Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Rhyme and Reason in ‘School for Lies’

If hypocrisy and shallowness have you rolling your eyes internally on a daily basis, you’re not alone. In School for Lies, a modern adaptation of Molière’s play Le Misanthrope, characters find their own humorous ways to cope with a superficial society. This summer, playwright David Ives and Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn present a local production of the French classic, at Lansburgh Theatre through July 9.

Set in aristocratic France, the play tells the story of Frank (Gregory Wooddell), a blunt truthteller navigating a shallow society he can’t stand. In addition to the modern upgrades, Ives’ new adaptation has another unique feature: the entire play is written in rhyming couplets.

Although this may seem daunting to some actors, leading lady Victoria Frings, who plays Frank’s sassy love interest, Celimene, said it actually helped her memorize her lines. The rhymes, which come at a quick pace, might even seem jarring to the audience at first. But once the show gets going, it’s a journey worth taking. Although it moves quickly and Ives occasionally uses strange vocabulary, there are moments when the audience can guess what the next rhyme is going to be.

“There’s a kind of give-and-take dance, and I think this play lets audience members start to fill in some of the rhymes as it goes,” Frings says. “There’s something kind of fulfilling about that, especially when it’s set up really well.”

But the rhyme scheme does more than just keep the audience on their toes. According to Wooddell, the rhyming solidifies the sense of spectatorship.

“You already have this world established, just in terms of how these people relate to each other and how they speak,” he says. “But it’s just joy for the audience to be able to hear the brilliance of David Ives’ writing and rhyming couplets. I think the audience really gets a kick out of hearing the language for an hour and a half.”

Even once the audience gets used to the rhyming dialogue, School for Lies offers two profound main characters, each with their own lessons to impart. The brutally honest Frank demonstrates that honesty is a virtue, and sometimes the urge to tell it like it is can be a good thing.

“That’s why the audience relates to his character,” Wooddell says. “We all feel these things. We live in a society that has a certain structure to it that you may or may not buy into or believe in, but we all find a certain level of ridiculousness in it. And it’s liberating to be able to voice that every evening. To call it what it is, is quite freeing.”

Frank’s love interest, however, expresses her disdain in quite a different way. Celimene is also notorious for telling it how it is – but only behind people’s backs. In addition to making fun of people that way, Celimene also takes jabs at surrounding characters, but quickly covers them up with niceties. As a high society widow without her own means, she uses her social grace and flirtatiousness to attain money and material from male suitors.

“She is witty, fun and secretly disdains everyone around her in this world that she has to blend into because she knows that it’s ugly [and] she knows that she’s smarter than everyone in the room,” Frings says. “But I think she also enjoys herself, or she at least does what she does in order to enjoy herself.”

Catch School for Lies at Lansburgh Theatre, now through July 9. Tickets start at $44 and can be purchased from www.shakespearetheater.org.

Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Carol Rosegg
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Rent’s 20th Anniversary Tour Hits DC

Since opening in 1996, Rent has become a mainstay of contemporary musical theatre. The iconic play tells the story of seven young artists struggling to achieve their dreams in bohemian New York City under the cloud of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. With a compelling cast of free spirits driven by their imaginations and a score that you’ll leave the theater belting, Rent is coming back to the nation’s capital this week on its 20th anniversary touring production. On Tap had the chance to chat with actor Katie LaMark, who plays Maureen. Here’s what she had to say about the relevancy of the show after so many years, and her approach to tackling such a well-known and beloved character.

On Tap: Tell me a little about Maureen.
Katie LaMark: Maureen is the character that everyone talks about, that you don’t meet until you know everything about her. She’s Mark’s ex and current partner to Joanne. She’s a revolutionary performance artist, [and] opposed to gentrification and the way [that] wealthy people are handling homelessness. She does what she wants. Some say she’s a diva, but I think she’s a “high art” woman of passion.

OT: Did the popularity of Rent hinder your role preparation?
KL:
Yes, it was a huge challenge. It’s been amazing to play a character that Idina Menzel has played, but who I am is really different. I hope people who know the show well will find that they’re looking at this character from a new angle, and will appreciate the new take on [Maureen].

