Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Shoplifters

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, September 5-October 19, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, September 5-October 19, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

If I ever decide to steal groceries, I want Morris Panych and Jayne Houdyshell with me. The former, the playwright and director of Arena Stage’s current production, The Shoplifters, concocts such a solid and sympathetic justification for stealing that I found myself rooting for the latter, who plays Alma, an amateur career grocery thief, so convincingly and wonderfully that I really wanted her to get away with their crime.

The Shoplifters is a humorous and endearing glimpse into the lives of two supermarket security guards and the two would-be steak stealers they nab in the meat department of their store. Without making shoplifting look glamorous or fun, Panych has written a compelling script that examines why some people are wanting to continually commit criminal misdemeanors and why others let them get away with it.

At the heart of the play are Alma (Houdyshell) and Otto (Delaney Williams) as robber and cop, respectively, each trying to figure out the other, while simultaneously trying to deny that both their career paths have led them down the same emotional road. When the two are able to come to a mutual understanding and respect for one another in an amenable, but not unexpected conclusion, it is heartwarming. Contrast that with the roles of the younger bandit, Phyllis (Jenna Sokolowski), and officer, Dom (Adi Stein), where the traditional emotions, logic, and conclusions of both criminal and captor are more obvious. Eager to fight crime, and scared of getting in trouble, both Dom’s and Phyllis’ journeys are simpler than Otto’s and Alma’s, which makes their conclusions much more predictable, but no less satisfying for audience members who expect the bad guys to get their comeuppance and the good guys to prevail. But for those of us in the audience who value reason over justice and who like to see norms defied, the end of the journey for both Dom and Phyllis seemed anti-climatic and expected, although still amusing.

In order to remain varied and lively, the plot needs two different conclusions for the two different law-enforcement couplings. Yet the more expected path of Phyllis and Dom—spoiler alert—with Phyllis’s guilt and fear overriding her sense of adventure, leading to her repentance and restitution and Dom’s righteous indignation at those who break the law and his refusal to yield his Judeo-Christian ethic of “Thou Shalt Not Steal”’ to even the humblest of criminals, ended up being far less interesting simply because it was predictable.

What this meant for actors Sokolowski and Stein was that their performances, too, were less interesting and predictable from those of Houdyshell and Williams. When offered up an expected emotional arc, Sokolowski and Stein provided little surprise or depth to their Phyllis and Dom. Williams was likeable and sensitive as Otto, and I found myself rooting for him to succeed, although I wasn’t sure what I wanted that success to look like since succeeding at his job meant nabbing the criminals and succeeding as a person meant being compassionate to them. More obvious in her intentions, but no less complex, was Houdyshell’s Alma who, from the beginning, lets the audience know that she intends to not only get away with shoplifting but refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing in it. Not only does she see no wrongdoing, she actually sees value in what she is doing, even declaring to the security guards at one point “If a person steals something, try to show just a little appreciation. If it wasn’t for shoplifters, you wouldn’t have a job.”

Although Alma’s motivations seem simple enough, Houdyshell’s depth in inhabiting the character so effortlessly and flawlessly was nothing short of brilliant. I didn’t feel like I was watching an actor, but believed I was witnessing an actual criminal, down on her luck, who was just trying to survive. And I wanted her to. To so fully embody a character that seems so simple on the outside, and to bring in great complexity and such warmth, sympathy, and understanding was exceptional.

Houdyshell’s performance, alone, is reason to see The Shoplifters at Arena Stage. Add to it a talented supporting cast and a compelling character study as to the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want, combined with a lot of understated, but hilarious dialogue, and a ticket to the show may just be worth stealing.

The Shoplifters performs at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater now through October 19, located at 1101 6th St SW, Washington DC 20024. Tickets start at $45. For more information, call 202-554-9066.

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Loveland

Loveland at Arena Stage

(Ann Randolph in Loveland Photo: Teresa Wood)

As she struts up and down the imaginary aircraft cabin on the stage of Arena’s Kogod Cradle, Franny Potts (Ann Randolph) achieves a level of adorkable that dates back before Zooey Deschanel put on a pair of plastic frames. I’m not talking about today’s awkward yet cute look, I’m talking about an unfiltered mouth passionately spouting out factoids about America’s National Parks. I’m talking about a mouthful of adult braces and the lisp it causes. I’m talking about proudly and unabashedly being a dork because you love it and you don’t care what everybody else thinks.

