Image: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival
Image: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival

50 Ways… Proves Heartfelt and Hilarious

We all go through breakups. Some of them are hard and swift like a punch to a blind spot. Others are easy and light, two people knowingly nodding their head at the same time and then chuckling about the good times. There are quick breakups and long breakups, the kind you get over real quick and the kind that linger, leaving you feeling empty inside, especially when THAT song comes on.

The Capital Fringe Festival’s 50 Ways… explores the many varieties of the breakup, looking at 50 different scenarios where people, things leave the ones they held dearest. Like I said above, the emotional toll each take vary from crushing to hilarious, and co-directors Samir Bitar and Mahayana Landowne purposefully constructed the performance as a roller coaster.

In order to better understand the balancing act of assembling the massive number of vignettes in 50 Ways…, I was able to chat with Bitar about his involvement as director and choreographer, the play’s tonal shifts and the balancing act of piecing it all together.

On Tap: How did you get involved in the performance?
Samir Bitar: It was my longtime friend colaborator Mahayana Landowne, she’s a theatre director, creator and she pretty much only does experimental theatre. I wanted her to do something more traditional, so I urged her to enter here, and she said if I did she would, so hell yeah. We were about two months in, and she said she had an idea, she explained the song, which I knew. The idea of course, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Paul Simon’s 1976 pop hit. He only spells out six ways in the song and we wanted to actualize the concept. We put the call out to our network and friends, and this is an international list of people, and we wanted to them to submit one minute vignettes. We got back 15 playwrights, and 14 of whom we chose. Together we put together 49, and I choreographed an original work not submitted by a playwright.

OT: Explain the diversity of the breakups, what can people expect?
SB: Some of these are heartfelt, there are two scenes by edler characters and his wife had fallen into dementia, and he has a monologue where he was about to go on a date. He’s ready to take a first step, and there’s another scene with the characters flipped, and his wife is hovering over him helping him ease off into the next world. He tells her he wants to die alone, and those are two heart wrenching moments on stage. Surrounded by a lot of levity and laughter, and even some abstract ones. It’s a really rich tableau.

OT: What was it like focusing and narrowing down the scenarios, because 14 writers is a lot of cooks in the kitchen?
SB: Collectively we have 38 years of theatre experience, and we’re both empaths, and we talked about how it would play out. We received them and spent a month familiarizing ourselves with them, and I went up to New York and we locked ourselves in a hotel for three days, and we read them, walked through them. Most of the plays came out heterosexual, and we’re very sensitive to that, and we carved out a certain number of those to be lesbian, gay and transgender as well. We wanted to avoid agism. There’s all kinds of pairings. There’s an old person leaving a young person, and a young person leaving an old person. A lot of the dramaturgy and scoring happened as early as March. We held auditions at the Hirshorn, and we had our first reading and read through on May 26. With anything living, you push and edit and tighten and pull.

OT: What was it like balancing the emotions of all the breakups?
SB: Well, you know, the question it’s sort of seems predicated on a narrative and we didn’t come at it that way. As an empathetic human, from the outset I was very keen on the overarching physical sense of the audience. We didn’t want too much stillness, and there are some that are wordy, and some that are silent with more abstract, with modern dancers. We really weren’t super specific, it was which of these clump well together, and we had to rearrange as to what actors were, and all variables were pretty equal in forcing the show order. [Landowne’s] first wash was very logical, as these things happen in a bar, and some wrote for high school scene to college scene.

OT: How important was it for you all to make these scenes relatable?
SB: Very, very, very. This is work with the actors. This is authentic work and extensive work with several gifted actors. It’s the penultimate and ultimate to be on top of authenticity. To make sure everyone understands the mood and the real dynamics that play out. There’s always subtext, and we worked very hard on body language, on prop use and facial expressions. Words, beats, cadence, rhythm: we honed in on all of this, so they could connect authentically to the script and play. It was important for the audience to connect, even if it’s ludicrous.

OT: How long was the initial cut? Fifty scenes in 70 minutes is a breakneck pace.
SB: Yeah, I think our first run through, was about 87 minutes. We made the call to our writers, that we may have to cut them down. It’s hard to imagine what will happen in a minute, some of our writers submitted rich ideas that didn’t make it in, because they’re too long. As dramaturg, it was up to [Landowne] to carve out words and remove sentences.

50 Ways… is part of the Capital Fringe Festival. The show’s final times are tonight at 7:15 p.m. and on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. Tickets for the Saturday performance can be purchased here.

Christ United Methodist Church: 900 4th St. SW, DC; 866-811-4111; www.capitalfringe.org

Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt
Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt

NoVA Native Patton Oswalt Set For Kennedy Center Debut

Patton Oswalt can be described as something of a Renaissance man in entertainment. He’s found success as an author (both books and graphic novels), actor (in films and on TV), voice-over artist (video games, animation and TV) and on the comedy circuit.