OT: Maureen is a lively character, but also has rougher moments. How do you prepare to tackle her night after night?
KL: If you have a rough character that is beloved, take a comedic approach. There are times you might not like her much, but if I believe what I say, it opens the opportunity for the audience to laugh instead of being turned off by her. To prepare, I love being a social butterfly before the show. It gets me excited for “La Vie Boheme,” because it’s essentially her party and a door for the audience to walk through to [liking] Maureen.

OT: After two decades on countless stages, why do you think that Rent is still relevant in today’s society?
KL:
Twenty years is the magic number in theatre. It’s the natural gestation period of an iconic musical. Every 20 years, you can identify a significant turning point in musical theatre. It educates about time period and the AIDS epidemic; the idea that suddenly something out of your control is taking away people you love, which reflects in today’s society in ways other than AIDS. My favorite part about Rent is that all of the characters are dealing with specific things, but never part of [a] struggle. For example, Maureen and Joanne are an interracial lesbian couple, but they never talk about it, because it isn’t an issue.

OT: There’s an underlying message in the musical of pursuing your dreams, but also of recognizing the most important aspect of life is love. What’s your take on this?
KL:
I have never been asked this before! I think it’s great that we meet these people when they’re dealing with the day to day of following their dreams. Benny offers free rent to friends and clings onto his love for what’s real in pursuit of truth. You have to pursue love above all else. Everything else is a waste of time.

OT: Why do you think it’s important for DC to see Rent right now?
KL:
On our last stop of the tour, I hope DC audiences feel how much we care about this show. We’ve had 270 shows, and it’s still as energizing and important as [it was] the first time. I’ve been to DC several times before, and despite it being diverse, it’s still very segmented. I think it’s important to a DC audience because they will see themselves in one of our characters regardless of where they’re from, and they’ll be able to connect with a character. A politician could identify with Maureen or Benny, as they’re in a position of power to make change. Change is not without conflict, but you can work together for the greater good. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic first came to America, the administration refused to acknowledge it’s existence. Because nothing was done, the number of lives lost to the disease, especially within the gay community, was enormous. It’s wrong, killing people we love, and it’s still happening today. We are artists because one of the only ways to ease [the] suffering of the world is if you can share a consciousness with someone else. The closest we get to that is through art.

Rent runs at National Theatre from June 20 to June 25. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.thenationaldc.org.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Pallas Theatre
Photo: Pallas Theatre

Stage & Screen Events: June 2017

RUNS THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 25
Urinetown
What would you do if the government told you that they were removing all private toilets, installing public-only toilets and charging admission for use? Honestly, the way America is going at the moment, this wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Urinetown, a three-time Tony Award-winning musical, tells just the story. Laden in political satire and a little potty humor, when the town gets fed up and filled up, a hero decides to pave the way to a revolution and lead his people to political and pee-when-you-wanna freedom! As one does. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $40. NextStop Theatre Company: 269 Sunset Park Dr. Herndon, VA; www.nextstoptheatre.org

RUNS THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 2
Jesus Christ Superstar
Signature Theatre is known for taking huge musicals and producing them in more intimate environments. It worked for Titanic, and it will work for Jesus Christ Superstar. Created by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber, this rock opera tells one of the most famous stories of them all. Untold stories between Jesus and Judas reveal themselves in this thrilling musical, and you can be there to witness it up close and personal. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $40-$99. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

School for Lies
Described as delicious, sweet and sexy (similarly to how I describe cupcakes), School for Lies is another comedic masterpiece from STC favorite David Ives. Centered about a French aristocrat named Frank, School for Lies tells the story of everything going wrong and “alternative facts becoming reality.” Did Kellyanne Conway write the summary of this play? Various dates and show times. Tickets are $59-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company: 450 7th St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

THURSDAY, JUNE 1 – SUNDAY, JUNE 18
Crazy Mary Lincoln
“Shopped like Nancy, stumped like Hillary and suffered like Jackie.” Mary Lincoln was a First Lady who could hold her own with the press and in her personal life. But what happened to her after her husband was shot? Crazy Mary Lincoln takes us into the life of Mary and her son, Robert Todd, after losing their beloved husband and father. Amidst the grief and starting anew, suffering from this loss has us all wondering: to whom does a President truly belong? Wednesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25; $20 for Fringe button holders. Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.pallastheatre.org

