Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman
Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman

Big Story, Intimate Setting: Chicago at Keegan Theatre

Pop, six, squish, uh uh, Cicero, Lipschitz! Those six words that are random on their own can be mistaken for non-other than the intro to the seductive “Cell Block Tango” of the infamous musical Chicago. The classic story of passion-induced crime and the lure of fame has made its way to DC at Keegan Theatre until April 14.

For those who may not have seen the musical on stage or the popular 2002 movie, Chicago was written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in the roaring twenties, the musical follows the story of Roxie Hart who has murdered a cheating lover. Her loyal husband Amos takes the blame for Roxie’s crime, but when he finds out she’s been playing him, Roxie is sent to jail. It’s there that she gets the help of crooked lawyer Billy Flynn and battles Velma Kelly for the spotlight.

While Chicago has been done many times before and the story stays mostly the same, Keegan’s production will have a more authentic nature to it. Maria Rizzo, who is playing Roxie, says that while the revival feels very modern with its costuming and the portrayal of the characters, Keegan’s production will feel a lot more like the real twenties.

As Kurt Boehm, who play Billy, puts it, “The revival had a very specific look to it and the dancing is pretty iconic with Fosse’s interpretation, so [we’re] really trying to step back into the time period and go with the vaudeville theme.”

Another element of Keegan’s production that you will not see from many others is intimacy.

“It’s this small space where you can really see so many details of the performer’s emotions and the storyline,” Rizzo says. The set is very spare and it’s just about these characters and the way they’re whittling through the journey that they’re all facing.”

Regardless of whether it’s being performed on a big stage or a small one, a modern interpretation or an authentic one, Chicago has remained a popular musical since it first hit the stage. In addition to the catchy songs and unforgettable choreography, part of its popularity comes from the story’s relevant message to today.

“At the beginning of the show from there’s a line that says you’re about to step into a story about greed, betrayal and murder and all of these abrupt and scary things. There’s just so much of that going on in the world,” and it looks at how women are resilient despite these terrible things Rizzo says. “What’s cool about it is it’s not about getting a guy and it’s not about a big, happy ending. It’s about two women and the struggle that is put in front of them and how they fight through it.”

Catch Chicago at Keegan Theatre, running through April 14, 2018. Learn more here.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767;

ShakesYPN_030918 (15)

Noura Young Prose Night at Shakespeare Theatre

Young professionals attended Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Noura and enjoyed a post show reception with craft beer and wine. Photos: Trent Johnson

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Ford’s The Wiz Remains Relevant

Ford’s Theatre is inviting audiences to “ease on down the road” with a new staging of the Tony-winning musical The Wiz, directed by Kent Gash and playing March 9 to May 12.

The Wiz is a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the context of modern African American culture, differing from the Judy Garland-led Wizard of Oz movie people know so well.

The musical originally made its Broadway debut in 1975, winning seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and its source material is obviously much older. Still, Gash says, the show is relatable to modern audiences.

“I think it’s always relevant to celebrate home and family, and the love and care in which we bring up our children in the community,” he says. “At a time when all around us we see examples of great cruelty and disrespect, particularly to women, here is a story that has always been about a magical and powerful young girl who goes to a place and helps lots of people get what they want.”

While there is no significant update to the script, the director notes that the design work and creative elements will be teased more for a 2018 audience, with little things such as the way relationships are played out. Of course, Gash didn’t want to mess too much with the script, as The Wiz is a cult classic and traditionalists want to see and hear the songs they love the way they remember them.

“The music of the show has always been great and has never gone out of style,” he says. “It’s the power of great pop, jazz, R&B and the roots of African music. What we are attempting to do is honor the impulses and great creativity of the original production that was led by the genius renaissance painter, choreographer, director [and] costume designer Geoffrey Holder.”

Even theatre lovers may not realize that Holder is the only person in Broadway history to win Tony Awards for both Best Directing and Best Costumes; those Wiz outfits are currently on display near Ford’s at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Wiz is a celebration of African American culture and excellence, and we will pay homage throughout our work to great artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Michael Jackson, James Brown and nightclub culture,” Gash continues. “This show was a revolution on Broadway. As Lin-Manuel Miranda says in Hamilton: ‘Who tells your story is every bit as important as what that story is.’”