The protagonist in Randolph’s Loveland reminded me of Molly Shannon’s Sally O’Malley character on SNL, down to Franny’s black stretch pants. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Potts spoke about her love of kicking, stretching, and kicking while shouting, “I’m 50!”

Loveland is a semi-autobiographical tale of humor, love, and loss. In this one-act, one-woman play, Randolph is awkwardly hilarious, occasionally endearing, and is very comfortable in her pair of stretchy pants.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

(L to R) Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Dr. John Prentice, Bethany Anne Lind as Joanna Drayton, Tess Malis Kincaid as Christina Drayton and Tom Key as Matt Drayton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater November 29, 2013-January 5, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood. (L to R) Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Bethany Anne Lind, Tess Malis Kincaid and Tom Key in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Teresa Wood.

For a play based on a film made in 1967, you might suspect antiquated dialogue and plotlines. While William Rose’s screenplay about Joanna Drayton (Bethany Anne Lind), a girl who surprises her family by bringing home an African-American fiancée (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), may have been edgy back then, the idea of inter-racial marriage is much more accepted in our society now.


Well even in “post-racial” 2013, the idea of whites and blacks marrying each other is still making headlines. Todd Kreidler’s stage adaptation of Rose’s story still resonates with audiences in a new production at Arena Stage. The story may not provoke like it did back in the 60s; instead it serves as a galvanizing statement of equality and the way love should be. The crowd inside the packed Fichandler Stage was eager to give their stamp of approval against prejudice, exploding into applause anytime a character demonstrated against bigotry. The statement that the original film set out to make now has a strong rooting interest in 2013.

Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life

Maurice Hines is Tappin' Thru Life

Maurice Hines in Arena Stage’s Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life. Photo credit: Teresa Wood

When I was 7 years old, I saw an episode of Sesame Street, where two brothers used choreography in the foreground and background to demonstrate the difference between near and far. I was completely mesmerized. That’s when I fell in love with tap dancing and with the Hines brothers. To have the opportunity to see Maurice Hines himself in Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life at Arena Stage, therefore, was the fulfillment of a childhood dream and I had extremely high expectations. I mean, here was one-half of the partnership that so creatively taught me the difference between things that were close and further away, using nothing but his feet, rhythm and charisma. How could it be anything less than great? To be honest, though, it was not great. It was phenomenal.

Less a traditional theatrical format and more a tribute to some of the greatest talents in American music history, Tappin’ Thru Life reminded me of a multi-mode art installation, the likes of which are rarely seen on stage anywhere. Although I was born and raised in the era of disco and big hair bands, to see a performance that so richly entertained based purely on the bare talents of a nine-piece jazz orchestra playing standards, two sets of tap dancing brothers, and a 70-year old legendary performer without any pyrotechnics, technological enhancement, or schmaltzy glitz was a rare gift.

Although less well-known, perhaps, than his younger brother Gregory (who died of liver cancer in 2003), Maurice Hines is still a performing force not to be trifled with. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Love in Afghanistan

Love in Afghanistan

Khris Davis and Melis Aker in Love in Afghanistan at Arena Stage. Photo credit: Teresa Wood.

It could have been the perfect modern-day Cinderella story—rich and handsome boy meets oppressed but beautiful girl, the attraction is immediate, they fall in love, and despite the multiple barriers that ensue, he eventually rescues her from her oppressive situation, they get married and live happily ever after in his world of fame and fortune, never to look back on her former life of injustices. Real life and love, of course, are much more complicated, and thankfully, the lovers’ relationship in Arena Stage’s production of Love in Afghanistan reflects life and love’s complexities. It doesn’t fall prey to the fairy tale ending.

Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright’s modern tale of love in war-torn Afghanistan is the story of Duke (played by Khris Davis), a young, successful American hip-hop artist performing for the US troops at the military base in Kabul, whose language interpreter, Roya (Melis Aker), is a beautiful and smart Afghan woman who, when she’s not utilizing her skills as a polyglot for the US military, is secretly helping run an underground rescue organization for women. Intrigued and impressed by the other person, an immediate and intimate friendship between Duke and Roya develops. Although the transition from friendship to love is predictable, the relationship between the two characters is not. Theirs is a love complicated by the intricacies of two separate cultures that, in many ways, are not compatible with one another. He is from the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ where playing the proverbial hero on the white horse rescuing the damsel in distress is considered noble and romantic, while she is from a land where, although fear permeates every facet of life and bomb explosions are regular occurrences, women do not want to be rescued by men but, rather, are rescuing themselves from the oppression of a male-dominated society. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Other Desert Cities

Other Desert Cities
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.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: WLDC 2012-2013 Theater Review


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.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Mountaintop

The Mountaintop
(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.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Mary T. & Lizzy K.

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.

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

We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Red Hot Patriot

Kathleen Turner in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Photo by Mark Garvin.

I wonder if people missed Mark Twain this much.

Sometimes it’s hard not having Molly Ivins around anymore – perhaps never more so than in an election year. Her Twainian quips and raw delivery might save us these days, when it’s hard to tell a political quote from a Onion article.

Fortunately for all of us, Ivins has been reborn in the body of Kathleen Turner; and she’s come back to visit us for a brief moment in Arena Stage’s Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.

A liberal columnist from conservative Texas, Molly Ivins was known for her biting satire and crusader-like persona. She was a big character who would fit well in a stage play; and Turner doesn’t disappoint.

Continue reading

We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Normal Heart

(L to R) Michael Berresse as Mickey Marcus, Patrick Breen as Ned Weeks, Jon Levenson as Hiram Keebler and Nick Mennell as Bruce Niles in The Normal Heart at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater June 8-July 29, 2012. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The stage is fairly empty, save for some scribbling on the white set – words, shadowy and illegible until the lights come up. Slowly, our eyes adjust and we make out some phrases published by the press in the early 1980s. The first one I can read is damning: “By our silence we have helped murder each other.” Before the first scene of The Normal Heart at Arena Stage comes to a halt, I’ve read the writing on the wall quite literally; and the writing tells me we’re doomed.

The Normal HeartArena Stage‘s nearly flawless production of the 2011 Tony-winning revival – moves with a thunderous pace and makes clear its own immediacy from its first scene to its haunting end. Never stopping to take a breath, the show instead devotes every moment to its characters and their dealings with the AIDS epidemic that began, largely unheeded, in 1981.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Long Day’s Journey into Night

Peter Michael Goetz as James Tyrone, Sr. and Helen Carey as Mary Tyrone in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Photo by Scott Suchman.

It’s hard not to feel hopeless while watching Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey into Night. The day after I saw Arena Stage‘s production of this three hour masterpiece on how to tear your family apart, the headlines were full of stories proving the play’s relevancy to our times. Sales of the two most popular prescription painkillers (oxycodone and hydrocodone, of the opioid category) have risen dramatically in new areas of the US. Concurrent with the increase in sales is the increase in overdose deaths and pharmacy robberies. It’s an addiction problem that begins not with recreational use, but with using the medication initially for pain.

Just like poor Mary Tyrone, hooked on dope for decades following a difficult birth in a sordid hotel.

Played by the radiantly distraught Helen Carey, this long-suffering mother seems the proper focus for the play’s maelstrom of guilt and self-deceit. The whole family is caught in a continuous cycle of devastating returns to the past and an inability to escape. It’s a harrowing seesaw of emotions for an audience to endure. Luckily, director Robin Phillips introduces just enough laughter intermixed with the morbidity to allow us to hope.

But, it’s apparent as a society we have a long way to go to shake the yoke of the “poison” Mary takes. To call it a matter of willpower is a tragic misunderstanding. The Tyrones certainly aren’t able to exert any willpower about anything, as they repeatedly rip up each other in the present in an effort to win in the past.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Ah, Wilderness!

Photo: Scott Suchman

Nostalgia has been on the minds of Americans more than ever. Pop culture junkies are writing about it, those disillusioned by our current economic times are looking back to sunnier days, and Hollywood is playing to our nostalgic tastes more than ever with remakes and reboots of shows and films of yesteryear.

