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Photo: Rich Kessler Photography

Jazz Musician Mark G. Meadows Brings Spontaneity to Signature Theatre

A Jazz Musician

“I am a jazz musician,” Mark G. Meadows says matter-of-factly while sitting at a Blue Bottle Coffee table in a bright red embroidered jacket that helps him stand out among the commuters and passersby at Union Station. “Why do I need to audition for an acting role? I’m not an actor.” 

He explains how theatre first piqued his interest as a performer, and as soon as he begins recounting how he nabbed the titular role in Signature Theatre’s Jelly’s Last Jam in 2016, it becomes obvious that theatre was more interested in Meadows rather than the reverse. 

Instead of dipping his toe in the water, Meadows dove headfirst into the deep end in the form of a major production at one of the DMV’s most prominent theaters – forcing him from his comfort zone as an artist and performer. Since the successful starring role, he’s done nothing but increase his jazz and overall musical prowess through various titles at Signature, including as the Shirlington-based theater’s cabaret series artistic associate. 

 “I realize that sometimes you have to let go of your dreams and let what is happening help you find your niche,” Meadows says. “For me, my dream three years ago [was that] I’d be touring the world as Mark G. Meadows: The Movement. It hasn’t happened. But in a way, it’s almost even better because I stand out as this quasi-theatre/jazz guy.” 

Merry Motown

Meadows’ latest production is A Motown Christmas, a holiday special in Signature’s cabaret series. The show, which runs through December 22, allows the jazz musician a chance to revisit songs that evoke childhood memories of him and his father singing along to Motown hits while decorating their Christmas tree.

“It might seem selfish, but I chose the [songs] that related to me the most,” he says. “Not only because it’s what I like, but because I can teach them better. I can see my dad putting ornaments on the tree, blasting these.” 

Songs include The Supremes’ rendition of “Silver Bells,” Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” Marvin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes” and The Jackson 5’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which apparently includes rapping? Yes, rapping.

“On several tracks, they straight up rap,” Meadows says about the legendary Motown group. “They’re doing it with swag and everything, so we have some surprises for the crowd to make it feel current.” 

Despite the performance being a Christmas special, Meadows says there’s no added pressure to pick specific songs people are familiar with. But he does encourage crowd engagement. Though he laughed when labeled an “expert,” he does admit he’s been listening to holiday tunes since September and can match any crowd suggestions with one of his own.

“Talk to a white person, black person, old person, young person, whatever – they know Motown,” he says. “I want people to feel the Christmas spirit. I think obviously we’re going through some awful times with a sense of culture and connectedness, and we’ve lost a real sense of feeling. I hope that the music, Motown and Christmas can tie people together.” 

A Taste of Theatre

Meadows’ first inclination was to pass on the audition for Jelly’s Last Jam, and the decision would have stood had he not been persuaded by a friend from Dizzy’s Club in New York City.

 “I got back to DC, I met up with [Jelly’s director and Signature Theatre’s associate artistic director] Matthew Gardiner, I auditioned, and he told me if I accepted the role, I would be the lead. I still had no idea what it was. I was thinking like a small high school auditorium with a piano where I play a few songs and take a bow.”

 Instead, the spotlight and pressure were on him to deliver an all-encompassing performance as historic jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. Though he hasn’t taken the stage in this capacity since, he was suddenly an established force in the DC theatre scene. 

“It was amazing. It was one of those stars aligning kind of moments,” he says. “Now all of a sudden, my foot is in the theatre world. It’s great because I’ve begun to be a music director for a lot of productions. It’s totally opened up my world to an audience who is even more appreciative of jazz than a jazz audience.”

Go with the Flow

For Meadows, the transition from jazz musician to leading man to behind the curtains has been seamless, and includes stints in some of Signature’s more music-forward productions like its cabaret series and the musicals Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Spunk. Though the jazz artist wouldn’t turn down another opportunity to be in the spotlight, he won’t lie and tell you he’s pining for it either. 

“I’m the kind of person [who] just goes with the flow. Whatever work comes my way is the work that I accept and focus on. [Acting] has not come up as much since Jelly’s Last Jam. It’s been more so from the music direction perspective, which is more my cup of tea. If something comes up again, I’d probably take it and roll with the punches. If I look at my life, music direction is more my forte. Acting is great and challenging. I had no idea what I was doing. I managed to do it, but I feel way more secure as a music director than as an actor.”

Theatre has also helped his burgeoning jazz career, introducing his style of music to an audience who otherwise may not have heard him. While theatre is generally more restrictive than spontaneous, improvisation-heavy jazz, Meadows’ “theatrical” lyrics and ability to adapt to the classical structure has led to a surprisingly fruitful marriage. 

“Signature has given me the freedom to have jazz energy while having structure and form,” he says. “The cool thing about being a music director is that I have the authority to extend a section or repeat something or do a longer intro. I feel that even though it’s leaning toward theatre, it doesn’t lose the spontaneous nature of jazz.”

With his go with the flow attitude, it’s tough to make predictions about what’s on the horizon for Meadows. Will he be a leading man onstage? Will he oversee the music for a future production? It’s hard to predict what a jazz musician will focus on next, because like the music, there are usually twists, turns and outright risks. 

“I still don’t understand how Matthew Gardiner took a risk on me,” he says laughing. “I don’t know what he saw. I don’t even think he saw me perform, but God bless him.” 

See Meadows in A Motown Christmas at Signature Theatre now through December 22. Tickets $38. For more information about Meadows and his artistic endeavors, visit www.markgmeadows.com. 

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Rich Kessler Photography

DC Actress Maria Rizzo Embraces Challenges, Finds Humor & Adds a Hint of Sass

Kicking and Singing

Maria Rizzo is quick to tell you she’s not a dancer. Her high kicks aren’t high enough, she says when flinging her leg effortlessly in the air for the On Tap cover shoot. 

“I’m in pain,” she says. “Great pain. My hamstrings are ruined. [Dancing] is absolutely horrifying and really scary to me, [but] it’s a wonderful challenge.” 

The challenge she’s currently tackling is playing Shelia in Signature Theatre’s A Chorus Line. During her audition at the Arlington theater, Rizzo made a point not to dance. That was never her strong suit, and it wasn’t going to be the reason for her casting. Instead, the Helen Hayes nominee relied on the aspects she loves most about acting: comedy and sass. 

“I was cracking jokes in there,” she says. “I was trying to be funny, trying to be charming. I love comedy so much. You can find humor in [characters] if you’re not taking them as seriously as they take themselves.” 

