Archive for the ‘theater’ Tag

Washington Theater Year: 2014

The top critic for the Washington Post compiled a list of the top plays and musicals of the 2014 year in the city. Happy to say that I saw half of the shows and one more when it appeared on Broadway. I agree with most of the choices, although I thought choice seven was a good character study that didn’t really get me thinking or generate any emotional response. The top choice wen to Broadway and didn’t draw enough audiences to keep running. Tribes was an incredible show that offered much, as did Bad Jews.


1. “Side Show,” Kennedy Center. Forever ahead of its time, this heartbreaking musical about conjoined twins turned vaudeville stars, nurtured in a splendid revival by director Bill Condon, was a succes d’estime, but both in D.C. and on Broadway after that, a disappointing box-office performer.

2. “Tribes,” Studio Theatre. Nina Raine’s play detailing the mixed and missed signals in an intellectual London family brilliantly intermingled the perspectives of deaf and hearing characters.

3. “Sunday in the Park with George,” Signature Theatre. The Pulitzer-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine remains a profound statement about the art of making art, as director Matthew Gardiner’s smashing revival demonstrated.

4. “Bad Jews,” Studio Theatre. The funniest play of the year, set on a night of operatically pitched family battles, courtesy of a playwright, Joshua Harmon, we’re bound to hear more from.

5. “The Admission,” Theater J. A searing drama by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner that inflamed passions about the Middle East and, in the resulting political firestorm, likely contributed to the firing by the DC Jewish Community Center of the company’s artistic director, Ari Roth. (Honorable mention: the inspired Tovah Feldshuh in Theater J’s companion one-woman show, “Golda’s Balcony.”)

6. “Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet,” Pointless Theatre. This small-budget and enjoyably big hearted staging of the Tchaikovsky ballet with both puppets and actors established this resourceful troupe as Washington’s most promising young company.

7. “The Wolfe Twins,” Studio. Artistic director David Muse commissioned of Rachel Bonds this surprising and sharply drawn study of an American brother and sister (the wonderful Tom Story and Birgit Huppuch) having a devastating falling-out in Rome.

8. “Colossal,” Olney Theatre Center. Playwright Andrew Hinderaker and director Will Davis found parallels in the physicality of football and ballet, creating in the process an exhilarating dance-drama about a player dealing with a catastrophic sports injury.

9. “Sex with Strangers,” Signature. Laura Eason’s entertaining tale of boy writer-meets-girl-writer felt like a camera-ready romantic comedy, with expert help from director Aaron Posner and actors Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile.

10. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Folger Theater. The clever folks from visiting Fiasco Theater showed how excitingly newly minted Shakespeare can feel, when presented on a refreshingly intimate scale, with close and revealing attention to text.


Buyer and Cellar

Great production at the Shakespeare Harman Theater in Washington, DC with Michael Urie reprising his off-Broadway role of an unemployed actor who takes a job as the guard/salesperson in the mall at Barbra Streisand’s house. A wonderful 90-minute one person stage comedy, the piece hit the right note of celebrity insight and pathos throughout the evening.

Buyer and Cellar’s script was excellent. Most refreshing and unusual was the upbeat feeling the play generated and the even-handed tone with which it treated its characters. The play gives equal voice to the main character, to Streisand and to the boy friend of the actor. This boyfriend earns many of the laughs as a surrogate for many of the gay men in the audience who are Streisand aficionados, Barbra queens, or divas in their own minds.

Urie made the play work. His energy seemed unflagging and he played each character with a sensitivity that made them feel unique. Testament to his performance is the play is closing in New York at the end of July.

Celebrity Watching

Went to the opening night of Betrayal:

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz have caused a stampede to the box office by theatregoers keen to keen to see the husband and wife acting powerhouse in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.

The show opened on Sunday, in front of a star-studded audience including director Steven Spielberg, musician Bruce Springsteen and US Vogue editor Anna Wintour at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre who were among the lucky ticketholders.

Others I saw included actor Ian McKellen and his husband. Playwright Tony Kushner and his husband, actress Ellen Barkin, actress Patricia Clarkson, actress Candice Bergen, newsperson Chris Matthews, and of course since Mike Nichols was the director, newsperson Diane Sawyer.

But others desperate to see the show have seen theatre lovers pay $2,500 on the black market to see the new adaptation, directed by ten-time Tony Award winner Mike Nichols.

