Tuesday, December 19, 2017



by  Dwight Casimere

The Mondavi name is legendary in the world of wine. It follows that what wine the Mondavi family will share around the holiday table is a subject of keen interest. For Rob Mondavi Jr. and Dina Mondavi ,the brother and sister team that co-founded, along with their father Michael, the Michael Mondavi Family Estate, the choices are Emblem Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($38.00) and 2016 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast ($35.00).

The Mondavi Family in the vineyards, (l to r) Michael Mondavi, Dina and Rob. Jr.

Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is a complex, rich wine that deserves to be placed at the centerpiece of the holiday table right next to the Sage-roasted turkey and a nice Standing Rib Roast or slow roasted Goose. At under $40, it delivers complexity and flavor like wines costing three times as much. The Mondavi pedigree is all over this one. Sourced from estate vineyards nestled high above St. Helena, the smells of fresh dark berries and warm vanilla bean are the first to rush to the nose. Followed by the taste of ripe red plums, blackberries, soft, ripe strawberries and a hint of exotic spice from long aging in French oak, this is a standout. 

According to Rob Mondavi Jr., every tool of the master wine craftsman was set into play. Grapes were hand harvested and skillfully fermented to extract the colors, flavors, textures and aromas naturally from the skins. After 14 days the grapes were gently pressed and the remaining juice was transferred to 66% new French oak barrels and aged for 18 momths. This is what gives the wine its magnificent taste and structure. With a blend of 79% Cabernet, 8.5% Petit Verdot, 7% Petite Sirah, 4.5% Syrah and 1% Zinfandel,this wine gives credence to the long-held Mondavi philosophy that wine is food. It certainly is the perfect companion to a festive holiday meal.

For Dina Mondavi, the choice is Emblem Sonoma Coast 2016 Chardonnay ($35).Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes from the historic Petaluma Gap, a sub region of the Sonoma Coast appellation, this is wine that is the beneficiary of the Sonoma Coast's ideal wine producing characteristics; consistent morning fog followed by sun-drenched days and cool nighttime breezes that grow vines capable of producing wines of the highest quality.  

Emblem 2016 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is brimming with the flavors of fresh, crisp fruit. Little green apples, Bosch pears and hints of lemongrass and the subtle taste of vanilla, gives this wine  a mellow feeling in the mouth. Careful aging in French oak for 9 to 10 months enhances the delicious flavor. The pairing possibilities at the holiday table are endless. Turkey, duck, pheasant and honey roasted ham are just a few of the main dishes that come to mind. Apple pie, Candied Sweet Potatoes, and Cinnamon-dusted pureed broccoli are among the side dishes and desserts that make this wine a standout. Celebrate the holidays like a bona fide Mondavi with Emblem wines!

Monday, November 20, 2017


by Dwight Casimere

Jimmy Buffet (c) joins the cast for the curtain call encore of the title song

Broadway In Chicago's Escape to Margaritaville, at the Oriental Theatre now  through Dec. 2, is exactly as the title implies, the perfect escape from Chicago's infamous "Hawk" and the winter chill and all of the holiday shopping madness of State Street and the Magnificent Mile. Based on the beloved slacker-inspired song classics of Jimmy Buffet, who made a surprise appearance to reprise the musical's title song during the curtain calls, its a lighter than froth on a Ramos Fizz musical comedy tropical retrreat. 
Set in a mythical,  tropical paradise with a dormant volcano, the musical brings together a Gilligan's Island grouping of misfits and world-weary escapees from society's humdrum in search of  their inner drunk. With cartoonish sets and a likeable roster of life-sized cutout characters and a breezy score dominated by Buffet's beloved classics (the titled Wastin' Away in Margaitaville, Come Monday, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Volcano, and more), the evening goes down easy like a well-crafted umbrella drink at  the swamp bar.
In spite of the breezy, purely here-to-entertain nature of the show, there are some sterling performances. Don Sparks (Broadway's Take Me Out, La Jolla Playhouse) plays a whizzened version of Buffet's alter-ego as J.D. and Drama Desk nominee (Broadway's Bright Star) is in superb voice and flashy guitar-playing style as the younger version of the show's namesake inspiration.

