Facing the Music – 13 Years of Concert Posters by Jeffrey Everett

On Tuesday night at the Gallery at Lost Origin Productions, art and music lovers mingled in the intimate space to gawk in amazement at the incredible portfolio of concert poster designer Jeffrey Everett. Over the years, he has worked for numerous venues and bands, lending his distinct style to tours of varying genres. Folks also enjoyed complimentary appetizers and beverages from On Tap. Gallery runs until September 5. Photos: Trent Johnson

Photo: Teddy Wolff
Photo: Teddy Wolff

Wig Out at Studio Theatre

I’m not going to pretend or lie – my plus one and I had no idea what we were getting into upon entering the tiny theater space on the fourth floor of Studio Theatre for Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Wig Out. The lighting was reminiscent of a retro disco set from a movie taking place in the 1970s, and the performance area was surrounded by audience members. The four sides of the squared space were additionally flanked by sliding elevator doors, which automatically opened and closed, allowing characters to exit on all sides while providing mirrors for the audience and characters to look at.

Wig Out is about family within a marginalized culture, and the tragic, goofy, fun characters struggle with what the words “family” and “house” mean throughout. These houses aren’t built on last names, rather choices forced upon people forced out of their past lives because of who they are. These decisions to be part of units with like-minded individuals, even when they don’t always have your best interest at heart, are never easy even when they seem to be. And when these houses go head-to-head via “The Ball,” the stakes are high, and the results are beautifully poignant artistic performances, despite the occasionally cutthroat response from competitors.

At the heart of this tale full of balls, dances and unending flamboyance is a romance. Audiences begin this journey with Eric, The Red (Jaysen Wright) meeting Wilson/Ms. Nina (Michael Rishawn) on the train deep into the night. The latter immediately begins to hit on Eric in her drag persona Ms. Nina, but takes a more straightforward approach as Wilson when her advances are deflected, and succeeds.

After, Eric is sucked into a world he doesn’t understand, and eventually tries to embrace and absorb more and more as his feelings for Ms. Nina grow stronger. While this unfolds largely offstage, The House of Light preps for a battle of supremacy against the devious House of Di’Abolique for a ball at the break of midnight. Performances must be agreed upon, despite the trepidations of some of the family members.

Though the story poses the House of Di’Abolique as the primary antagonist, the most unlikable character belongs to the House of Light, as the house father Lucian (Michael Kevin Darnall) stands out amongst a group of largely enjoyable people by constantly belittling their opinions and actions.

Perhaps that’s the point – in this culture that a large part of society is ignorant pf, there will be questionable folks in every house, just like there are in every family connected by blood. With nowhere else to go, which characters repeatedly say out loud, they are left with the choice to venture out into a world alone or stick together, even when the situation is less than ideal.

Despite the colossal weight of the play, it is riddled with colorful vignettes, songs and dance, which constantly lighten the load for the audience. Even some of the heavier conversations are book-ended with delectable songs and dance by the Fates 3, essentially House of Light cheerleaders who help fill in the gaps. And the ball itself is worth the price of admission all on its own, as the music of hip-hop stars reverberate through the building during the spellbinding displays of acrobatics by both houses during the ball.

Wig Out is masterfully directed by Kent Gash, and can be seen at the Studio Theatre through Sunday, August 20. Check out tickets here.

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300;

Photo: DuHon Photography via
Photo: DuHon Photography via

Ari Shapiro’s Homeward Takes AMP Stage

When it comes to telling stories, journalists are taught to keep their emotion out of it. Get in, report the news and get out – this is most journalists’ modus operandi. At least that’s what we’re taught, but that doesn’t make it a realistic expectation. As any journalist can testify, reporting on people’s triumphs and struggles – no matter how drastically they may differ from our own – is bound to create a connection. Every journalist knows that at the end of the day, no matter what they look like or how they live, people are people.

