Metamorphoses—director/playwright Mary Zimmerman’s interpretation of Ovid’s myths—comes to Arena Stage February 8 through March 17, ten years after the show’s Broadway run earned her a Tony Award for directing. Zimmerman is a member of Lookingglass Theatre Company and a resident director at Goodman Theatre, both in Chicago, as well as a professor at Northwestern University. In Washington she’s directed productions of Candide, The Arabian Nights, and Argonautika. Zimmerman is currently at work on an adaptation of The Jungle Book, incorporating the Disney cartoon’s songs with elements from the original book by Rudyard Kipling. We talked to her by phone about reviving Metamorphoses, staging it in New York immediately after 9/11, and why she loves Washington.
What was the impetus for reviving Metamorphoses ?
It’s Lookingglass’s 25th anniversary and we’re this small, scrappy company—or now I suppose we’re midsize. But we wanted to celebrate by bringing back a signature piece here in Chicago. There were a few theaters that wanted to take it, but the only one I was interested in was Arena, because it’s something different for me—doing the show in the round is a new challenge.
What first interested you in Ovid’s tales?
At Northwestern, where I teach, I wanted to do a show about myths using water. It wasn’t until later that I realized all these myths were actually Ovid. All my life I’d had a tremendous interest in the stories. My mother had a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology on her bookshelf with these pen-and-ink drawings that are seared into my heart. After I finished with fairy tales in childhood I moved onto those. I think I sensed the psychological and the adult content.
Where did the idea for the water come from?
The myths have everything to do with water, and water has everything to do with change—in virtually every culture it’s a symbol of change. In Shakespeare everything goes through a sea change, and water is symbolic in terms of crossing a rubicon, and of transformation. In a lot of cultures it’s where you go to meet the gods, because they come out of water. It’s a very mutable and mutating element, and it can metamorphose, and be a solid or a liquid, so it works physically and emblematically.
Metamorphoses played in New York right after 9/11 and seemed to resonate with people there. What do you think it can say to contemporary Washington?
These stories have earned their keep because they’re consistently relevant. They’re not a conspiracy by English teachers to keep us interested in the classics; they’re around because they address the ongoing problems of being a person and going through life—that is to say, unwanted, unlooked for change. Metamorphosis is a wrenching thing that happens in our lives but that produces something new in each case. The archetypal nature of the myths seems to lend itself to whatever’s in the air.
That said, our first preview off-Broadway in New York was September 16, 2001. That night was one of only two times in my life where I experienced catharsis. You could feel the audience go through the pity and the terror in the show and then somehow be released from those feelings. About 15 minutes into the show a man says goodbye to his wife because he’s going to make a sea voyage. It’s a very beautiful day, and out of the blue this horrible storm comes and he’s killed. As he’s drowning he prays to the gods, “At least let her find my body.” The immediacy of that in Manhattan on that day was overwhelming, and as we approached those lines I pressed back in my chair, thinking, “I can’t believe we’re going to do this now.” But the ancient tales tell us it was ever thus, and life has survived and presses on in new and unrecognizable forms, but it persists.
You come to Washington a lot. What do you like about working here?
I love Washington. I love walking down the street and seeing Supreme Court justices at the deli. I love that Supreme Court justices come to my shows, even if they’re not always the ones I would like to come, necessarily. I love that it’s small and monumental at the same time. And a very good friend, Natsu Onoda, who’s making a name for herself on the Washington drama scene, lives there.
The Chicago Tribune called this show your masterwork. Would you agree with that?
It’s the one I most identify with, but of course I’m always most in love with the thing I just did and the thing I’m currently doing, and I hope to always be challenging myself with the thing I’m doing next. I actually think Metamorphoses is quite quirky. It flips between a fancy translation and a more colloquial form of speaking. Often successes are full of odd flaws—a lot of operas are dramaturgically terrible. People respond to the spirit of a thing, I’ve learned.
Metamorphoses is at Arena Stage February 8 through March 17. Tickets ($40 and up) are available via Arena’s website.
