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

Photo: Maggie Picard Photography
Photo: Maggie Picard Photography

Code It. Dance It. Technologic. Dance Place Presents Analog

The medley between humans and technology is a constantly evolving topic, with the latter continuously, seamlessly undergoing perpetual upgrades, forcing users to rethink how we approach specific tasks. Computers are unavoidable in the workspace, and everyone has buried their heads in a cell phone to conduct work, play a game or simply keep up with the Joneses.

There was no doubt Sarah Ewing would combine technology with dance at some point in her life – the only uncertainty was when. The 31-year-old Australian dancer and choreographer will unveil this brainchild with Analog, the latest production from her

project-based dance company, S.J. Ewing & Dancers. Audiences at Dance Place in Brookland will see what happens when you combine the very physical world of dance with the vast virtual plane of technology.

“I kind of found these two big things: choreography and programming,” Ewing says. “Even though they don’t seem like they should fit together, they do for me. I felt like I needed to put that onstage.”

Four dancers will congregate in the middle of the stage for the 50-minute piece, including Ewing, and surrounding them will be three projectors. Using Xbox Kinect technology and Quartz Composer, cameras will follow the movements of the individuals as they dance to the sounds of classical music, and abstract figures will be following along accordingly.

“The dancers won’t be able to exit from the sides,” Ewing says. “It’s almost as if they’re inside a cube, within the program. We’re doing work with a lot of grids, and the dancers will constantly move around the stage, but the audience will feel the movement of images as well.”

Ewing began delving into this idea about six months ago, while working with kids at DC’s CityDance conservatory. What followed was a version of the performance at The Phillips Collection.

“The timing really comes out of working on technology programs for CityDance,” she says. “I had to make a calendar app for them that had to connect payrolls, while facilitating other needs. I realized how much I loved having a grasp on the program, and figuring out the application made me appreciate the creative process of coding.”

Though formulating the steps of an intricate motion and developing steps for coding seem overtly different on the surface, Ewing insists the two share obvious similarities. Each requires thoughtful and specific directions, and each are beautiful upon completion.

“All dance steps can be put into very easily digestible directions. But, when someone acts those steps out, they become magic. Code is the same way, because it’s magical when you put in the work and see a program come to life. Making a dance and making an application are the same – you have to map out how you want it to work, how you connect different sections together and how they get information from one another.”

As for planning the motions for this particular performance, Ewing is always open to suggestions and collaborations. For an artist to truly create a masterpiece, it is imperative for them to acknowledge input and consult with other dancers.

“For me, it’s been great,” says Briana Stuart, another Analog performer. “[Sarah’s] been using me as a close friend, thinker and dancer, so I’m pretty much in her brain. I see her really trying to find this balance with the technology she wants to use and the movement she’s creating. Those are two very big things to master and balance. It’s a privilege to be someone she bounces ideas off of.”

The company had a work-in-progress showing in July, and the responses were positive, Ewing and Stuart both say.  Though technology is seen as lifeless and robotic, the audience was exceptionally emotional after the show, with some members even shedding tears.

“People were surprised at how emotional it was,” Ewing says. “They thought it would be more aesthetically pleasing, and athletic. One girl said she was crying, and was surprised it got her to that place. I hope there’s a feeling of ownership and empowerment at the end. This whole world is being created by these four people onstage, and it’s being dressed and designed by these people. There’s a lot of power in actions, so as a bigger message, I hope that comes through.”

Experience Analog at Dance Place on Saturday, August 13 at 8 p.m. or Sunday, August 14 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30.

Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; 202-269-1600;  www.danceplace.org

Photo: Maggie Picard Photography

The Phantom of the Opera - The Company performs Masquerade - photo by Alastair Muir
The Phantom of the Opera - The Company performs Masquerade - photo by Alastair Muir

The Phantom of the Opera Dazzles at Kennedy Center

Theatergoers in D.C. enjoyed a dazzling performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s  The Phantom of the Opera this past weekend. Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux,  The Phantom of the Opera tells the dark story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it. He falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to creating a new star by nurturing her extraordinary talents and by employing all of the devious methods at his command. Against the score written by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe,  Phantom is story-line spiced with moments of laughter, suspense and intense vocals and it is no wonder that this stunning story plot is the longest running musical in Broadway history.

With newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design, this new version of Phantom is performed by a stellar cast and orchestra of fifty-two, making this one of the largest productions on tour in North America.

Starring as the Phantom, Chris Mann, originally of  The Voice, brings a powerful voice and enigmatic fever to the role, and especially shines in his climactic solo, “The Point of No Return.” Kaitlyn Davis plays a gracefully and polished Christine Daaè, and sparkled in her magical solos, “Think of Me” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Finally, Storm Lineberger excels as the zealous Viscount Raoul, faithfully devoted in his beautiful duet with Christine in “All I Ask of You.” Jacquelynne Fontaine as the Prima Donna soprano Carlotta Giudicelli delivers as the perfect comedic intermediary while David Benoit as Monsieur Firmin and Price Waldman as Monsieur André also dazzle with their playful jesting.

Between the stunning scenery and orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber, this Phantom is a must-see and will leave you breathless. Click here for tickets.

Photo: The Phantom of the Opera – The Company performs Masquerade – photo by Alastair Muir

Andrew Knox, Marla Caceres, Ryan Asher, Sayjal Joshi, Tyler Davis, Ross Taylor - Photo by Scott Suchman
Andrew Knox, Marla Caceres, Ryan Asher, Sayjal Joshi, Tyler Davis, Ross Taylor - Photo by Scott Suchman

The Second City’s ‘Almost Accurate Guide to America’: A Sprint Through History

When we really think about how long the America we learned about in history class has been around, it’s just a flash in the pan of the history of the world. The six comedians in Chicago comedy group The Second City’s Almost Accurate Guide to America, playing at the Kennedy Center this month as part of the District of Comedy Festival, certainly make it feel that way, too. A smorgasbord of sketches, one-liners, improv routines and even a Hamilton parody fly at the audience in what turns out to be a hilarious – and almost tiring – show.

No sketch show ever works 100 percent of the time, but The Second City kicks off the proceedings of the show with a lot more hits than misses, touching upon and providing a satirical look at many of today’s hottest topics, including our presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees. Cast member Andrew Knox certainly must be recognized for what may be the best Trump impression I’ve seen so far in this election cycle.

The show does lose a little steam after intermission, but not for lack of trying or energy. The cast, including Knox, Ryan Asher, Marla Caceres, Tyler Davis, Sayjal Joshi and Ross Taylor, all performed tremendously. Rather, the second act reaches a little more out there, and as a result, swings and misses a tad more than in the first half. But, to stick with the baseball analogies, you still have to love their batting average.

Special credit must also be given to the cast’s combined ability as improvisers. While the show is primarily performed in sketches, the times that they did include the audience in helping to establish scenes for them to mold were truly impressive.

But this is a show about America in our nation’s capital during an election year, so how the political wackiness that currently makes up our government is displayed is a big part of whether or not this show is a success.

Unsurprisingly, there was a clear left-leaning perspective, but that did not prevent the comedians from taking shots at Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. It was all of government, though, that ultimately found itself in the bull’s-eye of this group, and to hilarious effect.

You could say that it’s easy to make comedy based on the recent actions of our government, but The Second City has still created a spectacular vehicle to laugh at the madness.

The Second City’s Almost Accurate Guide to America is currently playing in the Theater Lab at the Kennedy Center through July 31. Tickets are $49-$65.

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

Photo caption: Andrew Knox, Marla Caceres, Ryan Asher, Sayjal Joshi, Tyler Davis and Ross Taylor of The Second City’s Almost Accurate Guide to America at the Kennedy Center
Photo credit: Scott Suchman

Clayton Pelham
Photo credit: Courtesy of Faction of Fools Theatre Company

Clayton Pelham Gets Physical for ‘The Miser’

At 28-years old, Clayton Pelham jumps on tables and speaks in a French accent for work. He’s neither French nor a parkour expert, but his current job requires both nimbleness of tongue and physical durability. Pelham is an actor.

His career path has been anything but boring, leading him from DC to Atlanta to Los Angeles before returning to the nation’s capital to finish his training at Studio Theatre’s Acting Conservatory in 2015. Pelham has always found success in his undying desire to bring joy to an audience.