It’s this human connection that NPR‘s Ari Shapiro talks about in his upcoming cabaret performance, Homeward, at AMP by Strathmore this Saturday. Years of traveling the world to report on wars, revolutions and most of all, people inspired the All Things Considered host to write this cabaret. Although he’s performed with the band Pink Martini for years, Homeward is Shapiro’s first stab at writing and performing a show like this on his own.

He gave it a test run at Halcyon House, and the response was so positive that Shapiro is bringing Homeward to AMP. Although the audience loved the first show, speaking into a mic is a different experience than singing and speaking in front of an intimate crowd.

“I was so nervous about it,” Shapiro says. “I told my parents not to come because if it didn’t go well, I wanted it to just die a quiet, anonymous death. But it went really well. It sold out and people reacted really strongly and enthusiastically and positively, and so I thought now that I know this works, let’s do it again. Let’s do it for real. Let’s remount it and see if we can make lightning strike twice.”

If you’re expecting entertainment, the talented musician will certainly deliver. But a cabaret brings its audience much more than entertainment, Shapiro says. One of Shapiro’s friends, who was a cabaret reviewer for a magazine, explained the difference between musical revue – multi-act theatrical entertainment – and cabaret. While both performances contain multiple elements of entertainment – dancing, singing, storytelling – a cabaret has to have more.

“A cabaret has to have a reason to exist, and has to have a relationship with the audience,” Shapiro says. “It has to land someplace different than where it began. It has to go somewhere. So a cabaret does have songs, and it does have stories, but it also has to say something beyond that.”

And Shapiro’s cabaret goes quite a few places. His career has taken him through five continents, and Pink Martini creates international music. Homeward will include songs sung in six languages other than English.

“As part of the process of putting the show together, I contacted people I had met who marched in Kiev and Syrians who had crossed the Mediterranean Sea in crowded rafts, and I asked them, ‘What was the soundtrack? What songs were people singing? What were people listening to in their ear buds?'” Shapiro says. “And so those stories and songs are woven throughout this performance.”

In addition to enjoying Shapiro’s crooning voice, Homeward will serve as a much-needed reminder that even if we share nothing else, we still share humanity.

Catch Homeward at AMP by Strathmore on Saturday, August 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30-$50. Learn more here.

AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. North Bethesda, Maryland; 301-581-5100;

Stage and Screen

Stage & Screen Events: August 2017


This one is for American history buffs and fans of justice. Starring Brian Anthony Wilson as Thurgood Marshall, this one-man show is part biography, part legal drama. Think documentary in the first person, except instead of just entertainment, you’re getting an intimate look at one of the most important legal cases in American history: Brown v. Board of Education. Various show times and dates. Tickets start at $55. Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD;


Homeward by Ari Shapiro
You may be used to hearing him on NPR’s All Things Considered, but you’ve never heard him like this. As a journalist, Ari Shapiro is no stranger to reporting facts about foreign places in turbulent times. Hear songs that tell stories at Shapiro’s cabaret show. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the first show and 9 p.m. for the second. Tickets cost $30-$50. AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. Bethesda, MD;


The Juniper Tree and Bastianello
If you think dramatizing story time with voices and accents is essential, this event is for you. These renditions of the fairytale “The Juniper Tree” and Bastianello, a collection of old Italian stories, turn beloved stories into family-friendly opera. Show times and dates vary. Tickets cost $32-$88. The Barns at Wolf Trap: 1635 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA;


A Little Night Music
If love triangles are too simple to entertain you and you prefer romantic plots that more closely resemble a tangled pair of earphones, don’t miss the chance to see this classic musical. Set in Sweden in 1900, several characters – including a married virgin, a formerly glamorous actress and a sexually repressed student –attempt to navigate their complex relationships. Featuring famous scores like “Send in the Clowns,” this beloved show runs through October 8. Show times and dates vary. Tickets cost $40-$89. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA;


