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Evan Daves (Melchior) and Cristina Sastre (Wendla) // Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Round House Theatre Delivers Intimate Spring Awakening

Round House Theatre is in the midst of an ambitious run of Spring Awakening – the now revered Tony-winning musical adaptation of a once-shunned play turned cult classic – directed by Alan Paul.

When playwright Frank Wedekind introduced Spring’s Awakening, A Children’s Tragedy to Germany in 1891, he ignited scandal and censorship that carried through to 1917 when an English-language production in New York was shut down after only one run. 

Why? Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening called attention to the injustices inflicted on generations of youth at the hand of a draconian society, with open condemnation of sexual repression, physical and emotional abuse, and antiquated educational systems. 

Revived in 1999 as a musical with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, the new Spring’s Awakening was well-received by a relatively more “woke” audience, but one not unfamiliar with nor immune to the original play’s commentary and its characters’ struggles. 

In a book that is overloaded with every kind of struggle possible – incest, potential rape, suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, death, ignorance, child abuse – it is a delicate balance that must be attained to ensure your audience isn’t simply overwhelmed. 

Paralleling the stubborn persistence of the play itself and its enduring themes, we lose sense of time during Paul’s production – not a flaw, but rather a nod to his successful creative direction. For example, the wayward bohemian Isla is skillfully handled such that we never know whether she ever really existed among the other children, or rather as one of those theatrical spectors meant to ferry us through the ephemera of time and space that is at once Victorian-era Germany, contemporary America, the stage, and our own real lives. The Roundhouse rendition runs through February 23. 

Tonya Beckman (Adult Women), too, functions as a touchstone. It is perhaps ironic that while Beckman’s character is meant to represent repression and/or willful ignorance, her familiar dynamism guides and balances the rest of the young cast’s green energy. 

There’s not a bad seat to be had in the newly renovated Round House. Updates to the stage including a mechanically rotating floor offer the players opportunities to effectively explore movement, choreography and attention, which is ultimately this production’s greatest strength.

There is value in playing a piece that illuminates eternal aspects of the human condition. But the mere fact of timelessness does not grant abdication from responsibility to progress. That doesn’t come in the form of a pop-punk score, Doc Martens and dyed hair. Instead, for the show, Paul brought on Lorraine Ressegger-Sloan as the team’s Intimacy Coordinator.

Ressegger-Sloan’s work is part of a growing trend seen in theaters across the country, wherein rather than being told to embody the physical and emotional state of a character, actors are being taught how to convey emotion through physicality in a way that protects them from potential trauma. 

Having worked for several years as a movement director, predominantly with women and female-identifying actors on work that was intimate in nature, Ressegger-Sloan says becoming a Theatrical Intimacy Educator was a natural progression and that her role is twofold. 

She serves as an asset to the choreography team, ensuring movements are repeatable, safe and specific, and that actors are consenting to the work – making important distinctions of work on stage as, for example, simulated sex scenes, not sex scenes. She also functions as a kind of HR for actors.

“I’m there to help them articulate and set boundaries, to be an advocate for them, to voice any issues that may arise for them to the production team. I’m holding the space and making it as safe as possible, knowing that it will never be completely safe, holding myself and everyone else accountable. In this way we build a ‘brave’ space so that we get to a place where people are comfortable being uncomfortable,” says Ressegger-Sloan. 

This work translates, too, to the audience’s experience of the performance. In considering the gaze, and expectations of performance, Ressegger-Sloan is able to help the performers navigate what it means to challenge the idea of consent, for example. Who is consenting to be seen, in what way, and when? 

“Break down the audience’s expectations is the most important part of getting the truth and allows the audience to also bask in the truth of that moment,” she says. To accomplish this she incorporates a lot of breathwork. “We use breath and expectation in a way so we can have the audience on the ride with us, but we’re [in control]. How can a physical movement convey an emotion?”

In this way, actors are freed from the intimidation of chemistry and considering how much of themselves they’ll have to give away – which can be especially important to a young cast experiencing scenes intimate in nature for the first time. 

In addition to Ms. Ressegger-Sloan’s work with the cast and crew, Round House is providing access and educational programming in conjunction with the show’s run, including free tickets for teens and college students, and events like a February 6 post-show discussion with SIECUS and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington on the importance of consent-based sexual education and youth advocacy in 2020. 

