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Photo: Tony Powell

Everybody Promotes Inclusivity + Explores the Impermanence of the Human Condition

What would it look like to put our baggage onstage, in the role of Stuff? Or our regrets, in the role of All the Shitty Things One Has Ever Done in Their Life? Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins puts these weighty emotions into physical form along with the elements of Time and Love and Death, among others, in Everybody. The production comes to Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC)’s Lansburgh Theatre from October 15 to November 17 under the direction of Will Davis in the most original of ways. Each night, six of the nine roles will be assigned to actors onstage as part of a bingo-style lottery. At the center of this comedy about death is the Hero, picked at random each night to embark on a journey where he or she prepares to die. Heavy in subject matter but light in thematic style, Davis walked me through what drew him to this play, why it’s so important to connect with audiences and how diversity in casting is multifaceted.

On Tap: How does it feel to be directing the first production of the season at STC, as well as the first production under new artistic director Simon Godwin’s leadership?
Will Davis: It’s such a privilege, honestly. It means a lot to me to be entrusted with Simon’s first season opener and I have really enjoyed the time that I’ve had to speak with him so far. He’s so obviously a leader and a director who’s interested in creating space for other artists, which I think is the number one thing you want in an artistic leader.

OT: Have you ever directed anything like Everybody before where a different role is assigned to a small cast of actors onstage each night?
WD: I’ve never directed anything that has this particular lottery concept in it but I have definitely made it a focal point [to direct pieces that are] really ambitious for the theatre to accomplish. [One] of the things I’m looking for in a play is some element of the impossible involved. In this case, [the] little piece of impossibility is there’s actually no way for me to rehearse each actor doing every possible combination of roles that they could perform. [I have to] think about, “How do I rehearse this? How do I create the right container for this play to really succeed knowing that to a certain extent, chance is built into the concept of the play?”

OT: What was your role in the casting process? How important was it to cast a diverse range of actors for this production?
WD: I’m definitely interested in making sure that the cast is racially diverse and also that the gender presentation of the folks cast is diverse as well. I’m a trans person so part of what is exciting for me is giving audiences an opportunity to think about gender parity a little bit bigger than this binary idea of men and women. [Instead], to think about gender being a more holistic thing [and] far more about the gray areas than one thing or another. The other thing I think about when casting is age. This play has a really beautifully open casting template. You’re looking for someone who is going to play Time and Love and Death and God. Just saying, “Which person’s energy best feels like it represents the concept of love?” leaves it far more open. It’s a far more exciting casting process.

OT: What feelings do you hope to evoke from the audience?
WD: What I’ve been trying to say is, there’s a dark comedy irony to it that I think leaves you feeling a sense of comradery. The audience should have a real sense of kinship with everyone else who’s in the theater with them on that given night and of course, one of the reasons they have that feeling is because the show they see will be unique. No one else who sees the show the day before or the day after will see the same show. It’s such a smart, smart thing that the playwright’s done in writing this play that’s a meditation on impermanence and humanity, [and] every night that an audience comes to see it will be its own impermanent moment.

OT: In the time I’ve been covering local theatre, STC has done a fantastic job not only of being inclusive and diverse in its casting but also in expanding the identity of gender and exploring those gray areas you mentioned earlier.
WD: I love that you say that. The thing that occurs to me is the exploration of that gray area or areas. Every single one of us lives there. There isn’t actually any person that you or I know that is definitively male or definitively female. We’re all a loose collection of traits and identities that makes sense to us. I think the more we see that onstage, the more we [can] embrace that in ourselves and our families and our children. And the other thing about Shakespeare that I always find so funny is when I read Shakespeare, all I can think to myself is, “My God, this material is so punk rock.” There’s so much space inside of Shakespeare for an openness about people’s humanity and I think it’s a great place for us to be able to show each other that. It’s a space where a lot of the conversations we’re having as a culture can really be explored and cherished.

OT: What makes Everybody relatable to millennial audiences?
WD: The way the playwright writes is that he takes things that feel old, discarded or not relevant and pulls them through a modern framework and creates this whole other world. He, in his own way, is a really punk rock writer. I also think speaking from my part of the circle, I’m trying to create an experience that will be really deeply affecting but also have a festival atmosphere. The whole design of the play is based around balloons. There’s a dance break in the middle of the show where the full cast is going to be performing with some very, very large balloon sculptures. I spend a lot of time thinking about, “What are the ways to tie these larger theatrical gestures to something that feels really meaningful and emotional?” I think that’s what we need to do onstage is really pay attention to the fact that it’s a live form and people who show up as an audience need to be respected and cherished for the fact that they are alive and in the room.