With a songbook by Emmy winning Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl, Raising Hope, and Emmy nominee Mike O'Malley (Survivor's Remorse, Shameless) and  Rockettes-kicking choreography by Tony nominee Kelly Devine (Come From Away, Rock of Ages) and spot-on directing by Tony nominee and La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley (Come From Away, Memphis),  this is the play to see to chase away those winter and Holiday blues. 
Be in for some delightful surprises along the way, including a cadre of high stepping zombie insurance salesmen who transform into the aforementioned glitter suited Rockettes clones and an Act One finale that rocks the house--literally, and the most original use for beach towels yet imagined. Amidst amidst a rainstorm of tropical Beach balls, Jimmy Buffet himself made a surprise appearance onstage with the cast, the make an appeal for hurricane relief and to lead a singalong of the  title song. The audience danced out of the door oblivious to the falling temperatures outside. Now though Dec. 2. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for tickets and information.

Friday, October 6, 2017



by Dwight Casimere

 Dwight Casimere at the NYFF Opening Night
 Laurence Fishburne waves to the enthusiastic opening night crowd
 Director Richard Linklater and the cast of Last Flag Flaying on Openin Night (below) stars Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne on the Red Carpet

The New York Film Festival opened with Oscar nominated director Richard Linklater's latest searing drama Last Flag Flying starring the stellar talents of the ever-superb Steve Carrell as the film's central character Larry 'Doc' Shepherd, a former Navy doctor in the throes of grief after losing his only son in the Iraqi war. Already suffering the unhealed wound of his wife's death, Doc is an abyss of grief. He seeks out his old military buddies Sal, the cynical and unrepentant alcoholic Bryan Cranston and Richard 'The Mauler' Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) an ex-Marine bad mouth who has since reformed to become a self-righteous, color-wearing man of the cloth. Both the Fishburne and Cranston characters are sterling examples of the adage 'once a Marine, always a Marine.' Linklater and co-scriptwriter Darryl Poniscanb, who also wrote the book of the same title upon ewhich the film is based, do a terrific job of letting the characters speak for themselves, with an abundance of attitude and expletives in abundance. Doc is an endless black whole of grief who hijacks his old buddies into a seeminlgly wrong-heade scheme to give his son what he thinks is a proper send-off.  The book and the film are a sequel to Ponicsan's 1973 film The Last Detail, directed by Hal Ashby. Linnklater successfully injects the film with his own deft style of character development and story-telling using the characters own words and the interplay of their personalities to move the story along. Particularly telling is a scene in which the three spend a light-hearted mooment spining a dirty penis joke to its absurd limit. The scene is a window into the life of former combat buddies who no doubt passed some perilous times together, distracting their attention away from imminent danger with mindless humor. 

Part buddie film, part road-trip movie, the film mixes in a heavy dose of humanity that will have you choking back tears at the end. Cecily Tyson makes an all-too-brief appearance as the mother of one of the men in their unit who didn't survive. The facts reveal that the circumstances of his death were less than heroic, and Cranston leads the charge to unveil the truth. Confronted with the still grieving mother,  the three decide to swallow their pride and allow the grieving mother to cling to her glorious fantasy.

Last Flag Flying is a protest film of sorts against war, but it doesn't hit you over the head with it. Instead, it allows the flawed humanity in the characters and that desire to do at least one thing right in the sea of mistakes we humans all make, to shine through. With all their faults, Linklater's characters just dry out for love and we, the audience, willingly give it to them.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

by Dwight Casimere

Human sex trafficking is a hundred billion dollar industry, with profits exceeding those of Intel, Microsoft, Nike, Starbucks and Google, combined. Up to a hundred thousand sex slaves like in the U.S. alone with millions enslaved worldwide. From Epic Pictures comes the film Trafficked, which had its world premiere at the United Nations, which charts the harrowing saga of three young girls, fStarring Arom Califonia, Nigeria and India who are trafficked through an elaborate global network to a brothel in Texas where they are exploited, tortured, and eventually escape. 

Starring Academy Award nominee Anne Archer and featuring Golden Globe nominee Ashley Judd, Elisabeth Rohm,  Sean Patrick Flanery, Madison Wolfe and Patrick Duffy, the film is the culmination of the work of Harvard professor and sex trafficking expert  Siddharth Kara and is based on her book Sex Trafficking.. The film is not only a depiction of a harrowing adventure in which the human spirit rises to conquer a social evil, but a call to action for strong initiatives on a global level to end sex slavery and child labor.  

