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Photo: Courtesy of Tap Dogs Photography

Tap Dogs kicks off US tour with Kennedy Center Performances

Originating in Newcastle, Australia, a steel town outside of Sydney, the Tap Dogs fuses an industrial grittiness and precise choreography. The show has been touring the world since the mid 1990s, and is in the U.S. for the next several months. Justin Myles, one of Tap Dogs’ leads, toured internationally with STOMP for seven years, and has choreographed and performed in numerous settings the world over. Both Tap Dogs and DC are close to Myles’ heart. During a rare bit of downtime, he spoke to On Tap about the show that inspired him to dance professionally – a show so exuberant, so expressive and energetic that performers must wear custom boots because traditional tap shoes cannot handle the intensity of the choreography.

On Tap: You’re from the area, aren’t you? And you’ve performed at the Kennedy Center before, what’s it like?
Justin Myles: I was born in College Park, and moved to southern Maryland as a child. Since then I’ve lived in DC, and in Baltimore for a while. I’ve been travelling since the early 2000s, [so] coming back to DC is great. [The city] has always thrived musically, and it has spread into the dance community. There’s so much history in the Kennedy Center, and it’s always a very awesome time. Audiences in DC are stellar; they’re warm, welcoming and ready to be entertained.

OT: Can you tell me a bit about your role in the show?
JM: I play Rat. He wears a backwards cap, nags the other characters and generally provides some comic relief. We all have our own character roles, extensions of who we are in real life. The whole show has comedy wrapped around it, but at the end of the day, we all go to work. It’s rock meets construction meets tap meets comedy.

OT: What’s the cast like?
JM: The cast is great. It’s half Australian and half American, guys ranging from 21 to 38 years old. We have Tap Dogs’ creator Dean Perry’s son Reed Perry playing the role of The Kid. There’s a variety of experience levels, but an incredible level of energy across the board. [Tap Dogs] is powerful and impactful, people will be blown away.

OT: Tell me about your introduction to the show.
JM: I love the show. I fell in love with the show in my teens, at the point in my life when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. [Tap Dogs] showed me tap dance can be strong, professional and powerful. It kicked me in the right direction.

I saw [Tap Dogs] on VHS and live. I saw it live and fell in love with it, then I had it on VHS and watched it all the time. I went to New York to audition for the show in my teens, I think I was 16. They said I was too young, but I held on and finally got into it when I was old enough.

OT: What is the staging like for the show?
JM: The six original cast members in 1995 all grew up in a big steel community, and did tap dancing. So they built Tap Dogs out of the concept of steelworkers tap dancing and built the set around a workman’s set. There are different platforms we dance on made of metal and wood, ladders, scaffolding, two musicians playing in band towers and more.

OT: What appeals to you about performing in Tap Dogs?
JM: In my work I try to fuse everything I’ve learned over my career. The show has a percussive drive, but Tap Dogs is also very rock n’ roll driven. There are no top hats and canes – that’s not all tap is.

Tap Dogs will be performed at the Kennedy Center, February 21-24. Showtimes and ticket prices vary. Tickets available at www.kennedy-center.org.

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

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage and Screen: Winter 2019

THROUGH SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9

The Baltimore Waltz
It’s hard to blame someone diagnosed with the fictional “Acquired Toilet Disease” from going all out in the pleasures of the skin. With the fatal illness starting the timer leading to her impending doom, unmarried school teacher Anna heads to Europe with her brother Carl so she can live a little – complete with lots of food and sex. Meanwhile, Carl becomes entrenched in a bizarre espionage scheme meant to discover a cure for his not-long-for-this-world sister. You might be wondering, “Why did you mention a trip to Europe when Baltimore is mentioned in the title?” Well, about that… Various dates and times. Tickets $50. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, JANUARY 29 – FRIDAY, MARCH 10

