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Don’t look in the basement

Odd but endearing play explores pregnant teen’s isolation



Maya Jackson, Holly, Kara Lee Corthron, Holly Down in Heaven, Round House Theatre, Washington Blade gay news

‘Holly Down In Heaven’
Through Oct. 20
Forum Theatre
Round House Theatre Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

Maya Jackson, Holly, Kara Lee Corthron, Holly Down in Heaven, Round House Theatre, Washington Blade gay news

Maya Jackson as Holly in Kara Lee Corthron’s ‘Holly Down in Heaven.’ (Photo courtesy Round House Theatre)

Holly keeps counsel with dolls. When you’re a teenager marking time in your basement far from the world, it gets lonely. So she talks to them. And they talk back. Occasionally she even gets some good advice.

Emerging playwright Kara Lee Corthron writes thoughtfully about young women. In her funny and oddly heartwarming “Holly Down In Heaven” (currently making its world premiere at Forum Theatre in a fresh production ably staged by the company’s artistic director Michael Dove), Corthron explores a chaotic childhood journey.

After learning she’s pregnant, 15-year-old honor student Holly (Maya Jackson) sentences herself to nine months downstairs, vowing not to come up again until the baby is born. There, surrounded by her vast doll collection, she waits. Her indulgent widowed father (KenYatta Rogers) however has different ideas. From upstairs he keeps a close eye on his only child, gently encouraging her to consider alternatives to keeping the baby. For born again Christian Holly, abortion is out. She’s adamant: her intention is to remain underground, see no doctors and become a mother.

Tucked away, Holly seeks comfort from her dolls. Displayed on shelves around the perimeter of the open room, they’re arranged singly and in groups. The black contingent headed by a sassy Cabbage Patch baby includes a tiny, diplomatic Kofi Annan; next to them is a ponderously earnest Native American; then there are the Victorian dolls, most notably Queen Victoria herself; and across the basement in a spot lit place of honor stands a graceful Geisha girl (voiced by KyoSin).

Increasingly, conversation between Holly and the dolls centers on their reluctance to share her with a living, breathing baby. Sometimes these talks (actually just Holly talking to herself) become overly heated; and when it does, she quells the mayhem with threats of putting certain dolls in storage or even striking a match. (Like the “Wizard of Oz’s” scarecrow, these chatty collectibles are acutely aware of their flammability.)

For more serious chats, Holly goes one-on-one with her prized psychiatrist doll that bears a resemblance to Carol Channing in appearance and voice. The straight talking, potty-mouthed shrink (expertly handled and hilariously voiced by Vanessa Strickland) encourages her adolescent patient to become less closed off from the humans in her life.

Yes, non-dolls occasionally do make the subterranean scene: In addition to her father, Holly’s tutor Mia (Dawn Thomas), an agreeably neurotic grad student with father issues comes three times a week; and Yager (Parker Drown), the gamer next door pays brief unsolicited visits entering and exiting via a basement window.

Holly is at turns charming and charmless. A bundle of teenage hormones (and pregnant to boot), she is changeable and bratty as she explores notions of independence, relationships and faith. In the title role, Jackson perfectly places her character between little girl and young woman.

As Holly’s inept but well-meaning ex-boyfriend Yager, Drown (who’s gay) gives a terrifically understated performance, securing his growing reputation as a versatile local actor. He’s unrecognizable from his Helen Hayes Award-winning performance as Angel, the drum beating drag queen in Keegan Theatre’s production of “Rent.”

Sometimes the longish “Holly Down In Heaven” doesn’t seem sure what kind of play it is, veering from thoughtful comedy to sticky sitcom, but its general quirkiness make it worth a go.



An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón



Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography) 

Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.

When Eva Perón died of cancer at 33 in 1952, the people’s reaction was so intense that Argentina literally ran out of cut flowers. Mourners were forced to fly in stems from neighboring countries, explains out actor Caesar Samayoa. 

For Samayoa, playing President Perón to Shireen Pimental’s First Lady Eva in director Sammi Cannold’s exciting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a dream fulfilled. 

As a Guatemalan-American kid, he had a foot in two worlds. Samayoa lived and went to school in suburban Emerson, N.J. But he spent evenings working at his parents’ botanica in Spanish Harlem. 