SATURDAY, JUNE 10 – SUNDAY, JUNE 11
In Jazz We Trust: Music in Motion
In the second installment of In Jazz We Trust, acclaimed choreographer Princess Mhoon presents an evening of dance inspired by the richness of jazz and driven by politics, history and theatre. Both a Helen Hayes nominee and recognized by the Huffington Post, Mhoon’s piece is not to be missed if you’re a fan of movement and music. Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

THURSDAY, JUNE 15 – SUNDAY, AUGUST 27
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Here’s another one in the lineup from the Lord Lloyd-Webber, which means you can’t go wrong. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a vibrant and uplifting musical set in the Old Testament that tells the story of Joseph, his friends and his amazing coat. What’s so amazing about it, you ask? Grab a ticket to one of the world’s most popular musicals and see for yourself. Another fun fact? This show comes with a meal…and we promise it’s more than just fish and bread. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $43.50-$60.50. Toby’s Dinner Theatre: 5900 Symphony Woods Rd. Columbia, MD; www.tobysdinnertheatre.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 17 – SATURDAY, JULY 8
When We Were Young and Unafraid
In the early 1970s, before Roe v. Wade, a businesswoman named Agnes transforms her bed and breakfast into a haven for women who are victims of domestic violence to seek refuge. It’s not until a girl named Mary Anne began influencing Agnes’ college-bound daughter that Agnes starts questioning everything she once knew and believed about the women she dedicated her life to helping. Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $35-$45. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, JUNE 20 – SUNDAY, JUNE 25
RENT
For those familiar with RENT, I’m sure you’re already singing about handcrafted beers down in local breweries. For those who aren’t, there’s no day but today to get schooled on the musical that’s been sweeping stages across the world for 21 years. RENT takes us on the journey of a group of friends and struggling artists living in New York City in the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Through catchy and heartbreaking musical numbers, immense energy, and maybe even some swear words (my favorite!), this musical will take you on an emotional rollercoaster if there ever was one. Get ready, DC. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $48-$108. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Courtesy of Awesome Con
Photo: Courtesy of Awesome Con

Awesome Con Happenings

In case you’re not hung up on the Dragon Ball franchise like I am, rest assured that there are tons of other adventures to get into during the weekend of Awesome Con. Whether you’re cozying up at a panel or exploring the endless possibilities of society’s future, this local comic con on June 16-18 will have fans covered.

David Tennant
In 2005, Tennant became the star of one of the most recognizable and famous television programs in the world: Doctor Who. As the tenth doctor in the series, Tennant picked up praise and accolades from fans, as readers of the franchise’s magazine voted him “Best Doctor.” The Scottish actor also recently played the villain in Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix. Saturday and Sunday.

Future Con
The brainchild of Awesome Con and Smithsonian Magazine, Future Con is a three-day science, technology and entertainment celebration meant to highlight the intersection of all of these subjects. The newest addition features Colonel Chris Hadfield hosting a special edition of Star Talk Live, and brings several NASA contributors and a number of other “thought-provoking” talks on parallel and multi-universe theory in sci-fi, antarctic dinosaurs and space lasers. No separate ticketing required. All three days.

Geek Night Comedy
This hybrid comedy show was created by geeky comics who want to tell jokes to geeky patrons. With standup and improv, the group has been famously running successful shows at numerous comedy joints along the East Coast, and has picked up props from several local news outlets, and even Sirius XM’s Monsters in the Morning. Two shows on Friday at 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. at DC Improv (1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC). Tickets are $17.

Pride Alley
Organized to unite LGBTQ activities around Awesome Con, this includes a dedicated section of “Artist Alley” and three days of panels and special events. On the Awesome Con website, the convention organizers stated, “We started to do more and create a bigger platform to better celebrate and educate DC’s LGBTQ community.”

