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Fringe Festival, cabaret series among summer theater offerings

‘The Color Purple’ returns to Kennedy Center; Synetic tackles ‘Oz’

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Summer theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Host Carlos Bustamante makes sure everybody wins in ‘America the Game Show.’ (Photo by StereoVision Photography)

Not going anywhere anytime soon? Why not make theater a part of your summer in the city?

Following its tradition of big summer musicals, The Kennedy Center presents “The Color Purple” July 30-Aug. 26.  Adapted from Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the national tour of the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival production recounts the sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant rise of an African-American woman in the American South. Details at kennedy-center.org. 

Also, at the Kennedy Center, out actor Alan Cumming brings his inimitable blend of style, storytelling and activism with “Legal Immigrant,” July 28. Cumming promises a cabaret of songs and stories about his life and loves in his adopted homeland. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington joins him for the performance. Details at kennedy-center.org. 

Summer Cabaret Series at Creative Cauldron (410 South Maple Avenue, Falls Church, Va.) features a lineup of terrific performers including the fabulous Jade Jones with “Killin’ Em Softly: A ’70s Soiree,” July 20-21; and out actor Stephen Gregory Smith traces his relationship with composer Matt Conner in “Inspired By” Sept. 7-8. Full details at creativecauldron.org.

At Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.), Sizzlin’ Summer Nights Cabaret Series rolls on with an impressive roster of singers including Erin Driscoll. With Ladies’ Night, July 26, the Helen Hayes Award-winning Driscoll celebrates the female songwriters of Broadway from Golden Age to contemporary songs, including women such as Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden, Jeanine Tesori. Full details at sigtheatre.org.

For a wild time, catch Astro Pop Events’ third annual “America The Game Show. F*ck Yeah!” July 21 at GALA Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th St., N.W.) and July 27-28 at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance (3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore).

Inspired by TV’s “The Price Is Right” but with a subversive and sexy twist, the show is 90 minutes of outrageous games dealing with fracking, immigration and reproductive rights. A favorite game from last year’s show was called “Grab That Pussy!” which consisted of using tiny fake hands to toss stuffed kittens into holes cut from the folds of a drag queen’s voluminous skirt. 

“‘Game Show’ has morphed over the years,” says director Kate Taylor Davis. “When we started it was the summer before the election. We assumed Hilary Clinton would be our next president. We were optimistic. The show was lot of goofy Americana with a political undercurrent. The second year that changed.  It’s become more political, an expression of our frustrations. Our way of dealing with the madness is to poke fun and still try to find a way to love the country despite what’s happening now.”

Included in the shows cast are local performer Carlos Bustamante as cocksure emcee Carl who “embodies the quintessential American spirit by being supremely confident in his own self-worth and value.” The cast also includes out actors Chris Griffin (best known for his alt drag, oddly comical persona Lucrezia Blozia) as Liberty who stands seven feet tall in her glitter boots, and local actor Patrick M. Doneghy as Justice, a superhero who might have walked out of the D.C. Eagle. Both Justice and Liberty facilitate audience participation in the show’s games. 

“We look forward to doing this every summer. I don’t know what we’d do for fun otherwise,” says Davis who helms the production with set designer Jared Davis. “It’s important for us to do a quirky, lowbrow, subversive thing. We think D.C. needs it.” Full details at astropopevents.com 

Through July 29, Capital Fringe Festival 2018 offers a selection of Fringe theater, music, art, dance and unclassifiable forms of live performance. Many are of special interest to LGBT audiences — just a few of those are listed below. For a complete list of shows, times, and venues, go to capitalfringe.org 

There’s still time to catch Jamie Brickhouse’s comedy solo performance “Dangerous When Wet: Booze, Sex & My Mother,” July 21 and 24 at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church: Gold (555 Water St., S.W.) Capital Fringe’s website describes it best: “Sodomite Jamie Brickhouse’s alcoholic odyssey from small-town sissy to louche Manhattanite is wickedly intoxicating as he hits bottom and discovers he can’t escape the all-consuming love of his Texas tornado of a mother, Mama Jean. Darkly comic, you’ll cry laughing.”

Also, Three Muses (Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., S.W.) presents “God is Dead and April’s Getting Married,” July 21, 22, 28, 29. Penned by A.A. Brenner, the dramedy explores queerness, religion and friendship while asking if people ever truly change. 

And Caitlin M. Capliner’s “Riot Brrrain,” July 21, 22, 24, 27, 28, at Blind Whino: Turquoise (700 Delaware Ave., S.W.) is an adults only musical comedy about neurosyphilis. 

