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Stage and Screen: August 2018

THROUGH SUNDAY, AUGUST 5

The Story of the Gun
Politics aside, what is the history with America and guns? Mike Daisey offers a comedy-tinged performance about the controversial conversation. The New York Times-designated “master storyteller” won’t be lecturing you on a specific partisan point. While we’re used to hearing repetitive rhetoric on the gun debate, Daisey’s performative aspect to this topic should offer a fresh conversation to help us all get to the root of America’s polarizing relationship to guns. The show is only available for a week, but this conversation will forever be a hot topic. Tickets are $20-$66. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

THROUGH SUNDAY, AUGUST 26

The Color Purple
Based on the 1982 book by Alice Walker, this story has won awards as a novel, film and musical. Witness the heart-wrenching story of Celie, who is separated from her sister and children for most of her life but finds a way to stay hopeful and in the end, triumphant. Set in early 1900s Georgia, The Color Purple is told through jazz, gospel, ragtime and blues, and explores different family and relationship dynamics. Don’t miss out on the production awarded with a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. Tickets are $69-$149. The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3

Hey Frase! A Live Podcast Taping
Ever listen to a great podcast and wish you were in on the fun? Hosts Sarah Fraser and Paul Wharton are joined by guests Danni Starr and comedian Rob Maher for this special live taping of Hey Frase! They’ll be trying their hand at standup while recording a hilarious conversation you can relive later on, including their thoughts on pop culture in DC and beyond. Starr is a radio host on 93.9 WKYS and TLC, and Maher has performed with Kevin Hart and is a regular favorite at DC Improv. Tickets are $25-$30. AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. Bethesda, MD; www.ampbystrathmore.com

FRIDAY, AUGUST 10 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 2

Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce
This refreshing comedy about love isn’t about your typical, gorgeous lead. Yes, everyone is in love with her. But no, it’s not because she’s a bubbly, model-like star. Tilly’s sadness is what makes her so irresistible – no wonder even her therapist can’t get enough. Unfortunately for her admirers, Tilly’s emotions turn topsy-turvy as she discovers true joy. Moving beyond physical affections, Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play will show you a surreal kind of love. Tickets are $19-$45. Constellation Theatre Company at Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; www.constellationtheatrecompany.com

TUESDAY, AUGUST 14

Happy Birthday, LIT!
Recover from your Monday blues with lots of laughs from Laugh Index Theatre (LIT) as they celebrate eight seasons of bringing comedy variety shows and improv to DC audiences. Catch a preview of their new cast as well as performances from their original, seven-year-old comedy team, Hot & Sweaty. Performances will range in comedic style from stand-up to sketches, and even musical improv. LIT boasts eight original teams, and more than 60 overall members dedicated to keeping it funny in the nation’s capital. Show your support for local comedy, and if you like what you see, sign up for a workshop. Tickets are $8-$10. Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; www.laughindextheatre.com

TUESDAY, AUGUST 14 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

Passion
After their (yes, passionate) love is deterred by military duty, Giorgio and Clara’s relationship must survive through solely letters during the mid-1800s in Italy. Of course, the handsome soldier can’t avoid admiration even away at camp – his colonel’s cousin, Fosca, stays there too. While longing for Clara, Giorgio befriends Fosca, who suffers from seizures and spends her time solitary, living through the characters in novels. You’ll quickly learn that this isn’t a story about two young people destined to be together. The feeling of passion is a shifting force that can border obsession. This musical explores love and sickness – sometimes to the point that there is no difference. Tickets are $40-$89. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

THURSDAY, AUGUST 16 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15

In The Closet
Presented by Rainbow Theatre Project, this world-premiere production crosses time but not necessarily space as we witness the lives of four gay men from various years. This metaphysical comedy delves into the unique stories of an old man, a middle-aged man, and younger men who are “where all gay men begin, in the closet,” according to the DC Arts Center’s description. By playwright Sigmund Fuchs, this production of In The Closet will start up the center’s August season. Tickets are $30-$35. DC Arts Center: 2438 18th St. NW, DC; www.dcartscenter.org

SUNDAY, AUGUST 26

Bollywood Boulevard
Bollywood films are known for their grand song scenes. In one moment, the stubborn heroine will catch herself eyeing the hero in some mundane – but sweet – action (teaching a child, for example). The next scene finds them both atop a snow-capped mountain as they sing about their mutual, unrequited love. These made-for-movie songs quickly become top hits for weddings and sing-along car rides, and now they’re live onstage with Bollywood Boulevard. The upbeat dance styles against vibrant lights and stage sets will have the whole audience clapping and swaying along. This “journey through Hindi cinema” is based on music and dance from different eras of Bollywood, from 20th-century classics to modern day. Tickets are $25-$55. Wolf Trap’s Filene Center: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

Image: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival
Image: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival

50 Ways… Proves Heartfelt and Hilarious

We all go through breakups. Some of them are hard and swift like a punch to a blind spot. Others are easy and light, two people knowingly nodding their head at the same time and then chuckling about the good times. There are quick breakups and long breakups, the kind you get over real quick and the kind that linger, leaving you feeling empty inside, especially when THAT song comes on.