This weekend, Pelham and the rest of DC’s Faction of Fools Theatre Company will put a close to their latest show, Molière’s The Miser. Before he takes the stage tonight, On Tap got a chance to speak with the young performer about his character’s love lust, the sometimes physical exertion in his roles and his level of silliness.

On Tap: Tell me a little about the play, and what drew you toward the characters Cléante and Maître Jacques?
Clayton Pelham:
Cléante is young, naive and foolishly in love. You can’t go wrong with playing a lover. It’s very fun and I guess that’s what drew me to the character – just the challenge of finding the innocence in everything he’s saying and doing. Everything for him is dire, do or die. It’s fun to play that. Jacques is really fun. Playing him is very physically demanding, and I find myself doing a lot of stretching and testing myself physically. It has to be clean and coordinated, too. It’s not just a bunch of people jumping on tables.

OT: Do you have any similarities to the characters?
CP:
I always start from a place of self. What do I recognize in my characters and in myself? And I amplify these things. For this play, it’s that Cléante is an optimist and a hopeless romantic. I kind of relate to that, wanting to pursue that special someone out there. And the youngness of it – the acting foolishly out of desires. For Jacques, it took me a long time to develop. It was almost like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. I had to work on the voice, the characterization, the physical part and how the mannerisms are. Once it came together, and even right before the opening, I was still making adjustments to the character.

OT: What drew you to the fast, silly, physical commedia dell’arte theatre form?
CP: I thought I could take on the challenge with commedia dell’arte, and I knew it was something different. I knew it would stretch me in something that was a totally different form of acting. I didn’t want to just stick with dramatic roles – my comfort zone. I wanted to be flexible. I wanted the challenge artistically. When I felt like I was getting the hang of these very physical shows, I thought it was my niche, and this show has proven that I’m more capable of handling these demanding shows. It’s made me aware of what I’m capable of.

OT: How did you get into acting? Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
CP: I was introduced to Studio Theatre when I was 17, and I worked in [Studio’s] young actor’s ensemble until I turned 18. Then I wanted to try an adult class with older actors. I was able to get so much out of working with people with so much life experience. You could just see and feel the emotions, and you can’t get it from a bunch of 18-year olds. I did my final class [at Studio], a performance of Fences, and after that I felt so full, and that’s when I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt so alive from it. It was one of my favorite performances as a young actor, because I knew I was good at it.

OT: Would you describe yourself as a silly person?
CP: Yeah, I’m silly. But it’s a dry silliness. I think of times when I’m with my niece. The silliness comes out, especially with kids. When I’m working with children and teaching them to act, it’s almost a requirement to be silly. That’s sort of how I am with an audience as well, depending on the show.

The Miser runs until Sunday, June 26. Tickets are $12-$25.

Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre: 800 Florida Ave. NE, DC;www.factionoffools.org

Photo caption: Clayton Pelham in The Miser
Photo credit: Courtesy of Faction of Fools Theatre Company

AFI Docs film festival,
Photo credit: Courtesy of Jolson Creative PR Group

‘Phil’s Camino’ Continues Trek at AFI Docs

The Camino de Santiago has received the silver screen treatment a couple of times in recent years, including in the 2010 feature film The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. The stories that come from this famed pilgrimage trail traversing across Spain (and other parts of Europe) to the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela and the shrine of St. James are plenty ripe for movie treatment. And one remarkable story in particular will be showcased at the AFI Docs film festival, which runs downtown and in Silver Spring, Md. through this Sunday, June 26.

Filmmaker Annie O’Neil, a Georgetown graduate (class of ’81) has had a hand in telling her own and others’ stories from the Camino as a participant and producer in the documentary Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. Following the completion of that documentary, O’Neil discovered another Camino almost as far from Spain as you can get, but that she felt spoke just as true to the experience she and countless other had had.

After watching Walking the Camino, Seattle native Phil Volker, who is suffering from stage-four cancer, reached out to O’Neil to tell her how much the film meant to him, and how he had created a Camino of his very own in his backyard. He was walking and keeping track of his journey as if he was on the real thing. He signed his letter to O’Neil with a request: “Come walk with me. Love, Phil.” As fortune would have it, O’Neil and her husband were on their way up to Seattle for a business trip, and so she took the time to meet with Volker.

“When we were sitting at his kitchen table with his wife getting ready to walk, I felt exactly the same way I had felt in Spain right before walking the actual Camino,” O’Neil says. “I just felt like he had created something really wonderful.”

