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Highlights in comedy, dance, and more. By Tanya Pai
Loren Bray and Josh Adams star in R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match at Capital Fringe. Photograph via capitalfringe.org.

The annual quirk-fest that is the Capital Fringe Festival runs Thursday, July 10, through the 27th, offering around 140 works of theater, music, dance, and other performances. This year’s festival—the last to hold shows in Capital Fringe’s Fort Fringe before it moves to new digs—also features, for the first time, five site-specific works. We combed through the list of shows for some highlights; read on for a mostly unscientific sampling of the works we found intriguing. For the full list of shows, visit capitalfringe.org.

COMEDY

Homeboy Thanksgiving 
July 11, 19, 25, and 26 at Fort Fringe
The odd combo of a parolee, a rival ex-gang member, and an online gamer have to surmount their differences and make Thanksgiving dinner together. I enjoy mishmashed-family holiday stories almost as much as I enjoy saying the word “homeboy.” 

Brick Penguin Tries Its Best 
July 11, 12, 16, 18, 19, 23, 25, and 26 at the Fridge
The sketch comedy group collects some of its top sketches from the past four years for this new show. Laughs are guaranteed. 

The Inaugural Election for President of Mrs. Jacobson’s Sixth Grade Class 
July 12, 15, 19, 20, and 26 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
An interactive show lets you decide which of six sixth-graders should become class president, and gives politics-obsessed Washingtonians the chance to see the absurdities of modern elections the way kids do. 

Size Doesn’t Matter! Seven Shorts by DC Playwrights
July 12, 13, 16, 19, and 26 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Local playwrights Mari Baldessari, Renee Calarco, Zachary Fernebok, and John Morogiello present a collection of seven unrelated works. 

What Would Tina and Amy Do?
July 11, 13, 16, 17, and 19 at Fort Fringe
Two recent college grads try to find their place in the world with the help of advice from everyone’s favorite superstar BFFs Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. 

Call Steve Guttenberg
July 12, 18, 20, 22, and 25 at Fort Fringe
Danny Pushkin’s work promises “Lovecraftian gothic horror, ancient artifacts mistaken for paraphernalia,” and maybe even some ’80s references—what’s not to love? 

Districtland
July 11, 13, 16, 19, 23, and 27 at Fort Fringe
Perhaps the most relatable work of the festival, this play based on true anecdotes satirizes the terrors and frustrations of trying to start a career in DC. 


DANCE

#Albatross 
July 11, 13, 19, 22, and 25 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
What do you get when you combine ballet, electric guitar, Twitter, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? I have no idea, actually, but it certainly sounds interesting. 

“Installment 1: Relax(h)er”
July 19 at Jet Set Hair Designs and Plush Beauty Box
As part of the festival’s site-specific series, dancer and choreographer Jasmine Hearn explores her memories and personal experiences centered on hair, in the first installment of a four-part series called That’s What She Said

Everybody Knows This Is Now Here
July 10, 12, 13, 15, and 17 at Goethe-Institut
This multimedia piece by Eliza Larson and Rachel Rugh examines friendship and connection in the digital age. Fittingly, the show was developed largely through Skype. 

Intrigue, A Mystery on Marley…
July 11, 18, 19, 22, and 27 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Clue fans will enjoy this noirish physical-theater whodunit, conceived by DraMAStic Dance Works artistic director Mary A. Stiegelbauer. 

The Old Man Never Let It Go
July 10, 13, 18, 23, and 26 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Relive your high school English class with this wordless adaptation of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, written and directed by Hector J. Reynoso and composed by Synetic Theater’s Koki Lortkipanidze.


DRAMA

Chesapeake by Lee Blessing
July 10, 13, 19, 23, and 26 at Fort Fringe
This work from the playwright behind A Walk in the Woods is a magical realist tale about a Southern politician, a performance artist, and a dog named Lucky. 

Bethesda 
July 12, 17, 22, 23, and 26 at Goethe-Institut
One to appeal to Washington’s scandal-loving side: When a disgraced diplomat returns to DC, he must deal with the impact his actions have had on his wife and kids. 

Contrafact of Freedom
July 15, 16, 17, 19, and 20 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Learn about the man behind “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which has its bicentennial this year), in this work by Alex Pappas. 

Interrogation 
July 10, 12, 14, 18, 20, 24, and 26 at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church
John Feffer, who was behind 2012’s Fringe hit The Pundit and last year’s The Politician, returns with this dark comedy about surveillance and interrogation. 

R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match
July 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, and 26 at DC Reynolds
An audience-involving take on Romeo and Juliet set in a bar and featuring rap battles and flip cup—like your usual weekend night, except with more iambic pentameter. 