Walter E. Washington Convention Center: 801 Mt. Vernon Pl. NW, DC; 202-249-3000; www.awesome-con.com 

Photo: Funimation's Facebook page
Photo: Funimation's Facebook page

Sounds, Screams & Saiyans: Dragon Ball’s Christopher Sabat

Christopher Sabat wasn’t born in a state, and he loves to tell you this. “You” being fans in line at a convention, Reddit AMA-ers or even the numerous actors screeching into a microphone behind a padded sound booth. He wants you to guess, so you’ll guess wrong.

“I’m really proud to say that I was born in Washington, DC,” Sabat says. “I don’t know, it makes me feel special. I’ll say, ‘I bet you $100 you can’t guess what state I was born in.’ And I’m always right.”

Sabat’s voice was made for radio, but he’s no disc jockey. Instead he’s a Saiyan, Namek, robot and, of course, human; it just depends on what character he’s lending his distinguishable vocal cords to on that day for that script.

From June 16-18 in the Washington Convention Center, Sabat will be lending his voice and time to the attendees at Awesome Con as a featured guest.

“When I was younger, I used to connect things together.”

Though Sabat was born in the not-state of DC, he moved to Houston, Texas as a child. His father worked for IBM as a database expert, so technology was always of interest in the household. For the young kid, sounds were a cause for fascination.

“I didn’t have the Internet,” he says. “All we had were people who were around, and for me that was engineers and programmer types. I always gravitated toward audio, and that’s what drew me into working with studios. I used to connect things together. I’d go to the library and check out sound effect records. I had multiple record and tape players, and I would play them all at the same time. Acting is important, but as a director and casting guy, I’m always interested in how people sound together.”

Sabat’s infatuation with sound paid dividends, as he received a scholarship to the University of North Texas as an opera singer. Due to a rather strict regimen of not drinking and talking (basically all college kids want to do), Sabat eventually transitioned to a major in radio, television and film. While he enjoyed the switch, his undeniable success story didn’t begin with graduation.

“I had maybe 40 credits left,” Sabat says. “I got offered this job in Fort Worth, and my thought was, ‘Should I take the job or get this piece of paper?’ My parents were livid, but it ended up being the best decision of my life.”

“’You like to do voices?’ and I said, ‘yean.’”

If the words Saiyan or Namek seem familiar, it’s because the alien species belong to the Dragon Ball franchise – a manga-turned-anime about adventures with a child named Goku. At least that’s how it starts. Akira Toriyama’s creation is largely cited as almost uniquely responsible, along with Pokémon, for permanently imprinting the Japanese genre into the American pop culture zeitgeist. If you watched the Toonami block of programming on Cartoon Network from 2003 until present, you’ve likely heard him bellow as the Saiyan prince Vegeta or growl as baddie-turned-father figure Piccolo. And while Sabat’s name appears in the credits of numerous other titles, it all started with this show.

“My involvement with Dragon Ball was pure luck,” Sabat says. “I mean, I was just a 20-something dude who was smoking a lot of weed, making music and hanging out. I wasn’t concerning myself with the future of anime, and neither was Funimation at the time. They were just trying to make a popular show.”

Popular is a massive understatement. Dragon Ball has transformed and evolved with countless revitalizations over the past two decades, including successful films in Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods and Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F, and a new series currently airing on Cartoon Network and Crunchy Roll titled Dragon Ball Super. Along with the growth in episode counts and video game iterations, the franchise has undeniably been immortalized by the number of people on YouTube and social media who dedicate entire channels and websites to the fandom of Dragon Ball.

“I really feel like everything has come together in this culmination of pop culture, and everything is coming back,” he says. “All these kids who were running home every day are in their 20s, have jobs and are nostalgic now. Everything that was popular is popular again.”

But how did Sabat get involved with the product? Basically, it’s another tale of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

“I had a friend, Carly Hunter, and she worked for Funimation when they had like four employees,” Sabat says. “They were just importing Dragon Ball and recording dubs in Canada. I used to joke about what she did for a living, which was take out the dirty things. She changed Master Roshi’s beer to juice, and ‘HELL’ to ‘HFIL.’”