In the DC theatre scene, Rizzo is definitely taken seriously. She’s performed at many of the city’s most renowned theaters including Arena Stage, Keegan Theatre, Olney Theatre Center and Studio Theatre, among others. The actress has essentially taken residency at Signature this year, appearing in Grand Hotel, Assassins and the aforementioned A Chorus Line, running through January 5. 

“I mean I didn’t plan it, but they just kept asking. [Signature] feels like home. I know and respect the work that the directors and choreographers do, and I love vibing with those friends. I want to call them friends because of how much I love and respect what they do.”

Auditioning  to Play Auditioners

The winner of nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, A Chorus Line is an iconic musical with a narrative about a group of hopeful dancers going through the process of landing a spot on the chorus line of a show. While the commentary could be meta for people in the theatre world, Rizzo was drawn to the play because of its underlying question of whether to hold on or let go of your passion. 

“When I started, I had a very different opinion of the show then where I’m at now. I thought it romanticized what we do and was just a bunch of dancers trying to get a part and be in this ensemble [with] this mean director asking them about their Rosebud or their childhood. Yes, it’s about performers, but it’s a coming-of-age story about letting go or holding onto your dream, your passion, whatever it might be. I really learned to appreciate this more.” 

And then there’s the dancing, as the play is physically exhilarating and demanding for the performers. While Rizzo – again, not a dancer – was excited to portray Sheila, she knew it would be a large undertaking. 

“An OG of DC theatre, Holly Twyford, said in an interview, ‘If it doesn’t scare you, what are you doing?’ If I’m doing the same crap all the time, how is it making me a better artist? It’s also really great learning from all the people who are in the show and do this 24/7.” 

Apart from the physical demands, Rizzo was also drawn to the character of Sheila from an emotional perspective. One of the more seasoned dancers in the audition room, she’s entitled, tough and a little bossy.

 “I think she’s jaded,” she says. “There are definitely people in the industry who are that way – not in our show, but in shows I’ve done in the past. Sheila’s not villainous in any way, but she’s tough. I think playing that is always more fun than playing the congenial type.”

 For the show, Rizzo is joined by one of the largest casts in Signature Theatre history. With the number of bodies moving around onstage and behind the curtain, it’s hard not to get caught up in the energy surge, whether you’re a part of the cast or audience. 

“There’s something about big dance shows, like West Side Story or A Chorus Line, that creates camaraderie,” she says. “I enjoy a surge of energy. It’s a 5, 6, 7, 8 power punch and you’re just going.”

The Bug

Theatre was always the obvious career choice for Rizzo, as she “caught the bug” after portraying Fran in a grade school production of Once Upon a Mattress. Eventually, her childhood passion turned into her area of study at Catholic University before becoming her profession. 

“I think I knew when I was really young, and luckily I have really supportive parents, a supportive family, who would let me do and study the craft,” she says. “What’s been the best is being able to bring them to these great theaters, to show them the work we’re doing. It’s full circle.”

 Rizzo says people always ask her what she would be if not for her career as an actress, and lately, because of the subject matter of A Chorus Line, the query has been fielded even more. 

“That stuff comes up all the time when I look at my bank account,” she says, laughing. “That question is coming up a lot doing the show because it’s about learning to let go of love or hold onto love. I’m sure there is [something], but I just haven’t looked in that direction. When something brings you this much joy, it’s hard to look away from it.” 

Despite jokes about her bank account and her reflections on her currently meta role, Rizzo has no reason to shift focus. There’s little doubt Rizzo will be on many a DC stage in 2020, bringing sassy characters to life while continuing to challenge herself as an artist. 

“Everything you do presents challenges and glory in different ways, but at the same time, everything is also very fleeting. You can’t take anything for granted and you can’t throw too much of it away. I’m always looking for ways to make it better, or [find] what’s the next. I’m never satisfied.” 

A Chorus Line is currently sold out but for updates about the show, visit www.sigtheatre.org. Follow Rizzo on Instagram @mariarizz9o.

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771; www.sigtheatre.org

Sinclair Daniel, Chauncey Chestnut, Derek Smith, Christopher Flaim & Jenni Barber // Photo: Teresa Castracane

Peter Pan Reimagined: Female-Driven Peter Pan and Wendy Flips the Script

Alan Paul likes to go big. Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC)’s associate artistic director has made a name for himself directing musicals and operas notable for their grand scale and lush scope. That experience will come in handy this December as Paul tackles his biggest project yet: a re-envisioning of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, at Sidney Harman Hall through January 12.

Peter Pan and Wendy will feature a fresh new script by playwright Lauren Gunderson, a cast of 20, and a creative team of 66 that will bring the Peter Pan story to life through special effects, flying and ambitious sets. It is bigger than anything STC has produced before, and it’s all in Paul’s hands.

“I don’t feel like the director of this show,” Paul said during a recent interview at STC’s rehearsal space. “I feel like the captain of the ship, like I’m orchestrating 50 people doing a million things, which I am.”

Paul envisions a show that is grand in both ideas and design. His team includes a roster of A-list artists like Gunderson, currently the most frequently produced playwright in America according to American Theatre magazine, and Emmy Award-winning scenic designer Jason Sherwood (Fox’s Rent: Live), who is tasked with creating the worlds of the Darling family nursery, Neverland and more. 

Gunderson’s script calls for dazzling effects: flying bunk beds, midair fight sequences and pirates tumbling from their ship while a giant crocodile lurks below, to name but a few. The playwright first saw her work come to life during tech rehearsals last week.

“Oh my gosh,” she said of the experience. “The incredible caliber of the design on this project is magic. It’s all the things you want in a great spectacle.”

Peter Pan and Wendy includes the familiar Peter Pan storyline – with some twists.

“Peter Pan already has his story,” Paul said. “The pull of it for me was Wendy and what happens to her. This is Wendy’s story from start to finish.”

Paul felt that Gunderson, known for her plays that put women – often neglected historical figures – center stage, was the perfect person to develop a “robust, swashbuckling adventure” led by a smart, inquisitive heroine.

“There were a lot of people out there who could have written a post-modern riff on Peter Pan, but not in a big, crowd-pleasing, robust way. And that was the charge I had for her. It had to be robust.”

And it had to put the ladies in charge. Paul hopes Peter Pan and Wendy will do for theatre what Frozen did for movies: rewrite the rules and prove that female-driven adventure stories can attract large audiences. 

