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.
Washington, D.C.’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival is producing a series of plays intending to disrupt our thinking about how we operate as a people and a nation. Annalisa Dias’ 4,380 Nights may be the hardest hitting of these productions, taking us inside Guantanamo where 41 men suspected of terrorist activity are still being detained, some for more than ten years. Dias has crafted a play filled with history, horror, humanity, and, yes, humor. She is a playwright to watch.
Entering Signature’s Ark Theater, one of the actors is already on stage. As Malik Essaid, Ahmad Kamal is dressed in prison orange, his hands and feet chained and attached to an anchor in the stage’s floor. As the audience files in, he does not shy away from eye contact, yet his gaze is defiant, challenging us. As the play unfolds, Kamal skillfully takes us inside Malik’s world as the prisoner displays an astounding array of emotions trying to understand what he has done to warrant incarceration in a hellhole like Guantanamo. How can a nation that stands for the rule of law, that guarantees its citizens the right to a just and speedy trial, imprison Malik and others for years without formally charging them with a crime?
Ahmad Kamal and Michael John Casey
When Bud Abramson (Michael John Casey) shows up to represent Malik, he offers something of an explanation: “The government has created a black hole for the legal process.” Malik is at first reluctant to accept Abramson’s help, unsure whether he can trust any American. But the lawyer is persistent, saying that not all Americans approve of what is happening at Guantanamo. These tabletop conversations between Malik and Abramson are riveting. Slowly, Abramson teases out Malik’s story, how the young man left Algeria and then traveled to Paris, Afghanistan, and London where, with a forged passport, he was taken into custody and shipped to Guantanamo. Did he make a series of stupid mistakes, or was he part of a terrorist network? While Abramson seems willing to believe Malik, one of the prison’s military officers (Rex Daugherty), will go to any length, including physical and psychological abuse, to obtain a confession. This violent scene is so realistic (kudos to fight choreographer Robb Hunter) that it is difficult to watch, perhaps the reason some members of the audience chose not to return for the second act.
Ahmad Kamal and Rex Daugherty
Each time Malik and Abramson meet, more time has passed. On one occasion, Abramson brings Malik food from an Algerian store. Malik insists they share and each enjoys a stuffed grape leave. Yet Abramson must soon deliver some bad news: Malik’s uncle has died. Malik’s anger dissipates when he learns that Abramson traveled to Paris on his own to confirm the death and to bring back for Malik the uncle’s Koran.
As a pseudo Greek chorus, The Woman (Lynette Rathnam) is an eerie presence as she attempts to educate us about the roots of conflict between a Christian and Muslim world. The history lesson focuses on the war between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front (1954-1962) when Algeria won its independence. But the sides were not clearly drawn. Kamal also plays El Hadj El Kaim, an Algerian who aided the French and became complicit in the torture and death inflicted by them upon Algerians. Daugherty takes on a second role as Colonel Aimable Pelissier, the French officer who shows no remorse as the bodies of men, women, and children pile up in the conflict. (There is a lot of information to digest about this war and reading up ahead of time is recommended.)
It’s a cliché for a reviewer to say that there’s not a weak link in a play’s cast, but that certainly is the case here. Kamal’s performance is simply astounding, and he is well matched by Casey in their encounters. The relationship between attorney and client evolves slowly, with each actor revealing sides of his character as they try to cope with the frustration of the situation and to preserve whatever humanity is possible.
Daugherty, with ramrod straight posture, never flinches in his dual role as two military officers who see their roles in black and white terms, damn the consequences. Rathnam’s storytelling draws us in with her facial expressions and graceful movements. She’s simply mesmerizing.
Kathleen Akerley’s skill as a director is evident in every scene, with no false notes struck by this talented cast.
Signature’s intimate Ark Theater is the perfect setting for 4,390 Nights, bringing the audience so close to the action that it’s impossible to look away. Scenic design by Elizabeth Jenkins includes a chain backdrop that echoes prison bars and side areas furnished with pillows and glowing lanterns. Costume design (Heather Lockard) is eye-catching, particularly the satin gown worn by Rathnam.
Guantanamo has slipped from the headlines. Dias again places it on center stage.
Photos by C. Stanley Photography
4,390 Nights Written by Annalisa Dias Directed by Kathleen Akerley Ark Theater Signature Theatre 4200 Campbell Avenue 703-820-9771 Through February 18, 2018
Anyone who has an athletic child knows the commitment involved. It takes a special person, however, to make a commitment to help other people’s children achieve their athletic dreams. Pat Saunders has spent more than twenty years working tirelessly for the American Junior Golf Association, serving on the organization’s board of directors, traveling internationally with the golfers, and serving as tournament chairman for local events. Recently, the AJGA recognized Pat’s efforts, awarding her the prestigious 2009 Digger Smith Award (photo, left below). “Pat is a prime example of a person who never stops giving to others,” said AJGA’s Executive Director Stephen Hamblin.
