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FALL ARTS 2019: THEATER — ‘Cats,’ ‘Cabaret,’ ‘Assassins’ ‘Doubt’ and more

Newly discovered Tennessee Williams one act ‘Lady’ among fall theatrical highlights

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Doubt, gay news, Washington Blade, 2019 Theater
Sarah Marshall (left) and Tiffany M. Thompson in ‘Doubt: a Parable.’ (Photo by Teresa Wood)

First, a few odds and ends: 

More of a concert but worth nothing is “Coat of Many Colors: the Music of Dolly Parton,” a tribute event featuring Joan Osborne, Garrett Clayton, Neyla Pekarek, Morgan James, Nova Payton, Jess Eliot Myhre, Rita Castagna and the American Pops Orchestra on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. at Arena Stage (1101 6th St., S.W.). Tickets are $25-75 at arenastage.org

theatreWashington’s Theatre Week! features discounted tickets on many area shows at $15 and $35 through Sept. 29. Details at theatreweek.org

The D.C. Queer Theatre Festival continues its reading series of new and unpublished full-length plays on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W., suite 105). Details at thedccenter.org/queertheatrefest

Now, on to the regular productions. 

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington) continues with its season opener, a terrific production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins” (through Sept. 29). Beautifully staged by Signature’s out artistic director Eric Schaeffer, the Tony Award-winning dark comedy tells the story of nine would-be and successful presidential assassins ranging from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Also, at Signature, out Helen Hayes Award-winning actor Holly Twyford is directing “Escaped Alone” (Sept. 24-Nov. 3). This newish play by brilliant British playwright Caryl Churchill (“Could Nine,” “Top Girls”) centers on three old friends gathered in an English garden “who are joined by a neighbor to engage in amiable chitchat — with a side of apocalyptic horror.” Sounds intriguing. Full details at sigtheatre.org.

Through Oct. 6, “Cabaret” runs at Olney Theater Center (2001 Olney-Sandy Springs Road, Olney, Md.). Based on out writer Christopher Isherwood’s literary classic “Berlin Stories,” John Kander & Fred Ebb’s stunning musical records the rise of fascism in Weimar Berlin through the lens of life in a seedy cabaret. Alexandra Silber stars as striving cabaret singer Sally Bowles and Mason Alexander Park is the Kit Kat Klub’s genderfluid Emcee. Helen Hayes Award-winning out director Alan Paul directs. Full details at olneytheatre.org.

Then at Olney it’s Marco Ramirez’s “The Royale,” a co-production with 1st Stage in Tyson’s Corner (Sept. 25-Oct. 27). Inspired by the true story of African-American boxer Jack Johnson, this look into the mind of an early 20th century boxer is directed/choreographed by Paige Hernandez and features out actor Jaysen Wright. 

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (641 D St., N.W.) has begun its season with “Fairview,” through Oct. 6. Penned by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, this hard-hitting and inventively imagined and staged drama about family and race features a strong cast including Shannon Dorsey, Cody Nickell and Kimberly Gilbert. “Fairview” is the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Full details at woollymammoth.net.

Studio Theatre (1501 14th St., N.W.) enters fall with playwright John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable,” through Oct. 6. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play concerns the suspicions of Bronx Catholic school principal Sister Aloysius (out actor Sarah Marshall) surrounding a young priest’s keen interest in a little boy, the school’s first and only black student. Matt Torney directs. Full details at studiotheatre.org.

GALA Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th St., N.W.) is presenting a commissioned adaptation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s classic “La vida es sueño (Life Is a Dream),” through Oct. 13. Adapted by out playwright Nando López, the new take on a timeless work of Spanish Golden Age theater, explores free will, fate and tyranny. The cast of familiar faces features out Spanish actor Mel Rocher. Hugo Medrano directs. Full details at galatheatre.org.

Folger Theatre (201 E. Capitol St., S.E.) has kicked off its season with Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV” (through Oct. 13). The compelling history play directed by Rosa Joshi, stars Edward Gero as Falstaff and Avery Whitted as Prince Hal. 

Then next on Folger’s docket, it’s out Londoner Richard Clifford directing Nick LaMedica as Mozart and Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri in gay playwright Peter Shaffer’s sensational Tony Award-winning play “Amadeus” (Nov. 5-Dec. 22). Accomplished D.C. scenic designer Tony Cisek is creating the sets for both Folger productions. Full details at folger.edu/folger-theatre.