The Capital Fringe Festival’s 50 Ways… explores the many varieties of the breakup, looking at 50 different scenarios where people, things leave the ones they held dearest. Like I said above, the emotional toll each take vary from crushing to hilarious, and co-directors Samir Bitar and Mahayana Landowne purposefully constructed the performance as a roller coaster.

In order to better understand the balancing act of assembling the massive number of vignettes in 50 Ways…, I was able to chat with Bitar about his involvement as director and choreographer, the play’s tonal shifts and the balancing act of piecing it all together.

On Tap: How did you get involved in the performance?
Samir Bitar: It was my longtime friend colaborator Mahayana Landowne, she’s a theatre director, creator and she pretty much only does experimental theatre. I wanted her to do something more traditional, so I urged her to enter here, and she said if I did she would, so hell yeah. We were about two months in, and she said she had an idea, she explained the song, which I knew. The idea of course, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Paul Simon’s 1976 pop hit. He only spells out six ways in the song and we wanted to actualize the concept. We put the call out to our network and friends, and this is an international list of people, and we wanted to them to submit one minute vignettes. We got back 15 playwrights, and 14 of whom we chose. Together we put together 49, and I choreographed an original work not submitted by a playwright.

OT: Explain the diversity of the breakups, what can people expect?
SB: Some of these are heartfelt, there are two scenes by edler characters and his wife had fallen into dementia, and he has a monologue where he was about to go on a date. He’s ready to take a first step, and there’s another scene with the characters flipped, and his wife is hovering over him helping him ease off into the next world. He tells her he wants to die alone, and those are two heart wrenching moments on stage. Surrounded by a lot of levity and laughter, and even some abstract ones. It’s a really rich tableau.

OT: What was it like focusing and narrowing down the scenarios, because 14 writers is a lot of cooks in the kitchen?
SB: Collectively we have 38 years of theatre experience, and we’re both empaths, and we talked about how it would play out. We received them and spent a month familiarizing ourselves with them, and I went up to New York and we locked ourselves in a hotel for three days, and we read them, walked through them. Most of the plays came out heterosexual, and we’re very sensitive to that, and we carved out a certain number of those to be lesbian, gay and transgender as well. We wanted to avoid agism. There’s all kinds of pairings. There’s an old person leaving a young person, and a young person leaving an old person. A lot of the dramaturgy and scoring happened as early as March. We held auditions at the Hirshorn, and we had our first reading and read through on May 26. With anything living, you push and edit and tighten and pull.

OT: What was it like balancing the emotions of all the breakups?
SB: Well, you know, the question it’s sort of seems predicated on a narrative and we didn’t come at it that way. As an empathetic human, from the outset I was very keen on the overarching physical sense of the audience. We didn’t want too much stillness, and there are some that are wordy, and some that are silent with more abstract, with modern dancers. We really weren’t super specific, it was which of these clump well together, and we had to rearrange as to what actors were, and all variables were pretty equal in forcing the show order. [Landowne’s] first wash was very logical, as these things happen in a bar, and some wrote for high school scene to college scene.

OT: How important was it for you all to make these scenes relatable?
SB: Very, very, very. This is work with the actors. This is authentic work and extensive work with several gifted actors. It’s the penultimate and ultimate to be on top of authenticity. To make sure everyone understands the mood and the real dynamics that play out. There’s always subtext, and we worked very hard on body language, on prop use and facial expressions. Words, beats, cadence, rhythm: we honed in on all of this, so they could connect authentically to the script and play. It was important for the audience to connect, even if it’s ludicrous.

OT: How long was the initial cut? Fifty scenes in 70 minutes is a breakneck pace.
SB: Yeah, I think our first run through, was about 87 minutes. We made the call to our writers, that we may have to cut them down. It’s hard to imagine what will happen in a minute, some of our writers submitted rich ideas that didn’t make it in, because they’re too long. As dramaturg, it was up to [Landowne] to carve out words and remove sentences.

50 Ways… is part of the Capital Fringe Festival. The show’s final times are tonight at 7:15 p.m. and on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. Tickets for the Saturday performance can be purchased here.

Christ United Methodist Church: 900 4th St. SW, DC; 866-811-4111; www.capitalfringe.org

Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt
Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt

NoVA Native Patton Oswalt Set For Kennedy Center Debut

Patton Oswalt can be described as something of a Renaissance man in entertainment. He’s found success as an author (both books and graphic novels), actor (in films and on TV), voice-over artist (video games, animation and TV) and on the comedy circuit.

The latter is where his true passion lies, as the comedian explains that everything he does is geared toward allowing him to continue doing comedy live in front of an audience.

“Acting in TV and film is just a way for me to increase my exposure and get the chance to do more stand-up,” Oswalt says. “I love the creativity of the business. It’s a happier life for me to live creatively, and it’s something I am always going to do.”