Although Pat is a golfer herself, helping young people succeed at the game has become a passion for her. “I love meeting the kids and traveling with them,” she said. Her satisfaction comes from seeing young golfers benefit from their involvement with AJGA. With more than 80 tournaments each year, AJGA provides a high profile venue for young golfers to compete and earn college scholarships. Many of AJGA’s graduates ultimately turn professional, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, among them. In 2003, Saunders traveled to Sweden with a group of young women who competed in the Junior Solheim Cup. At least three of those women—Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer, and Amanda Blumenhurst—are now competing professionally. The last two years, she has accompanied both boys and girls to the Evian Masters Juniors Cup in Evian, France. (Photo , top, shows Pat with Annie Park, left, and Kyung Kim, members of the 2008 U.S. Evian Masters Juniors Cup Team).
Saunders’ dedication to young athletes does not stop with golf. As a member of the board at Asphalt Green, she has been active in raising money for the organization’s Swim for the Future, an initiative launched after 9/11 that does for young swimmers what the AJGA does for young golfers: provides the resources to cover the costs for these students to swim and train at Asphalt Green. Many of these Swim for the Future recipients have gone on to qualify for Olympic trials, hold national records, and are members of the U.S.A. National Swim Team. “These students have great futures in the world of swimming,” said Saunders. She also supports Asphalt Green’s efforts to teach public school children how to swim through the Waterproofing Program.
Saunders has been a member of Asphalt Green’s Masters Swim Team for sixteen years. (Photo above, Saunders with members of the Masters Swim Team and, on left, Olympians Craig Beardsley and Janel Jorgensen). When two member of the team, Andrew Fisher and Doug Irgang, perished on 9/11, Saunders, fellow Masters swimmers, Asphalt Green staff, and coaches at Asphalt Green met with the families. “We wanted to raise money for competitive juniors swimmers at Asphalt Green to help those who do not have the money to cover the costs of training and competition,” she explained. With the support of the Fisher and Irgang families, the first Swim for the Future benefit was held in November, 2001, and raised $150,000. “People came out and the dollars poured in,” Saunders said. On September 12, the Ninth Annual Swim for the Future was held, a brunch, preceded by a practice swim dedicated to those who died, a “lap of silence” swim by Masters swimmers, and a relay race featuring scholarship recipients and Olympic swimmers. (Photo below, Saunders, front, with Olympians and members of the Asphalt Green Board).
In addition to the AJGA and Asphalt Green, Saunders has aided children’s causes through the Legal Aid Society, serving in the past as chairman of the Civil Support Division and a board member. For many years, she was instrumental in organizing the society’s yearly Christmas Party for children living in shelters, as well as the “Thinking Out Loud,” luncheon with speakers that included Linda Fairstein and Anna Quindlen. She now serves on the agency’s policy committee. As a member of the St. Vincent’s Auxiliary, she co-chaired the group’s annual benefit and worked on the annual Christmas boutique. And while she dedicates most of her time to benefit children, for sixteen years she oversaw a weekly lunch for senior citizens at the Church of St. Thomas More on East 89th Street.
Saunders’ drive to give back began when she was growing up in Brooklyn. In high school, she spent her off hours volunteering at a nursing home and for the Red Cross. She received her bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from Binghamton University, where she now serves on the Foundation Board. She received her master’s degree in social work from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1969. (Photo left, Saunders with three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Rowdy Gaines, a board member ar Asphalt Green).
Saunders, and her husband, Paul, an attorney, raised their two sons, Paul Jr., now a cardio thoracic surgeon, and Michael, a corporate executive, in Manhattan. When her sons were young and she stopped working fulltime, Pat became involved at their school (she served as secretary, vice president, and president of St. Bernard’s Parents Association) and lent a hand with sports activities for children at the Apawamis Club in Rye. Both sons played golf and were members of the club’s swim team. After many years of watching golf on TV, she began to take lessons herself. Her involvement with AJGA began in 1990 when she served on the committee for the first AJGA event at Apawamis. For ten years, she served as chair of player services for the Buick Classic, held at the Westchester Country Club. Other tournaments she has worked at include the PGA Championship at Winged Foot and the U.S. Open in Bethpage.