This article appears in the February 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Through his 40-year career, John Waters has stayed loyal to Baltimore. The 66-year-old filmmaker, writer, and artist joins the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this month for a semi-staged concert production of the musical Hairspray, based on his 1988 movie. Incorporating new narration from Waters, the show features former Monkee Mickey Dolenz as Wilbur Turnblad. Waters is also currently at work on a book, Carsick, about nine days spent hitchhiking across America. We caught up with him via phone to discuss why Baltimore still isn’t as integrated as it should be, his favorite professional achievements, and why he’d most like to collaborate with Justin Bieber.
Where did the idea for Hairspray come from?
It came from an article I wrote for Baltimore Magazine called “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Nicest Kids in Town,” about the reunion of The Buddy Deane Show, a TV show that had a huge following in Baltimore. Of course, as a teenager I watched it and exaggerated all the committee and turned them into characters in my own mind.
Mickey Dolenz is performing with you. Were you a Monkees fan?
Kind of. By then I was on LSD, so I had a different feeling. I like them more now.
How do you think the world has changed since 1988 when the original Hairspray movie came out?
I still think Baltimore is not as integrated as it should be. If teenagers still slow-danced, which they don’t, would there be a television show in Washington or Baltimore that showed 14-year-old black and white kids dancing together? I think there wouldn’t.
What did you think of the 2007 film?
I thought it was good—it worked because they reinvented it. What doesn’t work on Broadway shows when they make them into movies is when they do the exact same thing. I wrote a sequel called White Lipstick that I was paid Hollywood money for that never happened, and I wrote a pilot for a TV show that never happened, so I’m waiting for Hairspray on Ice as the final thing.
What out of all your professional achievements would you like to be remembered for?
Well, what I am most of all is a writer. I’ve written all my movies and five books—I’m writing a book right now. I have my 16-city Christmas tour, and the show I do called This Filthy World. I write something weird every morning and then every afternoon I sell it.
You’re inherently faithful to Baltimore. What do you love most about the city?
I think people here have the best sense of humor and they’re never pretentious. Some of the restaurants are starting to get that way and I avoid them because it doesn’t work here to be that fancy. I also love the fact that a neighborhood one street away can be alarming or beautiful—it switches so quickly. You can never be sure in Baltimore. I think that should be our bumper sticker.
What is an average day like for you?
Monday to Friday I get up at exactly six o’clock. I read six papers every day: the Baltimore Sun, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Post, the Washington Post, USA Today. Is that six? Then at exactly eight o’clock, not 7:59, not 8:01, I write. Then in the afternoon I run my business.
What were your hitchhiking adventures like?
I’m not going to tell you much because that’s the book. It was 21 rides in nine days. People thought I was homeless. But I would say that it’s generally a very optimistic book. Every person who picked me up was weirdly happy. So that’s why I think people should hitchhike again. It’s a new way to be green.
Is there any performer who you’d love to work with?
Oh, Justin Bieber. I love it especially when he’s black.
Hairspray in Concert featuring John Waters is at Strathmore January 24 and at Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall January 25 through 27. Tickets ($28 to $63) are available via the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s website.
This article appears in the January 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
For Kathleen Turner, playing columnist Molly Ivins onstage is a chance to embrace a real-life character she describes as “amazing, delightful, sensible, and smart.” The actress, 58, is famous for her performances in such films as Body Heat and Peggy Sue Got Married but has focused mostly on theater for the last decade, earning a 2005 Tony nomination for her performance as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Turner stars in Red-Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Bethesda journalist Margaret Engel and her twin sister, Allison Engel. We caught up with her to discuss her activism on behalf of Planned Parenthood, her favorite ever role, and the joys of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.
The timing of this show seems to be auspicious.
The timing is intentional, honey. You bet. I vowed that what I really wanted to do was to bring this to Washington before the election. Because it’s not just a fun evening—although of course Molly was an extremely funny woman writer—but it’s level-headed, it’s politically savvy and insightful. A real illustration of how politics could work.
What kind of research did you do for the role?
Basically reading Molly’s work. It isn’t an attempt, I don’t think, to imitate anyone—I have no idea really what her physicality was like, except for what it had to have been. I’m a little younger than Molly but not by that much, we’re the same generation, pretty much. I think the biggest challenge was, out of the wealth of material that she wrote, the hundreds of columns and books, to be able to boil it down to an essence.