The latter is where his true passion lies, as the comedian explains that everything he does is geared toward allowing him to continue doing comedy live in front of an audience.

“Acting in TV and film is just a way for me to increase my exposure and get the chance to do more stand-up,” Oswalt says. “I love the creativity of the business. It’s a happier life for me to live creatively, and it’s something I am always going to do.”

Raised in Sterling, Virginia, Oswalt attended the College of William & Mary where he majored in English. The idea to try comedy as a career came sometime between his freshman and sophomore year, and once the bug hit, he never looked back.

“It wasn’t my game plan when I started, but it developed organically and by senior year, it was all I wanted to do,” he says. “Back then, DC was a fun scene, but it was much more predicated on who was making more money and who was famous. Creativity didn’t really come first. It was more about status.”

Looking for bigger things, Oswalt packed his bags and started making a name for himself in San Francisco on its rising comedy circuit. From there, he headed to Los Angeles and hit the big time.

“The circuit in San Francisco was amazing – it was the opposite of DC. It was more about who was doing original stuff. Then I went to Los Angeles and there were different scenes within the scenes, which was fascinating to me.”

Since 2003, Oswalt has appeared on seven TV comedy specials and released eight critically acclaimed albums, with his 2016 Talking for Clapping recording earning him a Grammy.

On July 21, the comedian will play two shows at the Kennedy Center as part of the District of Comedy Festival, making his debut in the historic theater. Although he has memories of seeing comedy legend Gallagher and old film noir movies at the Kennedy Center when he was younger, he never dreamed that he would one day perform there.

“It feels good to be back in the area,” he says. “It’s a little surreal as I started doing comedy in DC in 1988. It’s going to be fun to be back in my neighborhood. At the time, my dreams weren’t big enough to think about playing at the Kennedy Center. I was only looking to get a solid 10 minutes.”

Oswalt is planning all-new material for the night, working on some of what he expects to be part of his next TV special. But don’t ask him for specifics, as he warns, “You should never ask a comedian what he’s going to talk about!”

His one hint is that his fans can expect some strong truths about what he’s seeing in the world.

“Being onstage in front of a crowd is just a great adrenaline rush. I love how everything I say came from nothing but now it’s a living thing outside of myself, living creatively. There’s nothing in the world like it.”

Although many people know him from his first TV guest appearance – Seinfeld’s classic “The Couch” episode – his biggest claim to fame early in his career was playing Spence on the Kevin James CBS comedy The King of Queens.

“One of the co-creators of [The King of Queens] was watching an HBO special of mine, and just saw me as Spence. I felt very lucky to get that part.”

Oswalt will soon be headed back to California to begin work on two network TV shows he’s a part of. He currently stars as Principal Ralph Durbin on NBC’s comedy AP Bio, which was recently picked up for a second season, and he’ll enter his sixth season as the narrator for ABC’s The Goldbergs in the fall.

“Michael O’Brien created AP Bio, and his stuff is just on the outer rim of absurdity. The fact he gets to do it in the format of a sitcom is amazing, and I’m so lucky that I get to be a part of it. For The Goldbergs, I pop in about once a week and it’s really fun. It uses nostalgia as a Trojan horse into general emotion and empathy, and that’s what I really love about the show.”

Before his TV shows pick back up, catch him live when he headlines Kennedy Center’s District of Comedy Festival on Saturday, July 21. Shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m., tickets start at $49. Purchase tickets at www.kennedy-center.org and learn more about the comedian at www.pattonoswalt.com.

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

Artwork: Courtesy of Arena Stage
Artwork: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Arena Stage Presents World Premiere of Dave

The heartwarming movie Dave was released 25 years ago, and the Kevin Kline/Sigourney Weaver political comedy became one of the most popular movies of 1993. The film follows a high school teacher named Dave Kovic – who also happens to be a dead ringer for the President of the United States – as he’s thrust into stand-in mode to help the country avoid a national scandal when the real commander in chief gets ill.

A world-premiere musical based on the movie makes its debut at Arena Stage from July 13 to August 19. The show is written by a trio of heavyweights – three-time Tony Award-winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray, The Producers), Nell Benjamin (Mean Girls, Legally Blonde) and Pulitzer Prize and two-time Tony Award-winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, If/Then) – and directed by Tina Landau. Drew Gehling, who originated the role of Dr. Pomatter on Broadway in Waitress, plays the demanding dual role of Dave and President Bill Mitchell, while First Lady Ellen Mitchell is portrayed by Broadway vet Mamie Parris.

“I love the film and was really excited to audition for this project,” Parris says. “It’s always interesting to hear when someone is inspired by something or adapting something and looking at a piece [to see] whether it sings. When I first saw this material, I knew the story really sang because it’s a fairytale about what a man can become. That really lends itself to being musicalized.”

Parris recently starred in the Cats revival as Grizabella, belting out “Memory” eight times a week. Other Broadway credits include School of Rock, Ragtime and The Drowsy Chaperone. One of the things she likes about getting to play the First Lady is not only is it a fun love story, but she also gets to play a powerful female character.