Ten Principles
July 12, 18, 19, 23, and 26 at Fort Fringe
Ten people from the Washington area share their experiences at Burning Man, based on founder Larry Harvey’s “ten principles.” 

The Fever
July 22, 23, 24, and 25 at Goethe-Institut
This drama, written by Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), stars Patrick O’Brien as a well-off traveler who has a crisis of conscience while suffering from a mysterious fever as he’s traveling in an impoverished country. 

MUSIC AND MUSICALS

Martin, Love, Sex & Rhythm
July 12, 16, 20, 22, and 27 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
This “sexy” all-male musical explores the topic of gay-on-gay shaming through choreography and top 40 songs. 

Cabaret XXX: Everybody F**king Dies
July 16, 17, 19, 22, 25, and 27
Pinky Swear Productions presents this raucous eulogy to Les Femmes Fatales. Spoiler: The show contains profanity. 

You, or Whatever I Can Get
July 16, 19, 20, 24, and 26 at Fort Fringe
The team behind last year’s Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk return with a look at the highs and lows of dating in your twenties and thirties. 

Coosje 
July 10, 12, 13, 15, and 16 at Goethe-Institut
This musical love story features a pear that gains consciousness and travels the world. If that’s not a must-see, what is? 

Rock Bottom (A Rock Opus)
July 10, 13, 16, 18, and 26 at Warehouse
Based on the novel by Michael Schilling, this is the story of a rock band in its death throes. The folks behind it also produced Diamond Dead, which won Best Musical at Fringe in 2008. 

Posted at 05:00 PM/ET, 07/10/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
We talk with the founder and area native before the event’s debut on Saturday. By Tanya Pai
A scene from the second annual One-Minute Play Festival in Atlanta, in partnership with Actor’s Express. Photograph by Grant McGowen.

The phrase “one-minute play festival” might conjure the impression of theater designed to indulge the Vine generation. But producing artistic director Dominic D’Andrea had something else in mind entirely when he conceived the project: a way to paint a picture of a city’s culture through 60-second works that capture something essential about the time and place in which they were written. The first One-Minute Play Festival was held in New York City in 2006; it’s now expanded to 22 cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Anchorage, and has featured original works by David Henry Hwang, Neil LaBute, Tina Howe, Mike Daisey, and many more. D’Andrea, a Washington native, brings the festival to the area for the first time this weekend—Saturday, July 12, through the 14th at Round House Bethesda—with brand-new contributions from nearly 60 local playwrights, including Psalmayene 24, Renee Calarco, and Stephen Spotswood. We chatted with D’Andrea about the genesis of the one-minute play concept, how the performances are structured, and what he’s discovered from the experience. 

How did you come up with the idea for a collection of one-minute plays? 

It originally came about as a challenge for some of my friends in New York, just something we did for fun. We wanted to look at how you could take a short play model and distill it down to the most essential moment of impact, and then use it to investigate the local zeitgeist—what topics, themes, ideas, trends, and points of view begin to bubble up to the surface. And then we wanted to figure out how to highlight them and reflect them back to the community. The thing about theater is that it normally takes so long to gestate and birth an idea, it’s hard to make works that engage with current topics. With this, the playwrights can actually just crank something out, and then it goes straight into production. This is our ninth year doing the festival in New York, and if I sat down and looked at what was said in the city in the first year of the festival versus the third year versus the ninth year, it’s just amazing to see that journey. 

Give me an idea of the structure of each performance. 

The Washington festival takes the form of 100 plays staged by ten directors, with almost 80 actors and 60 playwrights. Every minute there’s a pulse, and then a new play begins. They’re staged very simply, all with four chairs, and it’s lights up, lights down—we’re focusing on ideas and connections, things that are more meaningful than the tiny frame of the minute itself.

What sort of direction do you give the playwrights? 

I give them a pretty general prompt that says something like, “Consider the world around you, your city, your neighborhood, your community. Then think about moments that can only happen at this place and this time, and let the worlds around you inform the worlds you make.” I ask them to engage with the here and now, but I don’t tell them what to write about. What’s amazing is there are tons of connections that come up, these big broad sweeping topics that are unique to that place and time. What we’re doing is getting into that and presenting topics but also investigating the big framing questions: Who are we, and what is our relationship to our community and our work? 

How does the time constraint affect how people approach the writing process? 