Saunders knows what so many parents have discovered: that being involved in sports like golf or swimming benefits children. “A sport like golf teaches a young person patience, that if you want to do well, you have to put in the time,” she said. “They learn respect, for themselves, fellow players, and the course.” During each AJGA event, the group holds “thank you” writing parties, where the young golfers write notes to the sponsors and volunteers. (Photo below, Saunders with the 2008 U.S. Evian Masters Juniors Cup Team).
Now a grandmother of four (Michael and his wife, Kathryn, have two children, Tatum, 4, and Henry, 2, and Paul Jr. and his wife, Susie, also have two children, Erin, who will turn four in October, and William, two and a half), Saunders can often be found in the pool helping them learn to swim. She continues to swim on Asphalt Green’s Masters Swim Team, in the pool three times a week before 6 a.m.
Although Pat admits she doesn’t work on her own golf game as much as she would like, she loves the experience of playing golf. “There are so many special moments in travel,” she said. One year on vacation in Kapalua, Hawaii, she remembers taking a path and coming out on a promontory that afforded breath-taking vistas of the islands and ocean. “If you didn’t play golf, you wouldn’t have that experience,” she said. “It was like being in heaven.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Uptown, Vico, 1320 Madison Avenue, downtown, Frankies Spuntino, 17 Clinton Street Favorite Place to Shop: Peter Elliott, 1071 Madison Avenue Favorite New York Sight: Returning to New York by air and experiencing the wonderful views of the city as the plane cruises up the Hudson or East River. Favorite New York Moment: After a snow storm, I went cross country skiing around Central Park with my friend, Kathy. We checked our skis and had lunch at Tavern on the Green. What You Love About New York: The neighborhood experience, enjoying the diversity of the great neighborhoods in our city. What You Hate About New York: The incivilities, honking horns, littering and other discourtesies on the part of our fellow New Yorkers.
For more information about the American Junior Golf Associations, go to www.ajga.org
The last time I saw Paris was 1984. Heartbroken after a 6-week European journey with Monsieur Wrong, I stayed with dear friends and mostly moped around missing most of what the City of Lights has to offer. I returned this Spring with a sympatico traveling companion and no particular plans. We stayed with my same dear friends at their 8thetage apartment near Montmarte, a 1 km walk past the wall of the Cimitière du Nord to a major Métro stop.
Our hosts fed us pain au chocolat and introduced me to the civilized dining tradition of fromageavec salade, served after dinner and before dessert. They helped with tourist information (“which museum do you want to stand in line in front of?”) and weather reports (we experienced an unusual phenomenon, la neige roulée – like soft hail).
Line at the Beauborg
Line at the Musee D’Orsay
One of our few goals was to visit E. Dehillerin near Les Halles where chefs have been buying cooking supplies for just shy of two centuries. While in the city center, figuring out where we were provided much of the entertainment as we wandered past rue Jacob in the Marais and stumbled on Shakespeare and Company in the 5th arrondisement. Don’t bother with Les Halles – it’s now just like any American mall.
E. Dehillerin near Les Halles
After a few days in Paris, we picked up a car at Gare du Nord (it sounds so easy, but the car itself was in the bowels of the Gare and required taking tickets to open gates and reinserting them to open new gates as we spiraled up to finally exit into the traffic of Paris, sacre bleu!).
Nevermind; the sweet-voiced GPS (borrowed from our hosts and programmed for anglais) guided us on the Boulevard Périphérique, then south past huge fields of yellow rape and around innumerable round-abouts toward St. Lactencin (southeast of the Loire valley) to visit a long-time friend and his lovely wife. Both artists, they’re living in and restoring a 150-year-old country home that had been in his family since it was built. Since their English was limited, but much better than our French, we muddled through quite happily in franglais, although we were never quite certain how much was understood. Our fluency and bonhomie grew with each verre du vin.
Field of Rape
St. Lactencin Farmhouse
St. Lactencin Farmhouse
Near St. Lactencin, we spent an afternoon watching gulls do what comes naturally in Spring at Parc naturel régional de la Brenne and picked up chèvre and a baguette at the outdoor market for the journey to Bretagne. Our hosts supplemented our hamper with yogurt, homemade coinggelée (quince jelly), and jambon – une grande pique-nique.
South of Orléans, we ventured to Loches (a medieval town on the Indre river near troglodytic caves that can be seen from the road), Château de Chambord (recently famous in flood photos), and Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. It was nice to see the ubiquitous restoration efforts, but scaffolding presents challenges to photography.
Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord
At this time of year, it’s possible to book lodging just one or two days in advance allowing flexibility in your itinerary. We aimed to stay in Candes-Saint-Martin on the south side of the Loire river, but found a more affordable B and B on the north side in Chouzé-sur-Loire. The place was slightly creepy due to abundant taxidermy, but our host, Sebastian, charmed us and made us an excellent dinner of soupe au pistou, seafood pasta, and gâteau au citron. Compared with dinners prepared by our friends, it was on the light side. What, no fromage? Sebastian spoke English well and advised us to go to Candes-Saint?Martin on our way to Château de Brézé. However, between the cool, dripping weather and our excitement to get to Brézé, we neglected Candes-Saint-Martin. The Château de Brézé was first built in 1060 AD and then rebuilt in the 16th and 19th centuries. It has a Renaissance exterior and a deep dry moat, which is accessed from the 12th century troglodytic understory of the château.
Château de Brézé from the bottom of the dry moat
Château de Brézé
Château de Brézé
It was not a long drive from Brézé to Vannes and our nondescript hotel, located in the center of this medieval town and across from a bakery with a line out the door. (This would be the place to get pain au chocolat and a baguette in the morning.) We followed the dining recommendation of the front desk clerk, who made our reservation and pointed us in the right direction. After a walk in the gardens, we found our way to the restaurant and were served by an animated, multilingual, and gregarious waiter, who made theater of our dinner. We had our first huîtres of the trip and sublime crème brûlée.
The next stop was Rennes, a medium-sized city that seems like a stop-over on the way to somewhere else. But the sun shone after some days of grey, and we found it a lively place. Young people swarmed a few of the smaller streets, which harbored a music festival, and crowds sat on the ground or at dining tables enjoying beer, wine, and the local cuisine. We were charmed by the pretty parts of the city, especially the Parc du Thabor and a lovely marina where families strolled. It was after all, Spring, and the garden displayed a huge variety of tulips and flowering trees in its 10 hectares. Our hotel, The Magic House, named its rooms; we never did figure out why ours was le Big Lebowski. Was it the giant sweater hanging on the wall or the long staircase to the loft with the low beam at the top?
May is full of French holidays, and Brittany was crowded with French sightseers and school groups. I stood out as a foreigner in my wide-brimmed sun hat. Later, I asked my Parisian host, a physician, Is there no melanoma in France?Yes, she said, but we don’t wear hats. C’est comme ça.
Apparently I live under a rock because before this trip I hadn’t heard of St. Malo with its beautifully restored walled old town (a key setting in Anthony Doerr’s recent best-seller All the Light We Cannot See) or nearby Mont St. Michel (a UNESCO world heritage site). Since both were highly recommended, we booked two nights in St. Malo in a baronial manor house. The dining room was full of lodgers at breakfast, including the guests who stayed in a gypsy-like caravan in the back garden. The croissants were so good we wanted some for the road and were directed to a bakery a few hundred meters away. The abbey at Mont St. Michel has stood since the 9th century most likely because of its setting at the peak of a tiny island with sand and sea as its moat. A town grew up around it that now supports the tourist trade. Walk up or out to get away from the shops; the island and surrounding beach are even more beautiful from a distance.
Mont St. Michel
We drove back to Paris via Chartres, the start of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostelo, only a 913 km walk that you will have to map out yourself since most of the French part of the route is now highways. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is a lovely place to contemplate making the journey. Maybe another time; now we go back to our Parisian friends for a few more days and then return to the US, reality, and the presidential election. Non!
What to do with our remaining time in Paris besides continue our search for even more perfect baguettes? Paris had become warm and sunny. We went with our friends to the Cimetière du Montparnasse to see the Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures. This is what people in their sixties enjoy; that, and a bit of lunch near the corner of the Jardin du Luxembourg where the bee hives sit. Later we had dinner at the Grand Palais and took an evening stroll through the Place de la Concorde – currently home to Paris’s anachronistic giant ferris wheel.
Paris Ferris Wheel
On the last day, we visited Sainte-Chappelle, the less famous church on the Île de la Cité, where soaring stained glass windows tell every biblical story or so it seems. I made a feeble attempt at shopping, trying on shoes in the Robert Clergerie shop in the 6tharrondisement (trop d’euros!) and hunting for chocolate. I would have happily spent my euros on cute French shoes, but unfortunately they had none I liked in my size. It was too hot to buy chocolate and carry it on the Métro, so I left Paris with nothing bought but a few bars of soap. In the airport, La Maison du Chocolat sold me 35 euros worth, which amounted to only about 2 dozen (spectacularly delicious) pieces.
Alas, it was bittersweet to leave my friends, the City of Lights, la belle France with so much still to see and do. Maybe I’ll go back for an extended vacation; let’s see how the election turns out.