“It’s always thrilling to be asked to portray a strong, thoughtful, confident, independent, assertive woman because a lot of those roles aren’t written,” she says. “This is really a very human, multidimensional  and complex woman.”

Fans of the movie won’t be disappointed as many of their favorite scenes are represented in one way or another, but one doesn’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy it.

“It’s a wonderful film and incredibly funny, but at the same time, if you get a little too precious with that material, it may not translate quite as well for a stage production – especially one done 25 years after it was original written,” Parris says. “All the charm and story from the original is there, but there’s a new facet that really breathes new life into it.”

The musical also includes Broadway favorites Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Jonathan Rayson (Little Shop of Horrors), as well as a collection of talented regional and New York-based actors. Vishal Vaidya, a Burtonsville, Maryland native and American University graduate, is part of the ensemble and thrilled to be part of a new work so close to home.

“It’s always nice to be here,” Vaidya says. “The theatre community in DC is so strong, and so much great theatre is happening here. Personally, it’s been nice to come back and reflect on how I’ve changed as a person and also get to see how the DC theatre [scene] has evolved and changed.”

Vaidya made his Broadway debut last April in Groundhog Day, and local credits include Ford’s Theatre’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as Barfee and Adventure Theater’s Frog and Toad as Frog, earning a Helen Hayes nomination. He was drawn to Dave because of the subject matter and people working on the show.

“I wanted to work with Tina [Landau] for a really long time,” he says. “She is such a great visionary. She wants everyone to be involved and on the same page. Tom Kitt and I have done a bunch of work in development together and I think his work is incredible. They were the main draw for me.”

Plus, the story is one that he believes is perfect for today’s political atmosphere.

“The moral of Dave is that it’s about how we can all make changes or do our part for the greater good,” he says. “Even if we think we are just a normal citizen, which is what Dave is in the beginning, we think we can’t make a difference – but he has to. He may not have the experience or connections, but he has to take action and he learns to do that.”

Parris adds that one of the things the script does particularly well is reflect a modern storyline while also standing completely apart from the current political climate.

“I’m impressed by that because I think that’s hard to do,” she says. “Dave is remarkably apolitical and I think it can be appreciated by both sides of the aisle, which the writers deserve a lot of credit for.”

Dave runs from July 13 to August 19 in Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater. Tickets start at $96. Learn more about the production and ticket discounts and deals at www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

capital fringe

Stage and Screen: July 2018

THROUGH SATURDAY, JULY 7

Other Life Forms 
Brandon McCoy’s Other Life Forms is the story of two roommates: Jeff, a researcher who seems to have it all together and Ben, a journalist trying his best to keep things from falling apart. Despite their differences, they both try their hands at online dating. One roommate meets someone who seems to be his match, and the other suffers from a somewhat rocky connection. Eventually, an illuminating truth surfaces, which injects humor and chaos into the narrative. Through this play, McCoy aims to prove love exists, even if we are ones standing in the way. Tickets $35-$45. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

Capital Fringe Festival
Capital Fringe Festival always brings a bevy of can’t miss art performances, and The Edge of the Universe Players 2 are linking up with the good people at Capital Fringe to bring you their rendition of Hamish Linklater’s The Vandal. Originally produced five years ago by the Flea Theater in New York City, this upcoming production stars Alison Bauer as WOMAN, Gianna Rapp as BOY and Tom Howley as MAN. These three nondescript characters address themes of life, death, rage and forgiveness while exploring what it means to be a human in the modern age. The play culminates in a way you’ll never see coming. Another can’t miss show is 50 Ways…, which makes its premiere at the festival. Inspired by Paul Simon’s hit single “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” this one-act performance focuses on 50 scenes depicting characters dealing with loss after breaking up with a significant other or being broken up with. Covering a wide range of scenarios, the play allows you to see, and feel, the entire spectrum of fallouts. Five performances are set from July 18 to July 28. Not sure about the first two? Then check out Farah Lawal Harris’ American Wives, directed by Jared Shamberger. Featuring three characters representing wives of America: one old, one young and one the very famous Bald Eagle, the story explores the place of timeless subjects such as identity, love and greed. When the world is changing, how do you stay true to yourself and others? Times and ticket prices vary. Capital Fringe Festival: Various locations around DC; www.capitalfringe.org

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 8

Deviated Theatre Presents Beyond
This summer, Dance Place is proud to present the out-of-this-world premiere of Deviated Theatre’s Beyond. Husband-and-wife duo Enoch Chan and Kimmie Dobbs Chan direct the talented “all-heroine” cast on their interplanetary travels. The story follows Luna the astronaut as she traverses the expanse of celestial skies to the very edge of life. This performance clocks in at less than an hour, which makes every minute of the dynamic dance and acrobatic aerials that much more entrancing. Featuring Performances by Vivian Chen, Hannah Church, Katie Creed, Catherine David, Kelly Fisher, Christina Gleason, Elizabeth Looby, Katherine Maloney, Lilly Schultz and Stacey Smith. Tickets $15-$25. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