Nell Gwynn
Coming from humble beginnings, an orange seller eventually finds her way to the stage where she immediately becomes a household name. Upon Nell Gwynn’s successes, she manages to make a fan out of King Charles II. Eventually, the royal leader of England brings Gwynn to court as a favorite mistress. From there, the story about this amazing woman takes off. Various dates and times. Tickets $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Shame
An adaptation of a documentary may not seem all that enthralling at first. However, the subject matter of Mosaic Theater Company’s Shame is more than enough to draw you in as it tackles the challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians who choose to work with one another despite significant hurdles. The story focuses on several examples of this predicament and integrates several mediums, including Facebook messages, tweets and telephoned threats. Various dates and times. Tickets $15-$35. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

BLKS
Spurred by a scare, Octavia decides it’s time to forget about any troubles or trepidations and have a raucous night on the town with friends. Joined by companions June and Imani, the three depart into the city for an epic night. But the evening becomes more than a hardcore party session, as the trio encounter strange characters, outrageous events and endure a true test of their friendship. Poet and playwright Aziza Barnes wrote this play, which celebrates queerness and sisterhood as the friends wrestle with universal factors such as truth, love and the struggle of adulthood. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5 – SUNDAY, MARCH 10

Richard the Third
Power as an addiction is not only a trope in real life, but a common theme for villains in a number of stories – and perhaps the most famous is the power-hungry king from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Fueled by a bottomless well of ambition, the ruthless and cunning man continues to reach for more, more and more in his quest for power. By the play’s end, no one in the audience will be rooting for his lust. This is the study of what makes a villain, and few put on better performances than Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). Various dates and times. Tickets $44-$102. STC’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar (The Old Man, The Youth, and The Sea)
A new play by Irma Correa, El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar tells the story of a renowned Spanish philosopher who runs into a fisherman, general and journalist. He speaks with each of them about their different beliefs regarding freedom, reason and faith; all the while, the old man is planning his escape from the Spanish island of Fuerteventura. Though the play is based on historical events, the subtext is heavily rooted in today’s society. The play is in Spanish with English subtitles. Various dates and times. Tickets $48. GALA Hispanic Theatre: 3333 14th St. NW, DC; http://en.galatheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14

Story District’s Sucker for Love: A Valentine’s Day Special
No need to get mushy on Valentine’s Day when you can laugh at the misery of others, right? Okay, admittedly that sentence was a little Seinfeld-ish, but on the day dedicated to love, heart drawings and chocolates, Story District’s Sucker for Love provides an alternate mode of entertainment. Instead of a candlelit dinner with expensive wine, head to Lincoln Theatre to hear true stories involving sex, love, breakups, makeups, dating and anything else you can fit into the genre of Valentine’s Day. Show starts at 7 p.m., tickets $35-$45. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.storydistrict.org

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Urban Bush Women’s Hair & Other Stories
Through personal narratives crafted in living rooms, communities and kitchens, Hair & Other Stories is dance theatre that blends conversations with movement to challenge existing – and sometime archaic – American values. The Urban Bush Women company is always on the cutting edge of delivering pieces that fit within the contemporary dance genre while also highlighting the cultural history and spiritual traditions of the African-American and African diaspora. Saturday night opening party starts at 8 p.m. Sunday afternoon performance starts at 4 p.m. Tickets $15-$100. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Photo: Courtesy of China Arts and Entertainment Group

Follow the Legendary Silk Road in Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage

A new form of performance is coming to the Kennedy Center this month: the national concert drama. DC theatergoers are invited to experience Chinese culture with Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage on January 25-27, featuring the 80-piece China National Traditional Orchestra and 24 performers onstage.

The 100-plus group will perform writer, director and composer Jiang Ying’s interpretation of Buddhist monk Xuanzang’s journey across China via the Silk Road on a pilgrimage to India. The production is part of China Arts and Entertainment Group’s cultural exchange program, Image China, and relies heavily on instrumentalists to carry the concert drama. The musicians play characters, breaking the boundaries between the stage and the music, with many roles designed to be interchangeable to help guide and promote the development of the story.

“[Our] comprehensive and dynamic interpretation has never been seen before by American audiences,” Jiang says.

The production’s intricate design and use of multimedia technology “makes the play more colorful than the traditional drama,” she continues, “which will definitely give the audience a more perfect artistic experience that goes straight to the ear.”