David Sedaris
The author behind Santaland Diaries brings his brilliant storytelling and hilarious observations to the DC area this summer. Whether you’re a huge Sedaris fan, or just love a good story but have no time to read, you don’t want to miss hearing his intimate and often hysterical narratives in person. Elf costume optional. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $25-$55. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA;


The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith
If you’ve ever wished you lived through the roaring 20s, here’s your chance to travel back for an evening. Pay your dues to the Empress of the Blues at this musical celebration of the iconic Bessie Smith. If her music isn’t reason enough to attend, her dramatic and larger-than-life story certainly is. Devil’s Music reimagines the night Bessie and her band were turned away from performing at a whites-only venue. Show times and dates vary. Check for ticket prices. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC;


Global Impact Film Festival
Calling all film lovers, activists and advocates alike. This one-of-a-kind festival brings days of documentaries and narratives that promise to inspire social change. This year’s films deal with a range of issues like immigration, violence, beauty and the environment. The festival also includes open panel discussions, workshops and networking opportunities for filmmakers. Renaissance Marriott: 999 9th St. NW, DC;


Merriweather Movie Nights: School of Rock
Bring blankets and lawn chairs, and come ready to watch some classic Jack Black hilarity without breaking the bank. Food is available at the venue. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Free admission. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD;

Artwork: Courtesy of Keegan Theatre
Artwork: Courtesy of Keegan Theatre

Big Fish: A New Broadway Musical

Have you ever been told a tall tale that had you questioning the sanity of the relative who was telling the story? Perhaps the main character in the story was a giant stomping about or a witch cackling in the forest…or, funnily enough, your dad?

For those who visit home during the holidays, we get a taste of this annually. For Will Bloom, his eccentric and extroverted father Edward’s tall tales were all he knew, and thanks to Keegan Theatre, his larger-than-life stories of magic are coming to the District on August 5.

Big Fish tells the story of Edward, a traveling salesman, who lives life by way of his imagination. His son Will is determined to find the truth behind his father’s tales, and as we watch him grow into a man of his own with a child on the way, he discovers that the extraordinary stories he once dismissed might contain the truth of their relationship – and a secret that Edward never shared.

“It’s a father and son fantasy,” explains Dan Van Why, who plays Edward. “Will wished he had more of a connection with his father, aside from just the tales he told.”

In the midst of growing older (fatherhood, family struggles and other pivotal milestones), Will finally came to understand his father in a way he never knew as a child – that he lives by his imagination and only wants the same for his son.

“His father just wanted [Will] to have a big life,”  Van Why says.

Edward takes his family on grand adventures, with the moral of the stories always coming back to not being afraid to explore your mind.

Codirector and Helen Hayes Award winner Colin Smith adds that the musical is “heartwarming, fun, energetic and a beautiful show surrounded by magic.”

“I love the heart of it,” Smith says.

If the budding relationship of father and son isn’t enough to grab you, maybe the score will. With the opening number “Be the Hero,” and pieces that will tug on your heartstrings like “Stranger,” Big Fish delivers in the musical department, which proved to be the attraction to the show for Van Why. He says the score drew him to the production, as did “working with a terrific company comprised of amazing, hardworking and nurturing people.”

The actor also mentions his connection to his character, saying that he sees himself in Edward when it comes to life throwing things your way and just having to deal – not necessarily seeking adventure, but being sought out by adventure itself. Smith also feels a connection to one of the characters – Will.

“My father passed away when I was in my early 20s, so the idea of a son coming to grips with his father who’s dying is something that’s very personal to me,” he says. I’m from the South, so I feel like I know the [characters] in the show – people who are big, but not cocky. And growing up in a generation without TV and Internet, we used our imaginations. We [still] try to keep what Edward has – imaginative storytelling. It’s a beautiful part of human nature.”

Previous productions of Big Fish have been staged with grand set pieces, elaborate costumes and explosive lighting design, but Keegan Theatre is staying true to the script and keeping the set minimal.