TUESDAY, JULY 10 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Performs Damned If You Do
An exercise in the hypothetical, UCB’s Damned If You Do explores the various “What ifs?” we encounter – and nine-times-out-of-10 refuse to act on – in our everyday lives. Should you tell your friend what you really think of their outfit? Or let your family member know how you really feel about their annoying habit? Before you go off and make any of these changes in your personal life, let the improv troupe that helped launch the careers of Donald Glover, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon and Aziz Ansari give you an idea of what you might be in for. Tickets $30-$84. Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

MONDAY, JULY 16

Bootleg Shakespeare: Henry VI, Part 3
In what is sure to be a whirlwind mixture of rehearsal and improvisation, the Taffety Punk players bring the saga of the Henry VI trilogy to a close. Bootleg Shakespeare’s unique method involves having all actors memorize lines, rehearse once and then put on the show, regardless of what happens next. In their commitment to make theatre affordable the show is free to attend, though tickets are not available presale and are first come first served day of. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.taffetypunk.com

THURSDAY, JULY 19

Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me
NPR is setting up shop in Virginia and inviting us to witness a live recording of the latest episode of this comedic current events quiz show. Join host Peter Sagal and scorekeeper Bill Kurtis as they see what celebrity panelists and professional funny people Alonzo Bodden, Helen Hong and Mo Rocca really know about today’s news and pop culture. Podcast at 8 p.m. Tickets $40-$80. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 22

On the Town 
The musical On the Town is a frantic search for love set in 40s era New York City, where the main characters only have 24 hours on the shore before being returning to war. Gabey, a hopeless romantic, is determined to find that month’s Miss Turnstiles, a woman he’s only seen on a subway poster, and his shipmates Ozzie and Chip aim to help him. Along the way, they become enamored with a quirky cabbie and an already engaged anthropologist. Leonard Bernstein constructed the score for this production, including vibrant classics like “New York, New York” (which has even been parodied in The Simpsons), among many other Broadway hits. This number is chock full of dance sequences, running the gamut from ballet to jazz, and everything in between. Some of DC’s more well-known actors take on these iconic roles once played by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, including Evan Casey, Rhett Guter, Sam Ludwig, Donna Migliaccio, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Bobby Smith and Rachel Zampelli. This slightly scandalous musical provides a ton of twists and turns, but it’s sure to be a thrilling, wild ride. Tickets $64-$84. Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

SATURDAY, JULY 28

National Dance Day 2018
Since 2010, the Dizzy Feet Organization (co-founded by So You Think You Can Dance’s Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman, the man behind Hairspray and the beloved Step Up franchise) has encouraged Americans “to embrace dance as a fun and positive way to maintain good health,” and this year is no different. Gather at the Kennedy Center for this annual celebration of dance, packed with fun activities and a multitude of performances for dancers and non-dancers alike. Each year, they come up with an original routine for all patrons, including those with disabilities, to learn and perform. In years past, there have been performances by DC’s own Culture Shock Hip Hop dance crew, Top Naach Bhangra ensemble, Abada Capoeira DC and Fairfax Chinese Dance Troupe, to list a few. So, dust off those dancing shoes and get ready to show us your best moves. 2-10:30 p.m. Free to attend. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Doug Hamilton
Photo: Doug Hamilton

Give In to The Temptations

The latest in the line of anthology musicals, Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations opened its month-long stint at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night. Written by Kennedy Prize winner Dominique Morisseau, directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, Motown’s most legendary act is once again thrilling a packed house.

Morisseau’s Detroit roots are on display as she frames Motown’s rise alongside that of the auto industry, as African-Americans from the South arrived in Motor City in search of work, bringing music with them. Through The Temptations, Morisseau tells the story of the musical revolution accompanying this migration; a uniquely African-American chapter of the great American story.

Guided by the earnest narration of Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), the group’s level-headed but extraordinarily driven leader, the audience is taken on a journey from the Temptations’ origins on the streets of Detroit all the way to the top, featuring 31 songs throughout the two-and-a-half hour show.

Instead of settling for being a good-time singalong, Ain’t Too Proud also plumbs the dark depths that accompanied The Temptations’ meteoric rise and classic sound. Between showstoppers like “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “Just My Imagination” and the titular “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Morisseau explores the tension of a group trying to navigate personal strife and turbulent times.

While much of the conflict centers around the internal, personal tension between the steadfast Williams trying to maintain an egalitarian group dynamic (and his own family) over the protests of spotlight-hungry showman David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes), the show also examines how The Temptations were viewed by the country at large, and the irony of their status as a crossover hit. In particular, the calculated business decision by Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse) that the group avoid overt political messaging drove home the idea that appreciation from white audiences did not necessarily mean acceptance from white society. This added complexity elevates Ain’t Too Proud above otherwise similar jukebox musicals.