Jiang’s production captures the hardships and dangers Xuanzang experienced during his 17-year expedition from Chang’an to Tianzhu while on his quest to discover religious texts that had not yet come from India to China. Ultimately, he obtained the scriptures from the West.

“I aim to convey a positive energy through this drama – a spirit of perseverance and obstinacy for ideals and beliefs,” Jiang says.

Though the drama focuses on Xuanzang’s Buddhist experiences, it also explores the wisdom and compassion of Buddhism and promotes positive energy. The overarching theme in the story is the spirit of progress – Xuanzang is not afraid of the difficulties that come with developing firm ideals and beliefs.

“It is not only of historical significance but also of practical significance,” Jiang says, reinforcing the importance of progress in the production. “This is the common spiritual wealth and strength of all mankind.”

Jiang’s large-scale, multimedia experience offers a lens into China’s music culture with unique wind instrumentation – the zither, Chinese harp, dulcimer and eagle flute are featured, among others – to help highlight amicable cultural exchange in Chinese history along the legendary Silk Road.

“National instrumental music is the soul of this kind of drama,” she says. “My intention was to introduce Chinese instruments that were just imported from the Silk Road in a [historical] series. It’s because of the combined strength of each component that this concert drama is perfectly presented.”

Catch a performance of Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Friday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, January 26 at 1:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., or Sunday, January 27 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets start at $70. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

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

Photo: Chris Lang

American Moor Sheds Light on Black Experience

After a devastating break-in over the holidays, the Anacostia Playhouse is bouncing back and happily welcoming playwright and actor Keith Hamilton Cobbs for his work American Moor from January 9 to February 3. Considered a significant play by the Folger Shakespeare Library, American Moor uses Shakespearean character Othello as a lens to examine the experiences and perspectives of diverse Americans. With television and film credits dating back 20 years including The Young and The Restless, All My Children and CSI: Miami, to name a few, Cobbs has a perspective that resonates. We caught up with him about his role in American Moor before the run begins this week.

On Tap: What is life like after two decades of acting in notable TV roles?
Keith Hamilton Cobbs: Well, life is the same except there’s not as much money in it [laughs]. The last [soap opera] I did ended in 2003, so there has been quite a space in-between. I have been writing and producing [American Moor] for the last seven years. It’s the life of any artist who is not necessarily the object of popular culture. For the object of popular culture, there’s a lot of work, tension and money. For the other artist, they’re just out there making art and living their everyday lives – and my life is a bit like that. I haven’t changed. I am the same, whether I’m the guy doing the soap opera or the guy you’re talking to. I am older, right? But life goes on. You start being an older actor and dealing with all the things older actors deal with.

OT: What story are you trying to tell with American Moor?
KHC: The story of humans, but certainly as Americans. It talks about our particular American dilemma with race, with biases and otherness with making art.

OT: Where did you draw inspiration from for this play?
KHC: This piece started out as an expression of my experience as an African-American actor trying to forge a career and how that related to my reality as an African-American man trying to shape a life. I realized at some point they were the same thing, and that realization created the first draft of the play. But something really profound and glorious happened. When we started to show the play and have post-production discussions, people started to get up and speak back to the play – relaying their experiences and reactions to the play. We realized the cross section of people who were speaking was extremely broad and diverse. Here I am, telling this story about me and my life, but they’re seeing themselves and their lives.

OT: How do you imagine the outcome of expanding narratives across all spectrums?
KHC: What my play is trying to suggest is here you have this person standing in front of you, and if you could expand your frame just a little bit, you’d see you were being offered something. You’re being offered perspective. You’re being offered authenticity. You’re being offered intellect. You’re being offered diligence in the form of this actor. You are being offered all these wonderful things that go into making wonderful theatre, and you are afraid to see them because they threaten what is for you. Were all of us not to be afraid, everything would change. We would begin to explore and discover all sorts of things about one another, certainly about art. Art would expand exponentially into what it would show of us, how it would represent us and what it could teach us.