Raised in Sterling, Virginia, Oswalt attended the College of William & Mary where he majored in English. The idea to try comedy as a career came sometime between his freshman and sophomore year, and once the bug hit, he never looked back.

“It wasn’t my game plan when I started, but it developed organically and by senior year, it was all I wanted to do,” he says. “Back then, DC was a fun scene, but it was much more predicated on who was making more money and who was famous. Creativity didn’t really come first. It was more about status.”

Looking for bigger things, Oswalt packed his bags and started making a name for himself in San Francisco on its rising comedy circuit. From there, he headed to Los Angeles and hit the big time.

“The circuit in San Francisco was amazing – it was the opposite of DC. It was more about who was doing original stuff. Then I went to Los Angeles and there were different scenes within the scenes, which was fascinating to me.”

Since 2003, Oswalt has appeared on seven TV comedy specials and released eight critically acclaimed albums, with his 2016 Talking for Clapping recording earning him a Grammy.

On July 21, the comedian will play two shows at the Kennedy Center as part of the District of Comedy Festival, making his debut in the historic theater. Although he has memories of seeing comedy legend Gallagher and old film noir movies at the Kennedy Center when he was younger, he never dreamed that he would one day perform there.

“It feels good to be back in the area,” he says. “It’s a little surreal as I started doing comedy in DC in 1988. It’s going to be fun to be back in my neighborhood. At the time, my dreams weren’t big enough to think about playing at the Kennedy Center. I was only looking to get a solid 10 minutes.”

Oswalt is planning all-new material for the night, working on some of what he expects to be part of his next TV special. But don’t ask him for specifics, as he warns, “You should never ask a comedian what he’s going to talk about!”

His one hint is that his fans can expect some strong truths about what he’s seeing in the world.

“Being onstage in front of a crowd is just a great adrenaline rush. I love how everything I say came from nothing but now it’s a living thing outside of myself, living creatively. There’s nothing in the world like it.”

Although many people know him from his first TV guest appearance – Seinfeld’s classic “The Couch” episode – his biggest claim to fame early in his career was playing Spence on the Kevin James CBS comedy The King of Queens.

“One of the co-creators of [The King of Queens] was watching an HBO special of mine, and just saw me as Spence. I felt very lucky to get that part.”

Oswalt will soon be headed back to California to begin work on two network TV shows he’s a part of. He currently stars as Principal Ralph Durbin on NBC’s comedy AP Bio, which was recently picked up for a second season, and he’ll enter his sixth season as the narrator for ABC’s The Goldbergs in the fall.

“Michael O’Brien created AP Bio, and his stuff is just on the outer rim of absurdity. The fact he gets to do it in the format of a sitcom is amazing, and I’m so lucky that I get to be a part of it. For The Goldbergs, I pop in about once a week and it’s really fun. It uses nostalgia as a Trojan horse into general emotion and empathy, and that’s what I really love about the show.”

Before his TV shows pick back up, catch him live when he headlines Kennedy Center’s District of Comedy Festival on Saturday, July 21. Shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m., tickets start at $49. Purchase tickets at www.kennedy-center.org and learn more about the comedian at www.pattonoswalt.com.

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

Artwork: Courtesy of Arena Stage
Artwork: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Arena Stage Presents World Premiere of Dave

The heartwarming movie Dave was released 25 years ago, and the Kevin Kline/Sigourney Weaver political comedy became one of the most popular movies of 1993. The film follows a high school teacher named Dave Kovic – who also happens to be a dead ringer for the President of the United States – as he’s thrust into stand-in mode to help the country avoid a national scandal when the real commander in chief gets ill.

A world-premiere musical based on the movie makes its debut at Arena Stage from July 13 to August 19. The show is written by a trio of heavyweights – three-time Tony Award-winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray, The Producers), Nell Benjamin (Mean Girls, Legally Blonde) and Pulitzer Prize and two-time Tony Award-winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, If/Then) – and directed by Tina Landau. Drew Gehling, who originated the role of Dr. Pomatter on Broadway in Waitress, plays the demanding dual role of Dave and President Bill Mitchell, while First Lady Ellen Mitchell is portrayed by Broadway vet Mamie Parris.

“I love the film and was really excited to audition for this project,” Parris says. “It’s always interesting to hear when someone is inspired by something or adapting something and looking at a piece [to see] whether it sings. When I first saw this material, I knew the story really sang because it’s a fairytale about what a man can become. That really lends itself to being musicalized.”

Parris recently starred in the Cats revival as Grizabella, belting out “Memory” eight times a week. Other Broadway credits include School of Rock, Ragtime and The Drowsy Chaperone. One of the things she likes about getting to play the First Lady is not only is it a fun love story, but she also gets to play a powerful female character.

“It’s always thrilling to be asked to portray a strong, thoughtful, confident, independent, assertive woman because a lot of those roles aren’t written,” she says. “This is really a very human, multidimensional  and complex woman.”

Fans of the movie won’t be disappointed as many of their favorite scenes are represented in one way or another, but one doesn’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy it.