While the Williams, Ruffin rivalry takes center stage, each Temptation shines in his own right. Jawan M. Jackson’s Melvin Franklin, Jeremy Pope’s Eddie Kendricks, and James Harkness’ Paul Williams are each given an opportunity to lay their characters bare and fully capture the Temptations’ spirit, all while pulling off dance routines well worthy of the Classic Five.

Through their sterling catalog and Trujillo’s exquisite recreation of their iconic steps, Ain’t Too Proud both delights audiences and highlights the immense legacy the group has left for acts that followed. To borrow from one of Baskin’s monologues, the Temptations have always been greater than the sum of their parts, and DC (and soon Broadway) would do well to witness their legacy firsthand.

Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations runs through Sunday, July 22 at the Kennedy Center. Tickets start at $79; purchase them here.

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

ShakespeareYPN_062218_Camelot_TJ (13)

Young Prose Night: Shakespeare Theatre’s Camelot

Shakespeare Theatre hosted Young Prose Night for its production of Camelotwhich included a post-show reception with a complimentary wine or beer courtesy of Victory Brewing. Photos: Trent Johnson

Photo: Séamus Miller
Photo: Séamus Miller

A Sneak Peek at Work in Progress Tyrant

True to their mission to “Make Space for Art,” the nonprofit organization, CulturalDC, invited the public to a series of workshops at the Source Theatre’s 100-person black box space to provide feedback on the thought-provoking original play, Tyrant, written by Kathleen Akerley.

Tyrant follows the theatrical trend of law induced alternate realities similar to Hulu’s reworking of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and HBO’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

Set in the United States, 40 years after the enacting of legislation that presumably solves the homeless crisis across the country, Tyrant explores the power dynamics that come when the ultra-wealthy force homeless citizens to work in exchange for lodging. Eliciting woeful calls from onlookers, the theme parallels the prison-industrial system enforced today in hundreds of for-profit prisons nationwide. Overflowing with racial and class-based oppression, Tyrant challenges viewers to evaluate their roles in the ongoing systemic oppression.

This particular workshop was a reading which allowed commenting, questioning, and a restructuring of roles, per the audience’s recommendation, after Act One. The goal was to explore scene functionality “when racial demographics are altered” according to CulturalDC.

With three “Actuals” and two “Maestros” name tags on seats across the intimate stage, scene one opens with a glacial-like air (both figuratively and literally), foreshadowing unfortunate actions to follow.

Martin, a maestro, is the homeowner played by a Caucasian male. He is a wealthy man (the source of his wealth is unknown) who has manifested upwards of 10 Actuals from the “Center” to perform certain tasks in his home. He has a chef, two massage therapists, nurses, drivers and a therapist.

His persona straddles the line between a sympathetic endearing supervisor and a threatening manipulative tyrant.

Shown interacting with Martin in act one are two Actuals; Leon and Regina, Martin’s massage therapists. Leon is played by a Caucasian male and Regina is played by a female of African descent.

Martin’s wealth is quickly obvious, as he lavishes himself with daily massage treatments, on each occasion sharing his dreams with Leon and Regina. Each session reveals a bizarre dream while they rub away the tension formed from a long day of no labor.

Regina and Leon have differing experiences prior to being placed with Martin. Regina, presumably in her mid-twenties, grew up in the Center where Actuals are raised and trained to work for Maestros. From birth, she was taught the laws of servitude and obedience. Whereas Leon, of a similar age, was raised by his mother until her sudden disappearance, before eventually becoming an Actual as well.

Both are happy and thankful to work in Martin’s home, as the Maestro provides lodging, food, clothing and even a small degree of companionship. Still, ambivalence weighs down the pair as they try to obey each law perfectly. Otherwise, their utmost fear of being reassigned or returned to the Center is unavoidable.

In this complex alternate reality, the laws are comprehensive but oppressive. The law surfacing continually prohibits Actuals from thinking or pretending as though they are not Actuals. They must always be an Actual, never aspiring to be anything more. Once an Actual, forever an Actual; they cannot purchase freedom, and there is no expiration for servitude.

Another law that echoes from the intercoms for all to hear is silence-time, which happens sporadically and ranges 5-10 hours a day. This period is a relevant restriction geared to ensure Actuals enjoy adequate rest to guarantee their ability to perform their jobs. During this time they must not talk, work or perform any other activity.

Their ability to work is fundamental to their involvement in the program. Similar to solitary confinement for those with behavioral problems in prison, if they do not work, they must return to the Center for correcting.

Fortunately, the laws not only apply to Actuals. Maestros have their own set of regulations to abide by once they’ve acquired and manifested an Actual. Maestros cannot make Actuals uncomfortable, and inflicting pain is prohibited. Instead, Maestros provide reports detailing their experience and all incidents that transpire. Any violation found leads to the immediate removal of Actuals and the expulsion of the Maestros in question.