OT: You portray an actor auditioning for the role of Othello, and you confront a director who expects you to fit into a narrow perspective of what an African American playing this role should be. Has this happened to you often in your career? 
KHC: Yes, it has happened several times in terms of reading for the character Othello or being considered in relation to that character. People would say, “Oh, you would make a great Othello,” and that’s like someone saying, “You would make a great basketball player.” Well, why? You don’t know anything about me. How do you know I would make a great Othello? All you know is what you are looking at. So yes, that has happened several times. But it has also happened in my life as a black American. As African males, we are seen in a particular way. Certain assumptions are going to be made about us walking in the room.

OT: Where do you believe the root cause of the problem lies? 
KHC: It is ownership of the American narrative. Who owns the narrative? It is still the property of white male Americans – European descendants. The story is theirs. It is about them. The rules are about them, it is skewed toward them. [It] favors them, and they’re going to say what works and what doesn’t. That extends to ownership of theatre. We take most of our theatre that we perceive as good and important from the white Western canon of work, Shakespeare included.

OT: How have the reactions of your diverse audiences impacted your script?
KHC: The work of rewriting this piece – honing and making this dramatic art more efficient – was already being done. But as I began to understand that this piece was about more than me, it allowed me to write in a direction that made the point clearer. This is everyone’s story.

OT: What distinction do you make between typecasting within the African-American male experience and other races or genders?
KHC: It’s an issue for everyone. I’m not making a distinction. As I say, the play is about all of us. It is about racial othering, sexual othering, othering by age. Othering is othering. It crosses all life spectrums. A little less than a year after writing the first draft – [after] the first public performance of this very raw new piece – the responses were from people, who in any simple comparison, were very much unlike me.

OT: How so?  
KHC: Well, there was a little Jewish high school girl who got up and said, “That’s my story. This is me. This is the life I live.” I thought, oh my goodness! Wow, alright! Well, let me look at that. Let me hear you. Let me examine. I began to listen very closely to what people had to say about their experience of this work. It expanded my thoughts and my mind. I realized this wasn’t so much about me, but about the experience of all of us. When you see the play, I feel it’s safe to say you will see yourself on some level.

OT: What’s are the consequences of limitation for character portrayals?
KHC: The consequences are that we don’t grow. As a culture, we do not evolve and we sit in what is comfortable. We sit in what we can define because it is comfortable. We fear change. We shun change and growth and deeper exploration of one another. We will not consider and explore other people’s ideas because so much of what we live now – so much of white male privilege – is based on what exists right now. If it changes, white male privilege becomes threatened.

OT: Why did you choose Shakespeare as the lens through which to tell this story? How did you get into Shakespeare?
KHC: I was studying English and realized when I started to see Shakespeare performed [that] the characters were able to express a depth of emotions as characters in a play that I as a black man was not able to express. The depth of my emotions was something people perceived as dangerous, which I could be shot for. Those characters would open their mouths and say the most beautiful things and express whatever emotions they wanted to express. I decided that I wanted to do that. This gives me a place where I can put all of these emotions.

OT: What impact do you hope American Moor has on American culture?
KHC: It’s already had impact, generating deep thought and conversation about these issues of race – whose perspectives matter, whose art matters – [and] about the nature of love and the declining qualitative nature of our American theatre. How do we fix that?

OT: How do you propose we fix this problem?
KHC: You start with awareness. You start with realizing it is broken. You start with the admission that it’s being made for many of the wrong reasons. You begin to try to think outside of your boxes of privileged perspective. You demand that your educational institutions training actors [and] directors do better and instill in them values that are appropriate to what theatre is supposed to do. These are big things that require individuals to take responsibility as individuals. Discern the truth, because you are the purveyors of truth.

American Moor opens Wednesday, January 9 at the Anacostia Playhouse. Tickets are $30-$40. For more information, click here.

Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC; 202-290-2328; www.anacostiaplayhouse.com

Photo: www.kennedy-center.org

Miss Saigon: A Tragic Love Story and Grandiose Production

A resounding score, awe-inspiring sets and heart-breaking characters set the tone for the tragic love story of Miss Saigon, a new production of the renowned musical running at the Kennedy Center through January 13.