Experience a completely unique performance of  Everybody between October 15 to November 17 at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. Young Prose Night is Friday, October 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $49. Learn more at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

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

Small Mouth Sounds at Roundhouse Theatre

Stage and Screen: August 2019

THROUGH SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7

Aladdin
We all remember seeing Disney’s iconic animated film Aladdin as 90s kids. With a recent adaptation of the film, this is the best time for the hit Broadway musical to make its way to the Kennedy Center. From the producer of Broadway’s The Lion King comes the timeless story of Aladdin, a thrilling new production filled with unforgettable beauty, magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle. It’s an extraordinary theatrical event where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite. Various times. Tickets start at $39. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

TUESDAYS THROUGH SEPTEMBER 24

Harold Night
Harold Night is Washington Improv Theater’s weekly homage to the world-famous long-form improv performance known as Harold. The show begins with suggestions from the audience, and the players create what the audience is imagining right before their eyes. The night ends in a free jam where the audience is invited to try improv side by side with the actors and performers – no experience necessary. Seating is first-come, first-serve so it would be best to get there on the earlier side. Pay what you choose. Show starts at 8 p.m. The Source: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; www.witc.org

MONDAY, AUGUST 5 and MONDAY, AUGUST 19

Comedy, Magic & Martinis
Mix and mingle with your fellow speakeasy-goers at the Mansion on O’s magical event. Instead of a stage and curtains, this will be closeup magic and it’s sure to shock and surprise you every step of the way. The speakeasy will be a bit hidden, so you may have to do a bit of sleuthing to find the six famous Houdini clocks. You’ll also be able to enjoy themed rooms and exhibits as well as $10 martinis. Doors at 5 p.m. Show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50. The Mansion on O: 2020 O St. NW, DC; www.omansion.com

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15 – SATURDAY, AUGUST 17

DC Black Film Festival
The Miracle Theatre and Mayflower Hotel present this festival featuring notable films like Solace, Oklahoma is Black and Murder in Mobile, as well as web series and television content by and about people of African descent. Visit the website for more information about the 2019 festival showcase, including a full schedule of events. Various times. Tickets start at $15. The Miracle Theatre: 535 8th St. SE, DC; www.dcbff.org

SUNDAY, AUGUST 18

Signature Theatre Open House
To start off its 30th season with a bang, Signature Theatre will be hosting its annual open house in mid-August. Starting at noon, you’ll be able to enjoy performances every 15 minutes as well as master classes, family cabarets, games, crafts and much more. One new addition this year: you’ll be able to enter a lottery to win free tickets to the theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. The event runs from 12-7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

THURSDAY, AUGUST 22

Brian Parise
After being nominated for an Emmy for his writing on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Brian Parise is back to provide many laughs and standup for audiences of all ages to enjoy. Parise got his start in the DC comedy scene and quickly became a rising star before moving on to host a monthly comedy show in Brooklyn. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. The Comedy Loft of DC: 1523 22nd St. NW, DC; www.dccomedyloft.com

MONDAY, AUGUST 26

Spotlight Berlin
The Goethe-Institut Washington is partnering with Scena Theatre to present a series of workshops featuring selections of the latest and greatest plays to appear on the Berlin stage. This reading features Look Who’s Back, a play adapted from the novel – both of which were written by Timur Vermes. This will be the last reading of the series, so don’t miss it. Show starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets free with registration. Goethe-Institut Washington: 1990 K St. NW, DC; www.goethe.de

THURSDAY, AUGUST 29 – MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

Small Mouth Sounds
To start off Roundhouse Theatre’s 41st season, Small Mouth Sounds focuses on six people who find themselves on a weeklong silent retreat in the woods. As they move through the week together, they begin to realize that being able to look “inward” is much more difficult when you are trying to get to know those around you first. Artist Director Ryan Rilette has created a show where the audience will find “equal parts humor and tenderness.” Various times. Pay what you can. Roundhouse Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Signature Theatre's Blackbeard