It is clear an attempt was made to form a utilitarian society harvesting the labor found in slavery but without its cruelty and violence. But with absolute power, absolute corruption follows.

In the case of Tyrant, the oppression of the homeless population is overt proof of corruption. Many implicit tactics are used to facilitate tyranny, such as the restriction on education. The rationale for restricting slaves’ educational development was that if slaves could read, they could aspire and plot to be more than slaves. Though Actuals can read, access to real-world experiences and knowledge is restricted.

In a particular daunting scene, Regina injures herself on a scolding hot tea kettle, unlawfully gifted by Leon. Once confronted by Martin, due to her inability to massage him, it’s evident Regina had no conception of healing. During an exhausting exchange between Martin and Regina, where Martin attempts to manipulate Regina to strike fear in her, he eludes to her inability to perform her job. With this proclamation, she ascertains her hand-use will never be regained and begins to spiral, as the fear of returning to the Center is upon her.

After the close of act one, playwright Akerley asked the audience if they would like to see any actors in a different role. She forewarns the audience, disclosing sexually violent graphic scenes are to occur in the second act. Which led one individual to ask that the female actor, playing Regina, be removed. She was reassigned to the role of Martin, after an understudy praised her portrayal of the character from previous performances. The audience member explains the reasoning behind his recommendation, sharing his discomfort with “seeing” harm done to a woman of African descent by a white male, explaining it “hits too close to home.”

With Regina cast as a Caucasian female and Martin a woman of African descent, the second act continues without skipping a beat.

Once the show concluded and the heinous sexual act transpired, comments and questions poured from the audience.

One woman asked, “What is the ideal audience you see watching your play?” Akerley responded, “white middle and upper-middle class,” with the purpose of inciting a reaction or sense of responsibility to resolve systemic racial and class-based oppression.

Audience members questioned the inclusion of violent sexual acts, suggesting this form of assault is heavy handed.  To counteract both claims offered by these individuals, another actor proposes their inability to address or confront oppressive acts against minorities (women and people of color) further perpetuates the cycle of injustice. Because we live in a society where crimes persist against those presumed to be at the lower end of these power dynamics, there is a need for dramatic portrayals reinforcing that progress is still needed.

On a later call, Akerley explains the importance of race in the production of this piece of work. Reminiscing about a 2014 field production in Chicago, where an entirely Caucasian, and outstanding, cast provoked a lackluster conversation. She recalls conversations about the legality of legislation and the potential enactment of this law, rather than the treatment of marginalized individuals and the stripping of fundamental liberties like freedom, love and prosperity.

Akerley hopes future producers will cast the play in a way that “make[s] conversations productive.” She feels it is her obligation, as a playwright, to make audiences uncomfortable, yet willing to grapple with and confront the disparities produced by society.

Tyrant is in the final editing stages and will premiere in a DC theater in 2019. To see upcoming Longacre Lea productions, visit here and to learn more about CulturalDC events at visit here.

Photo: Joan Marcus
Photo: Joan Marcus

Hamilton Lives Up to the Hype at the Kennedy Center

The last time the legacy of Alexander Hamilton crossed my mind was during my IB History of the America class, when I was given the task of analyzing one of the many papers Hamilton authored and its lingering effects on the structure of our country. I am admittedly a sucker for hype and excitement, and yet the impact of the wildly popular musical dealing with something that was also a subject of intense history class study seemed to evade me since its debut in 2015.

I wasn’t avoiding it – it just never seemed to pique my interest enough for me to look into it further. My aforementioned, decidedly unsexy association of the Founding Father with the arduous IB exam season as a junior in high school certainly did not help either.

So, I went to Hamilton at the Kennedy Center last night totally blind. I was even unaware that the composition of the music was different than a traditional Broadway play, incorporating elements of hip-hop, pop and even brilliantly constructed rap battles into its score, until my (extremely excited) mother mentioned it to me right before the show began. 

Whether it be to catch your favorite band live or take in the DC debut of an 11-time Tony Award-winning play, there is something remarkable, maybe even unforgettable about soaking up art that you’re excited about. And yet, there is something equally memorable about attending a performance with zero expectations and an open heart, as I did for this production.

And I was completely and utterly blown away. Every single member of the cast brought an exceptional level of talent to the show, and I have never seen actors so invested in their individual characters. I felt Hamilton’s (Austin Scott) hunger for power mature into a fiery desire to leave this new nation better than he found it in its fledgling years. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (Julia K. Harriman) grew from a lovestruck lady of wealth to the cornerstone of her family’s name, holding them up with strength and grace even in the absence of her beloved husband and son.

The serious tones of the production were perfectly offset by the humor of Thomas Jefferson (Bryson Bruce), especially when he appears onstage in Act II with “What’d I Miss,” complete with a sparkling grin and hilariously cheesy dance moves. And who can forget King George, who balances providing historical context with a large dose of comic relief perfectly?