O’Neil quickly realized that this was a story that was worth putting on film. But Volker was a little more skeptical.

“I’m just a guy walking in the mud,” he told O’Neil.

But, in a stroke of luck that has led O’Neil to joke that one of the executive producers on the film was St. James himself, Volker was granted a chemo holiday by his doctors, giving him 28 days to travel to Spain and walk the Camino. His trip may serve as the narrative arc of the short documentary, but it is not the message that O’Neil found or audience members are likely to take away.

By creating his own Camino in the woods near Seattle, O’Neil says Volker did “what we all forget to do, which is just to start and let it be different than what we had planned it to be. He just started from where he was, and I love that message that we can all start exactly from where we are.”

In addition to his Seattle Camino and the one in Spain, Phil’s walk – thanks to this film – has taken him and O’Neil to South by Southwest and the deadCenter Film Festival, and will take them to a number of more over the next few months (the film will be screened at three festivals this week, including AFI). And according to O’Neil, Phil is just enjoying the ride.

“He says that he is grateful for three things in his life,” O’Neil explains. “The Camino, being a Catholic and cancer.”

O’Neil says that during filming, he asked her, “How can I be mad at cancer if it brought me all of this?”

Phil’s Camino will screen as part of the “Points of Departure” shorts segment on Saturday, June 25 at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Md. AFI Docs runs until Sunday, June 26.

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, Md.; 301-495-6700;www.afi.com/silver

Photo caption: Phil Volker walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain
Photo credit: Courtesy of Jolson Creative PR Group

La Cage Aux Folles
Photo: Courtesy of Signature Theatre

Gender-Bending Comedy La Cage Aux Folles Comes to Signature Theatre

Fans of the Robin Williams and Nathan Lane film The Birdcage already know this, but La Cage Aux Folles is among the funniest stories in 21st-century theater. From France with the 1973 play and 1978 film to the U.S. with the 1983 Broadway musical and 1996 comedic masterpiece The Birdcage, La Cage has undergone many transformations. And now, the hilarious play about a gay couple whose son asks them to tone it down for dinner with his fiancée’s hyper-conservative parents comes to Signature Theatre through July 10, offering a fresh take on the classic comedy.

Director Matthew Gardiner has always been fascinated by the Tony Award-winning musical, and is taking his own approach with Signature’s production that he hopes will encompass the best parts of each chapter in La Cage’s 40-year history. He prefers the most recent Broadway revival for turning the play’s setting in a St. Tropez nightclub – with drag shows galore – into a small, intimate setting that’s a natural fit for Signature’s space. The revival, much like The Birdcage, taps more into the heart of the story whereas the original production and film portray a more stereotypical view of gay men, according to the director.

However, he definitely plans to emulate the element of glamor in the original Broadway production à la Danny La Rue and other famous female impersonators, especially through the chorus line – “Les Cagelles.”

“I think there are ways that we’re using the Cagelles throughout the play that allow them to be seen as more three-dimensional gay men than just funny drag queens that romp around onstage,” he says.

But arguably the director’s biggest focus is to highlight the relationship between nightclub manager Georges and his partner Albin (also the nightclub’s star) and their son Jean-Michel. He notes a scene in The Birdcage when Nathan Lane (who plays the equivalent of Albin’s character) goes into his son’s room (who is in town for the impending dinner with his fiancée’s parents) and begins picking up his clothes while still in full costume from his last show. And in that moment, Gardiner says it’s clear that this is a family.

To the director, it’s the musical that enhances the familial ties that bind the three characters. He says a musical brings heart and love to a story, and “automatically makes the story more emotional and goes beyond its silliness.”  The musical creates an emotional pull, allowing the audience to truly see the heart of the play.

“[ La Cage] is a story about loving your family for who they are and not trying to make them something that they’re not,” he says. “Life is lived in and people are lived in, and anytime I see characters onstage that feel like cartoons [or] clowns – I don’t want that. That’s always my goal in any musical – to make it feel as human and relatable as possible.”

