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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

Production Artwork Courtesy of Signature Theatre

Playwright Dani Stoller Talks World Premiere of “Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes”

DC-by-way-of-Brooklyn playwright Dani Stoller’s original play Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes is a female-forward work coming to Signature Theatre in Shirlington from February 18 to March 29. Stoller’s piece is part of the Heidi Thomas Writer’s Initiative, which presents world premieres by female playwrights with female directors. We chatted with the up-and-coming playwright to get the lowdown on the play directly from the source and to learn more about what it’s like to work with other talented women in theatre.

On Tap: In your own words, what is Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes about?
Dani Stoller: It’s actually a love letter to my mom. I think it’s also about the ways that we go about getting pleasure, the kind of risks we take and the consequences of the routes we take to getting that gratified – either in terms of the attention or the sex we want.

OT: How much of it was informed by your family, relationships or personal experiences?
DS: Originally, a friend of mine wanted an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter and I was like, “I’m going to try and write that.” But it had already been done by some really great writers. So, I decided to try my own version, and we had been talking about affairs. Not that I would ever recommend anyone having an affair, nor do I condone it, but there’s a lot of thoughts that my mother has on sex and intimacy that are very far removed from mine. Specifically, how can you support your child through something that you are so vehemently against [in a] moral space? It initially started as a reconciliation between two lovers, between the husband and wife. It wound up really being about a reconciliation between a mother and her daughter, because they have to understand one another in order for them to fully get healed in that way.

OT: What has it been like working on this play as part of the Heidi Thomas Writer’s Initiative?
DS: It’s so cool. They do one new world premiere work by a woman every year, directed by a woman, which I think is awesome. I feel really, really blessed about the director we got – Stevie Zimmerman. She’s amazing. We interviewed a bunch of women and she just kind of just fit the bill on all levels of what we were looking for. I was just like, “Yeah, I think that this woman will kill it at the helm of this very odd little piece.”

Stoller’s Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes runs at Signature Theatre from February 18 to March 29. Tickets are $66. For more information, visit www.sigtheatre.org. For more on Stoller and her work, visit www.danistoller.com.

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

Photo: Aliviah Jones

Thriving in Chaos: Music Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy

As we sat over a cup of coffee, 25-year-old Walter “Bobby” McCoy spoke to me in a way only someone who has been in the theatre world for 10 years can: vividly and with gusto. The Helen Hayes Award-winning music director’s smile reached up to his eyes with every story he shared with me about his experiences. McCoy, who hails from Falls Church, Virginia and now resides in nearby Manassas, commutes to Shirlington’s Signature Theatre, Dupont Circle’s Keegan Theatre and the DMV’s Levine School of Music for various projects. He’s currently juggling music direction for Keegan’s Legally Blonde from August 3 to September 1 while working at several theatre camps with students of all ages.

Not everyone can say that they thrive in chaos – some may even find it overwhelming. But when you are in the theatre world, it is often your life. McCoy fits into this chaos in his own way: starting off as a piano accompanist for his high school chorus at 14, he was able to pick up the scores easily. This ultimately led him to be on the other side, directing kids and adults alike and garnering attention from the professional theatre community with three Helen Hayes Award nominations by his early 20s. I picked McCoy’s brain on a recent July day about his foray into DC’s theatre scene.

On Tap: Tell me how you first got started with music growing up.
Bobby McCoy: I think my first experience was in my general music class in elementary school. I was really attracted to accompanying singers and watching the interaction between my music teacher and the accompanist. I loved being a part of that and seeing how she would work with people.

OT: Where did your passion for music come from?
BM: My passion started when I started taking chorus class in seventh grade. I had just started playing the piano. I was fascinated with the accompanist, [the idea of] someone playing with a whole group of people. [That was] the bug that bit me. Eventually, this led to me playing full concerts as an eighth grader.

OT: What brought you into the theatre world as a musician?
BM: I took a leap. I saw that Marshall High School was doing Company, so I signed up. Eventually, I was an assistant music director. I was very green. After that, I did Chicago, and then that summer I saw that the Little Theatre [of Alexandria] was doing Company and I went in [and got the job of rehearsal pianist at 15]. It has been sort of nonstop since that moment.