I’d be hard-pressed to find an audience member who wasn’t brought to tears by “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” at the end of the show. The song served as a reminder that while on the surface the show may be about someone often considered a smaller player in the larger story of the founding of America, it’s truly so much more than that. It’s a story of ambition, love, loss and redemption – things all Americans face, in the 1700s and today, Founding Father or not.

Perhaps the best part of this particular production is something more unexpected, though. As parts of the story itself take place just a short drive from the Kennedy Center, there was a special kind of magic in seeing the play in our nation’s capital. Attendees have the privilege of being transported to the time when the tough conversations that led to the formation of America took place while sitting in the heart of what resulted in Hamilton and company’s efforts. Witnessing this unfold before your eyes through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s expertly crafted story at the Kennedy Center is an experience unlike any other.

For those familiar with the phenomenon of Hamilton, this particular cast and production will only add to the spectacular legacy the show has built for itself over the past several years. And for those like me going into the show with little to no knowledge of the show, prepare to carve out a little (let’s be real, a lot) of room in your heart for the play. It is certainly something that will stay with you forever – and erase any history exam-related memories you may have on the subject matter.

Hamilton runs now through Sunday, September 16. Go here for more information about the recently announced ticket lottery.

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

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Ken Clark’s King Arthur Leads with Heart

This classic tale of one of the world’s most famous – and heartbreaking – love triangles and the noble man caught in the center of it is at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through July 8. Directed by Shakespeare’s very own Alan Paul, Camelot follows Arthur from the moment he meets his beloved bride Guenevere until the last time he sees her face.

“Love and marriage – don’t conflate the two!”

The audience laughs, but Merlyn (played by actor Ted van Griethuysen) is quite serious when talking to a young Arthur (Ken Clark), who is trying to sneak a peek at his bride-to-be Guenevere (Alexandra Silber).

Even in the first scene, as Arthur props himself between branches and pesters Merlyn with questions about Guenevere – “Is she pretty or very pretty?” – the future king exposes his sincerest qualities from the beginning: hope for his marriage and affection toward Merlyn. These inherent qualities, hope and affection, guide his principles and spur the ideals to reinvent Camelot through his reign.

“It’s a play about our basic natures, and our attempt to overcome and even alter those natures,” Clark explains in a recent interview with On Tap. “Arthur never gives up on his own convictions in order to save his realm, and that’s what makes him different – because people do bad things in the name of the greater good, but Arthur doesn’t.”

The timeline of the play, spanning years, allows for greater character development not only for King Arthur but also for Guenevere and Lancelot – a Knight of the Round Table who becomes Arthur’s dear friend and ultimately falls madly in love with his Queen. Subtle mentions of time in dialogue help keep the audience aware of where we are in the story, but the characters also provide cues based on changes in tone and attitude. Clark says one of the great things about playing Arthur is portraying him during his lifelong journey.

“You follow him from boyhood to older manhood, and all of the things that change along the way. You get an opportunity to play those human circumstances and apply them to a dramatic scene. That is a rare, rare opportunity for an actor.”

The medieval period generally evokes imagery of bloodshed and knights in armor battling for land – or a woman. In other words, a play based in this period of history can be expected to have a very masculine display with limited range in a man’s emotions. But Camelot’s King Arthur represents a courageous leader who is well-respected because of his emotional vulnerability and not in spite of it – a symbol for modern men that feels very necessary to represent onstage in 2018. It’s important, Clark says, for a leader to show vulnerability.

“I think that we need to make it very clear that you can be masculine and vulnerable. The two are not mutually exclusive. And in this day and age, I think that needs to be clear, especially for young men. You can be emotionally available, you can listen, you can be sensitive – and you can still be masculine. They should go hand in hand.”

When the pompous (yet somehow still endearing) Lancelot (played by Nick Fitzer) arrives on the scene, he’s a French knight who has the type of energy you’d expect. He’s always ready to swing the sword and quick to insert self-praise into regular conversation. But he kneels before King Arthur immediately, demonstrating how powerful the King’s presence is even beyond Camelot.

“It helps that the other actors are so good,” Clark says of his castmates. “When you put something out and you get it knocked right back to you, it makes it a lot easier to get to those deep, emotional places.”

The 29-year-old says casting a young King Arthur makes the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production unique and modern in another way.

“First and foremost, it makes the love triangle more compelling – certainly from Guenevere’s standpoint. If you have a much older Arthur, then the audience is going to be like, ‘Well of course she’s going to go with Lancelot.’ But if you can present a more loving, tender, romantic, sexual relationship between Arthur and Guenevere, it makes it that much more compelling when Lancelot comes around, which I think is a smart way to do it. I’m certainly glad they did it that way!”

Arthur and Guenevere’s genuine love for each other makes it easy for them to be the right royal duo to implement changes in Camelot. Clark’s favorite scene is when the pair imagine the Round Table for the first time.

“[This scene] is a window into their marriage when it’s still a very good, strong partnership, and it’s a look at what two people who love each other can do when they trust [each other] and work well together,” he says.

