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Stage and Screen: August 2018

THROUGH SUNDAY, AUGUST 5

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

THROUGH SUNDAY, AUGUST 26

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

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3

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

FRIDAY, AUGUST 10 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 2

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

TUESDAY, AUGUST 14

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

TUESDAY, AUGUST 14 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

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

THURSDAY, AUGUST 16 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15

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

SUNDAY, AUGUST 26

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

Photo: Kitty Geoghan
Photo: Kitty Geoghan

A Day in the Life: Studio Theatre Literary Director Adrien-Alice Hansel

Imagine you’re handed a pile of plays. Hidden among them is the perfect story, waiting to be brought to life. Finding the next great piece for 14th Street’s Studio Theatre is just one of Adrien-Alice Hansel’s many responsibilities. On Tap sat down with Studio’s literary director to talk about her work, the DC theatre scene and what she enjoys doing in the city.

On Tap: What exactly does being a literary director entail on a daily basis?  
Adrien-Alice Hansel: I listen to our artistic director tell me the kind of work he wants to be doing in the next season and beyond, and then I reverse-engineer the process to get us there. I find projects to share with our literary committee, who review and discuss the work we’re considering. I have to understand what Studio is and does, and to understand what work is out there – both in the United States and internationally. I learn the work of many different writers and read their past work. Sometimes, we will even commission a play from a writer. I also do marketing and the initial publicity for each play. It’s a big, amazing job.

OT: Any other facets of the job that are particularly interesting?
AAH: I also work as what’s called a dramaturg, which means that for all of the shows of the season, my associate literary director Lauren Halverson [and I] get to know the play really well. [We get] to know the work of the writer and get deep into the world of the play. A piece set in 1838 but written in 1980 will have a different context now than it did in its initial run, and we have to understand that context.

OT: What makes Studio Theatre such a  unique space?
AAH: One great thing about Studio is that we have four spaces with 200 or fewer seats. It’s a big operation, but they’re all really intimate spaces so being able to hand that to a writer is an amazing privilege. Plays can speak at their own volume here – it can be quiet, it can be loud, it can be exuberant – and that’s one of the really wonderful and exciting things about my work.

OT: What are you looking for in a play that makes it a good fit for Studio?
AAH: Across the season, we’re looking for range. The kinds of work that we’re drawn to and that work well in our spaces are engaged and immediate. They reflect the contemporary world, and they’re somewhat political. We tend to do plays about people who are engaged in their lives and very affected by the outside world. They’re grappling with big questions. We do both dramas and comedies of character. We’re looking for plays that give you a ride and leave you with things to talk about. Our plays will give you a couple of ideas, a couple of perspectives. You’ll have felt your way through arguments on both sides. The “empathy gymnasium” of the theatre is a piece of what Studio does. You’re going to have fun, and you’re going to be up close with the actors on a journey.

OT: You’ve been at Studio for seven years. How has the DC theatre scene changed in your time there?
AAH: There was and there remains a passion for new work. There have always been great small theatre companies here, and I have definitely seen actors come through and move up. A lot of studios have started commissioning new work. There’s a sense of DC as a place, and theatre [companies] around the city are examining what it means to be in our nation’s capital in such an interesting intersection of different diaspora and communities. Increasingly, I see a lot of theaters engaging with questions of difference and inclusion, working to open the eyes of the mainstream theaters to the talent that is here.

OT: Has Studio changed along with the local scene?
AAH: At Studio, we’re asking aggressive questions about who is and isn’t on our stages and attending our plays – who used to be in our neighborhood and who isn’t here anymore. There’s a lot of work to do, and I think that plays are the best when the audience is different from each other. The thing that happens in theatre that I haven’t seen anywhere else is that when your audience is a mixed group of people, one group’s response to what’s happening onstage can teach the other.