OT: Why did you want to pursue GALA Hispanic Theatre’s In the Heights as a music director? What about the storyline stood out to you?
BM: I grew up in a Hispanic family, and a lot of the things that they go through and the cultural aspect of the show was really appealing. The music was something that reminded me of the authentic culture I grew up with as opposed to the stereotypical Latin number that you would see in a show like Chicago, for example.

OT: How did you feel when you were nominated for three Helen Hayes Awards and won for In the Heights at only 23?
BM: It was really weird. I was happy I won but I was nominated for three shows, so I was sort of like, “Which one am I rooting for?” I did a lot of work for Heights. It was my first time going out of town for a show. I was proud of that show and happy that it got the recognition.

OT: Why did you choose Levine School of Music’s Performance Institute as an institution to work as a music director?
BM: I’ve been on the faculty here for three years. I like inspiring young kids to find their voice. There are a lot of times when people don’t have artistic opportunities, and I love being able to help people become better artists.

OT: How would you describe your directing style?
BM: Collaborative. I like seeing what people bring to the roles, but I am also particular about the way I teach things. I know a lot of people who will teach a number and then clean it [up] after, but I do the opposite. Breathing and dynamics are from the get-go for me – if it gets lost to technique, it won’t happen.

OT: What has been your favorite show to direct? What would be a dream production for you?
BM: Legally Blonde. I’ve done it three times – it’s my first professional production [and] definitely a different caliber of performers. Dream productions: Sweeney Todd with a full orchestra and Sunday in the Park with George. Both are [Stephen] Sondheim musicals and I love all of his works.

To catch McCoy’s work in action, be sure to check out Legally Blonde at Keegan Theatre from August 3 to September 1. Various times. Tickets are $62.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com

Image: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Inside The Oresteia’s Original Score with Composer Kamala Sankaram


Kamala Sankaram has worked within many musical mediums throughout her career. With a background in opera, she eventually moved into composition, and even has her own band called Bombay Rickey. The theme that weaves her work together is combining global music elements with technical prowess to evoke the exact feeling needed to fully engage audiences in the heart of a theatrical work.

On Tap spoke to Sankaram about her latest venture as composer for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Oresteia, a new play by Ellen McLaughlin based on the only surviving piece of Greek theatre trilogy. While its original iteration was written by Aeschylus in the 5th Century B.C., McLaughlin has made the play relevant to modern audiences, and Sankaram’s score brings it into the new world as well.  

On Tap: How did you come to be involved with Shakespeare Theatre Company? What drew you to The Oresteia?

Kamala Sankaram: I think someone gave them my name, so I went and met with [director] Michael Kahn and talked about the play. I’m very interested in how music can function semiotically
— how it creates a sense of place, or a sense of character. This play is tricky, because it moves through time. You have characters who are ghosts, you have unseen influences from these gods, so how can you represent that in a staged work? One of the ways you can do that is through really subtle musical shifts.

Thinking about how instrumental timbre or harmony or even just the kinds of sounds that are found change, and imperceptibly influence the feeling of the play. I also was an early adopter of [production software] Ableton Live, and have done a lot of work with electronics. One of the other interesting things about it is how in this strange in-between space
— it’s not ancient Greece, it’s not really modern day, so I’m interested in using this mix of real, acoustic instruments and voices with industrial sounds like radiators and machines and broken computers in the score.

OT: Tell us more about working with a play that has the paradoxical element of being drawn from the oldest surviving Greek tragedy, but also being adapted into a completely new and original work.

KS: What [playwright] Ellen McLaughlin did that’s really great is she took these three plays and condensed them into something that retains the essence of the original plays. It’s not trying to sound like a Greek translation, it sounds like two people talking. And then there are moments where they break into something poetic, just as the original does. So there’s a mix of both things on the modern and the abstract sides. Am I going to make this sound like Greek music? Am I going to have Greek instruments? I toyed with that a bit and recorded some but it didn’t fit when we went to rehearsal. It didn’t make sense, so it was cut. The nice thing about Ableton is I’m working with it as if I’m making a very big ambient soundscape, where I have all of these layers and in the rehearsal process we’re figuring out when they come in and out, what I’m adding and what I’m taking away in response to what’s happening on the stage.

