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Photo: Zack DeZon
Photo: Zack DeZon

A Day in the Life: Maria Manuela Goyanes

There won’t be an ice age at Woolly Mammoth anytime soon. The theatre company’s new artistic director, Maria Manuela Goyanes, is DC’s latest creative transplant from New York. She’s bringing a decades-long theatre career and her first-generation, Latinx-American perspective to champion Woolly’s inclusive mission and edgy productions.

While artistic direction usually entails reviewing performance options for the upcoming season and executing creative decisions, my interview with Goyanes was one of her many scheduled meetings during the first few weeks in her new role. On our call, intermittent laughter made its way between her words. She answered immediately and honestly – and without taking herself too seriously. But Goyanes is absolutely serious about her passion for Woolly and what it means to succeed the company’s co-founder, Howard Shalwitz.

On Tap: What do you think has really prepared you for this role?
Maria Manuela Goyanes: Does anyone ever feel really prepared? [Laughs] I think I stand on the shoulders of giants, there’s no question [about] that. I think one of the things that makes me uniquely connected to Woolly and [our] mission is that I have both the experimental, innovation side with the work that I did with 13P [Thirteen Playwrights, Inc.], which is a playwrights’ collective, coupled [with] having been at the Public Theater for 15 years.

OT: What aspects of a story are you immediately drawn to when selecting productions for the upcoming season?
MMG: I’m looking for two different things. The first is trying to push the art form, so plays that are really  interesting, exciting or new – pushing the aesthetics [or] experimenting with an idea in terms of structure or language. But then on the other side, I’m also really looking for something that is going to be challenging or provocative to an audience. The reason why I feel so aligned with Woolly Mammoth – I’m really pinching myself, I’m the luckiest person in the world to have this job – is because I am a huge fan of all of the writers that Woolly has [featured].

OT: What’s different about your perspective and influence at Woolly compared to your predecessor, Howard Shalwitz?
MMG: I love Howard, and this has been the smoothest transition probably in the history of American theatre. But I will say, I am  a short Latina from New York! [Laughs] What I experience and how I walk through the world is very different from Howard. I think that my perspective is going to stem from my own life and what I care about. Who gets to tell what story? Does it really reflect the world around us? Is it pushing the boundaries of theatre and what people expect? How can we make the biggest impact?

I’m really excited about the mission statement of Woolly. It’s about galvanizing artists and audiences. “Galvanizing” is so powerful and aspirational, and something for us to live up to and attempt to make happen for every single one of our shows and every single one of our experiences.

OT: I’m also a first-generation American, and it’s exciting to interview someone with this identity who is making an impact.
MMG: It’s important for me that people know I do identify as a first-generation American. It’s a big wave, a big change happening in the American theatre and culture right now, and my hope is that the people who are leading these arts organizations all across the country are going to start to reflect the diversity of the country. I know that I am part of that wave, and I feel that responsibility and the excitement about that too.


Maria Can’t Live Without

Her husband and partner Dave
He keeps everything real for me with his witty sense of humor.

FaceTime
This is how I stay in touch with everyone I love, especially my family in NYC, Spain and the Dominican Republic.  

Theatre
Some of the most transformative experiences of my life have been in theatre. I believe in the power of theatre to deeply impact our lives and shape our relationship to the world around us. 

Producing
I love connecting people and artists, creating events and works of art, and generally making sh-t happen. It’s in my bones. The possibilities are endless! 

Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother
I began meditating because of her books. Her words ground and center me. I actually bought 100 of her books to give as gifts to my favorite people. You know I like you if you get a Pema Chödrön book.


OT: Why is it important to be a leader in the DC theatre scene?
MMG: I am just now getting to know the DC theater scene. I just had a great dinner with [Arena Stage Artistic Director] Molly Smith, who is the bomb. Everyone has been so welcoming and generous with their time and words, so it’s made me really excited to be here and get to know everybody. It feels like a really tight-knit community, which is exciting too. I’m going to be doing a lot of listening and getting to know the artistic community [and] the people in our audience, and understanding what it is about DC’s arts and culture [scene] that might be missing that we need to tap into. Woolly stands for being alternative to the mainstream, and the mainstream is starting to do more provocative plays. How can Woolly stay at the vanguard and leading edge of provocative, challenging and explosive work?