I normally tell the playwrights to start with an idea and then “seed up”: to think of an image, a word, an action—something that’s the core of the idea they’re trying to express—and then build up to a minute on the page, including only what’s necessary to express that moment, rather than cramming in a bunch of stuff and having everyone onstage blur through it. When a one-minute play is really good, it suggests a world that is much wider, much fuller, much bigger than that moment you’re seeing; it suggests something that transcends the little frame we’re looking at. If it manages to express an idea that’s more universal than what’s in that minute, they’ve succeeded in making a really good one-minute play. That’s actually true of a play of any length, it’s just very much more present in this form. 

When you look at all the plays together, are the themes that emerge mostly universal, or are they more city-specific? 

There are some themes we see everywhere, but more or less they’re totally unique to the city. One thing I’ve seen come up often is the theme of technology, the reliance on it and the ways in which we communicate with it—or don’t. And then sometimes there’s stuff that’s really deeply specific to the city, where ten people will write about something and I have no idea what it is and have to do some research. There was this thing in Chicago where a lot of people were writing about a Swedish water tower, and I eventually realized there was this iconic water tower that had the Swedish flag on it that had been demolished. I can share that in DC, some of themes and ideas bubbling up are about women’s rights and gender, specifically looking at how women are treated differently from men. I’ve also noticed themes of gun control and gun violence, of gentrification and what neighborhoods look like, and just commentary on politics in general. I guess that’s a little bit to be expected in DC—but one of the things I’ve learned is never to expect anything, because you’ll never get what you expect. 

Have you ever found the format to be challenging for audiences to engage with? 

The thing is, we’re presenting 100 pulses of storytelling—it’s not about time constrictions. The name of the festival was developed back in the day, and if I were to choose it today I would probably call it the Barometer Project, because it’s looking at the bigger picture, at what themes and ideas come through the spectrum. You’re not gonna get a linear arc—it’s not gonna start in one place and land in another—it’s more cumulative, and the experience of watching it can be quite athletic and interesting. You’re being presented with a lot of information and then seeing what sticks, so each audience member probably keys into or remembers totally different moments. It’s up to you to measure what sticks. That’s why we use this metaphor of the barometer; it’s like you’re taking a core sample from the earth and examining the cross-section. 

Any advice you’d give people for how to take it all in?

One thing that’s unique is that it’s so much about the group over any individual, a chorus of voices as opposed to a soloist—it’s the whole bag of M&Ms, not the candy bar. The primary value of the work is that it’s sort of communal and looking at connective tissues. I’d encourage people not to get caught up in the goofy idea of a clock counting down. Instead, think of the bigger picture; think about all the stuff that’s going on in the world and the community. That’s what the takeaway should be. 

The One-Minute Play Festival is at Round House Bethesda Saturday, July 12, through Monday, July 14. Tickets ($20) are available online

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 07/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Shakespeare’s Globe presents Hamlet, Woolly Mammoth stages Rodney King, and much more. By Tanya Pai
Roger Guenveur Smith stars in the one-man Rodney King at Woolly Mammoth. Photograph by Patti McGuire.

OPENING THIS MONTH

At Woolly Mammoth July 8 through 20 is Rodney King, a one-man show that examines America’s complicated race relationships through a combination of historical detail and improvised poetry. OBIE Award winner Roger Guenveur Smith created and stars in the work. 

Studio Theatre presents Carrie: The Musical, an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1974 novel about a lonely teenage girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers. Lawrence D. Cohen, who’s behind the book, also penned the screenplay for the 1976 Brian De Palma movie. July 9 through August 3 at Studio’s 2ndStage. 

The Tempest, Shakespeare’s comedy about the magician Prospero, his daughter, Miranda, and the mischievous sprite Ariel comes to Olney Theatre’s Root Family Stage July 19, presented by the theater’s National Players as part of their 65th season of touring. Through August 3. 

At Anacostia Playhouse is Campsite Rule, the story of a woman whose one-night fling with a much younger man becomes more involved as she tries to educate him about relationships. The play is based on sex columnist Dan Savage’s relationship rule “Leave ’em better than you found ’em.” July 23 through August 16. 

American Century Theater celebrates a beloved Broadway and Hollywood performer with An Evening With Danny Kaye, July 18 through August 16. Brian Childers—who won a Helen Hayes Award in 2002 for his portrayal of Kaye in Danny and Sylvia: A Musical Love Story—reprises his role. July 18 through August 16. 

Forum Theatre closes out its tenth season with Gidion’s Knot, Johnna Adams’s drama about a mother meeting with her son’s fifth-grade teacher to untangle the circumstances of his suspension from school. When the play premiered at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in 2012, reviewer Sophie Gilbert called it “heart-stopping.” July 19 through August 3. This is a co-production with Herndon’s NextStop Theatre, which hosts performances August 28 through September 14. 

