Mark Harelik at Leontes, Hannah Yelland as Hermione and Sean Arbuckle as Polixenes in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Winter’s Tale, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
When you’re doing a “problem play” like The Winter’s Tale – where the first half is exclusively dramatic and high-stakes and the second half is mostly light, funny, and redemptive – how do you handle the balance? Well, if you’re Shakespeare Theatre Company and Director Rebecca Taichman you crank it all up to 11 and earn yourself the first time I can recall using the term “batcrap crazy” in a review here. The first half is the theatrical equivalent of being beaten with a sock with a bar of soap in it. The second reaches points of lunacy that Puck would be proud of.
I’m tempted to call this “as good as can be expected, given the unevenness of the source material,” but that seems lazy and unfair to both Shakespeare and this production. It’s also a blank check to do whatever you want for Taichman and her cast, which I’m not sure I think they earn. All told the show is an enjoyable experience with talented actors but some parts feel more like an endurance than an entertainment.
Peter Pereyra as Rochefort and Dallas Tolentino as D’Artagnan / courtesy Johnny Shryock
When Synetic Theater announces a show like The Three Musketeers, you know you’re either in for a treat or a major lawsuit. After all, the only choreography more daring than the usual attempts by Synetic would be Synetic + swords.
But no lawsuits necessary (at time of publication). The Three Musketeers is thrilling; and the cast has trained in sword-fighting to make sure you get a great show without any hospitalization.
Adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ beloved novel, The Three Musketeers tells of young D’Artagnan, who arrives in 17th century Paris to join the king’s guard: the famous Musketeers. He finds in their place a group of drunk womanizers who dream of battle but won’t regain glory when they can’t even stand up straight.
The cast of Twelfth Night dances as Feste (Louis Butelli) plays his ukulele. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Viola and Sebastian’s ship wrecks at the opening of Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night in a spectacle brimming with theatricality and grace.
The brief scene sets us in the early 1900s – at the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, to be exact; and while the rest of the production may not hold up to its level of fury and mysticism, Twelfth Night is nonetheless a whimsical celebration of love told with musicality and charm.
Shakespeare’s beloved comedy of gender reversal, star-crossed love, and prideful folly fits almost seamlessly into the turn-of-the-century world, where roles are well-determined through both gender and class.
Ashley Ivey, Emma Crane Jaster, Jim Jorgensen, Joel David Santner, Manu Kumasi in Gilgamesh / Photography by Brittany Diliberto
“I am a man,” Enkidu says. “What is a god, without man?” Such questions of mortality and divinity drive Constellation Theatre Company’s ambitious new work Gilgamesh.
The ancient Mesopotamian myth “The Epic of Gilgamesh” tells of a violent ruler who, after losing his soul mate, sets out on an epic journey to bring new life back to his friend. In the process he learns humility and faces his own mortal limits.
Known for epic adaptations, Constellation attempts a sensual spectacle in Gilgamesh; but no particular element creates a consistent enough tone to hold interest throughout the show. We smell incense, we hear drums, but we never become fully invested in the characters. Gilgamesh’s journey is one to observe rather than join.
Photo: Scott Suchman
Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, Arena Stage’s season-ending production, focuses on the fictional Wyeth family. A family with an all too familiar Hollywood story.
Patriarch Lyman (Larry Bryggman) is a golden-era actor who followed in the footsteps of his friend Ronald Reagan and went into politics. Under the Reagan administration Lyman was appointed U.S. Ambassador and later became GOP chair. Matriarch Polly (Helen Carey) earned her fame writing TV shows and books with her sister Silda (Martha Hackett). Their kids Brooke (Emily Donahoe) and Trip (Scott Drummond) did pretty well too: Brooke is an acclaimed author and Trip is a successful reality television producer. A successful Hollywood couple with successful Hollywood children.
But also like celebrity families, they had their share of tragedies alongside their accomplishments. Silda was an alcoholic and Brooke was deeply depressed. The eldest Wyeth child Henry committed suicide after running away from his family and was implicated in a bombing that killed a war veteran. The Wyeth family story sounds all too familiar in American celebrity culture: great success intertwined with scandal and tragedy.
Baitz’s gripping drama takes us beyond the tabloid type and paparazzi photos and shows us conflict more real and raw than anything you’d see on those reality shows on E! or VH1.
Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie (center, in pink dress) and the company of Show Boat. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The Washington National Opera’s production is a groundbreaking new work that challenges audience with a deep and nuanced examination of the many ways that racial politics and marital tensions intermingle across a complicated economic reality, eventually illuminating complex and crucial truths about -
No, seriously. It’s Showboat, the modern ur-musical, the production that was old when your mom first went to the theater. We’re not at its centennial yet, but we’re closer to the day “Ol’ Man River” turns 100 than we are to the 20th century. I’m sure we’ll see a revival then too. And every other year between now and then.
Which isn’t to say there’s nothing worth seeing here. Washington National Opera’s Showboat is a beautiful creature in every way. It’s well-acted, lovingly staged, and sung, at turns, competently and transcendently. It may not be new or different than any other of the thousands of times it’s been produced, but if you want to see the show that represented a pivot in Broadway musicals then this is as good a chance as any.
Pas De Deux at Studio 2ndStage / photo by Igor Dmitry
When Elizabeth and Tom leap at each other to open Skin Tight at The Studio 2ndStage, they’re warning us: love and intensity go hand in hand, and this lyrical, passionate show is about love – real love – so it will be intense.
Skin Tight is one of two one-acts showing as part of Studio 2ndStage’s sexy, imaginative, and thoroughly engaging Pas de Deux: Plays from New Zealand and Canada. The second piece, 2-2 Tango, was one of the first major successes at The Studio 2ndStage back in 1992.
In Skin Tight by Gary Henderson, Tom and Elizabeth relive their passionate marriage through an emotional duet. Poetic at times, violent at others, the piece reflects a love story from the inside out with intimacy and depth. Director Johanna Gruenhut’s staging is the kind that stays in your memory for a long time to pester and delight.
Much of No Rule Theatre’s The Personals plays out like a twisted Match.com ad. An early 40-something woman seeks a sweet and honest man. A serious reporter searches for, “an aggressive woman.” Blind man hopes to find a sighted mate. These are not the serendipitous perfect matches portrayed in those online dating commercials. That’s because the dates are part of an on-going role-playing game between a husband and wife who are hoping to repair their broken marriage.
Unable to pick up the pieces after a tragic accident, Don and Janna (Michael Kramer and Anne Kanengeiser) attempt to rekindle their lost love through their fake blind dates. The two go on dates set-up through personal ads in the newspaper. Taking on characters dictated in the personal ads, the two meet in the after hours of the bar where Don serves as both owner and headline entertainer.
The premise equates into a multitude of roles for Kramer and Kanengeiser, who both provide subtle hints of chemistry through their false personas that illustrates the love that once existed in the now vacant marriage. There are quite a few humorous moments, especially through Don’s cheesy magic act, but don’t mistake this for a stage version of Fifty First Dates. The mood is gloomy, a thick fog that separates a husband and wife who hope to find their way by pretending to be somebody else.
The first American team ascends Mount Everest in 1963. (Photo courtesy National Geographic)
National Geographic Live’s spring programming winds down in May with several great events. As usual, our friends at the National Geographic Museum are offering two pairs of tickets to our readers. To be considered for the random drawing, enter your name and which two events you’d most like to see in the comments area. On Tuesday, April 30 at noon we’ll draw two names and get you set up with one of your chosen events. (Note that there are two events listed below that are ineligible for the drawing; the evening with Buzz Aldrin and the Beer Tasting.)
For those unable to attend these great programs, you can now view them online a few days after the live event. All programs are at the Grosvenor Auditorium at the National Geographic Museum on 17 and M Street, NW; parking is free for program attendees after 6 pm.
Isabel Allende: A Portrait in Sepia ($22)
May 1, 7:30 pm
Spend an evening with one of the world’s greatest writers when Isabel Allende, author of The House of the Spirits and most recently Portrait in Sepia, comes to National Geographic. A Chilean author whose books established her as a feminist force in Latin America’s male-dominated literary world, Allende spins stories of family, politics, and human rights that transfix audiences. She’ll converse with National Geographic Traveler’s Don George, editor of the new travel anthology, Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers, which features her work.
Spring is in the air, Cherry Blossoms are coming and going, pesky tourists return to stand on the left side of the escalator.
As the temperature goes up, the DC Theatre season is winding down. With a couple of months to go til we enter the “Summer Reruns”, the We Love DC Theater team got back together at The Passenger to look back at what we said in our earlier preview and how it all shook out.
