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Evan Daves (Melchior) and Cristina Sastre (Wendla) // Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Round House Theatre Delivers Intimate Spring Awakening

Round House Theatre is in the midst of an ambitious run of Spring Awakening – the now revered Tony-winning musical adaptation of a once-shunned play turned cult classic – directed by Alan Paul.

When playwright Frank Wedekind introduced Spring’s Awakening, A Children’s Tragedy to Germany in 1891, he ignited scandal and censorship that carried through to 1917 when an English-language production in New York was shut down after only one run. 

Why? Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening called attention to the injustices inflicted on generations of youth at the hand of a draconian society, with open condemnation of sexual repression, physical and emotional abuse, and antiquated educational systems. 

Revived in 1999 as a musical with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, the new Spring’s Awakening was well-received by a relatively more “woke” audience, but one not unfamiliar with nor immune to the original play’s commentary and its characters’ struggles. 

In a book that is overloaded with every kind of struggle possible – incest, potential rape, suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, death, ignorance, child abuse – it is a delicate balance that must be attained to ensure your audience isn’t simply overwhelmed. 

Paralleling the stubborn persistence of the play itself and its enduring themes, we lose sense of time during Paul’s production – not a flaw, but rather a nod to his successful creative direction. For example, the wayward bohemian Isla is skillfully handled such that we never know whether she ever really existed among the other children, or rather as one of those theatrical spectors meant to ferry us through the ephemera of time and space that is at once Victorian-era Germany, contemporary America, the stage, and our own real lives. The Roundhouse rendition runs through February 23. 

Tonya Beckman (Adult Women), too, functions as a touchstone. It is perhaps ironic that while Beckman’s character is meant to represent repression and/or willful ignorance, her familiar dynamism guides and balances the rest of the young cast’s green energy. 

There’s not a bad seat to be had in the newly renovated Round House. Updates to the stage including a mechanically rotating floor offer the players opportunities to effectively explore movement, choreography and attention, which is ultimately this production’s greatest strength.

There is value in playing a piece that illuminates eternal aspects of the human condition. But the mere fact of timelessness does not grant abdication from responsibility to progress. That doesn’t come in the form of a pop-punk score, Doc Martens and dyed hair. Instead, for the show, Paul brought on Lorraine Ressegger-Sloan as the team’s Intimacy Coordinator.

Ressegger-Sloan’s work is part of a growing trend seen in theaters across the country, wherein rather than being told to embody the physical and emotional state of a character, actors are being taught how to convey emotion through physicality in a way that protects them from potential trauma. 

Having worked for several years as a movement director, predominantly with women and female-identifying actors on work that was intimate in nature, Ressegger-Sloan says becoming a Theatrical Intimacy Educator was a natural progression and that her role is twofold. 

She serves as an asset to the choreography team, ensuring movements are repeatable, safe and specific, and that actors are consenting to the work – making important distinctions of work on stage as, for example, simulated sex scenes, not sex scenes. She also functions as a kind of HR for actors.

“I’m there to help them articulate and set boundaries, to be an advocate for them, to voice any issues that may arise for them to the production team. I’m holding the space and making it as safe as possible, knowing that it will never be completely safe, holding myself and everyone else accountable. In this way we build a ‘brave’ space so that we get to a place where people are comfortable being uncomfortable,” says Ressegger-Sloan. 

This work translates, too, to the audience’s experience of the performance. In considering the gaze, and expectations of performance, Ressegger-Sloan is able to help the performers navigate what it means to challenge the idea of consent, for example. Who is consenting to be seen, in what way, and when? 

“Break down the audience’s expectations is the most important part of getting the truth and allows the audience to also bask in the truth of that moment,” she says. To accomplish this she incorporates a lot of breathwork. “We use breath and expectation in a way so we can have the audience on the ride with us, but we’re [in control]. How can a physical movement convey an emotion?”

In this way, actors are freed from the intimidation of chemistry and considering how much of themselves they’ll have to give away – which can be especially important to a young cast experiencing scenes intimate in nature for the first time. 

In addition to Ms. Ressegger-Sloan’s work with the cast and crew, Round House is providing access and educational programming in conjunction with the show’s run, including free tickets for teens and college students, and events like a February 6 post-show discussion with SIECUS and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington on the importance of consent-based sexual education and youth advocacy in 2020. 

Spring Awakening runs through February 23. For information about dates, times and tickets, visit here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 E W Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240-644-1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Mark Murphey (William Joad) and Tony Sancho (Martín Jodes) // Photo: Margot Schulman

Playwright Octavio Solis Expands American Narrative With Mother Road

Mother Road, Octavio Solis’s play-form ‘sequel’ to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, begins several generations after protagonist Tom Joad’s journey from Oklahoma to California. William Joad, a direct descendant of Tom Joad, finds an unexpected heir to the family farm through Martín Jodes, a young Mexican American ex-migrant worker. Mother Road explores complicated themes surrounding immigration, family and survival, as Martín Jodes travels from a migrant farm in California to inherit familial land in Oklahoma.

