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FALL ARTS 2018 THEATER: ‘Macbeth,’ ‘King John’ and Kahn’s swan song

Iron Crow tackles ‘Laramie Project,’ Synetic offers ‘Sleepy Hollow’

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fall theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Chris Genebach, on left, and Jaysen Wright in ‘Macbeth’ at Folger Theatre. (Photo by Brittany Diliberto; courtesy Folger)

The fall theater season is proving to be an exciting mix of classics, area premieres and some promising new works. And, like always, LGBT theater professionals are playing a big part in making it happen. 

In memoriam of the 20th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, Baltimore’s award-winning queer company Iron Crow Theatre (45 West Preston St., Baltimore) presents“The Laramie Project” through Sept. 23. With just eight actors playing about 60 characters, the seminal 2000 work weaves together interviews, journal entries and published news reports about the hate crime murder of the gay University of Wyoming student. It’s written by out playwright Moisés Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theater Project and John Knapp directs. Full details at ironcrowtheatre.org. 

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington) continues with its season opener, an exquisite production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” through Sept. 23. Set in 1860s Italy, Passion portrays the unlikely but intense relationship between a dashing young soldier and his commanding officer’s plain and ill-fated cousin Fosca. Out actor Claybourne Elder and Natascia Diaz give stellar performances. It’s beautifully staged by out director Matthew Gardiner. 

Also, at Signature, out director Joe Calarco helms “Heisenberg” Sept. 18-Nov. 11. In this hit Broadway play, Simon Stephens (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”) writes about a chance encounter on a London train that changes two people’s lives. Full details at sigtheatre.org.

Folger Theatre (201 E. Capitol St., S.E.) has kicked off the season with a wildly entertaining production of William Davenant’s Restoration era adaption of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (through Sept. 23). There’s a lot happening here: fabulous period music performed by the Folger Consort, expanded roles for the witches and Lady Macbeth, and lots of blood and flourish. What’s more, director Robert Richmond has opted to stage a play within a play and set the action in London’s notorious Bedlam asylum. The uniformly excellent large cast includes Ian Merrill Peakes in the title role and Kate Eastwood Norris as his wife. Also featured is out actor Jaysen Wright as an asylum inmate with PTSD who’s been cast to play Lenox 

Next up at Folger, Aaron Posner directs Shakespeare’s epic royal power struggle, Shakespeare’s “King John” (Oct. 23-Dec. 2). The cast includes Kate Eastwood Norris as Philip the Bastard and out actor Holly Twyford as Constance. Full details at folger.edu/folger-theatre.

Taffety Punk (Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th St., S.E.) presents Sadie Hasler’s dark comedy “Pramkicker” through Sept. 29. Find out what happens after a woman loses it in a café, kicks a pram and is then arrested and sent to anger management training. Details at taffetypunk.com.

At Mosaic Theater Company (Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St., N.E.) it’s “Marie and Rosetta,” running through Sept. 30. Geroge Brant’s terrific play with music takes a glimpse into the personal/professional relationship of gospel singer and rock and roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and singer/pianist Marie Knight. It’s cleverly staged by Sandra L. Holloway with vibrantly memorable performances by Roz White and Ayana Reed. Full details at mosaictheater.org 

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (641 D St., N.W.) starts the season with “Gloria,” running through Sept. 30. Penned by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist centers on the cutthroat culture of the New York magazine world. The cast includes talented out actor Justin Weaks. Kip Fagan directs. Full details at woollymammoth.net.

Through Oct. 7, “South Pacific” runs at Olney Theater Center (2001 Olney-Sandy Springs Road, Olney, Md.). The Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timely classic about love, war and racism is directed by Alan Maraoka. Full details at olneytheatre.org.

Theater Alliance (Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl., S.E.) opened the season with “The Events,” running though Oct. 7. Scottish playwright David Greig tells the story of Clare, the lone survivor of a mass shooting. Colin Hovde directs. Full details at theateralliance.com. 

GALA Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th St., N.W.) is presenting the U.S. premiere of the romantic comedy “Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate),” through Oct. 7. Adapted from the novel by Laura Esquivel, the play (performed in Spanish with English surtitles), is the story of a young woman trapped by traditions who finds freedom in cooking “so magical it inspires people to laugh, cry and burn with desire.” The cast includes Luz Nicolás and out actor Carlos Castillo. Full details at galatheatre.org.