“I love [Vegeta] for that reason. I couldv’e never played Goku – he’s too good.”

As both a director and performer in Dragon Ball, Sabat has given life to a number of cartoon characters, but his portrayal as Vegeta is easily his most identifiable and prominent. The Prince of Saiyans has gone from bonafide villain to anti-hero to loving father and husband, but his ambition to best lead character Goku has remained his rock.

“As an actor, I feel so grateful in retrospect, growing up over the past 18 years. A lot of people think Goku is the lead to the show, but oddly enough, Vegeta has the best lines, the best character development and he repeatedly does amazing things.”

Vegeta also holds perhaps the most famous catchphrase in the English version of the series with, “It’s over 9,000.” Lately, the Saiyan badass has become, well, softer. Dragon Ball Super has allowed the character to grow into a role far different from the man who came to Earth in search of immortality, destruction and revenge.

“People ask me what my favorite thing about Super is, and the answer is that it exists,” Sabat says. “Playing Vegeta for the past 18 years was like being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Every video game is telling the same story; every redub is the same story. I wanted something new and fresh.”

One episode of the new series features the scowling Vegeta throwing away his ever-important pride to make sushi out of a giant octopus.

“I love the octopus scene,” Sabat says. “I love his interaction with Bulma [his wife]. It’s like how a really angry person approaches these situations, you know? It’s basically what he would say.”

“Fans weren’t all that kind at the time.”

Being synonymous with a legendary TV show allows those who have sacrificed time and effort to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but the series wasn’t necessarily expected to be as successful stateside as it became. In fact, the first people to approach Sabat at conventions during those early days were detractors.

“I got to go to conventions, and I started to see fans were watching the show,” he says. “They didn’t like some of the changes that had happened. We were working on really crude equipment back then, and it was all pretty janky.”

Some of the changes fans disparaged were dialogue revisions, or mistranslations that led to inconsistencies in the story. A lot of those modifications were to help American audiences transition into fans, and some were to curb the violence and raunchy humor. These days, the series is much more faithful to the original – a fact that Sabat is proud of.

“Most of what Funimation does now is try to maintain the original essence of any property. The scripts are well-written by experienced writers who truly understand Japanese terminology. With Dragon Ball, we do that too, but part of the fun with that show is we’re sort of able to play around with subtle changes.”

At Awesome Con, Sabat won’t be jeered at, as those days are long in the past. And while most patrons will ask for mundane catchphrases he’s uttered thousands of times at countless conventions, he’ll still maintain a chuckle – and a growl.

Awesome Con will be held at the Washington Convention center on June 16-18. Tickets for the weekend are $75; day pass prices vary.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center: 801 Mt. Vernon Pl. NW, DC; 202-249-3000; www.awesome-con.com 

Photo: Bryanda Minix
Photo: Bryanda Minix

Scena Theatre Presents ‘Fear Eats the Soul’

A German cleaning woman falls in love with a Moroccan immigrant and everyone turns out to be racist. Sound timely?

This is actually the plot of 1970s cult-favorite film, Fear Eats the Soul, directed by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Scena Theatre is showcasing a theater adaptation of the film, directed by Robert McNamara, until June 4 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Scena specializes in international performances, and they’ve successfully tackled Fassbinder’s eccentric work before.

Although the dialogue leaves something to be desired – who knew Arabs flirt in third person? – the play is frightening in its relevance. At a time when social media feeds are saturated with rants about the cultural assimilation – or lack of it – of Arabs in Europe, this production is a worthy reminder that the excuses may change, but hating the presence of Arabs in Western countries is one vintage trend that won’t go away.

Fear Eats the Soul grapples with multiple issues. Not only is Ali (Oscar Ceville) a Moroccan guest worker in Germany, but he is 20 years younger than Emmi (Nanna Ingvarsson.) After they meet, fall in love and marry, Emmi’s family and coworkers react venomously, shunning the new couple. To regain everyone’s favor, Emmi internalizes society’s malicious behavior and directs it toward Ali. As the outside world tears away at them for being together, they begin to question why they fell in love at all.