“It’s a wonderful film and incredibly funny, but at the same time, if you get a little too precious with that material, it may not translate quite as well for a stage production – especially one done 25 years after it was original written,” Parris says. “All the charm and story from the original is there, but there’s a new facet that really breathes new life into it.”

The musical also includes Broadway favorites Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Jonathan Rayson (Little Shop of Horrors), as well as a collection of talented regional and New York-based actors. Vishal Vaidya, a Burtonsville, Maryland native and American University graduate, is part of the ensemble and thrilled to be part of a new work so close to home.

“It’s always nice to be here,” Vaidya says. “The theatre community in DC is so strong, and so much great theatre is happening here. Personally, it’s been nice to come back and reflect on how I’ve changed as a person and also get to see how the DC theatre [scene] has evolved and changed.”

Vaidya made his Broadway debut last April in Groundhog Day, and local credits include Ford’s Theatre’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as Barfee and Adventure Theater’s Frog and Toad as Frog, earning a Helen Hayes nomination. He was drawn to Dave because of the subject matter and people working on the show.

“I wanted to work with Tina [Landau] for a really long time,” he says. “She is such a great visionary. She wants everyone to be involved and on the same page. Tom Kitt and I have done a bunch of work in development together and I think his work is incredible. They were the main draw for me.”

Plus, the story is one that he believes is perfect for today’s political atmosphere.

“The moral of Dave is that it’s about how we can all make changes or do our part for the greater good,” he says. “Even if we think we are just a normal citizen, which is what Dave is in the beginning, we think we can’t make a difference – but he has to. He may not have the experience or connections, but he has to take action and he learns to do that.”

Parris adds that one of the things the script does particularly well is reflect a modern storyline while also standing completely apart from the current political climate.

“I’m impressed by that because I think that’s hard to do,” she says. “Dave is remarkably apolitical and I think it can be appreciated by both sides of the aisle, which the writers deserve a lot of credit for.”

Dave runs from July 13 to August 19 in Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater. Tickets start at $96. Learn more about the production and ticket discounts and deals at www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

capital fringe

Stage and Screen: July 2018

THROUGH SATURDAY, JULY 7

Other Life Forms 
Brandon McCoy’s Other Life Forms is the story of two roommates: Jeff, a researcher who seems to have it all together and Ben, a journalist trying his best to keep things from falling apart. Despite their differences, they both try their hands at online dating. One roommate meets someone who seems to be his match, and the other suffers from a somewhat rocky connection. Eventually, an illuminating truth surfaces, which injects humor and chaos into the narrative. Through this play, McCoy aims to prove love exists, even if we are ones standing in the way. Tickets $35-$45. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

Capital Fringe Festival
Capital Fringe Festival always brings a bevy of can’t miss art performances, and The Edge of the Universe Players 2 are linking up with the good people at Capital Fringe to bring you their rendition of Hamish Linklater’s The Vandal. Originally produced five years ago by the Flea Theater in New York City, this upcoming production stars Alison Bauer as WOMAN, Gianna Rapp as BOY and Tom Howley as MAN. These three nondescript characters address themes of life, death, rage and forgiveness while exploring what it means to be a human in the modern age. The play culminates in a way you’ll never see coming. Another can’t miss show is 50 Ways…, which makes its premiere at the festival. Inspired by Paul Simon’s hit single “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” this one-act performance focuses on 50 scenes depicting characters dealing with loss after breaking up with a significant other or being broken up with. Covering a wide range of scenarios, the play allows you to see, and feel, the entire spectrum of fallouts. Five performances are set from July 18 to July 28. Not sure about the first two? Then check out Farah Lawal Harris’ American Wives, directed by Jared Shamberger. Featuring three characters representing wives of America: one old, one young and one the very famous Bald Eagle, the story explores the place of timeless subjects such as identity, love and greed. When the world is changing, how do you stay true to yourself and others? Times and ticket prices vary. Capital Fringe Festival: Various locations around DC; www.capitalfringe.org

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 8

Deviated Theatre Presents Beyond
This summer, Dance Place is proud to present the out-of-this-world premiere of Deviated Theatre’s Beyond. Husband-and-wife duo Enoch Chan and Kimmie Dobbs Chan direct the talented “all-heroine” cast on their interplanetary travels. The story follows Luna the astronaut as she traverses the expanse of celestial skies to the very edge of life. This performance clocks in at less than an hour, which makes every minute of the dynamic dance and acrobatic aerials that much more entrancing. Featuring Performances by Vivian Chen, Hannah Church, Katie Creed, Catherine David, Kelly Fisher, Christina Gleason, Elizabeth Looby, Katherine Maloney, Lilly Schultz and Stacey Smith. Tickets $15-$25. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

TUESDAY, JULY 10 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Performs Damned If You Do
An exercise in the hypothetical, UCB’s Damned If You Do explores the various “What ifs?” we encounter – and nine-times-out-of-10 refuse to act on – in our everyday lives. Should you tell your friend what you really think of their outfit? Or let your family member know how you really feel about their annoying habit? Before you go off and make any of these changes in your personal life, let the improv troupe that helped launch the careers of Donald Glover, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon and Aziz Ansari give you an idea of what you might be in for. Tickets $30-$84. Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