OT: Are there any elements of the play you felt particularly inspired by as you composed the score?

KS: I started to think about who the characters were and what their psychological states might be. For me, the whole play hinges on the relationship between Queen Clytemnestra and her daughter Iphigenia. The whole tragic series of events is kicked off when King Agamemnon kills his daughter in order to get the winds to blow so he can take his army to Troy. From that point on, everything just goes further south. I started with Iphigenia
— what could she have, thematically? I started with a string theme and from that then the strings are sort of this warm signifier. When we first enter the play, there are these string chords that are kind of sad but still not as evil as they become later. When  we go into the past, it’s all of these voices, it’s very warm, and then the further forward in the future we go the sound changes to being very metallic. I used a lot of cymbals and slowed them down so we hear all the in-harmonic tones beating against each other, and by the end, there are no strings left and no voices.

OT: What do you feel your score contributes to the play as a whole?

KS: What the music does is support what’s happening on stage and help create a feeling of abstraction that we’re not really in this real world place. Until we get to the third act, when everyone breaks out of this chorus role and they become this jury of real individuated people. At that point, the score is pretty much gone. But before that, what it’s doing is creating a heightened sense of whatever the mood of the play is. I think the score functions as a design element, almost like a lighting cue, in that it’s subtle and supporting but it’s also present.

OT: What difficulties did you face with such a unique play and score?

KS: With music it’s always difficult because it takes a while to make the music to begin with, but you also have to be willing to just throw it out. I tried to work in a modular fashion where I had all of these possibilities of what the layers could be, and then through the rehearsal and watching the actors, I tried to follow what they were doing. Where their dramatic beats happen, that’s where a music change will happen. I couldn’t have known that until I was in the rehearsal room. That was the most challenging part
— to support what the actors are doing and let the text lead. In opera, it’s very different. You’re making all the decisions as a composer, and the performers are doing whatever you set down.

OT: As you worked on the score, what has been the most exciting element of this specific project?

KS: It’s been so great to dig into the actual bones of a new play. That’s not something you always get to do, even when you are working on a lot of new pieces. The time that we’ve had to figure out what the play is and how it functions
— it’s very educational for me to now be able to go back and say, ‘I know I can follow this dramatic structure for next time I want to set something as an opera, I now have a better understanding of how that works.’

It’s also been great and difficult trying to figure out how to make the chorus work. We landed on this musicalized speech and I got to work with them on finding tempo and pulse within the text. I’m excited to see how that grows and develops. It’s something I don’t think you see a lot in theatre.

OT: What makes The Oresteia relevant to audiences today?

KS: Seeing something like this is a reminder that the human condition has not changed all that much. We’re still struggling with the difficulty of letting go of a desire for vengeance, dealing with people who are different than we are, and deciding how to define the common sense of community and justice within a community. The third part of the trilogy is all about creating the first court trial, which is a huge philosophical leap to make, and it’s been really interesting watching everyone work through the third act. We’re thinking about what does it mean to have justice and how do we find a sense of justice? That’s really relevant and still a huge question today.

The Oresteia opens at Shakespeare Theatre Company today and runs through Sunday, June 2. For times, tickets and more information, visit www.shakespearetheatre.org. For more on composer Kamala Sankaram, visit www.kamalasankaram.com.

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

Photo: Margot Schulman

The Many Complexities of Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel isn’t like any other show.

This is what artistic director Eric Schaeffer tells me on a phone call the morning after I catch his new production at Signature Theatre, and I can say with full certainty that he’s quite right.

He relishes the fact he selected a Tony Award-winning play that’s complex, layered and challenging – adjectives he uses to describe the frenetic musical during our conversation, all of which just so happened to pop up multiple times in my post-show notes.

And it’s no coincidence: the 1929 novel turned 1932 MGM film turned 1989 Broadway hit wasn’t easy for me to connect with night of, but I was still thinking about it for days, even weeks, later. But art is meant to push us out of our comfort zones and expose us to new ways of thinking about and experiencing life, and Schaeffer’s known for taking those risks at Signature every season.

Whether it’s debuting daring new pieces or embracing notoriously difficult classics, the director doesn’t shy away from works that might make his audience fidget or his actors balk. And now through May 19, Schaeffer encourages theatregoers to sit in the lobby of a 1928 Berlin hotel as an extremely eclectic cast of characters weaves on the periphery of one another’s lives.