Read more:–tickets-sell-figure-sums-black-market.html#ixzz2j7UHUaSp

Red Speedo: Class Athletics

Studio Theater in Washington, DC is showing, Red Speedo, a play that sparked thoughts of David Mamet’s best works. Like Mamet, the play looks at people from the lower rungs of American society who are trying to reach the American Dream. They have limited talents and few assets and need to maximize their chances at success in the one shot that they have.

The title character has that shot in the swimming pool. He is attempting to qualify as an Olympic swimmer and he knows the limits of his talents. He has chosen to take a path of performance enhancing drugs that raises questions about his morals and his talents. What will his brother, who has been his sponsor, and representative think about his choices and what will he do? More significantly, he has a coach who is struggling to keep the swim club financially afloat. Will he discover this indiscretion? The lead’s love interest also has an intriguing back history and perspective to be taken into account as well.

We’ve had many of these athletes who has crossed this line, beginning with the Oakland A’s Bash Brothers to San Francisco Giants Barry Bonds. Most notably were cultural icons, like cyclist and philanthropist Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. All deny the activity, worse they fight their accusers to the point of ruining them financially and their reputations, all while knowing that they did take the drugs.

What’s more compelling about the job that playwright Lucas Hnath and director Lila Neugebauer have done is that they have shown how the thinking of the athlete works to justify the taking of the drugs. They have shown how others surrounding the athlete come to terms with tacitly and knowingly accepting this behavior.

The set was sharp, you could smell chlorine when you walked up the staircase. The performances by Frank Boyd, Harry Winter, and Laura C. Harris were strong. Of particularly note was Thomas Jay Ryan, as the older brother.

What made this play powerful was the inclusion of today’s class system in the U.S. Though warped, the older brother’s disquisition on the need to be rich in the US was worth the price of admission.

DC Is A Dance Place

Velocity DC did it again this year. The DC dance festival is in its fourth year and was stronger than ever.

Washington has a wide range of dance companies performing everything from traditional Flamenco dance to Appalachian foot stomping. Saturday night’s began with high energy dance while the host, Peter DiMuro, offered a Top Ten list for being at the show. The first of several good contemporary dance pieces came from Edgeworks. I’ve seen them several times before and their work is often very moving.

As an international city, we get treated to distinctive performances from other countries. Xuejuan Dance Ensemble gave us a beautiful fan dance that made you believe the fan was a partner. The flamenco, from the Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company, lit the hall up as it closed out the first act. Check them out:

Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance opened the second act with highlight reel gymnastics and moves. See below when they were on So You Think You Can Dance.


My partner raved over the contemporary piece called “Y” from Company | E, and our friend could not get enough of the Washington Ballet Studio Company and their sweet, sensitive performance.

DC returned to its international flair with Farafina Kan performing the Sound of Africa, with some amazing drum solos.

Theater J’s Strong Body Awareness

Fall season means children return to school, football starts in college and the NFL, and the theater season begins anew. This year’s off to a great start with Annie Baker’s comedy Body Awareness. Washington, DC theater goers saw her play,  Circle Mirror Transformation, at Studio Theater in the fall of 2010. Body Awareness was written a few years before Baker’s hit, Circle Mirror, but held my interest much more than the latter.

It’s Body Awareness Week at Shirley College, and the non-traditional Vermont family members Phyllis, Joyce and their possibly autistic son Jared are rocked by a visiting photographer and his ‘male gaze.’  I’d heard about the play through the Jewish Community Center’s Gay Lesbian group, GLOE. They liked that the play simply featured a lesbian couple without making it the center of the action. It’s true that the couple is respected and not made a central part of the story.

What makes the play so strong is that the dialogue is crisp and believable and the performances of all the actors are very natural. In addition, the play allows its characters to grow and for audience members to come to understand them and even like them.

The play raises questions regarding interpreting truth, when to use logic and when to go with instincts, and how to appreciate others who may be quite different from you. The jibes to PC are accurate but seemed a little too easy sometimes, as the US culture has begun to move away from the PC police era of the late 1980s and 1990s.

The playwright’s interview which appears in the program, noted that she wanted to complicate the things that we think of as “stupid.” One method was to have her least mature character call everything that he didn’t like “stupid,” illuminating that it takes a high degree of maturity to give credence to things that you either do not like or strongly disagree with. The Republicans are testing my patience this week.