MONDAY, JULY 16

Bootleg Shakespeare: Henry VI, Part 3
In what is sure to be a whirlwind mixture of rehearsal and improvisation, the Taffety Punk players bring the saga of the Henry VI trilogy to a close. Bootleg Shakespeare’s unique method involves having all actors memorize lines, rehearse once and then put on the show, regardless of what happens next. In their commitment to make theatre affordable the show is free to attend, though tickets are not available presale and are first come first served day of. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.taffetypunk.com

THURSDAY, JULY 19

Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me
NPR is setting up shop in Virginia and inviting us to witness a live recording of the latest episode of this comedic current events quiz show. Join host Peter Sagal and scorekeeper Bill Kurtis as they see what celebrity panelists and professional funny people Alonzo Bodden, Helen Hong and Mo Rocca really know about today’s news and pop culture. Podcast at 8 p.m. Tickets $40-$80. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 22

On the Town 
The musical On the Town is a frantic search for love set in 40s era New York City, where the main characters only have 24 hours on the shore before being returning to war. Gabey, a hopeless romantic, is determined to find that month’s Miss Turnstiles, a woman he’s only seen on a subway poster, and his shipmates Ozzie and Chip aim to help him. Along the way, they become enamored with a quirky cabbie and an already engaged anthropologist. Leonard Bernstein constructed the score for this production, including vibrant classics like “New York, New York” (which has even been parodied in The Simpsons), among many other Broadway hits. This number is chock full of dance sequences, running the gamut from ballet to jazz, and everything in between. Some of DC’s more well-known actors take on these iconic roles once played by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, including Evan Casey, Rhett Guter, Sam Ludwig, Donna Migliaccio, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Bobby Smith and Rachel Zampelli. This slightly scandalous musical provides a ton of twists and turns, but it’s sure to be a thrilling, wild ride. Tickets $64-$84. Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

SATURDAY, JULY 28

National Dance Day 2018
Since 2010, the Dizzy Feet Organization (co-founded by So You Think You Can Dance’s Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman, the man behind Hairspray and the beloved Step Up franchise) has encouraged Americans “to embrace dance as a fun and positive way to maintain good health,” and this year is no different. Gather at the Kennedy Center for this annual celebration of dance, packed with fun activities and a multitude of performances for dancers and non-dancers alike. Each year, they come up with an original routine for all patrons, including those with disabilities, to learn and perform. In years past, there have been performances by DC’s own Culture Shock Hip Hop dance crew, Top Naach Bhangra ensemble, Abada Capoeira DC and Fairfax Chinese Dance Troupe, to list a few. So, dust off those dancing shoes and get ready to show us your best moves. 2-10:30 p.m. Free to attend. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

The Scottsboro Boys

Stage and Screen: May 2018

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 20

Snow Child
Arena Stage adapted Eowyn Ivey’s Pulitzer-finalist novel, The Snow Child, for the stage with the world-premiere musical Snow Child. Facing the loss of their unborn child, Jack and Mabel move to Alaska from Pennsylvania to restart their life together. During a long, hard winter, the fissure between them grows until it seems impassable. But everything changes once a wild, mysterious girl visits them from the dark woods that surround their small cabin. Matt Bogart, starring as Jack, wants audiences to deeply contemplate Snow Child’s themes before they leave the theater. “I hope that audience members will see some of their own life experiences reflected in this piece, and that we are successful in reiterating what is taught in these old folk tales,” Bogart says. “This folk tale has to do with the impermanence of nature – how nature can sweep in and change your life, how losing a child can change your life, and how gaining a child, whether it’s born into this world or if you create it in your mind, becomes [a form of] healing.” With Alaskan folk music, a puppeteer and a winter wonderland set, you’ll find yourself alongside Jack and Mabel as they struggle in the Alaskan wilderness. Tickets are $65-$80. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 27

1984
In this captivating adaption of George Orwell’s 1984, the crushing realization of a dystopian future is inescapable. In a world with an authoritarian government monitoring every action, expression and thought of the masses, individualism is crushed and challenging the established regime leads to torture, prison and death. Be careful what you think. Big Brother is watching. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15-$45. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

WEDNESDAY, MAY 2 – SUNDAY, MAY 6

Hamlet
For the first time since 2007, the legendary Royal Shakespeare Company returns to the Kennedy Center to tell the age-old tale of searing tragedy, murder and revenge. After a student is called home from university to find his father brutally murdered, he sets out on a mission to expose the truth on a journey of madness, murder and lost love. Rising star Paapa Essiedu makes his debut in the U.S. with his lead role in Hamlet. Tickets are $39-$129. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, MAY 5 – SUNDAY MAY 27

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now
Father and small business owner Hank struggles to keep his legendary rock club open in 1992 Chicago. As Hank refuses to confront the reality of where rock music is heading, his daughter starts dating a rising DJ star, forcing her father to acknowledge the truth of a different era. Explore themes of family troubles, affection for a bygone decade and the pure awesomeness of 90s rock with the DC premiere of The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. Tickets are $35-$45. The Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

