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Awa Sal Secka (Shanti), Kevin McCallister (Caesar), Chris Hoch (Blackbeard), Christopher Mueller (Jake), and Lawrence Redmond (Samuel) in Blackbeard at Signature Theatre // Photo: Christopher Mueller

Blackbeard Costume Designer Helps Pirate Live His Best Life

For Signature Theatre’s world premiere of Blackbeard, the cast and crew has to look magnificent. The famed pirate, upon learning he is wanted by the British Army embarks on a fantastical journey across the globe to raise an undead-pirate army from the depths of the sea. To fully depict this fantastical spirit, costume designer Erik Teague was able to create a variety of colorful and outer-worldly outfits for this show, and he spoke to On Tap about his experience working on the production before the show begins its run on June 18.

On Tap: What brought you into costume design?
Erik Teague: I was that weird kid who loved comic books and movies, still true today, but the oddball component is that I really enjoyed opera. I thought I wanted to be an opera singer. As I studied, my love of music never changed, and I realized the thing that was exciting about the performance was the transformation. I finally realized,  oh wait I’m just a designer, okay great!

Illustrations: courtesy of Signature Theatre

OT: Did you know the Signature team prior, if not what was the collaborative process for you in terms of creativity?
ET: This is my very first time working with the team at Signature, they are a company I have long admired because of the ambitious nature of what they do. It is always interesting to come into a different artistic family than your own, this group of people has a long history of working together. I’ve had to figure out where to fit in, but overall it has been very good, we have been able to communicate with each other well and share ideas fluidly.

OT: Why did you choose to join the team for Blackbeard?
ET: An adventure fantasy musical that centers around pirates, I thought that was super exciting, and super in my artistic wheelhouse. Meaning there would be lots of sword fights and swashbuckling and swinging on ropes, which I find very interesting. Building costumes for these types of performances has different methods than other performances where you just walk across the stage and deliver your lines. The construction methods are different, it is always exciting to find out what a performer needs to be supported to do their choreography.

OT: What is your favorite moment of the show?
ET: There are a couple of good ones, but I will say the I am pretty proud of the zombie pirate horde. We have done some highly theatrical gestures, by a couple, I mean we have created a horde of skeleton pirates who glow in the dark by using tandem puppets. Three of them can walk in a line together, I worked with Kylie Clark, a talented artist who made the puppets, and helped to get them functional.

OT: What is your favorite costume in the show, if any?
ET: Definitely Blackbeard’s two coats, they are a wonderful show in contrasts. His first coat is very distressed and lived in, and looks like it could have walked off the Pirates of the Caribbean movie set. Versus the second coat, his afterlife coat. Blackbeard is living his best life in his afterlife. He has been beheaded as per the real history. He finally becomes the myth and legend he has been trying to live up to the whole time. I gave him the opportunity to look the best, [a] red velvet coat with black beading all over it, and black Venetian lace trimming.

Blackbeard opens at Signature Theatre June 18, running through July 14. For more information and tickets visit www.sigtheatre.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signature Theatre's Blackbeard

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

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 9

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

TUESDAY, JUNE 4 – SUNDAY, JUNE 7

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

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5 – SUNDAY, JUNE 30

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

THURSDAY, JUNE 13

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

TUESDAY, JUNE 18 – SUNDAY, JULY 14

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

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 21

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

SATURDAY, JUNE 22 – SUNDAY, JUNE 23

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

Kathleen Turner // Photo: Butcher Photography

Kathleen Turner Shines at Arena Stage Gala

When Kathleen Turner first came to New York as a wannabe actress, someone asked her if she could sing, but knowing there were little parts for a woman baritone, she replied “no.”

While the husky-voiced actress went on to an incredible, award-winning movie career, which included starring roles in such hits as Body HeatRomancing the Stone and Peggy Sue Got Married, (not to mention voicing Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), plus a theatre career that included Tony noms for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Turner secretly had a strong desire to sing.

