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The D.C. Queer Theatre Festival continues its reading series of new and unpublished full-length plays on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W., suite 105).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

‘Hadestown’ comes to the Kennedy Center

Levi Kreis discusses return to live theater

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Levi Kreis is an out actor who plays Hermes in the national tour of ‘Hadestown’ soon opening at the Kennedy Center. (Photo courtesy of Levi Kreis)

Hadestown
Through Oct. 31
The Kennedy Center
$45.00 – $175.00
Kennedy-center.org
For Covid-19 safety regulations go to Kennedy-center.org/visit/covid-safety/

Early in September at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre, out singer/actor Levi Kreis was in the audience for the long-awaited Broadway reopening of “Hadestown,” Anaïs Mitchell’s rousing musical reimagining of the Orpheus myth in which the legendary Greek hero descends into the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice. 

After almost 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Tony Award-winning folk opera was back and the house was full. In a recent phone interview, Kreis describes the evening as “love-filled, and electrifying and emotional after such a difficult time.” Now, Kreis is onstage in the national tour of “Hadestown,” currently launching at the Kennedy Center. As Hermes, the shape-shifting god of oratory, Kreis is both narrator and chaperone to the story’s young lovers. 

A Tennessee native, Kreis, 39, has triumphantly survived turbulent times including a harrowingly prolonged coming out experience that included six years of conversion therapy, education disruptions, and music contract losses. He officially came out through his acclaimed album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. And four years later, he splendidly won a Tony Award for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

Throughout much of the pandemic, Kreis leaned into his own music and found ways to reconnect with his largely gay fan base. But he’s happy to now be touring, noting that all the “Hadestown” cast have been hungering to perform before a real live audience.

When not on the road, he’s based in New York City with his husband, classical-crossover recording artist Jason Antone. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Hermes is the same role for which André De Shields—the brilliant African American actor, also gay, and some decades your elder won a Tony and has resumed playing on Broadway, right?

LEVI KREIS: That’s right. It’s really a testament to the creative team. Rather than laying us over what Broadway created. They’re creating a tour that’s uniquely different; still true to the beauty of the story but with a different flavor. 

BLADE: What attracted you to the part?

KREIS: First, I fell in love with the show. My own musical sensibilities understand the origins of where this music comes from. It’s very bluesy and gospel. Southern and rootsy. And that’s everything I’ve created in my career as a singer/songwriter.

BLADE: With your life experience, do you feel called to mentor?

KREIS: The biggest effort I’ve given to this narrative is being a pioneer of the out-music movement starting in 2005 which was a moment when gay artists were not signed to major labels. I want through eight major labels—when they found out I was gay things always went south. 

It’s been amazing to be a voice in LGBTQ media when no one was speaking about these things. It’s popular now, but back when it mattered it was a lot harder to start my career as an openly gay artist and speak about these issues rather than keep quiet, cash in, and only then come out. 

BLADE: Where did that nerve come from?

KREIS: Less about nerve and more about being beaten down. How many things have to happen before you give up and decide to be honest?  

BLADE: For many theatergoers, “Hadestown” will be their return to live theater. Other than it being visionary and remarkably entertaining, why would you recommend it? 

KREIS: We need encouragement right now. But we also need art that facilitates a lot of important conversation about what’s happening in the world. This has both elements.  

“Hadestown” is not a piece of art that you easily forget. You’re going to walk out of the theater with a story that sticks with you. You’ll realized that your own voice matters. There’s a part in the show, Orpheus’ song, when the gods encourage him to get the balance of the world back again by telling him that his voice matters. 

BLADE: Is it timely?

KREIS: Art is here to change the world. And this piece of art hits the nail right on the head. I’m a purist when it comes to art and song. There’s a reason why we do it. people are listening now in a way they haven’t listened before. To miss that is to miss the role of society, I think. 

BLADE: And going forward? 

