In the odd, zeitgeisty way in which cultural depictions of certain subjects seem to come along like buses (nothing for decades and then three at once), Elizabeth Keckly is very much alive again—seen portrayed by Gloria Reuben in last year's Lincoln, and as the subject of a recent book by Jennifer Chiaverini. But it’s almost impossible to imagine a more intriguing, nuanced portrayal of Keckly than the one Tazewell Thompson has crafted in Mary T. & Lizzy K., his world premiere play currently at Arena Stage. Immaculate in a gown of bronze patterned silk, and ferocious as she crafts a dress around the First Lady, Thompson’s Keckley (played by Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris) is one of the most riveting female characters seen all season.
Early on in Keegan Theatre’s production of A Behanding in Spokane, now playing at the company’s Church Street Playhouse, eccentric hotel clerk Mervyn (Bradley Foster Smith) opines upon the lack of excitement and intrigue checking in to his dingy roadside establishment. The character’s delightfully rambling description of all the outlandish scenarios he’s imagined uncovering in his years manning the reception desk quickly establishes Mervyn as the show’s most commanding, and entertaining, presence. And if he’s looking for excitement and intrigue, the grisly, beyond-bizarre sequence of events that follows more than fits the bill.
The Kennedy Center this morning announced its lineup for 2013-14—Michael Kaiser’s last season as president—and among big news is that the center breaks away from classical music for a bit to host multi-platinum rapper Nas, the son of jazz musician Olu Dara. Nas is know for the 2002 single “One Mic,” which is the name of the weeklong festival at which he’ll perform. “One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide” will celebrate “emceeing, deejaying, B-boying, and graffiti writing,” through exhibitions and performances, Kaiser said this morning. Somali artist K’Naan, who sang the promotional anthem of the 2010 World Cup, “Wavin’ Flag,” will also make an appearance.
Speaking of celebrity appearances: Under the leadership of artistic adviser Jason Moran, more than 70 jazz performances will pop up at the KenCen this year by the likes of NEA Jazz Masters Ramsey Lewis and Cecil Taylor. The legacy of trumpeteer Arturo Sandoval is celebrated with a one-time concert, “50 Years: The Life, Passion, and Music of Arturo Sandoval,” at which actors Bill Cosby and Andy Garcia will also perform.
The debut International Theater Festival, taking place in 2014, will feature the theatrical works of companies from all over the world. Titles include The Green Snake by the National Theater of China, The Petrol Station by Kuwait’s Sulayman Al-Bassam Theatre, Incendios by Mexico’s Tapioca Inn, and a rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by England’s Bristol Old Vic and the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. The festival will represent ten total countries and will also host complementary readings and forums.
January 30 through March 10 at Studio Theatre, Serge Seiden directs The Motherf***cker With the Hat, Stephen Adley Guirgis’s black comedy about a recovering alcoholic torn between the girlfriend he suspects is cheating on him and his parole counselor.
At Shakespeare Theatre, Bethesda native Richard Schiff (The West Wing) starts in Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie, a two-man drama about an aging hustler in New York City. January 31 through March 17.
Spooky Action Theatre stages Kafka on the Shore, an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel by Frank Galati. January 31 through February 24.
February 1 through 23, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night gets the Taffety Punk treatment.
February 1 through March 10, Arena Stage presents Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole). Set in South Boston, the show concerns a single mother who forges a plan to escape her debt.
Toby’s Dinner Theatre, which recently swept the Helen Hayes nominations with its production of The Color Purple, presents Fiddler on the Roof. February 2 through April 28.
Writer/director Joe Calarco returns to Washington with Shakespeare’s R&J, his riff on Romeo and Juliet set at an all-male Catholic boarding school. At Signature Theatre February 5 through March 3.
No Rules Theatre Company, currently in residence at Signature, presents Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, a farce with the lights turned out. February 6 through March 2.
February 6 through 10 at Arena Stage, Massachusetts-based Double Edge Theatre has a five-night run of The Grand Parade, a world premiere physical theater work exploring Marc Chagall’s paintings.
Mitchell Hébert directs Round House Bethesda’s production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, a Pulitzer-winning comedy about four less-than-ethical Chicago real estate agents. February 6 through March 3.
Another Mamet play, Race, comes to Theater J. The drama features three attorneys asked to defend a wealthy white man against charges of assaulting a young black woman. February 6 through March 17.