“The set is pretty adaptable – a blank space or abstract if we need it,” Smith says. “We want the audience to come in with a sense of wonder that I think we can often lose [as we age]. We see Edward have it and Will regain it, so we want the atmosphere to have a sense of wonder.”

Van Why encourages local theatergoers to see the play because “we live in a world that’s getting smaller and smaller by the minute, and any opportunity we can take to dream big and look outward, we need.”

Keegan Theatre’s production of Big Fish is sure to reel you in from the opening sequence. With tales of wonder, magic and genuine human connection running rampant throughout the musical, your emotions – and your imagination – will be ignited.

Big Fish runs from August 5 to September 2 at Keegan Theatre. Tickets start at $45. Go to for more information.

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

Photo: Courtesy of The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Photo: Courtesy of The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Legally Blonde Comes to The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Are you planning your next date night, girls’ night out, a night out with the family or a special treat for yourself? Look no further because the Little Theatre of Alexandria’s (“LTA”) production of Legally Blonde the Musical is the show you won’t want to miss. Hearts will be warmed on August 1 at 8 p.m. as Morgan Arriviaga takes the stage as Elle Woods, “a fun, fabulous, fashionista who has it all – that is until her boyfriend dumps her to attend Harvard Law School.”

The musical originally opened on Broadway in 2007, and is based on the 2001 book by Amanda Brown and the movie of the same name. Ten years after its Broadway debut, the show has wowed audiences around the world – performing two U.S. tours, and a year in both London and Australia. Legally Blonde has earned seven Tony Award nominations and won many domestic and international honors.

To be honest, this show is one for the women. Female empowerment can be found in every aspect of this production. In fact, the female synergy is even behind the scenes. With Mary Beth Smith Toomey at the helm as co-producer, patrons are in the most qualified hands. Toomey has produced 56 musicals with the Little Theatre of Alexandria. She loves working with the theater, and attributes its success to high-quality professional performers and a supportive environment.

According to their website, “LTA is the oldest award-winning theater in the Washington metro area and one of the few community theaters in the country with its own building and an ambitious seven-show season.” Proud of its rich heritage, LTA is excited about its future and their production of Legally Blonde.

“This musical is so much fun!” says Arriviaga, as she sits in the elegant Green Room at 600 Wolfe St. She explains that while this show is fun and full of laughs, it “may not be what you expect it to be…this show has an [essential] message.”

While preparing for rehearsal, Arriviaga recalls the lessons learned from playing Elle as they relate to the everyday experiences lived by most women. The inappropriate and unwarranted sexual advances and the assumptions of career advancements deriving from “consensual” sex are fundamental themes in Legally Blonde. One may think this could put a damper on the fun, but the fine attention to social issues in the inspiring, cheerful and comical musical selections makes this show one worth seeing.

Tuesday, August 1 at 8 p.m. is a special performance night, where all proceeds will go to nonprofit organization LANCAR Ink and its 2017 journalism interns. The play runs through August 12.

The Little Theatre of Alexandria: 600 Wolfe St. Alexandria, VA; 703-683-5778;

Photo: Michael DuBois
Photo: Michael DuBois

Anacostia Playhouse Brings Billie Holiday to Life

You might be tempted to dress in your jazz club best when you head to Anacostia Playhouse to see Lady Day perform every weekend from Thursday to Sunday through August 6. Once you make it past the box office, you’re whisked past a bright “Bar” sign as the staccato piano and deep, sensual jazz bass call for you to step inside Emerson’s Bar & Grill, a rundown bar in South Philly in 1959, where you’re witnessing one of Billie Holiday’s final performances.

Anya Randall Nebel, under the direction of veteran DC actor and director Tom Flatt, brings Lady Day to life in the (almost) one-woman show Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Most of us know the story of Billie Holiday. Born Eleanora Fagan, she spent much of her youth in brothels in Baltimore and Harlem, where she was first exposed to the music of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. As a teenager, she sang in nightclubs in Harlem, and somewhere along the way, became an icon of America’s original art form.