Stage and Screen: Jubilee, Blackbeard, Twisted Melodies and More

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 9

Jubilee
For centuries, the Fisk Jubilee Singers broke racial barriers internationally by entertaining kings and queens across the world. The acapella group first established themselves as entertainers at Fisk University in Nashville and used their collective musical talent to raise money for college. Tazewell Thompson’s Jubilee brings creativity and emotionally provoking music to the stage by highlighting themes of suffering, strength and endurance. Various dates and times. Tickets $92-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 4 – SUNDAY, JUNE 7

Hello, Dolly!
Broadway legend Betty Buckley stars in Hello, Dolly! at the Kennedy Center this month. Acclaimed as “the best show of the year” by NPR, the musical takes audiences back to 1955 and follows the story of the matchmaker as she travels to Yonkers, New York to find a match for the half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, played by Lewis J. Stadlen. Various dates and times. Tickets $49-$159. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5 – SUNDAY, JUNE 30

A Doll’s House, Part 2
Nicole A. Watson’s A Doll’s House, Part 1 ends with protagonist Norma Helma leaving her husband Torvald by the slam of a door. The follow-up production to this feminist battle cry opens with Helma knocking on that same door in search of closure, but she’s ultimately surprised by the reactions from those she left behind. Various dates and times. Tickets $55-$70. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

THURSDAY, JUNE 13

Kennedy Center x Frank Brown and DC Millennials with
Port City Brewing Co.
June 3 marks the first Records on the Rooftop event, the Kennedy Center’s free summer happy hour series offered in partnership with local and national partners who curate each event. The rooftop will transform into a modern lounge space with an eclectic lineup of live music featured throughout the series. Three of DC’s top DJs will set the scene mixing summery, feel-good hits atop one of the District’s most unique rooftops with brews from Port City Brewing Co. 5-8 p.m. Free to attend. Kennedy Center Rooftop Terrace: 2700 F. St. NW, DC www.kennedy-center.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 18 – SUNDAY, JULY 14

Blackbeard
Blackbeard takes a look at English pirate Edward Thatch, who navigated by ship through the West Indies and North American colonies. The production staged entirely on a pirate ship begins with Blackbeard learning he’s a wanted man by the British army. But perhaps Signature Theatre’s website sums up the new production best: “Blackbeard and his crew of maritime marauders embark on a fantastical journey across the globe to raise an undead pirate army from the depths of the sea.” Various dates and times. $40-$84. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 21

Twisted Melodies
This immersive one-man show performed by Kelvin Roston, Jr. takes a look at the life of 70s soul singer and composer Donny Hathaway, best known for his duets with Roberta Flack like “The Closer I Get To You.” Twisted Melodies provides a glimpse into the musician’s last days, his inner struggle with mental illness and the muses that inspired him. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$68. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

SATURDAY, JUNE 22 – SUNDAY, JUNE 23

A Sense of Wonder
A Sense of Wonder by Dance Exchange brings a creative performance that innovatively brings science and dance together on the Dance Place stage. As always, Dance Exchange is meant to inspire change and connect people of all ages to the questions that often provoke the medium of dance and its many beautiful performances. Starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets $15-$25. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Arena Stage’s “Jubilee” Provides Musical Portrait of HBCUs

Jubilee, showing at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, takes a necessary step to illustrate the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, also known as HBCUs. Written and directed by Tazewell Thompson, a transcendent experience is facilitated with the help of choral singing, witty dialogue and a cast worthy of praise.

Quite like most uplifting minority stories not considered for mass population, Jubilee centers around a narrative, though familiar to few, resonates with the masses. Thompson’s original piece, inspired by a public television documentary, tells of the plight of a courageous group of college students – some teenagers – who advocated for what was considered a trivial, lofty pursuit back in the mid-1800s.

Thompson’s eye-opening portrayal carefully leads theatregoers down a road of resiliency, where thirteen hopefuls endure the wrath of the south.

In 1871, Fisk University, overcome with financial hardships and on the verge of foreclosure, organized an a cappella group to fundraise for the institution. Hoping to fundraise their education, which they designated as their opportunity for survival, the group encountered all that could be imagined while traveling the Bible Belt, post American Civil War.