Rewriting the rules “is the whole point, actually,” Paul said. “In the original Peter Pan, Peter wants to bring Wendy to Neverland to sew their socks and mend their buttons. That feels very different in 2019.” Gunderson agrees.

“We wanted to save what is worth saving about this beautiful, timeless story but also confront what is deeply problematic about it,” she said. “In the original, Wendy, a 12- or 13-year-old girl, is referenced only by whether or not she will be a mother. And she is boy crazy as soon as she sees Peter Pan. I said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

In Gunderson’s version, Wendy is a budding scientist whose role model is Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist.

“Peter Pan was written in 1904, and I realized that was the year after Marie Curie won her first Nobel Prize,” Gunderson said. “There are not that many other female scientists that were recognized at that level at that time, so it aligned nicely.”

Wendy is joined by Tiger Lily, the Native American character that many productions of the still-popular 1954 Peter Pan musical cut because it’s widely considered offensive and even racist. In approaching the Tiger Lily character, Paul felt his and Gunderson’s job “was not to be apologetic, but to actively flip the script.” Rather than eliminating the Tiger Lily character, they wanted to make her voice powerful and real. 

“Tiger Lily is brave and courageous, and a warrior,” Gunderson said. “It was just a matter of actually treating her like a fully fleshed out person and acknowledging the indigenous perspective on situations as opposed to reveling in the stereotypes.” 

Tiger Lily is now a driving force in Peter Pan and Wendy, a vocal sparring partner with Pan and a leader in Neverland. Paul enjoys mining the deep psychological undercurrents in the script.

 “This is a play that is obsessed with time,” he observed, noting that Peter Pan and Captain Hook are both trying to stop the clock and avoid the inevitability of aging. “It’s not a subtle play. It’s about good and evil, and the stakes are really high. These kids go to Neverland to discover who they are and see the worst of the world. They come back having learned big things.”

The story plays out on five separate sets, each of them designed to dazzle by Jason Sherwood.

“When you do Peter Pan, you can either do Peter and the Starcatcher, which is a very slimmed down version, or you just go ‘Boom!” Paul said. “And I was like ‘Jason, it’s time for big scenery. People want an adventure.’” 

In his approach to scenic design, Paul draws from his experiences directing opera. He recalls advice he once received from Sir Nicholas Hytner, the former artistic director of London’s National Theatre. 

“The secret to opera is that you have to create five images that the audience will find spectacular,” Paul recalled Hytner saying.

That can be a set piece, like the pirate ship that makes an entrance in Peter Pan and Wendy’s fifth act. 

“We played around with simple designs for the ship, but then I thought, ‘People are waiting for that pirate ship to show up. It needs to be great.’” 

Or it can be a scene. Paul thinks the opening sequence in which Pan reunites with his shadow will be spectacular. He hopes that one scene featuring an aerialist mermaid in a sea cave will be a beautifully stark and memorable contrast to the rest of the show. 

STC commissioned Peter Pan and Wendy as the first offering in new artistic director Simon Godwin’s holiday family-friendly initiative. But Gunderson and Paul believe Peter Pan and Wendy will speak to adults and children equally. 

“I think we ended up with something that is going to be a lot of fun, and powerful and thought-provoking too,” Gunderson observed.

Paul knows it is the visual splendor that will wow young audiences, but he also thinks back to the opening night of J.M. Barrie’s original 1904 play. 

“The audience that night was full of adults. Adults keep coming back to this old play from 1904 because there is really something to it. We had to find a way to honor that and make it about really contemporary things.”

Don’t miss Peter Pan and Wendy at Sidney Harman Hall through January 12. Times vary. Tickets are $35-$120. Learn more and purchase tickets at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

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

Photo: Joan Marcus

A Q&A with Jersey Boys’ Eric Chambliss on Bob Gaudio’s Story of Ambition, Aspiration and More

Chicago native Eric Chambliss is currently in his second year touring with Jersey Boysplaying the role of songwriting legend Bob Gaudio of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, which comes to DC’s National Theatre Tuesday, December 17 through Sunday, January 5. This role of a lifetime matches the excitement of other well-known characters Chambliss has played, including George from Sunday in the Park with George and Perchik from Fiddler on The Roof, his Broadway debut.  From performing in front of Gaudio himself during last summer’s special premier in Atlantic City to a surreal moment performing in front of his hometown crowd, Chambliss is thrilled to see “how DC likes a taste of Jersey.”

OT: What would you say to people who aren’t familiar with Jersey Boys or Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito?
EC: Whether people realize it or not, they know so much more of this stuff than they realize. Bob is a smart guy and has made sure his music was a part of movies and commercials, it’s really been disseminated amazingly well. [The show] also stands alone as incredible music and they were part of an era where they were one of the only groups to survive Beatlemania. I learned more about them through this show. This is such a great way to encapsulate their story and it’s unpolished, honest and it really is a cool way to bring people into the lives of the people that created this music and give them the backstory of what they already know and love.

OT: We saw a photo of you and Bob on your Instagram and were wondering the backstory behind that. Did he come to see the show?
EC: That photo was taken in Atlantic City, we premiered the show there last summer. It was a big deal. That’s where they started, they gained a lot of traction performing there. That’s their stomping ground. That meant a lot to him for it to be there so he made it a point to come out for the beginning of that [tour] to see us off. It was really pretty amazing to meet him. We did a rehearsal kind of just for him, which I tried to put out of my mind and just do my show. Do what i know what i do. It’s not until the end of the show where each of the four of us has one last address to the audience which sums up the life that we’ve lived and what that was to have this career and this success. Telling the guy who’s life your talking about to his face is a surreal experience I have to say.

OT: What have you learned about Gaudio while playing the role of him?
EC: Just playing the role of him is very informative. This is a guy that was so smart on the go and he learned as he experienced. He started out with”Short Shorts,” the song he wrote when he was 15 years old, he toured with it and made good money with it but he ended up not being one with rights to it in the end because he didn’t know the business very well. He learned some valuable lessons as a kid. He’s the last piece of the puzzle, as the script says. It really is his insight and his knowledge that took them to seize the right opportunities to advance them into the chance to get to play these hits. They really go from ground zero to mega stars practically over night. I would say that ambition and that insight is very inspiring. 

