Held Over by Request

Washington Post, DC
April 29 2004

Held Over by Request
An Impromptu Assist Turns Into a Six-Week Booking
By Jonathan Padget
Washington Post Staff Writer

Music is integral to the new play “Rosemary and I” at Alexandria’s
MetroStage. The tale of a singer, Rosemary, and her intense,
mysterious relationship with her female accompanist is staged with
live musicians — New York pianist John Hodian and his wife, vocalist
Bet Williams — who add a haunting soundscape, composed by Hodian, to
the intricate drama.

Critical reaction to the play has been mixed, though Hodian and
Williams have garnered positive notice for their musical
contribution. They have also taken advantage of their MetroStage
engagement to give concerts as Epiphany Project, their identity for a
genre-blurring musical collaboration that combines everything from
avant-garde folk and Americana to classical art song and art-pop.

When Hodian started work on the play last year, though, he had no
idea that he and Williams would relocate to Alexandria for six weeks
of rehearsals and performances, with their 4-month-old son and a
nanny in tow. It was a much simpler proposition at first.

A fan of playwright Leslie Ayvazian since seeing an earlier work of
hers, “Nine Armenians,” Hodian asked her to write the libretto for an
Armenian-themed opera he envisions. The artists share Armenian
heritage, and Ayvazian responded enthusiastically to Hodian’s
request, with one condition: She would collaborate on the opera if
Hodian would first write music for her “Rosemary and I.”

Fair enough, Hodian thought. By the time a staged reading was held
last summer during a new-play festival at the Kennedy Center, he had
recorded the piano-vocal score with the help of Williams, and
traveled to Washington for the reading. He was expecting merely to
cue music from a CD. But a planned technical rehearsal fell through,
and suddenly the cast was in a room with only a piano for last-minute
preparations before taking the stage.

So much for simplicity.

Though Hodian had written the score, he hadn’t memorized it. But he
was undaunted. He sat down at the piano and did a little improvising.
Ayvazian was reading the part of the elderly Rosemary’s adult
daughter Julia (which she also plays now at MetroStage), and she had
enlisted a longtime friend, Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis, to read the
part of Rosemary in preparation for directing the full MetroStage

“As soon as I played the first cue,” Hodian recalls, “Olympia goes,
‘Wow, that was great. I wish we were doing that instead of what’s on
the CD.’ ” Her enthusiasm grew with every musical interlude until she
proclaimed that Hodian must perform for the reading, which at that
point was about 30 minutes from starting. Center staff nixed the idea
at first, Hodian says, “but then she kind of does her Olympia thing,
and suddenly there’s a nine-foot Steinway onstage — and it’s tuned.”

While the shift to live music for the current run of “Rosemary and I”
was unexpected, Hodian and Williams have no complaints about the
upheaval of their New York routine. It’s a “nice family project,”
says Hodian of the opportunity to work with Williams on both theater
and concert performance.

“What makes it so interesting,” says Judith Roberts, the actress who
plays Rosemary, “is that here is a woman who’s much later in her
life, and you hear this young voice . . . coming at you in a way from
the past, which reinforces the idea of searching for memories. It’s
very evocative, and [Williams] has a wonderful voice — very

Roberts was in the audience for Hodian and Williams’s Epiphany
Project concert Sunday night, featuring songs from their self-titled
2001 album on their independent label, Epiphany Records. Another
concert is scheduled for this Sunday.

“For each song, we just do the things we love,” says Williams,
describing their unbounded approach to musicmaking. A follow-up album
is in the works.

Though many independent musicians relish not being easily
categorized, says Hodian, he wouldn’t mind Epiphany Project having a
clearer market niche.

“We’d love to be categorized,” he says. “I wish we could say, ‘Hey,
it’s this,” and we could go play all the blues festivals, or play
classical music venues only, or whatever. But it really is a bunch of
different things. We do whatever we feel like musically.”

Epiphany Project bookings have been easier to come by in Europe,
where Hodian and Williams have found audiences and club owners
especially receptive to their eclectic style. Still, Epiphany Project
enjoys a devoted fan base in the United States, drawn from occasional
exposure on public radio and crossover from Williams’s work as a folk
solo artist.

“The people who like it,” Williams says, “like it a lot.”

“We have enough fans to keep buying the records,” adds Hodian, “and
to enable us to make another one, and who’ll keep coming to shows.
That’ll continue to make it worth us coming out for.”

Epiphany Project, at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria.
Sunday at 7 p.m. $20.

Rosemary and I continues through May 9. $32-$38. Call 703-548-9044 or

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS