Photo: AJ Guban

The White Snake Delivers Tale of Love and Passion

Constellation Theatre Company has a darling new play showing at Source. Written by Mary Zimmerman, The White Snake takes viewers on a voyage driven by love.

With the help of Dong Xi, an instrumental duo playing the Chinese dulcimer and percussion, the play commences with heightened anticipation. As the feathery sounds peek, the stage goes black as the bangs of a struck gong echoes through the intimate black box theatre.   

On a mountaintop, the tale begins with two spirit snakes (puppets), White Snake and Green Snake, played by Eunice Bae and Momo Nakamura, jovially studying the way of the Tao.

Eagerly seeking enlightenment, the two morph into human forms and descend together to live among mortals.

In a nearby town, White Snake meets a modest pharmacist’s assistant and falls in love. Through a series of orations by Minstrel-like narrators, the two, White Snake and Xu Xian, marry and start a family. But what epic love story would it be without a villain aiming to destroy the passion that enthralls the two?

Their love onstage is delicately paired with subtle limericks and awe-inspiring ballads. Beautifully executed, The White Snake ensemble seems to carefully hit each mark within their theatrical performance.    

Mild humor, striking puppeteering and brilliant imagery propels this production forward but a disconnect sits in the air: perhaps the lengthy spontaneous narrations or the presentation of ancient dialogue. Something ingrained within the script obstructs the connection one could experience with the material.

Artistic Director Allison Arkell Stockman takes a well-intentioned leap and lands adjacent to Zimmerman’s original 2012 production. Complete with ancient Chinese idioms, extravagant costume designs and vocal talents worthy of a grand theatre, The White Snakes surprises and soothes onlookers.

Debuting at Constellation Theatre, both Bae and Nakamura delight as White Snake and Green Snake. The duo’s elegant and lighthearted comedy is refreshingly fitting. Innocent in nature, the characters produce appealing performances with one another.

Not as bold as previous installments in Constellation’s Season of Epic Love, still, The White Snake, based on the classic Chinese legend dating back to 981 CE, remains a timeless romance, and will leave lasting impressions on viewers.

The White Snake is showing through May 26 at Source Theatre. Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased here.

Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; www.constellationtheatre.org

Photo: Jati Lindsay

Kennedy Center Arts Summit Explores The Human Journey: Creating the Story of Us

On April 29 the annual Kennedy Center Arts Summit created space for leaders in the arts and arts advocacy to address the difficult questions surrounding the role of the arts in an unjust world. The theme of this year’s symposium, The Human Journey: Creating the Story of Us, invited the dissolution of traditional boundaries between artistic disciplines and between the “arts world” and the “rest of the world.”

Storytellers from all walks operating as catalysts for change within a dramatic variety of arenas convened to redefine what even a story is – A technology? An art form? A breathing thing all its own? – and to consider why it matters here and now.

Words spoken aloud, words heard, narratives propelled forward into the space in a room, into the air, are driven by voices – and that is what gives them power over paper.

In a series of roulette-style interviews punctuated by musical performances, the first half of the day-long summit proved just that. The format alone attested to the power that can be wielded by being in charge of a narrative – as each session’s interviewee became interviewer for the next panelist, the dynamic shift in the person, progress and direction a story can take was on display.

Snap Judgement’s Stephanie Vu, who uses the awareness of this power to combat Complex PTSD, asked the audience to consider “how does the experience shift when you go from the interviewer to the interviewee, even when you’re interviewing yourself.” She continued, “giving of self is part of the process of unfolding a story.”

Hip-hop and rap artists, poets, podcast producers, PhD sociologists, musicians, educators pushed on each other and themselves to place art in dialogue with dominant narratives told in the public, and within the self, to identify the parts of our tangled stories that we do and don’t share, and to consider how the process of creating a new story is like stitching together disparate wounds to emerge with a stronger whole.

And with seeds planted during the morning, afternoon breakout sessions took a deeper dive, pushing participants to examine intentionality, authorship and intersectionality; pursue the idea of “radical listening”; and discuss strategies for generating stories, both personal and communal.

Theatre artist Kaneza Schaal reminded Vanessa Ramon-Ibarra, a 16 year-old member of 826DC who is struggling to keep the oral histories of her family alive, that “the world is built of stories” and that in telling hers, she is “building an entire ecosystem.”

Earlonne Woods, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and Bay Area artist Nigel Poor, started the podcast Ear Hustle when Earlonne was still within in the prison system. Woods encouraged the audience and his fellow panelists to let conversations happen: let stories emerge, let yourself tell your story. In essence, he told us, there is more than one side to every story, and there is more than one layer to every character.

James L. Knight Foundation’s Victoria Rogers questioned the role of patrons of the arts – if storytelling is a technology, who has access to it and who decides who gets that access?

And finally, Princeton sociologist Betsy Levy Paluck gave us scientific evidence for the power of storytelling. Stories, she says, can motivate war, but they can also drive its resolution. In a study that explored the rolls of mass media in the Rwandan genocide, Paluck showed just how intimately and biologically stories bind us on a deep neural level.

Ultimately, if we use that bond to do good, the art we create within and of ourselves can actually change the world.

The Kennedy Center Arts Summit is an annual one-day convening to investigate the power and potential of the arts, for more information visit here.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:
2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600;
www.kennedy-center.org

Awesome Con 2019

From April 27-29, Awesome Con once again took over DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center bringing a score of fun events for casual and hardcore fans alike.

On the weekend of both Avengers: Endgame and Game of Throne‘s epic battle-fueled “The Long Night,” fans carried a high level of enthusiasm for all things comic and fantasy. Awesome Con only helped add fuel to the burning fire of fandom by offering a ton of exhibits, panels and guests including Luke Cage’s Mike Colter, The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal, and numerous names from shows like Steven Universe and Riverdale. 

Other features including a special exhibit celebrating 80 years of Batman with memorabilia from movies, life-size costumes and poster-size prints of select cover art.

Photos: James Coreas

Photo: Margot Schulman

The Many Complexities of Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel isn’t like any other show.

This is what artistic director Eric Schaeffer tells me on a phone call the morning after I catch his new production at Signature Theatre, and I can say with full certainty that he’s quite right.

He relishes the fact he selected a Tony Award-winning play that’s complex, layered and challenging – adjectives he uses to describe the frenetic musical during our conversation, all of which just so happened to pop up multiple times in my post-show notes.

And it’s no coincidence: the 1929 novel turned 1932 MGM film turned 1989 Broadway hit wasn’t easy for me to connect with night of, but I was still thinking about it for days, even weeks, later. But art is meant to push us out of our comfort zones and expose us to new ways of thinking about and experiencing life, and Schaeffer’s known for taking those risks at Signature every season.

Whether it’s debuting daring new pieces or embracing notoriously difficult classics, the director doesn’t shy away from works that might make his audience fidget or his actors balk. And now through May 19, Schaeffer encourages theatregoers to sit in the lobby of a 1928 Berlin hotel as an extremely eclectic cast of characters weaves on the periphery of one another’s lives.

“The show just keeps layering on itself, which is interesting,” he tells me. “It’s not just like, here it is and here’s the story. It’s kind of like a painting that just keeps on taking off layers and layers and layers, which is the really neat thing about the show. I love that it challenges the audience, it challenges the actors. It just becomes this experience.”

His 16-person cast – full of Signature regulars and DC up-and-comers, plus a truly dazzling performance from the magnetic Nkrumah Gatling (Broadway’s Miss Saigon) – was whittled down from the original production’s 28. The method to his madness? He wanted to give the audience a fighting chance at following all of the show’s storylines through the lens of a sticky-fingered baron, aging ballerina, dying bookkeeper and desperate typist, to name a few.

