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Photo: courtesy of Max Weinberg

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox Plays the Hits at the Hamilton

If you happened to be walking around 14th and F Street Northwest this past Saturday night, you may have thought there was an earthquake or a storm somehow brewing underground. Rather than a natural disaster, what you heard was Max Weinberg’s stadium-sized drum storm shake the Hamilton Live to the rafters. The Mighty Max has spent the better part of the past 45 years touring the globe as the ticking heart and time keeper for Bruce Springsteen and the legendary E Street Band. He cannot so readily abandon such a huge sound – hearing him rumble into a leaden version of Cream’s “White Room” was like hearing a jet engine up close – but without the arena rock spectacle, Weinberg enjoys free reign to pick up some of his older musical machinations.

His Jukebox, which played the Hamilton on July 13, might appear at first glance to be a cover band focusing on 60s and 70s rock classics, but there’s a deeper tradition at work. Weinberg and other members – Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger and John Merjave – all emerged from the bar band scene of New Jersey. In this school of thought, the musicians do not seek to replicate the music and personalities of others, as tribute outfits like Rain and Zoso do for the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, respectively, but neither do they attempt to play rock star, using someone else’s songs as a vehicle for flashy, boorish showmanship.

They walk a fine line at the border of homage, one between interpretation and recitation. Take David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel,” performed with gusto by the group: guitarist John Merjave got the strings down to a T, walking that razor-thin wire between glam sparkle and garage brash that makes the sound so irresistible. The quartet approached numbers like Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (featuring Max’s wife Rebecca belting the harmonica part) or Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding,”  with similar respect, bringing the sound of the original recordings to life like they were on your Spotify playlist; but played by a live band.

What Weinberg’s jukebox does could be accused as being a simple nostalgia act; but all the band members came up in an era where your livelihood as a musician depended on oh well you could play someone else’s record. Springsteen noted in his autobiography Born To Run that a major conflict in one of his earliest bands was over the fact that their drummer couldn’t play “Wipe Out,” which was a requirement to be taken seriously in the Jersey scene of the 60s. Of course the trick then and now is to also add just enough of your own spin where you can, to capture the spirit of the radio hits but with a twist. Bob Burger treated Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” like taffy, stretching and collapsing his phrasing as needed, but howled the final “I Walk The Line” like a lonesome train-whistle. The Dave Clark 5’s “Glad All Over,” already a choice vehicle for drummers, got an extra oomph of percussive thrust from Weinberg’s titanic hits.

Weinberg’s Jukebox also added a couple tweaks to some of The Boss’s biggest hits: “She’s The One” and “Dancing In the Dark,” driven here by a dual-guitar rather than the traditional keyboard parts, slide into something of a surf rock shimmy, as if they were road tested over countless sock hops and greaser halls up and down the Jersey shore. It may not be a hard connection to make on paper, but Weinberg and his band went deep into the roots of these songs – ones that the drummer himself as played for decades – to bring those buried elements to the surface. It was a small revelation.

So was hearing the Jukebox play more straight covers of Springsteen signatures like “Thunder Road.” If you were too caught up in the rush of hearing 23 songs played in two hours, you might have had an epiphany moment, revealing that when Weinberg leans fully into some of those classic drum fills: he’s the guy that wrote them! You’re not hearing them from 200 miles away in an arena, you’re standing feet from the source. For the Springsteen faithful, the moment can border on biblical; for the more casual fan, you at least remember that one of the greatest rock n’ roll drummers in the world is playing mere inches from you. That alone is worth the price of admission. 

For more information about Max Weinberg, visit www.maxweinberg.com.

Photo: Firefly Music Festival

Stars Shine Bright at Eighth Firefly Music Festival

The eighth edition of the Firefly Music Festival, from June 21-23, proved to be its best ever, with the three-day event in The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway Dover seeing great headlining acts from the likes of Panic! At The Disco, Travis Scott and Post Malone

Brendon Urie and his Panic! At The Disco bandmates truly lit up the night on Friday. Coming off his successful Broadway run in Kinky Boots, Urie revamped old classics with amazing belting, wowing the crowd in the process. They brought out real instruments to replicate the synth sounds on various songs, and the energy they put forth and received from the crowd was incredible. 

Urie recounted how “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” was released 15 years ago and talked about how the song launched the band into the “amazing ride that been developing” since. 

An earlier act on the day was Max Frost, who even though was performing to a smaller crowd, definitely made a new collection of fans hearing his music for the first time. Alison Wonderland was another who earned cred from the Firefly crowd with killer female energy coming from her DJ spectacle. 