So, while having lunch one day with Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, the question came out again about her singing – and this time Turner replied with affirmation. The response led to Smith casting her as the titular character in Mother Courage and Her Children in 2014, a show Turner describes “a play with singing,” rather than a musical.

This was just one of the stories Turner offered at the 2019 Arena Stage Gala, where she performed excerpts from her cabaret, Finding My Voice.

Turner is no stranger to the Arena Stage. In addition to her “singing debut,” she’s also graced the SW, DC theatre in Red Hot Patriot, The Year of Magical Thinking and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Backed by her music director Mark James on piano, Sean Harkness on guitar and Ritt Henn on bass, Turner dazzled on tunes such as “I Can’t Get You Out of My Heart,” “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home” and “Sweet Kentucky Ham.”

Before each song, she regaled the patrons with tales of her life, explaining how her dad was a foreign service officer who served as a diplomat for the State Department, and how her travels and life as a youngster led to her prolific career. She was funny and captivating throughout, proving every bit the movie star she still is.

At the Gala, Arena Stage honored Nina Totenberg, NPR’s award-winning legal affairs correspondent, with this year’s Beth Newburger Schwartz Award in recognition of her ground-breaking reporting in the broadcast world and her continual support of the arts.

In accepting her award, Totenberg noted she was a long-time Arena Stage patron and has seen many productions over the years with her husband and friends, and looks forward to many more outstanding performances to come.

Lindsey Brittain Collins was also honored on the night, winning the Emerging Leader Award for her excellence as a young artist and her outstanding work in the community. An oil acrylic painter, Collins uses collage to express social issues of race, religion, sexuality and gender.

The Gala, which supports Arena Stage’s award-winning artistic productions and community engagement programs, was an enjoyable evening allowing theater lovers to get together, support the arts and experience Turner in an enjoyable, special performance.

For more information about this year’s Arena Stage Gala, visit www.arenastage.org.

Photo: Margot Schulman

The Many Complexities of Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel isn’t like any other show.

This is what artistic director Eric Schaeffer tells me on a phone call the morning after I catch his new production at Signature Theatre, and I can say with full certainty that he’s quite right.

He relishes the fact he selected a Tony Award-winning play that’s complex, layered and challenging – adjectives he uses to describe the frenetic musical during our conversation, all of which just so happened to pop up multiple times in my post-show notes.

And it’s no coincidence: the 1929 novel turned 1932 MGM film turned 1989 Broadway hit wasn’t easy for me to connect with night of, but I was still thinking about it for days, even weeks, later. But art is meant to push us out of our comfort zones and expose us to new ways of thinking about and experiencing life, and Schaeffer’s known for taking those risks at Signature every season.

Whether it’s debuting daring new pieces or embracing notoriously difficult classics, the director doesn’t shy away from works that might make his audience fidget or his actors balk. And now through May 19, Schaeffer encourages theatregoers to sit in the lobby of a 1928 Berlin hotel as an extremely eclectic cast of characters weaves on the periphery of one another’s lives.

“The show just keeps layering on itself, which is interesting,” he tells me. “It’s not just like, here it is and here’s the story. It’s kind of like a painting that just keeps on taking off layers and layers and layers, which is the really neat thing about the show. I love that it challenges the audience, it challenges the actors. It just becomes this experience.”

His 16-person cast – full of Signature regulars and DC up-and-comers, plus a truly dazzling performance from the magnetic Nkrumah Gatling (Broadway’s Miss Saigon) – was whittled down from the original production’s 28. The method to his madness? He wanted to give the audience a fighting chance at following all of the show’s storylines through the lens of a sticky-fingered baron, aging ballerina, dying bookkeeper and desperate typist, to name a few.

“It was a hard puzzle to figure out, but it was fun once I did,” he says of casting the play. “There’s all these snapshots that are put together, and you keep getting slices of all these different lives and how they’re interconnected – or not – they all just happen to be passing in and out of the hotel lobby.”

