Romeo & Juliet Lansburgh Theatre (3)

Romeo and Juliet at Lansburgh Theatre

Romeo and Juliet after show happy hour on Friday, October 14, 2016 at Lansburgh Theatre, DC.

Secret Garden
Graphic Courtesy: Shakespeare Theatre

Shakespeare Theatre Cultivates Shorter, More Dynamic “Secret Garden”

In an all too familiar story of loss and grief, imagination and hope, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden, which is co-produced with 5th Avenue Theatre Company of Seattle, will take you through a season of emotions. With an all-star cast and accomplished director David Armstrong at the helm, the performance is sure to resonate with audiences ranging from young to old, while awakening a newfound taste for imagination in all.
When Mary Lennox loses her parents at the age of 10 and is sent to live with her reclusive and widowed uncle, she finds herself lost in the midst of grief and hardship, until she discovers a garden hidden within the walls of her late aunt’s property. By going here to escape, Mary reawakens her imagination and discovers a joyful world where she finds reprieve from a reality laden with suffering.

David Armstrong, Artistic Director of 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, shared a little insight on his relationship with the musical and what the audience can expect with this production.
He is no stranger to the stage or to The Secret Garden, having directed the musical himself, and upon seeing the original Broadway production, has a firm grasp on his approach to the show. He says this time around, the show will be shorter and more streamlined than his previous productions, and despite having additional songs, it will tell the story more efficiently.

“It’s better to have a shorter show that gets right to the message than a longer one that drags on,” he says. “You want to capture your audience, not lose them.”

Armstrong believes The Secret Garden has one of the most beautiful scores written for musical theatre, and he’s excited to share it with the DC community, especially through some of the most talented actors from the DMV, Seattle and even London, like Michael Xavier, who just appeared opposite Glen Close in Sunset Boulevard. “The Secret Garden will be his US debut, so it’s very exciting,” he adds.

When asked how he’d like the audience to react to the show, Armstrong replied, “Well, first, I want them to cry [laughs]. Not from sadness, but from tears of joy from vicariously experiencing how a young girl emerges through trauma, anxiety and pain, and comes back to life.”

Armstrong ensures that, although The Secret Garden has melancholic undertones, the audience won’t leave the theatre feeling low.

“I shall see you in the garden, and spring will come and stay,” a key lyric in the musical and the show’s tagline, assures the audiences that there is hope, even in the most isolating of times.
“The garden is a metaphor that we [as humans] all have in us. It’s a place to find peace and love and joy.”

The Secret Garden opens November 15 and runs through December 31. Tickets are $59-$118.

Shakespeare Theatre Company: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Mosaic Theatre

