Ken Ludwig / photo by Leslie Cashen
Ken Ludwig is a DC local and internationally acclaimed playwright who has had numerous hits on Broadway, in London’s West End, and throughout the world. He has won two Laurence Olivier Awards (England’s highest theater honor), two Tony Award nominations, two Helen Hayes Awards, and an Edgar Award. His work has been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Bristol Old Vic, and his plays have been performed in over thirty countries in more than twenty languages. His new book is called How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.
I spoke with Ken about his love of Shakespeare, the Bard’s history in DC, and choosing to make this city his creative home.
Joanna Castle Miller: How did you first fall in love with Shakespeare?
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.
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.
The We Love DC Theater team: Don Whiteside, Patrick Pho, Jenn Larsen, and Joanna Castle Miller.
Fall is in the air and that means one thing…
Oh ya and Theatre.
As new seasons across the District kick-off, the We Love DC Theater team got together at The Brixton to talk about the upcoming year in theater – and I got some of it on video! Find out which shows we are excited about in the first of two videos below!
courtesy of Michael T. Ruhl
If you’re looking to round out your Labor Day weekend plans, how does free theater at the Kennedy Center sound?
The 11th annual Page to Stage festival runs this Saturday-Monday and features free readings, workshops, and rehearsals of new works by some of the area’s most talented artists and theater companies.
This year, Synetic Theater offers a training demonstration and preview of their upcoming wordless Jekyll and Hyde; groups like The Inkwell and DC-Area Playwrights Group plan to showcase short, new works in progress by local playwrights; Signature Theatre, Folger Theatre, and the Kennedy Center all team up for Ken Ludwig’s latest thriller; and the weekend features a number of family-friendly shows for the younger crowd.
Page to Stage also offers a rare chance to see shows in the Kennedy Center’s rehearsal spaces and smaller venues. With a casual and collaborative atmosphere, it’s a bit like the Fringe – except with more chandeliers.
Page to Stage runs September 1-3, 2012 throughout multiple venues at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center is located at 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. Closest Metro stop: Foggy Bottom/GWU (Orange/Blue line). For more information call 202-467-4600.
(Center) Janie Brookshire as Desdemona and Owiso Odera as Othello with the cast of Shakespeare's Othello, on stage at Folger Theatre through December 4, 2011. Photo credit: Carol Pratt.
There’s a moment in Folger Theatre’s Othello that sums up director Robert Richmond’s insightful approach. Courtesan Bianca, transformed in this production into a saucy bellydancer played by Zehra Fazal, stands in the wind, staring at a small fluttering handkerchief. At the same time, Othello himself (a commanding Owiso Odera) struggles with the depths of jealous rage that will eventually destroy him. An innocuous piece of fabric has become a thing of horror for them both, a symbol of betrayal that will bring about murder. Something so simple, now so powerful.
That handkerchief gets talked about a lot in Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy about the loss of reputation and love through envy and greed, but this is the first time I’ve seen it so clearly as a totem of evil. Othello’s father gave it to his mother as a magical charm with the power to possess, after all. You wish Bianca would just let the damn thing go, flying off into the wind. But she doesn’t.
None of us ever do.
Washington audiences have a chance to contrast two great productions of Othello – Synetic’s revival of their 2010 wordless version, and now Folger’s performance of the classic text, already extended through December 4. With both, though the racial divide does play a strong part, it’s the corrosive poison of jealousy that’s explored most fully. Continue reading
(L-R) Dromio of Syracuse (Nathan Keepers) and his master, Antipholus of Syracuse (Darragh Kennan), in The Comedy of Errors, on stage at Folger Theatre through March 6, 2011. Photo: Carol Pratt.
Life can get far too serious sometimes. So can theater. Whatever happened to pratfalls? How about seeing a guy get a wet willy? Who doesn’t love a clown?
If you’re at all down lately, The Comedy of Errors at the Folger Theatre will perk you right up. It’s full of the childish pleasures of old-fashioned clowning and mercifully uncomplicated (apart from Shakespeare’s pesky plot concerning two sets of identical twins, of course!). I actually debated writing a review that would consist of just three words: “Sweet. Simple. Good.”
