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A bite by the pool

Vida steps up its rooftop dining options this summer

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Vida Fitness, Gay News, Washington Blade
Vida Fitness, Gay News, Washington Blade

Photo courtesy Vida Fitness.

As always the restaurant scene in Washington is bustling with events, new restaurants and new chefs galore. Here’s just a small taste of what’s hot this summer.

This summer the Vida Penthouse Pool Club on the roof of Vida Fitness  (1612 U Street NW) has a new menu created by “Top Chef” season one alum, Michael Schlow, who owns restaurants in Massachusetts and Connecticut, including Radius, Via Matta and Alta Strada. This award-winning chef  has been retained by Urban Adventure Companies (the parent company of Vida Fitness and The Penthouse Pool Club) to create the new concept for the Pool menu.

Vida used to get food from sister establishments Capital City Brewing Company and 901 Restaurant, but 901 has now closed and Vida is taking a more upscale approach to the food that is being served at the pool. There is now an onsite kitchen and Schlow has created a menu full of light upscale fare such as appetizers, salads, wraps and sandwiches. Items like the Spicy Cucumber Salad, the California Turkey Club Wrap and the Serrano Ham Sandwich with manchego cheese and guava jam all sound like great items to eat while lounging.

Schlow will also contribute to the Fuel Bar offerings, creating some shakes and juices that will be available to patrons. So, if you have a membership and are going to be at the pool this summer, I recommend trying a bite from the new redesigned offerings.

Besides the changes at the Vida Penthouse Pool Club other exciting summer options include the following:

Starting on Monday and continuing for two weeks Oyamel Cocina Mexicana (401 7th Street NW) will celebrate its sixth annual Tequila & Mezcal Festival. Guests will be able to enjoy Oyamel’s newly expanded bar and dishes by newly appointed head chef, Colin King. Look for a review of the new space and chef in an upcoming column.

Throughout the month, Dolcezza Artisanal Gelato (1560 Wisconsin Ave NW) will be offering a special deal coinciding with National Ice Cream Month. Every Monday and Tuesday customers who purchase a regular small gelato for the suggested retail price will receive a second for half price. I didn’t know there was a National Ice Cream Month but I think it gives us all an excuse to indulge every day and this offer helps us all keep the cost down.

Ardeo + Bardeo (3311 Connecticut Ave NW) is offering a pie and wine promotion this summer that showcases house-made pizzas paired with a glass of wine or draft beer for $15. This promotion is available exclusively at the bar or community table on Sundays from 5-10 p.m. and Mondays from 5-10:30 p.m.

If you’re looking for a nice spot to enjoy happy hour this summer, try out the Rooftop Happy Hour at El Centro D.F. (1819 14th Street NW). This happy hour includes $4 libations such as Corona, Dos XX Lager, Tecate, house red and white wine as well as select cocktails. Also available during the Rooftop Happy Hour is a selection of $6 specialty dishes like shrimp ceviche, pork carnitas and a selection of tacos.

1789 Restaurant (1226 36th Street NW) is celebrating the summer with a specially priced four-course tasting menu. Executive Chef Anthony Lombardo has created a menu available for $50 where guests can select two appetizers, one entree and one dessert. A $20 wine pairing is also available.

One of the most anticipated openings of the summer is Doi Moi, a new Vietnamese and Thai street-food restaurant that will be the anchor of the District Condominiums on 14th and S. Chef Haidar Karoum and restaurateur Mark Kuller, the team behind Proof and Estadio, as well as Adam Bernbach, the bar manager for both of those restaurants, are all involved in this project. The lower level will also have a bar called 2 Birds 1 Stone and it will feature curated cocktails and a scaled down menu. The most outlandish detail of this project that I have come across is that the space will feature a custom made Jade cooking suite. If it’s true, it will be a sight to see.

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Theater

Celebrating the 2024 Helen Hayes Awards nominees

38th annual event returns next week ‘building on last year’s success’

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Justin Weaks as Belize and Nick Westrate as Prior in ‘Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches’ at Arena Stage. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

2024 Helen Hayes Award
May 20, 2024
For tickets go to theatrewashington.org

It’s that time of year again when the DMV’s theater pros and those who love them getdolled up and show up to celebrate the best of last year’s work. 

