Classical Theater: Snooze-fest or Flip-cup fun?

In order to celebrate the extraordinary list of classics, both straight up and reimagined, that anchor fully half the evenings in the latest edition of Great Evenings Out, we asked one of our favorite artistic directors and maestros of fun, Jessica Hansen, to give us her take on how to enjoy an evening of classical theatre.  

Classic coke, classic cars, classic rock…we know classic things are good, but why? Google defines classic as “judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.” In artistic forms, like movies, music, and theater, classics not only stand the test of time, but are stories that continue to resonate through the years. Stories that compel us to retell them, reinvent them, and reimagine them.

Washington has the classics in spades. We have resident and visiting ballet companies, symphonies, and of course, theatre. Classics of theatre can range from the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare to more modern classics, like Hedda Gabler, Waiting for Godot, or Angels in America. Hamilton is sure to be a classic, just give it a few years.

Washington is bursting with smart and creative theater makers; you can get your classics served up almost made-to-order. If you like your classics done the traditional way, find your way to the Shakespeare Theatre company, or the Folger Theater, connected to the Folger Library, which has the world’s largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare (although the Folger has been known to take a few fun risks, like Aaron Posner’s magic-filled A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

But if you think women in corsets and men in tights sounds like a snooze-fest, keep reading. Taffety Punk produces one Shakespeare play each year with an all-female cast. Shakespeare in the Pub and LiveArtDC are producing Shakespeare in bars: devised (usually a script that is formed by a group collaboration, rather than a playwright) and with audience-participation flip-cup competitions. Synetic creates silent versions of Shakespeare: acrobatic physical theatre, like “Cirque du Shakespeare,” if you will. Completely opposite to Synetic’s visual experience, Lean & Hungry creates audio-only versions of Shakespeare, to fire up your imagination. Exploring Washington’s classical theatre scene, you’ll find timeless tales told in many innovative ways.

So whether you’re looking for a formal night out complete with fancy clothes and velvet seats, or a night in jeans on a bar stool with a plastic cup of beer, or a theatre experience in the comfort of your own earbuds, Washington has your classics…traditionally and reimagined in every flavor. Try a few, and let us know what you like!

Jessica’s company, Lean & Hungry, has just completed its first season of podcasts, with a lively adaptation and discussion of Romeo & Juliet.  Learn more and give a listen at the L&H Website.

Great Evenings Out with Classics that we recommend as of this printing:

A story behind the show: Sense & Sensibility at the Folger

There’s a fun tid-bit about one of the shows we featured in our last edition of Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC — Sense & Sensibility.

When the good folks at the Folger were planning their season, they heard about this great show that a company in New York called Bedlam were doing, a very imaginative new take on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. British literary giants are sort of their thing at the Folger, so they were interested.

Originally, they figured that the New York production of this play would be finished by mid-summer, so the plan was for that production to transfer from New York to DC at the Folger. That would mean that everyone in the New York show would travel down here and perform their same parts. There would be some adjustments for the different shape of stage and house, but still, it would basically be the same show.

Transfers are great for a bunch of reasons. All the work that went in to designing and rehearsing the show get to pay off with extra performances in the new place. Also, the more times actors get to perform a show, the better they get at it. Even just knowing that there will be a fresh bunch of performances for a new audience, can give the actors extra motivation, so the audience often gets a better show whether they see it before or after the transfer. Finally, it generates more paid work for all the actors and some of the other artists involved. Benefits all around.

But as it turned out, the New York production from this fairly small company, became a smash hit. As a result it just kept extending and extending – currently it’s still onstage in New York, through November 20th, a week later than the show is expected to run in DC. When it became clear earlier this year, that the production couldn’t transfer, a new plan had to be developed for the DC run.  The original production’s director and artistic team started working on a brand-new production reusing many of the concepts but with a new, mostly local, cast, new set, and new everything else. That’s what is playing at the Folger right now. In the world of our dreams, New York playgoers and DC playgoers would be talking smack about which production was better with lots of people traveling back and forth to see both.