“It was a hard puzzle to figure out, but it was fun once I did,” he says of casting the play. “There’s all these snapshots that are put together, and you keep getting slices of all these different lives and how they’re interconnected – or not – they all just happen to be passing in and out of the hotel lobby.”

Schaeffer selected his talent well, whipping the audience into a sometimes delightful (in numbers like the cheeky “Maybe My Baby Loves Me”), often uncomfortable (grappling with the heaviness of mortality or a successful man’s implied power over a naïve woman) frenzy. In just under two hours with no intermission, the impressive cast sings several dozen songs and swings the mood pendulum from light to dark at only a moment’s notice. It’s hard to keep up with – visually, sonically and emotionally.

The highly stylized, momentum-driven production isn’t just a lot for the audience to handle – the director says that everyone from the ensemble to the leads had an “Oh my god, this is so challenging” reaction.

“Which is great,” he says, “because they’re not doing the same old thing. It makes them grow as artists, which I think is really important.”

His level of commitment to the production extended beyond nudging his cast gingerly out of the nest and into uncharted – or at least less traveled – territory to a set design that married opulence of a building both old and grand with an ambiance that felt modern, contemporary and relatable.

“I really wanted the audience to feel like they’re sitting in the lobby of a hotel just eavesdropping on all of these conversations that are happening.”

And he did just that by collaborating with set designer Paul Tate dePoo III to create a dynamic set that transforms from a decadent hotel room to the black void of a haunting train station within seconds.

“It was a balance,” dePoo says. “It was a constant conversation. We didn’t get too far away from the contemporary world.”

And like Schaeffer, he takes his craft incredibly seriously, aiming to capture the spirit of the chaotic play and its varied cast through the design.

“Hopefully, it tells the story in a way that we don’t feel like we’re disconnected from these people and we appreciate the era they are currently telling the story within.”

Peel back the layers of this theatrical onion through Sunday, May 19 at Signature Theatre. Tickets start at $40 and are available at www.sigtheatre.org.

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703- 820-9771; www.sigtheatre.org

Stage and Screen: The White Snake, John Cusack, God of Carnage and More

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 19

The Great Commedia Hotel Murder Mystery
The Great Commedia Hotel Murder Mystery promises to give you “Zanni bellhops, femme fatales, hidden clues, mustachioed detectives and more!” In the tradition of classic mysteries from Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Clue, this entertaining whodunnit ends Faction of Fools Theatre Company’s monumental 10th anniversary season. Various dates and times. Tickets $22. Faction of Fools Theatre Company: 800 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.factionoffools.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 26

The White Snake
Inspired by an ancient Chinese fable, The White Snake tells the story of animal spirit White Snake, who transforms into a beautiful woman to experience the human world. When White Snake falls in love with a pharmacist’s assistant, their illicit romance draws the ire of a villainous monk who sets out to destroy their relationship. Various dates and times. Tickets $19-$45. Constellation Theatre Company: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; www.constellationtheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 2

The Oresteia
Adapted from the Greek tragedy trilogy, Ellen McLaughlin’s The Oresteia is coming to the Shakespeare Theatre Company. On the surface, it’s an epic story about love, betrayal, murder and revenge. But at its core, The Oresteia is a critique of human civilization. McLaughlin condenses the trilogy into one dynamic show with expert finesse. Various dates and times. Tickets $44-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 9

Love’s Labor’s Lost
In this early Shakespeare comedy, a young king and his three companions swear off women in order to focus on their studies and fasting. However, when a princess and her female companions arrive, the young men find it increasingly difficult to deny their lustful desires. Directed by Vivienne Benesch, Love’s Labor’s Lost is a delightfully witty, amusing and timeless tale. Various dates and times. Tickets $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

