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WAR DANCES

Liz Lerman, the MacArthur-winning choreographer who had the foresight to settle on Washington, D.C., as the location for her politically savvy troupe, comes north with Healing Wars, her latest dance-theater work. Incredibly timely, it explores the brutality of combat with a cast of eight dancers and actors, a one-legged former Navy gunner’s mate, and Broadway performer Michael Scott. Co-choreographed by Keith Thompson, the piece is part of a multi-city, multi-year project commemorating the 150th anniversary of our Civil War. Get there by train weeknights; on Saturday, a round-trip bus leaves from the Port Authority; call the box office for reservations.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Sept. 25. Continues through Sept. 27, 2014

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Down by the Liver: Between Riverside and Crazy Bares Its Wounds

Riverside Drive makes a nice address, but it lacks one amenity: moral clarity. For longtime cop Walter “Pops” Washington (Stephen McKinley Henderson), that means nursing his wounds eight years after having been shot by a white rookie while drunk and off-duty in a shady den. Embittered, Pops holds out for a cash settlement and lashes out at the folks around him, denying all responsibility for his growing drinking problem. He protects his family, even as he menaces them; the proof lies in his tenacious hold on their rent-controlled apartment.

Between Riverside and Crazy, a new drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis, wants to demonstrate how often our actions are neither good nor bad, merely driven by emotional needs and injuries. But Guirgis gives us too many characters with too much social dysfunction to make us care about most of them. The script piles it on so steadily that its essential contrivance is exposed. That’s too bad — Guirgis supplies frequently witty, miles-a-minute dialogue, and Henderson settles into a nicely centered performance in a role defined by contradictory impulses. But because we’re always conscious of the gray shades of behavior, a certain sense of inconsequence sets in. In the end, it’s hard to understand why a play about policing, race, alcoholism, and Manhattan real estate isn’t more trenchant — even when it’s so centrally located.

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The 53 Worst Politicians in America

King George III was “a Tyrant… unfit to be the ruler of a free people,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence exactly 238 years ago this week.
Tommy had it right.

Ever since then, Americans have been calling out their leaders. “Tyrant” was just the start. We’ve moved on to crook (Nixon), liar (Clinton), and moron (Dubya).

Whether or not you agree with the peanut gallery, there’s no denying that such written assaults on public honchos are as American as baseball, apple pie, and the iPhone.

So on this Independence Day, those closest to American politics — 50 writers and editors of the alternative press from across the land — have combined their collective genius. They’ve named 53 of the nation’s worst elected leaders from 23 of the largest states and the District of Columbia, then separated them into five categories:




Visit our news blog Runnin’ Scared for our selections for worst elected leaders in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

And there’s more than just the usual stodgy Washington losers. Try Colorado sheriff Terry Maketa, who allegedly had sex with not one, not two, but three underlings and then lied about it. Or check out Idaho Senate GOP leader John McGee, who stole and crashed an SUV, admitted to drinking too much, and went to jail. Upon returning to the statehouse, he was accused of groping a female staffer.

Want a little old-school corruption? Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, who will soon be up for re-election, founded a health-care empire that was whacked with the largest Medicare fraud fine in U.S. history: $1.7 billion for stealing from the feds. There’s also Washington, D.C. council member Michael Brown, who once accepted $200,000 to stay out of an election and was later indicted after grabbing at a cash-stuffed duffel bag offered by an undercover FBI agent.

Of course, there are big names here too. South Carolina’s “Luv Guv” Terry Sanford made the list. So did Texas’ Green Eggs and Ham filibusterer Ted Cruz and Minnesota loon Michele Bachmann. We even snuck wannabe pol Donald Trump snuck in a side door.

So before you head out for the fireworks or swig some American brew, consider this hall of shame.

Read the full story in this week’s Village Voice: “America’s Worst Politicians

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Get a Quirky Civics Lesson and Dessert at Beertown

You can’t swing a dead cat in Washington without hitting a politician or a lobbyist, as the ensemble-based company dog & pony dc (for District of Columbia) would know. The same is apparently true for New York and eager wannabe actors, as the run of dpdc’s acclaimed devised work, Beertown, at 59E59, is proving.