Currently on the U.S. leg of its tour, the events of Miss Saigon take place at the end of the Vietnam War and follows a Vietnamese woman, Kim (played by Emily Bautista), as she escapes her war-torn village. Afterward, she’s then forced to work at a bar in Saigon (modern day Ho Chi Minh City) and falls in love with American soldier Chris (played by Anthony Festa).

While attempting to return to the U.S. together, Kim and Chris are separated. The rest of the musical follows Kim’s tireless efforts to reunite with the love of her life.

A story set in a time of war, there are moments that will have you reaching for a tissue. However, the play is more than sad; comedic relief comes in the form of the Engineer (played by Red Concepción), the owner of the bar Kim works in.

A somewhat dodgy character, you can’t help but admire his tenacity and resourcefulness. His solo singing of “American Dream,” also proves a show-stopper as he dances on a convertible in front of a giant mask of the Statue of Liberty.

Other stand-out moments of the musical include the incredible set designs, which incorporate building structures that make you feel like you’re walking the streets of Southeast Asia, a helicopter that drops down from the ceiling and real footage of children orphaned during the Vietnam war.

As with their production of Les Misérables, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Miss Saigon is a grandiose production that will have you laughing, crying and entranced from start to finish.

Experience Miss Saigon at the Kennedy Center, running through January 13. Tickets start at $49. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. Learn more about Miss Saigon here.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Studio Theatre

Sarah Burgess Returns Home For Kings

Alexandria, Virginia native Sarah Burgess hasn’t spent much of her adult life in DC. As a burgeoning playwright who attended college in New York City, it made sense for Burgess to kick off her fast-rising career in the city that never sleeps.

At 35, her first-ever production Dry Powder was chosen by Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, directed by Hamilton’s Thomas Kail, and starred Claire Danes, John Krasinski and Hank Azaria. Talk about a tough act to follow.

While New York may have put her on the map, you could say the playwright’s DC roots are responsible for her sustained success. Her second show Kings was inspired by her intrigue for the inner belly of Washington, and an article she read about fundraising retreats for politicians and lobbyists.

Where Dry Powder took a witty look at the cut-throat lifestyle of the elite in a New York private equity firm, Kings is “a lacerating comedy about a newly elected congresswoman who refuses to play by the rules of lobbyists – or her own party.”

While the themes of her work – corrosive money and power – do not seem to raise many eyebrows these days, her perspective has reinvigorated the conversation about what drives American progress.

Indeed, Burgess has made a name for herself when it comes to social commentary – so much so shes spun the phrase “art imitates life” upside down. Life imitated art when Kings inspired Washingtonian to create a real version of the play’s made-up listicle “Top DC Gay Power Couples Under 45.”

On Tap chatted with Sarah Burgess prior to the play’s opening about what it feels like to be a young, female playwright seated snugly at the table with Kings. Directed by Marti Lyons, the show’s second run – and first outside of Manhattan – is in production now through January 13 at Studio Theatre.

On Tap: Are you excited to have your work performed in DC where the show is set?
Sarah Burgess: I’m from Alexandria and this is my second play, so I was so pleased. Studio Theatre is such a revered institution and everyone nationally sees them doing interesting, cool, challenging stuff. For them to want to perform Kings, I was really excited. Having had friends who have had plays at Studio, it felt really great. It’s a play that presents challenges and I’m excited about it being at Studio.

OT: Since you’re now based in New York City, have you been shuttling back and forth a lot? How does it feel being in the area again?
SB: Actually, it’s great. I’ve been hopping on the train. I went down [to DC] yesterday just for a few hours to see a run-through. The play is being published and so as I’m continuing to grapple with subject matter that I actually found a bit more challenging than I expected, it’s been a good opportunity. Marti Lyons is directing this production and I got to know her when she came on board. It’s been so helpful to work with her on it, and then obviously working with these great actors, too. I love being able to come back down here.

