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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Misc: Pick Up a Paper!

Posted by Mike DeBonis
In tomorrow's City Paper, you'll find:

  • A cover story by Ryan Grim recounting the battle of Ross Elementary. It's the tale of a group of affluent parents who tried to take over their local D.C. Public School and lost.

  • A John Metcalfe profile of a city employee whose passion is decorating her office window. In very strange ways.

  • Adam Mazmanian on novelist Andrew Holleran, a key figure in the gay literature of the ’70s and ’80s who's moved to Washington to ponder its demise

  • Young & Hungry's Tim Carman finding a lot more to like about Rasika than all the hype

  • Tricia Olszewski on A Prairie Home Companion, Jeffry Cudlin on the Charles Sheeler show at the NGA

  • And Bob and Trey, Channel Serf, One Track Mind, and more.

Food: It's Still a Bargain, Anyway

Posted by Tim Carman

Chinatown Express: before, during, and after. (click to enlarge)

When Chinatown Express placed a giant banner outside its front window, the eatery apparently assumed it would make this year's Washingtonian list of 100 Best Bargain Restaurants, no doubt because it has regularly enjoyed the recognition in recent years. The banner, hung before the magazine's Cheap Eats issue hit the stands last month, included a reference to a 2006 honor.

Only one problem: Chinatown Express didn't make the cut this time around. “The house special chicken is a terrific dish, and if one dish could vault you over the top, this is the dish. But it's really just not enough,” says Washingtonian Dining Editor Todd Kliman, a former City Paper food columnist. “It's kind of a likable little spot, but it wasn't enough to kind of get them in there.”

When I brought the matter to the attention of Saubing Tsang, manager and co-owner of the 6th Street NW restaurant, she expressed confusion. “Maybe somebody talked to him,” she said, referring to her husband and co-owner. “I don't know.”

Asked if she planned to remedy the situation, the manager wasted no time. She walked up a short flight of stairs, leaned over a metal railing, and scraped off the “2006.”

Neighborhoods: Party Pooped

Posted by Huan Hsu
Last time Tommy Keefer visited the annual Celebrate Mount Pleasant Festival, he says via e-mail, “I had a dream.

“I imagined one day I would actually live in Mount Pleasant and would invite my friends over for Mojitos and we would all walk up to the Festival and eat and have a good time and then maybe go home and drink some more.”

Last month, inspired almost solely by his dream, Keefer moved to a place on Harvard Street NW within spitting distance of the festival location. By the Friday before this year's bash, scheduled for June 4, he had welcomed his girlfriend home after six months abroad and stocked a minibar with mojito mix. Everything was perfect, he says. Then the fest was canceled.

Well, sort of. On the traditional first Sunday of June, instead of the usual blockslong bash humming with live music and brimming with food vendors, Mount Pleasant residents were treated to a small community fair and booths distributing health information.

Festival director Robert Frazier, who has produced the past nine fetes, cites time constraints for the demise of this year's festival; when his workload unexpectedly increased, he wasn't able to find enough sponsors to help defray the costs. On neighborhood Internet groups, residents expressed their disappointment and moved on.

Keefer took it a little harder. “Obviously, I didn't have a party,” he says. “I don't even think I got out of bed that day.”

Politics: Mayor's Schedule

What’s the District’s chief exec really up to today?
Posted by Mike DeBonis

Event: Remarks, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments board of directors meeting

Time: 12 p.m.

Location: 777 North Capitol St., third-floor boardroom

The Lowdown: Where am I? Seoul? Senegal? Saratoga Springs?…Oh, hey, Mendo!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Neighborhoods: E-List Roundup

Every Tuesday and Thursday, we run down what's going on in local Internet discussion groups.
Posted by Dave Jamieson
Just because your strawberry plants mysteriously left your front porch doesn't mean they left your neighborhood, according to Joel near 20th and Kearny. In a post regarding the “perennial problem” of plant-nappings, he says he and his wife were working on their roof last Saturday when they spotted some of their own plants in a neighbor's back yard. (They'd had $300 worth of greenery pilfered back in April, he says.) Soon, with the help of a neighborhood police officer, “we had our plants back, looking a little worse for wear and in need of a good watering.” Sldicke seconds the poor care taken by neighbors who—ahem—borrow azaleas and the like: “I just found my stolen hanging flower baskets on the porch of a house near 20th and Jackson streets. I don't want them back (they're looking a bit sad at this point).”