OT: What plays from Studio’s 2018-2019 season are you most excited about?
AAH: Cry It Out [begins November 14] is about parenting. The main characters are these two new moms, and it’s a very, very funny play about how parenting looks different depending on your class. If I Forget [begins September 12] is set in DC in the early 2000s and is about Jewish identity as well as life in DC – and the 14th Street corridor itself. Queen of Basel [begins next March] is set in Miami and is a new version of Miss Julie by August Strindberg. Each of the main characters have a connection to the Caribbean or South America, and it’s about power, race and desire. And finally, there’s another new work called P.Y.G. [begins next April] about a boy band rock star who hires two musicians from a hip-hop group called Petty Young Goons to toughen up his image, all on reality TV. It’s a play about race, appropriation and the consequences of trying to tell your story.

OT: What do you like to do in DC when you’re not working?
AAH: I have two kids so that dictates a lot of my free time. DC is excellent on so many fronts. It doesn’t have the reputation that it should for its art scene. Big, small, culturally specific – it’s all here. As a parent, so much stuff is free, so you can take your kids to see so much and it’s close to nature. I grew up barefoot in back yards and fields. You can do that in Rock Creek Park in small ways or go outside the city easily and do that. Everything from the Kennedy Center to the Atlas [Performing Arts Center] is within reach. And as a side note, the coffee shops here are truly top notch.

OT: Do you like to go see plays by yourself, or do you prefer to go with other people?
AAH: I don’t have a strong preference. But if you go with me, we will definitely talk about it – but only after when we’re in a private place. I prefer to be incognito.

Learn more about Hansel’s work and Studio Theatre’s 2018-2019 season at www.studiotheatre.org.

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

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

50 Ways… Proves Heartfelt and Hilarious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arena Stage Presents World Premiere of Dave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

capital fringe

Stage and Screen: July 2018

THROUGH SATURDAY, JULY 7

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

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

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

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 8

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

TUESDAY, JULY 10 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

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

MONDAY, JULY 16

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

THURSDAY, JULY 19

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

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 22

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

SATURDAY, JULY 28

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

Photo: Doug Hamilton
Photo: Doug Hamilton

Give In to The Temptations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Séamus Miller
Photo: Séamus Miller

A Sneak Peek at Work in Progress Tyrant

True to their mission to “Make Space for Art,” the nonprofit organization, CulturalDC, invited the public to a series of workshops at the Source Theatre’s 100-person black box space to provide feedback on the thought-provoking original play, Tyrant, written by Kathleen Akerley.

Tyrant follows the theatrical trend of law induced alternate realities similar to Hulu’s reworking of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and HBO’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

Set in the United States, 40 years after the enacting of legislation that presumably solves the homeless crisis across the country, Tyrant explores the power dynamics that come when the ultra-wealthy force homeless citizens to work in exchange for lodging. Eliciting woeful calls from onlookers, the theme parallels the prison-industrial system enforced today in hundreds of for-profit prisons nationwide. Overflowing with racial and class-based oppression, Tyrant challenges viewers to evaluate their roles in the ongoing systemic oppression.

This particular workshop was a reading which allowed commenting, questioning, and a restructuring of roles, per the audience’s recommendation, after Act One. The goal was to explore scene functionality “when racial demographics are altered” according to CulturalDC.

With three “Actuals” and two “Maestros” name tags on seats across the intimate stage, scene one opens with a glacial-like air (both figuratively and literally), foreshadowing unfortunate actions to follow.

Martin, a maestro, is the homeowner played by a Caucasian male. He is a wealthy man (the source of his wealth is unknown) who has manifested upwards of 10 Actuals from the “Center” to perform certain tasks in his home. He has a chef, two massage therapists, nurses, drivers and a therapist.

His persona straddles the line between a sympathetic endearing supervisor and a threatening manipulative tyrant.

Shown interacting with Martin in act one are two Actuals; Leon and Regina, Martin’s massage therapists. Leon is played by a Caucasian male and Regina is played by a female of African descent.

Martin’s wealth is quickly obvious, as he lavishes himself with daily massage treatments, on each occasion sharing his dreams with Leon and Regina. Each session reveals a bizarre dream while they rub away the tension formed from a long day of no labor.