Spurring Social Change Via the Stage: Mosaic Theatre

Mosaic Theater Company prides itself on being innovative, inclusive, diverse and, most importantly, uncensored. Although Mosaic is a relatively new company, it is comprised of professionals who are no strangers to taking theatrical risks in the name of social change. In an effort to bridge gaps within the DC community, Mosaic’s mission is to make their theater a “model of diversity and inclusion at every strata, onstage and off.”
On Tap had the opportunity to chat with Mosaic’s founding artistic director, Ari Roth, and resident director, Jennifer L. Nelson, to get the inside scoop on the creation of Mosaic and their upcoming production of Milk Like Sugar.
On Tap: Tell me a little bit about Mosaic Theater. It’s a relatively new company. What prompted its creation?
Ari Roth: We came together to create a new theater company dedicated to values of inclusion, diversity, equity and access, and devoted to programming that’s independent, intercultural, entertaining and uncensored. We’re striving to bring different communities together here in Northeast DC in the interests of creating a new fusion of passionate art enthusiasts and engaged citizens committed to public discourse informed by dramatic, personal stories.
OT: Why does Mosaic focus primarily on social change?
AR: We believe that art can transform consciousness and promote awareness and understanding, and little by little, person by person, and group by group, may be able to change the world. We believe theater is the most immediate, intimate, personalized and public kind of artistic transmission, fusing so many disciplines into something visceral, emotional, intellectual, visual and energizing.
OT: Milk Like Sugar, directed by Jennifer L. Nelson, opens in November. What are you looking forward to most about producing this play?
AR: I want to see a group of young women kicking ass in this play. I want to see them hitting back out at a society that marginalizes and dismisses so many of their dramas as being small and insubstantial. I want to emerge from this play with a sense that vibrant, flawed, fascinating, vital and vulnerable young women are the key to our future and that everything hangs in the balance with their fate.
OT: How do you connect with Milk Like Sugar, and why are you looking forward to directing it? 
Jennifer Nelson: There is little in the MLS details that I personally connect to: I grew up in a stable two-parent home where education and culture were prized above all. Perhaps that is why I am so moved by stories of those who have little or no supportive family life — particularly girls whose vision of themselves goes no further than those of the characters in the play. The play, on the other hand, gives us a chance to see how girls of limited means see themselves and their futures; and how once challenged and presented with other possibilities, their minds begin to open.
OT: How are you hoping “Milk Like Sugar” impacts your audience, and what message are you hoping to translate to the viewers? 
AR: We want laughter, tears, exhilaration, rapt attention, shock and some unexpected uplift and admiration. We need to emerge from this show trusting that our young women can be empowered to figure out how to forge ahead even when carrying burdens of their own, and of their family’s and society’s, making.
JN: The message is that in spite of poverty and limited education, the human spirit yearns for and responds to hope.
OT: What type of conversations are you hoping to spark within the community in response to this play?
AR: There’s a new initiative that’s been launched by the President and First Lady called “Let Girls Learn” that’s designed to help adolescent girls attain a quality education and enable them to reach their full potential. I’d like to see us tap into that huge community right here in our DC schools and neighborhoods. This play is about strong young girls being made vulnerable and vulnerable young girls becoming strong.
Mosaic Theater Company is setting out to change the world, and they’re starting right here in DC. Their second show of Season Two, Milk Like Sugar, by Kirsten Greenidge, which won the Playwriting Obie Award in 2012 and the San Diego Critics Circle Craig Award for Outstanding New Play in 2011, runs from November 2-27. Tickets are $20-$35.
Mosaic Theater Company: 1333 H St. NE, DC; 202-399-7993; www.mosaictheater.org
Curious Incident
Photo/artwork credits: Adam Langdon (center) stars in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

‘Curious Incident’ is a Certain Success

A play is often like looking through a window yielding the experiences of the characters within the story, but The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time takes its audience deeper than that. The show, a winner of five Tony Awards including Best Play in 2015, proves a mesmerizing and thoughtful look into the mind of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, an autistic teenager who goes about trying to solve the mysterious death of his neighbor’s dead dog.

Immediately upon entering the theater, you know this is a different experience. The set primarily consists of three walls featuring grid-like squares and white boxes around the base. A few knickknacks are strewn across the stage, but in the middle is the remains of a dead dog, including a pitchfork poling out of its side. This bare bones design is contrasted by the loud music and strobe lighting signaling the beginning of the play, a purposeful sensory overload during the introduction of Christopher (Adam Langdon) and his discovery of the pet’s corpse.

The booming features, which occur numerous times throughout the performance illicit the multiple instances of Christopher feeling overwhelmed; these are brilliantly choreographed by director Marianne Elliott, who earned one of those Tony Awards for best director. It’s easy to see why she garnered the accolade, as Elliott constructs this story in a way which allows the audience to truly sympathize with the protagonists struggles.

This is helped by the set design. We quickly learn that the grids on the wall can be lighten up with individual dots, and that projectors help show examples of Christopher working out problems. The below the line work on the performance is easily some of the most impressive I’ve seen in a stage play.

But of course, as much as the lights and direction help this play succeed, the story must pull its weight as well, and it does in spades. We quickly learn Christopher experiences a mild case of autism, which allows him to understand basics and excel in school, but this doesn’t mean things are easy for him or his father (Gene Gillette), who is raising him alone.

The physical dog quickly turns into a McGuffin as the true crux of the story is found in the internal struggles of this family: how they must trust each other and learn to effectively communicate even though there is a tremendous barrier between them that is nearly impossible to overcome. However, as Christopher’s teacher Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez) helps him learn, the ability to focus on projects and little details is how they can effectively go about solving problems.

