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Artwork: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Artwork: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

STC Opens 2018 Season with Slapstick Farce The Comedy of Errors

The gang is back together may not be the first phrase that comes to mind when describing a collective of esteemed players teeming with talent who’ve reassembled for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s season opener. But when speaking with director Alan Paul about his casting decisions for The Comedy of Errors, it sounds more like a family reunion than a formal process.

“It feels like a family of people,” he says. “I think the secret of the show is that when you get people that know each other, as well as this group knows each other and has that level of comfort and trust, it’s so much easier to be funny and collaborate.”

STC’s associate artistic director saw the remounting of this early Shakespeare comedy, also part of the company’s 2005-2006 season, as “a joyful way to bring back a lot of people that I have loved and that have been important to the audience.” Paul is particularly sentimental about the start of this season as it marks artistic director Michael Kahn’s last one with the company after 32 years. To him, it only seemed fitting to bring together some of the actors Kahn handpicked over the years to celebrate his storied career.

Paul’s production of The Comedy of Errors, at Lansburgh Theatre from September 25 to October 28, is a madcap comedy about identical twin brothers who have been separated. One brother goes on a seven-year journey to find the other, and ultimately all hell breaks loose in some absurd cases of mistaken identity. While meant to make you laugh, the director says the premise of the play is actually not funny.

“If you think about the need to find your other half, it’s an extraordinary way to begin the play,” he says. “There’s such a depth to it. I hope I capture something that is deep and real about what happens to these people, because I think the end of the play should make you cry. I just feel that underneath the comedy of this play is something really real that motivates it.”

Paul’s connection to the play goes one level deeper, as he too is a twin. He says the remarkable thing about twins is you’re always at the exact same level of development as another person. Even now as adults, he and his sister understand each other in a way that’s completely foreign to the outside world.

“It’s such an interesting play, and I think I understand it on a deep level because I’m a twin. The dramaturg [Dr. Drew Lichtenberg] who helped me put the script together is also a twin. So we have two sets of twins working on the show.”

Beyond the twin coincidences, another unique element of this remounting is Paul’s desire to make everyone in the play “a little bit more mature” than the last time around. He’s also drawing from his experience directing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for STC several years ago, as both plays are based on works by ancient Roman playwright Plautus and include elements of slapstick and even vaudevillian humor.

In Paul’s version of The Comedy of Errors, the players will navigate chaos in 1960s Greece. He’s asked composer and lyricist Michael Dansicker to write a half-dozen songs for the show; in the past month, they’ve been collaborating on a song for both the opening scene and the courtesan, as well as a big number for the different policemen in the show.

Perhaps the only part of the Bard’s comedy he’s not changing is his lead, Gregory Wooddell. The seasoned actor and STC-affiliated artist played the same role of Antipholus of Syracuse for the company more than a decade ago, but he says his approach this time around will be fresh.

“One of the reasons I’m drawn to doing the role again after 13 years is that I feel like I’ve grown as an actor,” Wooddell says. “I’m personally excited to attack it with a lot more experience and wisdom under my belt. I think I’ve got new ideas, and I think I can bring a greater clarity to the role and the language.”

He describes the play as a classic comedy, with a straightforward plotline that’s very accessible to an audience that might normally shy away from Shakespeare. The actor also loves the fact that he’s getting paid to tap into his silly side on a daily basis.

“It’s a treat to be able to work on a play like this where you get to show up for work and try to get people to laugh. But as wacky and madcap as it can get, we have a really accomplished cast that I can’t wait to work with.”

Wooddell and Paul both mention the bad rap the comedy sometimes gets, often disregarded as a lesser play for being one of Shakespeare’s earlier works.

“There’s a sensibility about the play that it’s unsophisticated, and I disagree with that,” Wooddell says.

Paul agrees, saying that the fifth act of The Comedy of Errors is just as perfect, whole and deep as the fifth act of Twelfth Night or The Tempest.