La Bute Falls In the Forest

Neil LaBute’s recent play, In the Forest, Dark and Deep, appeared as the opening for this year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepardstown, West Virginia. A group of us left steamingly hot Washington and drove out to see the play on Saturday. One of four enjoyed it while another found it interesting. Myself and my husband both anticipated much of the secrets that the play revealed and this led to us having a disappointed feeling.

It is one thing to know that someone might have acted improperly. It’s another to be able to guess what they did and why halfway through the show. We’ve seen almost all of La Bute’s earlier work and this is by far the least interesting or compelling. While one generally does not like many (any) of his characters, we really had disdain for both of these. Further, the rationale for the way they behaved was at best pop-Freud. Daddy didn’t love you enough. Mom never showed us her emotions.

The person who enjoyed the play still wrestled with concern over the playwright’s possible misogyny. Or as she wondered, was he only showing us how the culture treats women. Even if the latter, haven’t we seen the pretty woman who can’t keep herself from going to be with every man so that she can feel pretty and wanted? We’ve seen the low-class brother who expresses his disappointment in rage toward women who he gets involved with.

She also pointed out that the family dynamics in the play intrigued her as well. She made an interesting point about who knows how to push your buttons than your family. She makes a great point. Our siblings and the rivalry among family members can be intense and can show our personal vulnerabilities.

Shepardstown is a really nice, quaint place. We enjoyed walking down the main street and looking at all the different stores, even one for runners. We enjoyed an excellent early dinner at Shahrazade’s Restaurant and Tea Room.

Tasty Big Meal

The Studio Theatre produced another strong play. Part of its Second Stage productions, the DC theater company unveiled The Big Meal by Dan LaFranc.

The play shows five generations of a single family in the Midwest U.S. of today. Showing characters in pairs, quartets and occasionally in larger groupings, the play provides strong and interesting characters. The actors are very strong playing a multitde of roles.

The play addresses the ups and downs of rather middling lives, highs of weddings and romance and lows of jealousy, sibling rivalry, and racism. None of this hits one over the head but instead flows naturally out of the characters. Younger versions adopt good and bad habits of their parents as they age, all the types of things that we each discover about our selves.

The Religion Thing

Go see the new play at the Theater J. The Jewish Community Center in Washington, DC has created a festival of new local plays to be performed by local actors. A great idea in such a rich theater city as Washington.

The Religion Thing opens things up this month. The performances were uniformly very good. The playwright said she wanted to have the play think about it on their way home. The play spurred a good discussion in the theater and I’m sure she succeeded in her goal. It made you wonder what sits in our subconsciousness that may be very important to us.

The Hollow at Signature Theatre

The Tony-winning theatre company starts there new season off with a twist; two shows in rep at the same time. The two musicals are new works and that is great to see.

Saw The Hollow last night and thought it was fantastic. The voices were all strong and most of the performances were excellent. Matt Connor’s music is not of the style where you will whistle most of the songs on your drive to work. The songs and music fit the book perfectly.

The theater describes the show: From the composer of Nevermore and Partial Eclipse, The Hollow is a chilling musical reinterpretation of the classic thriller The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In a devout 18th century village, a mysterious stranger spreading radically new ideas challenges the traditional order. However, when rumors spread of a headless horseman murdering friends and neighbors, the townsfolk blame the outsider for this demonic curse.

The musical made me think about human beings acting in tribal ways and about the ability to use fear to maintain power. The citizens of the town are of Dutch descent and they look askance at outsiders, particularly New Englanders (who represent the English who defeated their Dutch ancestors).

This tribal/ethnic worldview is currently dominant in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be rearing its ugly head in Lybia soon. The divisions will make forming a nation state a challenge and will promote sectarian violence and cronyism is government. The US military is in the middle of these struggles with no end in sight and it is costing this country a great deal of money in a time when we need money to address a declining economy.

The show brought up thoughts on how fear is used to retain power. There are authoritarian regimes that use real fearful things, like the threat to kill, to retain power. In the Hollow one is left to wonder if killing is also being used to maintain control. The religious right is also using fear as a device to gain and retain power in the US.  They have demonized Obama in a similar way to the character in the show and have blamed circumstances ranging from health care costs to the debt on his Presidency.