With her signature, unconventional voice, she defined an era.

Nebel is able to bring humanity to this larger-than-life figure. In-between songs, some popular, some less well-known (unless you’re a Billie Holiday aficionado), she weaves together Holiday’s life story – giving insight into the joy and sadness of the young, impoverished girl nearly abandoned by her mother and raised by madames, the juvenile justice system and distant relatives.

She also portrays the many facets of Holiday: the young woman blossoming in her career, the glamorous and successful black woman who still has to put up with the humiliation of American racism that despises everything she represents, the woman who is blindly and passionately in love with a man who destroys everything important in her life, and onstage, a woman struggling with addiction and an intense desire to connect with people around her.

Sometimes, it’s lonely on the stage at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

There are a few humorous moments that Nebel recounts as Holiday (but I won’t spoil them for you) that lighten the mood, but some of the humor also rests with music director and pianist LeVar Betts, who makes his Anacostia Playhouse debut as Jimmy Powers — Holiday’s piano accompanist who is also tasked with keeping her sober and making sure she gets to all of the songs on her set list. Betts plays Powers as someone who is both slightly embarrassed to be onstage with the aging Holiday, and still cares for her and hopes that she puts on a good show.

The show ends with Nebel belting “Deep Song.”

Lonely grief is hounding me
Like the lonely shadow hounding me
It’s always there just out of sight
Like a fragling dream on a lightening night

As the song continues, you feel a sad tingle take over your shoulders, your face relaxes, your heart becomes heavy and goosebumps take over your limbs. And as the final notes of Holiday’s song reach your ears, you feel like you know exactly who this woman really is.

Catch Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill at the Anacostia Playhouse until August 6. Tickets are $40. Show times, dates and tickets are available on Anacostia Playhouse’s website.

Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC; 202-290-2328;

Photo: Ryan Hill
Photo: Ryan Hill

Christopher Nolan Returns with Historically Significant Dunkirk

The National Air and Space Museum hosted a special screening of Dunkirk on Wednesday with director Christopher Nolan in attendance.

“It took me a long time to be ready to make this film as a craftsman; I didn’t want to take it on until I had a lot of experience,” Nolan said, answering a question from moderator Jake Tapper, a CNN correspondent.

Nolan’s harrowing retelling of the Battle of Dunkirk is his most mature film. The normal dramatic, emotional overtones and unbridled patriotism that go hand in hand in other war films are stripped away.

Dunkirk doesn’t noticeably attempt to sway your feelings in one direction about the transpiring events; it’s far from heavy handed. And though Hans Zimmer’s score occasionally rings a triumphant tone during high points, it’s best use is to punctuate visceral action scenes on ground, at sea and in air.

In Nolan’s traditional nonlinear style, we get a story from each of these perspectives during the film. All take place during a different time span on the battlefield: one week, one day and one hour, respectively.

When climactic moments from each vignette come to a crescendo, they’re edited closely together to reiterate that the miraculous evacuation at Dunkirk was not the doing of one person, one unit or even one moment, but a culmination of smaller efforts by people working together in the face of insurmountable odds. Although the characters in the film are entirely fictitious, they are based on firsthand accounts of survivors – real experiences from the battle.

Another impressive element of the film was how little CGI was used – something modern audiences aren’t used to seeing.

“There’s almost nothing in the film that’s completely CGI,” Nolan stated. “In fact, there’s nothing in the film that’s completely CGI.”

Even though they used thousands of extras, there’s still a sense of scale conveyed; and instead of CGI, matte painting backdrops were used. This, and elongated sequences with little to no dialogue, reinforce a “silent era” feel. As a result, Dunkirk is more experience and story-driven than character-driven.