OT: Tell me about Woolly’s October production of The Fever by theatre experimentalists 600 HIGHWAYMEN.
MMG: It is a [performance] that the audience actually has to participate in to create. I think there’s some people who think of that interactivity as really scary. There is nothing difficult, embarrassing or confessional about what [the audience does]. It is actually about the power of the collective and our humanity and responsibility toward each other. It’s beautiful. It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced and I’m so excited to bring this to Washington, DC right now. It’s not just about changing minds but also changing hearts. What this piece is attempting to do is lead from the heart before leading from the head, and that is a really interesting thing to experiment with.

The Fever runs from October 23 to November 4. Tickets are $20-$35. Learn more about the daring production, and the rest of Woolly’s
2018-2019 season, at www.woollymammoth.net.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; 202-393-3939; www.woollymammoth.net

Artwork: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Artwork: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

STC Opens 2018 Season with Slapstick Farce The Comedy of Errors

The gang is back together may not be the first phrase that comes to mind when describing a collective of esteemed players teeming with talent who’ve reassembled for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s season opener. But when speaking with director Alan Paul about his casting decisions for The Comedy of Errors, it sounds more like a family reunion than a formal process.

“It feels like a family of people,” he says. “I think the secret of the show is that when you get people that know each other, as well as this group knows each other and has that level of comfort and trust, it’s so much easier to be funny and collaborate.”

STC’s associate artistic director saw the remounting of this early Shakespeare comedy, also part of the company’s 2005-2006 season, as “a joyful way to bring back a lot of people that I have loved and that have been important to the audience.” Paul is particularly sentimental about the start of this season as it marks artistic director Michael Kahn’s last one with the company after 32 years. To him, it only seemed fitting to bring together some of the actors Kahn handpicked over the years to celebrate his storied career.

Paul’s production of The Comedy of Errors, at Lansburgh Theatre from September 25 to October 28, is a madcap comedy about identical twin brothers who have been separated. One brother goes on a seven-year journey to find the other, and ultimately all hell breaks loose in some absurd cases of mistaken identity. While meant to make you laugh, the director says the premise of the play is actually not funny.

“If you think about the need to find your other half, it’s an extraordinary way to begin the play,” he says. “There’s such a depth to it. I hope I capture something that is deep and real about what happens to these people, because I think the end of the play should make you cry. I just feel that underneath the comedy of this play is something really real that motivates it.”

Paul’s connection to the play goes one level deeper, as he too is a twin. He says the remarkable thing about twins is you’re always at the exact same level of development as another person. Even now as adults, he and his sister understand each other in a way that’s completely foreign to the outside world.

“It’s such an interesting play, and I think I understand it on a deep level because I’m a twin. The dramaturg [Dr. Drew Lichtenberg] who helped me put the script together is also a twin. So we have two sets of twins working on the show.”

Beyond the twin coincidences, another unique element of this remounting is Paul’s desire to make everyone in the play “a little bit more mature” than the last time around. He’s also drawing from his experience directing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for STC several years ago, as both plays are based on works by ancient Roman playwright Plautus and include elements of slapstick and even vaudevillian humor.

In Paul’s version of The Comedy of Errors, the players will navigate chaos in 1960s Greece. He’s asked composer and lyricist Michael Dansicker to write a half-dozen songs for the show; in the past month, they’ve been collaborating on a song for both the opening scene and the courtesan, as well as a big number for the different policemen in the show.

Perhaps the only part of the Bard’s comedy he’s not changing is his lead, Gregory Wooddell. The seasoned actor and STC-affiliated artist played the same role of Antipholus of Syracuse for the company more than a decade ago, but he says his approach this time around will be fresh.

“One of the reasons I’m drawn to doing the role again after 13 years is that I feel like I’ve grown as an actor,” Wooddell says. “I’m personally excited to attack it with a lot more experience and wisdom under my belt. I think I’ve got new ideas, and I think I can bring a greater clarity to the role and the language.”

He describes the play as a classic comedy, with a straightforward plotline that’s very accessible to an audience that might normally shy away from Shakespeare. The actor also loves the fact that he’s getting paid to tap into his silly side on a daily basis.

“It’s a treat to be able to work on a play like this where you get to show up for work and try to get people to laugh. But as wacky and madcap as it can get, we have a really accomplished cast that I can’t wait to work with.”