“The show just keeps layering on itself, which is interesting,” he tells me. “It’s not just like, here it is and here’s the story. It’s kind of like a painting that just keeps on taking off layers and layers and layers, which is the really neat thing about the show. I love that it challenges the audience, it challenges the actors. It just becomes this experience.”

His 16-person cast – full of Signature regulars and DC up-and-comers, plus a truly dazzling performance from the magnetic Nkrumah Gatling (Broadway’s Miss Saigon) – was whittled down from the original production’s 28. The method to his madness? He wanted to give the audience a fighting chance at following all of the show’s storylines through the lens of a sticky-fingered baron, aging ballerina, dying bookkeeper and desperate typist, to name a few.

“It was a hard puzzle to figure out, but it was fun once I did,” he says of casting the play. “There’s all these snapshots that are put together, and you keep getting slices of all these different lives and how they’re interconnected – or not – they all just happen to be passing in and out of the hotel lobby.”

Schaeffer selected his talent well, whipping the audience into a sometimes delightful (in numbers like the cheeky “Maybe My Baby Loves Me”), often uncomfortable (grappling with the heaviness of mortality or a successful man’s implied power over a naïve woman) frenzy. In just under two hours with no intermission, the impressive cast sings several dozen songs and swings the mood pendulum from light to dark at only a moment’s notice. It’s hard to keep up with – visually, sonically and emotionally.

The highly stylized, momentum-driven production isn’t just a lot for the audience to handle – the director says that everyone from the ensemble to the leads had an “Oh my god, this is so challenging” reaction.

“Which is great,” he says, “because they’re not doing the same old thing. It makes them grow as artists, which I think is really important.”

His level of commitment to the production extended beyond nudging his cast gingerly out of the nest and into uncharted – or at least less traveled – territory to a set design that married opulence of a building both old and grand with an ambiance that felt modern, contemporary and relatable.

“I really wanted the audience to feel like they’re sitting in the lobby of a hotel just eavesdropping on all of these conversations that are happening.”

And he did just that by collaborating with set designer Paul Tate dePoo III to create a dynamic set that transforms from a decadent hotel room to the black void of a haunting train station within seconds.

“It was a balance,” dePoo says. “It was a constant conversation. We didn’t get too far away from the contemporary world.”

And like Schaeffer, he takes his craft incredibly seriously, aiming to capture the spirit of the chaotic play and its varied cast through the design.

“Hopefully, it tells the story in a way that we don’t feel like we’re disconnected from these people and we appreciate the era they are currently telling the story within.”

Peel back the layers of this theatrical onion through Sunday, May 19 at Signature Theatre. Tickets start at $40 and are available at www.sigtheatre.org.

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

Photo: Tony Powell

A Conversation with Edward Gero on Arena Stage’s “Junk”

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar’s play Junk is coming to Arena Stage on April 5. Inspired by the debt crisis of the 1980s, Junk explores the ruthless world of finance and its effects on American values. Acclaimed DC stage actor Edward Gero plays the role of Thomas Everson, the owner of a steel manufacturing company, who is confronted when junk bond giant Robert Merkin plots the hostile takeover of the family company. Gero talked to On Tap about Junk and his experience with the production so far.

On Tap: How did you learn about Junk and land your role in the play?
Edward Gero: Actually, [Artistic Director] Molly Smith asked me to come in and read for it. She knew Jackie Maxwell, who’s directing the play, was looking for somebody, and they asked me to come in and read. I put an audition on tape with Thomas Keegan, who’s playing the role of Merkin and sent that out, and I got cast. That was about a year ago. And of course, I heard about the play because it had a great run in New York in 2017–it’s been produced around the world—and the playwright Ayad Akhtar is a Pulitzer Prize winner for Disgraced in 2013. He’s a playwright of some importance, so it was a project I was interested in doing. Plus, the subject matter too, it’s a really complicated play, an interesting play about the junk bond raiders of the 1980s.