Playwright Octavio Solis began creating his Grapes of Wrath continuation after traveling Old Route 66, the land that wielded suffering and hope for the original Joad family. Solis encountered an unexpected friend that eventually inspired him to tell the story of Mother Road. The play runs through March 8 at Arena Stage

“We went down the same path as the fictional Joad family, and I met someone, a young man, at a migrant workers camp near Bakersville, and he was a spoken word artist. He told me, ‘I am the new Tom Joad, and we, the Mexicans, are the new Okies.’ And I said, ‘I have to tell that story.’”

Stereotypes and racism infiltrate Mother Road as William Joad struggles to accept his heir, Martín. Despite it being a hard story to tell, Solis expands the narrative of The Grapes of Wrath to include migrant workers and redefines the concept of American survival and resilience.

“The message I’m trying to put forth with this play is that there’s room for us at the table, not that we’re trying to take the table over. The time has come for some people to move aside so that we can have a seat at the table. And that requires generosity, understanding and empathy on everybody’s part.”

Solis hopes Mother Road will help audience members understand the value of Mexican Americans in society, and emphasized that “[Mexicans] add to the mosaic of the American experience in such a vital, powerful way.”

As a migrant worker, Martín’s story emphasizes inclusion by reshaping the American narrative. Solis crafts a stunning storyline that showcases the goodness of humanity while confronting current American issues.

“I felt like I had Steinbeck there with me in the room. I felt like I had his permission, and I felt a big responsibility to continue the legacy of humanism that Steinbeck brings into his work.”

While chatting with Solis, I asked him what the legendary American author would think of Mother Road. Solis answered without much hesitation.

“I think he would I appreciate that I’m continuing the legacy of pointing out things that are wrong with our society while at the same time pointing out things that make us all one people.”

Solis does more than analyze American and Mexican culture; he makes it his responsibility to include “the lives of the downtrodden, the poor and the under-represented,” and helps their voices gain strength, which he believes Steinbeck would respect.

Mother Road reinvents a modern-day Joad family, but the story is consistent with Steinbeck’s original structure. Characters make the inverse journey from California to Oklahoma, acquiring new members and, unfortunately, losing some along the way.

“In The Grapes of Wrath an entire clan of Joads piles into one vehicle and as soon as they set out, bad things start to happen. [In the end], Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn and it’s the final blow to this family. Even the future dies at the end of the book.”

However, Solis does not let the story terminate here. Many generations down the road, when Martín begins the journey of his ancestors, the story gains traction and hope.

“In [Mother Road], the story starts with one person, and then two. They head East in the opposite direction, and they start building a family. They even bring back the bones of the dead with them. They build a new family, a family that is different from The Grapes of Wrath. And I think this is the thing Steinbeck would appreciate the most.”

Mother Road enjoys its first East Coast run at Arena Stage through March 8. Tickets are $115. For more information, click here.

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

Mirian Katrib and Joseph Kamal // Photo:: Margot Schulman

Arena Stage’s A Thousand Splendid Suns Depicts Family Dynamics Under Normalized Violence

To commemorate their 70th season, Arena Stage has pledged to “[lead] the way in gender equity and racial diversity by reflecting those values both on and off the stage.” In keeping with this commitment, A Thousand Splendid Suns, based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hossein, premiered in the Mead Center for American Theater on January 17, shedding light on gender oppression in the Middle East. 

Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma and directed by Carey Perloff, A Thousand Splendid Suns recounts the journey of an unlikely friendship between two Afghan women in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The play runs through March 1. 

The scene is set with pedestrians crossing a desert configured by a flamboyant orange backdrop, exquisite silhouette cutouts forming mountains and clouds fashioned out of metal wiring. Perfectly designed by Ken MacDonald, the set artistically speaks to the country’s landlocked mountainous landscape. 

As a boy runs on stage with a kite (a nod to the novelist’s first piece of fiction, The Kite Runner), the story commences with beautiful traditional Islamic music comprised of horns and echoing chants, filling the space with an air of sincerity.

Dawning a long voyage as the sun peaks, a family is found on what could be easily mistaken for a picnic but is soon realized to be a pile of items to be sorted and discarded in preparation for their migration.

The family’s forthcoming voyage is quickly halted as a bomb erupts with blinding lights shining on stage. In complete disarray, chaos ensues as villagers frantically move around the stage. 

Lying unconscious amidst the rubble, the protagonist is “rescued” by her male neighbor. Upon awakening, she discovers she is orphaned and is swiftly tricked into marrying a married man, who promises a sanctuary in a land unfavorable to women.

Covering the span of approximately two decades, where regimes and cultures shift in a war-torn city, A Thousand Splendid Suns nestles comfortably in a normalized violence-absorbed community. As tensions grow due to continuous bombing, lessening resources and looting induced upheaval, family dynamics are severely tested.

Elevating the authenticity of this narrative is the dynamic performance of the family. Comprised of actors who identify as Middle Eastern,  including, Iranian-American, Afghan-American and Indian-American, as Perloff explained, the emotions emoted resonate immensely, strengthening the much-needed messaging. 

Mirian Katrib (Laila) offers a sublime performance as a naively optimistic adolescent girl turned radical mother, courageously opposing the oppression of her husband. As she matures and recedes to adolescent years, reinforced by shifting lighting effects, Katrib distinctly embodies the character with each scene. 