Would you say that your political views are aligned with Molly’s?
Very much so, yes. I don’t think I could do the other side. Someone actually asked me once if I’d be able to do Sarah Palin. I said, “I don’t think so, no.”
It’s basically a one-woman show. What are the challenges of carrying that for an hour?
Do you know how many words there are in 80 minutes? I’ve never counted them because I’m afraid to. There is a lot but the time flies when you’re doing it, and I think it flies for the audience as well. But it was intimidating in the beginning, to get at ease and to feel confident about that amount of material.
You did A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Arena in the ’80s.
I did, in ’81. We called it quite a “splashy” production, because I played Titania and Hippolyta, and we had a sunken pool in the set, so I kept diving and disappearing under the stage. It was great fun.
What do you think of the new facility?
I came down last year to help with the tributes for Edward Albee, and I got the tour. It’s just great. I’m so thrilled that our regional theaters can just be so well-supported. Because we don’t have a national theatre like other countries. This is the lifeblood of American theater here.
You attended college in this area.
I was at the University of Maryland-Baltimore my last year. There’s nothing better on earth than those steamed blue Chesapeake Bay crabs.
You’re chairman of the board of advocates at Planned Parenthood. Will you be testifying in Congress while you’re in Washington?
I hope so. I am certainly going to be speaking up, and I have received some very, very flattering requests as a speaker. Of course, they have to be luncheons because I’m onstage every night. I will certainly use whatever opportunity I’m given to try and speak up on women’s issues.
You’ve done some fantastic work in the theater.
I’ve been having a great time. Know what else I’m doing right now? I’m directing and starring in—for the first time, I’ve never done the two together, so it’s a new challenge—The Killing of Sister George. Which I start up at Longworth in New Haven immediately after I finish Molly Ivins at Arena.
Which role, theater or film or TV, would you most like to be remembered for?
I hope there are many, many to come. But I suppose, to date, I would have to say Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, because that was a role that I set my sights on when I was very young, about 20. I said, when I’m 50, this is where I want to be. And it became true, and I must say that it was everything I hoped we could have it be. I think Albee himself was extraordinarily pleased.
What do you look for in a role now?
As always, the character. And I have to confess, more and more as I get older, humor. I don’t think I have any stomach for great tragedy anymore—it just doesn’t appeal to me. I keep wanting to make people laugh. It’s the uniqueness of a character that draws my imagination. I find myself starting to think, “Well, why does she do that,” or, “How would I do that,” and then it gets fun. And once it starts getting fun, then I’m hooked.
Red-Hot Patriot is at Arena Stage August 23 through October 28. Tickets ($40 and up) available via arenastage.org.
An abbreviated version of this article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
Oregon native Mat Kearney has been grinding out his eclectic blend of hip-hop and folk music in Music City—Nashville, Tennessee—since releasing his first album in 2004. Since then, he’s hit number one on iTunes overall album charts and number four on the Billboard Top 200. He’s also spent a good bit of time at the 9:30 Club.
Seven months ago, Kearney, a former soccer player, posted a video on his blog in which he discusses how success can create a slightly competitive edge. In the video, he says he’s not that popular, his proof being that he never opened for Adele.
Well, this year finds him opening for Train during a three-month tour and moving from the 9:30 Club to the much larger Wolf Trap. We caught up with Kearney in the little time he had between shows to talk about playing DC, getting competitive, and what it’s like to hear your song on Grey’s Anatomy.
For six years, Kevin Costner has been quietly working on a side project. The 57-year-old star of Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves, and The Bodyguard sings and plays guitar in the band Modern West, whose sound is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp. The group, which has recorded three albums, plays April 3 and 4 at the Rams Head in Annapolis and April 5 at Strathmore. Here's a conversation with Costner.
How did Modern West come about?
I started it around the time I was getting ready to do The Guardian in Louisiana. The guys in Modern West, John Coinman and Blair Forward, were in my first band, Roving Boy. I didn't know where the new one was going, but I pulled them back in and said, "Let's start doing our own material."
How did you meet John?
I was 26 or 27, and a bunch of us decided to put our own acting workshop together, where we didn't have to pay anybody to teach us. We did it in an old warehouse, built a little stage, and had 20 or 30 people who got to act every week.