Studio Theatre (1501 14th St., N.W.) enters fall with “If I Forget,” through Oct. 14. Written by Bethesda native Steven Levenson, it’s the story of a modern, D.C. Jewish family grappling with aging parents, Israel and real estate. Matt Torney directs. Full details at studiotheatre.org.

Ford’s Theatre (511 10th St., N.W.) presents “Born Yesterday” (Sept. 21-Oct. 21). Directed by Aaron Posner, this terrific satirical comedy about an opportunistic tycoon who arrives in 1940s Washington with his naive girlfriend to game the political system (sound familiar?). Kimberly Gilbert stars as Billie Dawn, the role that Judy Holliday made famous. Full details at fords.org.

The Klunch (D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th St., N.W.) opens its season with the world premiere of “How to Win a Race War” (Sept. 21-Oct. 30). Written and directed by The Klunch’s out artistic director Ian Allen, the three-part comedy is “a parody of white supremacist ‘race war’ fiction, which has proliferated in the years since Timothy McVeigh named William Pierce’s “The Turner Diaries” as inspiration for his brutal 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.” (18 and older only). Full details at theklunch.com.

Shakespeare Theatre Company (Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St., N.W.) kicks off legendary out artistic director Michael Kahn’s final season with “The Comedy of Errors” (Sept. 25-Oct. 28). Staged by out director Alan Paul, the Bard’s madcap farce revolves around mishaps of two sets of twins, each with the same name. The top-notch cast includes out actors Sarah Marshall and Tom Story. 

Later into STC’s season, Michael Kahn directs David Ives’ “The Panties, The Partner and The Profit: Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class” (Dec. 4-Jan. 6). Moving from Boston in 1950 to Wall Street in 1986 to lavish Malibu today, Ives’ funny new work is an adaption of Carl Sternheim’s epic trilogy, “Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Classes.” Full details at shakespearetheatre.org.

Synetic Theater (1800 South Bell Street, Chrystal City) is set to give its movement-based interpretation of the spooky tale of Ichabod Crane and his encounters with the Headless Horseman in “Sleepy Hollow” (Oct. 3-Nov. 4). Details at synetictheater.org.

At Round House Theatre (4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda) Amber Paige McGinnis makes her directorial debut staging out playwright Paula Vogel’s magnificent “How I learned to Drive” (Oct. 10 – Nov. 4). The award-winning play heartbreakingly chronicles a woman’s attempt to break the silence and cycle surrounding sexual abuse. Ayssa Wilmoth Keegan stars as Li’l Bit. Details at roundhousetheatre.org 

Constellation Theatre Company (1835 14th St., N.W.) begins its “Epic Love” season with Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” (Oct. 11- Nov. 18). Staged by out director Michael J. Bobbitt, the musical follows a love triangle involving Nubian princess Aida who’s been kidnapped from her country; Radames, the Egyptian captain who enslaved her people; and his fiancée Princess Amneris. Details at constellationtheatre.org 

At the National Theatre (1321 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.) fall is filled with music — new and not so new. First, it’s “Beetlejuice” (Oct. 14-Nov. 18). Alex Timbers directs the pre-Broadway world premiere of this new musical comedy, based on Tim Burton’s quirky iconic film. After that, it’s the road show of the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit “Beautiful: the Carole King Musical” (Nov. 27-Dec. 30). Details at Thenationaldc.org. 

At Theater J (offsite performance, Arena Stage, 1106 6th St., S.W.), it’s Anna Ziegler’s provocative new play “Actually” (Oct. 17-Nov. 18). Johanna Gruenhut directs this provocative new play about issues surrounding sexual consent at American colleges. The cast features Sylvia Kates and out actor Jaysen Wright. Details at Theaterj.org.

WSC Avant Bard (Gunston Arts, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington) presents the intriguing “Illyria, or What You Will,” a work freely adapted from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” (Oct. 18-Nov. 19). Conceived by Jonelle Walker and Mitchell Hébert and directed by Hébert, the piece “reimagines Shakespeare’s comedy of mixed-signal love in a downtown Manhattan dive bar in the early 1980s, where identity, sex and gender are what you will.” The 11-person cast features out actors Christopher Henley and Frank Britton. Full details at wscavantbard.org.