“I hope what I can evoke in the show besides the humor, which will be there, is that the play has elements of what you see later on in [Shakespeare’s] plays about families coming back together,” the director says. “It is about the need to belong to a family and what length you will go to make yourself whole by finding your family. That’s the whole thing and the whole satisfaction of it. It’s a theme that Shakespeare came back to all the time.”

From universal themes to a 90-minute, no-intermission run time, Paul is crafting a production to engage millennial theatergoers as much as any other audience. Most importantly, though, he’s hoping to give us a much-needed break from the outside world.

“For all of us that go home and turn the news on every night and have to grapple with the chaos of this modern world, I want to give the audience 90 minutes of just pure joy to forget about all the nonsense going on today and just have a good time.”

The Comedy of Errors runs from September 25 to October 28 at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. Tickets are $44-$118.

Check www.shakespearetheatre.org for details about special nights and discounts.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Wentworth Galleries
Photo: Courtesy of Wentworth Galleries

KISS Guitarist Paul Stanley Shows Artistic Flair

Members of the KISS Army know singer and guitarist Paul Stanley designed the iconic logo that has represented the rock band since the early 70s before rising to prominence and selling more than 100 million records worldwide.

But what many might not realize is the legendary rocker behind such hits as “God of Thunder,” “Love Gun” and “Detroit Rock City” is just as comfortable with a paintbrush as he is with a Washburn guitar.

“I started painting about 18 years ago,” Stanley says. “It really started out as a stream of consciousness and a way to purge while I was going through a tumultuous time in my life. I never planned on showing any of my work. It was for myself.”

Inevitably, friends and family would pop over to his house and ask about the artwork, not realizing that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was the master behind them.

“It was about 15 years ago when a gallery owner first asked me to exhibit, and I was pretty leery of it because I never had that in mind,” he says. “Curiosity got the best of me, and low and behold, people were taking some of my pieces home. I was surprised and thrilled.”

There was so much love for his artwork that Stanley decided to put it on display more regularly. This month, his work will be showcased at the Wentworth Gallery’s two DC area locations: Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda on September 14 and Tysons Galleria on September 15.

“These are works from my entire career. It’s interesting to see the journey, so to speak. I’ve always made the rule with painting – just like everything in my life – that there are no rules. I paint from the heart and the soul.”

His collection includes paintings, mixed media, limited edition prints and hand-painted acrylic sculptures at a wide range of price points.

“I’ve had no schooling and I’m really not interested in the intricacies of documenting what I see. I’m more interested in creating an impression and letting the viewer see what they do. The one thing that all my work has [in common] is an abundance of color. I believe the more color, the more you are designing who you are and how you see the world.”

The Starchild – Stanley’s KISS persona – understands that many of those interested in his art are fans of the band, and he expects a great deal of KISS Army members to attend. But he’s also attracting those in the art world and establishing himself as something of a critical darling.

“I would be foolish to claim that KISS fans won’t come, and I welcome that and want that,” he says. “Still, the larger pieces ultimately are being acquired by collectors and many know nothing about KISS or don’t like KISS. I’m thrilled to see a piece go from the gallery to someone’s wall.”

The top collectors of Stanley’s art will have a chance to join him for dinner after each gallery show.

Paul Stanley will be exhibiting his art at Wentworth Gallery in Westfield Montgomery Mall (7101 Democracy Blvd. Bethesda, MD) from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, September 14 and from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, September 15 at Wentworth Gallery Tysons Galleria (1807 U. International Dr. McLean, VA).

Admission is free, but RSVPs are highly suggested due to the expected large turnout.

For more information and pricing inquiries, visit www.wentworthgallery.com. To learn more about Stanley’s art, visit www.paulstanley.com/artwork.

Photo: Courtesy of Terry Fator
Photo: Courtesy of Terry Fator

America’s Got Talent Winner Terry Fator Brings Winston and Friends Nat Harbor

As the winner of the second season of America’s Got Talent, ventriloquist and singing impressionist Terry Fator captured the hearts and funny bones of millions of viewers. After, he catapulted his notoriety into one of the biggest Las Vegas deals in history—a five-year deal at the Mirage worth nearly $110 million.