The Party Pupils were another highlight of the first night, playing the smaller Treehouse Stage. Great fan interaction made for a positive experience for everyone and they vibed well with the audience. The group mixed old classics like “Ms. Jackson” and “Pony” with original songs by one of their creators, Max.

On Saturday, Brockhampton, the American rap collective formed in San Marcos, California had their spotlight members take the stage. They utilized an airplane set, which they used theatrically throughout their songs. The group’s high energy and big movements amped up the crowd.

Longtime favorites Death Cab For Cutie proved they are still a force to be reckoned with on the festival circuit and played some of their biggest hits, including “Northern Lights,” “Transatlanticism” and “Black Sun.”

Travis Scott finished off a long, yet incredible Saturday with a collection of his top songs and plenty of covers, including songs by the likes of 2 Chainz, SZA and Kodak Black. He began his set with “Stargazing” and “Carousel” back to back, and finished with “Goosebumps” and “Sicko Mode.” His set was something to behold, as it was a complete carnival atmosphere, complete with a neon merry-go-round, pyrotechnics and fun everywhere you looked.

Passion Pit served as the post-headliner, closing the night with a mix of indie and dance favorites including “Carried Away,” “Take a Walk” and “Make Light.” The set provided a great end to a busy day of concert-going.

On Sunday, AJR, comprised of multi-instrumentalist brothers Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met, were another highlight for Firefly attendees. The trio made a strong effort to connect with the crowd and their enthusiasm and goofy nature made them very relatable. 

Vampire Weekend started its set with “Bambina” and delivered almost 90-minutes of great music, mixing in old and new favorites including “A-Punk,” “Ya Hey” and an SBTRKT cover of “New Dorp, New York.”

Post Malone, the headliner on Sunday night, had the audience acting as background singers, with a full chorus of vocals singing along to every show. Post’s songs range from sad ballads to party anthems and he had everyone joining him for every single word, playing tunes from both his albums. His energy and soul stayed high all night and his voice and guitar skills absolutely shined. The 23-year-old Malone also told fun backstories behind his songs and gave some sweet inspiration anecdotes. 

The festival also saw some noteworthy performances by a diverse collection of artists, including Kygo, Tyler, the Creator, DJ Snake, ZEDD, Courtney Barnett, TLC, Lykke Li, Bishop Briggs, Lauren Daigle, Alison Wonderland, King Princess, Jessie Reyez and Tank and the Bangas.

And it just wasn’t the music that made this trip to the Woodlands so wonderful. With more than $4 million in upgrades in 2019, attendees were treated to upgraded facilities, top tier entertainment (in addition to festival performances) and creative programming all designed to foster a sense of camaraderie and community during the long weekend of music. 

For information about 2020’s Firefly Festival, visit here.

Vintage Tea Party // Photo: Dominque Fierro

Different Artists, Influences Come Together With One Voice

One Voice, an exhibition featuring numerous DC LGBTQ artists created an inclusive space for activists, art lovers and pride month participants for an intimate experience at the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel. Creatives like Tom Hill, Jorge Carceres, Dominique Fierro and Wayson Jones each displayed individual works that illustrate their viewpoints in the selection. 

The exhibit runs through September 2, and opened at the beginning of June for Pride Month. Though the art is free to see, there is a $5 suggested donation for The Trevor Project.

Walking into the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel near Dupont Circle, you’re immediately greeted by works from Hill, both bright and captivating:  “Scratch Where It Itches, In a Whirl,” draws you into the building, until suddenly you’re into the main lobby area, where an entire room is utilized. Throughout, each artist is generously given their own separate gazing area, which allows the viewer to better take in and interpret the message behind the work. 

A DC native, Hill has always been an advocate for civil rights. From a young age, he’s been driven to bring peace and prosperity to those fighting for equality, which has given him a unique outlook on life, one that eventually brought him to his career in art. He’s specifically interested in what it means to be “queer,” in the modern era. Hill uses male figures, accents of glitter and striking acrylic. He draws his audience in with the intention to question the life of a man living in the gay community. With bold lettering and their own individual message, he defines it as sublime and multi-dimensional. Particularly placed within the exhibit, it casts light on the depiction of the queer man. 