It was a great but rewarding risk to have the protagonist of this story be Christopher rather than his parents or his teacher. It reminds us that we can’t assume someone isn’t capable of performing tasks simply because we don’t understand them, just that it may be difficult and we need to be patient and caring.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a beautiful creation of body and soul. A stellar production that will leave you in awe of what can be accomplished on the stage, and hopeful from the story that played out on it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is currently playing at the Kennedy Center and will continue its run through Oct. 23.

Photo/artwork credits: Adam Langdon (center) stars in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Song Wenjing

Artist Song Wenjing makes US debut in Arlington

When I was in a Texas mandatory middle school art class, I hated calligraphy. Something about the way you had to hold the pen made it difficult for me to grasp (pun intended), and the work I turned in never appeared in my portfolio, which honestly consisted of rehashed anime drawings and dope charcoal paintings.

For Song Wenjing, calligraphy is his masterpiece. The Chinese artist has racked up numerous accolades for his work, and has also dabbled in producing beautiful watercolor paintings to adorn his remarkable penmanship. In China, unlike my southern classroom, calligraphy is not only a form of art, but as influential as poetry, traditional paintings or architecture, if not more so.

This week, on October 21-23, Wenjing’s art will be on display at the Ritz Carlton in Arlington during his Art of Heart exhibition. Through a translator, On Tap Magazine was able to speak to the internationally renowned artist about his work, his inspirations and his first US gallery.

On Tap: How did you discover calligraphy, and were you always good at the art?
Song Wenjing: My dad’s older brother Mr.  Song Dachen was a graduate of Huangpu Military Academy (the equivalent of West Point of China) and is a great calligrapher.  I learned from him while he was not noticing.

From elementary school to university, I became well-known for all of the public posters and blackboards I drew.  Among my influencers there are my high school teacher Mr. Du Xijin and many folk artists. In other words, I started a love affair with painting since very early on, it was sort of a forbidden love and nobody understood what art meant. Not until 1976 did I realize that art has historical roots and traditions.

OT: Do you experiment in other forms of art?
SW: Calligraphy and Chinese painting are my all-time favorite.  Calligraphy and painting cultivate aspiration, pen and ink nurture emotions.  Other than that, I like seal carving, paper cutting, paperback design, and I am obsessed with Peking Opera, drama and crosstalk.  Also, I am passionate about Chinese folk art and engraved print, both Chinese and foreign, such as collectable book labels. I believe in the connectivity and fascinating internal logic. China has rich folk arts that intrigue me constantly.

OT: How much time do you spend on each piece?
SW: It varies by the number of characters, size of the painting and complexity of the techniques applied.  It can be from a few hours to a few days.  For watercolor painting, I like to go into the wilderness and paint live. The conditions can be tough, but my heart is filled with joy and passion.

For calligraphy, it has to be done indoors, where the calligrapher and his studio come together. Sun shines through the window, quality writing tools are displayed in perfect condition and the ambience triggers ripples of thoughts that go back several hundred years. A piece of work may seem simple, but the diligent practice requires at least 10 years.

OT: Are you from an artistic family? Describe your family’s role in your art work?
SW: I cannot say that my family is artistic, but all the members aspire to love art and culture.  My parental and maternal grandmothers were both good at needlework, which is a type of life art.  Dad is a man with many artistic and sports hobbies, he was my first educator who opened up my eyes for Chinese classical literature, through teaching me the relationships and poems from The Dream of the Red Chamber.

Other relatives are also enthusiastic fans of painting, calligraphy, drama and singing. My twin daughters, Han Er and Lu Er, carry the family torch and studied Western Art History at Central Academy of Arts and Fudan University, both graduated with Master’s Degrees. I am content to pass on art and poetry as our family legacy.

OT: Where do you get inspiration? Are there other artists you look to, or something completely unrelated?
SW: Life throws us different emotions and feelings- happiness, grievances, sadness, longing, yearning, admirations, heart-breaking, etc. All of them trigger art impulses and blend into the form of calligraphy and painting.

I also admire many Chinese artists, including Yan Zhenjing from Tang, Su Dongpo from Song, eight mountain masters fro Qing and Qi Baishi in contemporary time. They both exhibit virtuous personality and classic artistic concepts. I will spend the whole life learning from them. I am also a fan of several American artists, including humorous Rockville, stone-cold Weiss, and the creative Andy Warhol. Many contemporary rising stars also give me inspiration.