OT: Tell us a bit about your reaction to Washingtonian’s response to your show. Did it strike a chord with you when a DC magazine created a list inspired by something you had conceived of in Kings?
SB: I was so excited. I remember I talked to Tommy Kale who directed the production in New York, and he’s also from Alexandria. He [said], “Washingtonian to me is like, I grew up with it in line in Safeway and it’s sort of an institution.” I’ve always thought of it as a national magazine, and it’s still part of the fabric of DC. I was bowled over. Like, it’s your hometown and you have the publication, but also there’s something about when you make up something offhand and then someone takes the time to make the actual thing. It was one of my proudest moments.

OT: It certainly speaks to the power of your art for inciting change. Can you walk us through what the past few years have been like for you as a young playwright toiling away and waking up to the dream breakthrough?
SB: Having your first play in New York is challenging because there’s a decent amount of competition and there are pipelines I wasn’t in, so it was a real life change to be a professional writer. It’s hard to make a living writing and to be able to support yourself at all. I feel very fortunate. I’m learning to adapt to writing on a different schedule [and] not having a day job. I feel very fortunate to have different opportunities to pursue, and I recognize that there’s really an element of luck. Artistic director Oskar Eustis, who was interested in the topic Dry Powder raises, was willing to take a risk on a completely unknown and unstudied playwright. There’s just luck in that.

OT: With your recent successes, are you feeling the pressure of expectations now?
SB: I mean, you have expectations for yourself. It’s not a question of returning to the way you were when you wrote whatever. It’s also recognizing that what you’re interested in changes and I think about that a lot. It’s a unique experience to have a play done and have them reviewed, and to be aware how they sell or don’t sell. It definitely is a separate category of experience from writing. I’m kind of an awkward introvert, so it’s a thing I grapple with. I don’t feel pressure or expectation. I don’t know that much is expected of me. I don’t have that from the outside. It’s more about wanting to be better. I think that has intensified since having my plays [produced].

For information about showtimes and ticket prices to Kings at Studio Theatre, visit here. Kings runs through Sunday, January 13.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Neal Brennan

Do-It-All Neal Brennan Comes to 9:30 Club

My first question for Neal Brennan has almost nothing to do with him, and he’s used to it.

“Oh, let me guess, is it about Dave [Chappelle]?” he playfully asks.

He then fields my query centered around another famous comedian, Bo Burnham, who went on to direct indie flick and likely award winner Eighth Grade after working with Brennan and Chris Rock on the latter’s 2018 Netflix special Tamborine.

“I would say Bo is confident, but I don’t want to make him sound arrogant,” Brennan says. “He’s a know-it-all, and I am too, so it takes one to know one. He has opinions on everything, and that’s what you have to have to be a director. The thing about comedians is we have to do a bunch of jobs. We’re directing [and] writing ourselves, so I’m never surprised when a comedian can do stuff.”

It makes sense that Brennan’s expectation for a comedian mirrors his own do-it-all nature. The NYU film school dropout has done everything from write for tween 90s television shows like Kenan & Kel and All That to directing 2009’s The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Perhaps most famously, he co-created and cowrote Chappelle’s Show, one of the most successful sketch comedy shows ever to air.

“When I was doing NYU, I went to the club at night and worked the door,” Brennan says. “The film kids were the biggest bunch of jerk-offs you would meet in your life. At the club, it was unknown Louis C.K., unknown Dave Chappelle, unknown Sarah Silverman – and that was every night pretty much. I liked those people better and I stayed there.”

In between his foray into onscreen productions, Brennan’s commitment to standup comedy has remained consistent. Despite all his film and television credits, the stage is where his career started – and it’s seemingly what he’s most focused on at the moment. Brennan and his Here We Go tour will stop at the 9:30 Club in early December.

“Standup is really popular, as well it should be,” he says. “The only people being honest are standup [comedians] and the upside is, there’s a lot of eyeballs on them.”

Brennan’s 2017 Netflix special 3 Mics allowed him to intertwine a more dramatic angle onstage for the first time. The format included three segments: punchy one-liners, traditional standup, and a discussion about depression and his relationship with his father.

“While I haven’t done anything strictly dramatic, I bring drama to standup – the place where no one wants it,” he jokes.

On tour now with a new narrative, Brennan declares he’s out of sad stories. With straight standup as his current focal point, he’s found comfort in getting back to writing jokes.