In addition to serving  as screenwriter to Trafficking, Siddarth Kara is a tireless soldier in the fight against slavery, having researched and advocated against trrafficking for the past two decades. In additoon to serving as a senior fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, he is a senior fellow at Harvard Schol of Public Health and is the author of numerous books and articles on modern slavery, including Sex Trafficking: Inside the Busiiness of Modern Slavery, and Bonded Lbour; Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia. This is a film that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Its intent is to spark action. Few will remain unmoved after entering the stunningly visual world created by Director Will Wallace and Director of Photography Thomas L. Callway.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


visit lincolncenter.org for information

by Dwight Casimere

Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart July 25-August 20 was the summer's most celebrated serious musical festival and certainly one of the year's most anticipated. With seating at capacity, including risers surrounding the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra  onstage at David Geffen Hall, participants were treated to, not only the works of the festival's namesake, but those of modern composers inspired by him, and a host of international luminaries, including esteemed British conductor Edward Gardner, formerly of the English National Opera, Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson, and the Danish String Quartet. Music Director Louis Langree, appointed to the post in 2002 and named Renee' and Robert Belfer Music Director in 2006, has propelled the Mostly Mozart Orchestra to critical acclaim and has affirmed the festival as an annual summertime highlight.

Among the stand-out performances was that of American pianist Jeremy Denk in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, July 28-29, in which Mr. Denk brilliantly re-created Beethoven's own cadenza's. A MacArthur Fellowship and Avery Fisher Prize winner, and recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Mr. Denk made the case for the No. 4 as one of Beethoven's most impressive as a piano virtuoso and one his most intimately expressive as a composer. Denk captured the great one's Romantic flair and absolute command of the keyboard's full orchestral possibilities. 

From the declarative opening theme of the first movement, Allegro moderator, Denk set the stage for the drama that would unfold. Andante con moto, the emotive, songlike second movement, dripped with Romanticism, with Mr. Gardner gently nudging the orchestra forward, providing a lush context for the unfolding of Denk's, and the composer's poetic tale. The Rondo: Vivace presented one of the most spirited repartee between soloist and orchestra this side of The Proms on the other side of the Atlantic, where Mr. Denk is a frequent performer with the BBC Orchestra. 

Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major concluded the program with a sensitive, informed reading under the deft hands of Mr. Gardner. The work's third movement minuet, Allegro molto, is, in many ways, a nod to Mozart. The work is not given nearly as much prominence as the those of other's of Schubert's era. Here. Mr. Gardner and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra give him proper recognition as a writer of uncommon sensitivity and majesty. 

Louis Langree conducted and the innovative percussion ensemble So Percussion performed in a program August 1-2, that featured Mozart's Overture to the opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). Celebrated American composer David Lang was present in the audience and on stage for  the New York Premiere of his 2013 composition man made, which included the collaborative efforts of So Percussion, playing an eclectic mix of percussion instruments, including breaking Vic Firth sticks, which appeared to be like elongated twigs,  into various sized pieces, playing Zildjian cymbals, various sized wine and other types of glass bottles, pottery, various exotic drums from Remo drumheads and keyboards from Estey Organs. So Percussion returned to the stage to give a most unusual encore,  a solo performance employing only rhythmic hand clapping as their instrument. It was intriguing and rather unexpected, but it brought the audience to their feet. That's precisely the type of thing that makes the Mostly Mozart Festival so intensely popular and an element that attracts new audiences.

So Percussion on the Vic Firth sticks 

Danish String Quartet's performance August 10 was, for this reviewer, one of the shining moment of the festival. The ensemble embodies the quintessential qualities shared by all great string ensembles; complete simpatico and cohesive flow between its members, and a thorough understanding of the material at hand, which allows for both freedom of interpretation and conversely, strict adherence to the wishes and demands of the composer. This was indeed a wholly satisfying evening of classical chamber music that gave Beethovens' String Quartets in G major and F major ("Razumovsky") the vivid portrayal they deserved. 

Danish String Quartet

Intricate and difficult, the quartet made them seem light and airy and reduced their heroic scope and expanisve symphonic leanings. That feeling was further conveyed in the intimate setting of the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in the presentation of A Little Night Music with the Danish String Quartet playing their lush, modern arrangements of ancient Folk Music from Nordic countries. The hundred or so patrons, seated at cabaret-style candlelit tables with complimentary wine and bottles of Pellegrino sparkling water, enjoyed the innovative sounds of these brilliant musicians, who showed that each is a virtuoso in their own right. The folk tunes, some dating back 300 years or more, showed a surprising connection to the popular music of today.

 The music, which was then composed for dances, funerals, weddings, Christmas holidays and other festivities showed a durability that spanned the ages. The quartet mined all of the rhythmic and tonal possibilities of these ancient music tomes and showed their enduring relevance to today's world. It was both an illuminating and enjoyable evening made even more magical by the backdrop of the city skyline visible from the penthouses's virtually floor to ceiling windows. Its a magical setting to enjoy A Little Night Music. Quartet members stayed behind to mingle with the audience, take selfies and personally autograph copies of their CD's, including their soon-to-be released album of Nordic folk music, which was presented that evening.