OT: How excited are you to bring your work to the United States?
SW: Since the end of last year, I had been contemplating a personal exhibition in the US. My objective is to “be different”—different from my previous exhibitions, discovering new ways to display Chinese traditional art, and creating more “Aha” moments both by the art forms and content. Certainly, the center of such efforts should be a unique personal style.

I have huge expectations for this show, for which I hand picked 30 pieces from 60 master works I did over the past few years. I look forward to meeting American art lovers and brainstorming.

OT: What are you working on now?
SW: Three things. First, promoting my US exhibition and Peking University exhibition, select works and prepare pamphlets. Second, visiting my twin daughters who are exchanging at Taiwan Normal University, while touring a few museums and former residences. Last, my recent life painting at Shanxi Hequ left countless thoughts about calligraphy and life. Painting has become part of my life, my bloodline and my soul. It is our collective culture tradition and my personal study blended together, which stimulates me to change and progress day by day.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Art of Heart is held from October 21-23. From noon-5 p.m. on Friday; 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Saturday; and 11 a.m to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Wenjing will be present throughout the exhibition. The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City: 1250 S Hayes St., Arlington, VA; 703-415-5000; www.hurrahmarketing.com/productions/song-wenjing/

Trevor Noah
Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Trevor Noah: Beyond Politics

We have just about a month left in this presidential election – thankfully. Last Friday was the perfect time for Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, to descend upon our nation’s capital to sum up all the shenanigans involved. However, his one night stand-up special at the Kennedy Center, which sold out fast enough to demand a second show, was at its strongest when he left American politics to the side and instead shared his unique worldviews.

That is not to say that Noah does not capture the ridiculousness of this election in humorous styles – his comparison of Trump to a toddler, and the fact that he hates toddlers more than anything, was accurate and insightful. But ever since Trump descended from that escalator almost a year and a half ago declaring his entry into the presidential race, every facet of his campaign has been cake for comedians, including Noah and his The Daily Show predecessor Jon Stewart. People laugh, but few of the jokes being offered are anything new, by Noah or any other comedian.

The big laughs for Noah came after he got in the obligatory jokes on the Republican nominee, when, like with some of his most memorable stuff from his year on The Daily Show, he is able to bring his outsider view to us inside the Beltway.

Noah has had the great experience of performing his comedy all over the world, and it is what he takes from not only these cultures, but their history, that made this set truly work. Despite having a regular spot on late night television here in the U.S., it is clear that he is at his best when he is talking about the world at large, not just America.

This is evident in his funniest bit of the night, when he did a version of how British colonialism might have first played out. It is a four or five-minute bit where he goes back and forth between a British soldier claiming India for his Queen, and a native Indian who he portrays as indifferent to England’s claim. In it, he covers a country’s self image, religion and the general absurdity that is history in itself.

Not only has his perspective benefited from his travels around the world, but he has also proved himself quite the adept impersonator, nailing accents from Scottish to Russian. Not to mention, he does a killer Nelson Mandela impression.

His role as host of The Daily Show may pay the bills Monday through Thursday, but it is clear that he is completely at home on the stage in front of a crowd of hundreds. And while politics might be the bread and butter of what he does on TV, Noah’s true voice comes from being our medium to the rest of the world.

Learn more about the comedian at www.trevornoah.com.

Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Sense & Sensibility
Photo: Teresa Wood

Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility Revamped for the 21st Century

Some would argue that Jane Austen is quite witty – funny even, drawing readers into the slightly nuanced world of her characters as they navigate the perils of shifting social status, always taking a painfully long time to declare one’s feelings to the object of their desire. Others may not appreciate the subtleties of Austen’s dry humor, or have not yet had the chance to experience it. This fall, Folger Theatre is offering Austen addicts and newbies alike the opportunity to delve into the lives of the Dashwood family in Sense & Sensibility, playing through November 6.