Most of Thompson’s theatrical ideation leans on the traditional spirituals sung throughout the Underground Railroad. Selections include “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “There’s a Balm in Gilead,” “Come Down Moses” and the list goes on.

Each of these historical songs, still sung in churches today, encouraged and carried these idealistic yet realistic youth through extreme hardships that were synonymous with bigotry.

Thompson takes this surreal tale and imbeds humor to keep the inspirational a cappella tribute in fact inspirational. You will have the opportunity to deeply bond with these heroes, as they share the truth behind being part of the African Diaspora. The tale recounts childhood, love formed, painful memories that are beautifully expressed in song and spoken word throughout the performance.

Be prepared to be mesmerized by the varying genres of music naturally harmonized onstage. Each cast member has the responsibility of being pitch perfect, and they all rise to the occasion. The surprising part about the vocal talents for this performance was the four roles played by understudies. I can only imagine the heartfelt soul shaking vibrato that would have lifted us further from our seat, if those primarily cast had been in attendance.

Again, each singer is able to carry their own, and they were undeniably put to the test as each were presented with opportune solos. Thompson, evidently, has a knack for pairing singers and selections. While the vocals varied and tunes were broad, the curation was heavenly. The diversity of complexions (organically referenced in throughout the play) paralleled the diversity in tone, makes this spectacle a true sight to see.

Viewers who enjoy opera styled sopranos will feel at home. Those who favor raspy jazz riffs will be most delighted. Those craving soft melodies will croon. And those desiring a deep full bass will fall out of their seats. It was a dream come alive.

Jubilee runs at Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater through June 9th. Various times and ticket prices. For more information, visit
www.arenastage.org/tickets/season-landing/jubilee/.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org

Stage and Screen: September 2018

Through Sunday, September 23

Small Mouth Sounds
Six people sit in silence, escaping city noises and distractions in favor of necessary self-reflection. Cell phones? Not allowed. But then again, the retreat is led by a guru who can’t quite stick to the rules. Small Mouth Sounds serves as an adult edition of The Breakfast Club with a minimal set and sound. As you put your phone on silent and immerse yourself in the story, you might be surprised by your own self-reflection. Tickets are $51-$60. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Monday, September 3 – Sunday, September 30

Gloria
As a journalist, writing about the lives of others becomes second nature. But when tragedy strikes a New York-based magazine, who gets to tell the story? After stories from iconic newsrooms have hit the big screen (Spotlight, The Post), Gloria acts out a contemporary journalism story – especially in light of the recent horror faced by staffers at the Capital Gazette. Tickets are $20-$41. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

Tuesday, September 4 – Sunday, September 23

Macbeth
Step away from the toil and trouble of daily life and get into the spooky season with this adaptation of Macbeth. Witches promise him a future of riches and royalty, but Macbeth is too hungry to wait. A hero turns into a murderer, and the psychological aftermath spirals him and others involved into madness. Under director Robert Richmond, the timeless tale takes on a more modern life with some newly added scenes. Folger’s production features music performed by the Folger Consort, and is adapted and amended by Sir William Davenant. Adapted or not, one lesson remains the same: don’t trust a witch. Tickets are $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

Thursday, September 6 – Sunday, September 16

DC Shorts Film Festival
Experience 10 days of film with more than 130 movie options at the 2018 DC Shorts Film Festival. These indie films from around the world are also competing for titles like Best Local DMV Film, Best Animation and Best International Narrative. You’ll watch up to nine films in each 90-minute screening session, so attending just one or two sessions will expose you to many new perspectives from talented filmmakers. After watching, mingle with fellow film buffs at the various festival parties with cocktails, food and music included. Tickets prices vary. DC Shorts Film Festival: Various locations around DC; www.festival.dcshorts.com

Friday, September 7

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope Discussion
Politics and Prose hosts a conversation removed from the Twittersphere on politics, culture and the Black Lives Matter movement with activist DeRay Mckesson. He was there at a pivotal moment for modern day civil rights – 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri – and now all of his experiences are bound in his new book On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope. The book “offers a new framework and language for understanding the nature of oppression,” according to its summary. Share in the discussion or come to learn. Each event on Mckesson’s tour will feature a special guest. Tickets are $10 for students, $26-$28 for non-students. Book included in ticket price. GW’s Lisner Auditorium: 730 21st St. NW, DC; www.politics-prose.com