Schaeffer selected his talent well, whipping the audience into a sometimes delightful (in numbers like the cheeky “Maybe My Baby Loves Me”), often uncomfortable (grappling with the heaviness of mortality or a successful man’s implied power over a naïve woman) frenzy. In just under two hours with no intermission, the impressive cast sings several dozen songs and swings the mood pendulum from light to dark at only a moment’s notice. It’s hard to keep up with – visually, sonically and emotionally.

The highly stylized, momentum-driven production isn’t just a lot for the audience to handle – the director says that everyone from the ensemble to the leads had an “Oh my god, this is so challenging” reaction.

“Which is great,” he says, “because they’re not doing the same old thing. It makes them grow as artists, which I think is really important.”

His level of commitment to the production extended beyond nudging his cast gingerly out of the nest and into uncharted – or at least less traveled – territory to a set design that married opulence of a building both old and grand with an ambiance that felt modern, contemporary and relatable.

“I really wanted the audience to feel like they’re sitting in the lobby of a hotel just eavesdropping on all of these conversations that are happening.”

And he did just that by collaborating with set designer Paul Tate dePoo III to create a dynamic set that transforms from a decadent hotel room to the black void of a haunting train station within seconds.

“It was a balance,” dePoo says. “It was a constant conversation. We didn’t get too far away from the contemporary world.”

And like Schaeffer, he takes his craft incredibly seriously, aiming to capture the spirit of the chaotic play and its varied cast through the design.

“Hopefully, it tells the story in a way that we don’t feel like we’re disconnected from these people and we appreciate the era they are currently telling the story within.”

Peel back the layers of this theatrical onion through Sunday, May 19 at Signature Theatre. Tickets start at $40 and are available at www.sigtheatre.org.

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

Stage and Screen: The White Snake, John Cusack, God of Carnage and More

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 19

The Great Commedia Hotel Murder Mystery
The Great Commedia Hotel Murder Mystery promises to give you “Zanni bellhops, femme fatales, hidden clues, mustachioed detectives and more!” In the tradition of classic mysteries from Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Clue, this entertaining whodunnit ends Faction of Fools Theatre Company’s monumental 10th anniversary season. Various dates and times. Tickets $22. Faction of Fools Theatre Company: 800 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.factionoffools.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 26

The White Snake
Inspired by an ancient Chinese fable, The White Snake tells the story of animal spirit White Snake, who transforms into a beautiful woman to experience the human world. When White Snake falls in love with a pharmacist’s assistant, their illicit romance draws the ire of a villainous monk who sets out to destroy their relationship. Various dates and times. Tickets $19-$45. Constellation Theatre Company: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; www.constellationtheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 2

The Oresteia
Adapted from the Greek tragedy trilogy, Ellen McLaughlin’s The Oresteia is coming to the Shakespeare Theatre Company. On the surface, it’s an epic story about love, betrayal, murder and revenge. But at its core, The Oresteia is a critique of human civilization. McLaughlin condenses the trilogy into one dynamic show with expert finesse. Various dates and times. Tickets $44-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 9

Love’s Labor’s Lost
In this early Shakespeare comedy, a young king and his three companions swear off women in order to focus on their studies and fasting. However, when a princess and her female companions arrive, the young men find it increasingly difficult to deny their lustful desires. Directed by Vivienne Benesch, Love’s Labor’s Lost is a delightfully witty, amusing and timeless tale. Various dates and times. Tickets $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

WEDNESDAY, MAY 1 – SUNDAY, JUNE 2

The Children
The protagonists of The Children, a couple of retired physicists, live in a remote cottage on the British coast. They live a simple, modest life in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, carefully conserving their resources to get by. But a surprise visit from a former colleague upends the couple’s lives, revealing old secrets with catastrophic consequences. The Children is loosely based on the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. Various dates and times. Tickets $52-$65. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

SATURDAY, MAY 4 – SATURDAY, MAY 25

God of Carnage
The 2009 Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage was originally a French tale but has been translated due to popular demand. The play centers around a feuding set of parents who meet after their children clash in a playground altercation. What begins as a civil conversation devolves into a jarring confrontation between the parents and ultimately their own partners. Various dates and times. Tickets $50. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, MAY 7 – THURSDAY, MAY 9

