Oscar E Moore

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LADY DAY at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – Breathtakingly sad and beautiful - Starring Audra McDonald

April 19th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

As Billie Holiday, nearing the end of her young life, returning one last time to sing at Emerson’s Bar & Grill in Philly - Audra McDonald is quite sensational.  She has left Audra at the stage door of Circle in the Square Theatre and has become Lady Day.

Living and breathing and stumbling as she makes her star entrance in this star vehicle written lovingly and truthfully by Lanie Robertson about a star spiraling down, out of control, dissolving right before our eyes.

It’s not a pretty picture, but Audra McDonald is a powerful presence.  Eerily replicating the voice and tone and phrasing of the illustrious and most original Lady Day.  Singing fifteen famous Holiday songs.  Moving us with her heartbreaking life – man problems, drug problems, police problems, prison and racism - as she opens up to her “pals and friends” in the intimate club as she refills her never empty glass of booze – spilling her guts out sometimes humorously and sometimes contemptuously between numbers.

Lady Day is backed up by a fantastic trio consisting of “her main man” Jimmy Powers (Shelton Becton) on piano – and boy can he caress those ivories – Clayton Craddock on drums and George Farmer on bass with wonderful arrangements and orchestrations by Tim Weil.

Steve Canyon Kennedy has done a masterful job with his duo sound design - distinguishing between that of her singing into the standing microphone and when she is off mic – speaking.  It is so subtle but it makes a big difference.  Every important lyric and part of her story is heard clearly.

Jimmy says very little but keeps his fading star on track.  Calmly cuing her intros every so often for the songs she is contracted to sing.  Songs that sometimes she doesn’t want to sing –‘Cause she sings the way she feels - which can sometimes be a problem.  But when Audra sings as Billie it is glorious and ultimately breathtakingly sad.

Director Lonny Price has wisely converted the Circle in the Square Theatre - adding twenty small round tables where drinks are served (Circle Club Seating) facing the stage area and where Billie gets to mingle with her “pals” requesting a guy to light her cigarette, and where she makes her exit about three quarters into the show to return with her pet Chihuahua Pepi (Roxie) and her arm bared and bloodied by her drug injections that had been discreetly covered by her long white opera gloves - attempting to regain her thoughts and composure before her final devastating number.

Regrets she had a few.  Never having a child nor her own club.  She loved her mom “Duchess” – Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Artie Shaw who befriended her and fought for her rights.

It’s a phenomenal performance that could bring Ms. McDonald another Tony to be added to her already crowded shelf of awards.  There are only a handful of performances that if you miss, you will regret forever.  Audra McDonald as Lady Day is one of them.

LIMITED ENGAGEMENT through August 10th. www.LadyDayonBroadway.com

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Photos:  Evgenia Eliseeva

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THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP – Side-splitting 30th anniversary revival of Charles Ludlam Classic

April 18th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Get thee immediately to the Lucille Lortel Theatre for an evening of side-splitting, howling hilarity that is a glowing tribute to the talent of  Charles Ludlam and his partner Everett Quinton who is now not a co-star but the director of the 30th anniversary revival of THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP – A PENNY DREADFUL - that is anything but.

IRMA VEP (an anagram of VAMPIRE) has withstood the test of time and is still as hilarious as ever – a comedy of gothic proportions, a comedy of outlandish imagination and wit that gives new meaning to the word “ridiculous”.

Charles Ludlam created The Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967.  Many wild and yes, ridiculous plays followed.  Unfortunately he died much too early in 1987.  Twenty prolific years.  The torch has been passed to his partner/lover/muse Everett Quinton and the result is a new mounting of this classic Gothic inspired who-dun-it.

Thunder and lightning.  Screams in the night.  Werewolves.  Vampires and a mummy brought back to life fill the stage of the Lortel in this mash up of classic theater, word play, sight gags, hot toddies, a duet on the dulcimer, quick changes of wigs, costumes, genders and accents that allow two terrific actors – playing all the roles – to delight us for two hours in this blissfully funny comedy of outlandish manners.