As you make a lap around the exhibit, you also run into the work of Fierro, who uses photographic depictions of vulnerability. The black and white images of “Vintage Tea Party and Raw” have dire emotion, where you see women covered by shadows who appear timid and irrational. The presentation provides no particular direction, you observe in caution as though they were in the room with you. Fierro uses uncomfortable scenes to truly captivate her impression: their souls and she uses photos to show their world.  

Lastly, Wayson Jones places an element of surprise within his gallery. Surrounded by vibrancy, his luminous and eerie paintings rein over the room, stricken with curiosity an observer could even question the reality behind the creations. Does it relate to his identity? How does it portray to being in the LGBTQ community? And what type of impressions would this make on the everyday person?  But as he exclaims, the art is up for interpretation. His portrayal of black shaded figures within a white materialistic background; “Ancestor, Death Threat, Boxed In,” abides by his idea of a distaste for the mistreatment of his community. Members of the black and LGBTQ community have faced years of discrimination and supreme adversities.

These are all very different artists with unique influences who came together for this one night to help form a powerful message with a variety of perspectives influenced by nostalgic sentiments, nature and civil rights. Though each are strong and loud enough on their own, the impact of these works under one roof is undeniably heightened as they intersect and compliment to form “One Voice.” 

“One Voice” runs through September 2.  Learn More about the exhibit at here.

Kimpton Carlyle Hotel: 1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; 202-234-3200; www.carlylehoteldc.com

Kathryn Tkel (Emmy) and Holly Twyford (Nora) in A Doll’s House, Part 2 // Photo: Lilly King

A Doll’s House Part 2 Offers Unique Characters Arcs In Round House Sequel

The radiantly captivating Kathryn Tkel lends a tearful and droll performance as Emmy in Round House Theatre’s DC premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2, showing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre.

Written by Lucas Hnath in 2017, A Doll’s House, Part 2 resumes 15 years after protagonist Nora, played by Holly Twyford, forswears varying degrees of commitment to achieve her version of love; freedom.

Emmy is the youngest child of Nora and in the original A Doll’s House, written in 1879 by Henrik Ibsen, she is little more than a prop in the background. However, as a young adult, she provides a thoughtful voice, often challenging her mother’s perspective on life.

“You’ll learn from Emmy that everyone has their opinion of marriage and people are willing to stand up for their world view, whether or not it aligns with others,” Tkel purports. “There’s something about a younger woman speaking up that makes this conversation deeply important to witness.”

The characters in A Doll’s House, Part 2 are few in number, but prove powerful in the story. Including three self-identifying women and one man, the cast produces an emotional tale full of self-reflection and self-actualization. Tkel stands tall among giants, as she supports other characters played by DC notables like the aforementioned Twyford and Craig Wallace, as Torvald.

Before the performance, the main question for me was how does Tkel bring so much to the table while surrounded by veterans of the craft.

“I see many parallel narratives as a theater practitioner working on the play and as a character,” she says. “These actors and actresses have a longer history of working together, and I am the youngest actress and this is my first time working with these artists. Their characters were in the A Doll’s House.”

“Whereas my character, Emmy, is very much so removed. I have to think about how Emmy’s voice is different in the story and how she herself is different in the room,” she continues. “It’s freeing coming from a different place than others. You have more freedom to have a different take because you don’t know it’s different.”

The predominantly female cast brilliantly addresses issues found in the mid-19th century still felt today. The barriers circumventing women’s equality and independence underscore the humor that makes this play a quality hit.

“[There’s] room for women to have different opinions on stage and in the story, discussing their ideas about marriage and what it means to be a woman,” Tkel gleams.

It’s an eclectic collection of empowering perspectives that will cause the audience to question where their loyalties lie within the conundrum of gender identity and gender roles.

“It’s a very exciting play. [A] play everyone will have at stake in because it is about marriage, divorce, agency and independence for women and men,” Tkel explains.  

Further noting the very complicated societal dynamics layered with the necessary levels of vulnerability, Part 2 annihilates the boundaries of female and male normative behaviors. But where do the men factor in? How will they respond to the performance?

“I think men will like the play. Through Nora’s husband, Torvald, the writer has a lot to say about what society and women may want from men.”

Torvald, played by critically acclaimed actor, Craig Wallace, offers a strong masculine take on love and commitment, showcasing an uncommon vulnerable side.

“The play absolutely stands on its own and you’ll get so much from it,” Tkel encourages. “We’ve all had relationships and family. Whatever your history is, you will pick up pretty quickly that Nora is returning to territory that she used to be in, in a very different fashion.”

“Because the subject matter is so engaging, your own personal feeling about loyalty love, commitment and family will make you question your own view structure.”