WEDNESDAY, MAY 1 – SUNDAY, JUNE 2

The Children
The protagonists of The Children, a couple of retired physicists, live in a remote cottage on the British coast. They live a simple, modest life in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, carefully conserving their resources to get by. But a surprise visit from a former colleague upends the couple’s lives, revealing old secrets with catastrophic consequences. The Children is loosely based on the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. Various dates and times. Tickets $52-$65. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

SATURDAY, MAY 4 – SATURDAY, MAY 25

God of Carnage
The 2009 Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage was originally a French tale but has been translated due to popular demand. The play centers around a feuding set of parents who meet after their children clash in a playground altercation. What begins as a civil conversation devolves into a jarring confrontation between the parents and ultimately their own partners. Various dates and times. Tickets $50. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, MAY 7 – THURSDAY, MAY 9

The Chibok Girls: Our Story
Few girls have captured the world’s attention like the Chibok Girls. In 2014, 273 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a school in the town of Chibok, stirring international outrage and widespread protests in Nigeria. In a predictable fashion, the world seemed to forget about the kidnapped girls just as quickly as they’d learned about their disappearance. Renegade Theatre’s The Chibok Girls: Our Story is a reminder in the form of testimonial theatre. The event also features Nobel Prize-winning playwright and author Wole Soyinka and is part of CrossCurrents, a “citywide biennial festival that highlights innovative artists from around the world who are harnessing the power of performance to humanize global politics.” Begins at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets are $20. Davis Performing Arts Center: 37th and O Streets NW, DC; www.georgetown.edu

THURSDAY, MAY 16

John Cusack, Plus a Screening of High Infidelity
John Cusack is recognizable from a ton of movie roles, but perhaps none are as iconic and memorable as Rob Gordon, a music connoisseur and record shop owner searching for love in the classic rom-com High Fidelity. Throughout the film, Gordon muses on his past relationships and the sobering realities of love and companionship. Cusack himself will discuss the film in person and take questions from the audience following the screening at the Warner Theatre. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show at 7:30. Tickets $49-$150. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC;www.warnertheatredc.com

Photo: Thom Goertel

Black Pearl Sings! Touches on Harsh, Comical Realities

DC theatergoers have rare access to what playwright Frank Higgins would consider an “authentic doorway into the past.” The Alliance for New Music Theatre has brought Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings! to life at Spooky Action Theater, exploding with songs and narratives that delicately address timely social issues while exposing the harsh, yet comical, realities of the past.  

Based on the relationships between legendary folk and blues musician Huddie William “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Library of Congress folklorists John and Alan Lomax, Black Pearl Sings! begins in Texas during The Great Depression, where the protagonist Alberta “Pearl” Johnson (Roz White) has spent the previous 10 years in prison for pulling a Lorena Bobbitt on an abusive suitor.

The contemporary play opens with Pearl donning prison stripes and a metal ball at her feet. While working in a chain gang, Pearl wrestles with the idea of her daughter out on her own since her incarceration.

Playing opposite to Pearl is Susannah (Susan Galbraith), an ambitious Library of Congress musicologist on a prison tour collecting indigenous folk and African American slave music in the South. Entering stage left, Susannah hears Pearl singing an unfamiliar, spirit-stirring tune and requests the singer’s company.

“When people die, history is lost,” Susannah says, simplistically stating the significance and relevance of Black Pearl Sings!

After sharing their truths, the two join forces – one vowing to reconnect with her daughter and the other vowing to find the perfect song collection.

This upbeat show relies solely on the talents of these phenomenal women. Battling the whole way, the two passionately dance on couches while confronting issues of race, social narratives and perspective.

“We have treasures of which we aren’t even aware,” White, a trained musical theatre actress, explains.  “It’s important to know your worth, your history and what you have to contribute.”

White and Galbraith are one of the most dynamic duos to take the stage. The seemingly genuine quips and banter deployed onstage perfectly showcase their comedic talents and chemistry, promising to leave audiences laughing uncontrollably.   