SATURDAY, MAY 12 – SUNDAY, JUNE 10

Saint Joan
Focused on Joan of Arc’s simple, illiterate, village-girl nature, George Bernard Shaw takes a different approach in telling this classic tale of martyrdom. Instead of portraying her as a witch, a saint or a heretic, Shaw emphasizes her individualism during her journey to liberate France from English control after over 100 years of war. Only four actors play over 25 roles in this engaging, bare-bones production, which The New York Times described as “irresistible” and “a force of nature.” Tickets are $35-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

THURSDAY, MAY 17 – SATURDAY, MAY 26

Spook
Just an hour before his scheduled execution, ex-police officer Darl “Spook” Spokane is to give a live televised interview from death row. Convicted for murdering five of his fellow officers during what they call the “Morning Roll Call massacre,” Spokane is to explain himself with the entire country watching. There’s a catch: this will be the first time he’s uttered even a single word in three years since the mass shooting. You’re going to want to hear what he has to say. 8 p.m. all dates. Tickets are $20. Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, MAY 22 – FRIDAY, JULY 1

Camelot
Amongst magical forests and castles of grandeur, four-time, Tony Award-winning musical Camelot explores the struggle for civilization and goodness in a society that’s accustomed to violence and hate. It is one leader’s integrity, courage and empathy along with his Knights of the Round Table that will change the course of history. With a doomed romance and an incredible score on top, this musical has won the hearts of theatre enthusiasts for generations. Tickets are $59-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

The Scottsboro Boys
Along the lines of Kander and Ebb’s iconic musicals Chicago and Cabaret, the Tony Award-winning duo delivers yet another breathtaking musical. The Scottsboro Boys is a critique on racism and injustice in the South, revealing the true story of nine African-American teenagers who were falsely accused of a crime, quickly tried and sentenced to death in complete disregard for due process. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, this musical transforms a disgraceful moment in American history into a platform for change. Tickets start at $40. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Joan Marcus
Photo: Joan Marcus

Waitress: Serving Up Music and Pie

In 2006, an up-and-coming independent film writer and director by the name of Adrienne Shelly was tragically murdered at the age of 40, just three months prior to the acclaimed release of her movie Waitress.

A decade later, a musical inspired by the cult fave came to Broadway and wowed the theatre community, garnering four Tony nominations in the process. The play’s all-women creative team boasts a book by Jessie Nelson, original music and lyrics by the six-time Grammy-nominated Sara Bareilles, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Pippin).

A touring version of Waitress will be staged at National Theatre for a three-week run starting May 15. In this production, actress Desi Oakley takes on the role of Jenna, the part that earned Jessie Mueller a Tony nod and brought Bareilles to Broadway for the first time.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Sara Bareilles has been someone who I have looked up to and respected for her music career since she began, so knowing that she wrote a musical was kind of like my two worlds combined, as I’m a singer/songwriter myself,” Oakley says. “When I heard about the show, I thought it was a genius idea and I didn’t think something could be so magical.”

Waitress follows the journey of Jenna, an expert pie maker, who longs for a life away from her job as a waitress, small town and loveless marriage. The solutions to all her problems might be in a baking contest in a nearby county or the town’s new doctor, and her fellow waitresses are more than happy to butt in and provide their own recipes for Jenna’s happiness.

“The story is really important to be telling in this time, and the songs have a lot of purpose,” Oakley says. “This is a story about a woman from a small town who has forgotten her dreams because of her life circumstances. Through this journey of her eyes being open, she learns her true self and is reminded that her dreams are worth fighting for. It’s a story of friendship, love and self-acceptance.”

Oakley has appeared on Broadway in a trio of shows – WickedLes Misérables and Annie – and has toured with national tours of Evita and Wicked. She saw Waitress early in its run on Broadway, but never dreamed Jenna would be a part she would one day play.

“A lot of times when I see a show, I think, ‘I’d love to do that show,’ but it wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye. I just let the story affect me as an audience member. I think it makes a lot of sense now, but when I was watching it, I just let the story work its magic.”

Once cast in the part, Oakley stayed away from listening to the cast recording. She says her voice is prone to mimic, and she wanted to offer he own take on Jenna.

“I went back to the feel of what I heard and what I knew from listening to Sara. I read the script again and took a dive into the story to prepare.”

Another thing she did was rewatch the 2007 movie version of Waitress.

“I had seen it and loved Keri Russell in it, but hadn’t remembered a lot of it,” Oakley says. “We’re dramatizing the story onstage, so there are a lot of differences and a lot of heightened moments. I really like how Diane Paulus has staged it.”

The production’s changes in costumes, lights, sets and sound make it seem in many ways like a film. Oakley feels that’s a great nod to the movie, and fans of that version of Waitress will not be disappointed in the musical.

Oakley is enjoying the tour, as she loves traveling to different parts of the country and seeing and experiencing new places. She’s contracted for the tour through at least the fall, and is thrilled to be making the character her own.