The Chibok Girls: Our Story
Few girls have captured the world’s attention like the Chibok Girls. In 2014, 273 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a school in the town of Chibok, stirring international outrage and widespread protests in Nigeria. In a predictable fashion, the world seemed to forget about the kidnapped girls just as quickly as they’d learned about their disappearance. Renegade Theatre’s The Chibok Girls: Our Story is a reminder in the form of testimonial theatre. The event also features Nobel Prize-winning playwright and author Wole Soyinka and is part of CrossCurrents, a “citywide biennial festival that highlights innovative artists from around the world who are harnessing the power of performance to humanize global politics.” Begins at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets are $20. Davis Performing Arts Center: 37th and O Streets NW, DC; www.georgetown.edu

THURSDAY, MAY 16

John Cusack, Plus a Screening of High Infidelity
John Cusack is recognizable from a ton of movie roles, but perhaps none are as iconic and memorable as Rob Gordon, a music connoisseur and record shop owner searching for love in the classic rom-com High Fidelity. Throughout the film, Gordon muses on his past relationships and the sobering realities of love and companionship. Cusack himself will discuss the film in person and take questions from the audience following the screening at the Warner Theatre. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show at 7:30. Tickets $49-$150. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC;www.warnertheatredc.com

Photo: Thom Goertel

Black Pearl Sings! Touches on Harsh, Comical Realities

DC theatergoers have rare access to what playwright Frank Higgins would consider an “authentic doorway into the past.” The Alliance for New Music Theatre has brought Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings! to life at Spooky Action Theater, exploding with songs and narratives that delicately address timely social issues while exposing the harsh, yet comical, realities of the past.  

Based on the relationships between legendary folk and blues musician Huddie William “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Library of Congress folklorists John and Alan Lomax, Black Pearl Sings! begins in Texas during The Great Depression, where the protagonist Alberta “Pearl” Johnson (Roz White) has spent the previous 10 years in prison for pulling a Lorena Bobbitt on an abusive suitor.

The contemporary play opens with Pearl donning prison stripes and a metal ball at her feet. While working in a chain gang, Pearl wrestles with the idea of her daughter out on her own since her incarceration.

Playing opposite to Pearl is Susannah (Susan Galbraith), an ambitious Library of Congress musicologist on a prison tour collecting indigenous folk and African American slave music in the South. Entering stage left, Susannah hears Pearl singing an unfamiliar, spirit-stirring tune and requests the singer’s company.

“When people die, history is lost,” Susannah says, simplistically stating the significance and relevance of Black Pearl Sings!

After sharing their truths, the two join forces – one vowing to reconnect with her daughter and the other vowing to find the perfect song collection.

This upbeat show relies solely on the talents of these phenomenal women. Battling the whole way, the two passionately dance on couches while confronting issues of race, social narratives and perspective.

“We have treasures of which we aren’t even aware,” White, a trained musical theatre actress, explains.  “It’s important to know your worth, your history and what you have to contribute.”

White and Galbraith are one of the most dynamic duos to take the stage. The seemingly genuine quips and banter deployed onstage perfectly showcase their comedic talents and chemistry, promising to leave audiences laughing uncontrollably.   

Though the storyline dips into deeper pools of social consciousness, a light-hearted mood prevails throughout the play. The simple choreographies paired with jovial tunes make this thoughtful production a winner. It shocks and calms when appropriate and features an easy, crowd-pleasing sing-a-long.

The modest décor of Spooky Action Theater is impeccably on-brand. Notes of sawdust fill the theatre, reminiscent of industrial and rural settings.

Fortunately, this production is not modest at all. With support from the Library of Congress and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Thomas W. Jones II applies more than 30 years of professional experience to engage audiences, using multimedia imagery to reinforce the performance.