Though the storyline dips into deeper pools of social consciousness, a light-hearted mood prevails throughout the play. The simple choreographies paired with jovial tunes make this thoughtful production a winner. It shocks and calms when appropriate and features an easy, crowd-pleasing sing-a-long.

The modest décor of Spooky Action Theater is impeccably on-brand. Notes of sawdust fill the theatre, reminiscent of industrial and rural settings.

Fortunately, this production is not modest at all. With support from the Library of Congress and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Thomas W. Jones II applies more than 30 years of professional experience to engage audiences, using multimedia imagery to reinforce the performance.

The journeys of Pearl and Susannah are inspirational and uplifting. If you’re searching for an evening of heart-wrenching confessions, heartwarming songs and spiritual connectedness, look no further than Black Pearl Sings!

The Alliance for New Music-Theatre production of Black Pearl Sings! is showing through May 4 at the Spooky Action Theater at the Universalist National Memorial Church. Tickets are $25-$40 and can be purchased here.

Universalist National Memorial Church: 1810 16th St. NW, DC;www.spookyaction.org

Correction: A previous version of this article did not clarify that The Alliance for New Music-Theatre produced Black Pearl Sings!

Photo: Tony Powell

A Conversation with Edward Gero on Arena Stage’s “Junk”

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar’s play Junk is coming to Arena Stage on April 5. Inspired by the debt crisis of the 1980s, Junk explores the ruthless world of finance and its effects on American values. Acclaimed DC stage actor Edward Gero plays the role of Thomas Everson, the owner of a steel manufacturing company, who is confronted when junk bond giant Robert Merkin plots the hostile takeover of the family company. Gero talked to On Tap about Junk and his experience with the production so far.

On Tap: How did you learn about Junk and land your role in the play?
Edward Gero: Actually, [Artistic Director] Molly Smith asked me to come in and read for it. She knew Jackie Maxwell, who’s directing the play, was looking for somebody, and they asked me to come in and read. I put an audition on tape with Thomas Keegan, who’s playing the role of Merkin and sent that out, and I got cast. That was about a year ago. And of course, I heard about the play because it had a great run in New York in 2017–it’s been produced around the world—and the playwright Ayad Akhtar is a Pulitzer Prize winner for Disgraced in 2013. He’s a playwright of some importance, so it was a project I was interested in doing. Plus, the subject matter too, it’s a really complicated play, an interesting play about the junk bond raiders of the 1980s.

OT: Why did you want to be a part of the production?
EG: I was really interested in the play. I had not worked with Jackie Maxwell before, and I was very excited about that. I also love working at Arena. And it’s a really terrific role. I play Thomas Everson, the owner of what’s called Everson Steel, which is sort of a stand-in for, let’s say, U.S. Steel—it’s a Dow Jones Industrial company. They become the target of a takeover, and he sort of holds down the old economic values. He was born into the company, 3rd generation in his family, he has commitment to the workers and he’s sort of overwhelmed by this takeover. So, it’s an interesting role to play in terms of facing the future. It becomes quite a shock to him.

OT: Was working with Ayad Akhtar a goal for you?
EG: Not particularly, but when I heard the play was going to be produced, I was interested in it right away because I knew it would be a very smart play. I’m interested in plays that are intellectually stimulating, and this certainly was that. It’s a language play too. It’s deep-in-the-weeds about blue economics. It moves at such a pace like a Shakespeare play, and Ayad had made the comparison. He’s been influenced by both David Mamet and Shakespeare, so it’s a very heavy language play. Yet you end up getting is into the relationships of these people. If you don’t follow all of the weeds and information about the new economics, you’d get really compelling relationships between these people.