The show has done enormously well in DC also, and the run has now been extended through November 13th, so as of this writing there are still many opportunities to experience this Great Evening Out.

(Bonus food for thought: Why do theaters call it a “season”, even though it usually stretches from fall to spring? We don’t know, and no one has ever been able to explain it to us.)

Great Evenings Now, and Coming Soon

Fall has come to the DC area. Kids are back in school. Air conditioners are looking forward to a few months of rest. And we are pleased to trumpet the release of the latest edition of our free guide: Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC. In this time of transition let’s take a look at great shows still on stage from the last edition and a couple that are just popping onto the scene from the new book.

With seven shows in five neighborhoods, we’ve got fun things all over DC.

From the June – September edition, a few shows are still going strong and making these great evenings for you to check out:

Hand to God at Studio Theatre has been a big hit for the theater and the run has been extended several times, so it’s still onstage for at least another week or two. This story of a foul mouthed puppet in a church basement has been packing them in for months now. Insiders show up early for the best seat and a drink from the bar, and then get a genuinely fun arts-and-crafts project for the audience: make a sock puppet of your own to take and keep. Pro tip: Tuck the toe of the sock inward to make the articulated mouth. (1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 202.332.3300 https://www.studiotheatre.org/plays/play-detail/hand-to-god)

Urinetown at Constellation Theatre will keep rocking audiences with laughter through October 9th. It has been playing to sold out houses most nights, so jump on it quickly or you’ll miss it. (1835 14th Street NW Washington D.C. 20009 202.204.7741 http://www.constellationtheatre.org/urinetown.html)

Angels in America at Round House Theatre continues through October 30th. We haven’t seen this yet ourselves, but have heard great reports from friends who have. (4545 East-West Highway Bethesda, MD (240) 644-1100 http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/angels-in-america/)

We thoroughly enjoyed Be Awesome: A Theatrical Mix Tape at Flying V Theatre, which will be on stage through October 9th. It includes 16 songs from the 1990’s, 3 performed live, all with interpretive performances which tie together into the story of a mix tape made by a parent for a newborn child. (4508 Walsh St, Bethesda, MD 20815 No box office phone http://www.flyingvtheatre.com/2016-season/be-awesome-a-theatrical-mixtape-of-the-90s/)

Sense and Sensibility at the Folger Theatre on Capitol Hill. It will continue through November 9th. We’ll be seeing it in about two weeks ourselves. This promises to be spectacular, oh, and the museum exhibit at the Folger Library comparing the literary fame of Shakespeare and Austen is a lot of fun. (201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003 202-544-7077 http://www.folger.edu/events/sense-and-sensibility)

And already open or spinning up soon from the October-December edition:

Romeo and Juliet has broken from yon window at The Shakespeare Theatre.

Love’s LaBeers Lost by LiveArtDC clinks glasses for the first time this Thursday night.

Tap the download icon on this page to pull down the latest number and get all the details on these and the rest of the upcoming quarter’s greatest evenings out!

It’s time for more great evenings out

Just in time for the fall season and with some time to plan your holiday-season fun, Just the Ticket: The Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington DC, Oct-Dec 2016 edition, has been released.  At 42 pages, it’s a quick, easy read and an excellent resource for fun lovers, foodies and culture vultures who have some free time in the Nation’s Capital this fall and want to spend it well.

Get your copy today!  Only $0.99 on Kindle, and free to download as a PDF.

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Staying in Gallery Place for a DC visit

We’ve written before about Gallery Place as a great neighborhood to spend time in while in DC. For those visiting, there are also a couple of great places there to stay and have all the riches of downtown and the mall just steps from your hotel.

The Fairfield Inn and Suites, a Marriott property at 500 H St NW, is a fairly basic but comfortable place to shelter at a modest price.   There’s a fitness center, free wifi, and a breakfast buffet. We know it mostly as the home of the Irish Channel Pub where numbers of our actor friends like the happy hour when they haven’t got a show call to get to. It’s just two blocks from the heart of the neighborhood, but right across the street there are a button-cute townhouse and a lovely church, giving you a sample of residential DC.