Supporting the character of Laila is the stoic Mariam, played by Hend Ayoub. Initially disapproving of their nuptials, fearing the second-class status she will assume, Mariam grows tolerant and even loving as she and Laila raise Laila’s children. 

Playing opposite of Laila and Mariam is the boisterous Rasheed, played by Haysa Kadri. Kadri successfully personifies the stereotypical oppressor, using gaslighting techniques to manipulate and control his wives. Unable to cope with his dilapidating surroundings, he insights fear with each manic episode, creating a contentious environment where only brotherhood and servitude can survive. 

What Perloff has done is successfully facilitate a space to unpack social-norms of the Middle East. Aware of the potential risk of teetering towards or perpetuating a message of Islamophobia, A Thousand Splendid Suns cares to offer balance, introducing multiple male figures who encourage the educational development of their female counterparts and offspring. 

Filled with unfathomable realities, needing to be depicted more frequently, A Thousand Splendid Suns is an extraordinary account of perseverance and joy in a time of darkness and hopelessness. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns is showing at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater until March 1. Tickets are $41-$95 and can be purchased online here.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth Ave. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Next To Normal Anything But Normal At Kennedy Center

DC theatergoers are in for a real treat as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, Next to Normal, visited the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, bringing a tale of how mental illness takes a toll on a suburban family.

With the original Broadway director, Michael Greif, taking the helm in this inspiring and informative tear-jerking production, onlookers are sure to feel admonished at the deadly cycle of depression.

Leading the all-star six-person ensemble is Emmy and Tony Award nominee Brandon Victor Dixon (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Shuffle Along) as Dan and Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen) as Diana.

Dixon personifies a grief-stricken father whose avoidance tactics prove detrimental to his family. However, as the all-American Dad, he uses his broad register to capture audiences in a musical spell.

Jones delivers an illustrious vocal performance most comparable to Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease mixed with Stevie Nicks, showcasing a dynamic range from whimsical ballads to heartfelt songs during her character’s spurts of mania.  

Dan and Diana have been married for more than 16 years and have battled varying degrees of mental illness within their family. Though their time together is riddled with trauma, their love nearly trounces every setback.

The couple is an eccentric and quirky pair that uses coarse language that proves refreshingly candor. Continuous sexual innuendos, some quite literal, are expressed creating a necessitated comedic cloud of relief.

Set to contemporary music, Next to Normal is fresh, daring and required viewing. Similar to that of the Broadway hit RENT (also directed by Greif), this performance splendidly uses ballads and rock music to hone the dark truths of psychosis.

Several elements are done right, beyond the perfectly executed score and vocal prowess. But I must say, the five-member band, optimally positioned behind the two-level scaffolding, will cause you to leave the theater exhausted from the excessive foot patting, body-rocking music that earned the Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Filled with a multitude of timely social themes, Brian Yorkey’s masterpiece will have you questioning your stance on how to best treat patients coping with bipolar disorder and more.

Several avenues are considered to offset the symptoms brought on by trauma but at what cost? Big pharma, shock therapy and hypnotherapy are all referenced during the nearly 2 hour and 20 min production, all introducing another layer of complexity to an already crowded experience.

As Diana visit with her doctor, a cascade of pills is administered to counteract the constant cycle of depression and anxiety. To no surprise, this path to healing is quite turbulent, which marks a downward spiral leading to rock-bottom, where only enlightenment can be gained with hope for a better tomorrow.

To best prepare for the emotional journey that is Next to Normal, pack some tissue. Between the music, artistic emoting and the general plot, sniffling will surely be uncontrollable during this viewing experience. 

Next to Normal is showing through Monday February 3 at the Kennedy Center. Tickets are $79-$189 and can be purchased here.

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

Holly Twyford as Williamina, Laura C. Harris as Henrietta and Nora Achrati as Annie // Photo: Scott Suchman

Ford’s Theatre Explores Leavitt Sisters In Silent Sky

Since January 24, Ford’s Theatre has carried the baton of diverse art with feminist American milestone Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson.

Illuminating and reversing the extensively egregious track record of marginalized people playing significant roles in scientific discoveries (as well as many other disciplines), while receiving little credit nor accolade is a well-fitted practice in this historic theatrical space. 

Set just a decade after the turn of the 20th century, as women successfully demand to exercise their right to vote, Gunderson explores the sisterhood of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt and musician Margaret Leavitt; where the dichotomy of science and religion, and science and art conflict and agree, building the foundation for this partially fictional, yet historical tale.

Seema Sueko is taxed with coxswaining this drama mere months after directing, The Right to be Forgotten at Arena Stage. Sueko debuts at Ford’s Theatre with source material The San Francisco Chronicle deems, “sheer magic.”

“I grew up on the Hawaiian Islands,” Sueko shares in a Ford’s Theatre blog post, recalling her connection to this project and her motivation to tell an authentic story. “From a young age, I learned about Polynesians looking to the stars to navigate the oceans.”