OT: Is there anything in particular that you admire about him?
EC: He is just a grounded and relatable guy. He was very complimentary of the job we’re doing – this is also after a year of touring, so we had a pretty good understanding that we’re in good hands when it comes to the show. [During our conversation] He went right to relating about touring. To not be a figure head over us, but to say, ‘We’re in this together. I’ve been there, hotel to hotel room.’ The fact that he could be that brilliant and that grounded is pretty amazing to me.

OT: You’ve mentioned that he’s pretty inspiring. What does playing the character of Bob Gaudio mean to you?
EC: It’s a huge honor, playing any of these guys is a huge honor. We get to be the ambassadors for their story each night, and embody these rockstars. That’s a real good feeling. They’re also brave enough to tell some pretty hard truths and you want to represent that well. It’s a big honor to be a part of it because it means a lot to a lot of people.  The music, the place and time, there’s so much nostalgia and memory packed in that and representing well is a lesson I’ve learned. 

OT: What’s you favorite scene and what’s your favorite song in the show?
EC: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is my favoring song. There’s a nice little section of multiple scenes right before it, showing just how difficult it was to get that song on the air. Bob had to fight for it. He had to go to a record label, the station manager, and pretty much just fight all the odds because no one wanted the song to succeed, but he fought hard enough and his own money behind it, and the chance to put it out there and it ended up being one of their most famous and loved songs. 

OT: Tell us about the range of work that goes into this production as it tours from city to city. 
EC: Certainly it’s not without its tough times.  You’re pretty much a family on the road, what’s interesting in that experience is your talking about guys touring and the difficulties of the road. So it’s very much like imitating the life and you kind of lose track of where that ends and begins and vice versa. What I love about theater is that it’s such a collaborative art form. Everyone has a purpose and everyone’s job is as important as the others. The actors can’t do what they do unless these elements from the technical side are in place. When it all comes together and it’s genuinely seamless, that’s one of the most magical things about theater. The nature of how a perfect collaboration can create an experience that stands on its own. 

OT: What’s an impactful message from Jersey Boys that you hope the DC audience will take away?
EC: I think it’s cool because it’s a story about some guys that come from a pretty rough background and a tough neighborhood to rise out of. Right in the beginning of the show, the character Tommy DeVito states there were three ways out: You could join the army, get mobbed up or you can become a star. The stakes were pretty high from the get-go. These are all either direct Italian immigrants or sons and daughters of Italian immigrants in these communities and they’re rough. This was a shot in the dark and wouldn’t have happened if four guys didn’t come together and happen to find the right sound, blend and songs and test the right opportunity to be launched into fame. It’s an aspirational story, anyone can achieve anything from anywhere and that should be remembered. 

See Jersey Boys at the National Theatre from Tuesday, December 17 through Sunday, January 5. Tickets and showtimes available at www.thenationaldc.com.

The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC

Photo; courtesy of We Happy Few

We Happy Few All Sold Out of Lovers’ Vows

If you haven’t yet made it to Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW)for We Happy Few’s latest production, you may have missed your chance to see the Helen Hayes-recommended company’s season opener. Rave reviews have had patrons scurrying for seats in CHAW’s cozy black box theater, and the company just announced that remaining performances of Lovers’ Vows are sold out.

But as playwright Elizabeth Inchbald seems to imply, not all hope is lost. If you’re just dying to see 18th-century wit on display this weekend, you might try your luck: waitlist seating on a first-come, first-served basis is an option for any unclaimed day-of-the-show tickets for the rest of the run, through November 23. And you might find it worth it.

Many of the show’s themes remain as relevant in today’s sociopolitical climate as they did in Inchbald’s era – notably, there’s a lot of talk about what women should and shouldn’t be doing, without much input from, well, women. Modern music by DC-based band The North Country propels the plot forward in ways that give what could have been an otherwise “overdone” narrative (love, loss and redemption) an attractively creative spin.

As is usually the case for We Happy Few productions, several actors play more than one role. Their mastery of this device is a testament to the small company’s spunk and skill. Director Kerry McGee’s onstage presence – which often drives the energy of the company’s shows – is missed. But Jessica Lefkow brings compelling spark to her two characters – both spurned lover/abandoned mother and lady-killing dandy. On Tap spoke to McGee about the sell-out show’s creative vision and more below.

On Tap: Why did you choose to put on a production of this show now?
Kerry McGee: I was inspired by the Women’s Voices Festival that theatreWashington puts up every couple of years. Their focus is to encourage local theaters to produce more work by female playwrights. For classical companies, “female playwright” often means a new adaptation by a woman of a classical play that was written by a man. But there were women playwrights out there from as far back as the 10th century. So I started trying to read as much work as I could by them. There’s a lot of funny, witty plays from women of the 17th and 18th centuries especially, but Lovers’ Vows was ultimately my favorite. The way the women are written felt very ahead of its time – so much so that its initial reception was controversial. A major plot point is about doing the right thing no matter what society dictates. That felt like a nice story to tell right now.

OT: What are some of your favorite creative decisions you’ve made for this adaptation?
KM: We’ve chosen to embrace the melodrama instead of working around it. The actors lean into the big emotional moments and choose to invite the audience to join in the fun with direct address and shared looks. The musical score from The North Country allows the moments of melodrama and heightened emotions to spill out onto the stage. We’ve had a lot of fun creating dance and movement sequences to their music. I was worried that next to the Regency costumes and Old World manners, the music might seem anachronistic. But it doesn’t at all. It’s a beautiful extension of the world, and the contemporary soundtrack highlights the modernity of the script.

OT: Does this show feel like a significant divergence from previous WHF productions?
KM: Not at all. I think it is influenced by and builds on the work we’ve created before. The balance of humor is reminiscent of our production of Dog in the Manger, and the movement-based storytelling lives in the same world as our Pericles. I feel like every new production from We Happy Few helps us hone in on our particular style of storytelling.

We Happy Few will be celebrating Lovers’ Vows with a fundraising event for the 2019-2020 season. Between the matinee and evening performances on Saturday, November 23 from 4-7 p.m., We Happy Few is hosting Shakespeare Karaoke at Lola’s on 8th Street in Eastern Market. No tickets are required for that event.

Lola’s: 711 8th St. SE, DC; 202-846-7728; www.lolasdc.com

Photo: Manganiyar Seduction, courtesy of the Artist

World Stages Brings The Manganiyar Seduction To Kennedy Center

I have never been to India. Other than watching a handful of Bollywood movies, I know virtually nothing about Indian culture. This is not due to a lack of interest; I like learning about different customs and traditions outside of my own. I just get caught up in my own way of life and forget to appreciate how captivating and diverse the world at large can be.