The Courtyard Washington Convention Center, another Marriott at 900 F St NW, we know mostly from the Gordon Biersch brewpub on the ground floor (do you sense a drinking theme?). It has the fitness center and wifi of the Fairfield, but substitutes an indoor pool for breakfast – giving you an excuse to try the raft of great breakfast options out and about. It sits less than a block from the Gallery of Gallery Place, so you’re in exciting city bustle from the moment you step ourdoors.

We have stayed at and enjoyed The Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Group property at 700 F St NW. It is a luxurious place with high-ceilinged rooms, some themed around particular persons from US history, and a free wine reception for guests at 5 PM every evening. It has a fitness center and free bikes to borrow. The general manager even offers bicycle tours around town. The in-building restaurant is closed for renovation until fall 2016, so they’re currently offering “Grab and go” breakfast for guests, and the concierge is working to be extra helpful directing you to the many spectacular neighborhood restaurants.

Finally, we did a quick Airbnb search for next week and were surprised to find a number of quite attractive 1 bedroom properties available to rent in the neighborhood for around $200 per night. We have lately become addicted to staying in apartments while on the road so we can do some of our own cooking and have a couch to retire to when the hustle of touring wears us out. It’s well worth having a look when you’re planning your visit.

Any of these locations would position you for easy access to almost anything we list in Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC. Please share with us any tips you have for staying near the heart of things either in comments here or by dropping a line to peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Great Evenings – Closings and openings

DC’s theatrical summer is in full swing now! One great evening from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC finishes up this weekend. Three more just got going. Don’t let summer’s heat make you miss these wonderful opportunities.  Get your copy of the guide for the full details now!

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We’ve linked to the show websites below for your convenience, but don’t forget that there are lots of options to save a few bucks on tickets for most of these shows.  See our rundown here.

Great evening #2, featuring Another Way Home at Theater J, has just three nights left – tonight, Saturday, and Sunday. This play takes you to camp Kickapoo with the Nadelman family to help find their missing boy. Picnic in Dupont Circle before and drink at Duke’s after for the whole experience. (DC JCC at 1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036. 202-777-3210. washingtondcjcc.org)

Great evening #4 with Hand to God at Studio Theatre kicked off (because there’s a sock in the play) last week and continues until August 7th. We hear the set design puts the audience right into the church basement with the kids and the mad puppet. Look for a review of this any day, but you might want to pick a night and get tickets before that happens. (Studio Theatre at 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. 202-332-3300. studiotheatre.org)

Great evening #5 encourages you to have an adventure at the Capital Fringe Festival. In the guide, guest writer Trey Graham offers his recipe for fun fringing. Several of the online resources he mentions are full of good information about shows you won’t want to miss, and the overall guide is at capfringe.org. Indulge in a wacky evening of theatrical delight.

Great evening #6 takes you to the cool, subterranean environs of Crystal City for Synetic’s Twelfth Night. We took our own advice last month and saw Synetic’s Man in the Iron Mask. These people can put on a show. If you enjoy high voltage spectacle with incredible acrobatics, beautiful sets and costumes, and, let’s be honest, a very attractive batch of performers hie ye to Illyria! (Synetic Theater at 1800 South Bell St, Crystal City, VA 22202. 866-811-4111 synetictheater.org)

Have a great weekend, and please share your adventure stories with us at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Fast Casual Dining – Choice or Chore?

Are you familiar with the restaurant concept of “Fast Casual”?  It’s the kind of place like Chipotle or Panera –– no table service, but the ingredients are fresher and the menu a little more diverse than a fast food place.  Often, as at Chipotle, the customer gets to assemble a dish cafeteria-style, asking for things to be tailored to their preferences.