On Monday (May 20), Theatre Washington’s Helen Hayes Awards marks its 38th year with a splashy ceremony at The Anthem on the District Wharf. With two parts, a non-rushed intermission, and a lively after party, the program is long but the format allows time to celebrate award recipients, enjoy the entertainment, and talk about some serious issues without racing to the end.

Co-directed by Will Gartshore and Raymond O. Caldwell, the show features four terrific hosts — out actor Tom Story, Felicia Curry, Maria Rizzo, and Rayanne Gonzales along with an ensemble of five singer/dancers (dubbed the Fab Five) peppering the show with some fun numbers. 

“We’re building on last year’s success,” says Amy Austin, Theatre Washington’s out president and CEO. “Again, dinner will be served during the show à la Golden Globes on the first floor for mostly nominees and their guests, and the second floor offers lots more affordable stadium seating.” 

Austin’s approach harks back to the sumptuous Helen Hayes Awards of yesteryear, which she cleverly remembers as the “ice sculpture age.” Ultimately, the goal is to create something fun, memorable, and meaningful: “It’s such a collaborative community and that’s why the Helen Hayes Awards are special; it’s a reunion of people who’ve worked together.” 

Still, the doling out of awards remains the focus of the long evening. And that leaves a lot of nominees waiting on tenterhooks to see just who will go home with prizes named for the legendary first lady of American theater, Miss Helen Hayes. 

The awards selection process is no simple task, she adds. Recognizing work from 151 eligible productions presented in the 2023 calendar year, nominations were made in 41 categories and grouped in “Helen” or “Hayes” cohorts, depending on the number of Equity members involved in the production with Hayes counting more. 

The nods are the result of 49 carefully vetted judges considering 2005 individual pieces of work, such as design, direction, choreography, performances, and more. Productions under consideration in 2023 included 44 musicals, 107 plays, and 36 world premieres.

As one of this year’s nominees, out actor Justin Weaks says he isn’t about beating the competition. He concedes it may sound cliché, but it’s a privilege simply to be nominated, especially with all the work done in the DMV. And certainly, with three wins and multiple nominations under his belt, he’s in a position to know. 

And now, he’s nominated for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play, for his notable turn as Belize/Mr. Lies in Arena Stage’s production of Tony Kushner’s seminal masterwork “Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.”

For Weaks, a longtime D.C. actor who relocated to New York in 2021, the “Angels” experience was singular: “It’s one of those great, very American plays that remains relevant, and that it’s centered on the gay experience and HIV/ AIDS makes it especially impactful for the queer community.”

Often noted for creating roles in new plays, Weaks enjoyed being part of a piece that so many hands have touched since its premiere more than 30 years ago. He was thrilled to work with the production’s Hungarian director János Szász who, Weak says, approached the piece as a new work, treating it like fresh text.

And does Weaks have a speech prepared? 

“The morning of the awards, I’ll journal about my experience with ‘Angels,’ and if my name is called, I’ll get up and give an abbreviated version of what I wrote. But mostly for me, it’s a reunion, a chance to be cute, get dressed up and celebrate the work.” 

In the Outstanding Lighting Design category, Brooklyn-based Venus Gulbranson is nominated for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company & The Wilma Theater’s “My Mama and the Full-scale Invasion”. It’s the proud and out Filipino designer’s second nomination (last year she received a nod for Monumental Theatre’s “tick, tick… BOOM!”). 

“Lighting design is underrated in the eye of theatergoers,” explains Gulbranson who earned her lighting stripes as an Arena Stage fellow. “Scenic and costume design are somehow more tangible to them; they don’t often realize that it’s lighting designers who navigate the mood of the story. 

“It’s a very empathetic skill, and a good designer can take you there emotionally.  When you’re tearing up watching a scene, the lighting has a lot to do with it. We also spend a lot of time making scenes transition smoothly,” she adds. 