Wooddell and Paul both mention the bad rap the comedy sometimes gets, often disregarded as a lesser play for being one of Shakespeare’s earlier works.

“There’s a sensibility about the play that it’s unsophisticated, and I disagree with that,” Wooddell says.

Paul agrees, saying that the fifth act of The Comedy of Errors is just as perfect, whole and deep as the fifth act of Twelfth Night or The Tempest.

“I hope what I can evoke in the show besides the humor, which will be there, is that the play has elements of what you see later on in [Shakespeare’s] plays about families coming back together,” the director says. “It is about the need to belong to a family and what length you will go to make yourself whole by finding your family. That’s the whole thing and the whole satisfaction of it. It’s a theme that Shakespeare came back to all the time.”

From universal themes to a 90-minute, no-intermission run time, Paul is crafting a production to engage millennial theatergoers as much as any other audience. Most importantly, though, he’s hoping to give us a much-needed break from the outside world.

“For all of us that go home and turn the news on every night and have to grapple with the chaos of this modern world, I want to give the audience 90 minutes of just pure joy to forget about all the nonsense going on today and just have a good time.”

The Comedy of Errors runs from September 25 to October 28 at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. Tickets are $44-$118.

Check www.shakespearetheatre.org for details about special nights and discounts.

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

Small Mouth Sounds

Stage and Screen: September 2018

Through Sunday, September 23

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

Monday, September 3 – Sunday, September 30

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

Tuesday, September 4 – Sunday, September 23

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

Thursday, September 6 – Sunday, September 16

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

Friday, September 7

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

Saturday, September 15

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

Tuesday, September 18 – Sunday, November 11

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

Friday, September 21 – Sunday, October 21

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

Wednesday, September 26

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

Photo: Margot Schulman
Photo: Margot Schulman

Signature Theatre Stirs Actors and Audiences with Passion

While an iconic work in the pantheon of Stephen Sondheim’s contributions to musical theatre, Passion is admittedly not an airy, feel-good musical. The hour-and-50-minute, one-act play asks much of its actors and its audiences as it tells the timeless story of wavering between the love of two different people.

The new production, at Signature Theatre through September 23, is staged to mirror a runway. The audience will be split down the middle, facing one another while absorbing the characters’ anguish as they’re torn between multiple outcomes throughout the play.

The musical, which made its debut in 1994 and holds the title of shortest-running show to win a Tony Award for Best Musical, is based on the recounting of an Italian author’s affair with an ailing woman while he served in the military. Giorgio (Claybourne Elder) swings from a dangerous pendulum between his carefully arranged relationship with his beautiful – and married – mistress Clara (Steffanie Leigh) and the allure of the reclusive, plain Fosca (Natascia Diaz).

Signature Theatre Associate Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner brings an intimacy and fierce intensity to the production, challenging audiences to face themselves and their perceptions of physical beauty. Every decision feels very deliberate, from splitting the stage in half to emphasize Giorgio’s gravitation toward both women to the unmoving lens on his transformation over the course of the play as the actor never once leaves the stage.

“It’s very dynamic,” says Diaz (West Side Story, Threepenny Opera) of the play’s staging. “It already denotes one side and another – and being pulled in multiple directions. That is the dynamic. Giorgio is being pulled between these two women. It visually exists in a physical format that enhances that energy. Matthew is able to make things that are tangible and real, but it has this ethereal quality to it.”

At first blush, the intricacies of the story may seem dated. A sickly, homely Fosca isolates herself from her surroundings and lives vicariously through books. Giorgio takes a military post far away from his beautiful Clara, but the lovers stay connected through impassioned letters. Though Passion is set in the 19th century, the painful missteps of romance and navigating the concept of monogamy are still very much familiar to us in 2018. As Elder (Sunday in the Park with George, Bonnie and Clyde) prepared for his role, he too found the subject matter relatable.

“The novel was written in 1870 and as I read it, I thought to myself, ‘What a fascinating mediation on love and obsession, affection and passion,’” Elder says. “I’ve definitely found myself in the novel – like, ‘I have done that before, I have felt that way about a person before’ – which is very interesting. The feelings behind it all are every bit as contemporary as they would have been in the 1800s.”

Fosca is widely regarded as one of the most unlikeable characters in modern theatre, making it a complex role for any actor. But much like Elder, Diaz looked past the surface and found common ground with the young woman, physical and emotional afflictions and all. While preparing to take on what she called the largest role she’s ever played, Diaz says she grew to feel as though she knew Fosca.