The journeys of Pearl and Susannah are inspirational and uplifting. If you’re searching for an evening of heart-wrenching confessions, heartwarming songs and spiritual connectedness, look no further than Black Pearl Sings!

The Alliance for New Music-Theatre production of Black Pearl Sings! is showing through May 4 at the Spooky Action Theater at the Universalist National Memorial Church. Tickets are $25-$40 and can be purchased here.

Universalist National Memorial Church: 1810 16th St. NW, DC;www.spookyaction.org

Correction: A previous version of this article did not clarify that The Alliance for New Music-Theatre produced Black Pearl Sings!

Stage and Screen: April 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY APRIL 28

Mosaic Theater Company ‘s Native Son
The infamous streets of Southside Chicago set the scene in this dramatic, gripping production of Native Son. Adapted from Richard Wright’s legendary novel, Native Son tells the story of Bigger Thomas. When Bigger gets a well-paying job as a wealthy businessman’s driver, a series of unfortunate episodes lead to tragic consequences. With the original version set in the 1930s, this modern adaptation incidentally reveals the deep-rooted history of poverty in Chicago. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$35. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THROUGH SATURDAY, APRIL 20

The Peculiar Patriot
Liza Jessie Peterson was a teacher at the notorious Rikers Island prisons for 18 years. Inspired by her experiences, Peterson brings her one-woman show to the stage, exploring the effects of incarceration on communities and a broken system that perpetuates inequality. Her character Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a self-proclaimed “peculiar patriot,” makes frequent trips to penitentiaries, visiting her imprisoned family and friends in this funny and fiercely provocative show. Various dates and times. Tickets $14-$29. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

SUNDAY, APRIL 7

The Sleeping Beauty
The famed Russian National Ballet is coming to the DMV, performing the timeless classic ballet The Sleeping Beauty. With choreography from ballet master Marius Petipa and compositions by the incomparable Tchaikovsky, this performance is sure to be a grand production. Founded in the late 1980s, the Russian National Ballet emerged in the Soviet transitional period of Perestroika. Ever since, the company has been dedicated to sharing its command of classic ballet with the world. Show starts at 2 p.m., tickets $34-$56. George Mason University Center for the Arts: 4373 Mason Pond Dr. Fairfax, VA; http://cfa.gmu.edu

TUESDAY, APRIL 9

Bob Saget
Few comedians have succeeded to crossover in the entertainment world as well as Bob Saget. Best known for his portrayal of Danny Tanner on ABC’s Full House, the versatile Saget has enjoyed an illustrious career. Nonetheless, he is and always was a comedian first. His stand-up is not what you would expect from America’s favorite dad – and with good reason: he’s not. Stepping out of the Full House shadow hasn’t been easy, but that’s exactly what Saget hopes to do in this not-so-family-friendly comedy performance. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $45. Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

SATURDAY, APRIL 13

Chelsea Handler
Known for her hilariously blunt delivery and bold blue humor, Chelsea Handler is switching it up for her upcoming Sit-Down Comedy Tour. Handler kicks off her tour in April with the release of her new memoir Life Will Be the Death of Me. In a rare display of vulnerability, she writes introspectively about childhood trauma, therapy, activism and more. The show will feature true stories from her book in an honest, stripped-down conversation. But don’t worry – her emotional anecdotes will only accompany the deeply inappropriate jokes audiences know and love her for. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets $85-$145. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; www.warnertheatredc.com

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24 – MONDAY, APRIL 29

The Who’s Tommy
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Who’s legendary debut album, The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage presents rock musical The Who’s Tommy. Starring Riverdale’s Casey Cott, Tony Award winner Christian Borle and Hamilton’s Mandy Gonzalez, the incredibly talented cast is not likely to disappoint. This semi-staged concert production boasts music and lyrics by The Who’s own Pete Townshend. Various dates and times. Tickets $69-$219. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