The Kennedy Center presents “Cats” (Sept. 17-Oct. 6). Based on poems by T.S. Eliot, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning mega hit musical tells the story of one magical night when an extraordinary tribe of cats gathers for its annual ball to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn. If you haven’t yet witnessed a bewhiskered thespian sing “Memory,” resist no more. Now’s the time to see it. Full details at kennedy-center.org.

At Round House Theatre (4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda) Nicole A. Watson is directing Jocelyn Bioh’s hit off-Broadway comedy “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” (Sept. 18-Oct. 13). When the new girl arrives in Ghana from America loaded with Western ideas and superior beauty products, she threatens to steal of the crown from her new boarding school’s reigning queen bee. Hilarious battle ensues. The eight person of color cast includes out actor Jade Jones and Temidayo Akibu who recently came out as nonbinary. More details at roundhousetheatre.org.

Taffety Punk (Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th St., S.E.) presents “Riot Grrrls: Othello” (Sept. 19-Oct. 12). Directed by Kelsey Mesa, the all-women cast stars terrific actors Danielle A. Drakes, in the title role, and Lise Bruneau as evil Iago. Details at taffetypunk.com.

For fall, Synetic Theater (1800 South Bell Street, Chrystal City) is reprising its 2013 movement-based interpretation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” (Sept. 25-Oct. 20). Along with the water-filled stage that made this take on the Bard’s irreverent comedy so memorable, Synetic is keeping it fresh by casting gifted company co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili as “Prospera.” The cast also includes talented out actor Alex Mills as Ariel. Full details at synetictheater.org.

Spooky Action Theater is set to present Tennessee William’s “The Lady from the Village of Falling Flowers” for one performance only (Sept. 21) before it moves on for a short run in Provincetown, Mass. (Sept. 26-29). The newly discovered and never-before-produced one act directed by Natsu Onoda Power mixes Japanese kami-shibai style street theater with storytelling performers in “a punchy send-up of love, the perils of first impressions and our earthly attempts to touch something eternal.” Details at spookyaction.org.

Shakespeare Theatre Company (Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St., N.W.) kicks off new artistic director Simon Godwin’s inaugural season with “Everybody” (Oct. 15-Nov. 17). Penned by hot out playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, it’s a takeoff of the 15th-century play “Everyman.” It’s described as “an irreverent, rollicking ride that asks deep questions of all who see it. Remixing the archetypal medieval morality play into an explosive experiment of wit and emotion.” The diverse nine-person cast includes local favorite Nancy Robinette as Death, and nonbinary actor Avi Roque as Somebody. Trans identifying Will Davis directs. Full details at shakespearetheatre.org.

At Theater Alliance (Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. S.E.), co-directors Raymond O. Caldwell and Angelisa Gillyard are staging an imaginative retelling of Douglas Turner Ward’s 1965 play, “Day of Absence” (Oct. 5-Nov. 3). Expect a “comedic and pointed commentary on systemic racism that still bears relevance today.” Full details at theateralliance.com.

For fall, Constellation Theatre Company (1835 14th St., N.W.) is doing “Little Shop of Horrors” (Oct. 17-Nov. 17). Set in an obscure Skid Row flower shop, Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin’s zany musical plumbs the mad depths of success, love and bloodthirsty posies with doo-wop and Motownesque sounds. Nick Martin directs. Full details at constellationtheatre.org.

In time for Halloween, Rorschach Theatre presents Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters” (Oct. 18-Nov. 10). The 2014 inspiring comedy rife with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres and ’90s pop culture, has been re-imagined for 2019, this production will include site-specific elements that bring audiences into unseen places throughout the Atlas Performing Arts Center (Center, 1333 H St., N.E.). Details at rorschachtheatre.com

The always timely Mosaic Theater Company (Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St., N.E.) presents “Theory,” playwright Norman Yeung’s techno thriller set against a campus free speech debate (Oct. 23-Nov. 17). Victoria Murray Baatin directs. 