“My favorite thing is how real Jenna is,” she says. “I hardly ever leave the stage, but if I’m a little tired or stressed or anxious, that’s okay because those feelings work in Jenna. The more real I get, the more she will continue to be real. I’m embracing that and accepting myself, just as Jenna is in the story.”

When not onstage, Oakley is pursuing a career in singing and songwriting.

“It’s hard to make time for both, and right now, my focus is on this tour. I’m writing when I can, but my second album is on hold. Nothing fuels me like sitting down at the piano, so my heart will eventually lead me back to it.”

Oakley’s original music can be found on Spotify and iTunes. Waitress runs at National Theatre from May 15 to June 3. Tickets start at $28. For more information, visit www.thenationaldc.org.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Lucky Steals Show in Waiting For Godot

Hope and despair, slapstick comedy and profound philosophical musings, each are abound in quick succession in Samuel Beckett’s iconic and mysterious play Waiting for Godot.

Irish acting company Druid is performing their rendition of the hard-to-interpret play at the Shakespeare Theatre Company through May 20. The metaphorical mystery in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot leaves an endless amount of room for interpretation, but Druid’s rendition is certain to keep audiences laughing as much as it will make them think.

The play tells the story of two tramps, seemingly stranded on a barren countryside road. Vladimir (nicknamed Didi, played by Marty Rea), a usually cheerful intellectual and Estragon (nicknamed Gogo, played by Aaron Monaghan), the wearier of the two. The pair bicker, play games and tell stories endlessly, while they wait for the arrival of someone named Godot. During the eager, sometimes hopeless, wait, the tone alternates between heartbreaking and hilarious.

“I think Beckett wants us to go through all the different emotions in this play. There are some very sad, emotional moments and kind of a despair at times but then he does the opposite, there’s great hope and great love and great laughs at times at ourselves and our existence,” actor Garrett Lombard says.

The two tramps, draped in shabby clothes and plagued with ill-fitting boots and itchy hats, encounter only three other characters: Pozzo (Rory Nolan), his slave named Lucky (Lombard) and an unnamed boy (Malcolm Fuller).

The tramps wonder about and at times judge Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky, who is constantly burdened with a stool, a basket, a suitcase full of sand and a rope around his neck.

“[Lucky is] a very subservient character, very low-status kind of guy, and he basically wants to please his master by doing his job of carrying his bags and giving him his coat and his stool and his whip and whatnot as best as he can,” Lombard says.

Perhaps the character most difficult to interpret in Waiting for Godot, Lucky stumbles around the stage, answering to Pozzo’s every beck and call, without saying a word – until his famous, breathtaking monologue that earned a raucous round of applause from the awestruck audience.

“He comes out with this incredible, mad, long, stream of consciousness speech, about the human existence and what we have ascertained about trying to explain this and trying to explain the universe and ends up, during the speech, almost losing his mind completely,” Lombard says.

The monologue nearly drives Pozzo, Didi and Gogo out of their minds as well.

This landmark moment makes preparing for the role of Lucky a colossally strenuous process. In addition to his monologue, the character spends most his time either hunched over or flopping down in exhaustion. According to Lombard, prepping for the character required a lot of stretching and staying in the best possible shape.

Apart from the physical aspects, the getting in the mind of the character was an isolating process, Lombard says. Lucky is constantly serving Pozzo and does deliver an enormous speech, but he never actually banters with other characters.

“It’s a bit of a lonely process. You don’t get to have the kind of fun that Didi and Gogo have in the rehearsal room. But it’s a really interesting one to work on as an actor, even if it was a little bit lonely at times,” Lombard says.

Critics have debated the symbolism of Lucky’s name, as well as his role. Some say Lucky is aptly named because unlike any other characters, he knows what his purpose is – to serve Pozzo. The name could also be sarcastic, which is in line with the play’s dark humor.

Catch the show until May 20 at the Lansburgh Threatre. Tickets start at $44 and can be purchased here. More information can be found at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

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

Photo: Daniel Schwartz
Photo: Daniel Schwartz

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Small but Mighty

“Small but mighty” should be the thought that comes to mind after seeing the most recent production by the Constellation Theatre Company. Bertolt Brecht’s epic tale The Caucasian Chalk Circle dazzles in the hands of director Allison Arkell Stockman. She leads a small ensemble of 14 to victory as they confidently and passionately unveil the grand story of adventure, justice, power and love.

The Constellation Theatre Company transformed the black-box theatre into a 360 degrees, 88-seat configuration, which elicits an immersive experience where the partition separating drama and reality is lifted.

The circular design heightens the play’s mysteriousness, engrossing audience during the epic tale. Throughout the two and a half hour show, thespians enter and exit from every aperture, making it nearly impossible to declare one point of the stage as the main stage. Constant head turning, searching for the one speaking, along with unexpected audience participation maintains a high alertness for viewers within this insulated rousing environment.

 

A whirlwind of talent engulfs both the 14-person cast, who portray more than sixty characters between them, and the three-person band performing rock-inspired music for the period piece.