We have mixed feelings about this sort of “Fast Casual” restaurant. This is the kind of place that we also think of as an assembly-line or car-wash restaurant. You order the basic structure of your meal from the first person you see, then you follow your food along from person after person at station after station making more decisions and pretty much supervising everything that happens to your meal. At the end, you have exercised extreme creative control over what you’re eating, but you also had to make a pile of quick decisions and interact briefly with four or five different people.

Sometimes we really like this. Eating exactly what we want. Trying out combinations or ingredients we might not previously have thought of. Other times, we just want to order a dish off a menu and get on with our day. How about you — what’s your take on assembly-line cuisine?

We want to know because in every evening in Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC we include a more affordable dining option along with the fancy place. And one thing we REALLY like about these Fast Casual places is that the diversity and quality of the menu usually adds up to great food value for your money. The clientele and staff tend to be young, lively and friendly, giving a really nice vibe for kicking off a great evening.

We’ve included Shophouse, which is Chipotle’s Asian side project, and Merzi, an Indian Fast Casual spot, as dining options in several evenings. Some of our friends and family are crazy about &Pizza which, you’ve probably already figured out, applies this model to personal pizzas. The whole category is growing rapidly; but should we let it grow in our evenings out?

Please share your thoughts either with comments below or by dropping us a line at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Metro, still better than driving through gridlock, but not as good as usual

Strange things are definitely happening with DC public transit, and unfortunately it’s not fun for visitors or residents. A couple of weeks ago, on our way home from The Who and the What at Round House Theatre, our conductor abruptly announced that all passengers should get out at Woodley Park Station. We emerged and determined this looked like it might be a big delay, so even though it was raining we decided to take our chances on walking home as it only added one mile to our walk. As we went up the stairs from the platform, we saw smoke curling in from the southbound tunnel and the station manager was rushing people out of the station. That was a completely new experience for us, and still rare but more common than it should be.

In Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC we extol the virtues of the Metro system, especially Metro Rail, as a speedy and convenient way to get around the area.DC has some of the worst traffic in the country, and Metro is especially valuable during the otherwise gridlocked after-work hours when you’ll be wanting to get to your neighborhood for a great evening out. To a large extent, Metro still deserves to be your #1 travel choice for speed and reliability.

However, you may have picked up on news coverage that parts of the system have been discovered to need unusually high levels of maintenance. The operators of the system have announced “SafeTrack Surges,” or week-long periods when entire parts of the system will have reduced or no service. There’s one in progress right now that has two stations in SE DC completely closed until July 3rd.

That is clearly a huge inconvenience for thousands of locals.  For visitors, unless you are staying near one of the closed stations or outward from them, these closures shouldn’t have much impact on your enjoyment of the city.

Along with these Surges, some lines trains are running less frequently or “single tracking” at night and on weekends. While this is frustrating, the trains should still be able to get you home, you’ll just be waiting longer.

What can you do?  We suggest, first, doing a little bit of advance research:

  • Metro’s website: this web page has information on scheduled work that may disrupt your travel, through the end of the calendar year
  • Google: type “transit stops near [street address of your hotel or apartment]” into Google’s search field to learn more about public transit nearby
  • Your local hookup: call or email your concierge, Airbnb host, or a friend to ask for some backup transit advice
  • Your smartphone: download and set up Google Maps on your phone, which offers the best up-to-the-minute advice on transit options when you are on the ground in its Directions feature.  These include walking, Metrorail, buses, driving and hailing an Uber; speaking of which, download and set up the Uber app on your phone if you haven’t already.
  • Your wallet:  Of course, Uber and taxis are more expensive than public transit.  You may need to adjust your travel budget upwards for your trip this year — and invest in a decent pair of walking shoes, which will give you much more flexibility in this immensely walkable city.

Once you’re here in DC, you can use Google Maps/Directions, the Uber app, and the kindness of bartenders and theater house  managers to navigate the terrain.  And remember, in most neighborhoods in DC and almost all the neighborhoods we’re sending you to, you can hail a cab on the street or at a hotel as well (Shirlington is the main exception, and hailing an Uber works fine there).