OT: Can you describe your character Thomas Everson?
EG: Thomas Everson is a man of a certain age—he’s probably late 50s, early 60s. He’s inherited this role as a CEO. His father father had it before him, his grandfather started the company. They come out of the late 19th century industrial magnets. [He is] someone who makes steel to make money, where the characters of Merkin for example, are just out to make money by turning debt into assets and doing these raids and hostile takeovers. It’s something [Everson] didn’t necessarily want to, but felt obligated to take it over. His father is no longer with him, but the burden and responsibility of keeping the steel mill alive and keeping that legacy of his father alive drives him and actually becomes his downfall. Where the other characters are contemporary, young and aggressive, he’s trying to hold on to an older version of what America is. That’s really what the play is about. In guise of finance, it’s really about a generational change of what’s happened to America. Ayad said really brilliantly that the play was really about how Americans moved from being citizens to being consumers; Everson is sort of the last of that generation.

OT: Did you identify with him in any way? Is that important to you when you’re developing a character?
EG: Well, you try to find ways into the character. My dad was not a steel magnate. However, he was a president of a local United Auto Workers union for 25 years, so I grew up in a labor house. I can use that experience and I understand that mentality of wanting to do the best for the workers. But management now and management then are two different things. Of course, management is in the business of making money, but he also knows he’s got this whole community. The town where Everson lives in, there’s Everson High School, Everson Street, Everson Road, Eveson Park. He’s sort of the leading citizen of that whole area. So, I use my own experiences of growing up with my dad as an entryway, but then I have to go into the imagination of the character, which is different.   

OT: What kind of research did you do to prepare for the role? Did you study the financial crisis of the 80s?
EG: For sure. I mean, I lived through it. It takes place in New York in the 80s. I was there then, and I had friends who worked on Wall Street. The New Years Eve party from 1979 to 1980 was an amazing party. A friend of mine from high school owned a loft. He had written the first arbitrage trading program for IBM and other friends of mine were working on the Street, so the whole culture of that period, I lived. I have that first-hand experience.

OT: You’re a prolific stage actor in DC. What do you think makes this play interesting to a DC audience?
EG: I think it’s very smart in a way that, let’s say, The Originalist was red meat for lawyers, this is certainly red meat for economists. The whole financial structure is sort of a nexus between economics and law, and that’s certainly policy making. It’s very relevant to this community, and I think audiences will come to this with a certain understanding. I’m sure the economists in the room will be saying, “Well, that might not be true,” the lawyers are saying, “That’s good, that’s right,” so there’s that kind of engagement. Washington has one of the smartest audiences, if not the smartest audience, in the United States because of the people who are here.

OT: You touched on this earlier, but as a Shakespearean actor do you see any parallels to this play?
EG: Oh, absolutely. I drew the connection to it directly with Henry IV, but there’s also the characters of Merkin and his wife that had a Macbeth and Lady Macbeth kind of feel to them too—she’s a very strong advocate for Merkin and steals him all the time. This play is going to fly. I think it started on Broadway as a three-hour, three-act play. It’s now a two-hour, one-act play. There’s been extensive cuts, extensive re-writes and it flies. So, articulation, as it would be in Shakespeare, it has to drive, it’s a lot of information, but like Shakespeare, there’s really no subtext to it. It’s not people sitting and thinking and mulling things over and becoming external, it’s just always going forward and that’s very Shakespearean in terms of dealing with language.

OT:  Is there anything you want audiences to take away from the play?
EG: I think they’re going to have an experience that will make them question where we are going in terms of our economics and how we interact with each other, the sort of brutal capitalism of this play. Certainly in this upcoming election cycle, it’s going to be in issue. Looking at this administration, how ruthless are we willing to be in terms of selling our brand or making money and how do we balance that with the policy making and where’s the human element to it? So, I think people will come away probably not changing their points of view about politics or economics. It might strengthen the beliefs they already have. But it’s certainly going to take them on a ride. It’s a rollercoaster.