Spring Awakening runs through February 23. For information about dates, times and tickets, visit here.

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

Harrison Bryan as Christopher // Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Round House Theatre’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time” Highlights Neurodiversity

The expression is “walk a mile in someone’s shoes,” but wouldn’t it be easier to just to take a peek inside of their mind? That’s what Round House Theatre seeks in their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Based on the best selling book of the same name, the play allows audiences to see inside the mind of Christopher Boone. This coming of age story about a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum comes to life with stunning visuals and graphics.

Christopher is extremely smart and enjoys math (or maths as they say in England, where the play takes place,) video games, his pet rat Toby and being a detective. He doesn’t like figures of speech, being touched or strangers. When accused of killing his next-door neighbor’s dog, his curious nature comes in handy. Despite his father telling him to stop snooping, Christopher discovers that this case is much bigger than he thought. 

Christopher’s story is not one that’s often portrayed on stage. Representing the neurodiverse community was not a responsibility that Ryan Rilette took lightly. As Round House Theatre’s artistic director and co-director of the play, he wanted to portray Christopher as an accurate depiction of a person on the spectrum but also show that Christopher’s story is only one of many. 

“As we started to work on it, and with every play that we do, we try to figure out what is the community surrounding that play?” he says. “What is the right audience for the play? And more importantly, who do we need in the rehearsal room to help us tell the story? In this case, it was very important to us to make sure we had teens, as well as adults on the spectrum who could give us their feedback on the play.” 

“Throughout the whole building, one of the things you’ll see is that we’ve said over and over again the phrase ‘If you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.’ So, we have art by other people on the spectrum that is upstairs, as part of a partnership with Visarts, and clings in the windows downstairs.”

Round House’s production of the play is unique from the Broadway or West End shows in the way that media is used. While known for its projections and high sensory lights, videos and sounds, Rilette and co-director Jared Mezzocchi didn’t want to overwhelm the audience as the original production attempted to do. 

Christopher is highly sensitive to touch and sounds. To address Christopher’s sensory processing disorder, something all people on the spectrum suffer from, Rilette used red scribbles or what he calls “billows” projected on the stage to visualize what it would look like if Christopher were to be yelled at or touched. 

The characters love of computer games is also used to visualize aspects of the script. At one point the giant clear screen, serving as the background for most of the projections, becomes a game of “Tetris.” A scene where Christopher is recounting his day could be seen as mundane but is transformed into a hilarious monologue in which Christopher is a Mario-like video game character. 

“We started to go, well he’s also a gamer. There’s a scene where he’s playing ‘Tetris’ and talks about computer games and his dad says ‘you like those.’ So we thought, given that he’s a computer gamer, what if we used first-person video games as a way to show some of these ideas. What if it’s just like he’s in his own video game inside his head, which can also help with the way in which the play jumps around in time.” 

Under the direction of Rilette and Mezzocchi, actor Harrison Bryan adapted the way in which he portrayed Christopher. He focused more on who the character is as a person. Playing Christopher the second time around at the regional level, Bryan’s portrayal was humorous, passionate and showed the many multitudes of Christopher’s personality. 

The Curious Incident may not  be typically thought of as a holiday show. There is no Santa or Christmas magic. However, the play’s ability to create empathy for its characters and appeal to audience members of all ages and abilities makes it a must-see show this season. Not only does it inspire the encouragement of others but also belief in your own abilities. At the end of his journey, Christopher asks: “Does that mean I can do anything?”       

“Some people who are neurotypical, who have not dealt with neurodiverse people before, can look at them like they’re damaged. They see the disability and not the ability. I feel like the beautiful thing about what we’ve done is we’ve shown how incredibly creative and rich Christopher’s inner life is.” Rilette says. “So, I would hope that [ the audience] would go away and look at other people who are not neurotypical like they are and see them in a different way. I hope neurodiverse audiences come in and can enjoy the show and say “That’s not exactly me because everyone is different, but I believe that this is a neurodiverse person. This is an interesting person that I see parts of myself in.”   