Luckily, living in a cultural hub like DC means there are plenty of opportunities to learn about and experience different cultures – especially through the arts.   

The Kennedy Center’s World Stages series brings extraordinary talent from around the world to the nation’s capital. The latest musical group to take the Eisenhower Theatre stage was The Manganiyar Seduction, more than 40 singers and instrumentalists from the Rajasthani deserts of India performing traditional Manganiyar music. 

Back for the second time at the venue, the Manganiyar musicians sat behind a four-story wall divided into 32 pods. The sold-out crowd sat in darkness and anticipation as one of the 32 red curtains opened. Bright bulbs of light outlined the pod as a man began to strum low notes on a string instrument that I didn’t recognize.  

As the lights flared around another pod, the curtain opened to reveal a different man who began to sing in perfect harmony with the strings. As more lights came to life, more curtains opened and the music swelled with the additional vocalists, drummers and string instruments. In addition to being visually stimulating to the audience, the component of  illumination illustrated who was playing and when they were playing. It made the large group seem much smaller and the concert more intimate. 

However, the light was not the only guide for the musicians as the performance featured a very enthusiastic conductor. 

Conductor Deu Khan was a stark contrast from any I had ever seen before. In bare feet, he danced in front of the wall of musicians leading them with head nods, arm movements and a clicking instrument. It almost seemed like he was communicating in a silent language the audience wasn’t privy to. As opposed to a baton, the clicking instrument lead the musicians while also adding to the sound. 

At one point, he turned his attention to the audience. He created a pattern of clicks that the audience repeated in a series of claps. Ranging in levels of difficulty, the audience participated in the performance, as the band played softy behind him. 

In the big finale, the entire band played as the lights rode across the wall in horizontal and vertical designs. However, this didn’t mark the end of the show. Khan brought out the creator and director, Roysten Abel, who introduced the musicians and spoke to the audience.

“Love is the message of the night,” Abel said.    

Abel then asked if the audience wanted to hear an encore. If the standing ovation wasn’t enough, the thunderous applause indicated their desire to hear more. 

In contrast to the more jovial, traditional music that had been played throughout the night, the encore was a soft ballad about “seeing love in all things.” As the tune began to fade, all 32 red curtains closed. 

The Manganiyar Seduction is now off to bring their culture and music to New York City. Undoubtedly, the enthusiasm with which they were welcomed to DC is a likely indication they will return. 

The beautiful music and joyous energy they brought to the stage was unparalleled to any performance I’ve seen. And while it was for only 80 minutes, I feel lucky to have heard a piece of Manganiyar culture.     

For more information about the The Kennedy Center’s World Stages series, visit here.

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

Photo: Scott Suchman

Ford’s Theater Brings August Wilson’s Masterpiece to Life with Fences

By the end of Fences, August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece now playing at Ford’s Theatre, we know a lot about Troy Maxson: his hard-scrabble Southern childhood, his stint in jail, and his time as a star in baseball’s Negro Leagues. We know that he is a liar, a cheater and sometimes, a thief. We know that he is consumed by bitterness and convinced that life didn’t give him a fair shake.

But what we don’t know is whether or not we like him.

Audiences will find him captivating and hang on his every word of this brilliantly penned play. And just like Troy’s wife Rose, whose years of loyalty Troy spits on with one selfish act, or Troy’s son Cory, whose life Troy derails before it has really started, it’s easy to be drawn into Troy’s orbit, despite its ruinous impact.

Troy Maxson is one of American theater’s great tragic heroes. The success of any production of Fences hinges on finding the right actor to tell the story of this former baseball star who now scrapes by as a sanitation worker in segregated 1950s Pittsburgh. In Ford’s production, Craig Wallace proves himself the ideal performer to fit the role.

As Troy, Wallace portrays a complicated man who holds us spellbound for the nearly three hours he is onstage, entrancing us with every story and monologue. This performance is a crowning achievement in Wallace’s already long and successful career.

Wallace is joined onstage by six other consummate actors as Troy’s friends and family. With director Timothy Douglas (who has directed nine out of the ten plays in August Wilson’s Century Cycle, documenting African American life in each decade of the 20th century), they breathe glorious life into what is some of the most beautiful and natural dialogue ever written by an American playwright.

Erika Rose shines as Rose Maxson, Troy’s wife of 18 years, who grows throughout the play, eventually becoming a hero in her own right. Rose conveys a simmering intensity; when confronted with the truth of her husband’s betrayal, she gives her own share of masterful monologues that are a joy to watch.

Justin Weeks burns as Troy’s youngest son Cory, who grows from frustrated teen to responsible adult before our very eyes. Doug Brown (as Jim Bono), KenYatta Rogers (as Lyons Maxson), Jefferson A. Russell (as Gabriel Maxson), and the two young girls who alternate the role of Raynell Maxson (Janiyah Lucas and Mecca Rogers) all contribute to the production’s success.

Part of the joy – and the sorrow – of Fences lies in watching these characters interact with Troy, at first merely satellites, trapped in his orbit but eventually, finding the strength to launch out on their own, as they retreat from the corrosive effects of his self-destruction and forge their own destinies.

If you haven’t seen Fences before, this production is a great introduction to the genius of Wilson. If you are a seasoned Wilson vet, you will find that Ford’s iteration successfully taps into the pure beauty of Wilson’s work. Through Douglas’s direction, Wilson’s dialogue is so natural, so endearing, his characters so consistently fleshed out, that you immediately feel a kinship with the characters onstage.

Though his character’s lives may be drastically different than yours (and in my case, they are), Wilson’s genius lies in his ability to tap into the universal humanity in us all. The fact that he did so through the lens of African American life that had – until his arrival – been deplorably absent from American stages, makes his accomplishments as a playwright one of the most important in the history of American theater.

Lauren Helpern’s scenic design features a two-story projection of 1950s Hill District Pittsburgh that feels almost too dilapidated and dystopian but, set against the cozy brownstone in which the Maxsons live, clearly drives home the point that Rose – and Troy – worked painstakingly over many years to forge a comfortable home. The soft touches of a flowered curtain poking out of the kitchen window or the shadow of a lone tree falling on the brick rowhouse (lighting by Andrew R. Cissna) hint at Rose’s grit and dedication to her family.

And then, of course, there’s the fence. Troy has been building it throughout the show at Rose’s request. “Some people build fences to keep people out, other people build fences to keep people in,” Troy’s friend Bono tells him near the end of the play.