FRIDAY, APRIL 26 – THURSDAY, JUNE 2

Jubilee
From acclaimed playwright and director Tazewell Thompson comes an inspirational tribute performance based on the world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. The renowned African American acapella group broke enormous racial barriers in the late 19th century, funding the education of newly freed slaves and performing across the globe. The performance includes popular spirituals like “Wade in the Water,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Various dates and times. Tickets $76-$125. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

TUESDAY, APRIL 30 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26

Spunk
Based on three short stories by Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston and adapted by Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe, Spunk combines elements of storytelling, music and dance. This lively production promises to entertain audiences with spirited characters and tales of love, jealousy and revenge. Set in the countryside, Spunk also depicts the African American experience in the early 20th century. Various dates and times. Tickets $40-$85. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: www.studiotheatre.org

Queen of Basel’s Playwright Discusses Adaptation and Influences

Any time a contemporary artist decides to tackle and untangle a literary classic, the task is often monumental. However, when said artist then decides to mix and mold the already established characters into representations of the modern world, an adaptation is in the midst.

Critically acclaimed Hilary Bettis not only took hold of the characters and story from August Strindberg’s 1889 novel Miss Julie, but completely flipped it on itself. In an effort to provoke thoughts from diverse audiences, Bettis adapted the story from the troublesome Strindberg into the play Queen of Basel.

The play charges head first, focusing on societal aspects of power, race and class. Performances of the play are now in their last week at Studio Theatre, and before the Queen’s run ends, we spoke with the passionate Bettis about adapting the story, her process and the influences she draws from.

On Tap: How did you select Miami as the backdrop for this modern take on a classic play?
Hilary Bettis: Queen of Basel was originally commissioned by Michel Hausmann at Miami New Drama, with the goal of taking a familiar classic text and reimagining it specifically for a diverse Miami audience. So the backdrop was part of the assignment. Most of America likes to brush poverty under the rug – we don’t like to look at it. We live in gated communities or “gentrifying” neighborhoods, trying to separate ourselves as much as possible, but in Miami it’s so in your face. You literally have homeless encampments across the street from million-dollar condos. After spending time in the city, Miami felt like the perfect setting to explore a modern-day take on a play about wealth, class and power in 2019 America.

OT: What was most difficult when creating Queen of Basel?
HB: [August] Strindberg. Full stop. Aside from the original Miss Julie written as a total fever dream with messy internal logic and structure, which made trying to build a plot complicated, I fundamentally disagree with Strindberg’s view of humanity. He viewed women through the Madonna-whore lens. He believed “white” male sexuality is the epitome of strength. In his author’s preface Strindberg says, “Miss Julie is a modern character. Not that the man-hating half-woman has not existed in all ages but because now that she has been discovered, she has come out in the open to make herself heard.” And, “Jean is superior to Miss Julie because he is a man. Sexually, he is an aristocrat because of his masculine strength.” And, in his reference to Kristine (who he calls the “female slave”), “if my minor characters seem abstract, it is because ordinary people are abstract in their occupations.”

I believe ordinary people are unique, complicated and deserving of dignity. I believe sexuality female or male – doesn’t define the character or value of a human being. I believe men are capable of vulnerability and gentleness. I believe women are capable of strength and intellectual ideas. I believe people are equal in their flaws, their need for intimacy and love, their desire to be seen and valued. I believe choice comes out of circumstances. If we can understand the reality of a person’s life, we can find empathy – especially in the darkness.

OT: What will audiences discover or re-contemplate about race and power through Queen of Basel?
HB: The responses to the play have been utterly fascinating. People either love it or don’t know how to process it. The play really digs into the fluidity and messiness and ambiguity of privilege. All of these characters have power in some ways and are oppressed in other ways. They’re all victims and perpetrators. The play is designed to make an audience uncomfortable. My hope is that discomfort sparks conversation.

