The performances, exhibits, and other events worth your time this month.
The Peculiar Patriot
Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, April 1–20
This solo performance by Liza Jessie Peterson—a Georgetown University grad who once taught poetry at Rikers Island—looks at how mass incarceration affects prisoners and their loved ones. Set in a penitentiary visiting room, it draws from Peterson’s experiences teaching prisoners. $20 to $59.
Better Oblivion Community Center
Black Cat, April 3
Fresh off her collaboration with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as Boygenius, rising indie-rock star Phoebe Bridgers has now teamed up with Conor Oberst for an album of tunes attributed to Better Oblivion Community Center. In keeping with the project’s join-our-club concept, they’ve been referring to their shows as “meetings,” so expect the vibe to be extra welcoming. $22 to $25.
P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle
Studio Theatre, April 3–28
Inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, this play by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm finds a white pop star from Canada tapping a black hip-hop duo to bolster his image. The ensuing complications offer Chisholm plenty of room to explore race, appropriation, and other sticky subjects. $20 to $55.
The Outline Trilogy by Rachel Cusk
Last year, the acclaimed British novelist put out Kudos, her third and final book tracing the various entanglements of a fictional writer who, as reviews invariably point out, closely resembles Cusk. The novels are full of strange encounters and sharp observations, and in person the author is as quietly philosophical as she is on the page. Free.
This adventurous festival—which began in March and runs through April—brings forward-looking performers of all sorts to town (prices vary). Here are a few we’re especially excited about:
Appearing here with his group Double Up, the renowned jazz multi-instrumentalist will make the most of an unconventional lineup that includes flute, cello, and—as is usually the case with Threadgill’s distinctive ensembles—tuba.
Phantom Limb Company
In the hands of this avant-garde puppetry collective, dancers and marionettes combine for a creepy response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident.
Du Yun is a Shanghai-born composer and performance artist who now lives in New York, where she writes operas—including 2017’s Dim Sum Warriors, parts of which she’ll perform here—and concocts all manner of fascinatingly unclassifiable sonic weirdness.
Vijay Iyer Sextet
The jazz pianist is bringing along the same group that played on his exhilarating 2017 album, Far From Over, which is full of rhythmic intensity and thoughtful soloing.
Arena Stage, April 5–May 5
As in “junk bonds,” not heroin, though the way this play’s characters fiend for cash, it could be read either way. Playwright Ayad Akhtar builds his story around a fictionalized version of 1980s financier Michael Milken, who went to prison for securities fraud. But everyone is implicated here, including the reporters investigating the misdeeds. $56 to $95.
First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas
First is hardly the first biography of the former Supreme Court justice, but longtime journalist Evan Thomas has unearthed fresh details through extensive new interviews and access to O’Connor’s archives. The material is both triumphant—she was the first woman on the high court—and poignant: After her husband developed Alzheimer’s, she would bring him to work because he got too upset when they were apart. Free.
Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?: A Mother’s Suggestions by Patricia Marx and Roz Chast
Politics and Prose (Connecticut Avenue), April 12
These devilishly witty New Yorker all-stars—Marx is the writer, Chast the illustrator—previously teamed up on children’s books. Now comes a title for the adult child: a collection of one-liners that Marx’s mother consigned to her over the years, etched into pitch-perfect Chast cartoons. There should be plenty of laugh lines when the duo talk about parent/child relationships and how the two of them collaborate. Free.
“Oliver Lee Jackson: Recent Paintings”
National Gallery of Art, April 14–September 15
The 84-year-old Oakland artist’s work is like jazz captured in paint—rhythmic, colorful, and exuding complex energy. This collection of 25 works from the last 15 years includes a portrait of the late Julius Hemphill, who was, naturally, an adventurous jazz saxophonist. Free.
Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris
Politics and Prose (Connecticut Avenue), April 14
Word geeks and fans of New Yorker lore adore Mary Norris’s 2015 book, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Ahead of a local appearance to promote her latest, Greek to Me (free), we asked the copyediting legend to take a pass at some tweets from 2020 candidates. One typically Norrisian note of clarification that we couldn’t help but include: “In the long tweet from John Delaney, I decided to get the facts right and fit the message into the 280-character Twitter format, so I took liberties. Alternatively, he could have made his point by commenting on his own tweet to create a thread, but enough is enough, right?”
“Enrico David: Gradations of Slow Release”
Hirshhorn Museum, April 16–September 2
Born in Italy and based in London, the sculptor and painter specializes in unsettling depictions of the human form, such as an untitled work featuring a human face that dissolves into a misshapen, moss-like body suspended in the air. “The Assumption of Weee,” meanwhile, is both lovely to look at and mysterious to contemplate. Free.
Dyngus Day DC
Biergarten Haus, April 22
What’s Dyngus Day? Glad you asked! It’s a spring holiday that somehow involves polka dancing, water guns, and pussy-willow fights. Still confused? We asked the founder of Dyngus Day DC (free), local veterinarian Matthew Antkowiak, to walk us through it.
Wait, this is a real holiday?
It is! Started in Poland more than 1,000 years ago, Dyngus Day is held on the Monday after Easter to celebrate the end of Lent and the beginning of spring. Boys and girls chase one another around, splashing objects of their affection with water and hitting them with pussy willows. “It’s goofy in a lot of its traditions,” says Antkowiak. “It’s wrapped up in these rites of spring. Water is fertility. I have no idea where the pussy willows came from.”
Really? Splashing and pussy willows?
“We put squirt guns and pussy willows at every table,” says Antkowiak. “It’s supposed to be a gentle whacking.” At this DC event, there’s also traditional Polish food such as pączki, pierogi, and kielbasa available to buy, as well as Polish beer.
How did it come to DC?
A native of Buffalo, Antkowiak grew up around one of the biggest Dyngus celebrations in the world. In 2017, he convinced a skeptical Biergarten Haus that it’s a real thing. “Biergarten didn’t believe me,” he says. “But ridiculously, we had like 200 people show up, and that was just word of mouth.”
Various venues, April 25–May 5
The annual showcase will feature the Washington premiere of George Pelecanos’s new movie, DC Noir, as well as a collection of films exploring global culinary culture, including Asori Soto’s Cuban Food Stories, Nicolás Carreras’s The Best Sommelier in the World, and Rasmus Dinesen’s Michelin Stars: Tales From the Kitchen. $14 per film.
Broccoli City Festival
FedEx Field, April 26–27
A week after he headlines Coachella, Childish Gambino—a.k.a. Donald Glover—will perform at this major DC music festival. Does that make Broccoli City our version of Coachella? Well, maybe not. The lineup is much smaller, for one thing, and the event is held in a Landover parking lot rather than against a stunning California backdrop. But who cares? This year’s roster is fantastic, featuring the likes of Lil Wayne, WizKid, 6lack, and City Girls, whose hit with Cardi B, “Twerk,” will have the whole crowd bouncing. $99.50 to $150.50.
Itzhak Perlman and Evgeny Kissin
Kennedy Center, April 28
Violin great Itzhak Perlman’s 1973 recording of the Kreutzer Sonata with Vladimir Ashkenazy is one of the piece’s most famous readings. Here Perlman will team up with a different Russian piano heavyweight, Evgeny Kissin, to tackle it, along with Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 2 and other works to be announced. $50 to $200.
Spunk: Three Tales by Zora Neale Hurston
Signature Theatre, April 30–June 23
Adapted for the stage in 1990 by George C. Wolfe from a trio of Hurston short stories, Spunk combines dance, dialogue, and even puppetry to bring the tales to life, using a bluesy musical framework to fuse it all together. $40 to $80.
This article appears in the April 2019 issue of Washingtonian.