Shakespeare’s Globe presents just three performances of Hamlet at the Folger Theatre on July 25 and 26. The company embarked on a two-year global tour this April to commemorate the Bard’s 450th birthday with the goal of performing in every country in the world. Their stop at the Folger is the tour’s only East Coast appearance. 

After massive success during its 2013 world premiere and eight Helen Hayes Award nominations, Stupid F**king Bird, Aaron Posner’s irreverent take on Chekhov’s The Seagull, returns to Woolly Mammoth July 28 through August 17. 

EVENTS

Round House Bethesda hosts the first One-Minute Play Festival, presenting almost 90 micro-plays by more than 50 Washington playwrights. The playwrights are selected by invitation, and there’s no restriction on theme or topic—the only stipulation is each play must be performed in 60 seconds or less. June 12 through 14. 

The annual Capital Fringe Festival returns, presenting a variety of original nontraditional work at venues around town. New this year is a “site-specific” category, which includes seven works that rely on multiple facets of performance, audience interaction, and other features beyond the typical theater setup. July 10 through 27.

Shepherd University’s Contemporary American Theater Festival also returns, offering five new plays—three of which are world premieres, including Chisa Huchinson’s Dead and Breathing, a dark comedy about an elderly woman determined to end her life on her own terms. July 11 through August 3. 

Washington Improv Theatre presents Binge, five weeks of improvised works on topics ranging from Craigslist missed connections to ’80s sitcoms to TED Talks. July 10 through August 9 at the Source Theatre

Signature’s Sizzlin’ Summer Nights series is back, offering daily performances of cabaret, Broadway, and more from Natascia Diaz, Erin Driscoll, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, and many others. July 9 through 26. 

ONGOING/LAST CHANCE

Scena Theatre’s production of Happy Days closes at Atlas Performing Arts Center on July 5. 

Cloak and Dagger closes at Signature Theatre July 6. 

Also closing on July 6 is Freud’s Last Session at Theater J. Read our review

Grounded has extended its run at Studio Theatre until July 6. Read our review

Side Show is at the Kennedy Center until July 13. Read our review

Private Lives closes at Shakespeare Theatre on July 13. Read our review

Avenue Q has extended its run at Olney Theatre through July 20. Read our review

Posted at 09:51 AM/ET, 07/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
See Side Show, The Totalitarians, Healing Wars, and much more this month. By Tanya Pai
Side Show, the musical about conjoined twins and vaudeville entertainers in the 1920 and ’30s, comes to the Kennedy Center June 14. Photograph by Cade Martin.

OPENING THIS MONTH

The classic musical West Side Story returns to the National Theatre after a pre-Broadway run in 2008. June 3 through 8.

At Warner Theatre June 3 through 8 is We Will Rock You, the Queen jukebox musical about a dystopian future.

The Tony Award-winning puppet musical Avenue Q comes to Olney Theatre Center, offering hits such as “What Do You Do With a BA in English?” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” June 11 through July 6.

Beauty and the Beast, the musical version of the Disney film with a Grammy- and Academy Award-winning score, comes to Wolf Trap June 6 through 8.

No Rules Theatre Company presents Boeing Boeing, about a man juggling several women whose complicated love life is thrown into a tailspin in part thanks to flight delays. June 4 through 29 at Signature Theatre’s Ark Theatre.

Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie stars in Buyer & Cellar, about a struggling LA actor who takes a job in the basement “mall” of a Hollywood star. June 20 through 29 at Shakespeare Theatre.

Ordinary Days, at Round House Bethesda through June 22, is Adam Gwon’s off-Broadway hit about four New Yorkers trying to nativate their romantic lives.

Cloak and Dagger , from Helen Hayes Award winner Ed Dixon, is a musical-comedy whodunit that sends up classic 1950s film noir. June 12 through July 6 at Signature Theatre.

The smash musical adaptation of Disney’s The Lion King, with direction and costumes by Julie Taymor, returns to the Kennedy Center for the first time since 2008, June 17 through August 17.

Arcturus Theatre Company presents Distracted, about two parents trying to deal with their nine-year-old son’s recent diagnosis of ADD. At Atlas Arts Center June 12 through 22.

At the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop is Enter Ophelia, Distracted, Taffety Punk’s depiction of Hamlet’s Ophelia as she descends into madness. June 20 through 28.

London’s Gate Theatre brings Grounded—about a female fighter pilot who, because of an unexpected pregnancy, is relegated to flying drones—to Studio Theatre June 10 through 29.