And that’s one of the great gifts that Ford’s Theatre’s production of Fences offers audiences: The opportunity to reflect on how we, as individuals, react to adversity.

We don’t need to like Troy Maxson, but witnessing his story allows us to ponder his choices and the choices we all face as humans.

August Wilson’s Fences runs at Ford’s Theatre through October 27. Various dates, times and prices. Run time is three hours including one fifteen-minute intermission.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Erika Rose + Craig Wallace in Fences // Scott Suchman

August Wilson’s “Fences” Tackles Issues of Race, Identity + Family

August Wilson’s Fences offers an enduring look at the everyday struggles of black Americans through the lens of ex-ball player Troy Maxson and his complicated relationship with his family. Though the groundbreaking Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh, the text has resonated with theatregoers since its run in the late 80s on Broadway and will continue to do so at Ford’s Theatre from September 27 to October 27. We spoke with director Timothy Douglas, one of the foremost Wilson interpreters, about why he’s drawn to the playwright’s work and how Fences continues to hold relevance with today’s audiences.

On Tap: Fences is a legendary production. Its Broadway runs featured both Denzel Washington and James Earl Jones as Troy, and Washington recently directed and starred in the Oscar-nominated film adaptation. Why do you think this material is so powerful 34 years after August Wilson penned it?
Timothy Douglas: August Wilson is one of the world’s great playwrights, and the play can speak and reflect [on] the ongoing relevance in and of itself and the world it exists in. It’s a milestone in inviting the intimacy of what it’s like to be black in America, so you can get a sense of that while August unfolds his own story.

OT: How difficult is the balancing act of honoring the source and adding your own personal twist to a story like this?
TD: Any well-written play, and specifically Fences, for me is like dough. I have to knead the dough and let it rest. When I come back, it expands. I can’t bring anything to Fences. I’m the conduit for which the play further expresses itself. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

OT: One of DC’s notable actors who you’ve directed before, Craig Wallace, is set to play Troy. How excited are you for him to be able to take on this role?
TD: One of the reasons Ford’s programmed this play is [because] Craig Wallace is at a point in his career where he’s ready for Troy and Troy is ready to be interpreted through him. I’m the one who holds the reigns of this great union, but I’m just there to make sure they’re speaking for each other.

OT: Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in a number of August Wilson plays. Why do you keep coming back to his works?
TD: These works will never be the definitive production because it’s impossible to encapsulate it all in one production. It’s my sixth time directing Fences, and I am just picking up where I left off and seeing how much deeper I can dig into the basement of it.

OT: This play obviously deals with race and issues around race in America. Does it mean more to you directing this play in the nation’s capital?
TD: It does. In my experience, the majority of audiences in DC are typically white and don’t know the realities of black people in America. For the first time in my life, there are more white people engaged in the curiosity of what it’s like to be black in America, so they can better perceive the material of this play.

August Wilson’s Fences runs from Friday, September 27 through Sunday, October 27. Times vary. Tickets $20-$70.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Photo: courtesy of Studio Theatre

Unanswered Questions Remain Relevant in “Doubt: A Parable”

Where did society’s curiosity go? What happened to the doubts? These are some of the questions that playwright John Patrick Shanley asks in his 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Doubt: A Parable. Studio Theatre brings the thoughtful play to 14th Street from September 4 to October 6 with associate artistic director Matt Torney at the helm. The story centers on a 1964 Brooklyn Catholic school where a charismatic priest takes an interest in a young boy, leaving the school’s headmaster suspicious of foul play. As Studio prepares to ask the play’s many questions, we talked to Torney about this contemporary masterpiece and its jarring subject matter.

On Tap: Why did you decide this season was the right fit for Doubt?
Matt Torney: The first thing is that it’s one of the plays that seems to be many years ahead of its time. In the preface, the playwright talks about the year he’s living in [as] an age of certainty [where] everyone was very certain about what they believed and what they experienced. He wanted to know what happened to doubt, what happened to curiosity. We’re always looking for contemporary classics, and the political time we’re living in is fraught and certainty is rampant. We thought it was a great time for us to visit the play, and to see how it’s aged and how it can reengage.

OT: What specifically drew you to the play?
MT: I’m from Ireland [and] I went to a Catholic school, and the idea of what it means to be a Catholic and have that history is something personally relevant to me. This play made me feel uncomfortable and scared me a little bit, and that’s always a good sign. It got under my skin, and I had some questions I didn’t have answers to.

OT: What is your approach when directing a play with so much clout and acclaim? Does it make you want to bring your own vision more or less?
MT: My process always begins with the actors. We have to make it feel very alive. Even when you do contemporary classics, you don’t want to treat them as museum pieces. You have to make it feel vivid right now. The thing that drew me to it is that the questions felt very alive to me. The play hadn’t been answered or solved, and the questions it was built on were so relevant and poignant.

OT: One of my favorite aspects of Studio’s productions are the set pieces and the intimacy of the spaces. How are you approaching Doubt from those perspectives?
MT: Just the [set design] alone is perfect for an intimate space. You’re being invited into a private office and a private garden. It’s an enclosed world that’s opened up a crack [and] you’re able to peek into [it]. What happens behind closed doors? What are the conversations about power and faith?

OT: What would you say to people who are unfamiliar with the play? Why do you think it’s not to be missed?
MT: [At] the center of the play is an accusation against a priest. There’s not much evidence to prove it, but there’s a lot of circumstances that cause the accusers to be certain. That mystery of the play is interesting dramatically because who’s right and who’s wrong isn’t clear. There’s a huge gray area of challenging power dynamics and gender dynamics.

Doubt: A Parable runs from Wednesday, September 4 through Sunday, October 6. Times vary. Tickets $60-$80.

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

The 2019-2020 Performing Arts Guide: 30 Must-See Shows

Performing arts season is in full swing, and with it comes our staff picks for some of the most interesting and buzzworthy shows of the 2019-2020 season – from daring theatre productions and robust film festivals to contemporary dance and riveting opera. We also picked the brains of three directors and a playwright about their respective upcoming productions at some of our favorite theaters including season openers Doubt at Studio Theatre and Everybody at Shakespeare Theatre Company. Though our city’s performing arts scene is too expansive to capture in just one list, we’re confident that we’ve put together a solid rundown of works that will resonate with arts enthusiasts across the District.