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is simply relatable and as Tkel puts it: “Ripe for the picking.”

Round House Theatre’a A Doll’s House, Part 2 runs at Lansburgh Theatre through June 30. Tickets are $50-$61 and can be purchased at here.

Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Photo: courtesy of The Study

The Study at Morrison House Brings Cocktails to Cozy Alexandria Space

It has always been said to never judge a book by its cover, at least that was always told to me as a child. This is how I felt as I approached Morrison House, a new member of the Autograph collection. As I opened the door I was greeted by a softly lit entrance with a fresh linen scent, almost as if I stepped right off King Street into a storybook, providing a quiet reprieve from the heat and chaos of the outside. I was swiftly swept into a cozy bar area, immediately made to feel at home.

The Study at Morrison House is an intimate bar located within Morrison House, a boutique hotel. Situated in a small residential street, just a block over from the hustle and bustle of King Street, they specialize in a seasonal rotation of small plates and signature house-made cocktails.

As I settled into the soft leather backed bar chairs, the bartender Cynthia immediately introduced herself and offered me the signature cocktail of the evening and the rest of the summer, the Gin Chamomile Milk Punch. The punch was incredibly refreshing, and proved to be a good choice even for those who are not fans of gin. The mixture of gin and chamomile was a lovely floral experience for the tongue, and the pre-frosted glasses were a nice added touch for the warm weather.

As the taste was something I had never encountered before, I was intrigued – so much so that I asked Cynthia how it was made. The process takes two days and involves a bottle of gin and many bags of chamomile tea, eventually combined together with milk. As the process is incredibly lengthy, she informed me she gages the necessity based on any events that are being hosted at the hotel.

As I sipped my punch, I noticed the variety of ages and faces around me, telling me that while it can feel like an old fashioned hotel from the outside, you walk in and all your expectations are immediately transformed, especially with the incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff. This space is made for everyone, no matter their age or food and drink favorites. Whether you want a small bite or a glass of local Virginia rosé, The Study at Morrison House has something to offer for your particular palate.

As I finished my drink, food slowly began to be passed around, starting with “Mom’s Pimento Cheese,” a creamy pimento cheese served on the flakiest crostini I have ever encountered. As soon as I finished my bite, I was able to speak to Chef Peter McCall, the mastermind behind the spot’s food program. He told me his focus was on seasonal ingredients and plates, he rotates the menu based on the fresh vegetables and other ingredients he can get from the farmer’s market. On top of that, he wanted the emphasis to be on the cocktails, with a nice flavorful bite to go along with their signature drinks. When I mentioned how much I enjoyed the pimento cheese, he smiled and said it was actually his mother’s recipe. The small plates aspect adds to the overall experience in the sense that you can hold a nice conversation and be able to enjoy rotating varieties of fresh food as well.

If you are looking for an elegant bar where you can come relax and enjoy a refreshing cocktail for a good value, The Study is the ideal place. The concept here is that of a best-kept secret, a place where you can have a cocktail and conversation, away from everything else going on. Especially in the hot days we are bound to encounter in the DC area’s summer, it is a welcome break from the overpowering haze and humidity outside.

Photo: Salina Ladha

Homeshake Only Plays the Hits

The Black Cat main stage is buzzing on March 25, and the opener, Yves Jarvis, hasn’t even gone onstage yet.

This is the second year in a row Homeshake, solo project of Montreal, Canada-based Peter Sagar, performs for a sold out crowd in DC. His show last year, which we also covered, was at Union Stage on the Wharf and next year, he should probably play the legendary 9:30 Club.

Much like yesteryear’s show, the crowd is generally young. (However, there are some old heads spaced throughout the room.) Maybe that’s why they wouldn’t shut up during the opener. To be fair, Jarvis didn’t set himself up for success. There was little indication that he was going to be playing, and he performed most of his songs on an acoustic guitar.

There’s little wrong with an acoustic guitar, but there’s a also a time and place for it. Like the Best Damn Open Mic night at Boundary Stone. (Disclaimer: I work there.)

Anyway, he gets off the stage at some point. Nobody knows when, and Homeshake comes on sometime after. Finally, the crowd tunes in.

Sagar starts off with “Early,” the opener off his latest record Helium (2019). It’s a down-tempo instrumental played on keys and sets the tone for the record as a whole.

Helium has a similar feel of the first Homeshake record In the Shower (2014), but with the hi-fi quality of Fresh Air (2017). It also has some standout singles, e.g. “Like Mariah,” which literally slaps, and “Nothing Could Be Better.”