Arnie Burton and Robert Sella have taken over for Ludlam and Quinton respectively and respectfully.  It takes two to tango to make this production work so successfully and they are more than up to the challenge under the guidance of Mr. Quinton who has really been there and done that.

Lady Enid Hillcrest (Arnie Burton) is the second wife of Egyptologist Lord Edgar (Robert Sella) whose first wife Irma (portrait above the askew mantel) was killed along with their only son by a werewolf.  Or was she? Jane Twisden (Sella – channeling Emma Thompson) is the overly protective maid pursued by the one stiffly wooden legged, leering swineherd Nicodemus (Burton).

In Act II we start off in Cairo where Lord Edgar meets up with Alcazar and Pev Amri (the bare chested mummy brought back to hysterical dancing life) in an underground tomb.   We then travel back to Mandacrest – the Hillcrest Estate near Hempstead Heath where all the loose ends are tidied up as the actors exit one door only to enter a split second later as another character with a completely new look and ample opportunities to chew up the scenery.

It must be havoc backstage but onstage it is utterly delightful.

Perhaps the time has come for a “Charles Ludlam Festival” of ridiculous but oh so satisfying plays that might include his CAMILLE and GALLAS.

Limited engagement through May 11th ONLY

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Photos:  Carol Rosegg

A Red Bull Theater production. www.redbulltheater.com

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THE REALISTIC JONESES – one weird world

April 11th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

There is evidence of life on another planet.  The planet is called Eno.  As in Will Eno – “a new voice”, an experimental playwright, a man of many words playfully used to some effect in THE REALISTIC JONESES - a series of short scenes that might be more at home in the Fringe Festival than the Lyceum Theatre.

There are four quirky characters and a memorable dead squirrel bringing to mind WAITING FOR GODOT by Beckett and Caryl Churchill’s LOVE AND INFORMATION with a bit of Edward Albee thrown in for good measure.

It takes place in “a smallish town not far from some mountains” with tall pine trees looming on a unit set (David Zinn) that looks like a yard sale is about to take place with another interior location at the other side of the stage separated by a pair of glass sliding doors.

Bob Jones (Tracy Letts) and Jennifer Jones (Toni Colette) gaze at the stars and try to communicate with each other.  Bob has a degenerate neurological disease - problems with vision, memory and balance and they have moved here to be near a doctor that can treat him.

They are soon and unexpectedly joined by the other pair of Joneses – John (Michael C. Hall) and Pony (Marisa Tomei) who have just moved in nearby.  They bring a bottle of wine that remains unopened.  It’s an uncomfortable situation for all.

We soon learn that John suffers from a similar disease.  He’s a repairman of sorts who is always hearing something strange but then he isn’t.  His wife Pony is ditsy and has an amusing talk with God.

Jennifer is high strung and tries to be as patient as she can be with her sarcastic grouch of a husband Bob who is in denial.

All of this is a bit pretentious and we learn little that is enlightening about mortality and said disease.  There are many Pinter-esque silences and very little takes place although it is sometimes very amusing in the word play department.  We don’t remember much of what has happened after leaving the theatre but you will surely remember the dead squirrel.

The acting is first rate and the direction by Sam Gold keeps things moving smoothly along for its thankfully short 95 minutes.

It appears that it has taken a village of producers to mount this four character production that was commissioned by and premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre.  Proof that there are many who believe in life on another planet.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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A RAISIN IN THE SUN – Spectacular revival starring Denzel Washington

April 7th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Denzel Washington is a revelation.  A true star.  A team player.  A natural to portray Walter Lee Younger in this revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play - A RAISIN IN THE SUN that is a tribute to Ms. Hansberry’s talent and spirit.