Ghosts” from Muse Theatre Productions by Elford Alley is about a mysterious device that allows communication with the dead. It runs July 21-29 at Blind Whino: Yellow (700 Delaware Ave., S.W.). It’s the only horror/sci-fi show in this year’s festival and features LGBT personnel. 

Fringe is fun but not always for kids. If children figure into your summer plans, there are options. 

Synetic Theatre (now at Devine Theater located in the Davis Performing Arts Center on the Georgetown University campus) presents “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” through Aug. 12. Of course, the innovative movement-based company puts a spin on the 20th century, L. Frank Baum favorite. Producing director Paata Tsikurishvili, director Ryan Sellers and choreographer Tori Bertocci create an environmental and spectacular adventure where verbal and nonverbal communication come together. Helen Hayes Award-winning out actor Philip Fletcher plays the Tin Man in search of a heart. Details at synetictheatre.org.

At Imagination Stage (4908 Auburn Ave, Bethesda) it’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” through Aug. 12. Based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz, the delightful Off-Broadway musical hit about childhood angst is staged by local acclaimed director Aaron Posner who’s usually found directing quality stuff for grownups. Details at imaginationstage.org.

And in Glen Echo Park, Md., Adventure Theatre MTC presents “Tinker Bell” through Aug. 19. Adapted by Patrick Flynn, it’s the Peter Pan story from the twinkly fairy’s point of view. Staged by out director Nick Olcott, the company’s summer fun show features a diverse cast led by Michelle Polera in the title role and Carlos Castillo as Peter Pan. Details at adventuretheatre-mtc.org.

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‘We’re Gonna Die’ includes themes of grief, death, depression

But don’t let that deter you from Round House production

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Regina Aquino as the singer in Young Jean Lee's ‘We're Gonna Die’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Harold F. Burgess II)

‘We’re Gonna Die’
Streaming through July 11
Round House Theatre
$30
Roundhousetheatre.org

Round House Theatre’s current filmed offering, “We’re Gonna Die,” could be described as sad words interrupted by upbeat melodies. But it’s not that simple.

Penned by Young Jean Lee, the hour-long solo show is based on real experiences but without details specific to place or year. Its monologues are the memories of a youngish woman (simply called the Singer in the program) who arrives at the harsh conclusion that horrible things happen all the time, and in the end, we die. But it’s not all gloom and doom. The playwright – who’s been called the queen of unease – peppers her work with the unexpected and the uncomfortable as well as some fun surprises and humor. And after every gloomy tale the singer shares, there’s a pop-sounding song with equally unsettling lyrics.

This kind of back and forth between the serious and the not so serious, makes the show interesting.

Director Paige Hernandez, who also provides the show’s happy, informal choreography, brings a fresh unpretentiousness to the piece that gels nicely with the available energy of Helen Hayes Award-winning Filipinx American actor Regina Aquino.

Sporting a knotted T-shirt and black leather pants, Aquino comes ready to work. She barrels through (in a good way) a litany of brutal memories with an inviting intensity while radiating an emotional suppleness that keeps you with her throughout the evening’s various twists and turns.

As the Singer, Aquino wastes no time in apprising the audience of the miseries of life. Childhood and tween years aren’t pleasant: she’s shunned by alleged best friends; learning to ride a bike is violently traumatic; and during a playful game of spy, she witnesses her weird Uncle John become reduced to a puddle of tears after reciting his nightly mantra: “I am shit. I am shit.” The singer learns early that life isn’t easy.

Romance proves illusive. There’s no dating in high school. College is a series of one-sided relationships with guys who drink too much. When she finally gets together with what seems the ideal man, he leaves her.

Things continue uncomfortably. At a family reunion she overhears her mother describing her as less lovable than her sister. But it’s her father’s seemingly unfair and tragic death from lung cancer that hits hardest. She knows then that despite what we may want to believe, we all die and rarely prettily.
It’s oddly comforting how she concludes that none of us are special; no one is immune to unhappiness, pain, disease, and the long dirt nap. We all have this in common.

Lee (the first Asian-American woman to have a play on Broadway with “Straight White Men”) wrote “We’re Gonna Die” not long after her father’s death. Perhaps that’s why the harrowing monologue describing the patriarch’s demise is the show’s most affecting. And it’s definitely where Aquino’s gifts for pathos and sensitivity come to the fore.