Signature’s cast is entirely based in DC, with the exception of Broadway favorite Brent Barrett (who plays Georges and is perhaps best known for his role as Billy Flynn inChicago). Gardiner says this will be local actor Bobby Smith’s first time in a lead role at Signature (as Albin), which the company is very excited about. The theater is offering backstage tours led by a La Cage actor at 5 p.m. on Saturdays from June 11 to July 2 for up to 30 people at a time, allowing audiences to get up close and personal with the behind-the-scenes aspects of the production.

Audiences can also catch post-show discussion nights on June 7 and 15 to “get a more in-depth look at what went into creating the show…and a more personal perspective from the actors,” Gardiner says. But the real pièce de résistance is the pride nights on June 17 and July 1. The themed LGBT nights will include post-show receptions with DJs, drag queens and more.

“It’s going to be a big to-do,” Gardiner says.

La Cage Aux Folles runs until July 10, with tickets starting at $40. Don’t miss the show, and definitely watch The Birdcage if you haven’t already. 
Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771;  www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Courtesy of Signature Theatre

GI Film Festival
Photo: Vithaya Phongsava

For First 10 Years, It’s Mission Accomplished for GI Film Festival

The business of Hollywood is an odd and hectic one for executives to occupy. They deal with multimillion-dollar projects, deadlines and larger-than-life personalities. So when a Hollywood executive found himself traveling to the DC area to speak at a small independent film festival, he may not have been overly enthused about the opportunity, as GI Film Festival founder Brandon Millett describes it. However, things quickly changed.

After speaking with wounded warriors one night during the festival, the Hollywood executive had a change of perspective. He called Millett and said how “consumed” he was after meeting those outstanding men and women, and wanted to find out more about how he could help.

That has been the main goal of the GI Film Festival, founded by Millett and his wife Laura Law-Millett in 2006, a veteran who left the military in 2008.

“Our mission is to preserve the stories of military veterans through film, television and live special events,” Millett says. “One of the objectives we hope to accomplish is to connect the 1 percent who serve with the 99 percent who do not.”

With the festival celebrating its 10th anniversary this Saturday, May 21 through Sunday, May 29, it is easy to see they have achieved what they originally set out to do.

The depiction of the military in film and television back in the mid-2000s was one of the inciting incidents for the couple to create the GI Film Festival, and the corresponding GI Film Group. Many of the military characters being portrayed onscreen did not represent Law-Millett and others she had served with.

“We decided to show the other side of the story,” she explains. “The stories of courage and sacrifice, and what the majority of the people with whom I served are like and the struggles they faced instead of what Hollywood was doing at the time.”

The original thought was to hopefully show a few films in a community rec center or a similar location. However, when word got around about what the pair was trying to do, a strong wave of support came in. Celebrities like Jeff Ross, R. Lee Ermey and especially Gary Sinise, who has been a major contributor to the festival over the years, helped build a strong foundation for the festival, which showed 28 films in its first year and took place at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center.

“The festival took on a life of its own after that,” Millett says.

Bloomberg News has called it ‘Sundance for the Troops.’ And all the stops are being pulled out for this year’s festival. Kicking things off this Saturday, Gary Sinise will perform at the Howard Theater with the Lt. Dan Band.

A 30th anniversary celebration of Top Gun is taking place with the United States Navy Band playing prior to the screening as well as a jet flyover, followed by a Q&A with actor Val Kilmer. There will also be a special advanced screening of the new film X-Men: Apocalypse.

But all of the flair is just an added bonus to what really makes this festival special to the couple. Law-Millett remembers one year after a screening, a Vietnam veteran came up to them and revealed that watching a film during the festival was the first time he had cried in 20 years, because he finally felt that his story was properly told.

“That really took our breath away,” she says.

The couple will look to make that kind of connection again this year with the 78 films that will be screened throughout the festival that they say cover practically every branch of the military and all major conflicts, from the Civil War up to Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it would be easy enough to simply enjoy the success that the festival has had thus far, the pair isn’t interested in that. Later this year, in partnership with PBS, the festival will hit the road, hosting mini-festivals in more than 20 cities across the country. Other events are planned, like a GI Film Festival West and special screenings on military bases.

“We had a filmmaker a few years ago who said that every city needs to experience the GI Film Festival,” Millet says. “That really stuck with us, and it’s something we hope we can accomplish.”

The 2016 GI Film Festival will take place from May 21-29. Check www.gifilmfestival.comfor details.

Photo: Vithaya Phongsava