Even with these delays, if you need to get on a weekday night from your just-closed museum on the Mall to a 6 PM dinner reservation in Bethesda, for instance a Metro Rail train is still a WAY better bet than trying to make the drive with thousands of homeward-bound commuters on the road. Hopefully, we’ll pass through SafeTrack Surges by the end of the fall, and get back to the more normal state in DC, which is of having one of the most useful and reliable transit systems in the USA.

Open Table App

As we’ve written before, your smartphone can be a key traveling companion, helping you get around and find cheap theatre tickets. Today, we want to share a useful app for assuring your table will be ready at a restaurant from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC.

OpenTable is a phone app with associated website that more and more restaurants use to allow diners to reserve a table without a pile of phone calls.  When you open the app, the first thing you see is the reservation form — expecting you to search for a table for two at 7 PM nearby.  All you have to do is hit the button, and a list of restaurants that are available then, usually sorted by how close they are to you. There are also ratings and reviews from other users of the app.

We like the impulsive, last-minute nature of Open Table’s system and do use it when on vacation.  However, as is true in many places, the best restaurants favored by locals in DC do tend to get busy at dinnertime.*

When used in tandem with our  suggested Great Evening Out, the OpenTable App shines as your own personal secretary, making your restaurant reservation and keeping the details handy for you.

When you open the App, enter a restaurant name, date and time (generally speaking, we recommend 6 pm dinner reservations if you’ve got a 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm showtime), and you’re off.  Even if you’re planning your visit from far away, the App should be able to find the restaurant in DC just from the name, but if not, click on the button that has the name of your location, and type in “Was” — the form will auto-fill to “Washington, DC” so pick that.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to do plan ahead or the restaurant is really one of the hottest spots in town, your first choice might not be available; OpenTable will also give you suggestions for other places nearby with availability, basic price and cuisine info, and diner reviews so you can make a good second choice.

Once you’re happy with the time you’ve chosen, pick Complete Reservation and you know your table will be waiting for you.  The App will keep track of the details, and will include a map and link to Google Maps handy, so you can wait until the day of your reservation to sort yourself out.

You’ll need to set up an account with OpenTable which is free and which only wants your name, phone number, and email, so it isn’t much trouble. If you’re a Facebook user, you can also log in that way. You accrue some kind of points for dining out with the app, but we confess, we’ve never figured out what those points are good for. If you learn, please let us know at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Whether at one of our suggested restaurants or anyplace else, your smartphone can help make sure you don’t go hungry or wait a long time for a table when you’re away from home.


*We’d estimate that about half of the “nice” table-service restaurants we’ve listed require reservations many nights of the year; almost all of them in Penn Quarter/Gallery Place do, as this entertainment hub draws the biggest nightlife crowd in DC.  So if you’re considering making a nice restaurant a part of your Great Evening Out here, our Insider Tip is to get a reservation beforehand if you can’t take advantage of another route to the most in-demand restaurants, like eating very early or fairly late, and/or on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

14th Street Neighborhood Overview

During the day time, the 14th St NW neighborhood is sleepy, with local secondhand stores, doggie daycare establishments, boutique grocers and the like open for business, but few reasons for visitors to stop in. Around 4 PM, though, this starts to change as some of Washington’s hardest-to-book restaurants and most-hopping-at-happy-hour bars warm their ovens and chill their cocktail shakers. By pre-theatre dinner time, the sidewalks fill up with a youthful and energetic crowd ready to shed workday attitudes and cruise into an evening of fun.

You will also spot the sadly numerous DC workaholics dodging along the sidewalks, a loosened tie or perhaps athletic shoes in place of heels the only concession to departure from the office. They stop in Trader Joe’s or takeout restaurants to collect sustenance for their second shifts on their kitchen tables or couches. Pity them, pity them. A better evening awaits you here.