Saturday, September 15

Kevin Hart: The Irresponsible Tour
Work hard, laugh hard. Except Kevin Hart’s the one working to make you laugh. The actor and comedian is stopping in DC for The Irresponsible Tour with all-new material. Twitter users have applauded the show online, saying the show’s worth every dollar. Hart also has a new movie with Tiffany Haddish out this month, Night School, making you wonder if he ran his jokes with her and was influenced by a fellow comedic genius. Despite his stature – the punchline to many jokes – Hart is only getting bigger in the comedy world. Tickets are $34 and up. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.kevinhartnation.com

Tuesday, September 18 – Sunday, November 11

Heisenberg
When 75-year-old Alex gets a surprise smooch from a comparatively younger stranger named Georgie, it’s not exactly what he expected when boarding the train on this average day. Even less expected was her finding him at his butcher shop sometime after the encounter. Georgie is confusing. Alex is confused. And so is the audience – left in suspense as the play’s runtime begins to unravel her true intentions. This unlikely duo with romantic relations is just another experiment conducted by Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens. He’s just letting the audience in on his conclusive results. Tickets are $40-$89. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Friday, September 21 – Sunday, October 21

Born Yesterday
For DC natives, Born Yesterday may seem like an all-too-familiar story about gaining political power in the hub of the power hungry. But this satire set in the 1940s is more of a comedic retreat from the current stressful affairs, and the winnings don’t go to a who but to a what: the truth. Ford’s Theatre calls this production directed by Aaron Posner “political satire meets romantic comedy,” but all good stories are grounded in reality. Watch this for an entertaining mashup of unlikely allies and girl power to fight corruption. Tickets are $20-$62. Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; www.fords.org

Wednesday, September 26

Welcome to Night Vale Live Show
First-time visitors and regular listeners of the Night Vale podcast have a chance to experience a brand-new storyline with a live show tour. The alternate reality podcast production “promises to find unexpected ways to bring the audience into the performance,” according to the Welcome to Night Vale site. Live music by Disparition and special surprise guests will get you totally immersed in the mystery and spooky wonders of the small desert town brought to the Lincoln Theatre stage. In Night Vale, anything can happen. Prepare by tuning in to past episodes online. Tickets are $35. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

Photo: Doug Hamilton

Give In to The Temptations

The latest in the line of anthology musicals, Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations opened its month-long stint at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night. Written by Kennedy Prize winner Dominique Morisseau, directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, Motown’s most legendary act is once again thrilling a packed house.

Morisseau’s Detroit roots are on display as she frames Motown’s rise alongside that of the auto industry, as African-Americans from the South arrived in Motor City in search of work, bringing music with them. Through The Temptations, Morisseau tells the story of the musical revolution accompanying this migration; a uniquely African-American chapter of the great American story.

Guided by the earnest narration of Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), the group’s level-headed but extraordinarily driven leader, the audience is taken on a journey from the Temptations’ origins on the streets of Detroit all the way to the top, featuring 31 songs throughout the two-and-a-half hour show.

Instead of settling for being a good-time singalong, Ain’t Too Proud also plumbs the dark depths that accompanied The Temptations’ meteoric rise and classic sound. Between showstoppers like “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “Just My Imagination” and the titular “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Morisseau explores the tension of a group trying to navigate personal strife and turbulent times.

While much of the conflict centers around the internal, personal tension between the steadfast Williams trying to maintain an egalitarian group dynamic (and his own family) over the protests of spotlight-hungry showman David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes), the show also examines how The Temptations were viewed by the country at large, and the irony of their status as a crossover hit. In particular, the calculated business decision by Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse) that the group avoid overt political messaging drove home the idea that appreciation from white audiences did not necessarily mean acceptance from white society. This added complexity elevates Ain’t Too Proud above otherwise similar jukebox musicals.

While the Williams, Ruffin rivalry takes center stage, each Temptation shines in his own right. Jawan M. Jackson’s Melvin Franklin, Jeremy Pope’s Eddie Kendricks, and James Harkness’ Paul Williams are each given an opportunity to lay their characters bare and fully capture the Temptations’ spirit, all while pulling off dance routines well worthy of the Classic Five.