“We’re all human and trying the best that we can,” Ingvarsson says. “And opening yourself up to another human being is a brave act. And there should maybe be a little bit more of that.”

While Ali deals with dehumanizing stereotypes about Arabs and immigrants, Emmi must contend with iron-clad notions of what women her age should and shouldn’t be doing.

“[It’s] not just that she’s involved with a foreigner, but that she has the audacity as a senior citizen to let herself fall in love against all of her family and coworkers’ objections, and that kind of thing,” Ingvarsson says. “And she finds someone who understands her, someone she can talk to, someone she can be herself with. And I don’t think you see a lot of that represented for women of a certain age.”

Although Ingvarsson is not as old as the character portrayed, she uses her personal experience to get into character. After Ingvarsson’s grandfather went blind from diabetes, her mother and grandmother had to make ends meet.

“There’s a mentality among those women where you just have to get the job done,” she says. “So, I think I’m sort of channeling the kind of attitude of a certain European woman at that time because I grew up with it, so I take a lot from that.”

Set in a post-WWII Germany, Fear Eats the Soul serves as a reminder that one dead “Aryan” dictator does not a post-racial society make. Emmi frequently touts her family’s connection to and involvement in “The Party.” Despite its age, Fear Eats the Soul has remained as relevant as the racism it depicts.

Supporting actors, many of whom navigated several roles in the production, provide a barrage of the host country’s views on its guest workers: Arabs are lazy, obsessed with women and/or steal everyone’s jobs. That the play occurs in Germany specifically makes the echoes of our modern news broadcasts even more profound.

“[The play] doesn’t give a big political diatribe on any of it, but it just shows a microcosm of how it is in modern, regular, daily life,” Ingvarsson says. 

Scena Theatre is performing Fear Eats the Soul at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15-$45 and can be purchased on Scena’s website.

Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St NE, DC; 202-399-7993 http://www.atlasarts.org/

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Why Do They Fight? Motive and Murder in ‘Macbeth’

In Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Macbeth, machetes and machine guns replace broadswords and daggers, while characters wear military fatigues rather than kilts and ruffs. The spare and stunning set, designed by John Coyne and Colin K. Bills, uses towering columns of color-changing neon to create mood and define space. Perhaps most provocative, the witches have transformed into intelligence officers, feeding Macbeth the information that incites his every violent act.

“If you’re going to do this play, [then] challenge the audience to say, ‘This isn’t them, it’s us,’” explains McKinley Belcher III, who plays Banquo, Macbeth’s trusted friend who falls victim to his hunger for power.

Director Liesl Tommy and her team of production designers updated the look and feel of the play, at Shakespeare’s Sidney Harman Hall through May 28, to provide commentary on mankind’s lust for violence.

“Unfortunately, bloodshed has been a way of the world,” says Marcus Naylor, who plays Macduff, the man ultimately responsible for the end of Macbeth’s reign. “The ones who have the bigger guns and more money will go and take, but when people believe in a higher thing, be it God or whatever your thing is, they will fight to the death.”

From the prologue battle scene involving nearly the entire cast to individual assassinations, the fight scenes in this production are elaborate and unnerving. Choreographed by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelley-Sordelet, each fight pushes the envelope.

“One thing that Rick said very early on is that there are tons of fight choreographers who can choreograph a safe fight, but the audience will never for a second believe that they were fighting,” Naylor says. “Our job is to sell that illusion, but to sell it safely.”

Belcher explains, “They build each fight based on the actors’ bodies. One thing I haven’t seen a lot in fights I’ve done in other places is the trust between [Liesl] and Christian and Rick. It’s not like the storytelling stops when we start fighting.”

Naylor adds, “With Rick, what I love about him is that he does his work from an actor’s point of view. He understands the actor’s process, if you will, which helps us to relax.”

Preparation involved two weeks of intensive boot camp, teaching the actors how to move as inspired by modern military tactics.

“Once we had that foundation laid, we started putting together fights based on what the character’s experience level would be, how athletic he would be, and the demands of the storytelling that Shakespeare wrote,” says Corey Allen, who plays Malcolm, heir to the throne.