This fact is widely unknown to most Americans, similar to that of the work and impact of Henrietta. However, while unfamiliar, the added knowledge is quite invaluable when considering how it enhances our understanding of the cosmos. So much, that to raise awareness of Henrietta’s work and to inspire future women scientists, former president Barrack Obama, during his last term, released a short video praising the astronomer.

For knowledge sake, Henrietta’s work in the Harvard Observatory was nothing short of groundbreaking. After discovering 2,400 new variable stars, “Leavitt’s Law” was formed, enabling future scientists to measure the distance between galaxies and map the Milky Way and so much more.

Silent Sky effortlessly transcends time, Sueko explains, “all plays exist in the period they’re set, in the time it was written, as well as in the time we produce it, and that’s fantastic.”

Though a fictional account, Gunderson’s work considers the various encounters most plausible for the period, giving new breath to an old world. 

“What Gunderson is able to do in the play is take us back to a period over 100 years ago, but from a modern point of view. It feels very accessible,” says Laura C. Harris, who plays Henrietta in the forthcoming play.

Plagued by a patriarchal misogynistic society, Henrietta’s road to discovery was littered with countless obstacles. Nevertheless, her determination to learn and work prevailed.

Gunderson has conceived a narrative where theatergoers can attest to the gender inequities lived by Henrietta, and subconsciously see  how prevalent they are today.

In an interview with the Austin Playhouse in Austin, Texas, Gunderson expressed, “We are still in the unfortunate rut of under-opportunity and under-representation for women in the sciences and tech. Women aren’t asking for special treatment, we are showing how special we already are and always have been. We’re not asking anyone to let us participate, we are exclaiming that we have participated in discoveries, breakthroughs and wild achievement all along.”

The religious difficulties faced by Henrietta were sourced from her sister, Margaret, played by Emily Kester. Sueko explains, “The two sisters looked up to the heavens, and see two completely different things. For Henrietta, she wants to understand the science of all the sky, and Margaret sees the pearly gates and God. [Henrietta] is risking the heaven that her sister believes in, to find the heaven she wants to study.”

One of America’s most prominent playwrights, Gunderson has made a name for herself, as she maintains an aptitude for innovating intricate stories that encompass romance, science and history, and with Silent Sky, she pushes the envelope further.

“When someone comes to see this play, they will leave having a rich understanding of what [Henreitta] and her colleagues did,” Harris exclaims. 

Silent Sky is showing at Ford Theatre until February 23. Tickets range from $22-$72 and can be purchased online at here.  

Ford Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Nova Payton in Newsies // Photo: Margot Schulman

Nova Payton Brings Power As Heroine in Arena Stage’s Newsies

Her name is Medda Larkin, and “she is in charge,” Nova Payton exclaims excitedly as she tells the joys of playing a brassy operatic and bluesy burlesque theater owner in Arena Stage’s production of Disney’s Newsies the musical.

Set in New York City in 1899, Newsies follows the adolescent newsboys who go on strike after newspaper owners Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, also known as the most powerful men in the country, raise the price for newspapers purchased by newsboys, who resale on the streets of Lower Manhattan.

Despite already being unable to earn a living wage, the newsboys are forced to pay double for an even now hard-to-sell newspaper.

Medda, the heroine of the tale, offers her theater as a safe haven for those youth struggling in the inner city.

“She is a powerhouse, who commands the room’s attention upon each entry,” Payton explains of the elaborate petticoats and headdresses she proudly wears to embody her character.

Medda requires the vocal prowess and tenacity of an actress with grit and worldly experiences, as she is based on the late Aida Overton Walker, a renowned musical theater performer, most known for her vaudeville performances and her marriage to George Walker.

Fortunately for director Molly Smith, Payton was available.

“I was called and asked about my availability, as here in DC, we audition a year in advance for each show,” she says. “So, they said they would like if I would sing in the show, and asked me to come in and sing with the music director Laura Bergquist, and here we are.”

From studying at the The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and touring the world as a backup singer for Roberta Flack to performing in 3 Mo’ Divas, seen on PBS, Payton was primed for this role.

“I grew up around performers all my life. From Mike Malone the co-founder of Duke Ellington [School of the Performing Arts] to Roberta Flack”, Payton shares. “It was wonderful being able to sit under these geniuses and be groomed.”

When asked about the significance of this play in today’s climate, and the connection it would have to older and younger audiences, Payton had plenty to say.

“When you think about the kids who are protesting about global warming and gun violence and gun control today, it’s the same thing the newsies were doing with the newspapers. It was a matter of life or death. If you raise the rates, what am I supposed to do? After I pay you all this money, what’s left for me? How am I supposed to survive and eat?”

Payton says the younger generations are responsible for a lot of powerful movements, whether back then or in today’s political climate.

“With gun control and global warming, it’s the same. Kids are afraid to go to school, children are dying. Back then as today, kids were the movement. They took the risks, the chances and didn’t worry about what would happen next.”