He's performed at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and some of the country's most prestigious venues, but Wayne Brady says when he was approached to play at the Kennedy Center, he jumped: "They came knocking, and when the Kennedy Center comes knocking, you say, 'Yes, absolutely, when can I get on the plane?'" Brady, musician, actor, comedian, and current host of CBS's Let's Make a Deal, brings his tribute to Sam Cooke and Sammy Davis Jr. to the KenCen's Concert Hall this week, performing "Wayne Brady sings the Sammys" with the NSO Pops. We caught up with him to discuss music, reunions with the Whose Line Is It Anyway? cast, and the time he got to play dice in period costume with Michael K. Williams, a.k.a. The Wire's Omar Little.
Bryan Adams performs acoustic versions of his biggest hits this coming Monday at Strathmore. Photograph courtesy of Marlene Palmer.
In the first of two concerts by musically diverse stars with rhyming names, Bryan Adams comes to Strathmore on Monday with his Bare Bones tour: an acoustic presentation of some of his greatest hits, such as “Summer of ’69,” “Heaven,” and “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” In his 30-plus years as a performer, Adams has been nominated for 15 Grammy Awards, three Academy Awards, and a staggering 56 Juno Awards in his native Canada, in addition to twice winning the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting. Adams, who became a father for the first time last year, called us from his home in London to discuss his two tours, his side career as a photographer, and how he feels about possibly being confused with Ryan Adams (who plays Strathmore on Tuesday).
Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
For a photographer whose portraits are so iconic—think Demi Moore pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair, or a naked John Lennon draped around Yoko Ono in Rolling Stone—the concept of a series of photographs without a single human subject might sound strange. But for Annie Leibovitz, her latest book and museum show, “Pilgrimage,” offered a chance to pursue a more personal mission. For two years, Leibovitz spent her time between magazine assignments traveling across America and Europe shooting places she found meaningful, from Georgia O’Keeffe’s home to Niagara Falls to Graceland, capturing images of landscapes and still lifes. The collection was published in book form at the end of last year; more than 70 of the photographs go on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum January 20. We talked to Leibovitz about the inspiration behind the project.
Juliette Lewis as Tammy Hemphill, Callum Keith Rennie as Ray McDeere, Josh Lucas as Mitch McDeere, Natasha Calis as Claire McDeere, and Molly Parker as Abby McDeere in NBC’s The Firm. Photograph by Frank Ockenfels.
It’s not unusual to get so attached to the characters in a book or film that you long for a sequel so you can find out where they end up. But for Lukas Reiter, his affection for The Firm, the 1991 legal thriller that made John Grisham a household name, led him to actually conceptualize a show that follows up with Mitch and Abby McDeere ten years later. The show, which is set in Washington and stars Josh Lucas as Mitch (played by Tom Cruise in the 1993 movie), imagines Mitch and Abby as parents, finally stepping back into their lives after spending the better part of a decade in witness protection. Also starring in the series, which premieres this Sunday at 9 PM on NBC (it will normally air Thursdays at 10), are Molly Parker as Abby McDeere, Callum Keith Rennie as Mitch’s brother, Ray, and Juliette Lewis as Tammy Hemphill. We talked to Reiter to discuss why he wanted to make the show, where it finds the main characters, and why he thought Washington was the perfect location for it.
The Drive-By Truckers (left to right): Jay Gonzalez, John Neff, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Shonna Tucker and Brad Morgan. Photograph by Danny Clinch.
Athens, Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers are one of the rare bands to contain two world-class singer-songwriters in Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, who founded the band together in 1996 and have remained its creative nexus, giving voice to impoverished and marginalized Americans with their gift for pithy narrative and revealing characterization. Their 2001 album, Southern Rock Opera, made the hard-touring group a critical favorite, and the band’s subsequent decade has been remarkable for its quality and prolificacy, even through several major lineup changes. They’re ending 2011—and two nearly uninterrupted years on the road—with three sold-out shows at the 9:30 Club. I spoke by phone with Cooley and Hood in separate conversations on December 7 and 19, respectively, about their history with the 9:30 Club and their plans for this week’s run of shows.