Following “Theory” is California-based playwright Jonathan Spector’s “Eureka Day” (Dec. 4-Jan. 5). A mumps breakout at a prestigious day school in liberal Berkeley, Calif., pushes thoughts on facts, consensus and social justice into the spotlight. Mosaic’s talented out managing director and producer Serge Seiden directs a cast of topnotch actors including Regina Aquino, Lise Bruneau, Erica Chamblee, Sam Lunay, and Elan Zafir. Full details at mosaictheater.org.

D.C.’s company dedicated to the LGBT experience, Rainbow Theatre Project (D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th St., N.W.), kicks off the season with the world premiere of “Blue Camp” (Oct. 31-Nov. 24). Penned by out writers Tim Caggiano and Jack Calvin Hanna and directed by Christopher Janson, it’s described as a Vietnam War story of discrimination in the military, as relevant now as it was then. Details at rainbowtheatreproject.org.

At Theater J (1529 16th St., N.W.), it’s legendary gay playwright Edward Albee’s “Occupant” (Nov. 7-Dec. 8). In this late career work, Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) probes the life and times of famed sculptor Louise Nevelson. Local actor Susan Rome plays Nevelson and Aaron Posner directs. Details at theaterj.org

A few other odds and ends: “19: the Musical,” which tells of women who fought for women’s voting rights, runs Nov. 25-27 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Ave., N.W.). Details at nmwa.org. “My Barking Dog” is Oct. 4-13 at Caos on F Street (923 F St., N.W.). Details at universeplayers2.tix.com. “Paris! the Show” is Tuesday, Oct. 22 at GW Lisner. Tickets are gwutickets.com. And Young Artists of America presents “Once Upon a Mattress” on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Md., and Saturday, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. Details at youngartistsamerica.org.

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Sophie Zmorrod embracing life on the road in ‘Kite Runner’

First national tour comes to Eisenhower Theater on June 25

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Sophie Zmorrod (Photo courtesy of Zmorrod)

‘The Kite Runner’
June 25 – 30
The Kennedy Center
$39-$149
Kennedy-center.org

Newly single, Sophie Zmorrod is enjoying life on the road in the first national tour of “The Kite Runner,” Matthew Spangler’s play with music based on Khaled Hosseini’s gripping novel about damaged relationships and longed for redemption. 

“It’s a wonderful time for me,” says Zmorrod. “I’m past the breakup pain and feeling empowered to explore new cities. A lot of us in the cast are queer, so we figure out the scene wherever the show goes.” 

What’s more, the New York-based actor has fallen in love with the work. “I love how the play’s central character Amir is flawed. He is our antihero. He has faults. As a privileged boy in Kabul, he bears witness to his best friend’s assault and doesn’t intervene. He lives with that guilt for decades and gets that redemption in the end.” 

“He does what he can to right wrongs. For me who’s regretted things, and wished I could go back in time, it resonates. Watching someone forgive themselves and do the right thing is beautiful.” 

Via phone from Chicago (the tour’s stop before moving on to Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on June 25), Zmorrod, whose background is Lebanese, happily chats about sexuality, ethnicity, and acting. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Looking at your resume, I see you’ve been cast in roles traditionally played by men. And have you played queer characters? 

SOPHIE ZMORROD: Oh yes, both. Whether or not they’re written on the page as queer, they sometimes turn out that way. And that holds true for this show too.  

With “The Winter’s Tale” at Trinity Rep, I played Leontes — the king who banishes his wife — as a woman. So, in that production it was about two women and touched on the violence that women sometimes inflict on other women.

And there was Beadle Bamford in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” also at Trinity Rep; I played him as a woman who was masculine and wore a suit. It was a great opportunity to explore myself and gender expression. That was a really good experience. 

BLADE: Are you an actor who’s often be called in for queer roles? 

ZMORROD: Not really. I’m what you might call straight passing. Sometimes I’ve had to advocate for my queerness. To be a part of something. 

Similarly with my ethnicity. I’m called in to audition for the white and Arab roles. It gets tricky because I’m not the exactly the white girl next door and I’m not exactly Jasmine from Disney’s “Aladdin” either. 

This is one of the reasons, I really want people to come see “The Kite Runner,” Audiences need to experience the reality of the wide diversity of Middle Eastern people on the stage. We’re all very different.

And not incidentally, from this 14-person cast, I’ve met some great people to add to those I know from the Middle Eastern affinity spaces and groups I’m connected to in New York.