FALL

NOW THROUGH SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6

Cabaret

Directed by Shakespeare Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul, this Tony-winning classic musical set in 1929 Berlin follows novelist Cliff, who finds himself swept up in the life of the cabaret. Bunked at Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house with bawdy emcee and provocateur Sally Bowles, unexpected relationships form – including one between their landlord and a Jewish fruit seller. The score features classics such as “Willkommen,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Money.” Tickets are $37-$85. Olney Theatre: 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 5 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

Washington Improv Theatre Road Show
Washington Improv Theatre’s company performs alongside featured comedic ensembles like I Don’t Know Her, Goodison and Bring Back the 90s. Every night offers something new and exciting, as the lineup changes and different guests take part. Therefore, no two performances are ever the same. Tickets are $18. DC Arts Center: 2438 18th St. NW, DC; www.dcartscenter.org

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12

Taffety Punk Presents Riot Grrrls: Othello
Don’t miss an all-women production of Shakespeare’s Othello starring Danielle A. Drakes in the titular role and Lise Bruneau as Iago. The women of Taffety Punk Theatre Company began the Riot Grrrls theatre project as an activist reaction to the lack of gender parity on DC stages. Directed by Kelsey Mesa, this production includes all the tragedy and excitement of the Bard’s play including swords, daggers and murder, performed by some bad-ass actors. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop: 545 7th St. SE, DC; www.chaw.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6

Michael Rapaport
Outspoken, opinionated and very New York, Michael Rapaport will make his first visit to DC Improv this fall, bringing a flair for the dramatic while comedically complaining. He’s worn various Hollywood hats with stints as an actor, podcaster and producer, but his true calling has always been on the stage, raising his voice and yelling jokes directly in your grill with the kind of apathetic humor only a lifelong Knicks fan could possess. Various times and ticket prices. DC Improv: 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.dcimprov.com

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6

Atlas Presents Dance: Cafe Flamenco
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, dancers from FuriaFlamenca Dance Company offers a fun evening of cabaret-style entertainment. Led by artistic director Estela Vélez de Paredes, dancers will perform traditional flamenco dance. Guitarist Torcuato Zamora will provide live music. Tickets are $20-$30. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

Bentzen Ball
It’s the 10th anniversary of the Bentzen Ball, Tig Notaro’s collaboration with Brightest Young Things and perhaps the funniest weekend in the District. This year, Notaro’s recruited the likes of Maria Bamford, Pete Holmes, Jamie Lee and the New Negroes (featuring but not limited to Baron Vaughan of 30 Rock, Jaboukie Young-White, a.k.a. one of the funniest people on Twitter, and musician/comedian Open Mike Eagle). There’s even more to be announced, including a very special guest who will join Notaro herself onstage. Times vary. Festival tickets $154.20, individual show tickets also available. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.brightestyoungthings.com

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 22

Disney’s Newsies
Based on the true story of New York City’s newsboys going on strike in the summer of 1899, Newsies was a hit movie before going on to Broadway in 1992, capturing a Tony Award for best score. With songs like “Carrying the Banner,” “King of New York” and “Seize the Day,” it’s easy to understand why. The musical boasts music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. For Arena’s production, Edward Gero plays Joseph Pulitzer and Erin Weaver plays Katherine. Tickets are $66-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

SOLE Defined
As the inaugural Dance Place Artist-in-Residence, SOLE Defined, is set to turn their bodies into percussive instruments of the utmost versatility. Whether through tap dance or loud thuds caused by their bodies bouncing off each other and their surroundings, this Maryland dance theatre will translate global rhythms into a powerful, expressive art form. 8-10 p.m. on Saturday, 4-6 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets $25-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow with Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith
From the front of a gas station to the mall to Hollywood to Hollywood again? Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith are returning to the big screen this fall as Jay and Silent Bob in Smith’s latest film Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. To celebrate the duo’s return to the big screen, Smith and Mewes are hitting the road with a live show, where fans can peep the movie with its stars. Snoochie boochies. 9 p.m. Tickets $50+. Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse: 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA; www.arlingtondrafthouse.com

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17

Rent
The 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning musical returns to the National Theatre. Based on a reimagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” the musical follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven New York City artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. With a memorable score, the show is a rollercoaster of emotions and one of theater’s most lauded musicals of the past two decades. Tickets are $54-$114. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.com

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24

8th Annual Film Festival: REEL TIME AT GALA
The GALA Hispanic Theatre will take storytelling from the stage to the screen as the famed company produces the 8th iteration of its Latin American film festival, focusing on Bolivia, Mexico and Brazil. From classics to contemporary works, the movies shown over the course of the event will provide viewers with a glimpse of the vast amount of stories from around the world. Times and ticket details to come. Gala Hispanic Theatre: 3333 14th St. NW, DC; www.en.galatheatre.org

WINTER

THURSDAY, JANUARY 9 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2

Sheltered
America didn’t get involved in World War II until the later stages, so when Hitler began his assault on Jewish people in Europe, it wasn’t uncommon for new stories to get buried beneath the fold. Sheltered takes place in 1939, during America’s stint of inaction, at a cocktail party that turns into a political and moral debate, as a couple attempts to make a decision that could save the lives of suffering children the world over. You might be wondering, what’s the debate? Well, as you’ve likely experienced in the past few years at cocktail parties and family holiday dinners, bringing up politics (no matter how life or death) often causes tension. Times and dates vary. Tickets $30-$69. Theater J: 1529 16th St. NW, DC; www.theaterj.org

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14 – SUNDAY, MARCH 1

The Merry Wives of Windsor
Directed by Aaron Posner and starring 2019 Helen Hayes Award winner Regina Aquino and theater veteran Brian Mani, the Bard’s comedy is a story of marriage, jealousy, wealth and lies. The plot follows Falstaff, whose dubious plan to woo Windsor’s wealthy housewives is met with hilarious retaliation when the women devise a plot to teach him a lesson. Come experience the reason this show is often described as William Shakespeare’s more satirical. Tickets $27-$85. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Presents Charlie Chaplin’s Legacy: Classical Music in Film
Perhaps the first king of comedy, the British Charlie Chaplin pioneered silent humor before talkies were en vogue. Beyond his diminutive frame and slapstick antics, Chaplin was a riveting story teller, using every aspect of a film to form an entertaining and often thoughtful narrative. Without quips and monologues, Chaplin couldn’t joke his way through a story, heightening the importance of an impactful score. To celebrate what would be Chaplin’s 130th birthday, the BSO will pay homage to his use of music. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $35-$90. Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, Maryland; www.strathmore.org