Friday and Saturday, August 11-12, performances of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major with violinist Thomas Zehetmair ( who bears a striking resemblance to the American actor Ed Harris) as soloist and international conducting sensation Andrew Manze at the podium, was the crown jewel of Mostly Mozart. 

Thomas Zehetmair violin soloist

Zehetmair's approach to this explosive work was at times lyrical and poetic, at others, explosive, capturing the kaleidoscopic fireworks of one of Beethoven's most dramatic works. After a regal opening by the Mostly Mozart Orchestra and conductor Manze, Zehetmair's violin made its entrance like an heroic tenor, singing a plaintive aria, in which the main theme will be replicated and repeated in various shapes and orchestral voicings throughout the composition. Zehetmair further elevated his exceptional playing by replicating the complex and demanding cadenzas which had been transposed by the composer to a piece for piano and orchestra. They were recast for the violin by the eminent Austrian violinist Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and were brilliantly performed by Mr. Zehetmair. His energetic playing literally caused him to fray the outer strings on his bow.

It was a performance without parallel.

Maestro Manze concluded the program with an insightful performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Familiar to all who love Mozart's symphonies, Manze and the exceptional interpretations of the orchestra, particularly the fine playing of the woodwind section, made this an ovation-worthy performance. With the exception of a slightly halting entrance by the horns at the beginning of the Allegro assai, this was a flawless rendition.

Mostly Mozart continues with Brahm's Symphony No. 1 August 15-16 with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing music from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni August 17, 19-20 at the Rose Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto August 18-19 at David Geffen Hall with supreme virtuoso Gil Shaham as violin soloist. Visit lincolncenter.org for details. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017



by Dwight Casimere

The Sundance Award-winning documentary Last Men In Aleppo is ripped straight out of today's headlines. It is a difficult film to watch, but hard to take your eyes off of. In the hands of Syrian director Feras Fayyad, director of cinematography Fedi Al Halabi and cinematographer Thaer Mohamad and co-director Steen Johannssen, it is a masterpiece. The images are horrifying; dead babies being pulled from the rubble of buildings, pummeled by both Russian  drones and the sarin gas of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as volunteers, called "White Helmets" struggle to rescue the living and keep an accounting of the dying. We see Khaled, Mahmoud and Sushi rushing toward the scene of devastation, moments after bombs have rained on the innocents. The men are mostly former construction workers, and their skills at building are useful as they use heavy duty equipment to gingerly manipulate crushing masses of concrete to rescue victims moments from death.

In the opening scenes, the limp bodies of two infants are pulled from the rubble as we here a young boy crying, trapped in the rubble of his bombed out apartment building. "Don't cry," Khalid gently reassures him. "We are here to get you out."  The crew later visits the surviving family members, still wearing the bloody bandages of their fresh wounds. They learn that the father's two young sons and his wife were killed. The saddest news of all is that one of the young children that had been rescued, later died in the hospital. The oldest boy, the one who was trapped,  begging him to stay and clinging to his protective arms, as if the man's presence would ensure his future safety. "Stay! Stay! The coffee's ready!" The young boy cries as the men rush off to the next disaster. Speaking in confidence outside, we learn that Khalid made the visit, not so much to reassure the living, but to get an accurate accounting of the dead. His is a grim, sysyphean task in which no one is expected to survive.

"We will all die here. That is our fate," Khaled says at more than one juncture in the film.
Surprisingly, life goes on in the brief respites between bombings. Open  air markets spring into existence with fresh produce and live chickens appearing as if out of thin air. Khalid and his crew can been seen getting haircuts and shaves at the local barber, the reassuring hum of clippers and gossip filling the air. Khalid teasing the younger Mahmoud that he must be trying to impress a neighborhood girl. An sidewalk aquarium shop attracts Khaled attention. He decides it buy some goldfish. "You can eat them when there's no foot after the bombings," one of the crews teases. Its all gallows humor. Khaled swears that he's strictly buying them as pets, not for food. To prove the point, he sets the crew about the task of using their construction skills to build an elaborate concrete pond in from of his apartment, complete with a cascading fountain. Khaled draws the analogy that he is like the fish in the pond, unable to live out of water for more than a few minutes, just as he is incapable of living outside Aleppo. "I will die here," he says with prescience and resignation.

The symbolism of the goldfish runs throughout the fabric of the film. In fact, the opening shot begins with a tight shot of a goldfish eye. We aren't sure from the coloring if its the aftermath of a bomb blast or a black hole surrounded in blood, the aftermath of a bomb attack.