The Kennedy Center presents “Anastasia” (Oct. 30-Nov. 25), a romantic musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty about the fabled Grand Duchess Anastasia who may or may not have escaped execution during the Russian Revolution. Details at kennedy-center.org.

Arena Stage (1101 6th St., S.W.)  presents “Anything Goes” (Nov. 2-Dec. 23). Staged by Arena’s artistic director Molly Smith, this Cole Porter comedy musical about love and hijinks on a New York to London bound luxury cruiser features — among many standards — “You’re the Top” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Corbin Blue plays young lovestruck Wall Street broker Billy Crocker. Full details at arenastage.org.

D.C.’s company dedicated to the LGBT experience, Rainbow Theatre Project (D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th St., N.W.), presents “Jeffrey Higgins: A Deafening Sound (a cabaret)” (Nov. 23-24).  Directed and performed by Higgins, it’s the exploration of a gay life through song. Details at rainbowtheatreproject.org. 

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‘Midnight at the Never Get’ captures gay 1960s NYC

Virtual play from Signature tells story of young musical couple

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Christian Douglas and Sam Bolen in ‘Midnight at the Never Get.’ (Photo by Christopher Mueller)

‘Midnight at the Never Get’
Streaming through June 21
Signature Theatre
$35
sigtheatre.org

Signature Theatre’s latest virtual offering, “Midnight at the Never Get,” a terrific backstage musical romance set against 1960s New York City, tells the story of a young gay couple struggling to succeed personally and professionally in a world where being who they are isn’t always easy.

It’s relayed in mostly sung flashbacks by Trevor Copeland (Sam Bolen), a sassy, campy singer who goes to New York to be gay and pursue a career in music. He finds happiness – for a while – with reserved pianist and aspiring composer Arthur Brightman (Christian Douglas).

As an Iowa farm boy, Trevor repeatedly listened to the soundtrack of Judy Garland’s “A Star Is Born” in the barn. Little did he know then that “The Man That Got Away” would prove a major theme of his adult life.

Staged by out director Matthew Gardiner, the 90-minute show presents like a cabaret with two actors in black tie and baby grand on a small stage moodily lit by Adam Honoré and surrounded by small cafe tables topped with fringe shaded lamps. Filmed by Justin Chietb and produced and edited by James Gardiner, the story unfolds. There is no visible audience.

The guys meet cute. Trevor has left the Midwest for New York. After a string of hookups, he eventually cozies up to Arthur at the Checkerboard Lounge, a gay-friendly downtown bar where Arthur plays standards from the Great American Songbook as well as some of his own compositions.

From the start, Trevor and Arthur share clever banter and a frisson, but perhaps most importantly, they both love music.

The pair quickly becomes pretty much inseparable, though they don’t live together. At second rate nightclubs, Trevor sings Arthur’s songs, striving to make a name for themselves; and despite money being short, occasionally the couple splashes out on an evening at top notch cabarets like the Blue Angel or the Bon Soir to see headliners do their thing.

On a particular night at Café Wha? (a night spot best known as an emerging folk music space – not really Trevor and Arthur’s scene), the pair decide that Trevor will sing one of Arthur’s same-sex love songs without changing any pronouns.

Despite a few heckles, the song is mostly well received, and the evening leads to a standing gig at the Never Get, “a grimy gorgeous little nightclub” where gays happily gather to meet and drink. There, the guys introduce their act, Midnight at the Never Get, a sensibly named event that specifies time and place. At the Get, they’re given the freedom to explore their relationship and the current day politics through music.

In the mid-60s gay clubs were illegal. A place like the Never Get was technically “a bottle club” – essentially a members’ only spot run by the mafia. Typically, queer meeting places were raided twice a month, but usually paid-off cops would warn bartenders in advance who in turn would give a heads up to gay patrons who’d beat a hasty exit out the side door and find somewhere else to party.