Nancy Robinette stars as a woman trapped up to her waist in earth in Samuel Beckett’s dark comedy Happy Days. June 7 through July 5 at Atlas Arts Center.

At Arena Stage is the world premiere of Healing Wars, a theatrical dance piece narrated by Bill Pullman that explores the experiences of doctors who treat patients during wartime. June 6 through 29.

American Century Theater presents Judgment at Nuremberg, playwright Abby Mann’s work based on the true story of post-World War II war trials. Through June 28.

Cock, Mike Bartlett’s story of a gay man fixated on his encounter with a woman while on a break with his boyfriend, is at Studio Theatre through June 22.

The first play of Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts (August Osage County), Killer Joe is a black comedy about a Southern family who hires a hit man to kill the matriarch in order to collect on insurance money. June 5 through 29 at DC Arts Center.

Academy Award winner Bill Condon directs a reimagined Side Show, the 1997 Broadway musical about conjoined twins and vaudeville entertainers Violet and Daisy Hilton. June 14 through July 13 at the Kennedy Center.

At Round House Silver Spring is The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, about the trial of the biblical traitor taking place in purgatory. Through June 14.

Imagination Stage presents the beloved Roald Dahl classic The BFG, about a friendly giant who brings good dreams to children and the little orphan girl who befriends him. June 26 through August 10.

The Prostate Dialogues , a one-man show by Jon Spelman that explores the effects of cancer on an individual’s life and relationships, runs through June 29 at Theater J.

Private Lives, Noël Coward’s 1930 comedy about a divorced couple who discover they’re honeymooning in adjacent suites, is at Shakespeare Theatre through July 29.

The Totalitarians, Peter Sinn Nachtreib’s farce about a speechwriter’s attempts to get a wealthy housewife into political office, is at Woolly Mammoth through June 29.

Theater Alliance’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia, which premiered at the 2004 Edinburgh International Festival, tells the story of a woman with dissociative identity disorder who’s lost the memory of one hour of her life. June 4 through 28 at Anacostia Playhouse.


ONGOING/LAST CHANCE

A Midsummer Night’s Riot closes June 6 at Keegan Theatre.

Henry IV parts 1 and 2 close at Shakespeare Theatre Company June 7. Read our review.

Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight closes June 7 at Keegan Theatre.

The Piano Lesson closes June 8 at Olney Theatre.

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) closes June 8 at Synetic Theater. Read our review

Freud’s Last Session is at Theater J until June 29. Read our review.

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 06/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Britton suffered a fractured cheek when he was attacked after the debut of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Forum Theatre. By Benjamin Freed
Britton. Photograph courtesy Forum Theatre.

DC actor Frank Britton stuck around Forum Theatre with his fellow thespians for a few hours Monday after the curtain came down on the first show of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. It was, by most accounts, a routine opening night for actors at the Silver Spring theater, who hung out backstage until the early-morning hours. Britton finally made his farewell shortly before 2 AM, headed to a 7-Eleven store for a late-night snack, and proceeded to a nearby taxi stand for a ride home.

Britton says he was “literally feet away” from a cab when he was assaulted by a group of four or five young men, who pummeled him and stole nearly every personal belonging he had on him, including an iPad, his wallet, his phone, and the bag of food he had just purchased. “This group just walks past me and one sucker-punches me, sends me to the ground, hits me in the face several more times,” Britton tells Washingtonian from his hospital room. “Robs me of everything I have save for my glasses and my hat.”

Witnesses who saw the assault near the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road called the authorities, but a Montgomery County Police spokeswoman says there is no detailed description of the suspects in Britton’s mugging and that no arrests have been made. Britton was taken to nearby Holy Cross Hospital, where he is awaiting surgery to repair a fractured cheekbone. He also suffered a contusion on the back of his head and hemorrhaging around his right eye.

Britton was playing the Roman judge Pontius Pilate in Forum’s revival of Stephen Adly Gurguis’s gospel comedy, which is scheduled to run through June 14. Forum’s artistic director, Michael Dove, says an understudy will take over Britton’s role for the duration, although Britton claims he can make a speedier recovery.

“I just want to get back to my show,” he says.

Members of Washington’s theater community were quick to chime their support for Britton after word of his mugging circulated on Tuesday. As Britton doesn’t have health insurance, friends of his set up a page on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe to help pay for his convalescence. The page blew past its original $3,000 goal within hours, and the total is now over $21,000.

“Jesus, God, that’s amazing,” Britton says when told of the financial support. “It could have been a lot worse. They could have blown me away, but they just broke my face.”