Whether one knows The Wizard of Oz or the film version of The Wiz, there’s few who don’t know the story of how Dorothy gets swept away from her Kansas home to the magical world of Oz and meets a scarecrow, tinman and cowardly lion on her way down the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard.

The production features Ines Nassara as Dorothy, Hasani Allen as Scarecrow, Kevin McAllister as Tinman, Christopher Michael Richardson as Lion and Jobari Parker-Namdar as the Wiz. Nassara, a Helen Hayes-nominated actress for her work in Keegan Theatre’s Hair back in 2015, is excited to take on the role of Dorothy.

“It’s always great to see a very brave leading character who is a female and a person of color,” Nassara says. “I think it’s very inspiring and very telling of its time. With all the conversations happening now with Time’s Up and fiery conversations, it’s nice to see a character who is very open to anyone, no matter what they look like or what their story is. She’s very open to help.”

That’s a message that the actress feels needs to be expressed in today’s world – especially to younger audiences.

“Starting at a young age, it’s really important to know that it does take a village and if you see someone else in need, it’s great to lend that helping hand because they will be open to helping you as well. That will help shape the future for when they become adults.”

Nassara says everything in the production is very Afrocentric.

“We visit all of the black styles throughout this show, and there are amazing arrangements that uplift the show and make them more funky. There’s still what people are familiar with but texturized in a way that’s better for our cast.”

Gash says this is a show that people of all ages can see, with a message that will resonate with everyone.

“It’s a story about home and a young girl with a magical ability to help other people and discovers a great deal of who she is by going through this adventure,” he says. “Home is not only a place you leave, but a place you carry in your heart. That combined with a celebration of African American excellence in creativity, design, music and choreography makes this a party everyone will want to take part in.”

The Wiz runs at Ford’s Theatre from March 9 to May 12. Tickets start at $27. Check for details on Under 35 Nights.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St NW, DC; 202-347-4833;

Graphic: Trent Johnson
Graphic: Trent Johnson

Old Films At A Theater Near You

Movies arrive and depart. They receive ceremonial hype via trailers and press tours where the actors appear on “best dressed lists” and give quippy quotes about the movie before giving annoyed quotes about the movie, because the questions on these types of things seldom vary. After this gratuitous promotion, the film hits the big screen and, depending on several factors, people watch it while tossing popcorn in their mouths. Rinse and repeat, week by week, month in and month out.

Despite this repetition, not all movies in theaters these days are new. On the contrary, some are quite old, as theaters around the country are playing up the nostalgia factor to give the big screen some added allure. Society’s fascination with the culture from yesteryear is at a fever pitch, as past decades dictate cultural behavior almost as much as the seasons themselves. A few years ago, the 80s were hot, and now it’s the 90s. Like fashion, music and other forms of media, theaters use the past to grip audiences’ interest in all things retro, and while our attention spans are undeniably stunted, interest in “old” movies definitely exists.

Not every theater is tasked with dusting off old reels in search of a piece of history that could drum up interest (it’s all digital these days, but you know what I’m saying). Some don’t even try, but in the DMV, there are a plethora of options including both Landmark Theatres (E Street and West End), AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, Angelika Film Center Mosaic, Suns Cinema and others who throw out retro viewings. While there are staples that continually rack up cash, a plethora of selections are based off restorations available and expert hunches for specific areas.

“I’ve had a booking calendar for E Street since the theater opened, and I’ve tried to notice what gets a good response,” says Ruth Hayler, the film buyer for Landmark’s E Street and West End locations.

“I rely a lot on local feedback from the theater and we just monitor for good responses. For DC, anything with a political slant, like All the President’s Men, we figure will be strong in the area.”

Both theaters have programs built around repertory viewing, such as E Street’s Cine Insomnia and West End’s Capital Classics. For the AFI up in Silver Spring, cinema history is a colossal component of the theater’s programming as a whole as the mission of the institute is to preserve and honor films and film-going heritage.

“Within our programs, we cover a vast array of eras, topics, genres and styles,” says Todd Hitchcock, AFI Silver Theatre’s director of programming. “Our programs exist for audiences to enjoy and appreciate. At the forefront of our planning are the very basic questions: How will this work with audiences, who might these audiences be and how can we engage them effectively?”

Luckily, restorations and anniversaries make easy pitches because these opportunities breathe life into movies that have already had their time on marquees as “new releases.” Despite this, there is guess work involved with picking old movies, because theaters don’t know until they try.