An only half-scripted performance parading as a quaint quinquennial town hall meeting, this spoof of participatory democracy relies on “audience integration” to debate the historic and emotional merits of artifacts under consideration for Beertown’s time capsule. A generous dessert potluck and “20th Quinquennial!” T-shirts aside, theatergoers needed no coaxing to jump into the fray with actual Beertonians (aka the nine-member cast) one recent night, inventing homegrown biographies on the spot to challenge arguments put forth by the local citizenry for why, among other crucial topics, Fred Soch’s 1956 Congressional Campaign button should go into the time capsule and a Proposition 6 lawn sign should not.

As interpreters of American history and identity, director Rachel Grossman and this enthusiastic-to-a-fault company are the real stars (and a social studies teacher’s dream), creating a finely grained, tongue-in-cheek virtual town with a hymn, a creation myth, elected officials, associations, even a website, and putting the whole project to a democratic vote. What defines a community? Beertown makes a motion we consider the question, but our ballot is already cast for dpdc’s quirky civics lesson.

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Hailu Mergia and Low Mentality

Former Walias Band leader Hailu Mergia, an Ethiopian keyboardist whose 1985 solo album was one of the year’s more significant international reissues, has begun to perform again a decade after moving to Washington DC, where he drives a cab for a living. Here he tops a top-notch all-night showcase, a co-presentation of the Barbès and Electric Cowbell labels, that includes Mali ngoni master Cheick Hamala Diabate and the band Feedel, which is led by another Walias Band alum, saxophonist Moges Habte. With Elikeh, La Mecanica Popular, Slavic Soul Party, La Sabrosa Sabrosura, Pitchblak Brass Band.

Sat., Jan. 11, 8 p.m., 2014

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CALL TO ACTION

Two years ago, Bill McKibben was arrested in front of the White House and thrown into jail for leading a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. In his new memoir, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, the environmentalist and bestselling author of Eaarth and The End of Nature recounts his journey as he learns how to solve the world’s growing environmental problems. From a Vermont beekeeper’s hives that produce honey sold locally to the picket line in Washington, D.C, where he managed to start one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in decades, McKibben, founder of 350.org, presents ways everyone can get involved in the fight against global warming. Tonight, he launches Oil and Honey as a part of the Brooklyn Book Festival’s Bookend events.

Wed., Sept. 18, 7 p.m., 2013

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SCREEN GEM

Two years ago, Bill McKibben was arrested in front of the White House and thrown into jail for leading a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. In his new memoir, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, the environmentalist and bestselling author of Eaarth and The End of Nature recounts his journey as he learns how to solve the world’s growing environmental problems. From a Vermont beekeeper’s hives that produce honey sold locally to the picket line in Washington, D.C, where he managed to start one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in decades, McKibben, founder of 350.org, presents ways everyone can get involved in the fight against global warming. Tonight, he launches Oil and Honey as a part of the Brooklyn Book Festival’s Bookend events.

Wed., Sept. 18, 7 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 20, 7 & 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 7 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 2 p.m., 2013

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The Loving Story

Well-timed and well crafted in equal measures, The Loving Story is a thoughtful, terrifically intimate account of the case that dismantled this country’s anti-miscegenation laws 100 years after the abolition of slavery. The story of Virginia couple Mildred and Richard Loving’s efforts to live and love each other freely captures a critical moment in a civil rights movement whose most recent strides—for same-sex marriage—are just a few weeks old. First-time director Nancy Buirski’s focus on the constitutional tangles that brought Loving v. Virginia before the Supreme Court in 1967 also complement Lincoln‘s warm, wonky embrace of the democratic procedural. A wealth of archival footage gives The Loving Story an oddly modern quality. We watch the supremely humble couple (Richard was white; Mildred part black and part Native American) interacting at home, tolerating journalists, conferring with attorneys, and recounting their path to the courtroom: Having been arrested in their home state, the Lovings moved to Washington, D.C. Mildred’s distressed letter to Bobby Kennedy set things rolling. Equally compelling is footage of the dauntless young lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, who saw much to be gained in one couple’s belief in their rights and even more to be cut away.

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Honor Flight

Greatest-generation stoicism meets gushing contemporary sentiment in Honor Flight, Dan Hayes’s documentary about the Wisconsin chapter of the eponymous program, which flies World War II veterans out to see their monument in Washington, D.C. Honor Flight’s movers and shakers recount the genesis of the idea, with their fundraising necessarily conducted against the backdrop of an emptying hourglass, as we’re informed that 900 American WWII vets die every day. Honor Flight is, however, already a success story by the time Hayes is on hand to shoot the third 747 flight, which robs his film of any traditional suspense or narrative contour. Instead, after introducing several of the selected veterans and their stories before takeoff, we follow them from the monument to Arlington National Cemetery to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to their homecoming fanfare, all along the way being deluged with tears. It is hard to recall another film in which more than half of the interviews are interrupted by choking up, a fact that does not escape notice: “Are we going into another tear-jerking?” asks one subject before complying. Howard Hawks said, “When you’re doing a story about old people, you can afford to be sentimental,” and Honor Flight takes full license, promoting an undeniably decent and worthy cause through sometimes invasive emotional prying.