This is a solo show, indeed, but Aquino isn’t alone on stage. She’s joined by The Chance Club, a four-person rock band featuring Laura Van Duzer, Matthew Schleigh, Jason Wilson, and Manny Arciniega. Aquino and band’s interactions feel spontaneous and not over-rehearsed, infusing the show with the charm of a small live concert.

“We’re Gonna Die” comes with a content advisory: “This production includes themes of loss, grief, death, and depression.” But please, don’t let that deter you. It’s in fact peculiarly uplifting.

And by show’s end, you’ll be humming along to a catchy tune with the memorable chorus: “I’m gonna die / I’m gonna die someday / Then I’ll be gone / And it will be OK.”

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Theater

Local theaters come to life to celebrate Pride

Kennedy Center, GALA, Olney and more offer live and virtual events

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Solomon Parker is Echinacea Monroe in ‘Olney in Drag,’ coming to Olney Theatre Center in August. (Photo courtesy Parker)

With reopening comes opportunities to celebrate Pride with live performances.

For the first time in more than a year, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s Potomac Fever Ensemble will be performing together live. The small, close-knit harmony a cappella group is presenting a fun mix of contemporary pop, crowd favorites, and Broadway songs at National Christian City Church at 5 Thomas Circle, N.W., on Saturday, June 12 at 3 p.m. Admission is free. Gmcw.org

And if you move fast, there’s still time to catch an outdoor performance of Solas Nua’s production of “In the Middle of the Fields.” Penned by Deirdre Kinahan (“Wild Sky,” “The Frederick Douglass Project”), the new work “centers on Eithne, who is undergoing chemo-therapy for breast cancer. Stepping out of her house and into the nearby fields, she wonders what her life will be like on the other side of recovery from a deadly disease.”

Directed by Laley Lippard and featuring talented local actors Jessica Lefkow, Caroline Dubberly, and Ryan Sellers, the aptly titled play is staged outdoors at P Street Beach in Dupont Circle. Audiences are seated at a distance; blankets and chairs are available for seating options. Solasnua.org

GALA Hispanic Theatre continues its return to live performances with “Ella es tango” (“She is tango”) through the end of June. An original musical revue conceived by GALA artistic director Hugo Medrano with texts by Patricia Suárez and featuring artists from Argentina and the U.S., it highlights the contribution of women composers and singers to sexy but traditionally male dominated genre.

“Ella es tango” is performed indoors at GALA’s bijou space in Columbia Heights, and starting June 11, 2021, the theatre capacity increases and seats will be assigned three feet apart (every third seat) instead of six feet apart (every fifth seat). Galatheatre.org

The Olney Theatre Center (OTC) boasts an impressive lineup of summer offerings for its outdoor, open air amphitheater, the Root Family Stage.

Beginning late July through the end of August, OTC presents the weekly Friday night Andrew A. Isen Cabaret Series featuring some of the DMV’s top musical talents featured in some exciting combinations.

The pairs include Awa Sal Secka and out actor Bobby Smith (July 23); Ines Nassara and Tracy Lynn Olivera (July 30); Donna Migliaccio, and Nova Payton (August 6); Rayanne Gonzales and local gay performer Rayshun Lamarr who appeared as a contestant on TV’s “The Voice” (August 13); Greg Maheu and Vishal Vaidya (August 20); and finally, Malinda Kathleen Reese and Alan Wiggins (August 27).

And for two free performances on consecutive Wednesday nights in August, OTC presents “Olney in Drag” where audiences are asked to “enjoy a drink as these fabulous drag queens shine brighter than the stars in the evening sky.” The first show (August 18) features Brooklyn Heights, Betty O’Hellno, Ariel Von Quinn, and Evon Michelle.

Queens taking the stage for the second show (August 25) include Kristina Kelly, Vagenesis, Tiara Missou (David Singleton who appeared in “Elf the Musical” at OTC), and Echinacea Monroe (terrific out actor Solomon Parker). Olneytheatre.org

Also this summer, the Kennedy Center has big outdoor plans for its wide-open, riverside REACH campus.

The Millennium Stage is scheduled to present free outdoor experiences ranging from live music and film screenings to dance lessons, yoga sessions, arts markets, and more.

Slated programming promises to celebrate varied cultures and styles, and work in partnership with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, National Theater for the Deaf, Smithsonian Asian American Center, Creative Nomads, SAMASAMA, D.C. Legendary Musicians, Step Afrika, and members of the Drag community, as well as internal collaborations with the Kennedy Center’s Culture Caucus. Kennedy-center.org

And while the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) isn’t venturing outdoors yet, they are continuing to present “Blindness,” a brilliant piece about pandemic and societal breakdown featuring the voice of Juliet Stevenson, at Sidney Harman Hall through July 3. The unforgettable experience remains an in-person theatrical installation with socially distanced seating; 40 audience members per event; and masks required indoors).