“As we get into each decade, it’s a new audience and new people coming to the shows,” says Mark Valen, a national film buyer for Landmark. “For people in their twenties, well, there are certain old classics from the 70s that might still reach that audience, but the 80s and 90s are really popular now. There’s no real secret formula, other than, ‘If they like this, they might like this.’ It’s trial and error.”

“[The interest] has been around since the 70s,” Valen says. “That’s what Landmark Theatres was founded on. Back then, there weren’t VHS tapes or DVDs, and the only way they could see their favorite films was to go to these theaters.”

In today’s world though, it’s quite literally the opposite; not only do people own their own movies, but they also own their favorite television shows, YouTube videos, books, magazines and any other form of media, often in the palm of their hands.

To get around this, theaters simply adapt. This includes interactive movies welcoming audience participation like Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room, or costume parties accompanying a special anniversary. Sometimes it’s not even the movie itself that draws the people in; rather, it’s a sense of familiarity or even the recreation of a memory.

“Nostalgia is indeed probably a big factor – not just nostalgia for specific movies, however, but also for the movie-going experience itself,” Hitchcock says. “There’s something magical about watching a hard-to-see silent film with live accompaniment in a beautiful, restored 1938 theater with a group of fellow film lovers while enjoying a glass of wine. It’s an experience that would be impossible to stream online or recreate at home.”

Valen and Hayler both mention that most old movies already carry a certain reputation or gravitas. There’s no guessing or gauging interest on some of these because the proof is there. With additional sensory experiences thrown in, older movies contain factors newcomers lack.

“Part of the attraction of the revivals or older movies is the familiarity,” Valen says. “People are guaranteed to have a good time. Seeing these with audiences brings so much emotion to it, and that’s something we want to keep nurturing in young audiences to keep them interested in this revival of cinema.”

Nostalgia is a powerful drug, whether it’s watching Kurt Russell fight aliens, seeing The Big Lebowski for the seven hundredth time or, perhaps, making fun of the audacity of a movie like Ghost. People like old things, whether it’s their grandfather’s faded clothes, or their mother’s scuffed jewelry. The mementos of the past provide windows into different times, and to a host of young moviegoers, these warm and fuzzy vignettes are valuable, necessary and here to stay.

“It’s kind of like time tripping,” Hayler says. “You can get immersed in the movie and experience what was then. It’s about widening your experience and watching something from a different day. It broadens your outlook.”

For more on AFI & Landmark’s repertory films, visit their websites.

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD;

Landmark Theatre E Street Cinema: 555 11th St. NW, DC;

Landmark Theatre West End Cinema: 2301 M St. NW, DC;

Check out On Tap’s retro viewing picks for March below:

The Big Lebowski on March 9 at AFI Silver Theatre
Rocky Horror Picture Show on March 9-10 at Landmark E Street Cinema
Clueless on March 10 at Suns Cinema
A Streetcar Named Desire on March 14 at Landmark West End Cinema
Predator on March 19 at Angelika Film Center Mosaic
Wargames on March 28 at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – One Loudoun

Hold These Truths

Stage And Screen Events: March 2018


Hold These Truths
Based on a true story, Hold These Truths investigates one of the darkest moments in American history through the experience of Gordon Hirabayashi, a University of Washington student who fought the U.S. government’s order to relocate over 100,000 Japanese descendants into internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After refusing the government’s order, Hirabayashi embarks on a 50-year journey to explore the relationship between his pride for his heritage and his loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, which leads him down a path to understanding America’s triumphs and facing its failures. Various dates and times. Ticket prices vary. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC;


Dubbed as a “two-week celebration of contemporary culture,” DIRECT CURRENT combines dance, art, film, music, drag, video games, activism and more to uplift original American artists in disciplines across the board. From orchestral video game music to a DIY instrument-making workshop, this festival has such a wide array of events and performances you’ll have a tough time choosing between them. While the John F. Kennedy Center is the main hub of activity for DIRECT CURRENT, other venues around the city will also open their doors to support this mass appreciation for contemporary arts, so be sure to check their website before going out. Various locations, dates and show times. Ticket prices vary. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC;


WOMXN on Fire Festival
Keegan’s Boiler Room Series, a programming initiative to promote original performances, will host its second annual WOMXN on Fire Festival to celebrate Women’s History Month. Thirty-six local artists who identify as women will have their opportunity to showcase their work with 10-minute plays and full-length solo shows during this two-day festival. Sunday at 11 a.m. Monday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC;