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs until December 22. For tickets or more information, visit here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240.644.1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Astro Lab Alfie American Stout, Seasonal Barrel Aged Sagamore Spirit and the Figure of Speech at Round House Theatre's Fourth Wall Bar and Cafe // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

Round House Theatre’s Fourth Wall Bar and Cafe Creates Community Among Theatergoers

I have a typical procedure when going to a theater. I like to get there early but not too early, I want the doors to the seats to already be open. Then, I pick up my ticket and take my seat. I feel this is pretty standard for most theatergoers. Except for when seeing a show a Round House Theatre.

When going to see their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I thought I arrived too early because no one had taken their seats yet. Instead, people gathered around the bar or were sitting at tables having actual conversations. The kinds of conversation between strangers that happened before people went on their phones and avoided eye contact.

This was Round House’s intention. Artistic director Ryan Rilette says the theater wanted to be a place for audience members to congregate and talk about performances while also being able to enjoy a drink or meal.

Spread Trio // Red Pepper Hummus, Spicy Whipped Ricotta, Spinach & Artichoke Dip // $9 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

“So much of what Round House does is about big C community, about trying to build community through our work. With every show we do, we’re reaching out to different groups trying to figure out what is the right kind of audience for this show? How do we build the community around the show?” Rilette asks.

“The idea of using our space to build community, we already have a space that a lot of people will rent, but how do we find a way to increase dialogue among audience members to make it a more comfortable experience and to really create more of a sense of community? This bar and cafe was the idea.”

Butter Chicken and Rice // Tandoori Chicken in Mild Tomato Curry // $10 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

I decided to order one of the specialty drinks for this production, a Figure of Speech
made of Linganore mead, Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and lemon juice. While I expected to be a wallflower, two ladies who were also sampling the cafe menu quickly join me. We chatted about our excitement and knowledge of the show. I had never had such an enjoyable pre-show experience.

After the show, the actors (including an adorable golden retriever puppy) came out and greeted audience members. While it was odd hearing them without the show’s required British accents, it was an intimate experience getting to revel with the cast.

“I feel like we as a society are so disconnected from each other,” Rilette says. “Our virtual connect through social media, email, phones and everything is our primary connection. It used to be that the church fulfilled this function for a lot of people as a place to gather, turn everything off and be able to communicate, but less and less people go to church. I feel like arts are a deep connection that asks big questions and is a chance to meet like-minded people and converse with them about what you just saw. To me, when that all clicks together, there is nothing better.”

Harvest Bowl // Wild Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, Super Greens, Truffle Vinaigrette // $13 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

Rilette imagined a space that was inviting and created community, but it also needed to have really good food. Food and beverage manager Hudson Tang decided to take the Fourth Wall Bar & Cafe to the next level by including themed items as well as using all local purveyors.

“It can be hard to come up with ideas for a themed menu,” Tang says. “Since [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime] takes place in England, it was a bit easier.”

The British-themed menu includes dishes inspired by Indian cuisines such as Butter Chicken and Aloo Gobi as well as traditional English treats like breakfast quiche, steak and stout pie and Beef Wellington. In addition to their Figure of Speech cocktail, they also have Toby consisting of Tenth Ward Autumn Liqueur, Tenth Ward Caraway Rye, Paromi Cinnamon Chai and vanilla syrup. For a non-alcoholic option, the strawberry float is a delicious combination of coconut milk, strawberry syrup and ginger beer.

Spicy Veggie Pie // $8 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

The menu rotates with each show but what remains is the bar and cafe’s commitment to supporting local vendors. Linganore Wines of Mt. Airy, MD, Lotus Grill & Bar of Bethesda, MD and Moorenko’s Ice Cream of Silver Spring, MD are a few of many local purveyors to be featured.

“It can be a challenge finding vendors with good food that holds, but it’s important that everything is sourced locally and thematic,” Tang says.

Astro Lab Alfie American Stout, Seasonal Barrel Aged Sagamore Spirit, and the Figure of Speech // $8, $13, $11 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

The Fourth Wall Bar & Cafe opens one hour prior to curtain. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs until December 22. For tickets or more information visit here.