Jennifer Mendenhall & Alexander Strain in Andy and the Shadows at Theater J / Photo by Stan Barouh
Memories lost and found, tragedy and forgetting, fact and fiction, dreams and reality: it all comes to a head in Andy and the Shadows at Theater J.
Written by Theater J artistic director Ari Roth and directed by Daniella Topol, Andy and the Shadows is part of Theater J’s second annual Locally Grown Festival, which brings to the stage new works by local playwrights.
The story centers around the Glickstein family from the perspective of neurotic, angst-ridden Andy – the middle child of his Holocaust survivor parents. Each of the three children choose to deal with their parents’ dark history in different ways. Andy chooses to wrestle with his family’s ghosts at home.
(L to R) Kasidy Devlin (Sir Robin), Adam Grabau (Sir Lancelot), Joshua Taylor Hamilton (Sir Dennis Galahad), Thomas DeMarcus (Sir Bedevere), and Arthur Rowan (King Arthur). Photo credit: Courtesy of Monty Python’s Spamalot.
It never hurts your anticipation to wait in a humming crowd behind closed theater doors on opening night. Ah, the sheer grandeur of a stage that hosted the world premieres of Showboat, of West Side Story. “What more could you ask for, really?” I thought as I took my seat at the National Theatre.
Fart jokes, obviously.
Yes, Spamalot – the hit show based on the cult film Monty Python and the Holy Grail – is back, this time at the National Theatre. Patrick reviewed it last year when it delighted audiences at the Warner Theatre. A quick recap:
(Photo: Melissa Blackall)
The setting of Lauren Yee’s A Man, His Wife, and His Hat is unknown. Looking at the actual set of The Hub Theatre production, one might guess that it takes place in the 80s based upon the telephone and television. The dialects and accents hint that it takes place somewhere in old Europe where hat-making is still a feasible profession. The overall feel of the show reminds me of the fictional land of Mypos from Perfect Strangers. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Balki Bartokomous burst through the door to the tunes of Jesse Frederick’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now.
The foreign land, the somewhat distant past, and the physics that are meta in both scientific and poetic terms come together to form a fairy-tale world. In Yee’s universe golems live underneath your floorboards, memories are kept in glass jars, and all-knowing walls possess the secrets of the world on printed pages.
Yee’s story, with direction from Shirley Serotsky, is a whimsical one — with a message of love that’s heartwarming yet not too sugar-coated.
(Photo: Scott Suchman)
On the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, less than two miles from a new monument erected in honor of the late civil rights leader, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop opened at Arena Stage. The show is a bold imagining of the last night of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life that not only takes us inside Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel where he stayed, but into the mind, heart, and soul of the great man.
However in Hall’s vision, we do not see an infallible leader, the perfect picture of leadership and integrity that we like to bestow upon the great leaders of our time. Instead we see MLK as a man with real weaknesses, vulnerabilities, hopes, and fears.
There are pirates in Washington.
If you doubt, head over to the National Geographic Museum between now and September 2; the Jolly Roger flag hanging from the flagpole should convince you. If you need more persuasive evidence, head inside and wander through the museum’s latest exhibit Real Pirates.
From fore to aft, this exhibit rolls up the past, present, and future of the pirate vessel Whydah. Originally designed and used as a slave ship along the American-African slave routes, the Whydah was captured by pirate captain Sam Bellamy and used in his fleet to pillage more than fifty prizes across the Carribean. On a course for a New England harbor, the Whydah, her captain, and her crew ran into a violent nor’easter near Cape Cod and sank beneath the waves. With it went a hold full of pirate treasure and most of the men on board.
National Geographic chose to feature the Whydah exhibit for a number of reasons. According to Richard McWalters, Director of Museum Operations, the story of the Whydah crosses three seafaring trades: slavery, piracy, and recovery. Through the shipwreck’s history, visitors are exposed to the realities of the slave trade and its vessels, the life of a pirate crew during the eighteenth century, and the technology, dedication, and innovation of today’s salvage explorers. Continue reading
Nancy Opel as Dolly Levi with Jp Qualters, Harris Milgrim, Kyle Vaughn and Alex Puette in the Ford’s and Signature Theatre co-production of “Hello, Dolly!” Photo by Carol Rosegg.
When tourist season comes around and you own arguably the most famous theater in the country, it can’t hurt to play it safe.