The Winter’s Tale
A tale of jealousy, prophecy, broken hearts and flourishing romance comes to life in The Winter’s Tale, directed by six-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Aaron Posner. Equipped with Luciana Stecconi’s exceptionally whimsical set design, this play from Shakespeare’s First Folio will take you back to times of lost princesses, handsome princes and magical spells that save the day. For special performances of The Winter’s Tale, check out Folger Theatre’s website. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $35-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 East Capitol St. SE, DC;


Three World Premieres
Choreographers Gemma Bond, Marcelo Gomes and Clifton Brown bring their personal history and experiences as dancers to life in Three World Premieres, presented by The Washington Ballet. Each dancer will choreograph and perform their own interpretation of what ballet and dance means to them. This triad of performances supports The Washington Ballet’s mission to support newly commissioned works and the evolution of ballet. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $25-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC;


That Part is True
A group of activists planning to overturn an oppressive authoritarian regime face betrayal within their ranks and a great unraveling of their cause in That Part is True, written and directed by Madeline Farrington. With parallels to today’s political climate and yearning for justice in marginalized communities, specifically people of color and queer folks, this play touches common sore spots in current society such as police brutality and underrepresentation. After a weekend of That Part is True, you’ll leave the theater with the perfect saying for a snarky sign and a hankering for activism. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15, or $12 if you bring your Fringe Button to the box office. Capital Fringe: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC;


Srishti Layankari
For a diverse performance and an exploration of Indian dance and mythology, head to Dance Place for Spilling Ink’s premiere of Srishti Layankari. This dance drama project approaches spirituality and Newton’s law of conservation of energy through the story of a Hindu goddess who has the power to create and destroy. Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC;


While students at an Irish-language hedge school are studying the basics of Greek and Latin literature in 1833, British soldiers “arrive to map the country, draw new borders and translate local place names into the King’s English,” according to Studio Theatre’s website. With the addition of an English-language national school that students must attend full-time if attending at all, languages and cultures contrast, thus creating relationships but also rousing violence. Written by Ireland’s prestigious Brian Friel and directed by Studio’s Belfast-born Associate Artistic Director Matt Torney. Various dates and show times. Tickets $20-$69. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC;


Parallel storylines in 410[GONE] follows a young woman as she deals with her younger brother’s suicide and his own journey in the Chinese Land of the Dead, which resembles a disco or an arcade. With dark themes, hilarious moments and strange human interactions, this Rorschach Theatre production is ultimately “a positive affirmation of the complexity of the human experience” and will have you contemplating the more complicated sides of life and death on your drive home. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $20-$30. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC;

Photo: National Building Museum
Photo: National Building Museum

Building a Story: The Architecture and Design Film Festival Comes to DC

The Architecture and Design Film Festival kicks off on February 22 at the National Building Museum. Founded in 2008 by architect Kyle Bergman, the festival is about more than showcasing beautiful buildings and the architects behind them.

“We look for an interesting and engaging design story as well as a human story; that’s our sweet spot,” Bergman says. “As architects and designers, we talk to ourselves all the time, but film allows that dialogue to go broader and wider.”

Frank Gehry Maggie's Center.

Frank Gehry Maggie’s Center.

That’s certainly true of this year’s lineup. Building Hope: The Maggie’s Centres (2016) is a perfect example of a film with more than one story to tell.

“Was it in essence a film about cancer, or a film about architecture? Obviously, the answer had to be that it was about both,” says the film’s director, Sarah Howitt.

In 1993, a cancer patient named Maggie Jencks was informed that she only had three months left to live and had nowhere to go to process the news but a plastic chair in a hospital corridor. She dedicated the final year of her life to founding care centers for cancer patients that are beautiful, welcoming and comforting – a far cry from that cold hallway.

Howitt worked hard to make sure both the human and design sides of the story were represented:

“Using moving drone and gimbal shots to show the buildings off at their best, and the words of the buildings’ users under some of those shots, helped to strike the balance and bring both strands of the story, literally, under one roof.”

Howitt says making the film changed the way she thought about how architecture affects our daily lives:

“I really had never thought about architectural spaces in such a profound way before, and I’d certainly never been in buildings as special as these ones. ‘Special’ modern architecture for me was always something applied to iconic buildings, not buildings meant for ordinary people just to spend time in, and certainly not on the grounds of a hospital.