Junk opens at Arena Stage on April 5. The play runs through May 5. For more information and tickets, visit www.arenastage.org
Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org

Shakespeare Theatre’s Young Prose Night: Vanity Fair

Shakespeare Theatre’s Young Prose Night for Vanity Fair featured a post-show reception with a complimentary drink from STC’s wine sponsor or Heineken. Photos: Julia Goldberg

Stage and Screen: April 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY APRIL 28

Mosaic Theater Company ‘s Native Son
The infamous streets of Southside Chicago set the scene in this dramatic, gripping production of Native Son. Adapted from Richard Wright’s legendary novel, Native Son tells the story of Bigger Thomas. When Bigger gets a well-paying job as a wealthy businessman’s driver, a series of unfortunate episodes lead to tragic consequences. With the original version set in the 1930s, this modern adaptation incidentally reveals the deep-rooted history of poverty in Chicago. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$35. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THROUGH SATURDAY, APRIL 20

The Peculiar Patriot
Liza Jessie Peterson was a teacher at the notorious Rikers Island prisons for 18 years. Inspired by her experiences, Peterson brings her one-woman show to the stage, exploring the effects of incarceration on communities and a broken system that perpetuates inequality. Her character Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a self-proclaimed “peculiar patriot,” makes frequent trips to penitentiaries, visiting her imprisoned family and friends in this funny and fiercely provocative show. Various dates and times. Tickets $14-$29. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

SUNDAY, APRIL 7

The Sleeping Beauty
The famed Russian National Ballet is coming to the DMV, performing the timeless classic ballet The Sleeping Beauty. With choreography from ballet master Marius Petipa and compositions by the incomparable Tchaikovsky, this performance is sure to be a grand production. Founded in the late 1980s, the Russian National Ballet emerged in the Soviet transitional period of Perestroika. Ever since, the company has been dedicated to sharing its command of classic ballet with the world. Show starts at 2 p.m., tickets $34-$56. George Mason University Center for the Arts: 4373 Mason Pond Dr. Fairfax, VA; http://cfa.gmu.edu

TUESDAY, APRIL 9

Bob Saget
Few comedians have succeeded to crossover in the entertainment world as well as Bob Saget. Best known for his portrayal of Danny Tanner on ABC’s Full House, the versatile Saget has enjoyed an illustrious career. Nonetheless, he is and always was a comedian first. His stand-up is not what you would expect from America’s favorite dad – and with good reason: he’s not. Stepping out of the Full House shadow hasn’t been easy, but that’s exactly what Saget hopes to do in this not-so-family-friendly comedy performance. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $45. Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

SATURDAY, APRIL 13

Chelsea Handler
Known for her hilariously blunt delivery and bold blue humor, Chelsea Handler is switching it up for her upcoming Sit-Down Comedy Tour. Handler kicks off her tour in April with the release of her new memoir Life Will Be the Death of Me. In a rare display of vulnerability, she writes introspectively about childhood trauma, therapy, activism and more. The show will feature true stories from her book in an honest, stripped-down conversation. But don’t worry – her emotional anecdotes will only accompany the deeply inappropriate jokes audiences know and love her for. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $85-$145. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; www.warnertheatredc.com

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24 – MONDAY, APRIL 29

The Who’s Tommy
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Who’s legendary debut album, The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage presents rock musical The Who’s Tommy. Starring Riverdale’s Casey Cott, Tony Award winner Christian Borle and Hamilton’s Mandy Gonzalez, the incredibly talented cast is not likely to disappoint. This semi-staged concert production boasts music and lyrics by The Who’s own Pete Townshend. Various dates and times. Tickets $69-$219. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

FRIDAY, APRIL 26 – THURSDAY, JUNE 2

Jubilee
From acclaimed playwright and director Tazewell Thompson comes an inspirational tribute performance based on the world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. The renowned African American acapella group broke enormous racial barriers in the late 19th century, funding the education of newly freed slaves and performing across the globe. The performance includes popular spirituals like “Wade in the Water,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Various dates and times. Tickets $76-$125. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