“I looked at the page and thought, ‘I could have written this,’ meaning that I understand her completely. I not only understand her, but I love her. It’s the strangest thing to play a character as large and as previously judged as this. It’s just like any other slander case. They don’t know her until they’ve read it and seen what’s at the center of her soul.”

The polarizing nature of Fosca lies not as much in her physical unattractiveness as it does in the fact that she embodies “pure, unadulterated feeling.” At the heart of the play, though, is Giorgio’s struggle between two women, two ways of life, his head and his heart.

The audience’s disdain for Fosca may be the initial visceral reaction, but the production holds another element that makes Giorgio’s role equally if not more so emotionally taxing. As the common thread that binds every character in Passion together, it makes sense to have Elder remain onstage for the entire performance – though the impressive feat does have its own physical and emotional challenges for the actor.

“What Giorgio learns in this play is astonishing and very profound,” Elder says. “I connect to it greatly and I find it very emotional, and therefore it’s hard. As actors, it costs something emotionally every time you do a play. You give a piece of yourself to it. I’m grateful this run is only a few months, because living in this for a long time would be very challenging. I would need a lot of therapy. It challenges me to really face myself.”

For audiences who are ready to experience a production that asks questions both timeless and timely, Signature is ready to take you on a journey in their intimate, inventive black-box space. You may learn something about yourself right alongside Giorgio.

Passion is not a show that gets done very often in regional theatre, because it’s not a big draw,” he continues. “It’s complicated, it’s emotional, it’s dark at times. It’s not a laugh-a-minute night out, so you need an audience that’s going to get excited and support it. I have absolutely no doubt that [Signature] is the best possible place to do this show. I feel very, very lucky to get to be a part of this.”

Stephen Sondheim’s Passion runs through September 23 at Signature Theatre. Tickets are $40-$104. Pride Night is September 7, Discussion Night is September 12 and Open Captioning will be held on September 16. Learn more at www.sigtheatre.org.

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

Photo: Anna Moneymaker
Photo: Anna Moneymaker

Post Shift Theatre Shines Light on Service Industry Artists

When a group of workers in the service and hospitality industries gathered in the back of a Northeast DC distillery to perform a series of 10-minute plays the evening of August 27, it was with every intention of playing on the actor-waiter cliché.

Post Shift Theatre held their annual A Night of New Works at Republic Restoratives. Tickets sold for $10 each and the back of the bar was packed with viewers for both showings. This year’s theme for the plays was temperature – an idea chosen for its multiple meanings to different kinds of service workers.

“We spent a lot of time thinking of important words in the service industry and were really interested in ‘temperature’ because of all of the things that it could mean in a kitchen,” said artistic director Clancey Yovanovich.

“That kind of customization was something we wanted to hone in on and explore the entire spectrum of heat, from very cold to very hot, and what that means to people.”

The event included six 10-minute performances, ranging from comedic to serious in tone and dialogue. Some plays used the theme literally while others explored the idea of temperature in relationships both familial and romantic.

Each play was an interesting take on the idea of temperature and its multitude of meanings but the night could have used a little more cohesion, especially with the transitions from comedy to more serious and back again.

Despite that, actors were able to transform the large room, dominated by heavy machinery and a unique smell, into whichever setting their performance required – be it a hip bar, a cluttered home of recently divorced parents or an emergency room. Each performance managed to establish a setting with a clever, minimal use of props.

According to Yovanovich, Post Shift Theatre’s goal is to continue performing in more nontraditional spaces that emphasize the theatre company’s deliberate connection to the service industry.

“There’s so, so many artists secretly hiding in aprons in restaurants and we want to explore that too,” Yovanovich said.

These spaces do provide their own challenges, however. The performance would have benefited from some sort of microphone usage to amplify the actors’ voices above both the occasional intrusive sounds of distillery machinery and even above the lively and engaged audience members themselves. While most actors were able to project, some of the quieter moments were lost in a vast room that was probably not designed with performance in mind.

Regardless of the kinks, Post Shift provides entertainment for both fans of local theatre and supporters of those in the service industry, as well as representation for the artists who inhabit both worlds.

Keep up with the theatre company’s events and news on Post Shift Theatre’s Facebook page

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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