She also added some thoughts on how the Centres moved her even as she was filming:

“I still find myself drawn to the Maggie’s Centres. As a filmmaker you often try very hard to be something of a dispassionate observer. Of course, the truth is so much complicated than that. Working with the Maggie’s Centres charity though, you cannot fail to care about the work they do. I hope any viewer will appreciate the work they do and tell others about them.”

Building Hope isn’t alone in its innovative and people-focused approach to telling design stories; Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2016) is a true David-and-Goliath story about a fight for the soul of New York City itself.

Jane Jacobs was a reporter and the author of seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The film looks back at her campaign to protect what are now some of New York’s most iconic neighborhoods from power-hungry urban planner and “master builder” Robert Moses, who sought to build a road through the heart of Washington Square Park.

“I saw the book in a bookstore in Greenwich Village, so I bought it and immediately saw why the book has never been out of print since 1961; it makes you see a city differently,” says the film’s director, Matt Tyrnauer. “The power and effect of that book was extraordinary and Jacobs’s activism combined with her brilliance as an observer and chronicler of the city was not well known, so seemed like a ripe subject for a documentary.”

The guiding principle of Jacobs’s book and her community activism was that cities are made by the people who live in them – not bureaucrats.

“Thousands upon thousands of individuals going about their own business come together in this kind of chaotic order to make the city; it’s not the urban planner sitting in their office,” says Tyrnauer. “Cities tend to plan themselves if you let people do it.”

Tyrnauer says we can learn a lot from Jacobs:

“Her activism was very thoughtful and very well-plotted. It took a long time to gain results, but she was dogged and relentless,” he says. “She had several significant successes against an entrenched, egotistical and imperious bureaucrat in Robert Moses, who seemed to be an insurmountable foe before Jacobs came along.” It’s an inspiring story for inarguably turbulent times.

Photo: Alamy

Photo: Alamy

The National Building Museum is an ideal setting for a festival celebrating architecture, but it does present a few challenges: namely, the acoustics in its iconic Great Hall. The essential question for Kyle Bergan (again, the festival director) was:

“How do we show a film there in a good way, because the space is so grand? The solution? Wireless headsets, creating a drive-in movie theater vibe: visitors who haven’t bought tickets can still watch the film without sound, adding a new dimension to the museum experience during the festival. The festival will also feature a lounge where attendees can view short films and even try on a VR headset – seeing a new way to experience the world around us and the buildings where we live, work, and play.”

Bergman says that at the end of the day, the festival is about bringing the untold stories of architecture and design to people who wouldn’t otherwise get to experience them. “It’s not just [about] coming to see the films,” says Bergman. “It’s engaging with people and creating a dialogue.”

The festival runs through February 25. For tickets and showtimes visit:

National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; 202-272-2448;

Photo: Ben Schill Photography
Photo: Ben Schill Photography

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Gets Opera Treatment

How do you make a writer like William Shakespeare even more dramatic? You turn his work into an opera. Full of comedy, romance and fantasy, the Virginia Opera’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream allows audiences to experience Shakespeare’s classic play of the same name through a new lens.

The well-known story about a fantasy world in which a fairy king and queen have a dispute that breaches the human world, causing chaos to ensue, was adapted for the opera in the 1960s by Benjamin Britten. Though Britten’s version is almost word for word the original Shakespeare play, this opera production has cut certain sections to fit a musical style and keep it from running too long.

Building on Britten’s work, the Virginia Opera’s production – at George Mason University Center for the Arts this weekend – will have English supertitles so audiences can better follow along. The performance is broken into three categories, which Virginia Opera’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Adam Turner calls sound worlds: the fairy world, the human world, and the rustics or mechanicals.

“Each of them has their own individual sound, and you hear [the characters’] inner thoughts,” Turner says. “You hear the psychological motivations or underpinning emotions that they maybe can’t express with text. That all comes out in the music.”

This is the first time in the Virginia Opera’s 43-year history that the company has performed Britten’s opera. Turner says part of his decision in picking this production was to find something new and exciting to offer audiences.

Beyond that, the Virginia Opera wants to expand its audience to younger generations and “take operas outside the opera house,” adding that when he comes across younger people, he urges them to give opera a try.