The record was panned by Pitchfork, though some might call this a badge of honor. The reviewer gave the record a 3.5/10, reasoning that it has the “snap of limp celery.” He’s right actually, but I still listen to the record. It’s “cat in your lap” type music, a morning go-to alongside the infinite bisous record period (2019).

In admitting that I like the music, I’ll concede that the live show is not worth going to. I should have known this because I was in the Union Stage crowd last year, when Homeshake played and I didn’t like the show then either.

The formula: is open with a track off the latest record, move into singles off of the previous record and then move back to selections from the latest record, all while playing songs exactly as they were recorded.

This is to say that beyond a joke or two, the live show doesn’t  add much to the experience of the music. If you’ve heard the record, then you’ve heard the live show. Nothing will surprise you.

Some people enjoy concerts like that, and that’s fine. Sunday night at Black Cat, the crowd ate it up, much like they did last February at Union Stage. However, I like to be surprised by a live show. 

For more information on Homeshake, follow him on Twitter.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Waco Brothers Keep Crowd Alive During Late Set

The clock crept toward 1 a.m. Thursday morning after a long day at work and a full night rocking SXSW.

Sleep beckoned, but the pesky festival app on my phone wasn’t having it.

At 12:45 a.m., the app dinged and reminded me the Waco Brothers – cowpunk pioneers and Bloodshot Records legends – were due onstage in 15 minutes at the Continental Club, perhaps Austin’s most revered live music venue.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Walking in the door of the venerable institution on South Congress south of downtown, a blast of guitar-fueled adrenaline shot straight through my fatigue. Onstage, Waco Brothers were swinging electric guitars, accordions, mandolins, and even legs and arms as they blasted into their Hank Williams-meets-the-Ramones sound. Jon Langford, a Welshman and founder of punk legends the Mekons, launched the Waco Brothers two decades ago.

The guys may be grayer, but they show no sign of slowing down. Langford announced the Waco Brothers first played Austin in 1996, a time when some in the audience hadn’t even been born. This band was about to show the kids how it’s done.

“Had Enough,” a drum-thumping call-and-response tune about reaching the end of your rope, somehow played like an inspirational anthem. “Harm’s Way,” a propulsive country-rocker, revealed the Brother’s sharp songwriting skills and ability to infuse punk and country – two parts loud and one part melody.

Halfway through the set, a raven-haired woman in shorts and cowboy boots jumped onto a platform on the side of the stage a few sets in and started wind-milling her arms, exhorting the already enthusiastic crowd to make even more noise. Done!

The late-night crowd’s engine revved even higher when indie rocker Ted Leo joined the Brothers onstage for a couple of jams. You just never know what will happen onstage at a SXSW showcase. With that, I made my way to the exits, a weary smile plastered on my face and the exuberant sounds of the music ringing in my ears.

For more information about the Waco Brothers, click here.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Barrie Has the Best Time at Ground Control Touring Showcase

The first set I caught upon arrival in Austin, Texas happened to be Barrie, and I regret to inform all the bands I’ll see in the future, that they have big shoes to fill. I’ve only been keen on Barrie for about three weeks now, thanks to the modern miracle of the Spotify algorithm. While I much prefer finding music organically, every now and then the robots (are they robots? What IS “the algorithm?” a column for another day, perhaps) prove that they know me better than I know myself.

I’d been on a kick of lo-fi pop, mostly in an effort to summon the weather I associate with this kind of music: breezy, 70s, driving with my windows down. It must have worked, because I hear back home in DC you’ve had such fortune. You’re welcome. Anyway, back to the music! That’s why we’re all here, right?

Much in the vein of No Vacation or Hana Vu, Barrie bring an 80s bedroom-pop vibe to the ever growing alt-pop table. They’re more than welcome here, though, because their camaraderie oozes from their sound and made me want to go home and hug my friends (hey guys, I miss you!).

Bassist Sabine’s clearly having the best time, riffing her silvery lines off Barrie’s (the band’s namesake) guitar playing. Guess what? Now I’m having the best time too. This band’s proof that with the right group of people you can do anything, and anything can be fun. I hope they stick with each other and keep summoning the feeling of spring weather forever.

Photo: Silvia Grav

Review: Cass McCombs Channels Laurel Canyon and New Wave at Union Stage

To be honest, Cass McCombs’ voice struck as somewhat rough when he began to sing on March 4 at Union Stage. Despite the start, he proceeded to sing for two hours and everyone loved it.