TUESDAY, APRIL 30 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26

Spunk
Based on three short stories by Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston and adapted by Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe, Spunk combines elements of storytelling, music and dance. This lively production promises to entertain audiences with spirited characters and tales of love, jealousy and revenge. Set in the countryside, Spunk also depicts the African American experience in the early 20th century. Various dates and times. Tickets $40-$85. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Clay McBride

Lewis Black is Still Pissed, and It’s Still Funny

I knew comedian Lewis Black would provide a conversation laced with passionate vulgarity aimed at folks manning positions in Congress and the White House, but even I was a tad unprepared for how little buildup he required. He went from zero to 100, as Drake would say. From pleasantries of, “Nice to speak with you, I’m in a car so the call may drop” to “All of you are pieces of sh-t, f–k you.”

“There [used to be] a level of civility,” Black says of elected officials. “Their job in Congress is to negotiate with each other, and they’re not. They haven’t for so long; it’s like, stop it already. As much as I’m into the future more than these people are, I want to get to a place of moderation.”

A ton of Black’s onstage material reflects the politics du jour. He shouts, he stammers, he stomps. Moments in his set resemble a child throwing a temper tantrum after not getting their way. However, the 70-year-old comedian isn’t begging his parents for a toy or game; he’s simply making observations about the world we all live in. And he’s not afraid to vocalize how seemingly everything – from a crappy vacation with poor service to a Chantix prescription – pisses him off.  

“I stumble onto stuff when I’m looking around for things,” he says about crafting material. “I’ll read something and go, ‘Oh, look at that.’ It starts from what makes me angry, and [I] want to know facts about it.”

The DMV native is slated to continue his unique brand of comedy in his former backyard with a stop at Strathmore on April 14, part of his The Joke’s on US tour.

“Yeah, it means a lot,” he says of performing in the DC area. “It’s always important because I get to see friends of mine. My roots are there.”

After almost 40 years in the business, Black is basically the angry elder statesman of comedy. He once said during a special that part of his job was to take the craziness of the world and exaggerate it onstage. This formula has seen him rewarded with success and accolades in abundance. But lately, reality is finally mirroring – or in some cases out-crazying – his satirical outbursts in terms of shock value.

“It’s consistently hard to find something that I can open with that nails it on a lot of levels and is funny and says what I want to say. It’s finding those moments. How do you do this? How do you make this funny? I don’t care what side people are on; they’re [all] anxiety-ridden.”

Finding things about life that piss him off has always been easy for Black. He’s held an overtly sarcastic, skeptical point of view since his teen years.

“Near the end of my junior year of high school, I was the sarcastic one. I’d be the guy telling people they were idiots.

Somebody once told me, ‘On your tombstone, it’s going to read, ‘I disagree.’”

Lately, he isn’t the only person ranting and raving over the news. In the past few years, Black has featured fan-submitted complaints as part of his “The Rant is Due” initiative. He encourages people of all viewpoints to submit their own complaints, whether politically aligned with him or in disagreement. Before reading selections onstage, he whittles down the entries to a handful, looking for funny, timely fits of rage.

“It’s remarkable and it’s evolved over time,” he says. “I’ll show up there to do the show, and by the time I’m there, there will be three or four rants about the county or questions they have, or even little biting sentences. It’s great; it’s a show that essentially, I’m kind of producing, but is really a product of the community. I’m just selecting, because I’m going to do the reading.”

Despite being eligible for social security checks, he still brings tremendous energy to the stage. His routine is probably not dissimilar from a guy operating a flamethrower at an ice sculpture exhibit – nothing is safe from his opinionated wrath. He cathartically lets his rage out and it’s entertaining, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. Like most comedians, he only has one rule in his own comedy and in fan rants.

“What it comes down to is: What’s funny?”

See Lewis Black at Strathmore on Sunday, April 14. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $35-$89. For more information on the comedian, visit www.lewisblack.com.

Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org