OT: Why did you want to be a part of the production?
EG: I was really interested in the play. I had not worked with Jackie Maxwell before, and I was very excited about that. I also love working at Arena. And it’s a really terrific role. I play Thomas Everson, the owner of what’s called Everson Steel, which is sort of a stand-in for, let’s say, U.S. Steel—it’s a Dow Jones Industrial company. They become the target of a takeover, and he sort of holds down the old economic values. He was born into the company, 3rd generation in his family, he has commitment to the workers and he’s sort of overwhelmed by this takeover. So, it’s an interesting role to play in terms of facing the future. It becomes quite a shock to him.

OT: Was working with Ayad Akhtar a goal for you?
EG: Not particularly, but when I heard the play was going to be produced, I was interested in it right away because I knew it would be a very smart play. I’m interested in plays that are intellectually stimulating, and this certainly was that. It’s a language play too. It’s deep-in-the-weeds about blue economics. It moves at such a pace like a Shakespeare play, and Ayad had made the comparison. He’s been influenced by both David Mamet and Shakespeare, so it’s a very heavy language play. Yet you end up getting is into the relationships of these people. If you don’t follow all of the weeds and information about the new economics, you’d get really compelling relationships between these people.

OT: Can you describe your character Thomas Everson?
EG: Thomas Everson is a man of a certain age—he’s probably late 50s, early 60s. He’s inherited this role as a CEO. His father father had it before him, his grandfather started the company. They come out of the late 19th century industrial magnets. [He is] someone who makes steel to make money, where the characters of Merkin for example, are just out to make money by turning debt into assets and doing these raids and hostile takeovers. It’s something [Everson] didn’t necessarily want to, but felt obligated to take it over. His father is no longer with him, but the burden and responsibility of keeping the steel mill alive and keeping that legacy of his father alive drives him and actually becomes his downfall. Where the other characters are contemporary, young and aggressive, he’s trying to hold on to an older version of what America is. That’s really what the play is about. In guise of finance, it’s really about a generational change of what’s happened to America. Ayad said really brilliantly that the play was really about how Americans moved from being citizens to being consumers; Everson is sort of the last of that generation.

OT: Did you identify with him in any way? Is that important to you when you’re developing a character?
EG: Well, you try to find ways into the character. My dad was not a steel magnate. However, he was a president of a local United Auto Workers union for 25 years, so I grew up in a labor house. I can use that experience and I understand that mentality of wanting to do the best for the workers. But management now and management then are two different things. Of course, management is in the business of making money, but he also knows he’s got this whole community. The town where Everson lives in, there’s Everson High School, Everson Street, Everson Road, Eveson Park. He’s sort of the leading citizen of that whole area. So, I use my own experiences of growing up with my dad as an entryway, but then I have to go into the imagination of the character, which is different.   

OT: What kind of research did you do to prepare for the role? Did you study the financial crisis of the 80s?
EG: For sure. I mean, I lived through it. It takes place in New York in the 80s. I was there then, and I had friends who worked on Wall Street. The New Years Eve party from 1979 to 1980 was an amazing party. A friend of mine from high school owned a loft. He had written the first arbitrage trading program for IBM and other friends of mine were working on the Street, so the whole culture of that period, I lived. I have that first-hand experience.

OT: You’re a prolific stage actor in DC. What do you think makes this play interesting to a DC audience?
EG: I think it’s very smart in a way that, let’s say, The Originalist was red meat for lawyers, this is certainly red meat for economists. The whole financial structure is sort of a nexus between economics and law, and that’s certainly policy making. It’s very relevant to this community, and I think audiences will come to this with a certain understanding. I’m sure the economists in the room will be saying, “Well, that might not be true,” the lawyers are saying, “That’s good, that’s right,” so there’s that kind of engagement. Washington has one of the smartest audiences, if not the smartest audience, in the United States because of the people who are here.

OT: You touched on this earlier, but as a Shakespearean actor do you see any parallels to this play?
EG: Oh, absolutely. I drew the connection to it directly with Henry IV, but there’s also the characters of Merkin and his wife that had a Macbeth and Lady Macbeth kind of feel to them too—she’s a very strong advocate for Merkin and steals him all the time. This play is going to fly. I think it started on Broadway as a three-hour, three-act play. It’s now a two-hour, one-act play. There’s been extensive cuts, extensive re-writes and it flies. So, articulation, as it would be in Shakespeare, it has to drive, it’s a lot of information, but like Shakespeare, there’s really no subtext to it. It’s not people sitting and thinking and mulling things over and becoming external, it’s just always going forward and that’s very Shakespearean in terms of dealing with language.