Once the initial contract was over, the resort signed him again and again, and Fator has been performing regularly in what is now called the Terry Fator Theatre for almost a decade.

“Even in my wildest dreams, I didn’t expect a deal like this to come along,” he says. “It wasn’t long before this that I was performing at people’s homes or just doing a set in a small venue. Never did I think that something like this would come along.”

Of course, Fator credits his menagerie of “puppet friends” with helping him get to such a place. Be it Winston, the impersonating turtle; Emma Taylor, the little girl with the big voice; or lounge singer Monty Carlo, the ventriloquist knows the audiences’ love for his characters is what has propelled him to career heights.

“I’m coming up on my 10th year at the Mirage and every year I add characters and try to do something relevant to what’s going on,” he says. “For instance, when David Bowie passed away, I always wanted to do something with Bowie and Bing Crosby coming together, and I already had Bing in my Christmas show, so I invented a Bowie puppet so they could sing ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ I let inspiration decide what I am going to be creating.”

Although he comes up with the ideas, he admits he’s no craftsman so he hired what he considers to be the best of the best puppet makers to help his friends come to life.

“Most of my puppets are made by the same people who work for the Muppets, and that’s the pinnacle,” Fator says. “Steve Axtell is one of the top in the world, and he does more of the latex. Then there’s Chance Wolf who is new to the business and his stuff is incredible. I find the top talent and the best.”

On September 6, Fator and his puppet friends will be coming to the MGM National Harbor, where the audience can expect his trademark impressions, storytelling, singing and maybe even a little dancing.

“I have a lot of new stuff. I’m always updating and changing characters and routines, so even if someone has seen me before, it’s going to be a different show this time around,” Fator says. “One of the most characters I do now in my Vegas show that I just started bringing on the road is my Donald Trump.”

While this might seem a bit dicey in the DC area, Fator shies away from politics and just has fun with the character.

“Whether you love him or hate him, you will leave not knowing what side of the aisle I am on,” he says. “He’s a big character. I don’t make fun, I have fun. You’re guaranteed to laugh.”

Fator first learned the art of ventriloquism as a fifth grader after checking out a book on the subject from his school library. Not long after, he won first prize at a church picnic for his first live ventriloquism act.

Last year’s America’s Got Talent winner was 12-year-old Darci Lynne, a young ventriloquist who Fator helped mentor on her journey to the top prize.

“It’s very important for me to inspire the next generation. To me, the greatest compliment I can have is to one day be watching someone on television and they say ‘my inspiration was Terry Fator.’ I feel that keeps your legacy alive,” Fator says. “I think of Edgar Bergen, who died in the 1970s, but I was inspired by him and he lives on. I feel it’s a big role of any ventriloquist to keep the art alive.”

In addition to Bergen, Fator was inspired by people like Willie Tyler, Jeff Dunham and Shari Lewis, and one of his absolute favorites was Jay Johnson, who played Chuck on the adult comedy Soap, who was never without his puppet, the wisecracking Bob in any scene.

“I was too young to watch because of the adult themes, but anytime Chuck and Bob would come on, my parents would call me into the room and I could watch, but then after it was over, I had to leave,” Fator says. “Jay is a great among greats and one of the best ventriloquists to ever be, so what a great one to inspire me at such a young age.”

At his show, Fator honors the military and first responders, and donates the profits from any merchandise sales to the Terry Fator Foundation, which supports numerous military and first responder charities. In fact, he was recently awarded the prestigious Bob Hope Award due to his continued excellence in supporting the nation’s military.

“It’s a very inspirational show and when people leave, they are going to feel on top of the world,” he says. “I just want to take people away from their problems and issues and just let them laugh and feel better about themselves.”