It is beautifully directed by the gifted Kenny Leon who has assembled a couldn’t-be-better ensemble at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre through June 15th.  So you had better get your tickets now to see one of the finest plays this season on Broadway with performances to match from everyone involved.  Everything is just right.

Some say that Mr. Washington is a bit old to portray the downtrodden chauffeur who has big dreams for himself and his family in Chicago’s South Side – “sometime between World War II and 1960”.  I say it doesn’t matter one bit.  Mr. Washington believes he is Walter and he is Walter.  And more importantly we believe that he is Walter.

His stirring second act speech where he “performs” it for his family before Karl Linder (David Cromer) arrives (the man who represents Clybourne Park – a white community where Walter’s mom has put down a deposit with a part of the life insurance money from her husband’s death - $10,000 - for their new home – a home where they can all live comfortably and she can have a small garden) to pay them NOT to move in thereby avoiding any racial problems is tantamount to an eleven o’clock number in a musical and Mr. Washington tears down the house and rips our hearts apart with its delivery and what immediately follows.

But it is not just Mr. Denzel Washington center stage here.  It is generously shared with the other actors who give exceptional performances.

His mom – strong and common sense wise Lena Younger (Latanya Richardson Jackson), Ruth Younger his weary wife (Sophie Okonedo) who loves him despite his sometimes gruff behavior towards her, their son Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins), his younger sister Beneatha (Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of becoming a doctor and has difficulty choosing  between beaus – the rich but shallow George Murchison (Jason Dirden) and the idealistic Joseph Asagai from Nigeria (Sean Patrick Thomas) who helps her to re-assimilate back to her roots.

With a just right jazz score that transitions the scenes, on a detailed and naturalistic set by Mark Thompson, Lorraine Hansberry’s spectacular, funny, smart, tragic, uplifting, surprising, exhilarating, uncompromising, compassionate, amazing and ageless play unfolds.

See it.  No late seating.  And they mean it.  Be on time.  Be there.

One more thing.  I thank each and every actor for being able to hear every single beautiful word that they utter on stage in A RAISIN IN THE SUN.  Everything is just right.

Photos:  Bridgette Lacombe

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MOTHERS AND SONS – Gone but not forgotten

April 5th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Lest anyone dare to forget the plague that took the lives of too many young and old, talented and loving homosexuals due to having unsafe sex way back then in the not so innocent 80’s Terrence McNally has written MOTHERS AND SONS – a eulogy to Andre – the unseen son of Katherine Gerard (Tyne Daly) and deceased lover of Cal Porter (Frederick Weller).  It is also an examination of four generations and their take on homosexuality, AIDS and its repercussions.

Cal has moved on from the untimely and horrible death of Andre at age 29 - an actor who is best remembered for his portrayal of Hamlet – a Dane with mother issues.  An affliction that Andre shared with Hamlet.

Cal is now married to Will Ogden (Bobby Steggert) – a much younger, would be writer who stays at home caring for their son Bud Ogden-Porter (Grayson Taylor) while Cal brings in the big bucks allowing them to live on Central Park West overlooking the Park below.

A view that Cal is pointing out to the mink clad Katherine as the play begins in the spacious pre-war apartment designed by John Lee Beatty and beautifully lit by Jeff Croiter.

Andre’s mother has dropped by unexpectedly from Dallas on her way to Rome for the Christmas holidays to deliver her son’s diary to Cal.  It’s been almost twenty years since they last connected – if that’s the right word.

It’s almost a one sided conversation as Katherine stands there rigidly, not taking off her coat and promising that she won’t stay long – replying tersely.  Both looking straight out towards the audience.

She is tense, uncomfortable and still in denial about her son’s homosexuality.  She wants to know who gave him the disease and wants revenge.  She is bitter and full of hate that slowly bubbles to the surface as she tries to understand Cal’s new husband and their polite, bright and innocent six year old son who asks lots and lots of questions.