That’s what Ford’s Theatre and Signature Theatre seem to think, anyway, as they’ve teamed up to bring Hello, Dolly! to the Ford’s Theatre stage right as the cherry blossoms and spring breakers roll in.
It’s not an entirely bad idea: the line to Tuesday’s performance stretched down the street outside; groups arrived by the busload; and the show – which won the 1964 Tony for Best Musical and/or production of the year at your high school – is a light, catchy romp.
If that’s what you’re looking for, Hello, Dolly! will do just fine; but this production has room to improve for those of us watching from beyond the tour bus.
Photo: Ursa Waz
If there were any concerns that Mike Daisey’s infamous This American Life scandal that rocked both the tech and theater worlds last year would leave any lasting marks on Daisey’s ability to draw an audience, they disappeared the minute I walked into the packed lobby of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Instead of doubt there was a palpable energy of anticipation among patrons waiting to see his latest piece, American Utopias. The buzz was heightened by the club-like atmosphere of the decorated lobby. I stood next to a carousel horse with a sign that said, “Ride Me”. In fact almost everything in the lobby had instructions for patrons like, “Tweet Me” and “Feel Me.” Also there was fur. So much fur.
There was one reminder of the events of last year. In the program Woolly Mammoth disclosed the following: “The management also wishes to remind you that this is a true story, and like every story told in every medium, all stories are fiction.”
However, the past was out of sight and out of mind as Mike Daisey performed in front of a packed house and not only delivered the brand of thought-provoking and comedic storytelling that he is known for, but also managed to take his monologue game up a level — something I did not think was even possible until now. Continue reading
Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris and Naomi Jacobson in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of Mary T. & Lizzy K. Photo credit: Scott Suchman.
It’s hard to imagine in these days of cheaply manufactured clothes that there was once a time when getting a new outfit was a laborious and artistic process. Only in the worlds of high fashion or in the theater is the art of dressmaking still practiced to that level (and even there, machines have almost eradicated the particular craft of hand sewing). In the prudish Victorian era, no one knew your body more intimately than your dressmaker, from the crafting of a muslin mock-up perfectly fitted to your body to the execution of a dress that suited you alone.
Giving yourself that intimately to another person requires absolute trust, and that ultimately is the subject of Tazewell Thompson’s new play Mary T. & Lizzy K. The world premiere of a work commissioned between Thompson and Arena Stage, as the first production of Arena Stage’s American President’s Project its primary subject is the relationship of Mary Todd Lincoln (Naomi Jacobson) and her dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris). It can’t entirely escape the long shadow of the president, but it attempts to give two women who both suffered from marginalization (in two very different ways) their due.
It’s both gorgeously written and acted with a cool intellectualism that counterpoints the deep emotions that permeate any work to do with the Lincolns. Though the overall conceit – a prelude to that dreadful assassination night at Ford’s Theatre – may feel contrived, so indeed is a beautiful dress. Continue reading
(Photo: Johannes Markus)
There’s something awkward about referring to the name of American Century Theater’s latest production, Voodoo Macbeth. The first half of the title is perfectly fine; however the second half is a word that is taboo to many theater people. Common theater superstition dictates that one should avoid referring to the title of “The Scottish Play” or else disaster will strike. I find it weird to think that the superstition can simply be remedied by adding another word to the title.
Or maybe I’m not supposed to say Voodoo Macbeth either and I’ve cursed myself for eternity.
Grant Harrison and Tana Hicken in Studio Theatre’s production of 4000 Miles. Photo credit: Scott Suchman.
Some generational theorists say that you can be closer to your grandparents’ world views than to those of your parents. Perhaps that’s true (my grandmother was a cocktail drinker), perhaps it isn’t (those arguments about religion!). I suspect that the kind of relationship you had with your grandparents will strongly inform your reaction to Amy Herzog’s generational drama, 4000 Miles, now playing at Studio Theatre under the direction of its former founding artistic director Joy Zinoman.
Twentysomething Leo (Grant Harrison) turns up at his ninetysomething grandmother Vera’s Greenwich Village apartment in the middle of the night, fresh (or rather, rank) off a cross-country cycling trip that’s ended in tragedy. He’s lost, existentially, but like a homing pigeon has ended up at a haven he considers safe. Vera (Tana Hicken) may still cling to independence, but her speech is peppered with “what do you call it?” forgetfulness, and she’s in just as much need.
The simple moments when they embrace are the most true. Continue reading