As their act grows increasingly popular, the couple becomes more and more different. Arthur isn’t into rock music or protests. His fierce ambition takes him on frequent trips to L.A. where he writes jingles and later songs for singers like Connie Francis, Eydie Gormé, and Peggy Lee. Trevor remains in New York and befriends activists.

Scored and written by the tremendously talented Mark Sonnenblick, “Midnight at the Never Get” opened off-Broadway in 2018. With its torchy tunes, ballads, and upbeat numbers, there’s nothing farcical about the show. It vividly reflects an era.

At the end of the show, out actor Bobby Smith joins the cast as the older Trevor. In one beautifully sung song he captures the character’s life and longings.

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Theater

‘Blindness’ explores a terrifying new pandemic

Sidney Harman Hall production features immersive sound, light installation

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The audience takes the stage in ‘Blindness.’ (Photo by Helen Maybanks)

‘Blindness’
Through June 13
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.
$44-54
Shakespearetheatre.org

Masks and social distancing, yes, but I never expected a return to live theater to include a stage without actors and an audience seated onstage. But that’s exactly how it went it down on a recent sunny Saturday morning in Washington.

We longed for something, and after a year of indisputably warranted darkness, the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) has obliged by reopening Sidney Harman Hall with Donmar Warehouse’s terrifyingly enthralling production of “Blindness,” an immersive sound and light installation anchored by Juliet Stevenson’s astonishing recorded vocal performance heard — jarringly, soothingly, eerily — through binaural headphones.

Adapted by Simon Stephens from Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s same-titled dystopian novel, and staged by Walter Meierjohann (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”), the London born, 75-minute tale begins with narrator Stevens matter-of-factly relaying the details surrounding the outbreak of a pandemic that causes blindness. What starts off as an alarming, isolated incident, rapidly devolves into something all-encompassing and petrifying.

Uncannily, Saramago’s 1995 book, both looks back to plague stories and prophetically toward COVID-19.
In addition to narrator, Stevenson (an Olivier Award-winning stage actor also known for films like “Truly, Madly, Deeply”) plays the wife of an ophthalmologist whose office is where patient zero spreads the disease to various other patients – a little cross-eyed boy, an alluring young woman hiding a case of conjunctivitis behind dark sunglasses, a thief, an older gent sporting an eye patch, and sundry others.

The doctor’s wife, who is immune to the new sight-stealing disease, is doomed/blessed to become the lone eyewitness to violence, injustices, and death as the situation becomes progressively scary, primitive, and dangerous.

Rather than darkness, the afflicted are submerged into a world of milky whiteness. The pandemic – a new pathogen whose means of transmission is unknown – moves quickly throughout the city, then the nation, and beyond. Early in the outbreak, the health ministry is reluctant to get too involved, choosing instead to minimize the seriousness of what’s happening. Sounds familiar, I know.

Like the story, Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design becomes increasingly menacing as things move along. Originally playfully colorful fluorescent tubes suspended high from the ceiling, they turn stark white and are lowered to audience members’ line of sight. Then they are darkened altogether, interrupted by occasional bright colorless flashes.

Through headphones, the audience hears rain storms, harsh announcements, barricades being dragged, screams, sobs, footsteps, and gunshots. At times, Stevenson whispers in your ear. Once, I mechanically answered “Yes, I’m here.”

Masked, seated often in total darkness, headphones, it’s immersive, sometimes claustrophobically so. (If it becomes too much, there’s a flash light attached to the leg of each metal chair. Turn it on and an usher will escort you off the stage.)

During the pandemic STC has developed health and safety measures that include masks, air filtration, social distancing, etc.

For “Blindness” only 40 patrons are allowed per viewing. No one is seated next to someone outside of their own party, and a limited number of single tickets are available for purchase by calling the box office. Headsets, seats, and flashlights are disinfected before every performance, and all bathrooms and lobby spaces will be cleaned prior to the next seating group enters the building.

Exiting the Harman, you might think how odd it is to have been on stage before the actors’ union has allowed them to perform indoors before a live audience.

Outdoors, the warm wind feels invigorating against your face as you walk down the street. Still, the nearby upscale Mexican restaurant’s windows remain boarded and the half dozen people around you are walking determinedly, all — except one — wearing a mask.