She has not moved on even after the recent death of her husband.  She is totally alone now and we get some back story as to why she is as she is.  Cal tries patiently to explain how much Andre and he loved each other but has found someone new on the internet.

Will is too young to know much about the plague and is happily living the life of the new liberated gay man comfortable in his own skin – happily married.  Bud is the innocent one and happy as a lark with two daddies and his bubble bath and Oreo cookies.

Mr. McNally gets on his usual soap box hammering home for gay rights and that if they didn’t deny us the dignity of marriage then maybe Aids would not have happened – but even married couples stray…

There is a lot of heated bantering back and forth as they try to sort out their lives and it is left to the young Bud to finally bring Katherine around in this darkly humorous, heartfelt and well intentioned production that is played to the hilt by Ms. Daly and the three men in her life under the astute direction of Sheryl Kaller.  At the Golden Theatre.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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IF/THEN – So What/Who Cares

April 4th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Even if you are a diehard fan of Idina Menzel who gained stardom with her powerful set of pipes defying gravity in WICKED and infamy singing the most popular song “Let It Go” from FROZEN at this year’s Academy Award Ceremony you might have a problem sitting through three hours of her convoluted and overly complex double journey through life as Elizabeth – a 39 year old divorced woman who returns to the Big Apple from Phoenix to start anew.  Make new choices, find new love and a job as a city planner.  Not particularly in that order as Liz and Beth.

This might help – Liz wears glasses.  Beth doesn’t.  As the scenes glide by in this sleek and polished production directed by Michael Greif you might find yourself spending too much time figuring out who is who and where you are and why you having a hard time focusing as song after similar song that are not listed in the program (why?) – by the team that brought us NEXT TO NORMAL Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book & lyrics) roll by enabling Ms. Menzel to deliver those siren-like sounds that have made her famous.  Sounds that send some to holding their ears as she screams to the delight of her many screaming fans.

As if there is not enough for us to ponder there are subplots aplenty.  Lucas (an excellent Anthony Rapp) an ex-boyfriend and activist and now with a cute new boyfriend David (Jason Tam) and Kate (a fantastic funny and charismatic LaChanze) a gay kindergarten teacher and her mate Anne (Jenn Colella) Beth’s new boss Stephen (a fine Jerry Dixon) who has the hots for Beth but is married…and last but not least Liz’s new love Josh (James Snyder) a soldier back from his tour of duty - hale and hearty and handsome who sings like a dream that she meets by accident?  Or by fate?  in Madison Square Park that sets these two parallel crisscrossing stories on their seemingly endless trek.

A fork in the road of her life.  Which one does she choose?  We get to see both and neither one is very exciting or compelling.  The stakes are not high enough – but there are plenty of high notes for Elizabeth as Liz and Beth to belt out.

Adding to the mayhem is the open set designed by Mark Wendland with turntable and huge tilted mirror hanging over the proceedings so that we see the reflection of what is on stage from a different perspective.  I would have preferred CLARITY.  The mirror distracts and diverts our attention that is sorely needed.

Will Liz be happy as mother to her children and wife of Josh?  Or will Beth be happy with her extremely successful career?  Why are all the men crazy about her?  Why does she allow her friends to drive her in multiple directions?  Who is the real Elizabeth?

We should be rooting for her and we do not as Idina Menzel shows little vulnerability or heart for that matter.  She comes across hard and cold.  But she does deliver that ear piercing voice that many love.  I’d love to see what LaChanze could do with the part…

Stealing every second that she appears on stage as Paulette and others – Ryann Redmond is someone to keep your eye on.