OT:  Is there anything you want audiences to take away from the play?
EG: I think they’re going to have an experience that will make them question where we are going in terms of our economics and how we interact with each other, the sort of brutal capitalism of this play. Certainly in this upcoming election cycle, it’s going to be in issue. Looking at this administration, how ruthless are we willing to be in terms of selling our brand or making money and how do we balance that with the policy making and where’s the human element to it? So, I think people will come away probably not changing their points of view about politics or economics. It might strengthen the beliefs they already have. But it’s certainly going to take them on a ride. It’s a rollercoaster.

Junk opens at Arena Stage on April 5. The play runs through May 5. For more information and tickets, visit www.arenastage.org
Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org

https://www.roundhousetheatre.org/

Euan Morton Headlines Round House Theatre’s Broadway in Bethesda Gala

Broadway vet Euan Morton has played a handful of attention-grabbing roles in the theater, beginning with his Tony-nominated performance as the iconic Boy George in Taboo in 2003, and currently donning the cape and crown each night as King George in the mega-smash Hamilton. In between, he played the namesake character in Hedwing of Angry Inch in the touring production of John Cameron Mitchell’s landmark musical.

On Saturday, May 12, Morton will be the headline performer at Round House Theatre’s Broadway in Bethesda Gala 2018. The silver-piped singer promises to perform tunes from each of the three musicals above.

“I’ll be singing a lot of the stuff that people know and love and I’ll be doing some stuff that I’ve never done before, which always makes me nervous,” Morton says. “I’m doing more musical theater because it’s the world I’ve been involved in a lot more recently and I love it.”

One of the new numbers he’ll be doing is “Another Hundred People” from Company, a song he’s always enjoyed but has never performed live.

“It’s sometimes difficult when you can do anything because you don’t want to make the evening a bunch of disconnected music, but I’ve done a lot of different stuff, so I’m trying to tie it together and make it a cohesive evening,” he says. “I want to do songs I’m going to walk away feeling good about and that I think an audience will enjoy.”

Morton has been friends with Round House’s executive director Ed Zakreski for many years, and when asked to take part in the gala, he was more than happy to take a night off from Hamilton to help the theater raise some money.

“It’s important for me to support theater in the Northern Virginia and DC region because I have a home there and I’ve performed in a number of theaters in the area,” Morton says. “For me, it’s been as much a part of my theater life as New York has or London has, and I feel it’s important for me to give back to this community.”

The area’s proximity to New York combined with the patrons and audience of savvy theatergoers has made the DMV theater community one of the best in the country, and he considers it an artistic enclave.

When his nights aren’t tied up on the Broadway stage, Morton and his family—which includes his wife (producer Lee Armitage) and son (Iain Armitage, who plays the title character in CBS’s hit comedy Young Sheldon), enjoy visiting the myriad theaters in the region.

“It’s a spiritual place for my family and we are all involved in this great theater community,” Morton says.

He’s been playing King George in Hamilton since July 2017, and has really been blown away by the fandom of the show and how the musical continues to be such a dominating force on Broadway.

“I do feel that the actor playing the king is less relevant than the king himself, and the fans are coming to see the character, not me,” he says. “I love getting to stand on stage and say things like, ‘na, na, na, na, na.’ This show has shown the importance of politics in theater and has been like a supernova with fans all over the world. It’s been really nice to be a part of this.”

When considering new roles, Morton says he looks for things that are challenging and ones he’ll enjoy repeatedly without getting bored. He considers himself very lucky to have played the roles he has.

“It’s been continually exciting and challenging as everything I’ve done has been,” he says. “There’s not a moment where I thought, ‘Can I do this anymore?’ because every time I have that feeling, something new comes along and reminds me of why I’m doing it and how much it means to me and other people.”

The night will also include a silent auction and a performance from Catherine Backus, a finalist at the 2018 Bernard/Ebb Awards who was the 2017 General Category winner of the Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

For information about the gala, visit the Round House Theatre website here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 East West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240-644-1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org