Folger’s production of one of Austen’s most famous stories is true to her novel, while also invoking the cleverness and charm of the 1995 film (which you should absolutely see if you’re a fan of Alan Rickman or Kate Winslet, or if you just want to see Hugh Grant in perhaps his doofiest moments onscreen). Moreover, the play adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by Eric Tucker is an energetic romp from start to finish, packed with physical comedy, constantly changing roles and fluid stage direction that keeps the audience on their toes.

For those unfamiliar, the story follows the struggles of the elder Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, after their father passes away and their family is forced to move to a cottage in the country. The reserved Elinor, played by graceful Brooklyn-based actress Maggie McDowell, pines for the endearingly awkward Edward Ferrars, played by area actor Jamie Smithson. Meanwhile, headstrong and passionate Marianne (Erin Weaver) is caught in a love triangle between Willoughby (1811’s equivalent of a heartthrob played by Jacob Fishel) and the much older, more experienced Colonel Brandon (played by James Patrick Nelson).

Tucker’s production opens with the actors interacting with the audience, then suddenly breaking into contemporary dance with some kind of electronica playing in the background. The cast switches gears completely in a matter of seconds when 19th-century music begins to play and a formal dance from the time period ensues. Nearly half the cast picks up other roles throughout the play, sometimes in the same scene, resulting in hilarity when several actors play horses – one was even pet by an audience member – and a rather ditsy woman sporting a tiara. Some of the best role-changing moments occur when multiple actors (Lisa Birnbaum and Kathryn Tkel in particular) play two characters simultaneously, pushed across the room on rolling chairs to immediately transform into the other character conversing with the first.

It was immediately apparent to this reviewer that the cast was having an enormous amount of fun onstage, exuding a level of energy and excitement that was infectious to the audience, especially in such an intimate space as the Folger. And though the comedic timing was impeccable and the wit turned up to full throttle, the more serious and heartfelt moments of the play remained intact, with beautiful performances from the actors – McDowell, Smithson, Nelson and Weaver in particular. The raw emotion conveyed by each actor was palpable, striking a chord with anyone in the audience who has been on the receiving end of heartbreak or even worse, the purgatory we wait in when the object of our affection hasn’t made up their mind or declared their intentions.

When speaking with McDowell about the quiet composure that Elinor maintains until the final moments of the play, the actress says her character is the kind of woman who cares so much about everyone else that she is willing to put her own feelings last. And because McDowell is part of an ensemble cast, she says it’s easy for her to translate wanting to do right by her fellow actors to taking care of her family and the people she loves in the play.

 “Wanting to do a good job as an actor and a castmate easily connects me to the weight of responsibility that I think Elinor feels sometimes,” she says.

Smithson shares McDowell’s view of the cast as an onstage family, and says it’s easy to fall in love with the actress every night because “she’s such a beautiful spirit and beautiful human being.” As for channeling his inner Edward, it’s a no-brainer.

“That awkward loser is me,” he says with charming self-deprecation. “At my prom, I think I was sitting by myself in the limo.”

And it’s that element of humanity that Smithson says is the reason why theatergoers need to see this production.

“They’ll see themselves onstage,” he says. “They’ll see their own relationships. I think the magic of the theater is brought to life with this piece. With my whole being, I say come to this show.”

Plus, he says dudes will score major points with their ladies for seeing Sense & Sensibility on date night.

“I can guarantee it.”

Whether you’re looking for an excellent date night option or just an authentic theatergoing experience, don’t miss the opportunity to see this refreshingly engaging play at Folger. Sense & Sensibility runs through November 6, and tickets are $30-$75. Check Folger’s website for 30 and under discounts.
Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-544-4600;  www.folger.edu/folger-theatre

Photo: Teresa Wood

DC Theatre Season
Photos courtesy of respective venues, performances

Press Play on DC Theatre

It’s easy to press play nowadays. We sit back on our couches, put our feet up – perhaps snuggled with our significant other – and press the button. Some of these “play” buttons are on our phones, console controllers, the space bar or, if you’re old-fashioned, a remote. While there’s no shame in sitting in front of a screen, there’s still something magical about seeing actions in front of your face. The experience goes beyond HD, no matter how large your screen. So while you’re contemplating whether to use Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime, think beyond the living room and venture out to one of your local theaters. Don’t know what to see? Here are some of On Tap’s top picks for the 2016-2017 season.