Newsies has been extended and will be showing at Arena Stage through December 29. Showtimes vary. Tickets are $45-$102 and can be purchased by visiting the Arena Stage Ticket portal.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth Street SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Samuel Adams) conducts his orchestra for the Viennese court in Folger Theatre’s Amadeus // Photo: C. Stanley

Folger Theatre’s Amadeus Deals With Questions of Hate and Immortality

When visiting the Folger Theatre located in the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill, patrons will witness and appreciate the craftsmanship of five 15th Century styled harps reaching soaring heights, fixed within the dimly lit ligneous theatre. After a short time, visitors will soon come to realize these grand instruments evolve into a metaphoric prison cell restraining court composer, Antonio Salieri in his self-made abyss, where lies envy and resentment, his only comrades.

Set in 1823 Vienna, Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, directed by Richard Clifford, opens with echoes of gasps and whispers, serving as rumors circling an empty 18th-century wheelchair. Two actors named Venticello enter expounding on the tales of events that took place thirty years prior. The play runs through December 22.

“Who killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?”

The question is immediately answered, purportedly, once a seemingly aged Salieri, played by the dynamic Ian Merrill Peakes, takes his seat in the vacant chair. Rolling back and forth, Peakes delivers an almost believable performance as a man confined and matured by unforgiving transgressions. The alteration in his tone of voice, and the quivering words spoken, warrants audiences’ trust in his elder persona. Oddly, glimpses of humor and strength dissipate his “grandfather” façade, making for a unique transition to 1781 that monopolizes this modest 2-hour and 45-minute production.

For the 31-year old Salieri, Peakes fully embodies the stoic and oddly physically mature nature. Ranting on about his God-given gifts, his commitment to composing operas “in the name of God,” and his desire to reign as the supreme composer worldwide, Peakes’ endearing portrayal elicits feelings of empathy for someone fearing to lose their earned and widely coveted position on top.

Relying on hearsay, Salieri forms a notion of Mozart, played by the boyish Samuel Adams, that is inevitably disastrous to himself.

After meeting Mozart and witnessing his talents, that are far ahead of the times, Salieri begins to plot mischievously against Mozart.

In all honesty, Clifford’s recreation of Amadeus is genuinely clever. Capturing elements exemplified in the Tony Award and Oscar-winning renditions, Clifford brings forth a production that relies solely on the exquisite oratorical capabilities of its cast members, and the elegantly pristine garments perfectly positioning viewers in an 18th-century opera house.

Though music serves as the foundation of this story, and the source of contention, theatergoers should not expect live vocals or a grand orchestra, but rather recordings that manage to prompt well-deserving chills. Classical tunes and operatic arias play through the sound system and more than suffice in depicting Mozart’s musical prodigy and the growth in Salieri’s antipathy.

Perfectly parallel to Peakes’ menacing antics as Salieri, is Adams’ charming, yet infantile and vulgar disposition of Mozart. Personifying Mozart is a task Adams achieves with each breath. His occasionally nervous but often obnoxious shrill of a laugh and multi-color hair is both humorous and infectious.

Even though Adams prances and crawls onstage, spewing uncouth verbiage, he maintains an air of innocence that allows his unceasing advancements in his artistry.

Supporting Adams is Lilli Hokama as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s fiancée. Hokama introduces a lightness to the narrative that is needed to pierce the tomfoolery of Mozart and the bitterness of Salieri.

Sashaying around the stage, Hokama appropriately flits with grace as her garments adorned give nodes of lushness. Though she may be initially perceived as a dolt, with time, she proves to be quite a force to be reckoned.

When she rifles with the prospects of infidelity, her inner strength surfaces, paving a precise way forward during a patriarchal time.

In the original production and film, the themes within Amadeus hold firm, and Clifford’s take relishes in each one respectfully.

Brutal language is exaggerated perfectly, presenting the often-hidden crudity within aristocratic life.

Sex is referenced countless times as the source of inspiration in the artistic realm and is frequently deployed as a tactic enacting one’s power over another. God as the life-giver and taker is most haunting as lamentations transcend varying degrees of religious discourse. But all in all, the two themes that resonate most profoundly are hate and immortality.

I once heard that hating someone is like taking poison and expecting them to die. At the core of this theatrical masterpiece lies this fundamental truth. As Salieri hopes to live on forever through his musical accomplishments, his disdain for Mozart has the opposite effect. He marvels at the unending growth of Mozart, scheming continuously to undermine his success, only to spiral deeper into the void of unrelenting spite, where absolution is never achieved.

Amadeus is showing at the Folger Theatre located in The Folger Shakespeare Library through December 22. Tickets are $42-$85 and can be purchased online at www.folger.edu/theatre.

Folger Theatre: 201 East Capitol St. SE , DC; 202-695-7263; www.folger.edu/folger-theatre

Shelly Lynn Walsh, Peter Michael Jordan, Chris Clark, and Sarah Hinrichsen // Photo: Matthew Murphy

Parrot Heads Rejoice: Escape to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at National Theatre

With a song catalog that features party staples such as “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Come Monday,” “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” and the anthem “Margaritaville,” Jimmy Buffett is considered a musical legend and the poster child of the island escapism lifestyle.

That same fun, laid back attitude has been captured in Escape to Margaritaville, a musical based on the songs of Buffett, which made its Broadway debut in 2017 where it wowed critics and audiences alike.