This isn’t a new phenomena, in 1932 Eugene O’Neill wrote “Ah, Wilderness!” as a fond look back to the mood and world he grew up in as a teenager. It is a certainly a world viewed with rose-colored lenses, O’Neill grew up in a less than perfect home full of alcoholism and philandering yet in Arena Stage’s production we are presented with a more idyllic vision: a warm, fuzzy home where the mood is relaxed like a night sitting on the porch sipping an iced tea.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Elephant Room

Photo by Scott Suchman

This past weekend I saw magic. No I’m not talking about a win from the hapless Wizards or miracles of that sort- I’m talking about a real magic show with magicians, tricks, and illusions. However this show did not have the showmanship of Houdini, the polish of Copperfield, or the rock and roll of Criss Angel. No the trio of Dennis Diamond, Daryl Hannah, and Louis Magic that star in Arena Stage’s Elephant Room look like a cheesy act that’s more Reno than Vegas.

Not only is there magic, but mustaches and mullets as well.

The look and feel of Elephant Room ties into a line said during the show: “We have nothing new to show you.”

With magic’s biggest secrets since revealed, showmanship is now as important as the illusions themselves. The Diamond/Hannah/Magic wolfpack provides a refreshing new take on the magic show. It is essentially the anti-David Blaine. These men aren’t sporting hard bodies or designer jeans, they look more like extras off the set of Napoleon Dynamite than someone that would lock himself in a ball full of water.

And that’s what makes the show so much fun to watch.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Red

Edward Gero as Mark Rothko and Patrick Andrews as Ken in the 2011 Goodman Theatre production of Red. Directed by Robert Falls. Photo by Liz Lauren.

De Kooning. Pollock. Rothko. Giants of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Killers of Surrealism, only to be swept aside themselves by Pop Art. At least, that’s how the legend goes (even Rothko would disagree with the precise classifications). But is a revolutionary’s story compelling if it doesn’t end in a young, glorious death? In Red, playwright John Logan sets up his genius protagonist to play defense against the onslaught of age and change. His Mark Rothko is engaged in a constant struggle against accusations of hypocrisy and potential irrelevance, while his paintings stand silent, their internal monologues quietly stealing the scene.

A joint production between Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and Arena Stage, Red is an exploration of an important moment in the life of artist Mark Rothko (played by Ed Gero). He took on a commission in the late 1950′s to produce murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, itself a gorgeous modernist tower designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. We’re supposed to feel somewhat shocked that Rothko would paint for this much money, would consent to house his paintings in a consumerist palace (as if Michelangelo never did anything similar for the Medici, but conveniently forgetting our art history, let’s say it is shocking). Rothko claimed to want his murals to disquiet the diners. The commission was certainly one of the most lucrative of its day. Red encapsulates that struggle between art and consumerism (on the verge of Pop Art’s embrace of it) in the relationship between Rothko and his young assistant, and if it did nothing else, the battle between the two would still make for a fascinating and unnerving evening. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: You, Nero

Photo by Scott Suchman

Nero is perhaps most well known as the Emperor of Rome who let the city burn as he played the fiddle. A widely known piece of history that isn’t entirely true yet perfectly paints a portrait of a ruler who cared more about himself than his people. The vanity of Nero could easily be compared to others in history- from Napoleon to today’s mega-celebrities and athletes.

Danny Scheie steals every scene as the self-absorbed ruler of the early Roman empire in Arena Stage’s production of You, Nero. From the moment Scheie enters the stage we feel Nero’s ginormous presence fill every inch of the Finchandler Stage. In a fitting moment of irony one of his first lines to the audience is a woeful, “Poor me!”

Of course we take less pity on him and more laughter as we take-in Nero’s over the top appreciation for himself.

Despite a fantastic job by Jeff McCarthy in the role of Scribonius, a role McCarthy took on only days before the opening, he is simply a guide through this hilarious send-up of ancient Rome. The real star is Nero and Scheie reprises the role he first performed in early West Coast productions with panache, pizzazz, and flamboyance.

Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Equivocation

Anthony Heald as Shag, Gregory Linington as Armin and Richard Elmore as Richard in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 production of Equivocation, directed by Bill Rauch. Photo by Jenny Graham

A lawyer in love with a Shakespearean scholar might find the perfect date night with Equivocation. Or a politician whose best friend is a Jesuit. Bill Cain’s play is a thicket of ideas about theater, politics and morality. His language manages to be natural, almost casual, despite the rich quotations of Shakespearean text and the monumental characters debating the difficult question of how to remain true to your ideals, and the truth itself, in dangerous times.