“It’s very premise-based. I’ll sit down and write it out as longform as I can, with as many beats as possible. A lot of times, the thing you think is the joke isn’t.”

With a man who has done so much at such a young age, it’s hard not to ask about the things he hasn’t done yet.

“Why not venture into dramatic filmmaking? Why don’t you have some kind of podcast like other comedians?”

He’s thought about doing those too, he says. For a dramatic film, he needs an idea. For the podcast, he’s working on something with fellow comedian Michelle Wolf.

“No format, just us talking,” Brennan says of his forthcoming podcast. “[Comedians] are very entertaining. We have to do these things, so we’re already opinionated and funny and talkative.”

Catch Brennan at 9:30 Club on Saturday, December 8. Doors are at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at www.930.com. Learn more about the comedian at www.nealbrennan.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Stage and Screen: December 2018

THROUGH DECEMBER 23

A Civil War Christmas
During the most divisive (literally) time in America, there were still holidays and reasons for general hopefulness. In A Civil War Christmas, the play casts a wide net from battlefields in Northern Virginia all the way to the Capitol Building in DC, featuring stories from a number of intertwining lives demonstrating how glee can exist during a tough and embattled time. This play features numerous songs great for a winter date or your visiting family. Various dates and times. $15-$39. 1st Stage Tysons: 1524 Spring Hill Rd. Tysons, VA; www.1ststagetysons.org

An Inspector Calls
When an inspector knocks on your door seemingly at random asking about a murder, it’s probably going to leave you somewhat shook. For the Birlings, a British family enjoying a festive evening, this surprise guest begins digging up connections with the crime and finds cracks in their seemingly perfect lives. This thriller pleas for a just society and works to pull down the facade on people who aren’t as innocent as they seem. Various dates and times. $44-$102. Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Indecent
Art and censorship do not belong together. When art is restricted, it ceases to be art and is at best incomplete, at worst propaganda. In the 1920s Sholem Asch’s Yiddish drama God of Vengeance broke free from previous restrictions and offered an evocative story of immigration, anti-Semitism and other taboo themes. Arena Stage’s Indecent offer a behind the scenes style story about the Broadway breakthrough, and the people who risked their careers to perform in the show. Various times and dates. $66-$82. Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

MONDAY, DECEMBER 3 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 6

The Second City’s She the People
The famed Second City sketch comedy troupe is back with this all-female cast providing two hours of laughter. Celebrating the group’s tenth anniversary of their first visit to Woolly Mammoth, this performance is entirely produced, designed, curated and performed by women, and necessarily puts patriarchal norms on blast. Whether the subject is government, homelife or what’s happening in the world, these women will give their opinions and make you laugh while doing it. Various dates and times. Tickets start at $50. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4 – SATURDAY, DECEMBER 22

Motown: The Reprise
If you’ve ever wanted to feel transported to the 70s, this might be your best opportunity outside of an actual mechanic time machine, and those don’t exist. Instead you’ll hear hits by Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5 and others in a celebration of one of the most influential and prolific moments in music history. Providing the sounds is Signature Theatre’s Motown: Hitsville U.S.A. cabaret, and this new flavor of Motown sound will be unlike any other. Various dates and times. $38. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 6

My Father’s Dragon
Based on the book by Ruth Stiles Gannett, this story follows an adventurous young boy, and his cat companion, who undertake a journey to rescue a baby dragon from a place called Wild Island. While there, he’ll be forced to think quickly and imaginatively to reach his goals. With Game of Thrones off the air until April of next year, you’ll have to rely on other sources for your dragon-themed fiction, and this wordless play might be enough to satiate you until we return to Westeros. Various dates and times. $20. Synetic Theater: 1800 S Bell St. Arlington, VA; www.synetictheater.org

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9

Ballet West: The Nutcracker
Ever since 1963, Ballet West has performed The Nutcracker. The company from Utah is set to revisit the classic tale with reimagined designs, stunning production and, of course, breathtaking choreography. Before you take a holiday vacation, make sure to stop by the Kennedy Center to see some of the nation’s best dancers perform this enchanting story, alongside Tchaikovsky’s unreal score. 7:30 p.m. on all days, with additional 1:30 p.m. performances on Saturday and Sunday. $59-$215. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 6