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Sharon Van Etten, Getting Personal

Before the ear-splitting pleas of the full room coax them back out for an encore, Sharon Van Etten and her band spend the final seconds of their set at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., slumped over their instruments, seemingly knocked out by their own crescendos. Over the enveloping swell of “I’m Wrong,” Van Etten goes from tenderly gazing at the rapt audience to mercilessly bearing down on the strings of her Jazzmaster. As the guitarist beside her faces his amp and falls to his knees with a looping, soaring soprano flying into the ether behind her, Van Etten stands, daring the room to turn away from a chorus as earnest as she is: “It’s pain to believe in any song you sing/Tell me this even though you can’t believe it/Tell me I’m wrong.”

This is the closing scene of the first night of Van Etten’s last tour of 2012, a year bookended by the February arrival of her universally adored third album, Tramp, and the autumnal release of its revamped edition, which drops on Jagjaguwar on November 13. Since Tramp‘s debut, Van Etten has spent all but two months of the past year touring behind it, lapping the country, trekking through Europe and playing every major music festival from South by Southwest to Newport Folk to the British edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties next month. With its re-release, Jagjaguwar is sharing the Tramp demos, along with never-before-seen artwork and journal entries of Van Etten’s that were written throughout the creation of the record. Now that the bare bones of her songs are on display and the creative process behind them is outlined for all to see, Van Etten’s growth as a songwriter and a performer is not only proved on paper but also flawlessly demonstrated every time she takes the stage—and especially on the nights that “I’m Wrong” wraps up her set.

“With ‘I’m Wrong,’ I was afraid that song would be too personal lyrically, because it’s basically about someone that didn’t really support what I was doing,” says Van Etten, taking a breather in between sound check and show time at the 9:30 Club. “I wrote it for me, you know? It’s such a relative, universal idea: feeling no support but believing in yourself anyway. The song is based on a basic chord progression on an acoustic guitar, and Aaron [Dessner, of the National and Tramp‘s producer] asked me to just play something that wasn’t strumming. I’d pick it, and then we created a drum sound, and then we’d build on it, and we’d build and build and build. Now, we’ve taken that a step further live, and the song just turns into this huge ball of noise by the end. We take it to a different place. It’s just fun to make noise and let loose.”

Van Etten’s live set in its entirety reflects this process, as many of Tramp‘s strongest moments—”Magic Chords,” “Leonard,” “Warsaw”—are exponentially more dense and dramatic than their modest demoed versions, lush explorations in sound anchored in straightforward lyrics and approachable melodies that work as full productions and sparse recordings alike. “It took me a while to understand the differentiation between the album and the live show,” she says. “When I was solo, I just wanted to keep things the same—I didn’t want people to buy the record and be disappointed when the live show was different. And then I just did things totally differently. [Tramp] is rock for me—we have fun playing stripped down and straight up. I don’t use many effects; I have distortion and reverb, and on one song, I use a delay pedal, but it’s so basic and so raw, and I love it. It makes me feel a lot more confident in songs because I’m not hiding behind too much there.”

Before closing out a banner year with a string of European dates, Van Etten will be headlining an evening at Town Hall on November 15. Thurston Moore, Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, and other friends are set to join her onstage over the course of the evening. Conceived as more or less a “night with Sharon Van Etten,” the homecoming show strays from her typical set in that it will include Tramp songs and older material in equal measure. As such, the evening won’t necessarily be an ode to Tramp, but that doesn’t mean that the album—or the superlative live show she has honed while touring behind its two releases—isn’t worth celebrating.

“My melodies are really the strongest they’ve ever been,” she says. “Hearing them again, stripped down, versus the fully produced album or live show, I can still hear the strength through it all, even though they’re shitty recordings. I go back, and I hear those demos and how intense they were. I think it’s the most interesting thing, for people to hear the demos and hear where the songs came from. Tramp is now framed in a new context, but it’s very different—an unabridged Sharon Van Etten.”

Sharon Van Etten plays Town Hall November 15.