The National Tour of Escape to Margaritaville will play the National Theatre starting tonight through October 13, under the direction of Amy Anders Corcoran.

With a book by Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia and Emmy nominee Mike O’Malley, and 20 classic and new tunes by Buffett, the show’s story follows Tully (played by Chris Clark), a part-time bartender and singer who falls for a career-minded tourist named Rachel (Sarah Hinrichsen). In the land of Margaritaville, people come to get away from it all, but often stay after discovering something they never expected.

Hinrichsen saw the show during its Broadway run two years ago and really fell in love with it, coming out of it singing the songs like most of the audience did.

“It’s just a fun show and it was a good time,” she says. “When you’re a performer, you always look if there’s a track you could play, and I thought Rachel was really interesting and something I would enjoy. In the month’s following, I would get texts from my friends saying that it would be a great part for me, so when the tour was casting, I went in.”

She describes Rachel as “a workaholic, who may come off as aggressive, but is really just so focused.” The character is passionate about a project she’s working on where she’s trying to power a light bulb with a potato and creating energy from a volcano that’s on the island.

“When she meets Tully, he teaches her about balance and how she can have a strong work life and also one of fun and letting go,” Hinrichsen says. “It lets people see that they can blend two important parts of their life and you can have it all.”

Although not a die-hard Buffett fan, the actress knew many of his popular songs and had eaten more than once at the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant.

“So, I wasn’t a Parrot Head per se,” Hinrichsen says. “Our Tully though, Chris Clark, has this crazy story about how his dad went to a Jimmy Buffett concert two days after he was born because he couldn’t stay away. I’m not on that level, but I am definitely a big fan.”

During the musical, Hinrichsen gets to sing “It’s My Job,” and duet on “Three Chords,” an original tune created for the show where her character learns to play the guitar. She also takes part in numerous group numbers and other duets as well.

“The thing about his music is that it transports you to a place, and he’s such a storyteller that it really feels like a state of mind, like you’re on a beach or on an island,” she says. “You can’t sing these songs not smiling.”

The daughter of a director and actress, growing up in the Los Angeles theater scene, Hinrichsen jokes that she never had any other option but to become a performer and is thrilled to be doing her first national tour.

One of her favorite parts of Escape to Margaritaville comes early in Act 1 when the cast sings “Fins” and they encourage audience participation.

“As any Buffett fan knows, it’s a song where you put your hands in the air and show your ‘fins,’ and we always can tell the mood the audience is in based on the number of fins we see, and knowing they are with us,” she says. “It’s a night of fun and people shouldn’t be afraid to sing along and join in.”

The show also stars Shelly Lynn Walsh, Peter Michael Jordan, Rachel Lyn Fobbs, Patrick Cogan and Matthew James Sherrod.

Escape to Margaritaville plays the National Theatre until October 13. Tickets are $54-$114. For more information, visit thenationaldc.com.

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

Nell Gwynn at Folger Theatre // Photo: Teresa Castracane

A Day In The Life With Regina Aquino

When Regina Aquino’s name was announced as the winner of the 2019 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play, the Filipino American actor was sure to pay tribute to her family in her acceptance speech. But she also made note of how big an honor it was to win during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and said she was “proud to be from DC.”

“It was such a huge thing for me,” she says. “I’m from the DC area and to be recognized by my peers for a show that was very, very important to me was humbling. I was deeply honored. It meant so much.”

For her award-winning role in Theater Alliance’s The Events last fall, Aquino played Claire – the only survivor of a mass shooting, haunted by thoughts of the shooter and searching for the peace she needs.

“We worked so hard on that show. To do a show about gun violence in this world we live in was very important to all of us in the room. I was honored that my community saw the work and thought it was noteworthy.”

The mother of two, whose repertoire includes productions at Folger Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Studio Theatre and Olney Theatre Center, chatted with us about her beginnings in theatre, the importance of breaking stereotypes in her roles, and her upcoming productions this winter with Mosaic Theater Company and Folger Theatre.

On Tap: What made you want to pursue acting as a career?
Regina Aquino: I’ve always been a performer. I think I was 4 years old when I decided I was going to act or sing – or do both. I did my first play in second grade and it was always a given. That’s what my personality and my dreams have always been. My mother was very supportive of it from a young age. She put me in a lot of theatre camps, and I went to Duke Ellington and studied theatre in high school.

OT: You work a great deal in the DC area and are known for being a great champion of the local theatre community. You even talked about it a bit in your 2019 acceptance speech. Why is it important for you to act in DC?
RA: Being from this area, I don’t go to New York unless they call me. It’s not my aspiration to be there. It’s my goal to stay in DC and do good theatre here. I love the sense of community here. It’s impossible to not know everyone. Everyone supports each other’s work and we all go to see each other’s shows. I love DC because there are so many theaters that push really subversive and challenging work, and there’s an audience base that looks for that. Plus, it’s an area where you can be a performing artist and have a family.