Posted at 04:10 PM/ET, 05/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The 33-year-old opera singer and DC native is making it big in 2014. By Sophie Gilbert
“I think of singing almost like ministering,” says Soloman Howard, who is in the Washington National Opera’s production of The Magic Flute. Photograph by Roy Cox.

When he plays the sorcerer Sarastro in the Washington National Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, May 3 through 18, Soloman Howard will mark a high point in a very Washington success story: The 33-year-old bass grew up in Southeast DC and later this year makes his debut with the Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Opera.

“I tell people that I was born in this city and the Washington National Opera gave my career the chance to be birthed here as well,” he says. Howard started singing in church at age three and first considered going professional at seven, when his uncle gave him $50 for performing in a Howard University fashion show: “I thought, ‘Wow, if I can make $50 every time I sing, that’s what I want to do.’ ”

At 13, he joined the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Children of the Gospel Choir, which took him on his first international trip, to Spain. A scholarship got him to Morgan State, where he played football and began performing opera, later training as a soloist at the Manhattan School of Music. Three seasons ago, Howard auditioned for the WNO chorus, prompting former artistic administrator Scott Guzielek to ask him where he’d been all this time. A few weeks later, Howard auditioned for then general director Plácido Domingo. During his time as a Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program member, Howard has traveled to Russia and performed in the WNO’s Show Boat and Don Giovanni as well as the world premiere of Approaching Ali. 

“I think of singing almost like ministering, because I grew up in the church,” he says. “I hope to continue to have a voice that can take people to another place.”

Tickets ($25 to $305) at kennedy-center.org.

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 01:08 PM/ET, 05/06/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The actor/director discusses his hip-hop spin on the classic fairy tale at Imagination Stage. By Sophie Gilbert

Paige Hernandez—shown with Mark Hairston—plays the lead in Cinderella: The Remix, a girl who wants to be a deejay in a place where it’s illegal. Photograph courtesy of Imagination Stage.

Actor/director Psalmayene 24 completes his trilogy of hip-hop shows for young audiences with the world premiere of Cinderella: The Remix at Bethesda’s Imagination Stage. The show stars Paige Hernandez, who also choreographs, as a girl who dreams of making music in a world where girls are shut out. Written by Psalmayene 24 and featuring original music by Nick Hernandez, the show runs through May 25. Here’s a conversation with the creator and director.

Where did the idea for a hip-hop retelling of Cinderella come from? 

I was thinking about what would be a good follow-up to my last show, P.Nokio, and got the idea for a trilogy. I looked at my first two plays and saw that Zomo the Rabbit was an exploration of the past and P.Nokio looked at the present, so I thought about what could serve as a vibrant future for hip-hop culture. What’s lacking right now is a multitude of strong and progressive female voices, so I thought I would focus on that challenge. At the core of Cinderella is transformation and dreams coming true, so those were the seeds I started with.

Can you summarize the show?

It’s about a girl who wants to be a deejay, but she lives in Hip-Hop Hollywood, where deejaying is illegal for girls. It’s the journey of this young woman who’s trying to be herself, trying to be authentic against all odds, which is something that all people struggle with. The idea of doing something you love when it’s difficult or even illegal for you to do is timely in terms of thinking about marriage equality, so that was something else I hoped would resonate.

What are the challenges in making theater for young audiences?

The main challenge is making sure you’re capturing their attention and imagination. Kids have pretty pure truth meters, so they’ll let you know if what you’re doing isn’t fun or worthy of their attention. In theater, we work with dramaturges a lot, and their job is to make sure the world of your play makes sense. In my mind, young audiences are the best dramaturges because instinctively they have a gauge for what works and what doesn’t.

Tickets ($10 to $30) at imaginationstage.org.

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 12:13 PM/ET, 04/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Fiasco Theater’s visiting production is a breezy confection of a comedy. By Missy Frederick
Zachary Fine and Noah Brody in Fiasco Theater’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photograph by Teresa Wood.

Anyone who likes to see the scoundrel get his comeuppance in the end should be warned: In Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, it’s not going to happen.

The play has two protagonists: There’s the stalwart if generally bland Valentine (Zachary Fine), speaker of one of the Bard’s most gorgeous passages (“What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?/What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?”). And then there’s that aforementioned scoundrel, Proteus (Noah Brody). The two are fast friends who later become rivals when Proteus decides his friend’s love, Silvia, must be superior to his own beloved Julia, essentially because his friend has her. He schemes to keep them apart and take Silvia for his own, to the despondency of Julia—and the complete disinterest of Silvia, who only has eyes for Valentine. Proteus’s behavior becomes increasingly inexcusable (by the end, he’s willing to take Silvia against her will), but ends up delivering him about ten seconds of actual consequences. But after all, this is a comedy, so—spoiler alert—it all works out in the end.