BLADE: In “The Kite Runner” what parts do you play?

 ZMORROD: Three characters. All women, I think. In the first act, I’m an elderly eccentric pomegranate seller in the Afghan market, waddling around, speaking in Dari [the lingua franca of Afghanistan]; and the second act, I’m young hip and sell records in a San Francisco market; and at the end, I’m a buttoned-down American immigration bureaucrat advising Amir about adoption.

BLADE:  Your training is impressive: BA cum laude in music from Columbia University, an MFA in acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company, and you’re also accomplished in opera and playwrighting, to name a few things. Does “The Kite Runner” allow you to flex your many muscles? 

ZMORROD: Very much. Playing multiple roles is always fun for an actor – we like malleability. Also, there are instruments on stage. I like working with the singing bowl; it’s usually used in yoga as a soothing sound, but here we save it for the dramatic, uncomfortable moments. I also sing from offstage. 

We are creating the world of the play on a very minimal set. Oh, and we do kite flying. So yeah, lots of challenges. It’s great. 

BLADE: It sounds like you’re in a good place both professionally and personally.

ZMORROD: It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable. But I’m on the journey and excited to be where I am, and who I am. 

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Queers win big at 77th annual Tony Awards

‘Merrily We Roll Along’ among winners

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(Photo courtesy of the Tony Awards' Facebook page)

It was a banner night for queer theater artists at the 77th annual Tony Awards, honoring the best in Broadway theater at the Lincoln Center in New York on Sunday. Some of the biggest honors of the night went to the revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along” and the dance-musical based on Sufjan Stephens’ album “Illinoise.

“Merrily We Roll Along,” which follows three friends as their lives change over the course of 20 years, told in reverse chronological order, picked up the awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Orchestrations. 

Out actor Jonathan Groff picked up his first Tony Award for his leading role as Franklin Shepard in the show, while his costar Daniel Radcliffe earned his first Tony Award for featured performance as Charley Kringas. 

Groff gave a heartfelt and teary acceptance speech about how he used to watch the Tony Awards as a child in Lancaster County, Pa.

“Thank you for letting me dress up like Mary Poppins when I was three,” he said to his parents in the audience. “Even if they didn’t understand me, my family knew the life-saving power of fanning the flame of a young person’s passions without judgment.”

Groff also thanked the everyone in the production of “Spring Awakening,” where he made his Broadway debut in 2006, for inspiring him to come out at the age of 23.

“To actually be able to be a part of making theatre in this city, and just as much to be able to watch the work of this incredible community has been the greatest pleasure of my life,” he said. 

This was Groff’s third Tony nomination, having been previously nominated for his leading role in “Spring Awakening” and for his featured performance as King George III in “Hamilton.” 

Radcliffe, who is best known for starring in the “Harry Potter” series of movies, has long been an ally of the LGBTQ community, and has recently been known to spar with “Harry Potter” creator JK Rowling over her extreme opposition to trans rights on social media and in interviews. It was Radcliffe’s first Tony nomination and win.

Lesbian icon Sarah Paulson won her first Tony Award for her starring role in the play “Appropriate,” about a family coming to terms with the legacy of their slave-owning ancestors as they attempt to sell their late father’s estate. It was her first nomination and win.

In her acceptance speech, she thanked her partner Holland Taylor “for loving me.” Along with Paulson’s Emmy win for “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” she is halfway to EGOT status.

The Sufjan Stephens dance-musical “Illinoise,” based on his album of the same name, took home the award for Best Choreography for choreographer Justin Peck. It was his second win.

During the ceremony, the cast of “Illinoise” performed “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!”, a moving dance number about a queer romance.

A big winner of the night was the adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel “The Outsiders,” which dominated the musical categories, earning Best Director, Sound Design, Lighting Design, and Best Musical, which earned LGBTQ ally Angelina Jolie her first Tony Award.

Also a big winner was “Stereophonic,” which dominated the play categories, winning the awards for Best Play, Featured Actor, Director, Sound Design, and Scenic Design.

“Suffs,” a musical about the fight for women’s suffrage in the U.S., which acknowledges the lesbian relationship that suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt had in song called “If We Were Married,” took home awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score, both for creator Shaina Taub. 