Work Must-Haves
Headphones to listen to playlists
Journal with thoughts + reflections
of my shows
Altar with photos of my grandparents + kids
Waterproof liquid eyeliner
Time in the theater space alone


OT: What do you look for in a role?
RA: I have to align with the art that I make – socially, politically and emotionally. I am very conscious of the type of roles I audition for, and choose what I am offered based on how my ethnicity informs that [and] how being a woman informs that. I won’t participate in things that promulgate stereotypes. I will never play a maid again unless the point of the play is to make a comment about that particular role being given to an Asian American. I have to believe in the work and the people producing it and what their goals are. I’m very conscious [of] not participating in tokenism. I have to know everyone has the best intentions.

OT: What have you been working on lately?
RA: I just finished a production called Tiger Style [at Olney Theatre] about a Chinese-American family who is trying to find their place in the world. They are frustrated with how race identifies them within this country, so they go back to China and try to find themselves there and realize they don’t really fit in there either. It’s a coming-of-age identity play about the Asian-American experience of being second- or third-generation instead of immigrants, which is something I don’t get to see very frequently.


Can’t Live Without
Music
Downtime with my family
Lattes
A diamond necklace with the letter “R” on it
Rice


OT: Any upcoming productions that DC audiences can see you in?
RA: I’m going to be working on Eureka Day, a play about anti-vaxxers in the Pacific Northwest, which should be super interesting and exciting. Then, I’ll be doing The Merry Wives of Windsor back at Folger. I haven’t done Shakespeare in 15 years, so I’m excited to be doing that – excited and scared.

OT: Have you made it a conscious choice to not do Shakespeare?
RA: No. It’s funny because when I was in school, my teachers always said I would make a career in classical theatre because my ethnicity wouldn’t matter, which is really an offensive thing to say. But it just isn’t true. I think the idea of diversity in classical theatre has only recently been pushed. I’m usually called in for new plays where my ethnicity is either dictated or I’m working with a theatre company where American does not default as white. I haven’t spoken in iambic pentameter in forever, so we’ll see if I remember how to do it.

Follow Aquino on Twitter @avereginaaquino. Don’t miss her in Mosaic Theater’s Eureka Day at Atlas Performing Arts Center from December 4 to January 5 and in The Merry Wives of Windsor at Folger Theatre from January 14 to March 1.

Learn more at www.mosaictheater.org and www.folger.edu.

Ryan Hunter Mitchell (left) and David Cabrera (right) // Photos: Trent Johnson

Be Kind, Recline: SUNS CiNEMA Still On-Air

The On-Air sign hovering to the left of the door is off.

There are no films scheduled for the middle of a Tuesday, and standing on the sidewalk just beyond the red carpet and ropes that lead to the entrance, it’s hard to tell if the lights are on inside. The navy blue awning jutting from the pink bricks reads “SUNS CiNEMA” in vibrant cherry letters. Those words also hang on a large vertical sign in sight line for cars whizzing by.

The theater’s size isn’t indicative of the typical cinemas you’re used to – especially not the ones having a tough summer after an explosive start thanks to Avengers: Endgame. Rather, this building in Mount Pleasant once housed a cell phone store on the floor level with an apartment upstairs. Now, it belongs to movies and cinephiles.

Suns Cinema’s first showing came in 2016 after years of planning and crowdfunding by owners David Cabrera and Ryan Hunter Mitchell. Cabrera is on the short side, with curly dark hair and an extremely easygoing demeanor. Mitchell is tall and lanky with straight, long hair and thick frames; he looks like a mix between the best skater you’ve ever seen and every thrifter who swears they get their shirts from Goodwill.

Posters line both sides of the entryway. On the left is the original screening room, but now it’s used more regularly as a bar. The space contains several movie references, from zebra-adorned wallpaper as seen in Royal Tenenbaums to obscure newspaper clippings lauding a Polish auteur. The new and improved theater is directly above, even though it used to be just a guy’s living room.

The lights were indeed on earlier, as both Cabrera and Mitchell are clearing chairs from a screening held the night before. On Mondays, the first-floor room operates as it had for three years prior, but on the other nights, the upstairs space is center stage. With an operation so niche built on screening foreign art films, classics with cult followings and B movies, Suns is not only surviving but expanding and evolving – further proving that the city’s appetite for obscure films and unique experiences is only growing, just like the theater itself.

“We never imagined more than this size, and we still don’t,” Mitchell says. “We wanted to recreate the model of showing our friends movies.”

The allure of Suns is definitely the spectacle. There aren’t rows of stadium seats bolted to the floor or giant soda dispensers that look like they’re from the future. Instead, the appearance is distinctively dive-ish, with low lighting accompanied by a simple beer and cocktail menu. The seating is an assortment of beach and patio furniture interspersed with antique-looking theater seats. During screenings, people are in close quarters out of necessity – there aren’t empty showings very often at Suns.

“So, why should we exist?”

Michell asks the question rhetorically, shifting in a barstool.

“An element of that is a bar – it’s fun and social,” he continues. “You’re definitely experiencing a movie differently when you’re dealing with people in a place that’s cool to hang out and [you can] have intermission discussions. We’re kind of a one-stop shop for all of that.”

Cabrera and Mitchell tag team coming up with themes each month. The duo also edits, cuts and promotes trailers for films on the schedule. July’s focus is Creature Features, with movies like 1954’s original Godzilla, Troll Hunter, The Fly and the first two Alien flicks. There are few recent releases here, and the only blockbusters you’ll see are decades old.