KREIS: It’s going to be interesting. We could double down on super commercialized theater or we may decide to really go the other direction and reclaim innovation. That remains to be seen. 

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Theater

‘Broken Fantasies’ showcases LGBTQ actors of color

SMYAL-backed production at Atlas Performing Arts Center on Oct. 16

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'Broken Fantasies' cast (Photo courtesy of Breaking Ground)

Broken Fantasies
Oct. 16
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street, NE
$5-$10
Atlasarts.com

In “Broken Fantasies” (a new offering from Breaking Ground), young LGBTQAI+ actors of color perform scenes taken from their actual lives. Issues addressed include racism, homelessness, sexual abuse, substance abuse and coming out.

Due to the pandemic, last year Breaking Ground’s annual offering was streamed online, but now a new SMYAL-backed production will be performed live for one night only on Oct. 16 at Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Breaking Ground’s out artistic director AJ King, says “Broken Fantasies” uses familiar fairytales (“Three Little Pigs,” “Cinderella,” etc.) to tell powerful, not always easy, stories. In seven to eight vignettes, the tales unfold on a minimal stage, and in addition to dialogue, the seventeen-person cast employs music, poetry and dance to express their experiences.

Founded by King in 2014 in response to the need for expression in the arts as a vehicle for social change, Breaking Ground utilizes theater and performing arts to detail the lives, challenges and journeys of LGBTQAI+ of color in the DMV.

In 2016, SMYAL became the program’s fiscal partner, and the same year, Breaking Ground received an award from the Obama White House for Champions of Change, solidifying their game in the arts community.

King, 32, was drawn to theater during middle and high school in Herndon, Va., and later became involved in programs combining social justice and the arts. He wasn’t a trained director when he founded Breaking Ground but after seven years, King says, he’s found his footing “Still, it remains challenging. Each year there’s a different cast with varied energy, stories and personalities.”

King explains, the cast writes scripts from interviews with other cast members. Sometimes the stories end happily, sometimes not. But without saccharine resolutions, the scenes offer options for audience members who might identify with the problems presented onstage.

“It’s a lot. Cast members have to trust co-actors with their stories and then allow their stories to go onstage,” he adds.

Cast member Eli Barton, 24, says, “The process of sharing your story is surreal at first. It takes courage. But you learn to look at yourself and be gentle about your situation. And when the audience relates to the experience, you understand that your story can really help others.”

Last year, Barton, who is bisexual, played a trans man. But in “Broken Fantasies,” she plays a straight supportive sister who strives to help her gay brother find his voice after the death of their mother. The vignette also involves women empowerment, a history of sexual abuse, and finding a way to navigate growing up a Christian household.

“Acting with other openly LGBTQIA+ is a blessing,” adds Barton. “It’s given me more exposure to the umbrella of the rainbow and allowed me to meet amazing artists. I feel safe and unguarded with them.”

King encourages all stripes of people to attend: “As an audience member, during the performance you put a mirror up to yourself. There may be something relatable, tangible or abstract, or an opportunity for learning and healing. Following a show, it’s not unusual for audience members to say, ‘That’s exactly what I went through and it was the first time I ever saw it portrayed on stage.’”

“And you don’t have to be LGBTQIA+ to relate,” he adds. “The issues covered transcend race, sexuality, gender expression—we deal with things that can be found in every family.”

Theater patrons are required to wear masks and present proof of vaccination.

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Theater

‘Doña Rosita’ marks reunion of three Spaniards at GALA

An excellent cast and dynamic staging elevate stellar production

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Ariel Texidó and Mabel del Pozo in Doña Rosita la soltera. (Photo by Daniel Martínez)

Doña Rosita la soltera
Through Oct. 3
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
$35-$48
galatheatre.org

In the 1930s, Federico García Lorca, 20th century Spain’s greatest poet and dramatist, was writing plays about a woman’s place in the world. In fact, Lorca, who was gay, was exploring women’s souls in an unprecedented way for Spain, or anywhere really. His insight is frequently credited, in part, to his sexuality.  