SEPTEMBER
The Little Foxes
Greed is one of the many roots of all evil, a motivation which makes seemingly good people take drastic measures to better themselves through money or power. The Little Foxes is all about greed, as it focuses on three siblings battling for control of their local cotton mill. Family members plotting against family members in an all-out conquest for resources, the performance will give audiences an opportunity to watch up-close representation of calculating efforts to backstab and other various devious schemes. The show stars two-time Emmy Award winner Marg Helgenberger, famous for her work in CSI as Regina Giddens. Edward Gero will act opposite of the television notable, and believes the classic play is relevant for the audiences of today: “It’s a great American melodrama with a backstabbing family, and it feels very contemporary. It’s instructive about the way in which we live.” The show runs from September 23 to October 30, and tickets start at $55. Check the website for first-come, first-served Pay Your Age tickets for the 30 and under crowd. Post-show discussions will be held on October 11, 12, 18, 26 and 27.   Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC;www.arenastage.org

OCTOBER
The Long Way Around
As an integral part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, The Long Way Around is a tale about the “free-spirited” Addie, who is faced with making a tough decision on whether to move to the big city of Chicago, where she can live freely as a lesbian, or to remain shackled to her parents’ zip code coupled with a dishonest relationship with her husband Nathan. When faced with any move, people typically build a pros and cons list, but this play is meant to evoke the very difficult questions faced by members of the LGBTQ community when faced with life-altering decisions, with any finality undoubtedly leaving someone unhappy. The play is the spawn of Julia Starr, a senior at Stanford University, where she serves as executive producer of Ram’s Head Theatrical Society. She has gathered a number of accolades in her young career, including awards from Columbia College Chicago and Scholastic. The show runs from October 9 to 25; tickets are $25.  The Highwood Theatre: 914 Silver Spring Ave. #102, Silver Spring, MD; www.thehighwoodtheatre.org

NOVEMBER
A View from the Bridge
The title A View from the Bridge sounds ominous. Perhaps that was intended, as this play directed by internationally celebrated Ivo Van Hove is a passionate tale of family, love and duplicity, set in 1950s America. The narrative follows Eddie Carbone, a man infatuated with his 17-year old niece Catherine. When she develops a relationship with another man outside of their family, Carbone becomes unhinged in a dangerous manner. Kennedy Center is presenting this play in association with the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, and Douglas Baker, the group’s producing director, expects people to get goosebumps: “Thrills and chills. This production will leave you gasping for breath.” The show runs from November 18 to December 3. Ticket prices range from $45-$119.  The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

DECEMBER
Titanic: The Musical
James Cameron’s 1997 film has been dissected and discussed at length since Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s gut-wrenching performances as Jack and Rose, respectively. With almost 20 years of retrospective takes, the film has been replayed on TV, re-released and adapted. One of the latter is the Tony Award-winning best musical, Titanic: The Musical, which comes to the DMV in December. If you ever watched the film and thought, “Why doesn’t Leo sing more?” then this is essentially your chance to have those waning ideas become a vivid reality, minus DiCaprio, as he’s likely hurting his body in some inconceivable manner in an attempt to pick up another acting accolade. Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer plans to plop audiences in the middle of this unyielding love story, while giving attendees a 180-degree taste of the most famous cruise ship in history. Performances run from December 13 to January 29; check website for ticket details and information about $22 and $40 ticket opportunities. Discussion nights on January 4 and 10.  Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

JANUARY
Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies
Art is often a representation and reflection of the time from which it was spawned. Whether it be a critique or an accurate depiction through different mediums, any particular piece can offer some information – either subtly or overtly – about the society its creator was dealing with. Terrance Arvelle Chisholm’s Hooded carries this same weight, as it follows the stories of Marquis and Tru, two different people who come in contact while being detained in a holding cell. The production is described as a dark comedy about growing up black in America, discussions of the Trayvon Martin case and being black on a privileged college campus. According to his bio, Chisholm uses theater as a filter in how he sees the world, and his interests revolve around exploring the African American experience. The Mosaic Theatre show runs from January 25 to February 19. Tickets cost $30-$60, and $20 for theatergoers 30 and under.  Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