Regina and Leon have differing experiences prior to being placed with Martin. Regina, presumably in her mid-twenties, grew up in the Center where Actuals are raised and trained to work for Maestros. From birth, she was taught the laws of servitude and obedience. Whereas Leon, of a similar age, was raised by his mother until her sudden disappearance, before eventually becoming an Actual as well.

Both are happy and thankful to work in Martin’s home, as the Maestro provides lodging, food, clothing and even a small degree of companionship. Still, ambivalence weighs down the pair as they try to obey each law perfectly. Otherwise, their utmost fear of being reassigned or returned to the Center is unavoidable.

In this complex alternate reality, the laws are comprehensive but oppressive. The law surfacing continually prohibits Actuals from thinking or pretending as though they are not Actuals. They must always be an Actual, never aspiring to be anything more. Once an Actual, forever an Actual; they cannot purchase freedom, and there is no expiration for servitude.

Another law that echoes from the intercoms for all to hear is silence-time, which happens sporadically and ranges 5-10 hours a day. This period is a relevant restriction geared to ensure Actuals enjoy adequate rest to guarantee their ability to perform their jobs. During this time they must not talk, work or perform any other activity.

Their ability to work is fundamental to their involvement in the program. Similar to solitary confinement for those with behavioral problems in prison, if they do not work, they must return to the Center for correcting.

Fortunately, the laws not only apply to Actuals. Maestros have their own set of regulations to abide by once they’ve acquired and manifested an Actual. Maestros cannot make Actuals uncomfortable, and inflicting pain is prohibited. Instead, Maestros provide reports detailing their experience and all incidents that transpire. Any violation found leads to the immediate removal of Actuals and the expulsion of the Maestros in question.

It is clear an attempt was made to form a utilitarian society harvesting the labor found in slavery but without its cruelty and violence. But with absolute power, absolute corruption follows.

In the case of Tyrant, the oppression of the homeless population is overt proof of corruption. Many implicit tactics are used to facilitate tyranny, such as the restriction on education. The rationale for restricting slaves’ educational development was that if slaves could read, they could aspire and plot to be more than slaves. Though Actuals can read, access to real-world experiences and knowledge is restricted.

In a particular daunting scene, Regina injures herself on a scolding hot tea kettle, unlawfully gifted by Leon. Once confronted by Martin, due to her inability to massage him, it’s evident Regina had no conception of healing. During an exhausting exchange between Martin and Regina, where Martin attempts to manipulate Regina to strike fear in her, he eludes to her inability to perform her job. With this proclamation, she ascertains her hand-use will never be regained and begins to spiral, as the fear of returning to the Center is upon her.

After the close of act one, playwright Akerley asked the audience if they would like to see any actors in a different role. She forewarns the audience, disclosing sexually violent graphic scenes are to occur in the second act. Which led one individual to ask that the female actor, playing Regina, be removed. She was reassigned to the role of Martin, after an understudy praised her portrayal of the character from previous performances. The audience member explains the reasoning behind his recommendation, sharing his discomfort with “seeing” harm done to a woman of African descent by a white male, explaining it “hits too close to home.”

With Regina cast as a Caucasian female and Martin a woman of African descent, the second act continues without skipping a beat.

Once the show concluded and the heinous sexual act transpired, comments and questions poured from the audience.

One woman asked, “What is the ideal audience you see watching your play?” Akerley responded, “white middle and upper-middle class,” with the purpose of inciting a reaction or sense of responsibility to resolve systemic racial and class-based oppression.

Audience members questioned the inclusion of violent sexual acts, suggesting this form of assault is heavy handed.  To counteract both claims offered by these individuals, another actor proposes their inability to address or confront oppressive acts against minorities (women and people of color) further perpetuates the cycle of injustice. Because we live in a society where crimes persist against those presumed to be at the lower end of these power dynamics, there is a need for dramatic portrayals reinforcing that progress is still needed.