He also served as fight captain for the production.

“There’s a lot of interpersonal conflict,” Allen says. “There’s the state versus the rebels, there’s husband versus wife, adults killing children. We had to figure out a vocabulary of movement for each of those things.”

The Sordelets established the moves and stayed through tech, then Allen took over to ensure the integrity of the choreography and to keep the actors safe.

“Because we’re using knives and machetes, and there are punches and slaps in the play, if we’re not constantly making sure we’re doing the choreography exactly as it was [designed], you run the risk of getting injured,” Allen says. “Early on, Macbeth actually was stabbed in an accident while we’re rehearsing.”

Yes, the blades are real. Dulled, but real.

“If it’s a competition between a [body] and a knife, the knife will always win,” says Belcher, laughing.

He then continues, “My favorite fight in this show is the one I have with my son. It’s just a little hand-to-hand wrestling. What I like about working with Christian is that it’s always rooted in the story…you get to see a tender moment between father and son. You see both instruction – him having fun – but also trying to prepare him for a world that he’s going to have to enter, eventually. It’s exciting to me because it’s not something that’s necessarily fully [brought] out in Shakespeare’s play, but we get to sort of open their daily lives to the audience. They get to see who [the characters really] are.”

When Belcher’s character, Banquo, is brutally murdered by child soldiers under the orders of a paranoid Macbeth, his bloody ghost follows the instigator and once dear friend throughout the remainder of the play, torturing him with blame and guilt.

“So much of [the violence] is cause and effect, protecting one’s legacy, and unfortunately, death is a part of the resurrection of what has to take place,” Naylor says. “For example, there is so much that has to happen for Malcolm to become king. It’s justifiable in that way.”

“It’s an interesting thing to think about war,” Allen says. “Why does each man fight?”

“Macbeth is fighting for power and to move up the ladder, while Banquo is fighting to protect his child – to make a world where his child can be safe,” Belcher adds.

“Even the character of Malcolm, who is sheltered, is spurned,” Naylor says. “What maybe he was protected from at one time – that thing in him, that killer in him – has to give birth to the thing that is in man. It is in mankind.”

“Liesl did a great job of teasing out each [man’s] story,” he continues. “Violence ricochets throughout the play. When Macbeth comes into power, he has a staff of three people at his house who continue to work for him. His relationship with them changes [throughout the story]. It becomes more violent. The more paranoid he becomes, the more abusive he becomes. The relationship with his wife becomes more violent, and although they don’t strike one another, the way they interact with each other becomes more violent.”

Naylor also describes the sobering existence of child soldiers in the play, who start out as “goofy kids, and in the course of two hours, they become like jackals, killers. The exposure to violence can completely alter the course of a person’s life. I think that’s what this play is about. Our director was committed to not shy away from any of that.”

Allen adds, “I think it would be irresponsible to not comment on the current political climate that we find ourselves in, not to say that this production is directly a result of that. It’s interesting to be doing this play in Washington, DC, where there is so much uncertainty. And so much of the language in the play sounds like it could have been written by someone today. We’re talking about what leadership is, what ambition is, what betrayal is, what it means to be an upright person who will stand up even if you lose your life for what you think is right. That’s reason enough for people to be in the seats watching. Shakespeare wrote this play a long time ago, but there’s a lot for us to mine.”

“I hope audiences are thinking, ‘What is my social responsibility?’” Belcher says, “and just being more vigilant about holding our leaders responsible.”

Macbeth runs through May 28 at Sidney Harman Hall, across from the Gallery Place Metro stop. Tickets are available here.

Shakespeare Theatre: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-3230; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: newmusictheatre.org
Photo: newmusictheatre.org

The Sounds of Surveillance

When an authoritarian regime spies on its citizens, what sound does it make? According to George Orwell, that sound is the background noise from a telescreen. For Margaret Atwood, it’s blessings from an ambiguous but menacing religion. And for the Alliance of New Music-Theatre’s interpretation of Protest, totalitarianism can sound a lot like the echo of Dupont Circle traffic.