And “All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain starring Patrick Page” continues to stream until July 28.

Looking forward to September, STC’s first full production will be a two-week limited engagement of gay writer James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner” from Sept. 14-26 in Sidney Harman Hall, completing its glorious run that was cut short by COVID in March 2020. Shakespearetheatre.org

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Theater

‘Will Power’s Flow’ a hip-hop tour de force

Justin Weaks on playing multiple parts, theater scene after COVID

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Justin Weaks (foreground) and DJ Nick ‘Tha 1da’ Hernandez in ‘Flow.’ (Photo courtesy of Studio Theatre)

‘Will Power’s Flow’
Studio Theatre
Streaming through June 27
$37
Studiotheatre.org

Out actor Justin Weaks really digs hip-hop. So, when Studio Theatre asked him to take on the title role in a filmed remount of “Will Power’s Flow,” an early 2000s hip-hop theatrical piece about music and the storytelling of contemporary urban denizens in the West African griot tradition, it wasn’t an impossible stretch.

Growing up in Concord, N.C., a suburb outside of Charlotte, Weaks’ household was strictly into soul and R&B. But since living in D.C., he says, it feels like hip-hop music has deeply dug its claws into him.

In “Flow,” Weaks, 30, is backed by the hip-hop beats of DJ/composer/sound designer Nick “Tha 1da” Hernandez. “But you’ll hear me on some beats too. I have a good time with it.”

But the most challenging aspect of tackling “Flow” is playing multiple parts, he adds. In addition to his lead role as performer Will Power (the 7th storyteller), he plays six other storytellers, and about another dozen characters. But this sort of tour de force isn’t entirely new to the actor who triumphantly played multiple roles in “Long Way Down” at the Kennedy Center as well as in “Gloria” at Woolly Mammoth, the work that garnered him a Helen Hayes Award nomination.

The D.C.-based actor who describes himself as “happily single,” ranks as one of Washington’s most gifted talents.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Was it challenging to assay Will Power, a part so associated with a real-life artist?

JUSTIN WEAKS: Actually, this production was my introduction to Will Power. My friend and director Psalmayene 24 reached out to me – he said Studio wanted to remount “Flow” with a new actor, and asked if I was interested. I was blown away by the script. It’s a behemoth of a piece. Any yes, any time you’re dealing with a piece that was originally performed by its writer, there is an extra responsibility to the work and the words.

BLADE: And how was returning to the stage after a long absence?

WEAKS: The return to Studio felt right. I love the programming at Studio. Like how intimate their spaces are. As a performer you’re held by the audience.

BLADE: But because of COVID restrictions, this production was filmed over two days. How was that?

WEAKS: I’ve had very little film experience. This was my first major rodeo in front of the camera. Everything about it was new. I learned so much while doing it. It’s something that’s foreign. You have to think of it as a great opportunity to learn, to grow, and see what you need to work on.

I’ll admit that I feel incredibly vulnerable with this filmed play being out there. That’s new for me. I’ve experienced vulnerability in real time when I’m on stage but to have the work be done a month ago, edited, and out there, it makes me feel exposed in a way I’ve never felt.

BLADE: I’m sure you’ll get used to that.

WEAKS: After I’ve done a few feature films, I’ll probably feel differently.

BLADE: Was it difficult returning to work after such an odd year?

WEAKS: Returning to work as an artist isn’t easy. I consider our return process to be like boot camp. We’re different people now. My body sits differently. My voice and breath are different. After isolation and not working much, I had to relearn my instrument again.

BLADE: Is it different?

WEAKS: There is so much that is changing in terms of the industry — theater and film industry. How they hire and pay artists. So many of us made more on unemployment than when we were busy working full-time pre-COVID.

Theaters will be in for a surprise when they reopen doors and find that artists don’t want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic. We’re in a different time now and we’ll rise to the new time rather than shrinking back into what was. Clearly it wasn’t serving many of us.

BLADE: And is there anything about Flow that’s especially appealing to LGBTQ audiences?

WEAKS: Oh, yes. If you’re someone who has struggled at all this past year, then this piece will interest you. If you’re figuring out what the future looks like, how to move on, how to cope, how to have faith, or hang on to something real, then this play is for you.

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