As the lights expose the all black stage, a multidimensional, multi-period story begins to unfold. Two farmer unions debate who should control the land abandoned by the Nazis after WWII, and in order to resolve the conflict, a play was produced and performed.

Carrying the bulk of the narrative initially is a character described as The Singer, played by Matthew Schleigh, who is also one of the three band members. Schleigh lightheartedly introduces the parable that would reveal the unexpected steps it precedes. His performance is exactly what one would hope for in a renaissance piece. He charms and flirts with the audience while singing modern folk songs to appeal to those present. His narration leaves more to be desired as he shifts gears altogether and assumes the role of the Judge in the latter half of the production.

Within another vein of the multi-dimensional story line, a war is taking place after a coup leads to the murder of the Governor played by Keith E. Irby. The murder takes place after the governor’s son and heir is born. In a panic, the mother of the child leaves her home and abandons her new born baby. Grusha, a handmaiden, played by Yesenia Iglesias, saves the baby from certain death.

Grusha’s journey in search of asylum is preempted by her own love story with the soldier Simon, played by Drew Kopas. The innocent love between characters Grusha and Simon is brought into sharp focus and is most evident as the couple sings their farewell song before Simon leaves to fight in a war against Iran.

At the onset, Iglesias’ vocal stylings are delicate, but eventually they ricochet throughout the intimate space. Her talents are perfectly supported by a diverse and powerful ensemble whose harmonies could be bottled and sold at an extremely high price. All musical components are exquisite.

The only unpleasant, albeit intentionally, element within the entire show is Sergeant, played by Scott Ward Abernethy. At first, Sergeant comes across as a comical, loving character, until his true intentions surface and his whole presence transforms. The demented performance could cause one to wince at his very sight. This is mostly due to the crude language, sexual gestures and unwarranted sexual advances, which echo the atrocities responsible for today’s #MeToo movement.

One thing the Constellation Theatre Company has certainly mastered is transformative theater. Each time I visit the intimate space, I’m lost in a new world, but I’m always guided by an ensemble that embodies its characters and navigates the set. Their knowledge of the space paired with the simple and appropriate choreography by Tony Thomas II makes this a spectacular hit.

The use of space was pleasant, as they create bridges out of humans and illustrate wind with dance. The play wows, making you want to sit in the theater for hours in reflection of the time spent in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia.

The Causasian Chalk Circle is playing now through May 13 at the Constellation Theatre Company. Ticket prices are $25-$45. There is no late seating.

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

Photo: XMB Photography
Photo: XMB Photography

TRANSIT at Dupont Underground

After a three-day stint at Dupont Underground, Australian-born choreographer and dancer Sarah J. Ewing’s site-specific, original dance and technology performance of TRANSIT left observers with pensive expressions. The looks were not of confusion, but rather a contemplation of the progression of life and the various elements that contribute to our individual present or future state.

The performance began with white words cast upon stonewalls spelling “TRANSIT.” Then blinding lights lit up the tunnel as dancers stepped lightly into the space. Each dancer’s gray attire matched their facial expression, as well as the intended expressionless ambiance.

As the performers stood motionless, the sounds of commuting began to echo through the seats. In coordination with the music, the lights shifted from spots to ripples to darkness, illustrating the obstacles of traveling uncontrollably through life.

The interpretive showcase told the story of three generations of women experiencing similar hardships and joy at every turn in life through different time periods. During a brief interview with Ewing, she explained her vision as a “treasure map of life showing moments intertwined with linear time.”

This movement was a display of power and grace. The dancers’ modern choreography coupled with the music, which maintained a steady beat except for the occasional syncopation, kept viewers fixated on the stage and constantly wondering what would come next.

The audience witnessed solos, duets and a small ensemble, all of whom told the narrative of the linear timeline of life. In one ensemble scene, each performer moved in their own style, sometimes in a haphazard way that might not be considered dancing at all, followed by the rest of the ensemble mimicking the leader’s motions in sync. The scene spoke to the chaos of life and how we are often solely focused on our personal forward progress while others are stuck in peril.

The performance welcomed a plethora of themes, but it would be tough to argue against the significance of time in the piece. The transformative lighting and shifting sounds in each scene highlighted the evolution of characters. Time, illustrated by score, was constant. The volume rose and fell, but it was constantly there, declaring the inevitable continuation of time, no matter our individual circumstances.

The hour-long performance sustained a solemn tone throughout, however, the final scene marked a shift in rhythmic excitement and exaggerated dance that brought a sense of joy to the dark, underground tunnel. This conveyed that through life’s journey, one will always have reasons to celebrate even when it seems impossible.

TRANSIT is a collaboration between S. J. Ewing and Dancers, CulturalDC at Dupont Underground and CityDance. To see upcoming showcases at Dupont Underground or to learn more, visit here. Ticket prices vary from exhibit to exhibit but typically range from $10-$20, with an occasional free event happening.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Circle NW, DC; 202-315-1321; www.dupontunderground.org