McCombs is touring the February 8 release of his latest and ninth record Tip of the Sphere, a nonsense pun on “tip of the spear,” (because, as you know, spheres are rounded on all sides.)

The music is just as opaque as the title. Like Jonathan Wilson’s sound, the record channels a Laurel Canyon-psych quality, only McCombs’ take is even spacier. It’s music that gives you space to imagine.

For instance, “The Great Pixley Train Robbery” is an Americana song that stomps and cuts right through the space of the others on the record, like “Estrella.” And he wasted no time, playing “Pixley” second in the set.

Another similarity to Jonathan Wilson, McCombs was playing with the same bass player I saw touring with Wilson this time last year, Dan Horne. Horne looks like a guy displaced from the 70s: shoulder length a hair, stache, oversized retro frames. He’s someone you couldn’t imagine anywhere but onstage.

Because McCombs has been making music for years, after a few songs off of Tip of the Sphere he moved into tracks off of earlier records like Mangy Love (2016) and Big Wheel and Others (2013). Here, a New Wave/Talking Heads influence came through. McCombs’ David Byrne style haircut didn’t hurt that read either. Frank LoCrasto, McCombs’ keyboard player, especially shined on this portion of the show.

At first I took LoCrasto with his red shirt and brown felt hat for a Mountie. But once he got to playing, I found myself craning my neck looking for Greg Phillinganes.

Sam Evian, a Brooklyn-based artist and producer, (who actually engineered Tip of the Sphere), opened for McCombs. His song “Need You,” a song that shines like the sun on 35mm film, may have been my favorite from the night, but some of his best moments came when he was playing alongside McCombs.

Evian took up a saxophone and soloed on McCombs’ track “The Burning of the Temple, 2012.” A descending bass line on the turnaround provides a spooky quality that fit Evian’s Jack Skeleton t-shirt.

As McCombs watched Evian squeal and bop, you got the sense of a blessing being conferred or a torch being passed on. I’m excited to see what Evian produces in the years to come.

Listen to both McCombs and Evian on Spotify or wherever you get your music.  For more information about the two artists, follow them on Instagram @cassmccombs and @sam.evian.

Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; 877-987-6487; www.unionstage.com

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

“The Master and Margarita” Paints Unique Picture of Soviet Union

The Constellation Theatre Company took a dramatic shift in their current season with their newest addition, The Master and Margarita.

Based on a novel by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov and adapted by Edward Kemp, the story was penned in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s regime. The plot follows the love affair of a playwright, known as The Master (played by Alexander Strain), and a married woman, known as Margarita (played by Amanda Forstrom).

Throughout the production, both characters and audiences grapple with a religious discourse that propels this daring and risqué play.

In an effort to avoid any spoilers, let’s focus on why you should see the performance.

It’s a romantic dramedy that will transport you to a time where censorship was a common method of oppression. The fact that it’s based in the Soviet Union, proves that these atrocious acts are still in affect today. However, in this tale the oppression is one of a comical nature, where you may find yourself rooting for a group you otherwise wouldn’t agree with.

Another is the included magic show that will dazzle even the biggest skeptic. Nicely coupled with a dance and song, the Devil and his crew shine in their spot-on red sparkling 1920s flappers’ attire. It’s moments like these that make you truly wonder what the secret behind a magician is.

Next, we have the poetic love language that causes all hearts to croon. One thing the Russian literary greats have certainly perfected is professing their adoration for loved ones. The streams of decrees fallen on willing ears captivate. This may leave you envious, wishing you too had the words to properly declare your love. Perhaps the only thing missing is a strong Russian accent.

Lastly, we have a talking cat and pig. Honestly, what more could you desire?

Frankly, while one of the many premises of this intricately layered play focuses on the plight of Pontius Pilate days before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the ensemble manages to keep things light and airy. Scenes often leave the audiences to ponder the appropriate reaction to the moments carefully played out in this intimate theater. It’s a complex story and if you’re not listening carefully, you could easily miss a key factor.

Fortunate for all, returning director Allison Arkell Stockman pleasantly produces a revolving door of antics to keep even the most effortlessly distracted person’s eyes glued to the stage. There’s a striptease, decapitated heads, non-revealing “sex” scenes, and, again, a talking cat and pig.

The Master and Margarita is showing through March 3 at Source Theatre. Tickets are $29-$45 and can be purchased at constellationtheatre.org.

Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; constellationtheatre.org