An unsurprising standout is Nolan regular Tom Hardy, who delivers an almost entirely mute performance as a spitfire pilot. The spectacular air battle sequences are woven throughout, and may be some of the most incredible in cinema to date.

These particular moments are where the 70mm IMAX format clearly shines. Close up shots from the side of the wing, Hardy’s face, the controls and distant shots of Nazi fighter silhouettes give audiences a sense of claustrophobia and dread.

Nolan made a distinctive choice, which he reiterated in the Q&A after the showing, to not show Nazis; the film hardly even refers to them in passing. As a result, it becomes more about instinct and survival, and the Axis Powers are the subtle looming threat or force of nature, rather than sneering villains.

Historically, these troops did not encounter them face-to-face during this battle, so the point of view is accurate. The story of Dunkirk is something many Americans are unfamiliar with, and bringing this story to life for modern audiences was a goal of Nolan’s.

“It’s really about what we refer to as the Dunkirk spirit,” Nolan said. “It’s about community. We live in a time right now that perhaps prizes individuality at the expense of what we can achieve together.”

Dunkirk opens today.

Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao / Photo: Matthew Murphy
Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao / Photo: Matthew Murphy

Getting to Know The King and I’s Tuptim

It was 66 years ago that Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I first graced the Broadway stage, and the classic musical has been beloved by theatergoers ever since. Lincoln Center Theater’s 2015 production won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, and the acclaimed production, directed by Tony winner Bartlett Sher, is now touring nationally.

The tour recently set up shop at the Kennedy Center Opera House, and opens to DC audiences tonight. We caught up with actress Manna Nichols, who plays Tuptim, the King of Siam’s reluctant junior wife, to talk about the show’s legacy and why she feels this is an important musical for women.

On Tap: Tuptim is a role you’ve played twice before (at Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia and North Shore Music Theatre in Boston). What is it about the character that keeps you returning to the role?
Manna Nichols: I love that she is a strong female character. I love that she is an ingénue and she’s doing all these love ballads and is a love interest in the story, but I also love that she is a very three-dimensional, realistic human being. She’s very brave and forward-thinking, and I think she’s very relatable to where we are in history. She’s exciting for me to play.

OT: The King and I is one of those classic musicals that anyone who is interested in theatre probably learned about very young. Do you remember your earliest association with the show?
MN: I didn’t see a lot of live theatre when I was growing up, but I used to watch the movie all the time when I was little with my cousins and siblings at my grandparents’ house. We would sing all the songs and act at the movie and dance around. As a kid, I loved watching the “March of the Royal Children” with my brothers, because these kids looked like us. I remember asking my mom to skip to the part with the girl who looks like me; I wanted to see Tuptim, and I could identify with her. It was cool to see a role model who looked like me doing what I wanted to do.

OT: What do you enjoy most about being in the show?
MN: I really love the music; I love the entire score, especially all the songs that my character gets to sing. I also really love the Act II ballet. Tuptim is inspired by the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and writes this artistic ballet, narrates it, and it’s basically her being inspired by what happens to Eliza in the story.

OT: This is a musical that attracts a lot of young audience members. Do you get to meet them after the show and talk to them about the performance?
MN: Some of my favorite people I meet at the stage door are the students who tell me they want to do this for a living, and I tell them they absolutely can. That was me, and I remember being on the other side of that door. I was so shy and I wouldn’t talk to any of them or ask for their autograph or take a picture. I just wanted to see what they looked like. It’s fun to flip the mirror and talk with them all.

OT: What set you on your road to a career in theatre?
MN: I was initially accepted into school as a biology major, premed, and I just did theatre for fun. It wasn’t really a practical career choice for my family. At the last minute, I changed my mind and realized I didn’t want it to be just a hobby; I wanted to find a way to make music my full-time job. I switched my major to musical education and eventually musical theatre. I wanted to do what made me happy.