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Theater

Theater that starts uncomfortable conversations

Theater Alliance director on ‘City in Transition’ — 4 plays about D.C.’s quadrants

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Caldwell, gay news, Washington Blade

Raymond O. Caldwell is the producing artistic director of Theater Alliance.

‘City in Transition: The Quadrant Series’

Streaming from April 24-May 24

Theater Alliance

Theateralliance.com

Recently, a Facebook post asked “Are there any activist theaters in D.C.?” A local actor quickly replied. “There’s only one,” she wrote. “It’s Theater Alliance.”

During a phone interview from his home in Anacostia last week, Theater Alliance’s producing artistic director Raymond O. Caldwell, addressed the social media query: “We keep our heads down and do the work. Well before the pandemic, we were trying to have conversations about race in America. Then it seemed niche work. Now that work is in vogue. There might come a time when it’s no longer stylish. But that’s OK, we’re ultimately doing it to transform people’s lives and start conversations.

“Our plays won’t change the world. Straight up. But we can start conversations that are uncomfortable and don’t have easy answers. And by partnering our productions with various nonprofits, we’re able to involve people in the movement whether it’s on the front line or stuffing envelopes.”

In residence at Anacostia Playhouse, Theater Alliance’s mission is to illuminate the experiences, philosophies, and interests of D.C.’s diverse population. When Caldwell, who is gay, took helm of the company in January 2019, the organization was already steeped in diversity. He’s worked to continue and expand on that, creating a cultural institution that’s invited in the surrounding, mostly Black community.

The company kicked off its virtual season in December with eight pieces about protest centered around the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. Having started off nationally, they’re now moving locally with “City in Transition: The Quadrant Series,” a 90-minute intersection of theater and film directed by Caldwell.

Part of the multi-Helen Hayes Award-winning company’s Hothouse new play development series, “City in Transition” consists of four filmed plays about Washington’s quadrants, SE, SW, NE, and NW written by local black playwrights Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman, Avery Collins, Shalom Omo-Osagie, and Leslie Scott-Jones.

The not long pieces are set in the present, past, and future. Topics include Black nonprofits battling to get funding via a game show; the meeting of hip-hop artists and violence set against the gentrified waterfront; a wealthy Black family debating whether to transform its landmark Black property into a trendy lounge for whites; and a white census taker discussing the changing city and current protests with a Black Washington native.

“Almost 13 years ago, I came to D.C. to be in Chocolate City but to my surprise, it wasn’t here,” says Caldwell, 37.

“When I think about a city changing and moving through gentrification, what concerns me is the loss of history, the stories of the folks who once lived here disappear.

“And interestingly, as D.C. gentrifies, we start noticing an uptick of murals and Black aesthetic of the city. It allows liberal yuppies to feel they’re in an urban environment but forgetting the rich history particularly for Black people in DC.”
He initially came to Washington for a six-month fellowship but stayed on. After six years at

Arena Stage, desirous to work outside of a white space, he began teaching at Howard University.

At Howard, his work centered on the universality of storytelling. “I pitched what folks would consider white work like Lillian Hellman’s provocatively lesbian-themed play, ‘The Children’s Hour.’”

“I’d ask my predominantly Black audience to imagine ourselves there as well, and they would.

The audience left thinking the play was written by a Black woman. It was additionally powerful because we in the Black community have trouble talking about homosexuality.”

As gay, Black, and Asian, Caldwell sometimes refers to himself as third culture: “Being who I am allows more space for me to see biases. I go into work asking myself what are the opportunities for transformation within me and the ensemble of artists I’ll be working with?”

Born in Germany to a German-Filipino mother and African-American father, he mostly grew up in Germany but spent summers with his father in the U.S. At 13, he went to live with his father.

“He thought I’d had enough of the European experience and wanted to teach me what it was to be a Black man in the world. And interestingly, that became the center of my activism.”

Caldwell’s American grandmother described him like this: “That boy can’t help but livin’.”

It’s true, he keeps busy, says Caldwell. He doesn’t turn down too many projects. “I’m honored to be creating art. There are so many ideas I want to push and propagate and now having a space and platform makes it especially hard to say no. It’s a good place to be.”

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