“There’s really nothing like the live, acoustic version that you experience in a theater.”

Not to mention, he says, if younger generations don’t become invested in opera, then it may not last.

“I think people take for granted that it’s always going to be there, but it’s something too important to our culture – to our hearts and minds – to let go.”

The Virginia Opera has worked to reach younger audiences by rebranding themselves and making opera more accessible, a job Turner has taken the reigns on. These changes include an updated website, an enhanced social media presence and affordable ticket prices.

The company also has a statewide education and outreach tour that introduces opera music to kids all over Virginia, one of the biggest opera education programs in the country, and an emerging artist program that looks for new talent to nurture.

Turner hopes the Virginia Opera will stay healthy and thrive while introducing younger generations to opera, thus erasing any preconceived notions they may have.

“I think once you’re in the opera house, you see that not everyone is dressed in a tux or a fabulous gown. People of all shapes, sizes [and] creeds come together to hear this incredible music live and in person.”

See A Midsummer Night’s Dream at George Mason University Center for the Arts on Saturday, February 17 at 8 p.m. or Sunday, February 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $54.

George Mason University Center for the Arts: 4400 University Dr. Fairfax, VA; 703-993-8888;


Cabaret Rising at Dupont Underground

With each step down the spray-painted, concrete staircase, you feel yourself leaving our world and entering a twisted reality composed of an authoritarian regime, a pissed-off resistance and a little bit of drag. Cabaret Rising, a TBD Immersive production, is a mesmeric theatre experience in the Dupont Underground that leaves you wanting more.

TBD Immersive hosted the first Cabaret Rising experience last year, so the current production is more of a sequel than an original production. To set the scene: a year has passed since the execution-style shooting of a journalist on the cabaret’s main stage, causing the resistance to retreat underground. From what I gathered, the resistance is a group of activists who are hiding from the oppressive authoritarian regime that exists above ground.

Madame Martine, the leader of the cabaret, quickly becomes a suspicious character, but you have to figure out why on your own. Eventually, there’s an uprising and you get to choose your favorite leader before the show abruptly ends.

There are several layers of storylines involved, but I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers. Besides, those storylines are so nuanced that I could barely grasp them in the three-hour period I was there. This show is definitely one you need to attend multiple times in order to understand the full scope of it.

That being said, there’s a clever crossover between reality and the cabaret when many characters voice their complaints about the lack of toilets and heating in the Underground, which is an actual thing. No bathrooms means after the third glass of wine, you have to leave the show and cross the street to a nearby hotel to relieve yourself.

By far the best part of the show was the cabaret aspect, which features jugglers, acroyoga and some very tasteful stripping. With three acts featuring three to four performances each, the cabaret broke up the often awkward milling about that guests are subjected to when the stage is empty.

In theory, the immersive experience is great, but in practice, it was a bit lacking. Having a smaller audience could possibly help with this issue because it’s difficult to capture the full essence of the story when you have to wait in line to speak with main characters.

However, when you do get the chance to hear their stories, the characters themselves are very interesting. I didn’t meet a single actor that night who wasn’t completely transformed into their character, which is another one of the cabaret’s saving graces.

Eventually, I did relax and have a good time, but it took over half the show to get me there. With more guidance from cast members, a storyline with a faster pace and a smaller audience, I think Cabaret Rising could become a huge success.

Cabaret Rising runs through Sunday, March 4. Doors open at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets start at $55.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Circle NW, DC;

Photo: Courtesy of Slate
Photo: Courtesy of Slate

Dick Cavett Takes the Cake at The Watergate

Slow Burn begins with a story that you’ve likely never heard, according to show host Leon Neyfakh. A few days after the Watergate break-in in 1972, Martha Mitchell was held as a prisoner for several days by Nixon acolytes for knowing too much.

When she did share her story, she was dismissed as deranged, and it wasn’t until years later that she was vindicated. Thus we now have the “Martha Mitchell Effect” – the process by which a mental health clinician labels a patient’s accurate perception of real events as delusional.

Slow Burn is a podcast about Watergate produced by Slate, and on it, Neyfakh shares this and other such stories. The show gives a sense of what it was like to live through Watergate – not knowing that it would lead to Nixon’s disgraceful resignation.

To that end, Neyfakh talks with those who experienced it firsthand, and incorporates some of these interviews into the show. This has included his interview with comedian and eponymous talk show host Dick Cavett.