It’s 12/12/12—what better time to throw off the shackles of a constraining year-end top-ten list and instead embrace a format that’s (slightly) more forgiving? After a year in which Kathleen Turner adopted a Texan accent, George Hamilton played it not-so-straight, Edward Gero painted hundreds of blood-red canvases in two minutes, and Basil Twist finally got his Washington close-up, all we can say is that this was a mighty hard compilation to pull together. Excuses aside, behold our list of the top 12 plays of 2012.
Black Watch / The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at Shakespeare
There’s little more we can say about Shakespeare Theatre’s efforts to bring the National Theatre of Scotland to Washington other than that we love it. From the “heartbreakingly compelling” Black Watch to the “beer-soaked, camaraderie-laden” Prudencia Hart, the company gave us two risky, creative, thought-provoking plays this year. Please come back again.
Red at Arena Stage
Great things can happen when two esteemed companies collaborate. Red, a production of John Logan’s Tony-winning play about Mark Rothko presented in conjunction with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, was one of them.
Gidion’s Knot at the Contemporary American Theater
The best play we saw at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, Johnna Adams’s gripping tale of a mother facing up to her child’s isolation is one that will hopefully get staged in Washington sooner rather than later.
The Normal Heart at Arena Stage
Larry Kramer’s play, presented almost three decades after it was first staged in the midst of the AIDS crisis, is no less shocking and relevant today. George C. Wolfe’s production, starring Patrick Breen, Patricia Wettig, and Luke McFarlane, made for “unbelievably powerful theater.”
Really Really at Signature
Signature proved it has the chops for more than just musicals with this bleakly funny, caustic play about Generation Me, a world premiere by Paul Downs Colaizzo directed by Matthew Gardiner.
Astro Boy and the God of Comics at Studio
Described as a “high/low-tech multimedia extravaganza,” Natsu Onoda Power’s ingenious riff on the world of Japanese manga comics brought “gobs of energy and wit to an unusual enterprise.”
Any long and bruising campaign season relies on the concept of the American Dream, baiting the nation with both the glow of its promise and the threat of its fiery demise. Arthur Miller’s talent for carefully wielding the power of those same extremes in his works was originally refined in All My Sons, the playwright’s first commercial success and winner of the Drama Critics’ Award for Best New Play in 1947. Now playing on the Keegan Theatre’s Church Street stage, director Susan Marie Rhea’s production of Sons wisely taps the weighty (and timely) disillusionment of a country at a crossroads and uses it as a backdrop for Miller’s go-to messages of raw ambition, disappointment, guilt, and forgiveness. The production stops just short of its full potential, but is affecting all the same.
The reclusive Beeson is completely consumed with writing a graphic novel.
It’s an epic, encyclopedic work that makes Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings feel like a breezy beach read by comparison. The process of putting the story to the page has been demanding enough to land Beeson—who sees himself as channeling, rather than creating, the comic—into a rehab facility, one of three diverse settings for Rob Handel’s twisting, nervy play, A Maze, currently being staged by Rorschach Theatre.
Handel’s mysterious play isn’t only concerned with Beeson (Ryan Mitchell), who, while in rehab, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Paul (Andrew Ferlo), a charismatic rock star drying out after a drug binge. A Maze flips between their story and two very different plotlines. One focuses on escaped kidnapping victim Jessica (Jenny Donovan), who’s in the headlines for freeing herself years after she was snatched from the supermarket at age nine. The narrative also floats back in time to a mythological place where a pregnant queen (Robin Covington) waits for her husband (Francisco Reinoso) to finish a sprawling labyrinth that will keep her and her child safe—but from what, we’re not exactly sure. All three stories unfold on a set, designed by Robbie Hayes, that is simple but smart, with a floor constructed from interlocking sections of an actual maze. They’re pulled apart and rearranged as the action of the play proceeds.
It seemed like The Rocky Horror Show couldn't get any more over the top. And then the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington went and Gaga-fied it.
Outlandish costumes reminiscent of the superstar pop singer and her favorite designer, the late Alexander McQueen, will dominate the stage when the vocal performance group performs the show over the weekend at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Expect singers decked out in dresses made of bubbles, peacock-feathered corsets, and stark, dramatic makeup, all representing Dr. Frank-N-Furter's team of loyal transsexuals from Transylvania.
Media were invited Thursday to view a portion of the dress rehearsal for the Gay Men's Chorus take on the beloved cult classic. Those unfamiliar with the unconventional science fiction tale--in which vanilla couple Brad and Janet, stranded with a flat tire, find themselves approaching a spooky mansion where a night of murder, debauchery and aliens awaits them-- will probably find themselves a bit bewildered and confused by the performance; the show is directed to appeal to fans. That means those who know all the words (and even the choreography) to "Time Warp" by heart will be right at home this weekend.