FEBRUARY
King Charles III
Old English is a tough style to tread through, no matter how good the material. Even when plunging into classics such as Romeo and Juliet, it can be a real pain to sift through the words to get to the heart of the subject matter. However, there exists a gleaming charm in the language, as it represents a time before our own, and makes us rethink the way we structure prose and conversation. Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) is undertaking the task of creating a contemporary work with the Shakespearean blank verse, creating a marriage of our buzzing modern world and the methodical syntax of the legendary playwright with Charles III. Set in the present, the queen has suddenly died and Prince Charles takes the throne with no idea how to rule. The play is an exploration of British democracy, and another tale of its most famous household. The show runs from February 7 to March 12. Tickets start at $44, and discounts are available for the under 35 crowd. Young Prose Night (YPN) tickets (complete with libation and post-performance party) are available for $25, and YPNs for this performance are on March 1 and 10.  STC’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC;www.shakespearetheatre.org

MARCH
Ragtime
Before jazz, there was a ragtime: a sound with various rhythms that was easy to dance to. The genre has been incorporated and kept alive by numerous jazz musicians, and in the Tony-Award winning musical of the same name. Ragtime, based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel, follows three families reaching for the American dream at the birth of the 20th century. While the show is a beacon of optimism, it also tackles the struggles people face when leaping over hurdles on the track toward the pursuit of happiness. “I hope our production stimulates conversation and incites action,” Director Peter Flynn says. “If audience members from both sides of the aisle come away saying, ‘That reminds me of…’ or ‘I need to talk to…’ then we’ve done our job.” Along the way, attendees will be serenaded by music pulsating with pure energy and melodic vocals. Ragtime runs from March 10 to May 20; check website for ticket details, and for information about the Under 35 discount.  Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC;www.fords.org

APRIL
Pike St.
Natural catastrophes are largely unavoidable; the crushing winds or enormous waves crashing down on unsuspecting, ill-prepared cities or towns is a terrible phenomenon. Whether it be hurricanes on the coast or tornadoes in the Southwest, people all over the country – and world – face battles with mother nature from time to time. Though these are largely disastrous, sometimes these encounters force people to band together and battle the elements. “[Hurricane Sandy] made me think about what neighbors do for neighbors in situations like these,” says playwright Nilaja Sun of her upcoming piece Pike St. “[The play] was born, and it’s an actual street there, so it’s a love letter to the Lower East Side and a love letter for those who band together in neighborhoods that might be forgotten.” The narrative centers around a mother working to keep her daughter’s respirator alive with a looming hurricane threatening to pull the plug, as well as a host of other neighbors. The show runs from March 27 to April 23; tickets start at $20. Check website for details on 30 and under tickets.  Woolly Mammoth Theater: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

MAY

The Arabian Nights
Originally titled One Thousand and One Nights, the collection of Middle Eastern folk tales has experienced an abundance of success with countless adaptations of what is affectionately known as The Arabian Nights. What began as a collection of stories from various authors has transformed into a revamped stage performance coming to the Constellation Theatre. “ The Arabian Nights is a great night out with something for everyone, from bawdy humor to steamy drama, [and] breathtaking visual design, dancing and live music,” says Allison Arkell Stockman, the show’s director. This is a callback performance for the company, as 10 years ago this show put them on the map, so come and enjoy the litany of stories originally penned centuries ago. The show runs from May 4 to June 4. Tickets cost $20-$45; check website for pay-what-you-can ticket information. Constellation Theatre Company: 1835 14th St. NW, DC;www.constellationtheatre.org

JUNE
Rent

This rock musical took the theater community by storm with its first Broadway production in 1996, with melodic strums and an accurate depiction of the tough lives artists lead while attempting to follow their dreams. In 1997, the show came to the National Theatre, and now it’s back in town for the 20th anniversary tour. “For the past 20 years, Rent has touched the lives of audiences around the world, from Broadway to regional productions to high school auditoriums,” says producer Stephen Gabriel. “We’re thrilled to introduce a new generation to this timeless story of love, friendship and community.” While the “starving artist” motif is perhaps a bit trite at this point, this Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning show strives to prove that people can overcome fear to maintain hope in the spirit of creativity. The show runs from June 20 to 25. Check the website for ticket information and details about Broadway at the National performances through the $25 ticket lottery.  National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