Alliance is currently performing the famous play written by Václav Havel, former political prisoner – and Czechoslovakia’s last president and the Czech Republic’s first president – in Dupont Underground through May 21. One of DC’s best-kept secrets, Dupont Underground is a public arts space that served as a streetcar station until 1962.

Because Protest has such a long history of censorship, the subterranean setting was phenomenal. Audience members accessed the space by descending under Dupont Circle from an easily-missed entrance. Lit by only a few glowing lights, the drop in temperature was sudden and significant. Viewers made their way down the winding tunnel to reach the stage, passing by a makeshift bar and graffiti-covered walls.

Protest marks the cavernous art space’s first play, and in the repurposed labyrinth, car horns and sirens play a much more sinister role. The echoes bouncing off concrete walls in the underground tunnels have each character darting nervous looks over their shoulders as they discuss – and avoid discussing – their political situation. According to Alliance’s Artistic Director, Susan Galbraith, the venue plays as much of a role in the performance as the actors do.

“One night, we had helicopters circling throughout the performance so they [emphasized] the danger that the [characters] lived under surveillance all the time,” Galbraith said. “So, it does change the performance enormously, but I also think sometimes it can get so quiet. And we can still feel that immediacy, intimacy and internal monologue.”

Protest depicts an encounter between a formerly jailed activist, Vaněk (Drew Valins), and a wealthy man who has invited him over, Staněk (David Millstone). Staněk needs Vaněk’s help releasing his daughter’s fiancé from political prison, while Vaněk needs Staněk’s influential signature on a petition. Both characters need something from one another, yet the constant surveillance under which they live requires them to perform an elaborate and awkward dance of small talk.

After his imprisonment for defending a radical punk band’s creative freedom, Havel’s plays were banned from public performance. But that didn’t stop the revolutionary. His plays became known as “apartment plays,” performed for private audiences. With Havel often playing his everyman alter-ego, Vaněk, the two-character play became known for its sense of urgency and claustrophobia. In addition to the venue itself, Dupont Circle contributes to the message of the play as well.

“Dupont Circle has been a place of ferment and social movements in Washington,” Galbraith said. “In my time, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the transgender movement, the climate movement now – all of these things – [are] thrilling to me. There’s something happening upstairs that feeds this down here. So, I’m hoping all of our pieces will have that dimension.”

But the ever-present threat of surveillance and political turmoil isn’t the only familiar aspect of the play. Toward the end of the hour plus-long production, Staněk must battle himself as much as Vaněk battles the repressive regime.

In a fierce monologue, Staněk weighs the pros and cons of signing the petition. Is the loss of social status worth a clear conscience, or should protest be left to the known dissidents? As Staněk’s desire for revolution collides with his lofty reputation, Protest reminds its audience that regardless of social status, we the privileged share a responsibility to incite change.

“Now, more and more people are talking about Havel,” Galbraith said. “One guy who came to our show held up a picture of a poster in one of these marches in Seattle. It said, ‘Where is Václav Havel now?’ So, I think there is this feeling of, ‘Where is he now? Where is that voice? Where is the voice of total morality and challenge to us?’ And we’re looking for the leaders, hopefully not to just do it for us.”

Catch performances of Protest at Dupont Underground on May 19 at 7:30 p.m., May 20 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and May 21 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$30 and can be purchased on Dupont Underground’s website.

Dupont Underground: 1500 19th St. NW, DC; www.dupontunderground.org

Broadway in Bethesda (40)

Broadway in Bethesda

Broadway in Bethesda: Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen featured a unique blend of songs, stories of his life, a tribute to Broadway and more. Guests also enjoyed an opening performance by the winner of the Bernard/Ebb Songwriting Award and a live auction followed by a festive dessert reception with an open bar in Round House’s theater lobby. Photos: Gevar Bonham

Dreamscape (83)

DREAMScape Afterparty at Mulebone

Guests enjoyed DREAMScape at Lincoln Theatre and then headed over to Mulebone for the afterparty. The evening was hosted by television personality Paul Wharton and guests enjoyed  a vibrant “FAME” themed party scene, with Debbie Allen, dance artists and other celebs, open bar and DJ. Photos: Tatiana Herrera