SUNDAY, MARCH 1 – SATURDAY, MARCH 21

Washington National Opera: Samson and Delilah
This sensual grand opera tells the story of Samson, who has everything it takes to free the enslaved Hebrews from the Philistines. But when the bewitching Delilah seduces Samson into revealing the source of his physical power, his faith is tested. With music by Camille Saint-Saëns and libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire, the story is told in French with projected English titles. Directed by Peter Kazaras, the show stars J’Nai Bridges as Delilah and Roberto Aronica as Samson. Tickets are $45-$299. Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11 – SUNDAY, MARCH 29

Inherit the Windbag
Americans are way too into debates. No, not the ones held at schools and universities between teams of intellectuals. I’m talking about the hot take, punditry BS that is so rampant in society and pop culture that the people famous for these pseudo acts of discourse are more parody than their parodies. In 1968 liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley met for a series of televised debates which wet society’s appetite for debate, conflict and arguments. Playwright Alexandra Petri is set to reprise the infamous debate, with satire and guest appearances from past and present. Times vary. Tickets $20-$65. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

SPRING

MONDAY, APRIL 6 – SUNDAY, MAY 3

There’s Always the Hudson
In this Woolly Mammoth production, revenge is a dish best served on time, especially when you have a pact. Sexual abuse survivors Lola and T are running up against the clock, as their deadline for getting revenge on everyone who’s ever “f–ked with them” fast approaches. Unwilling to let the truce between them fall to the wayside, these two escalate their respective plots for retribution by unleashing the pent up anger on a fearless adventure. Tickets are $20 to $64. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22 – SUNDAY, MAY 17

Life Is a Dream
What’s real and what’s not? Is destiny a thing or do we control our own narratives and fate? These questions have been at the forefront of human consciousness since, well, forever, and likely always will be. Stories that tap into these existential questions have stood the test of time, and Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s Life Is a Dream is no exception, making the rounds internationally for almost 400 years. The latest adaptation comes to the DMV by way of Synetic Theatre, as the company is set to offer a gritty look at Prince Segismundo and his father’s tale of destiny, prophecy and free will. Times vary. Tickets go on sale in early 2020. Synetic Theater: 1800 South Bell St. Arlington, VA; www.synetictheater.com

THURSDAY, APRIL 23 – SUNDAY, MAY 3

Filmfest DC 2020
DC’s most ambitious film festival returns in 2020, with 80 films from 45 countries over the course of 11 days. For people who love films and movie theaters, any opportunity to see strange, eclectic submissions from far parts of the world is a joyous occasion, and no festival in the District meets the variety that Filmfest brings on an annual basis. Whether you’re into shorts or features, comedies or dramas, English or French, there’s probably a reel you’ll dig. Times vary. Tickets available in 2020. Filmfest DC: Various locations in Washington, DC; www.filmfest.org

THURSDAY, APRIL 23 – SUNDAY, MAY 7

Always Patsy Cline
Created by Ted Swindley and based on a true story about the legendary country singer’s odd friendship with a fan from Houston named Louise Seger, the musical offers plenty of humor, great music and even a bit of audience participation. More than two dozen Cline favorites are part of the score, including “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Walking After Midnight.” With songs like those, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most produced musicals in the U.S. today. Creative Cauldron: 410 S. Maple Ave. Falls Church, VA; www.creativecauldron.org

SATURDAY, MAY 16 – SUNDAY, JUNE 14

The Blackest Battle
Another entry from DC’s foremost hip-hop theatre director Psalmayene 24, The Blackest Battle takes place in a future after African Americans receive reparations. With conflict between warring hip-hop factions, this musical’s characters struggle to wrestle with their lives while encountering love, violence and the significance of the Fourth of July. Tickets are $40. Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC: www.theateralliance.com

SUMMER

THURSDAY, JUNE 4 – SUNDAY, JUNE 28

Maple and Vine
Were the 1950s really that great? Well, that’s what Katha and Ryu have to figure out in Spooky Action’s Maple and Vine. The play follows the two married millennials on their quest for happiness, which leads them to a community very much stuck in the John Travolta Grease-era of the world, where leather jackets and cigarettes were prevalent. This isn’t an instant turn off for our protagonists, as they receive new identities and attempt to see if the grass is greener on the oth…I mean, back in time. Times and ticket prices TBA. Spooky Action Theater: 1810 16th St. NW, DC; www.spookyaction.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10 – FRIDAY, JULY 3

Hatef*ck
A provocative romantic comedy between two Muslim-Americans who have nothing in common except their race. Layla and Imran are a literature professor and novelist, respectively, and clash over faith, politics and cultural clichés. Written by Rehana Lew Mirza and directed by Nicole A. Watson, the show proves that good sex doesn’t always make good bedfellows. Individual ticket prices TBA. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

FRIDAY, JUNE 19 – TUESDAY, JUNE 23

AFI DOCS Film Festival
The nation’s annual documentary film festival is beloved for showcasing the best in documentary filmmaking from both the U.S. and around the world. District Architecture Center serves as the festival’s central meeting place for guest registration, forum panels and talks, as well as a place for filmmakers and select pass holders to gather. Screenings will take place around landmark venues in DC and the world-class AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. Advisory board members for the festival include noted filmmakers Ken Burns, Spike Lee and Barbara Kopple. Times and ticket prices TBA. District Architecture Center: 421 7th St. NW, DC; www.afi.com/afidocs

FRIDAY, JULY 24 – SUNDAY, AUGUST 23

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
With a book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, this groundbreaking Tony-winning musical got its start off-Broadway and developed a cult following. The musical tells the tale of Hedwig Schmidt, an East German rock ‘n’ roll goddess who was the victim of a botched sex change operation, leaving her with an “angry inch.” Backed by a hard-rocking band, Hedwig conveys her funny, touching and ultimately inspiring story in dazzling fashion. Times and individual ticket prices TBA. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC;
www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, AUGUST 25 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

To Kill a Mockingbird
When an Academy Award winner adapts Pulitzer Prize-winning material, it’s likely that said adaptation would be a hit, right? Well, like some sort of literary math, Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird delivers about what you’d expect: a dramatic, gut-wrenching story that adds to the legendary characters we remember so well from the novel. Though Sorkin’s spin doesn’t deviate too much from Lee’s original framework, his creative flourishes to dialogue and added character dynamics has made this reimagined classic one of Broadway’s hottest tickets. Tickets are $49-$139. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org