JULY
Carmen
Undoubtedly one of the most well-known operas, Carmen was first performed in Paris in 1875. To say the opera has enjoyed a long shelf life is an understatement, as the narrative is still passed around worldwide and represented in various mediums. The story of an ill-fated love triangle and the dangers of love are relatable, as most people experience some level of melancholy in dealing with the occasionally unpredictable aspects of love. With that said, it’s no surprise that Synetic Theater is taking a stab at the attractive subject matter, as the theater usually produces interesting takes on timeless classics. If you’re into watching how feelings can turn into scenarios with high stakes, this is definitely an adaptation worth catching. The show runs from July 19 to August 13. Regular tickets are $35 and up; check the website for more information. Synetic Theater: 1800 S. Bell St. Arlington, VA; www.synetictheater.org

AUGUST
Big Fish
We’ve all overexaggerated when reciting our conquests. The act isn’t exactly lying, rather a simple inflation or two to enhance the tale for our listeners. We likely learn this type of self-editing from our families, as most have heard unique stories from an elder family member. This idea of deciphering the absolute truth and the artificially inflated is a major plot point in Big Fish. The play follows Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, who captures the imagination of his audiences with captivating retellings of his life – but his son isn’t so sure about the authenticity behind his father’s words. The play is chock-full of heart and humor, and serves as a reminder of how important our family is to us. The show runs from August 5 to September 2. Tickets cost $45-$55. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS
Photos: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS Comes to the DC Area…with a Familiar Face

This month, Cirque du Soleil brings their latest production, KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities, to the DC area. Opening on July 21 at Tysons II, the production will be in town through mid-September. The steampunk show explores the curio cabinet of an inventor called The Seeker. His work defies the laws of time and space, reinventing the world into a mysterious and exciting new place where he finds inspiration.

The DMV’s own Ryan Shinji Murray helped create one of the key parts of the performance, using a brand new technology called Acro Net. Murray, who grew up in Ashton, Md., had his sights set on Cirque du Soleil for a long time. In 2009, he sent in an acrobatic reel, and much to his surprise, he heard back right away.

“They asked me to audition the next day,” he recalls. “It was amazing.”

Although at the time he wasn’t offered a position with the company, he did hear back a couple of years later, when they were developing a new show.

“I got a call from [Cirque du Soleil] asking me to work on this thing they had a really hard time describing: ‘It’s going to be a trampoline, but a trapeze net, and like Water World.’”

Murray was sold, and took part in the nine-month creation process for KURIOS. Acro Net has been his focus for the show, using a net held in place by motors rather than bungees that allows for far more tension. It’s the first time something like this has been used in the circus. Murray likens it to jumping on a trampoline with multiple people and using the collective strength of the group to launch one person into the air.

“Take that and have a bunch of professionals doing it on the most powerful piece of equipment that’s ever been built for that purpose,” he says. “It’s pretty extreme.”

Acro Net isn’t the only thing that’s unique about KURIOS by Cirque du Soleil standards. Murray points out that, unlike past shows that feature mystical and magical creatures, humans are at the very heart of the story.

“You see a lot more faces, and even when someone wears a silly costume, you can see the person behind it,” he says. “It brings a much more personal feel to the show between the performer and audience. It’s a more intimate feel for the performers on the stage.”

On top of excitement about performing in the show he helped create, Murray is thrilled to be back in the DC area. He’s spent much of the past several years on tour, making it difficult to spend time with friends and family. But being in the area for several months offers plenty of opportunities to catch up.

“I’ll really have time to connect with a lot of people I grew up with and knew as a kid,” he says. “That’s really exciting to me.”

Tickets to KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities start at $39.

Lerner Town Square at Tysons II: 8025 Galleria Dr. Tysons, VA;www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios

Performance photos: Martin Girard, shootstudio.ca
Ryan Shinji Murray photos: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

caselangveirs at Lincoln Theatre Photos Tracy Conoboy (8)

case/lang/veirs at Lincoln Theatre

Fans enjoyed a live performance by case/lang/veirs at Lincoln Theatre. Photos by Tracy Conoboy