Through their sterling catalog and Trujillo’s exquisite recreation of their iconic steps, Ain’t Too Proud both delights audiences and highlights the immense legacy the group has left for acts that followed. To borrow from one of Baskin’s monologues, the Temptations have always been greater than the sum of their parts, and DC (and soon Broadway) would do well to witness their legacy firsthand.

Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations runs through Sunday, July 22 at the Kennedy Center. Tickets start at $79; purchase them here.

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

Photo: Wilson Chin

Studio Theatre’s The Remains: World-Premiere Comedy Explores Gay Divorce

Stories about failed relationships are nothing new in theatre, as many a play have tackled the subject – be it with humor or on a more serious, darker level. But Studio Theatre is presenting a new work that puts a different spin on the subject, with Ken Urban’s world-premiere play The Remains, which explores a gay couple going through the process of a divorce.

The play follows Kevin and Theo, a Boston-based gay married couple, who 10 years after their historic coupling decide marriage isn’t for them and must reveal their truth to loved ones. Urban based the comedy loosely on events from his own life.

“I got divorced from my partner of 18 years in 2015,” the playwright says. “I filed the paperwork just about the same time that the federal same-sex marriage ban was removed, so it seemed like an interesting time to think about those two things together. It also got me thinking about what it means to be in a relationship, and what it means to be in love.”

Urban notes that those in the LGBTQ+ community are only a few years into the whole concept of being asked, “When are you two going to be married?” He’s acutely aware of that pressure and understands that with gay marriage sometimes comes gay divorce.

“Before marriage for gay men and women was an option, we had to define what we meant by being in a relationship,” he says. “When I first met my partner in 1996, I didn’t know any other gay couples and what it meant to be in a long-term gay relationship. With marriage, you can try and rearrange the definition, but more pressures suddenly come upon you.”

Actor Glenn Fitzgerald plays Theo, and stage and TV vet Maulik Pancholy (Weeds, 30 Rock) stars as Kevin. Urban wrote the part with him in mind and asked his friend to take on the role. The two had previously worked together on Urban’s The Happy Sad in 2009 and The Awake in 2013.

“He is an incredibly sensitive actor and someone who dives really deep into himself when he’s working on a part,” Urban says. “What I love about Maulik is you can give him all types of challenges offstage, and he always rises to them.”

For his part, Pancholy was excited about tacking dramatic terrain that hasn’t really been explored in theatre onstage before, especially being a gay man himself.

“What is fascinating about this is it’s one of the first gay-themed plays that I’ve read that isn’t about the fight for equality or the fight to be treated as an equal human being, and yet it is,” he says. “We are in a time period now where, thank God, we won a lot of those rights – though given the current temperament, things can feel a little tenuous at times – and there’s still a long way to go in the way LGBTQ+ people are perceived in our society.”

Furthermore, he was intrigued at how Kevin and Theo’s story impacted those around them – those who had seen them fight so hard to be treated as equals and were now watching it be torn apart. Though it has nothing to do with his real life – Pancholy is happily married – he thinks it’s an important story to be told.

“In my own wedding, there was a sense of it being more special than a heterosexual wedding because with it comes all the history and legacy for the fight of equality, and a lot of hopes pinned on that and a lot of meaning attached to that kind of love.”

Pancholy says the play posits the question, “What does it mean when you fought so hard for the right to love, but then find you may not want to be with that person you fought to be with – not just for the couple, but those around them?”

Studio Theatre’s Artistic Director David Muse is directing the play and was brought to the project by Pancholy. The pair went to graduate school together at the Yale School of Drama.

“We’re friends and we last worked together about 16 years ago,” Muse says about Pancholy. “The chance to have an artistic reunion with him was a big reason why I wanted to do this. He acted in more plays that I directed [in school] than anyone else – something like five times!”

The director shares that the play also sits in Studio’s sweet spot in that it’s a realistic, living-room drama with funny, emotional things going on, and he likes the fact that it’s something of a “next generation” gay play.

“There are a series of plays with contemporary themes dealing with what I call ‘second-stage assimilation’ concerns: questions like gay parenthood and squaring the idea of monogamous marriage with a more liberated approach to sexuality that we tend to associate with gay culture,” he says. “Watching the gay play evolve on some level with less to struggle against really interests me.”

The Remains is at Studio Theatre through June 17. Tickets start at $20. For more information, visit www.studiotheatre.org.

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