The first thing you notice upon entering the theater is Tony Cisek’s gorgeous set, like the waiting hall of a Victorian train station seen through the eyes of a passenger on the Yellow Submarine. Its antic colors instantly telegraph that you’re in the circus world of comedy, and thankfully, that’s just what we need. Next up is director Aaron Posner’s framing device – the presentation by British director Timothy Tushingham (Bruce Nelson) of a rough-cut documentary on his dysfunctional players, the Worcestershire Mask & Wig Society, earnestly touring the States. This preamble doesn’t really do much other than put you in the proper frame of mind to laugh, and to accept the British accents and anachronisms the actors use throughout the rest of the production.
But it’s sweet, and funny, and again – isn’t that what you need right now? I’m tired of being jaded. I enjoyed my time in Ephesus, where everyone knows your name but has no idea exactly who you really are… Continue reading
Laertes (Justin Adams) and Hamlet (Graham Michael Hamilton) in "Hamlet" at Folger Theatre. Photo credit: Carol Pratt.
For many of us, Hamlet was our first introduction to Shakespeare. We come to any performance marked by the ghosts of favorite actors and concepts, never able to fully be open to the play. Enter the clean, refined vision of director Joseph Haj to help you see the play fresh. From the very first moments, fast-paced and full of danger, to the wrenching final image, we know something is different in this state of Denmark. It’s a decidedly contemporary jewel-box of a production, and one I highly recommend.
Playing now through June 6 at the Folger Theatre, this Hamlet is highlighted by the stunning set design of James Kronzer and a heartbreaking lead performance by Graham Michael Hamilton. Your first sight of the all-white set’s striking modernity contrasted with the Elizabethean background of the Folger is a beacon of the director’s mission – let the simplicity of the text shine through. Everything is laid bare here, in grim tones of neutrals and grey, just as Hamlet bares his inner thoughts to us in the famous monologues detailing his struggle to avenge his father’s death.
And it’s fast. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a more effectively streamlined Hamlet (definitely not the four-hour Branagh version I sat through at the RSC years ago!). Purists may be upset at some of the cuts, but it serves the purpose well here to do some judicious snipping. But it’s not just the cuts that drive the action – Haj allows the ensemble few moments of rest, setting a pace that doesn’t labor but flies. Too often productions of Hamlet take the view that the prince is waffling, procrastinating – here, he’s moving briskly along on his search for truth, battering at the roadblocks in his way. Continue reading
Howard W. Overshown and Rachel Leslie as Beatrice and Benedick in Folger Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing. Photo Credit: Carol Pratt.
I can’t think of a better antidote to losing the sunshine when you leave work than to head to the Folger to see its vibrant production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Once inside the theater you’ll feel instantly transported back to summer.
Setting Shakespeare’s “Much Ado” during our own DC Caribbean Carnival may at first seem like a random decision, but it’s hardly that. The play’s core theme revolves around masking and unmasking identity. Characters intentionally hide their true selves and motives from others, mistaking the identity of others both figuratively and literally. Perhaps not in such an obvious way as other Shakespeare plays – but “Much Ado” is more mature, tackling the complexities of relationships. Despite plumbing these depths, it also manages to have some hysterical fun.
Former lovers Benedick and Beatrice fight out their mistrust and pain with biting sarcasm and wit. Their knowledge of each other’s faults is stronger at first than of each other’s strengths, and it’s their journey of mutual discovery to love and respect that makes this one of the most loved Shakespearean comedies. Contrast their relationship with the callow puppy love of the younger Claudio, Benedick’s protege, and Hero, Beatrice’s cousin – two lovers whose lack of knowledge about each other’s natures is the catalyst for some dirty dealing by villian Don John. Add in some well-meaning friends and relatives who manage to stir the pot for both good and bad, and you have a journey to teach everyone a little bit about love.
But does the setting work? Absolutely. The minute Claudio came in as a DC bike cop, I was sold.