OT: Why the Latinx influence?
HB: I’m Latinx – my mother is Chicana – so everything I write tends to be through that lens. I was commissioned to write a bilingual adaptation for a Miami audience – so embracing Cuban, Venezuelan, Haitian [and] Colombian communities felt necessary. I also think America tends to think of Latinx as a monolithic culture; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Imperialism, slavery, Jewish people fleeing Hitler, genocide against natives, dictators, death squads funded by the U.S. and the empires built on that heritage – also plagues much of Latin America. I wanted an audience to see the nuance and diversity of communities within Latinidad.

OT: How did you and José Zayas get connected and how has it been working with him on this project?
HB: José is my theater soulmate. We’ve know of each other for a few years now, always wanting to work together, but the timing was never right. We finally got to work together at the Alley Theatre’s All New Festival last January on this play. We connected and got each other right away. He understands my voice and what I’m really after in my work and he challenges me to dig deeper, he never lets me settle. He’s really an actor’s director who knows how to make everyone feel empowered.

OT: What did you learn or discover during your creative process?
HB: So, so, so much, I was literally rewriting up until opening. This play is an actor’s play – three people in a room for 75 minutes bearing their souls and flaws and vulnerabilities – I really wanted the cast to have a point of view and a voice in our entire process. We had a lot of conversations about power, gender, race [and] how we navigate that onstage. How we portray these people with empathy, while remaining honest about their flaws.

But what’s fascinating is how Julie’s wealth sort of erases everything else about her. Audience’s are much more likely to forgive John and Christine than Julie, even though Julie is in just as much pain and turmoil.

OT: How has the current immigration conflict impacted your storytelling in Queen of Basel?HB: Immigration is something I write about in almost all of my work. The history of America is the history of immigration, and each generation has its immigrant story. Because I set out to write for a Miami audience, understanding the conflict in Venezuela, Castro’s Cuba and Baby Doc’s Haiti were vital to understanding the very fabric of Miami. Michel Hausmann, who commissioned this, is a Venezuelan ex-pat who fled the country after his theater was tear-gassed by [Hugo] Chavez. His family were Jewish refugees fleeing their homeland. The cycles of oppression, how we wield it in small and large ways, is the spine of this play.

OT: Aside from Strindberg, where else did you draw inspiration for this story?
HB: Certainly my own life. I’m mixed, white and Mexican, so I often struggle with where I fit in the world. All three characters are juggling multiple identities, so that part is very visceral and personal. And I’m a woman, so misogyny is personal. All of my collaborators have inspired me.

Queen of Basel is showing at the Studio Theatre through April 7.  Tickets are $20-$97, and available here.

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

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Photo: Francisco Campos-Lopez

A Q&A With Washington Performing Art’s Jenny Bilfield On The Portals Of Art and More

Jenny Bilfield was once told to work as a receptionist and luckily for the DC area, she ignored this request. Instead, the President and CEO of Washington Performing Arts listened to the impactful women in her life telling her to be ambitious, develop a powerful work ethic and to channel her experiences along the way.

At the helm of the local art organization, Bilfield has steered toward community and education programs, ensuring people receive the same inspiration and motivation as she did in her formative years. We talked to Bilfield about her love for all things art, her trials and tribulations in the professional world and why it’s important for young people.

On Tap: How did you get your start in the arts?
Jenny Bilfield: I started playing the piano by ear when I was three, and composing when I was 10. I was the only person in my family with artistic ability, but my mother loved the arts, especially contemporary art, music, theater and so we attended everything. I’m sure my very early exposure and encouragement conditioned me to be open to a variety of art forms, sounds [and] environments.

OT: Why is art important to you and when did you know you wanted to have a career in the field?
JB: For me, the arts provide portals to history, emotion, experience, human understanding; they enlighten, engage, inspire [and] educate. I have learned so much through the work of great artists. Artists have an arsenal of tools to synthesize and express the complexity and beauty of our world in ways that engage the heart and mind, afresh. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the arts from the time I was pretty young – I decided when I was around 17 or 18, that I preferred making music happen (promoting and programming it) more than I liked the solitary confinement of a practice room. An internship coordinating a Beethoven Festival on Long Island one summer, clinched it for me.