At least IF/THEN is an original contemporary musical with lofty ambitions.  Not based on a movie or novella.  Nor is it a revival.  Nor is it wholly successful.  At the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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March 29th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

FRIDAY APRIL 4th – 11:45am – 2:30pm

Tickets may be purchased online at: DramaDesk.org or directly at:

https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/932325. Call: 212-352-3101

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ALADDIN – Imperfect magical wishes

March 28th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Disney is up to its old tricks again with varying degrees of success.  This time via a magic lamp that when rubbed a Genie (the stupendous James Monroe Iglehart) appears and will grant you three wishes.  So the evil Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) with his short side-kick Iago (Don Darryl Rivera) pursue it with a vengeance – with the help of an unwitting Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) an Arabian Nights street urchin with a heart of gold, a bright smile and a nice set of abs who falls in love with the Sultan’s (Clifton Davis’s) daughter Jasmine (Courtney Reed) a rebellious young Princess with a mind and mouth of her own who wants to marry for love – thank you very much!

All this is set around an Arabian Nights colorful storybook and whimsical set by Bob Crowley and a profusion of opulent and colorful costumes by Gregg Barnes that sparkle with enough glitz and bling to light up the sky.  But that is the domain of Natasha Katz who has out shown herself here.

There are three supercalifragilisticexpialidocious show stoppers in this production that bring to three dimensional life the animated cartoon version but it takes a while to get things soaring.

You might be wondering what’s going on for the first thirty or so minutes waiting for the excitement to start as all the exposition is set up despite the very active direction and explosive choreography of Casey Nicholaw and where the set pieces move and grow and swords are drawn and harem girls swirl and characters are bantering with some out of context jokes and a plethora of puns that induce groans rather than guffaws and a terrific tuneful and bouncy traditional Broadway musical score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin who is responsible for the book that seems to be in search of its rightful tone.

But then that infamous lamp gets rubbed and the Genie – James Monroe Iglehart – takes charge and wows us with “Friend Like Me” a tour de force production number that one wishes would never end.  He and it are pure genius!  A rapid fire, sweat inducing performance that brings the audience to its feet - stopping the show (allowing Mr. Iglehart to catch his breath) and that will hopefully be rewarded come Tony time.  ALADDIN from that moment on continues to thrill and delight.

The “A Whole New World” magic flying carpet ride sequence is spellbinding as Aladdin and Jasmine go airborne against a starlit sky that sparkles brighter than one would think possible.

And then there are the three chums of Aladdin – a combination of The Three Musketeers and The Three Stooges – Babkak (Brian Gonzales) Omar (Jonathan Schwartz) and Kassim (Brandon O’Neill) who bring down the house with their shenanigans and song “High Adventure”.

Eventually everything turns out OK in true entertaining, special effects Disney fashion – with a happy ending and good triumphant over evil in the Kingdom of Agrabah - also known as the New Amsterdam Theatre where I left with a smile and fond memories of those Bing Crosby//Bob Hope/Dorothy Lamour “On the Road to…” films that were corny but entertaining.

Photos:  Cylla von Tiedemann

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ROCKY the musical – Yo! Andy Karl

March 24th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Stepping into the iconic and legendary role of Rocky Balboa “The Italian Stallion” – written and acted by the iconic and legendary, fearless and persistent Sylvester Stallone (1976) makes for some mighty big boxing gloves to fill.

Luckily Andy Karl hits every mark with shades of Stallone lurking in the background while coming into his own – exhibiting yet another aspect of his wide range of talents.  Boxing.  Punching and being pummeled eight times a week at The Winter Garden Theatre, slurping down raw eggs, singing to his turtles Cuff and Link, admiring the other Rocky – (Rocco Barbella) Graziano – up on his wall, and quietly falling in love with the shy Adrian (a lovely Margo Seibert) while having to give up his gym locker and work as a “collector” for his loan shark boss Gazzo (Eric Anderson) and ultimately being drafted “as a novelty” into The Fight of The Century opposite champion Apollo Creed (Terence Archie) who is every inch a formidable opponent and performer.

The original score (Lynn Ahrens – lyrics and Stephen Flaherty - music) is very low key.  They have done much better work.  Here, writing for working class people (and a boxer with limited resources but unlimited heart) the songs meander along until Rocky gets fired up with his Act I finale “Fight From the Heart” – when the show finally takes flight only to be brought down with his manager’s momentum killer “In the Ring” performed by Dakin Matthews as Mickey in Act II.