Kings
Written by Alexandria native Sarah Burgess, Studio’s latest political comedy finds newly elected representative Sydney Millsap riding a blue wave into DC, armed with idealism and a true sense of duty. Once there, she crosses paths with Kate, a lobbyist, who quickly dismisses her as a one-term rookie. Through laughs about money and power, this refreshing take on democracy in the U.S. depicts how relationships between lobbyists and representatives play out behind closed doors. Various dates and times. $20-$45. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

Liam Redford (Billy Elliot) and ensemble // Photo: Margo Schulman

Better When I’m Dancing: Billy Elliot The Musical

“What’s this show with miners in tutus about?”

That’s a question many people ask about Billy Elliot, both when the film came out in 2000 and when the hit musical debuted five years later. In this case, it’s a question asked by Matthew Gardiner, the director and choreographer behind Signature Theatre’s winter production of the musical.

If you haven’t heard of – or seen – the movie or the musical, Billy Elliot tells the story of its titular character, an 11-year-old English boy who discovers a love of ballet while surrounded by a family of coal miners who don’t support his nontraditional passion – at least not at first. Hence, the miners and tutus.

After the film became a hit, Elton John was enlisted to write songs for a musical version that debuted in London’s West End in 2005. Next came productions in Australia and in 2008, on Broadway where the musical won 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical. And now, DC area audiences can catch the musical at Shirlington’s award-winning theater through early January.

Gardiner, Signature’s associate artistic director, has a personal connection to the story as he too studied ballet growing up.

“It was hard being a boy who loved ballet and musical theatre,” Gardiner says. “I was picked on a lot. But I felt safe when I was in the ballet classroom or in a rehearsal room. Those were the places I felt most like myself and most at home.”

It’s also an experience that the young star of Signature’s production, Liam Redford, can relate to. A native of North Hanover, New Jersey, Liam is 11 and a student of all types of dance at Philadelphia’s Rock School for Dance Education. Like Billy, he’s had to deal with people who don’t understand his passion.

“I have experienced many people who are not supportive of me in being a young male dancer,” the young actor says. “In school, many of the other kids looked down on me or did not think that what I loved to do was normal.”

However, both Redford and Gardiner have been able to overcome those past experiences and follow their dreams – a theme at the heart of Billy Elliot. When speaking with Redford, it’s clear he’s still riding the high of transitioning from playing Billy at a small community theatre in New Jersey to his current role in the Signature production.

“It feels amazing to know that so many other kids just like me can take on this role and relate to Billy in all the same ways as I do as a male dancer,” he says. “I am so lucky to be able to play this role that so many amazing people have played before.”

The production has two totally different casts of school-aged cast members performing in the show, including another Billy. In a nod to the show’s composer (and maybe West Side Story), the two casts are nicknamed the “Bennies” and the “Jets.” There’s no rivalry between the two groups, though. Redford says they hang out all the time.

“We are very close and love spending time with each other, and we have so much fun when we are together. We all hang out on Mondays when we are all off. Our young performing cast is like a little family.”

The talent and dedication of all the kids involved in the production amazes Gardiner, and he says he doesn’t change his style when directing the younger actors.

“I could never do what these kids are doing at their age,” he says. “I was good, but these kids are amazing. Their dedication and artistry are unbelievable. I play my part by encouraging them and treating them like I’d treat any adult actor. They are that good.”

The director says he was originally hesitant to work on Billy Elliot as he was only familiar with the film.

But when he read the script for the musical, he realized that it had an important message for today’s audiences.

“When I read the piece, I was taken aback by this story of loss and a community fighting for their voice – and ultimately, for the dreams of one little boy. In these trying times, we need more stories about the ways in which we unite.”

Don’t miss Billy Elliot: The Musical at Signature Theatre, now through Sunday, January 6. The run time is roughly two hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $40. Learn more at www.sigtheatre.org.

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