OT: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
JB: I started working in 1985 in New York City – 20 years old, right out of college. I encountered a number of challenges early on: the assumption, from prospective employers (male) that I was going to work only until I met a man and got married. In addition, I was told I needed to choose a path, marketing, fundraising, PR, programming, etc., and that my desire to lead or run an organization was both unrealistic and hasty; organizational leadership wasn’t a track, they insisted. It took me a few years to actually run an organization, but I did have very interesting roles before I got to that point: coordinating special projects and programs for Merkin Concert Hall, working as Philip Glass’s assistant, etc. Several organizations I worked for early on weren’t especially large or stable, but I learned by doing and took some pretty important risks in order to develop my leadership chops and operational capacity across all areas of management and programming. I also developed a strong stomach for the organizational volatility that comes with working for a small institution.

OT: What are you most proud of achieving in your career? How do you set goals, and what are some that you’re working on now?
JB: A great question and opportunity to walk down memory lane! I am proud of the expansive work I’ve done on behalf of living composers – founding the New Music Orchestral Project and bringing 40 new works to life through performances and reading sessions; my leadership role at Boosey & Hawkes during, which I developed composer-focused initiatives and catalog acquisitions, partnerships that measurably grew our composers’ profiles, work and opportunities globally (and our overall catalog) while generating new revenue for the company to currently at Washington Performing Arts, developing programs (connecting mainstage, community-engagement and educational) that have provided artists with transformative platforms for their most special projects and facilitated deeper connections with audiences. I do this alongside a great team and with strong board support, and find it incredibly powerful to curate programs in DC, drawing upon the cultural resources and partnerships in this city. Those partnerships have enabled us to shine a spotlight on key themes and moments in American history – something we are aiming to do more of.

OT: What advice would you give to women pursuing careers in the arts?
JB: Personal advice: as you consider a life partner, be sure that the person you’re with is fully invested in your career and your success [because] this field requires a high level of work, life integration and if you’re on a leadership path there will be many demands placed upon your time. Professional advice: develop quantitative skills and be comfortable with data and numbers, even if you don’t expect to be a CFO or Marketing/Development Director. If invited to join a board, join the finance or governance committee; if you have experience in this area, you will be steps ahead of your peers whether you oversee programming, education or operations.

OT: Did you get any advice from someone when you were first beginning your journey?
JB: From two men – advice to work as a receptionist at an organization for several years and then apply for another entry level job within the organization; I did not take this advice. From several women: be ambitious, prepared, develop a good work ethic and use my experience.  This advice, I did take. I had quite a number of anti-role models, and quite a number of true role models. It’s important to meet and speak with a lot of people to see, hear what resonates.

OT: How is Washington Performing Arts working to empower women in the workplace and on the stage?  
JB: Our leadership team is 50 percent women (we have many on the wider staff, in fact), with a similar proportion on our board and junior board. We have a dynamic women’s committee too – and some of the most well-established, respected women in our field got their early start on the staff of Washington Performing Arts. On stage, we seek to foreground talent across many musical genres and styles and have found ample opportunities to highlight women – as performers, curators, composers, artists in residence.

OT: Why do you think arts education is important in schools?
JB: First and foremost, because I think arts exposure and participation enables us to access what is ambiguous, personal and very human in ourselves. The reason it’s important to have arts education within the schools (versus only as an extracurricular) is that when it’s included during the school day – as part of the curriculum – it becomes an educational priority, on par with other subjects. Whether its value is measured by social and emotional development of our children or by improvement in behavior or math skills, the arts can have a powerful impact.

OT: What excites you most in the DC arts scene right now?
JB: I really like my colleagues who are leading peer institutions and have found an abundance of creative, collaborative opportunities. Many of our institutions are committed to new work, arts education, and to forging meaningful relationships with community-based artists and organizations – social responsibility alongside a commitment to artistic excellence. So, it’s an interesting time to be in Washington as both artist and audience member.

For more information about Bilfield or Washington Performing Arts, visit www.washingtonperformingarts.com.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.