Terry Fator will perform at the MGM National Harbor 8 p.m., Thursday, September 6. Tickets start at $17. For more information click here.

MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; 301-971-5000; www.mgmnationalharbor.com

Photo: Chris Thomas
Photo: Chris Thomas

An Art Lover’s Oasis: NOVA Fine Arts Festival

A treasure trove of unique artifacts and unexplored creations awaits each visitor at the annual Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival at Reston Town Center this spring. From May 18-20, visitors can connect with over 200 artists and experience the beauty of handmade wares while simultaneously supporting the festival host, Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE).

Bring $5 as a donation to GRACE and receive a 52-page booklet including information on all participating artists and coupons for Reston Town Center restaurants, retailers and businesses. Festival director and GRACE’s associate curator, Erica Harrison, says many new and exciting changes are coming to the festival this year, including an entire extra day to explore.

By adding Friday to the schedule, Harrison hopes more people will be able to come out to the festival and the artists will have more time to showcase their work. In addition, the 2018 Awards of Excellence ceremony, which honors the best artists of the festival selected by a three-judge panel, is moving to Saturday night during the festival party.

GRACE supporters and contributing artists will mingle, drink and be merry at the party as they celebrate and discuss this year’s works of art. Harrison says the best part about the night will be a live performance from Baltimore-based artist Laure Drogoul.

“I think what’s really interesting about this year is that it’s a party for our sponsors and supporters, but we’re also trying to do this whole new creative performance art,” Harrison says. “Laure has a giant sculpture called the ‘Illuminated Fountain of Extinction,’ and it highlights a lot of the animals and species that have already or are in the process of going extinct, and I’m super excited about it.”

Although the party is by invitation only, you can sign up as a GRACE contributing supporter on their website to get the invite. Festivalgoers who are more interested in daytime activities can look forward to perusing a variety of handcrafted, supremely unique works of art including furniture, jewelry, ceramics, glasswork, paintings, house wares and much more.

To artists like Christina Boy, a German-American residing in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Madison, Virginia, the festival is a great way to connect with fellow artisans and reach out to potential clients.

“Everyone has their own artistic voice, and I believe that free events such as [this festival] are important for people to be exposed to a variety of different and unique work,” says Boy, who specializes in furniture design. “In a world that is becoming more and more homogenized, festivals like this keep it fresh and different, and help individuals find their own style instead of going for the mainstream.”

This is Boy’s second time participating in the festival, and she’s looking forward to displaying her handcrafted furniture including her signature piece, “Stool 33,” as well as benches, barstools with Danish cord seats, fun side tables and more – all designed with the spirit of spring in mind.

“Shows are a great way for people to see my work in person, as I believe it is crucial with furniture for them to be able to sit and touch the actual items,” she says.

The festival also serves as GRACE’s largest fundraiser of the year, providing the arts center with over half of its annual budget of $500,000 so that it may continue opening exhibits and offering programs at no cost to locals.

“We’re trying to bring more attention to the mission of the gallery by encouraging participation and making sure everything is accessible to the whole community, regardless of income,” Harrison says. “It’s really helpful to have the festival as a starting point; hopefully, people will come back and check out GRACE’s other programs and exhibitions.”

The festival is still going strong in its 27th year, and thanks to Harrison and her team, it’s growing even stronger. She looks forward to the festival’s bright future and many improvements over the next several years so that GRACE may continue to support artists and encourage artistic engagement in an even greater way.

“What I really hope people get out of the festival is that they make a connection – either with a specific artist or by responding to a piece of work that attracts them and becomes special to them. That’s something that you can’t really do with anything but art.”

The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival runs Friday, May 18 to Sunday, May 20 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. The festival party on Saturday, May 19 runs from 7-10 p.m. and is invite only. For more information about the festival’s participating artists and details on how to receive a party invite, visit www.restonarts.org/fineartsfestival.

Reston Town Center: 11900 Market St. Reston, VA; 703-471-9242; www.restonarts.org/fineartsfestival