The GW Department of Theatre and Dance combines two dramatically different one act plays into an enjoyable evening.
“Paris When It Sizzled” is just another evening with those weird, whiny expatriates of the 1920s. The ones like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway.
Anyone who thinks they know them well, doesn’t know them like this. Anyone who has heard their names but is unaware of their contributions to our culture, might want to see “Paris When It Sizzled.” Then, one can be whisked away to a Parisian cafe to casually sip cappuccino while the expatriate characters do their thing.
The first play is set in a Parisian cafe in April 1926. Members of The Lost Generation all take their seats around the table and gossip about the times. As the evening progresses, each one takes the stage to either recite poetry or sing songs.
The most notable performances of the night include Josephine Baker (Kerri Washington), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Chris Hahn), Marilyn Miller (Stephanie Braun) and Alberta Hunter (Claudia Alick).
A high point in the evening comes when Miller (Braun) tap dances to a song she executes beautifully note by note. As if this was not enough, Braun, who played Maggie in the GW production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” sings with an intense passion and unmistakable conviction.
The premise behind “Paris When It Sizzled” is intriguing. “Paris was the place to be in the 1920s,” said Leslie B. Jacobson, the writer and director. “Every actor got a character to play, and they had to research their character at a certain date in history.”
The date was randomly chosen as April 1926. Research showed that at the time, some of the characters were friends, and some had not met. Jacobson strove to show how members of The Lost Generation affected each other, and how that effect was evident in their work. The cast of “Paris When It Sizzled” spent four weeks in improvisational workshops, seeking to make their interactions with the other characters believable. For the most part, it was a success.
The second play is not as innovative as the first. “L’Histoire du Soldat” is a re-creation of a well-known Russian tale by Igor Stravinsky. Using the orchestra, spoken word and dance, Stravinsky rivals the forces of creation, the soldier, versus the forces of destruction, the devil. Buttressing the production are seven members of the National Symphony Orchestra. They are conducted by Desi Alston, the GW symphony orchestra conductor and NSO violinist.
The second play explores the meaning of being an artist. What must one sacrifice to experience true happiness? With the help of the NSO, the cast energetically puts forth this dilemma with hopes the struggle itself will yield an answer. Jacobson said of “L’Histoire du Soldat,” “Think of the characters from Act I falling asleep and having this nightmare.”
In the end, the old adage, “You can never go home again,” stands true. Or does it? The only drawback, which is barely worth mentioning, is the ending. While it makes sense, it does drag on for a longer than necessary. This lengthiness, however, is overshadowed by superb acting talent and thrilling music.
The NSO promises to deliver a powerful mix of music perfectly in tune with the actors’ song and dance capabilities. The theater department successfully brings together two different cultures in two different plays into one night of entertainment.
“Paris When It Sizzled” and “L’Histoire du Soldat” play in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre April 16-18 at 8 p.m. and April 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 and $8 for students.-Stacey Felsen contributed to this report.3 hatchets