One particularly poignant scene occurs during one of the many ceasefires. Khaled, his crew and their families load up the ambulances and rescue vehicles and tear through the city as if going to an attack site. Their destination? The local playground in the center of town. Khaled confesses that, because of the constant turmoil and threat of war, he had never played as a child. We see his hulking frame testing the sturdiness of the play equipment as he careens down a kiddie-sized slide. "I hope I don't break this thing!" he shouts giddily. The respite is brief as spotters see drones flying overhead. A voice bellows over a loudspeaker. Everyone run to safety! The play hour is over. Its back to shelter, and for Khalid and his crew, the white helmets and the ambulances.

The film's pace is measured, almost elegiac. The shots of bombs falling on Aleppo are virtually poetic with the bursts of light falling in a latticework of light against the beautiful backdrop of the original music by Karsten Fundal.  As horrific as the subject matter is, Last Men In Aleppo is a film that inspires hope. Its showing in theaters and on Netflix should inspire governments, organizations and individuals to mobilize every humanitarian and diplomatic means at their disposal to end the carnage in Aleppo.

Friday, May 12, 2017



Daniel Kyri in his Goodman debut in the title role

by Dwight Casimere

If someone told you the harrowing story of African-born actor Shedrick Yarkpai, you would probably not believe it. Yet, here it is as the subject of a fully staged World Premiere production at Goodman Theatre, Chicago, Objects In The Mirror, by Chicago native playwright Charles Smith and directed by the Goodman's own esteemed Resident Director Chuck Smith (no relation). 

Playwright Smith first encountered Yarkpai in 2009 while traveling to the idyllic city of Adelaide, Australia in 2009 for a production of his play A Free Man of Color (the play later premiered on Broadway with the Golden Globe, Tony, Emmy and Drama Desk Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright in the lead). A young Liberian actor, Shedrick Yarkpai, was slated to play the title role. Over the time of their close working relationship, Yarkpai began to unravel the story of his more than decade-long journey from a refugee campin war-torn Liberia, through the unimaginable brutality, starvation and cruelty of the refugee camps in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire to finally gaining asylum in Adelaide.

The story is a gripping one, and almost unbearable to listen to, were it not for the inherent innocence and honesty of the story-teller. Chicago actor Daniel Kyri, in his impassioned Goodman debut, plays young Yarkpai as he embarks on his perilous journey with his cousin Zaza Workolo (Detroit native Breon Arzell in his Goodman debut) and his uncle, John Workolo (Goodman veteran and  Allen Gilmore, The Matchmaker and three productions of A Christmas  Carol, in a searing performance.)  Yarpai leaves behind his doting mother, Luopu Workolo, played with steely conviction in a stand-ovation performance by Lily Mojekwu, in th e role she originated in the Goodman's New Stages Festival. New Stages Festival alum Ryan Kitley (Support Group for Men) returned to their Goodman to do a stellar job as Rob Mosher, a local attorney who befriends Shedrick and vows to help him dispel the demons of his past and unravel the legal entanglements surrounding the truth of his identity and family secrets

Seasoned director Chuck Smith assembled a Rolls Royce design team to bring his production to the Goodman stage. Set designer Riccardo Hernandez utilized an ingenous backdrop composed of overlapping sheets of corrugated tin, a material that is commonly used in a construction of the shanty in the settlements and refugee camps. to connote scene and demographic changes.. Make Tutaj created video projections that announced location changes, Birgit Rattenborg Wise created the evocative costumes. Ray Nardelli created th e sound scape, that was as much a part of the storyline, atmosphere and dialogue as anything else. Brian  J. Fahey was the production stage manager who orchestrated all of the complex elements to create a seamless production.

Objects In The Mirror is a must-see production now through June 4. Sadly, the events recounted in this play are happening to thousands of  refugees in Africa at this very moment. For tickets and show times, visit GoodmanTheatre.org.

 Daniel Kyri (c) as Shedrick Yarpai, Breon Arzell (l|) also in his Goodman debut as cousin Zaza Workolo, Goodman veteran Allen Gilmore as the uncle, John Workolo (r)
 Lily Mojekwu is Sheridrick's mother, Luopu Workolo
 Ryan Kitley (Rob Mosher) and Allen Gilmore (John Workolo) square off on the fate of his nephew Shedrick
 Allen Gilmore as John Workolo
 Daniel Kyri in a dramatic soliloquy
Sherdrick (Daniel Kyri) and John  Workolo(Allen Gilmore) marvel at their newfound refuge in Adelaide, Australia