Get past the fact that Proteus is, generally, the worst, and Two Gents is a frothy confection of a play that goes down easily. It’s even more of a joy in the hands of New York company Fiasco Theater directors Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who have delivered a charming, breezy—and speedy—production at Folger. The play, with a spare set and several actors in multiple roles, moves at a smooth clip, occasionally interrupted with bursts of song. 

Most of Two Gents’ performances are exaggerated for comedic effect—Brody is a particularly hammy, if mischievous, Proteus, and Jessie Austrian milks Julia’s early suitor-related dilemmas for big laughs. Emily Young is the show’s most subtle performer, handily embodying two roles: Julia’s no-nonsense maid, Lucetta, and the worshiped Silvia, who is firmly steadfast in her rejection of both the devious Proteus and the loyal but hapless Thurio (Paul L. Coffey), her father’s choice for her husband.

The play’s most obvious source of comic relief is the goofy servant Lance (Andy Grotelueschen) and his trusty dog (Fine again). Their scenes together have the show’s most overt gags, but Grotelueschen also does a fine job playing off his fellow servant, Speed (Coffey). One terrific segment has Speed listing Lance’s love’s increasingly alarming faults, only to have him dismiss them out of hand. After all, she “brews good ale” and has a ton of money. Go into this Two Gents for the laughs, rather than any particular sense of moral justice, and this production definitely delivers.

Fiasco Theater’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona is at Folger Theatre through May 25. Running time is about two hours, with one intermission. Tickets ($39 to $72) are available through the Folger’s website.

Posted at 02:48 PM/ET, 04/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Washington's theater community celebrated its achievements in a new, party-first ceremony. By Benjamin Freed
Signature Theatre's and Ford's Theatre's production of "Hello, Dolly!" won three Helen Hayes Awards, including outstanding resident musical. Photograph by Carol Rosegg.

In their 30th year, the organizers of the Helen Hayes Awards tossed out the old script and started the partying before handing out any trophies.

Did banquet tables full of hors d’oeuvres and open bars outlining the floor of the National Building Museum distract from the on-stage presentations? Yes, but most seemed to enjoy the new format.

After years of putting Washington’s theater professionals and patrons through a long, seated show at the Warner Theatre followed by an after-party in the belly of the JW Marriott Hotel, TheatreWashington moved venues and rearranged the ceremony to allow people to choose between sitting in front of a makeshift stage or mingling with a snack and a drink.

Most chose the refreshments, a fact TheatreWashington’s president, Linda Levy, noted in her opening remarks when she encouraged people to grab a chair instead of clustering around macaroni-and-cheese displays. But there were only a dozen rows of seats, leaving most people hovering around the cavernous atrium to eat, drink, chat, and post photographs on Instagram, which were displayed on large screens during the two intermissions. Levy herself found a spot in the back of the room, holding court from a colossal deck chair placed by Celebrity Cruises, which she said is hosting a theater-themed voyage later this year.

Free-flowing victuals aside, there were many theater achievements to celebrate on Monday night, especially for Signature Theatre, which led all stage companies with eight awards, including three for its Hello, Dolly! co-production with Ford’s Theatre. The critically praised show won outstanding musical (a tie with Olney Theatre Center’s A Chorus Line), choreography, and ensemble in a resident production. Signature also swept the acting categories for resident musicals, with James Gardiner winning for The Last Five Years, Diana Huey for Miss Saigon, Bobby Smith for Spin, and Erin Weaver for Company. Jon Kalbfleisch was named outstanding musical director for his work in Signature’s run of Gypsy.

The Book of Mormon, the demand for which crashed the Kennedy Center’s website multiple times when tickets when on sale last year, won outstanding visiting musical, along with the trophies for supporting performer (Samantha Marie Ware) and lead actor (Christopher John O'Neill).

Round House Theatre's revival of Glengarry Glen Ross also nabbed three awards for resident plays, including director Mitchell Hébert, lead actor Rich Foucheux, and best ensemble.

No single production dominated the field, but Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s Stupid F**king Bird, a cheeky riff on Chekhov’s The Seagull, won two of the biggest prizes with outstanding resident play and outstanding new play or musical for playwright Aaron Posner. The show’s title, which doesn’t actually include asterisks, clearly delighted presenters, who emphasized its middle word.

Along with a more convivial atmosphere, this year’s Helen Hayes Awards put a premium on efficiency. Hosts Ed Gero, currently in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Henry IV and Donna Migliaccio, who is about to star in Signature’s Threepenny Opera, were more timekeepers than witty schmoozers.

