The year in theater was eclectic and engaging, peppered with premiers and reprises. There were new faces, names, and titles as well as the familiar. It was year of change and more of the same, both challenging and comforting.
In February, Studio Theatre trod intriguing ground with Morgan Gould’s new dramedy “I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart,” a darkly funny play about friendship and the politics of niceness and beauty, and more specifically friendships between gay men and overweight straight women. For the play’s D.C. premier, New York-based Gould (who also directed) cast out actor Tommy Heleringer as the young gay man and Nicole Spiezio as his big bestie.
Studio explored complicated relationships further with its summer production “Wig Out!” penned by out playwright Tarrell Alvin Mcraney’s whose “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” inspired the Academy Award-winning film “Moonlight.” “Wig Out!” is a love story set in the African-American drag ball scene (think Jennie Livingston’s seminal 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning.”). Michael Kevin Darnall as the House of Light’s sexual predator father and Jamyl Dobson as its aging, insecure drag mother were standouts in a strong cast.
Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre presented the excellent “Los Otros,” a subtly made, grownup two-hander with music by out composer Michael John LaChisua. It starred Broadway actors Judy McLane and Philip Hernández as two very different middle-aged Californians — she’s white and straight and he’s Mexican American and gay — who live oddly parallel lives.
The Kennedy Center hosted a summer of fun that included the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” Out actor Jose Llana added a playful dimension to the stubborn Siamese sovereign and Laura Michelle Kelly was luminous as Anna, the plucky English governess.
The increasingly dynamic Mosaic Theater Company added transgender to its topical mix. In January, they presented out playwright Philip Dawkins “Charm” starring transgender actor B’Ellana Duquesne as Mama, an etiquette instructor in an urban LGBT center. Dawkins drew inspiration from Chicago’s real-life Mama Gloria Allen, a transgender, African-American woman who taught deportment to low-income, transgender and often homeless teens in Chicago.
And more recently Mosaic presented “Draw the Circle,” Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s one-man show recounting his tricky, real life transition from female to male in a traditional Muslim-American family.
For some out artists, 2017 was a time for taking chances and exploring new directions. Celebrated local actor Holly Twyford sang in her first musical. As the middle-aged stage star Desiree Armfeldt in Signature Theatre’s sublime production of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Musical,” she dazzled audiences with her heartfelt and revelatory rendition of the show’s standard “Send In The Clowns.”
Rick Hammerly dedicated the year to directing. Best known for his Helen Hayes Award-winning turn as the titular transgender heroine in Signature’s production of the rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Hammerly says, “This year I decided that if I wanted people to think of me as doing something other than Hedwig, I needed to step it up and show people what I’m interested in, and that’s directing.”
From summer through early winter, he directed three well-reviewed plays back to back: a delightful youth production titled “Junie B. Jones Is Not A Crook” at Adventure Theatre MTC; British playwright Cordelia Lynn’s “Lela & Co.” at Factory 449 (where Hammerly is producing artistic director) showcasing the dramatic prowess of his colleague and friend Felicia Curry in an intense but optimistic look at cross-border human trafficking and how male relatives are usually complicit in such situations; and lastly WSC Bard’s “Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight,” a smart comedy penned by prolific playwright Lauren Gunderson.
“Each production was my vision of the play and directorially that’s what you want. Directing has been incredibly gratifying and currently it’s where I find the most satisfaction. That’s not to say that I’m leaving the stage.”
Hammerly closed out the year by once again donning his fat suit and playing goodhearted Mr. Fezziwig in Ford’s Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” And looking forward he’s slated to assistant direct Ford’s “Jefferson’s Gardens,” an exploration of contradictions between our founding fathers’ ideals and the realities of freedom in America. For spring, he’s cast to play mature drag queen Miss Tracy Mills in Round House Theatre’s production of playwright Matthew Lopez’s comedy “The Legend of Georgia McBride” to be staged by Tom Story, another out actor who also directs.