This is one of several scenes with a deliberately intimate setting, allowing the dialogue and chemistry between the actors to shine through. The stage is stripped of visual noise and an array of candles tranquilize the atmosphere. Our eyes follow Guenevere as she moves around Arthur, and delights in their forward-thinking idea with her husband. However, the audience will find it hard to pick just one favorite scene. Clark laughs as he adds, “There’s so many good scenes.”

And even with Arthur at the center of the story, Silber’s Guenevere holds her own and at times, is truly the highlight of scenes. When singing about the “lusty month of May,” Guenevere is a more mature and established queen than at the beginning of the play, but she still reveals the spirited maiden she has always been. This boisterous, vibrant dance and song sequence with the simple folk is one of my favorites.

Each actor perfectly embodies their respective characters in tongue and physical form. The songs are a performance in their own right, granting applause from the audience every time. The use of space is impactful as well, with a character running through the audience aisle or appearing under a spotlight offstage, and Paul even uses floor-to-ceiling space to give the audience dual point of views.

Clark delivers a King Arthur who is relatable in 2018. He says Shakespeare Theatre Company wants to interpret plays thoughtfully, which isn’t easy for a production like Camelot that has a well-known story and is full of household songs.

“They don’t want to put Camelot up and see who comes. They want to take the ideals and ideas that make Camelot special and put them on full display. There’s so much more going on in the story, and STC – especially [director] Alan Paul – has been dedicated to making sure those ideas are at the forefront of this production. I’ve been wanting to work [at Shakespeare] for a long time, and it’s been everything I hoped.”

Camelot runs through July 8, and tickets start at $59. Learn about Shakespeare’s Young Prose Nights and discounted tickets at www.shakespearetheatre.og.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Teresa Wood
Photo: Teresa Wood

Kennedy Center’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” Shines with an Energetic Cast

Last week was a joyful one for DC in more ways than just a Stanley Cup win. The Kennedy Center continued its production series Broadway Center Stage last night with a delightful take on Tony Award-winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which runs through this Sunday, June 10. Starring Broadway star Betsy Wolfe (Waitress and The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and actor Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Glee, Ground Floor) and directed by Marc Bruni, this clever musical comedy was the perfect ray of light to add to Kennedy Center’s new series. From Todd Ellison’s musical direction to Denis Jones’s choreography to Amy Clark’s costumes, I was in awe of the flawless execution of this production.

Unlike many of the audience members that came to swoon over the Broadway classic, I’m new to the story of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I was pleasantly surprised by the feel-good, upbeat tale about how Astin’s character J. Pierrepont Finch schemes and sweet talks his way to the top of the corporate ladder from a window washer to high-powered executive. The musical follows the classic recipe of any good show: a sweet love interest (Wolfe’s character Rosemary Pilkington), a love-to-hate rival (Bud Frump played brilliantly by the hilarious Michael Urie) and special moments of strong camaraderie.

Astin’s star power and charming vocals that most of us know and love from seeing him in Pitch Perfect took over in the very first scene as he moved sharply across the stage with the fast-paced music and impressively articulated words of Finch’s first song, “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.” We then caught a glimpse of Wolfe’s incredibly clear and golden soprano voice as she belted Rosemary’s first solo, “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” which was reprised in the second act as a slower, more heartfelt performance as Rosemary kept her love-struck eyes set on Finch.

The third song of the first act, “Coffee Break,” performed by Frump, Smitty and company, was the production’s first fully choreographed song. Jones had the cast entirely in sync as they animatedly sang and danced to (including a few moves on the ground) an entertaining number about needing coffee to function at work, which most of us can relate to.

“Paris Original” was another show-stopping performance involving all the women attending the company party humorously in the same dress, and featured the confident voices of other female cast members like the soulful pipes of Joaquina Kalukango (Smitty) and the seductive voice of Becki Newton (Hedy LaRue). “Brotherhood of Man” served as the perfect lively segue heading toward the finale – it was a jovial performance, both choreographically and vocally, while serving its purpose of uniting the men and encouraging them to overcome their differences.

Some of my favorite moments were when characters broke the fourth wall by interacting with the majestic sounding orchestra. And when Astin and John Michael Higgins broke character by laughing for about a minute straight (over one of many amusingly raunchy jokes) before they moved on to their next lines, the audience was roaring. In a playful production like this, it’s refreshing to see evidence of a cast so tight-knit and comfortable with each other.

The victorious “Finale (The Company Way)” had the audience clapping and wooing, and gave us the magical theatrical ending we were all hoping for. One of my favorite characters, Nova Y. Payton as Miss Jones, broke out into delicate, soulful scats while the company kept up their energetic work to close out the night. While there are far too many brilliant actors, actresses, directors and designers to mention in one article, this lighthearted musical brought an easy burst of delight to Eisenhower Theatre, and was jam-packed with fabulous performances by all.

The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage series is presenting shows in a semi-staged concert format. Learn more here.

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