Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


Watch on the Rhine – Lillian Hellman’s Play is Relevant Again


You are a political refugee. We don’t turn back people like you, people in danger.

Theater audiences don’t usually burst into applause in the middle of a scene. But these aren’t usual times, and the line above, from Lillian Hellman’s 1941 Watch on the Rhine, certainly struck a nerve with those attending an opening night performance at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Hellman’s 76 year-old play may be about a different time in history, but the themes seem eerily fitting today.


The Fichandler Stage

Family matriarch, Fanny Farrelly (Marsha Mason), and her son, David (Thomas Keegan), live outside the nation’s capital, in a mansion watched over by two servants, Anise (Helen Hedman), and Joseph (Addison Switzer). Also in the house are two guests – Count Teck De Brancovis (J Anthony Crane) and his wife, Marthe (Natalia Payne). In the round Fichandler Stage, the gazebo-like living room designed by Todd Rosenthal is upscale yet warm and comfortable, a setting that reflects the inhabitants.

The household is preparing for a visit by Sara (Lisa Bruneau), Fanny’s daughter and David’s sister, who has been in Europe for 20 years. Sara arrives with her husband, Kurt Müller (a visceral performance by Andrew Long), and their three children, Joshua (Ethan Miller), Babette (Lucy Breedlove), and Bodo (Tyler Bowman).


Ethan Miller, Helen Hedman, Lise Bruneau, Andrew Long, and Lucy Breedlove 

Fanny and David greet Sara warmly. Fanny not only is thrilled to have her daughter home, but excited to meet her grandchildren. She’s soon showering them with presents. David and Sara reminisce about their times growing up in the mansion. But their lives have taken far different paths. While Fanny and David have been living in a safe “bubble,” Sara and her family have been on the front lines in Germany, watching with horror the destruction wrought by Hitler. “The world has changed and some of the people in it are dangerous,” Sara says. “It’s time you knew that.” Kurt has not worked as an engineer since 1933 and instead risks his life fighting the rise of fascism. And that fight has followed him to America. He receives word that his compatriots in Germany are in trouble and he needs to return, along with the suitcase of money contributed by supporters of the cause, to help free them.

Like so many Americans during that time, Fanny and David fail to grasp the full import of what is happening in Europe. Seeing the danger through Sara’s and Kurt’s eyes brings things into focus. They fully support Kurt’s efforts, as evidenced by David’s declaration quoted above.


J Anthony Crane and Natalia Payne

The fly in the ointment is the count. De Brancovis is a desperate man. His marriage is ending (Marthe has fallen in love with David), and after spending nights gambling at the German embassy, he’s in serious debt. When he discovers Kurt’s identity and what’s in the suitcase, he sees an opportunity to repay the Farrelly’s hospitality with blackmail. He asks for what’s in the suitcase, as well as money from the Farrellys, to keep quiet. That demand will set into motion events that threaten everyone with deadly consequences.


Marsha Mason (photo byTony Powell)

Mason, once a high profile presence in 1970 romantic comedies, has talked about the difficulties older actresses face landing film roles. Her recent appearances on the small screen include guest spots on CBS’s The Good Wife and Madame Secretary, and Grace and Frankie on Netflix. She’s the high profile star in this production. Don’t miss the chance to see this professional at the top of her game. She commands attention, showing the many facets of Fanny’s personality as she morphs from the perfect hostess and caring mother into someone who is more flint than fluff, ready to protect those she loves and make a moral stand. “Well, we’ve been shaken out of the magnolias,” she says, the full impact of the situation hitting home.


 Andrew Long  and Thomas Keegan

Director Jackie Maxwell brings her magic touch to an excellent supporting cast. Long’s performance is riveting. While Kurt loves his wife and children, standing up against fascism is a battle he fights for them. Long balances both sides of Kurt’s character, gentle with his wife and children one moment, lashing out against the count in another. As brave as Kurt is, it’s Bruneau’s Sara who stands out as the courageous one. Once Kurt leaves on his rescue mission, however, she laments what her life will be like without him. The three young actors, playing characters who have had to grow up much too soon, also display maturity beyond their years. These are three young people to watch.