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

New York Premiere LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS Written and performed by John Leguizamo Directed by Tony Taccone In a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols Original Music and Sound Design: Bray Poor

Stage & Screen: November 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY, DECEMBER 22

Disney’s Newsies
Seize the day and see Newsies at Arena Stage. The musical, based on the popular Disney film, follows the charismatic Jack Kelly and his fellow newsboys. When newspaper tycoon Joesph Pulitzer decides to raise the price of papers, Jack and the newsies decide to go on strike. Teaming up with enthusiastic reporter Katherine, this ragtag group shows standing up for what you believe in can prove victorious. Various dates and times. Tickets $66-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JANUARY 5

A Chorus Line
Signature Theatre is known for bringing big, dazzling musicals to the DMV and this production is no exception. A Chorus Line is the story of the talent and passion it takes to make it in the world of professional dancing. Step inside the audition room as 17 hopeful dancers put their dreams on the line through elaborate displays of jazz, ballet and tap. Featuring classics such as “What I Did for Love” and “At the Ballet.” Various dates and times. Tickets start at $66. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22

Amadeus
How does friendship between two esteemed composers end in murder? In Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, Antonio Salieri cannot let the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart outshine him. Because of this internal drive, Salieri’s mission in life becomes ruining Mozart’s career. Now in 1823 Italy, Salieri tells the tale of how he murdered Mozart 32 years prior. Various dates and times. Tickets $27-$85. Folger Shakespeare Library: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

2019 Alexandria Film Festival
The Alexandria Film Festival is back for its 13th year. Come and check out films from both local and regional filmmakers. This four-day fest will feature more than 50 free and ticketed films. Several films will be premiering including Daddio from Alexandria native and Saturday Night Live alum Casey Wilson. A special “veteran’s showcase” will include films such as Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Various prices, dates and times. AMC Hoffman Center 22: 206 Swamp Fox Rd. Alexandria, VA and Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library: 5005 Duke St. Alexandria, VA; www.alexfilmfest.com

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8

The NPR Politics Podcast Live: The Road To 2020
Looking for a fun way to be informed on all thing elections 2020? NPR has you covered. Join their live podcast and gain political insight from Tamara Keith, Scott Detrow, Asma Khalid, Ayesha Rascoe and Domenico Montanaro. This is an opportunity to get an up-close view of the nation’s top political podcast and ask the burning questions you have for the pundits. Doors open at 7 p.m. Podcast at 8 p.m. Tickets $34-$54. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; www.warnertheatredc.com

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30

Airness
You don’t need an instrument to be a rock star. For instance, Nina intends to become one by entering an air guitar contest. After meeting a group of nerdy air guitar enthusiasts, she realizes this childish activity may not be as easy as it seems. Does Nina have what it takes to rock the competition? Find out in the 2017 Humana Festival favorite. Various dates and times. Tickets $41-$51. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17

Rent
La Vie Bohème! Johnathan Larson’s Rent has been inspiring audiences for 20 years. Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals. The National Theatre is bringing this story of struggle, loss and “Seasons of Love” to DC. Join Mark, a filmmaker capturing his friends as they navigate life in the late 90s, New York City under the AIDS epidemic. Various dates and times. Tickets start at $54. The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.com

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20 – FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Step inside the mind of Christopher John Francis Booth. Christopher is a 15-year-old boy who sees the world in math and puzzles. He might have some “behavior problems” but his brilliant mind is just what’s needed to solve a neighborhood mystery. Playwright Simon Stephens brings the awarding-winning book by Mark Haddon to life with stunning visuals and projections. Various dates and times. Tickets start at $32. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons
If you’ve noticed the lack of diversity in American history textbooks, you’re not alone. If you’ve created a one man show about Latin History for morons, you’re probably John Leguizamo. Prepare to get educated in the most entertaining way. This performance was Tony-nominated for Best Play in 2018, Leguizamo will hilariously take you through Latin History all the way from the Mayans to Pitbull. Various Times. Tickets start at $59. The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.com

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21 and SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23

Venus and Adonis at The Corcoran
Opera Lafayette takes opera to the next level. As the only period-instrument opera in America, the orchestra uses old or modern replicas to pay homage to composers from the 17th-19th century. For more than 20 years, Opera Lafayette has been bringing its new take on old compositions to DC, New York and France. For only two performances, they are bringing John Blow’s tale of Roman Gods and mortals, Venus and Adonis, to the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University. Times TBA. Tickets $60-$105. Flagg Building at The Corcoran Gallery of Art: 500 17th St. NW, DC; www.operalafayette.org