Misunderstandings, sibling rivalries, hurt feelings, secrets, and a LOT of hilarity ensues! 

I was lucky enough to get tickets (online) to see this play on a pay-what-you-can performance. I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard in the theater before! It’s NOT just about jokes, there are some VERY touching moments (some of which grow out of a long-hidden family secret). I highly recommend it to anyone in the DC area; it’s playing until SUN, MAR 11th (https://www.woollymammoth.net/event/familiar).

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The Post (2017) starring Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep

WARNING: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

When American military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, realizes to his disgust the depths of the US government’s deceptions about the futility of the Vietnam War, he takes action by copying top-secret documents that would become the Pentagon Papers. Later, Washington Post owner, Kay Graham, is still adjusting to taking over her late husband’s business when editor Ben Bradlee discovers the New York Times has scooped them with an explosive expose on those papers. Determined to compete, Post reporters find Ellsberg himself and a complete copy of those papers. However, the Post’s plans to publish their findings are put in jeopardy with a Federal restraining order that could get them all indicted for Contempt. Now, Kay Graham must decide whether to back down for the safety of her paper or publish and fight for the Freedom of the Press. In doing so, Graham and her staff join a fight that would have America’s democratic ideals in the balance. -IMDB summary

This tightly edited/well-acted historical drama (directed by Spielberg) is a MUST-SEE for our (politically troubled) times! Spielberg wanted to have his film released as quickly as possible given the parallels between its theme and the burgeoning political “fake news” climate in the U.S. According to Streep, the physical shoot started in May 2017 and finished at the end of July and Spielberg had it cut two weeks later. The film went from script to final cut in a modest 9 mos.

Tom Hanks (WaPo editor Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (newspaper owner Katharine Graham) are the main draws here, BUT there are also chances for (younger/less famous) actors to shine. You will some fine moments featuring Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Alison Brie (star of GLOW), Jessie Plemons (most recently on Black Mirror), and Sarah Paulson (who plays the supportive wife of Bradlee). As I heard on NPR, this movie doesn’t get into the fact that Bradlee actually had 3 marriages which were far from ideal.  

At times, Graham is unsure of what steps to take w/ regards to the future of her paper (which was losing money). She is a woman in a man’s world, who didn’t have to work until she suddenly became a widow in middle-age. Her trusted ally is her long-time attorney, Fritz Beebe (actor/writer Tracy Letts); he is a male ally (though they wouldn’t have used this term in the late ’60s). Beebe helps Graham stands up to Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), who thinks she’s NOT the right person to head the paper.

Can journos be friends w/ politicians? Hmmm, it’s NOT such a good idea, as BOTH Bradlee and Graham come to realize. Bradlee knows that he was TOO close to the Kennedys (personally), so got the kinds of access that other newsmen wouldn’t have. Graham’s long-time friendship w/ former Secretary of State Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is tested, BUT she doesn’t let him intimidate her into being silent. Ben Bagdikian (Bod Odenkirk) provides some of the humor in the movie; he is a dogged senior reporter who tracks down Ellsberg.

 

Star Trek: Discovery (Episode 11) – “The Wolf Inside”

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the most recent episode of the sci-fi series streaming on CBS All Access. 

We are still in the Mirror Universe, where the black/gold uniforms are FAB, killing your fellow Terran officers is commonplace, and Saru’s race are kept as nameless slaves. Capt. Lorca is able to withstand torture and STILL keep it together. Here the Klingons, Vulcans, and few other races (who get new looks) are the resistance, fighting against the Terran Empire. This ep starts out a BIT slow w/ a voiceover from Michael Burnham, who is complaining re: how she has to struggle to get through the days. We see her and Tyler cuddling and talking together; he refers to her as his “tether.” What did you think about this? Was Tyler being TOO needy? Or is this a sensitive and romantic thing to say? 

Sarek is called a “prophet” by the rebels, which includes Voq (called “the Fire Wolf”). As Sarek (who has a goatee a la Spock in the TOS Mirror Universe) does the mind meld w/ Burnham, we see him become fascinated w/ the alternate world he glimpses. He declares that Burnham means no harm. When Tyler sees Voq, he gets flashes back to his past, then attacks Voq w/ no provocation. Voq wonders how Tyler knows the “forgotten tongue” of his people (the Klingons). This fight isn’t that well done; it also comes off as awkward and no one intervenes to assist Voq.

As MANY of us knew, the albino Klingon warrior, Voq, and the human, Lt. Ash Tyler, are the SAME person! Actor Shazad Latif played BOTH parts, too, as others suspected. (Latif ‘s middle name is “Javid” and the actor recently explained that “Iqbal” is his  Pakistani father’s first name). I thought Latif did VERY well in this ep, incl. w/ the Klingon language (which a linguist on Facebook noted has sounds found in Arabic and Urdu, the main language of Pakistan). 

What did you think of Tyler’s big reveal to Burnham? I was really hoping for more! I was expecting her to kill, or at least shoot, Tyler/Voq right away. After all, he was acting ;ike he loved her. I liked how Latif was able to do the quick, yet subtle, shift from Tyler to Voq at various points in this ep. 

The final reveal- Michele Yeoh is back (YAY)- was rather unexpected! It turns out that the mysterious “Emperor” looks exactly like Capt. Georgiou. How will this affect Burnham (who saw her first captain as a a VERY close friend/mentor)? This show keeps on getting better and better!