“Maybe come for something you like, but also watch a trailer for something weird,” Mitchell says. “Hopefully, people come and think, ‘Okay, there must be a reason they picked this movie I’ve never heard of.’ And sometimes they aren’t worth seeing.”

Cabrera laughs, admitting they’ve promoted movies neither had seen and upon watching, became “horrified.” That’s part of the risk with this structure. When the friends set out to establish their own movie theater, they did so with a rough sketch of a business plan and literally no idea how to reach out to distribution companies.

“We kind of figured it out as we went along,” Cabrera says. “Figuring out distribution was very challenging, especially because there isn’t a tutorial or a website you can look up with how-to’s for owning a movie theater. We just got lucky.”

Even for single showings, dealing with distributors can be an expensive process – one that’s becoming pricier still. But most tickets at Suns costs about $8-$10, far less than mainstream admission. Bar sales help offset some of the more notable features (this is where the new second floor comes in). Since officially opening on May 11, the first floor now remains a bar on Tuesdays through Sundays.

“The charm of Suns was that it’s a bar and a small space, but that business model created a lot of confusion for people,” Cabrera says. “When your bar hours on a weekend are contingent on the length of a film, if you show a little bit of a longer movie, [then] people show up popping the door open at 10 p.m. and awkwardly leave like, ‘Oh, okay.’”

Outside of the Blade Runner-themed drink station tucked away in the corner, the second floor feels more like a traditional theater setting when compared to its downstairs counterpart, including elevated seats toward the back, dark walls and a larger screen.

“We’ve definitely been able to accentuate and play up the two roles separately,” Mitchell says of the dual bar-theater setup. “The constant flux was confusing. You couldn’t, like, shake a cocktail during the movie.”

Even with the bar open on most nights, the passion for these two is the experience they’re able to provide while movies are on the big(ger than a TV) screen. They aren’t mixologists or “cocktail-ologists,” as they say, although Cabrera does make a kick-ass drink.

He begins to pour shots of Malört as we speak. He’s standing behind the bar thinking about the specifics of his transformation from a casual moviegoer into a hardcore fan of the artform, and now an owner of a business whose life blood is fellow film enthusiasts. He thinks it was probably college, but then second guesses where he even stands on the pendulum of cinematic fanatics, figuring he’s not much different than anyone else who puts a DVD in and pushes “play.”

“[In 2007], I watched Breathless, which is a [Jean-Luc] Godard French new-wave movie, then this Czech movie called The Loves of a Blonde. I watched those within a week based on people’s recommendations. That made me curious about what else was out there and kind of created a new paradigm for me of movies as a broader medium. They could be this or this or this.”

Mitchell echoes the sentiment, adding how influential clerks behind the counters at video stores were for him. He also notes his affinity for punk music and B movies. He keeps up with blockbusters and popular films on a regular basis, but both tastes have grown tremendously out of necessity.

Suns wasn’t their first foray into curation.

In 2011, the influenced became influential as Cabrera and Mitchell began inviting swaths of friends for standard “movie nights.” With a blank wall, a bed sheet and a $300 projector bought on Craigslist, the pair hosted themed parties each requiring a certain level of participation from guests – whether it be contributing a pot of pasta for an Italian feature or margaritas for an art film from Mexico.

“You’d meet people on The Hill who were into indie music or who worked in bars, and we were friends with a lot of those people,” Mitchell says. “We’d invite them over for movies. It was a very unpretentious film club – not even a film club.”

The parties were natural. They had smart friends who shared interests in other forms of art, so why not share eclectic movies, too?

“I noticed we had a lot of friends who were really articulate and understood a lot about music,” Cabrera adds. “There was a language and an understanding to that. There didn’t seem to be that with movies in DC. If I would spend time in New York and you’d [name] a director, everyone’s like, ‘Oh yeah, totally.’ There’s more of a common knowledge because everyone has been exposed to it, whereas here it didn’t seem like that was the case as much.”

As they explain the lineage of Suns, it’s obvious not much has changed for either in this regard. Cabrera still suggests movies to patrons and Mitchell still has a day job as a hairstylist in the neighborhood, popping in and out to help. The two still do most of the work around the shop and bear all the responsibility for their triumphs and stumbles.

Suns Cinema is the ultimate living room for 30 or so people to get excited about movies, complete with a full bar and popcorn machine. Cabrera and Mitchell act as your guides before, after and during intermission, each vacillating between a Blockbuster employee of the month and friendly neighborhood bartender. How many films where a wild idea turns into a success story have they seen? Undoubtedly countless and probably in several different languages. But Suns Cinema isn’t a fictional place like the video store in Be Kind Rewind – it’s real life.

“I don’t think either of us had some dream of owning a movie theater,” Mitchell says. “The mission statement has stayed the same. The original idea is that we would put a sheet on our wall and invite our friends and anyone else to come watch movies that we thought were kind of cool.”

To learn more about Suns Cinema and their “kind of cool” movie showings, visit http://www.sunscinema.com.

Suns Cinema: 3107 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC; www.sunscinema.com