It seems the District's public-safety activists just can't satisfy the demand for color-coded ball-cap neighborhood safety patrols. With crime “on the rise in the 3rd district” and civic-minded folks “at a loss as to what to do,” Kenneth announces the unveiling of a new “Pink Hat Patrol” to supplement the current brigade of orange-hat and blue-hat patrols around the city. True to its hue, the pink hats, comprised of young women who are “former or potential gang members,” will spend their time patrolling crime-prone pockets around town and passing out literature to at-risk kids. “The ultimate goal of this effort is to assist in deterring crime,” he writes. Unclaimed colors for your own neighborhood hat patrol now include yellow, green, and magenta.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Avram Fechter has devised a novel method for determining the worth of D.C. Council candidates: “At the Ward 3 candidate's forum last night only Sam Brooks and Robert Gordon would promise not to litter our public spaces with their campaign signs.…Candidates who are unable to gain the name recognition they need without littering our neighborhoods do not deserve my vote.” Mel, however, finds Fechter's anti-sign invective to be somewhat undemocratic: “Campaign signs in public space have been part of the American scene since the earliest days of our democracy. I have no objection to the ‘visual pollution’ at election time.” Matt simply finds it ironic: “In light of [Fechter's] message below, I [was] amused yesterday to see a Robert Gordon sign affixed to the public space in front of the Tenleytown metro, where Mr. Fechter was passing out literature on Mr. Gordon's behalf.”

Theater: Hellman Hath No Fury

Posted by Trey Graham
It looked, for a minute or two, like The Children's Hour might get abbreviated.

Representatives of playwright Lillian Hellman's estate, alarmed by a Washington Post review that detailed what seemed to be aggressive alterations in the Washington Shakespeare Company's production of the grand old melodrama, contacted the troupe last week threatening a withdrawal of the show's performance license.

But, um, most of those changes, replied company chief Christopher Henley (who's also starring in the show), weren't WSC's. They were Hellman's.


Here's how things broke down:

Post reviewer Nelson Pressley (a good guy and a fair critic) came armed with a copy of the play from his own library—and came away startled by how much of what was onstage wasn't in his script. And vice-versa: Pressley's review cited “a steady stream of alterations … major cuts … radical recalculations"—including the casting of male actors in two important female roles—adding up to a “textual makeover…pronounced enough that it is surprising to see no ‘adapted by’ credit.”

Cue the alarm bells: The chop-shop treatment is a pretty big no-no in the theater, at least when authors (or their heirs) are around to take issue. Locals still converse in horrified whispers (and sometimes in loud rants) about the liberties the Studio Theatre took a few years back with Kit Marlowe—which did get shut down after playwright David Grimm saw it. “[U]nethical behavior…total disregard for its contractual obligations…shoddy administration and artistic ineptitude” were just some of the barbs Grimm hurled at Studio in a letter to the Post—which just indicates how seriously theaterfolk take the issue.

So the Dramatists Play Service, which licenses The Children's Hour on behalf of the Hellman estate, was predictably peeved about what director H. Lee Gable had apparently done at WSC.

At least until Henley pointed out, in an exchange with Dramatists’ licensing official Craig Pospisil, that the “original” language Pressley quoted in his review seemed to be from a 1930s-vintage script—and that the version Dramatists had licensed to WSC was a 1950s revision updated by Hellman herself. The line about musicals that so startled Pressley? Hellman's language. The swap of a Shakespeare quote from Portia for one involving Cleopatra? Check.

Sure enough, Pressley reports, his copy of The Children's Hour is the 1930s version, and a Hellman biography on his bookshelf references a ’50s production revised and directed by the playwright herself. He's planning to include a clarification in his review of Two-Headed, another WSC show currently running in repertory with The Children's Hour.