“I must say, I miss it terribly,” Cavett said.

He compared the Watergate era to a trip you might get to take to Paris when you’re young that you’ll never get to relive.  

“You can never get back to that wonderful feeling.”

On February 8, Cavett joined Neyfakh at The Watergate Hotel itself for a live taping of the podcast, during which they had an open conversation about that wonderful and often scary feeling.

The two were joined by Susan Glasser of Politico, Elizabeth Drew, who reported on Watergate at the time for the New York Times, and Evan Thomas, the author of the Nixon biography Being Nixon: A Man Divided. Of course, in the case of Neyfakh and Glasser, what it was like to live through Watergate was more of a speculative question.

Each had their salient points and insights to share; however, Cavett’s stories and one liners tended to steal the show. Cavett, on his show, was one of the first people to begin talking about Watergate, and Nixon came to despise him for it.

Nixon’s malice toward Cavett even comes out on the White House tapesand Cavett said that now whenever he’s feeling down, he goes and listens to that snippet of Nixon asking, “How can we screw him?

Cavett also shared contemporaneous jokes.

“Nixon was the kind of guy that if you fell overboard and were 20 feet from shore, he would throw you a 15 foot line. And [Henry] Kissinger [Nixon’s Secretary of State] would announce that Nixon had met you more than halfway.”

On the show, Neyfakh, excluding one or two asides, steered the conversation away from parallels to life under Trump; however, at the Watergate, the panel openly discussed the extent to which Nixon and Trump could be compared.

Slate certainly knew their audience, for the turn in discussion was well met by the crowd. Neyfakh also described a sense of relief in being able to talk about it openly. I think on both sides, it felt like getting to the heart of the matter.

But some of the comparisons drawn were more superficial (e.g., the contrast between Nixon’s reading habits and those of Trump). Nixon read whole libraries whereas Trump, as Cavett puts it in a tweet:

“A: Imagine Donald Trump’s library.”

“B: You’d have to.”

Cavett also didn’t miss a beat when Glasser began to discuss the contrast between the linear progression that was Watergate and the upside down world of life under Trump.

“Trump came in like an asteroid,” Glasser said.

“I’m sorry, what kind of an ass?” Cavett asked.

“I’ll play your straight man,” Glasser responded.

Perhaps some of the strongest points had to do with the extent to which Nixon and Trump are both insular, and those who have their ear might stand even further outside the norm. 

The emphasis on what it was like to live through Watergate felt germane as well. I was able to speak with Neyfakh over the phone several days before the event, and he said much the same.

“The extreme tension and frankly despair for the country paired with a sense of curiosity, of amusement, the fact that those two things could coexist and be felt in equal measure – I think that’s something that people today can identify with.”

In our conversation, Neyfakh also described the impetus for making the show.

“We were all overwhelmed with the news and with the feeling that we were living in objectively precarious times – when you feel like you can wake up and not know what’s going to happen or what the alert on your phone is going to say. And so Watergate is the last time the country went through this on this scale. So we thought that going back and capturing that experience would give us some perspective on our own experience, and I think that’s panned out.”

When I asked him what the most surprising thing he encountered in his research was, he had two answers. The first of these I’ll leave for the end, but the second had to do with another point emphasized at the live show: Watergate never necessarily had to become Watergate.

“I think the bigger thing I had no appreciation for was how long it took. I knew the dates, but I didn’t have an appreciation for how many steps there were along the way, and how many forks in the road there were in which the country went one way and it could have gone another. And to realize that this story did not have a foregone conclusion, that it was never inevitable that Nixon would have to resign under pressure with the threat of certain impeachment looming over him if he didn’t.”

The other surprise Neyfakh left me to chew on was Nixon’s breakfast of choice: cottage cheese and ketchup. Yuck. Add some aspic next time, Dick.

You can listen to Slow Burn on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And keep an eye open for season two; Neyfakh revealed at the live event that it will follow the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Give Depth to STC’s Hamlet

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may have famously failed to play upon Hamlet as a pipe, but at Shakespeare Theatre Company, they firmly fingered all my stops. The production is STC’s latest take on Hamlet, at Sidney Harman Hall through March 4, and it is one which I cannot recommend enough.