“We half-jokingly say ‘a compliment to set design is a compliment to us.’ We are the reason there are beautiful colors on stage. Scenery is our canvas.” 

Other queer nominees include Bobby Smith (Studio Theatre’s “Fun House”), Billie Krishawn (Arena’s “Angels in America”), Miss Kitty (Spooky Action Theatre’s “Agreste”), Michael Urie (The Kennedy Center’s “Monty Python’s Spamalot”), costume designer Frank Labovitz (Constellation Theatre Company’s “The School for Lies”), director Jason Loewith and set designer Tony Cisek (Round House Theatre & Olney Theatre Center’s “Ink”), and most likely more.  

Both the Helen Hayes Awards’ choreographer and a nominee, David Singleton is up for Outstanding Choreography in a Musical for NextStop Theatre Company’s “Ride the Cyclone,” a wildly entertaining dark comedy.

“The show’s score is eclectic, so I could do a little bit of everything. I had to find anchor points for each number where I draw most inspiration, and go with it. I have a strong jazz background, both street and musical theater jazz, but I’m also really into tap and some ballet.”  

Singleton began performing professionally in “Dreamgirls” at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in 2017, but he hit his stride with “really fierce” choreography post pandemic. 

A dancer first, Singleton says his energies are divided into thirds: performer, choreographer, and drag queen (Tiara Missou, an “incredibly vain but kind queen” who’s regularly featured at D.C. bars Pitchers and Shakers). When Singleton was 18, he volunteered to work the Helen Hayes Awards. He recalls thinking “I’ll be part of this one day, for what exactly I’m not sure” and now he says, “I’m here and I feel honored.”  

And what about a prepared speech? “Oh, definitely. I’m a rambler.”  

Break legs nominees! 

A full list of award recipients will be available at theatrewashington.org on Tuesday, May 23.

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Television

‘Interview with the Vampire’ returns in triumph

Long-awaited season 2 continues to get story exactly right

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Assad Zaman and Jacob Anderson star in 'Interview with the Vampire.' (Photo courtesy of AMC)

When AMC debuted its long-awaited series adaptation of “Interview With the Vampire” – Anne Rice’s seminal proto-postmodern horror novel that set the stage and paved the way for a decades-long literary franchise that has kept millions of readers, queer and straight alike, passionately engaged since first reading its thinly veiled allegorical document of life as a being with heightened awareness on the edge of human existence – in 2022, we were among the first to sing its praises as a triumph of narrative storytelling,

We were not the last. The series, created by Rolin Jones in collaboration with Christopher Rice – the original author’s son and a successful horror novelist in his own right – and the late Anne Rice herself, was one of its season’s best-reviewed shows, earning particular praise for its writing, in which the queer “subtext” of Rice’s original works was given the kind of unequivocal full weight denied to it in the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise-starring Neil Jordan-helmed film adaptation from 1994. 

Though purist fans of the original boom series took occasional umbrage to some of the show’s leaps – changing the historical period of the story to illuminate themes of racism and deepen its resonance for those living as “others” on the fringe of society, and making the book’s protagonist, Louis Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson), a closeted Black Creole man in early 20th-century New Orleans – the series won most of its naysayers over by its season finale. It delivered a deliciously subversive, unapologetically queer interpretation that remained true to Rice’s original gothic re-imaginings while expanding the scope to encompass social and cultural factors that have become central to the moral and ideological conflicts that plague us in the first quarter of the 21st century.

To put it bluntly, the show’s willingness to embrace the story’s countercultural queer eroticism and place its transgressively amoral “moral compass” front and center was more than enough to smooth over any nitpicking over faithfulness to narrative detail or tone that might otherwise have kept Rice’s legion of acolytes from signing on to the new-and-contemporized vision of the book that Rollins built as the foundation for his daunting project.

Now, after a buzz-tempering delay borne of last year’s actor’s strike, the series has returned for its second season. And we’re happy to assure you that its feet hit the ground running, keeping up both passion and narrative momentum to pick up the story with electrifying energy after leaving off (at the end of season one) with the shocking murder and seeming elimination of Lestat (Sam Reid), the exquisitely amoral “rock star” vampire who served as both protector and lover of Louis, and the departure of the latter and his perpetually juvenile “daughter,” Claudia (Bailey Bass) on s quest to find others like themselves.