OT: Since this is your third time in the role, how does the show stay fresh for you?
MN: This production is different. Bart won the Tony Award, and the amount of detail and attention that he put into our table work is unlike anything I had ever done before. That was so beneficial because when we started blocking, we didn’t have a million questions, and that informed the way we [thought] and acted.

OT: What do you hope people talk about as they leave the Kennedy Center?
MN: One of the strong messages that people can walk away with from this production is the idea that modernization while still giving honor to your own culture and traditions is possible. People call our king in the show a barbarian, but when you get to know your neighbors or know other people that you’ve been afraid of that you’ve previously judged, you find out you’re a lot more similar than different. The show also brings out the idea of strong women and education. You watch the three lead women in our show stand up for what they believe in in very different ways. There’s a woman who fights the system, a woman who works within the system and a women who completely rebels. Then there are women who accept where they are. Watching the different kinds of strength these women show really speaks incredibly well to our political situation today.

The King and I runs at the Kennedy Center Opera House through August 20. Tickets start at $49. Visit to learn more.

The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600;

Photo: Rachel Ellis
Photo: Rachel Ellis

Unexpected Stage Company’s Oblivion Tackles the Nature of Belief

What happens when you take a laid-back approach to parenting and, out of the blue, your child decides to become a Christian? What do you do? What do you say? These questions and more are investigated in Unexpected Stage Company’s rendition of Oblivion (from writer Carly Mensch of Orange is the New Black, GLOW and Weeds fame), coming to Bethesda this Thursday.

The story follows Pam and Dixon, a couple whose 16-year-old daughter Julie decides to become a Christian, causing some discomfort in their “secular, philosophical approach to parenting.” On Tap had the chance to speak with Chris Goodrich and Rachel Stroud-Goodrich, the married duo behind the company, and Mindy Shaw, who plays Pam, about the upcoming production.

On Tap: What drew you and Chris to Oblivion?
Rachel Stroud-Goodrich: Part of our mission is to represent underrepresented voices in theater. Participating in the 2015 Women’s Voices Theater Festival served to heighten this awareness, and it is something we kept in mind as we were planning for this summer’s show. But ultimately, you must fall in love with a script. After reading script after script, and still not having a play to announce, we read Carly Mensch’s piece and fell for it within the first scene.

OT: How do you divide responsibilities between the two of you?
Chris Goodrich: Rachel and I have divided responsibilities, but we are both artistic directors. And as such, [we] both have input on the creative choices of a production or season. I tend to direct the shows and Rachel, to her vast credit, tends to manage the company. She is so good at it!

OT: Have you experienced any challenges in bringing this script to life?
CG: Bringing this script to life has been a delight and a joy. We want to make sure that we are getting it right, that we are serving the play. So it can be challenging to figure out what the playwright’s intentions are at times. But these actors and designers are so creative and so professional, it has been a joy to watch their creative spirits unfold.

OT: What’s it like working with Unexpected Stage Company’s husband-wife team?
Mindy Shaw: I’ve never worked with a company that’s had that exact dynamic, and it is phenomenal. They are conscientious and patient, and just lovely human beings who are wonderfully professional at the same time, which is a rare mix.

OT: What can audiences expect from Oblivion?
MS: It will leave you thinking about marital relationships, parent-child relationships, teenage growing pains and certainly religion.

OT: What do you think will surprise people?
CG: An exposed family being tender with each other, attempting to learn [about] each other, [and] attempting to value who they are and what they discover about the other. Hopefully, this is reflection of us.
RSG: The show is very honest. No one is supposed to be a role model. They are flawed but lovable, relatable human characters. No one is completely right or wrong. I think this is something we are used to in theater, but it doesn’t often extend to honest talks about religion and atheism.

Oblivion runs from July 13 to August 6 at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation Building. General admission tickets start at $18.

River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation Building – Fireside Room: 6301 River Rd. Bethesda, MD; 301-337-8290;