At the theater, I speak with Ryan Spahn and Kelsey Rainwater, who play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respectively. The two delve into their characters (down to their course of study at Wittenberg), regale me with stories of the side jobs actors work and explore that je ne sais quois that makes this Hamlet great. The readily apparent distinction of their Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is that Guildenstern is a woman, but the more salient distinction is the complexity of their take; though it is cool that Guildenstern is a woman, because why not?

“We had to figure out what we were going to do,” Spahn tells me, “because the trap of this duo is that they can be clowny, and only that.”

To give greater depth to their characters, they took their time in mining the duo’s relationship with Hamlet.

“At first I thought we were just good friends who had fallen out of touch,” Spahn continues. “But then as it developed, I [came to] feel like we were really good friends. But we were also jealous of him because he had it so easy because he comes from such wealth.”

“And we did not,” Rainwater adds for emphasis.

Spahn and Rainwater have a way of picking up where the other leaves off. Spahn continues.

“So we had 10 or 12 years of friendship with him where that [tension] grated on us.”

Rainwater adds, “We understood each other in a way which Hamlet never understood us. It did start out like we’re all chums, we’re all on equal footing. But then once outside of school, we realized that that’s not it at all, that we don’t belong in his world.”

Spahn says that’s also the tricky part with this plot point.

“We’re all just friends, so why turn on [Hamlet]? For us, we realized we’re almost angry at him because he had it so easy. Even if no one in the audience can tell, it grounds us and our path in something that we very much need to do.”

Rainwater agrees.

“This is our chance for success – finally.”

Spahn tells me that they draw on personal experience for the part.

“I think we can just relate to this as actors and artists. When you have close friends or loved who skyrocket to success, or even something so simple as you wanted a job and someone else got it…you deal with jealousy so easily in this field, that anytime I can use it onstage helps me in my real life to not feel it. You can get it out. I think we talked about that.”

He turns to Rainwater and she nods. I follow up by asking them what they studied at Wittenberg with Hamlet. Rainwater laughs and goes first.

“I like to think I studied philosophy. Like Hamlet’s really good at this, at philosophizing, so maybe I should try, and then I took the class and realized I was way over my head.”

Spahn responds deadpan.

“I assumed we did something like poli sci, [something] that was really general so that when we graduated, people were like, ‘What do we do with you? You have no skills.’”

It turns out that this is not far from the truth in Spahn’s case. In New York, he applied to a temp agency and was told he had no skills. Still, the interviewer invited him in for an hour to see if he could figure out how to work an office phone. He went in and could not.

“I went home and I was like, ‘Well that didn’t work.’ I eventually went back to school, but I never went back to a temp agency.”

Spahn and Rainwater speak openly, and it’s this clarity that marks their acting. Michael Urie plays Hamlet in a similar vein. Spahn and Rainwater describe this as the contemporary style that’s popular right now.

“You’re trying to be in the moment,” Rainwater says, “to listen and to respond to what’s given to you.”

“There’s less showmanship,” Spahn adds.  

This contrasts with the acting of Keith Baxter, who plays the Grave Digger, the Player King and the Ghost. Baxter once acted alongside Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight, and his style is more performative and gestural (re: classical).

Spahn says having such different and cross-generational styles of acting is something director Michael Kahn was intent upon. And it works. According to Spahn, it works because of the cohesiveness of the company. He cites that cohesiveness as the source of the play’s success, too.

“One of the most successful things we did – particularly because there are so many different acting styles – is getting a cast of 20-25 people in the same play that you believe actually know each other; that they’re performing in the same style of production. Often you’ll see things and it feels like suddenly we’re in a different play, and this one doesn’t feel that way, and that’s a hard thing to do. I think it speaks to how well this company gets along.”

“We party all the time,” Rainwater says, though the bro voice she adopts and the way she laughs says otherwise. Spahn picks up what she’s saying though.

“We’re sort of all really into each other. Even Keith Baxter knocked on our door last night at 12:15 in the morning and was like, ‘I was having dinner with somebody and they liked the play. G’night!’” he says, putting on a sabled English accent.

The play is one which I’m sure my editor would prefer I’d quit gushing about at this point, but there is so much about it which recommends itself. The use of technology is subtle and fluent. The actors, and in particular Michael Urie, are funny. The whole is captivating and convincing. And Hamlet only runs through March 4, so you better get your tickets ASAP. For tickets and more information, visit

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-3230;