14th St NW runs through several entertainment zones, but the one that bears its name runs from Thomas Circle NW at its southern border up to U St NW where it overlaps for a bit with the U St NW Corridor. Logan Circle bounds it on the east, while 16th St NW to the west marks the transition into the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The whole area is liberally supplied with nightlife, shops, restaurants, and bars. The best Metro stop for the northern end of the neighborhood is the 13th St exit from U St/Cardozo (Green and Yellow lines). For the southern reaches of the neighborhood, either this station or Dupont Circle (Red line) are equally good.

Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC will frequently send you here for three theaters. At the corner with P St NW Studio Theatre Company rises with large photo murals of DC acting greats and dynamic posters for their current or upcoming work in all the ground floor windows. Studio has three similar auditoriums with 200 seats each plus one smaller flexible space that usually accommodates about 100 audience members. At 16th St and Q St NW, Theater J has a beautiful 200 seat auditorium inside the DC Jewish Community Center Building. Since it sits on the border, we’ll either call it a 14th St evening or a Dupont Circle evening depending on where we recommend dinner. Just south of the corner with T St NW, the Source Theater, which is home to Constellation Theatre Company and a few other arts groups, has a 100 seat auditorium and the most crowded lobby in town.

Music and burlesque acts perform at The Black Cat just a few doors south from Source. Many people eating and drinking on 14th St NW will also be heading to other nightlife spots in the U St NW and Shaw neighborhoods.

Interesting shops are scattered around the neighborhood. Here are a few good samples. Salt and Sundry offers household related gifts in case someone at home would like a tea towel or some fancy bitters. Filson offers hipster fashion from Seattle.   Batch 13 is the spot for exotic liquor. Miss Pixies, a neighborhood institution where we’ve furnished about a fifth of our home over the years, offers quirky domestic goods from all the best estate sales. Monarch Novelties, towards the southern end of the strip, looks more like a haunted property or a crime scene than an operating business. It’s a fun window to look in.

Restaurants are the big drivers of traffic to the area. Scanning roughly from south to north, we’ll highlight a few of the gems. The Pig serves satisfying meals enriched with porcine products. Birch and Barley is an elegant destination with the option of a tasting menu with beer pairings. Etto with its crisp pizza and succulent antipasti feels Roman enough we half expect our bill to come in euros. Le Diplomat has a stellar raw bar and great French entrees, and prime time tables book up weeks in advance. Barcelona is as Spanish as its name with marvelous charcuterie and tapas. El Centro D F is an excellent Mexican restaurant, specializing in a different Mexican city or state every 6 months. Busboys and Poets in all honesty is about a block north of the neighborhood, but we can’t walk this close to it without mentioning this next-wave bohemian diner powerhouse with a lefty bookstore and a dynamic little stage.

There are also a few exceptional spots for more casual, less expensive dining. The Whole Foods Grocery on P St NW has an extensive prepared foods section, draft beer, and a mezzanine full of seating. Amsterdam Flafalshop serves up those yummy lumps of chickpea with a culinary rainbow of accompaniments. Taylor Gourmet offers high tone sandwiches and salads alongside a funky soda machine that lets you mix your own flavors.

If you’re looking for a more dedicated bar experience: Church Key, upstairs from Birch and Barley, is a beer lover’s wonderland. Stoneys, across the street from Wholefoods, is the place to go if you’re just looking for an American neighborhood bar. 2 Birds 1 Stone is the hippest dive in DC. Bar Pilar greets the drinker with cozy charm.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with gelato from Dolcezza or fancy coffee and biscotti at Peregrine Espresso.

Between these businesses, and many more, sit some of the city’s best located loft apartments – most of them purpose built since DC never really had heavy industrial buildings. If you look closely, though, you’ll see the neighborhood’s heritage as Auto Row in the unusually tall and wide shop windows and the giant elevator at Studio. Enjoy your wander around 14th St NW. Whether you’re on one of our Great Evenings Out or exploring on your own, there’s plenty here to keep you happy.