On a later call, Akerley explains the importance of race in the production of this piece of work. Reminiscing about a 2014 field production in Chicago, where an entirely Caucasian, and outstanding, cast provoked a lackluster conversation. She recalls conversations about the legality of legislation and the potential enactment of this law, rather than the treatment of marginalized individuals and the stripping of fundamental liberties like freedom, love and prosperity.

Akerley hopes future producers will cast the play in a way that “make[s] conversations productive.” She feels it is her obligation, as a playwright, to make audiences uncomfortable, yet willing to grapple with and confront the disparities produced by society.

Tyrant is in the final editing stages and will premiere in a DC theater in 2019. To see upcoming Longacre Lea productions, visit here and to learn more about CulturalDC events at visit here.

Photo: Courtesy of atlasarts.org
Photo: Courtesy of atlasarts.org

An Iliad Brings Epic Poetry to the Modern Age

The Poet begins by reaching for something that might help him recall the details of the story of Achilles and his historic battle against Hector of Troy. He extends his arms, grasping toward the audience, to no avail. After a crestfallen sigh, he begins his invocation to the Muses, not unlike those epic poets of old. He asks them for their blessing in retelling this story, and seeks their inspiration to help him recall the details of this woeful tale of man’s rage. The Poet’s petition to the Muses must have brought on blessings in real life, considering the expertise with which this tale was so beautifully and carefully told.

Iason Togias, our Poet and only source of information, does a fantastic job of giving the epic tale context our modern society can easily relate to. His incredible range of expression helps illustrate the many emotions the characters in this play experience, from impatience, pride, heartbreak, victory, despondency and everything in between.

Matt Chilton was our Muse, who without a word, perfectly punctuated the poetic dialogue with tidbits from his double bass, coupled with wayward glances at the audience and a knowing exchange with the Poet here and there.

An Iliad was carried on words and gesture alone; a case in point being that the only scene in this play was a study setting, with a desk, a chair, a globe and some books strewn about. By the time the play is over, you hardly even noticed the backdrop because Togias’ arresting performance has given you a guided tour around the city of Troy.

Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare took on the arduous task of adapting a frequently studied work of classic literature and made it even more relatable than the best college lecturer could (and you can take my word for that, since my only experience with this story comes from that very setting).

Since the work was originally published and first performed five years ago, director Conor Bagley had to make some additions to give us the most current iteration of events. This particular version of the story even incorporated a reference to Flint, Michigan in regards to the composition of the Greek army. The idea behind it was to illustrate the various backgrounds of the soldiers in the army. As one of few people of color in the intimate black box theater setting, it took on added significance of asserting that there were, in fact, people like myself living, existing and participating in these environments (a fact that is often , unfortunately, glossed over in modern interpretations of works like these).

Another particularly captivating moment was when Togias recited every single war known to have taken place in the world (which must have been a real feat to memorize), just to prove a point about how widespread and, unfortunately, uncommon it is to feel the effects of war and to experience the profound rage and grief that Achilles and Hector both felt in their battle.

The play was especially relatable, even with my boyfriend and I’s limited experience with Homer’s original work, because the dialogue (or monologue if you don’t believe in breaking the fourth wall) appealed to a range of human emotion which is timeless in its potency. It had the air of a much-needed crash course in Greek mythology but still referenced lots of current events (like the conflict in Israel, for example).

Though the play will soon conclude its run, I would definitely keep my eyes peeled for future productions by any member of the cast and crew of this stunning performance.

An Iliad will be showing at Atlas Performing Arts Center the show until June 9. Tickets are $15-$25 and can be purchased here.