Fans of the book might, in fact, find new reasons to take exception to the show’s adaptation, which, as in season one, makes significant departures from the original narrative. After moving the story’s setting forward by roughly half a century, Louis and Claudia’s secretive sojourn now takes place in the traumatized landscape of post-WWII Europe, and spins a scenario in which the two ex-pat vampires, navigating their way through the perils of Soviet-occupied Central Europe after the fall of the Nazi regime, spend time in a refugee shelter while investigating rumors of old-world vampires who might provide a link to their “family history.”

When we rejoin this pair of relative fledgling vampires, their undead existence is a far cry from the decadent elegance they enjoyed in the New Orleans setting of season one. Enduring a near-feral existence as they make their way through a war-ravaged landscape, they find no shortage of prey in the aftermath of the Third Reich, but the “creature comforts” of their former “afterlives” are now only a memory. Louis is devoted, as always, to Claudia (now portrayed by Delainey Hayles, presumably due to scheduling conflicts for original actor Bass, who is set to reprise her role from “Avatar: The Way of Water” in the next installment of filmmaker James Cameron’s high-dollar sci-fi franchise), but remains haunted by his vampire maker and former lover Lestat, whose undead corpse remains buried on another continent but whose charismatic presence manifests itself in his private moments, nonetheless. In the first episode, the pair have used their supernatural wiles to journey into the “old country” long associated with their kind, tracking human tales of monstrous terrors in the night in hope of connecting with more of their kind. Louis, as always, struggles with his compassion for the mortal beings around him, while the more savage Claudia simply sees them as prey, and holds little hope of finding other vampires, if they even exist. For her part, Claudia has forgiven – but not forgotten – his refusal to ensure Lestat’s demise by burning his body, and is now solely focused on finding others like her.

Of course, the adventures of these two undead companions are only half the equation in “Interview With the Vampire.” The past is, as always, merely a flashback, as Louis relates the story of his afterlife experiences to mortal journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian). In the present, the skeptical Molloy casts doubt on the truth of his memories, forcing the vampire to re-examine them as he goes. Perhaps more interestingly, in the long game of a series which, if it comes to full fruition, will eventually encompass the entire Rice vampire saga, these contemporary scenes give us a look at the relationship between Louis and Armand (Assad Zaman), revealed in the season one finale to be not a mere servant in Louis’ household but a centuries-old fellow vampire who is now Louis’ lover and companion.

Fans of the books, of course, know that Armand plays a significant role in the story of the past, too, and while we won’t spoil anything, we can say that history begins to unspool as season two progresses – but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. For now, what we can say is that season two’s first episode, while it may veer away from the familiarity of Rice’s original tale in service of reimagining it for 21st-century audiences, continues the first season’s dedication to breathing thrilling new life into this now-iconic, deeply queer saga; superb performances all around, an elegantly cinematic presentation and literate writing, and a lush musical score by Daniel Hart all combine to sweep us quickly and irresistibly into the story, making us not just fall in love with these vampires, but want to be one of them. 

That, of course, is the gloriously sexy and subversive point of Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles,” and this long-awaited series continues to get it exactly right.

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Out & About

Pride Run 5K nearly sold out

Front Runners annual event to be held at Congressional Cemetery

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Front Runners Pride Run 5K (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sign up now to join the annual Front Runners Pride Run 5K. The event is 85 percent sold out. The event is Friday, June 7 at Historic Congressional Cemetery.

Join more than 1,000 runners and walkers as they kick off Pride weekend 2024. When registering please consider donating to one of the event’s charity partners. This year’s race proceeds benefit local LGBTQ and disenfranchised youth organizations, including the Team DC Student-Athlete Scholarship, Wanda Alston Foundation, Blade Foundation, Ainsley’s Angels of America (National Capital Region), Pride365 and SMYAL. Visit DCPriderun.com to register or to donate.

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