Keegan’s David is the ballast steadying the family. Without his unconditional love and support, Kurt and Sara might have been left to fend for themselves. Besides turning in a strong performance, Keegan serves as the play’s fight captain, staging a scene that is both exciting and startling.

Crane’s evil count brings to mind other villains, mostly from films, who were never true believers but supported fascism for their own selfish reasons. These many years later, Hellman’s play still resonates.

Photos by C. Stanley Photography

Watch on the Rhine
Fichandler Stage
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street, SW
Through March 5, 2017

Orwell in America – Plausible, Illuminating Fiction


Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell (1903–1950) was born in Bengal, India, but raised in England. He went to increasingly fine schools as a “charity boy” (on scholarship) after which, at loose ends, he spent five years in Burma as a policeman. Determined to write, the young man then lived in London and Paris taking menial jobs to support his first book Down and Out in Paris and London. In order not to embarrass the family, Blair adopted the nom de plume Orwell. As he says in the play, “Mr. Blair was Mr. Orwell before Mr. Orwell became himself.”

Politics took hold during and after the writing of his second effort, Burmese Days, a severe look at British colonialism. Two years later, he joined a group fighting against General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Best known for later, political novels, Animal Farm (whose two main pigs were said to represent Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky) and 1984, Orwell addressed imperialism, fascism and communism with passion and integrity as author and journalist. Himself a socialist, the author declared that Animal Farm was “a book about totalitarianism.” (Look up your isms.)


The fictitious premise of Joe Sutton’s play is an American book tour for Animal Farm shepherded by twenty-something, attractive Carlotta Morrison, a stand-in for editor Sonia Brownell, whom Orwell married a short time before his death of tuberculosis. A frisky widower who, in fact, had an open marriage, the author matter-of-factly proposes to Carlotta five minutes into the piece. Their push/pull continues throughout adding an appealing frisson without venturing outside British reserve or becoming unlikely.

Orwell accepted this uncomfortably public role in order, one surmises, to promote political beliefs “I did not agree to be muzzled”  while Carlotta presses for concentration on Animal Farm “…people want you to say Communism is evil” and humanizing her charge in order to sell books. Segueing (with lighting) back and forth between excerpts of his lectures and often combative, sometimes flirty private conversations, the play both sketches Orwell’s background and illuminates the era.


The protagonist represents England/Europe in the aftermath of WWII and deprivations it continued to suffer affecting its politics. (A visual reminder of this is shocking.)  The somewhat idealistic Carlotta thinks, “We’re in the midst of choosing what’s best for the human spirit.” A single allusion to the House Un-American Activities Committee echoes.

It’s neither necessary to know Orwell’s history nor to have read Animal Farm in order to enjoy the play. In fact, this is probably the best, most comprehensible retelling of the latter you’re likely to hear. It is helpful to know something about history and these political philosophies, however.

Playwright Joe Sutton has given us a completely credible character in this stubborn, Eton-styled Orwell (Jamie Horton) with strong beliefs and an appreciative eye. The presence of Carlotta (Jeanna de Waal) offers American public opinion, a balance to rhetoric, and the personal. Actor Casey Predovic acts as occasional off stage heckler and eventual reassurance of Orwell’s effect on people. A piece for those who think.


Jamie Horton, who here closely resembles his character, is marvelous. If the actor is not British, he could certainly pass in rarefied circles. Mannerisms are polished and conservative. Horton has a twinkle in his roving eye where apt and a pitch perfect, self depreciating laugh. He looks into our eyes when lecturing and at Carlotta with palpable attention. Orwell’s personal revelations are moving. Thought is evident; listening occurs in real time. A thoroughly engaging performance.

Jeanna de Waal offers just the right balance of historically subjugated Vassar smarts, ambition, femininity, and youth. She executes pauses, hesitance and switchbacks effectively and convinces us of some attraction for her charge.

Director Peter Hackett gives us two such distinctly different characters we can almost see class, geography and history . The piece is elegantly paced. Flares and reflections read equally well.

Photos by Carol Rosegg

Northern Stages presents
Orwell in America by Joe Sutton
Featuring Jamie Horton & Jeanna de Waal with Casey Predovic
Directed by Peter Hackett
Through October 30, 2016
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street