During the drives back and forth in the family station wagon, he remembers listening to “Evita” on his cassette player: “It’s the first cast album I remember really hearing and understanding. I longed to be in the show.”

As an undergrad, he transferred from Bucknell University where he studied Japanese international relations to a drama major at Ithica College. His first professional gig was in 1997 playing Juliet in Joe Calarco’s off-Broadway “Shakespeare’s R&J.” Lots of Broadway work followed including “Sister Act,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” and most significantly, Samayoa says, “Come From Away,” a musical telling of the true story of airline passengers stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. He played Kevin J. (one half of a gay couple) and Ali, a Muslim chef.  

He adds “Evita” has proved a powerful experience too: “We’re portraying a populist power couple that changed the trajectory of a country in a way most Americans can’t fully understand. And doing it in Washington surrounded by government and politics is extra exciting.” 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you tap into a real-life character like Perón?

CAESAR SAMAYOA: Fortunately, Sammi [Connald] and I work similarly. With real persons and situations, I immerse myself into history, almost to a ridiculous extent. 

First day in the rehearsal room, we were inundated with artifacts. Sammi has been to Argentina several times and interviewed heavily with people involved in Eva and Peron’s lives. Throughout the process we’d sit and talk about the real history that happened. We went down the rabbit hole.

Sammi’s interviews included time with Eva’s nurse who was at her bedside when she died. We watched videos of those interviews. They’ve been an integral part of our production. 

BLADE: Were you surprised by anything you learned?

SAMAYOA: Usually, Eva and Perón’s relationship is portrayed as purely transactional.  They wrote love letters and I had access to those. At their country home, they’d be in pajamas and walk on the beach; that part of their life was playful and informal. They were a political couple but they were deeply in love too. I latched on to that. 

BLADE: And anything about the man specifically? 

SAMAYOA:  Perón’s charisma was brought to the forefront. In shows I’ve done, some big names have attended. Obama. Clinton. Justin Trudeau came to “Come From Away.” Within seconds, the charisma makes you give into that person. I’ve tried to use that.  

BLADE: And the part? 

SAMAYOA: Perón is said to be underwritten. But I love his power and the songs he sings [“The Art of the Possible,” “She is a Diamond,” etc.]. I’m fully a baritone and to find that kind of role in a modern musical is nearly impossible. And in this rock opera, I can use it to the full extent and feel great about it.

BLADE: “Evita” is a co-production with A.R.T. Has it changed since premiering in Boston? 

SAMAYOA: Yes, it has. In fact, 48 hours before opening night in Washington, we made some changes and they’ve really landed. Without giving too much away, we gave it more gravity in reality of time as well as Eva’s sickness and the rapid deterioration. It’s given our second act a huge kind of engine that it didn’t have. 

BLADE: You’re married to talent agent Christopher Freer and you’re very open. Was it always that way for you?

SAMAYOA: When I started acting professionally, it was a very different industry. We were encouraged to stay in the closet or it will cast only in a certain part. There was truth in that. There still is some truth in that, but I refuse to go down that road. I can’t reach what I need to reach unless I’m my most honest self. I can’t do it any other way.

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Out & About

HRC’s National Dinner is back

LGBTQ rights organization’s annual gala features Rhimes, Waithe, Bomer



Actor Matt Bomer will be honored at the HRC National Dinner.

The Human Rights Campaign will host its annual National Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The dinner’s honorees include world-famous producers, actors and entertainers whose work spotlights the fight for civil rights and social justice, including Shonda Rhimes, Lena Waithe and Matt Bomer.

A new event, as part of the weekend, — the Equality Convention — will take place the night before the dinner on Friday, Oct. 13. The convention will showcase the power of the LGBTQ equality movement, feature influential political and cultural voices, and bring together volunteer and movement leaders from across the country to talk about the path ahead.
For more details about the weekend, visit HRC’s website.

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Out & About

MLK Library to spotlight queer Asian writer

Trung Nguyen’s ‘The Magic Fish’ explored



The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will host “A Conversation with Trung Nguyen, Novelist” on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m.

Nguyen’s book, “The Magic Fish” explores the LGBTQ experience and dives deep into Asian heritage and culture. United States Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius will attend the event and introduce Nguyen.

Admission is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

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