Now at GALA Hispanic Theatre, Lorca’s “Doña Rosita la soltera (Doña Rosita the Spinster)” tells the story of Rosita, an unmarried woman who subsists on definite hopes of marrying a long-distance fiancé. Whether it’s to keep the populace at bay or to feed a romantic fantasy, isn’t completely clear, but years — decades, in fact — pass, and very little changes. 

Set in the conservative world of middle-class Granada (Lorca’s native province), the 100-minute play, performed in Spanish with English surtitles, spans the 1880s through the early 1900s, constrictive years for women in Spain. When Lorca wrote “Doña Rosita” in 1935, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, he appreciated the recent gains made surrounding women’s rights and foresaw further, imminent progress. Then, just a year later at age 38 and at the top of his game, Lorca was unlawfully arrested and murdered by Franco’s rightwing thugs. All was lost. 

Adapted by out writer Nando López, GALA’s offering strays from Lorca’s original in various ways: there are fewer characters, and the older Rosita serves more as a narrator, interacting with her younger self. Lorca’s glorious poetry remains mostly intact. 

Still, the title character’s tale is clear: Orphaned as a child, Rosita (Mabel del Pozo) goes to live with her devoted aunt (Luz Nicolás) and uncle (Ariel Texidó), an avid gardener. As a young woman, she falls in love with her first cousin (also played by Texidó), and they’re engaged. Despite the fiancé leaving Spain to join his aging parents on their sizeable farm in Tucumán, Argentina, the young lovers remain betrothed. 

Domestic life goes on. With the support of relations, and the family’s devoted but skeptical housekeeper (Laura Alemán), Rosita assembles a first-rate trousseau, and the affianced pair continue to exchange heartfelt letters. At one point, there’s talk of marriage by proxy – an idea scoffed at by some of the household and neighbors. 

The sameness of the unchanging household is offset by out director José Luis Arellano’s dynamic staging, an excellent cast, actors nimbly changing characters onstage with the help of a hat or cravat fished out of a chest of drawers, Jesús Díaz Cortés’ vibrant lighting, and incidental music from David Peralto and Alberto Granados. Alemán, so good as the shrewd housekeeper from the country (a place Lorca respected) also assays a spinster who comes to tea. And Catherine Nunez characterizes feminine youth, scornful of Rosita’s unattached status. Delbis Cardona is versatile as the worker and Don Martin, a teacher charged with educating the ungrateful offspring of Granada’s rich. 

After a rare outdoor excursion to the circus, Rosita wrongly claims to have seen her would-be groom working with the troupe, but the housekeeper is quick to point out that the well-built puppeteer is by no means her stoop-shouldered barefoot fiancé, adding that more and more Rosita is seeing her faraway love in the face of the men about Granada. Swiftly, the aunt reminds the housekeeper to know her place – she’s allowed to speak, but not bark.

Visually, the passage of time is indicated by the hemline and cut of Rosita’s dresses (designed by Silvia de Marta), and the mid-play dismantling of the set (also de Marta), opening the family’s rooms and garden to what lies beyond. 

After intermission, six more years have passed and the narrative is more straightforward and patently compelling. Rosita’s aunt, now a pissed-off, generally miserable widow in reduced circumstances, is packing up to move. It’s been hard running a house, she says. And it’s harder scrubbing the floors, replies the faithful housekeeper. 

And it’s here that del Pozo shines with Rosita’s revelatory monologue, a searingly true, passionately delivered speech worth the price of a ticket. 

“Doña Rosita” marks a collaborative reunion of three Spaniards – writer López, director Arellano, and actor del Pozo – who all worked on GALA’s 2015, multi-Helen Hayes Award-winning production of Lorca’s politically controversial “Yerma,” the story of another complicated Spanish woman. 

GALA Hispanic Theatre safety policy

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