Atlas Performance Arts Center: 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002; www.atlasarts.org

Photo: Wilson Chin
Photo: Wilson Chin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woolly Mammoth Botticelli in the Fire

Stage and Screen: The Remains, The Tempest and More

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 9

An Iliad
The Iliad is one of Homer’s great tales, culminating in a heartbreaking battle between Prince Hector of Troy and Brad Pi…I mean Achilles, one of the greatest warriors in fictional history (any time your name becomes nomenclature for a pesky body part, you know you’re a legend). Conor Bagley’s version at Atlas Arts is a modern retelling, settling on a more personal story between the two powerful mortals. While the description throws a ton of adjectives to focus on, the one highlighted heavily is that of rage and why the intoxicating feeling is so hard to control but easy to unleash. Tickets are $15-$25. Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab 1: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 16

Laugh Index Theatre’s Annual Comedy Festival
This festival is a smorgasbord of comedy, featuring a variety of acts from all over the country. Over the course of a few weeks, and at several venues, there will be improv teams, sketch teams, musical comedy, stand-up (duh) and podcasts all dedicated to making you laugh. So no matter what tickles your fancy, your funny bone will be scratched (no not the area on your arm, don’t be weird). Performances at various locations. Ticket prices vary. LIT Annual Comedy Festival: Various locations around Washington, DC; www.laughindextheatre.com

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 24

Botticelli in the Fire
What do artists do when faced with a populist takeover of the societies their work reflects? There’s no right or wrong answer, as those kinds of regimes often are accompanied by attempts to censor or deride anything seen as contentious. Does this sound relevant? Yeah, that’s what Woolly Mammoth’s Botticelli in the Fire wants you to take away, as it draws comparisons to the current political climate and that of the famed artist during the populist revolution in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Florence. Faced with numerous choices throughout, Botticelli must make decisions with no easy answers. Tickets are $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net 

The Remains
Yes, The Remains does sound like the title of a straight-to-video knockoff of HBO’s The Leftovers (fun fact: Nick Cage actually stars in this very thing, a little remake titled Left Behind), but Studio Theatre’s play is anything but. Instead of a story centered around people vanishing into thin air (*snap*), this story focuses on the 10-year marriage of Kevin and Theo, who host a dinner party to celebrate their newly renovated condo. As families tend to upon gathering together for an occasion, philosophy and truth come to the forefront, pulling the curtain on their thought-to-be perfect union. Learn more about the production in Keith Loria’s story on page 6. Tickets start at $20. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 1

The Tempest
A classic comedy by the classic hitmaker William Shakespeare, The Tempest is a veteran of the theatre scene and one which commands a certain respect. I have little doubt the folks at Avant Bard will deliver the show with their own offbeat twist. The story is filled with love and magic and of course, riddled with conflict. It wouldn’t be a Shakespeare special if it didn’t also contain a smidge of tragedy as well. Tickets are $30-$35. The Gunston Arts Center: 2700 S. Lang St. Arlington, VA; www.wscavantbard.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6 – SATURDAY, JUNE 23

Switch
If you thought the most intriguing body-switching tales involved those of kids and their parents (as seen too many times in pop culture, so excuse me for not listing), you’re wrong. Switch takes the premise and flips it on its head, as the story involves a couple who wake up in one another’s bodies following sex. What follows is the two deciding to explore their boundaries with their gender-fluid friend Lark. Written by Brett Abelman and directed by Megan Behm, this play depicts a world “where sex, gender and sexuality intertwine.” Tickets are $25. Trinidad Theatre at Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 22

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
The Temptations are arguably one of the greatest musical acts of all time, so it’s nice to see their story get the recognition it deserves as Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations comes to the Kennedy Center this month. The performance is biographical in nature, following the five young men who would eventually emerge from Detroit, Michigan as The Temptations. The play was penned by Dominique Morisseau and features hits like “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Tickets start at $59. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 – SUNDAY, JUNE 24

RebollarDance
Erica Rebollar returns to DC to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her works with a new piece titled Variations. According to Dance Place, this piece is a meditation on the choreographic method, or theme and variation. All that being said, this seems like a very meta dance piece, as the focus is about the construction of an actual dance choreography. Though art about art can sometimes be confusing for neophytes, this performance is likely to avoid the possible pitfalls and be enjoyable for all. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org