The ceremony, cut up in to three “acts,” allowed winners only 30 seconds to give their thanks, lest they risk being sung off by the on-stage chorus of Sam Ludwig, Rachel Zampelli, and Ashleigh King, who broke into The Sound of Music’s “So Long, Farewell,” whenever someone ran over, like Dawn Ursula, who won outstanding supporting actress for her work in Woolly’s The Convert.

Only Victor Shargai, TheatreWashington’s longtime chairman until last October, was allowed to speak at length when he was presented with a Helen Hayes Tribute, a segment that included a video message from Angela Lansbury. “I thank Helen with all of my heart for doing this,” Shargai said, his shirt unbuttoned down to his sternum.

Adele Robey and Julia Robey Christian, the founders of the Anacostia Playhouse, were also presented with a special leadership award for opening their theater in Southeast DC.

The new, speeded-up format of the Helen Hayes Awards turned the annual event from a formal ceremony into more of an extended cocktail party that falls on the most important date on the local theater community’s calendar. But people liked it, and it was a good test run for next year, when TheatreWashington splits the awards between unionized and non-union shows, but tries not to double the length of the event.

Posted at 02:48 PM/ET, 04/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
“Brief Encounter” at Shakespeare, Brecht at Signature, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at Arena, and much more this month. By Sophie Gilbert
See the musical Hair at Keegan Theatre, plus plenty more in town this month. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

OPENING THIS MONTH

At Shakespeare Theatre, Cornwall, England’s Kneehigh theater company presents Brief Encounter. The show—acclaimed in London and New York—is inspired by both Noël Coward’s play Still Life and its 1945 movie version, Brief Encounter, starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Through April 13.

At 1st Stage is Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, a black comedy about the buzz generated when a Hollywood filmmaker descends upon a sleepy Irish town. Through April 20.

Arguendo, a co-commission by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, New York’s Public Theater, and two other institutions, depicts a 1991 Supreme Court decision on public nudity following a case filed by two Indiana strip clubs, as imagined by the New York theater company Elevator Repair Service. Arguendo “is so wittily inventive that it makes you think that the Elevator Repair Service might as well have a go at the Pittsburgh phone directory next,” the New York Times said. April 1 through 27.

Round House Theatre presents Two Trains Running, August Wilson’s drama exploring life in an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh. April 2 through 27.

At MetroStage, John Vreeke directs The Thousandth Night, a spin on the Scheherazade story, about an actor in 1943 France who attempts to get a stay of execution by playing 38 characters from The Arabian Nights. April 3 through May 18.

The 89-year-old actor Hal Holbrook returns with Mark Twain Tonight, his one-man show about the American writer, which he first performed 55 years ago. At National Theatre April 4 and 5.

At Round House Silver Spring, Snow Angel, David Lindsay-Abaire’s 1999 play, set in Vermont during a blizzard, is this year’s Sarah Metzger Memorial Play, staged by high-schoolers in memory of a local theater student who died in a car accident. April 4 through 12.

Local actor Tom Story makes his directorial debut at Studio Theatre with Moth, a dark play by Declan Greene about two teens who fall into despair after being bullied at school. April 9 through May 4.

Olney Theatre reprises Once on Thus Island, the 24-year-old musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Rocky) about a girl on a Caribbean island who tries to bring a community together. April 9 through May 4.

The second play in Theater Js Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival is Golda’s Balcony, William Gibson’s play about Golda Meir and her journey from immigrant to teacher to prime minister of Israel. Tovah Feldshuh, a Tony nominee for the Broadway run, stars. April 10 through 27.

Psalmayene 24 presents the final installment of his hip-hop trilogy at Imagination Stage in Cinderella: The Remix. The play reimagines Cinderella as a wannabe deejay and musician in a world where girls are shut out. April 12 through May 25.

At Folger Theatre, Fiasco Theater, a small New York company, premieres its newest production, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “Fiasco . . . reminds us what theater, at its simplest and most powerful, is really for,” New York magazine wrote. April 17 through May 25.

At Signature Theatre, Matthew Gardiner directs The Threepenny Opera, Brecht’s satire about London beggars with music by Kurt Weill. April 22 through June 1.

Arena Stage presents Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Lieber and Stoller, famous for being Broadway’s longest-running musical revue. April 25 through June 8.

At DC’s Source, Constellation Theatre’s Allison Arkell Stockman directs The Love of the Nightingale, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1989 play depicting the Greek myth of Philomela, who was transformed into a nightingale after an assault by her brother-in-law. April 27 through May 25.

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Posted at 12:12 PM/ET, 04/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()