But Gable and his cast haven't escaped entirely unscathed. It was the broad scope of the seeming changes Pressley described that most worried Pospisil and his colleagues initially, but cuts are a thorny question, too, and the cross-gender casting wasn't exactly a nonissue. WSC sees it as a way to reenergize a slightly musty play's once-electric ideas about what goes on, and what should go on, among nice men and women. (And for some it works: “What could be more to the point,” asks Bob Mondello in a City Paper review due out Thursday, “in a play that hinges so crucially on touches, kisses, and lies?”)

Such gambits are common enough among adventurous theater companies—Henley was part of an all-male version of Dangerous Liaisons at another local company last season—but “it does represent a change from the intention of the text, figuratively and literally,” says Pospisil. “So we have to find out what the authors or the authors’ estate will allow.”

A tense weekend followed, with WSC panicky about the financial disaster a shutdown would entail. But Monday afternoon brought word that Gable's production would be allowed to continue—with a kind of public slap on the wrist. Dramatists, on behalf of the Hellman estate (whose trustees include the playwright Jon Robin Baitz), has decreed that Henley & Co. must post a notice in the lobby of the Clark Street Playhouse before their next performance:

The casting for this production was done without prior authorization from the Hellman estate and does not reflect their wishes, but they have graciously allowed the production to continue.

“They had concerns,” Pospisil says of the Hellman trustees. “That language … was a way to allow it to continue while sending a signal that it wasn't how the script was originally intended.”

Henley, for his part, hopes that both Dramatists and the trustees it represents understand that his company didn't mean any disrespect to Hellman or to her play. “We're not a museum-piece theater company,” he says, “and part of what we do is to try to allow a little breath of fresh air into the classics.…But we always hope to do that with respect for the heart of the material, and not in any way to subvert it—just to illluminate it in a slightly new way.”

The ‘Huh?’ Bub: The Elusive McPherson Square–White House Station

Posted by Zak Stambor
Metro identifies African-American Civil War Memorial at the U Street station and Adams Morgan at the Woodley Park station (even though it's a 15 minute walk from the station), but it doesn't identify the White House at Farragut West. Or the Capitol at Union Station. Why not highlight the most popular tourist spots?

Metro stations’ primary names always note a station's physical location, be it a street, circle, square, or suburb. The other station designations, like Adams Morgan or African-American Civil War Memorial, come about after an advisory neighborhood commission or councilmember approaches Metro's board of directors about the change.

As such, Metro isn't in the business of noting tourist locations nearby stations, says authority spokesperson Taryn McNeil.

“We're not sitting around thinking about what names to give stations,” she says.

And Metro is not eager to change stations’ names, because any alterations are time-consuming and expensive. For instance, the last two station name changes—renaming Rhode Island Avenue station to the Rhode Island–Brentwood station and changing Archives–Navy Memorial station to the Archives–Navy Memorial–Penn Quarter Station—cost $210,840 to produce and distribute new maps and signs and to update the stations’ pylons (the brown posts that note a station's name).

Who foots the bill? The jurisdiction that requests the change, which, in the case of both the Rhode Island Avenue station and the Archives station, was the District.

So unless Capitol Hill or Farragut Square residents begin calling for a change to help the barrage of tourists who converge around stations’ information booths to ask directions to the White House or Capitol during the summer months, it's unlikely that Metro will change the station's names.

Every Monday, the ‘Huh?’ Bub takes your questions. Got one?

Politics: Mayor's Schedule

What’s the District’s chief exec really up to today?
Posted by Mike DeBonis
MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2006

Event: Remarks, plenary session, New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials annual meeting

Time: 9 a.m.

Location: Gideon Putnam Hotel, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The Lowdown: Welcome to New York, home of resurrected political careers. Hey, Utica—looking for a new mayor?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Politics: Mayor's Schedule

What’s the District’s chief exec really up to today?
Posted by Mike DeBonis
MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2006

Event: Depart for Albany, N.Y., for the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials annual meeting

Time: 3 p.m.

The Lowdown: Hope he made time to stop at Kinko's to get those résumés printed up.