Had “Suffs” also won for Best Musical, producers Hilary Clinton and Malala Yousafzai would have won their first Tony Awards. 

Other winners include Maleah Joi Moon for her lead role and Kecia Lewis for her featured role in the Alicia Keys musical “Hell’s Kitchen,” Jeremy Strong for his lead role in An Enemy of the People, and Kara Young for her featured role in “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch.”

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‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ an irreverent romp at Woolly Mammoth

Solo performance by John Jarboe offers much to consume

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John Jarboe in ‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’
Though June 23
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., N.W.
$60-$82
Woollymammoth.net

With “Rose: You Are Who You Eat,” a solo performance by John Jarboe (she/her), now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, there’s a lot to uncover and consume.  

For much of the show, you might think the appealing Jarboe is playing dress up in a pair of tighty-whities and sparkly go-go boots, but it’s something else and she’s ready to go there. 

Jarboe is a cannibal. Not in the usual sense. She learned from a well-meaning aunt that while still in the womb, she ate her twin, and that’s what made Jarboe the way she is (a reference to gender queerness).

Despite the aunt’s awkward delivery of family dish, the prenatal news struck a chord with Jarboe: the vanishing twin who would have been named Rose, became increasingly connected to her own identity. Along with the inevitable jokes about eating her sister’s spaghetti thin hair and tasty eyeballs, there’s meaty matter unfolding onstage. 

Not entirely unexpected, Jarboe also harbors mommy issues. Mom, here referred to as “Mother” for the sake of anonymity, is a buttoned-down tax accountant who the more perturbed she becomes the wider her forced smile grows. And while Jarboe needs to have that long overdue talk with Mother, something always seems to get in the way; invariably it’s tax season.

Assisted by some primary source props (a baby book, notes, a string of pearls filched from Mother’s jewelry box), Jarboe further digs into gender expression and identity. Her performance career began in her child bedroom closet with a flashlight and makeshift costume, an obsession to which her parents initially subscribed, later not as much. 

Among the 75-minute-long show’s highlights are five or so songs, rock numbers and redolent ballads composed by Jarboe, Emily Bate, Daniel de Jesús, Pax Ressler and Be Steadwell. 

It’s definitely a solo show conceived and delightfully performed by Jarboe; however, she’s supported by a terrific four-person band (costumed in what appeared from Row D to be rosebush inspired jumpsuits) including Mel Regn, Yifan Huang, Daniel de Jesús, and music director Emily Bate. Bate is a singer, composer and performer who runs a queer and trans community chorus in Philadelphia called Trust Your Moves, an experiment in collective singing designed around liberation and co-creation.

As Jarboe moves into her 30s, she celebrates and incorporates her lost twin as part of herself with a new intensity. She writes letters, yearning for even the most tepid reply. Her obsession with Mother remains a thing too.

Dressed in a sylphlike rosy red gown (by costume designer Rebecca Kanach) Jarboe uses call-and-response (with the audience standing in for Mother) in search of some resolution. It’s beautifully done. 

With various kinds of backing coming from CulturalDC, the Washington Blade, Capital Pride, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and other New York-based groups, there’s nothing itinerant cabaret looking about “Rose.” Directed by MK Tuomanen, it’s an elevated, visually engaging production. 

For instance, set and video designer Christopher Ash’s projections shown on both a serviceable scrim and later a wondrously huge toile curtain, beautifully feature photos from an ostensibly idyllic Midwestern childhood. We see a young Jarboe not only enjoying hockey, fishing, and hunting, but also pulling off a strikingly girly, cheesecake pose.  

At the top of the show, there’s live video of Jarboe’s outsized mouth devouring wings fished from a bucket of fried chicken. Hints of cannibalism? 

“Rose: You Are Who You Eat” is an irreverent romp, deeply personal yet relatable. It’s an evening of poignantly performed moments, off the cuff laughs, and some awkward/sexy audience interaction. 

As a performer, Jarboe lays herself bare, exposing strengths (rich melodious voice, presence, ingenuity) and weaknesses (garrulity and more than a few un-landed jokes) in equal turns. 

Hers is a world that invites audiences to just let go and go with it. Jarboe’s intrepid journey melds the familiar and the startling. In short, it’s a trip worth taking. 

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