Equivocation has received accolades since its 2009 world premiere by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the country’s pre-eminent theater companies, and it’s now in performance by that company at Arena Stage. Cain wrote the play in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when he started noticing a rise of disturbing doublespeak. He went back further in time to hold the mirror up, exploring what happens when a playwright is induced to produce propaganda about current events – in this case, being asked to dramatize the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to glorify King James I’s role. It’s fascinating how references to the Gunpowder Plot has resurfaced recently - V for Vendetta and Occupy Wall Street – as the mirror of history is turned back on itself again and again. Cain is interested in the propaganda of words, so he uses the ultimate wordweaver as the unlucky protagonist – Shakespeare himself. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Book Club Play

Tom Story as Will, Kate Eastwood Norris as Ana, Eric Messner as Rob, Ashlie Atkinson as Jen and Rachael Holmes as Lily in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of The Book Club Play. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Despite being an avid reader, I’ve somehow missed out on the whole book club phenomenon. Maybe it’s that whole Groucho Marx "I refuse to join a club that would have me as a member" thing. So when it came time to see Karen Zacarias’ The Book Club Play at Arena Stage, who better to bring along than a friend with intimate knowledge of not one but two book clubs, someone whose involvement was so consuming she once proclaimed she was "breaking up" with book club?

"Is this anything like your book clubs?" I whispered to my friend at intermission.

"No, not really" she laughed with a wicked insider smile, "but it’s funny."

That may neatly sum up the issues with The Book Club Play. It skims the pages, lightly playing with issues like the devolution of the literary canon (is Twilight really the Wuthering Heights of our day?), and the social dynamics of readers with different commitments and backgrounds. But even in its construct, it owes more to reality shows than literature.

It’s a funny reality show though, to be sure, with broadly sketched characters against a cartoon-colored set. It’s even divided into "chapters" announced across the bottom of the stage as the various books from the sacred (Moby Dick) to the profane (The DaVinci Code) are introduced, just like some sitcoms do. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Trouble in Mind

E. Faye Butler as Wiletta Mayer in the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of Trouble in Mind. Photo by Richard Anderson.

If there’s a theme emerging from this year’s theater offerings it’s definitely the play-within-a-play. From Venus in Fur to The Habit of Art, many recent productions have highlighted the rehearsal process itself to uncover uncomfortable truths about power and control. These are all relatively new plays riffing on an old theme, but Trouble in Mind, the 1955 play now on stage at Arena, seems just as fresh. Written by Alice Childress to blow the proverbial lid off racism in the theater of her time, it’s eeriely (and sadly) still relevant. I wasn’t expecting the play to seem so current, but its sharp eye exposes not only racism but sexism and ageism as well. You wouldn’t think a social drama could be a comedy either, but this one’s wit can be deadly and hilarious.

Reading the story of Childress’s struggle with Broadway producers over rewrites is infuriating enough. Watching her character Wiletta Mayer (E. Faye Butler) suffer the patronizing forehead kisses of her director and detail the indignities of having to be grateful to play Mammy roles just drives the discomfort home. Butler’s performance is the touchstone of this production – the war between Wiletta’s ambition to be an acclaimed actress and the betrayal of her integrity carries a constant electric charge.

That Arena, one of the first theaters to integrate black and white actors, is staging a play about an integrated cast, just adds to the frisson. But the weight of history, especially in the District, doesn’t make this a museum piece.
Continue reading

The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Oklahoma! at Arena Stage

Ensemble of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Photo by Suzanne Bluestar Boy.

Arena Stage’s 2010 production of Oklahoma! has been revived for another run. Don reviewed the original production in November of last year. Here’s Rachel’s take on the current remount.

Modern America is riddled with stress. This stress is self-inflicted. 40-hour work weeks, a 24-hour news cycle, social media overload – these are all characteristics that personify our society. America wasn’t always the go-go-go place that it is now. There was a simpler time when people couldn’t be bothered by a phone call in the middle of the night or a flashing red light on a mobile device telling them that they’ve got e-mail to check and tweets to read.

Oklahoma! is a reminder of those days gone by. Continue reading