The extremely memorable “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti for the original Rocky movie that spawned five sequels is heard briefly to get the audience revved up but it isn’t until we hear “Eye of the Tiger” from ROCKY III that the fireworks begin – mainly due to an ingenious directorial gimmick and lots of technical knowhow.

As The Fight of the Century commences – all 15 rounds – the audience members who have purchased these special tickets and know that they are about to stand up and be led on stage to sit in bleachers behind the regulation size boxing rink (Christopher Barreca) amazingly do just that as the rink itself comes forward covering their seats and a huge arena type projection drops for some fantastic close ups of the final twenty minutes of the production which is a one – two knockout punch of jaw dropping stagecraft.

The staging of the bout is choreographed brilliantly by Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine.  But is it enough to save this musical?  By the reaction of the audience they should have a healthy run.

Alex Timbers, director, has done similar magic in “Here Lies Love” where the majority of the audience stands and is herded around like cattle.  Speaking of which is one scene that garners entrance applause for a slew of dead cow carcasses that fly in from above to the meat locker where Rocky can train by using them as punching bags with the permission of Paulie (Danny Mastrogiorgio) Adrian’s brother.

Video design by Don Scully and Pablo N. Molina help make ROCKY a technological wonder.

The book by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone falters and one needs to have a large dose of a suspension of disbelief, but it is the fight that everyone will come to see and that delivers the goods.  And Andy Karl who goes the distance with his “Keep on Standing.”  Yo! Andy Karl.

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

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ALL THE WAY – with LBJ starring Bryan Cranston

March 21st, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Lyndon Baines Johnson was quite a character and Bryan Cranston is quite an actor in his portrayal of Mr. Johnson – “the accidental President” in all his glory – warts and all - from the minute he took office after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas – November 1963 until his election victory the following year and all that happened in between – most importantly the passage of a Civil Rights Act and the emergence of Saigon on the horizon.

We are like flies on the wall of the Senate Chamber-like set designed by Christopher Acebo as we watch and listen to history reliving itself at the Neil Simon Theatre where a volatile Bryan Cranston charms and manipulates, flatters and deals, finagles and tells tales – enjoying his own brand of humor, and putting the screws on with a smile so that he can get what he wants – whatever that really is.

He sounds like LBJ. He looks like LBJ with a pair of distinctive false earlobes that rival those of Dumbo – which LBJ was anything but. He knew what he wanted and knew how to get it. Not always nice. Not always fair. But he got what he wanted. How to win? BY NOT LOSING!

Holland Taylor in ANN her one woman play about Ann Richards succeeded mightily in a tour de force performance that Mr., Cranston – another television favorite is giving as LBJ. However he is supported by a cast of over twenty fine actors, in Robert Schenkkan’s lucid and enlightening script that director Bill Rauch keeps moving along at a fast clip that makes the almost three hour production seem just right.

With terrific projections by Shawn Sagady, scenes move from location to location speedily and without interruption allowing us to focus on the incredible machinations of our elected officials and the hypocrisy and underhanded dealings of the people in charge of running our government making us wonder how anything of merit is ever accomplished. ALL THE WAY is a real eye opener.

Act I deals with the passage of the Civil Rights Act with all its difficulties and compromises. Act II with LBJ’s nail biter of an election. Brought to vivid life are Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff) J. Edgar Hoover (Michael McKean) Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden) Gov. George Wallace (Rob Campbell) and Walter Jenkins (Christopher Liam Moore) et al.

Many will go to ALL THE WAY simply to see Mr. Bryan Cranston. And rightfully so. He is amazing in his portrayal. But the real star is LBJ with his complicated and conflicted personality that is illuminated in this fully realized production that uncovers the way things really get done and undone in Washington D.C.


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Photos: Evgenia Eliseeva

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