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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



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

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

The D.C. Queer Theatre Festival continues its reading series of new and unpublished full-length plays on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W., suite 105).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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 “My Barking Dog” is Oct. 4-13 at Caos on F Street (923 F St., N.W.). Details at “Paris! the Show” is Tuesday, Oct. 22 at GW Lisner. Tickets are 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



‘one in two’ lets audience choose which parts actors must play

‘Pose’ actor Ryan Jamaal Swain says approach ‘keeps you on your toes’



Ryan Jamaal Swain (Photo by Matt Doyle)

‘one in two’ 
June 1-25 
Mosaic Theater Company at Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H St., N.E.

Out actor Ryan Jamaal Swain is best known for having played homeless dancer Damon, on FX’s “Pose,” the popular queer series revolving around ball culture in late 1980s New York. Along with television, Swain has a great love for theater. And now in a homecoming of sorts, the Howard University graduate is at Mosaic Theater for the area premiere of “one in two,” playwright Donja R. Love’s play inspired by his own HIV diagnosis and the resilience of the LGBTQ community. 

In addition to Swain, 29, the cast features queer actors Justin Weaks and Michael Kevin Darnall (both of whom recently a finished Arena’s production of “Angels in America”). Raymond O. Caldwell directs. 

The audience is invited to choose which of three parts each actor must play for each performance. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: A different part every night! That’s a lot. 

SWAIN: Yes, honey. But learning three tracks keeps you on your toes. It’s one of those things. When I first sawthe world premiere in New York, I thought it was a gimmick but it’s not. For me, I’m always looking for the next challenge. What will expand my prowess. With “one in two,” the work kept coming across my desk so when the opportunity came up to come back to D.C. [Swain’s currently based in New York] with a director I knew, I took it. 

BLADE: Where and when does “one in two” take place?

SWAIN: Different places: bar, home, doctor’s waiting room. Time wise, it’s set in “now/until.” The central character is a gay man who anchors the play and the others are various characters he finds on his hero journey. I won’t tell you who they are, you’ll need to come to the show to learn that. 

BLADE: With “Pose,” the time and place were very specific. 

SWAIN: Yes, the end of the ‘80s in New York.With any type of queer stories, especially when you want to tell them with love and integrity there’s a lot of conversation when you acknowledge a generation of unsung heroes. I stand on their shoulders to be able to do what I do. 

BLADE: After graduating from Howard, your journey out of D.C. was swift. 

SWAIN:  Yes, it was. I left D.C. immediately following my graduation from Howard. I graduated May 7, 2016, went back home to Birmingham, Ala., exhausted my graduation money, and decided to make my own hero’s journey and moved to New York. After three or four months, “Pose” came knocking on my door. I booked it and pretty much got started. 

BLADE Did TV change your life? 

SWAIN TV and film ask you to juggle more than just being a good actor. Publicity, image, etc. There are so many more eyes on you. 

BLADE: And how did you handle it? 

SWAIN: I come from a family that’s not afraid to show when you’ve made a mistake. I was brought up to look at failures as lessons. It was a lot. I was just 22 at that time. Taught me a lot about who I am and who I will become. How to focus and work under duress.

I like TV and film but I will always make space for theater in my career. Makes me anchor back into self. 

BLADE:  When did you come out?

SWAIN:  I came out to a friend at Howard. I sat her down in the cafeteria and invited her into my life. I don’t believe in coming out per se. I think it’s your right to fully welcome people into your life. She already knew, of course. 

Also, while studying acting in Britain, I did a one-man show about queer poet Langston Hughes. Moving through his journey gave me the strength to have my own voice. Finding other queer folks gave me the strength to live my own story. 

BLADE: How has your experience at Mosaic been?

SWAIN: Great. When deciding to do the part I had deep conversation with Reginald Douglas and Serge Seiden [Mosaic’s artistic and managing directors, respectively]. I’m hungry about communication, collaboration and community. Mosaic does that. And they do it wrapped up in integrity and love. 

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A preview of this year’s Helen Hayes Awards

Strong queer representation among diverse nominees



Fran Tapia (center) in ‘On Your Feet!’ (Photo by Daniel Martinez)

2023 Helen Hayes Awards
May 22, 2023
For tickets go to

After three years of varying and virtual approaches, this year’s Helen Hayes Awards will be more familiar with the honors being doled out live and in person on Monday night at the Anthem. 

Integral in making the 37th awards both fun and sufficiently formal is delightful actor/director Holly Twyford who’s been tapped to both co-host and co-direct the annual ceremony. “For me, it’s not as hard as it sounds,” she explains modestly. “Will Gartshore [co-director and celebrated Washington actor] has done the lion’s share of the work. He’d already written an entire script by the time I stepped in. He’s really smart and knows music.”

Undeniably, Twyford brings a lot of experience to the gig. She’s been attending the awards since the early ‘90s, and remembers meeting the late “first lady of American theater” for whom the Awards are named, and shaking her hand. She’s also the recipient of multiple Helen Hayes Awards and so many nominations it’s been written into Monday night’s show. And while Twyford understands the show’s inherent excitement and spontaneity, she’s also aware of the challenges involved in creating a successful evening. 

“I was just saying to my wife, these kinds of things are not easy to orchestrate,” Twyford continues. “It’s great and amazing to celebrate our community and its artistry, but it’s tricky to have everyone heard and appreciated. It’s a lot to do in one night, but we have to remember it’s more than giving out awards, it’s an opportunity to stop and look at the community.

“For instance, we have non-gendered acting categories. When you divide between men and women, some members of the theater community are left out. It’s that simple.” 

This year, the music-filled awards ceremony is divided into two parts. Twyford shares hosting duties with local favorites Naomi Jacobson, Erika Rose, and Christopher Michael Richardson. Also on board in a guest spot is Broadway star Michael Urie who’s currently finishing up a run of “Spamalot” at the Kennedy Center. Urie enjoys a long connection to Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company where he played the title prince in Michael Kahn’s 2018 “Hamlet,” and last summer co-starred with husband Ryan Spahn in Talene Monahon’s wonderful plague-set comedy “Jane Anger.”

The awards selection process is arduous. Recognizing work from 131 eligible productions presented in the 2022 calendar year, nominations were made in 41 categories and grouped in “Helen” or “Hayes” cohorts, depending on the number of Equity members involved in the production with Hayes counting more. 

Nominations are the result of 40 carefully vetted judges considering 2,146 individual pieces of work, such as design, direction, choreography, performances, and more. Productions under consideration in 2022 included 39 musicals, 97 plays, and 38 world premieres.

Many of this year’s sensational nominees (actors, designers, directors, writers, etc.) come from the queer community. Here’s a sampling. 

Rising director Henery Wyand is nominated for Outstanding Direction in a Play for Perisphere Theater’s production of Tanya Barfield’s “Blue Door,” the striking tale of a contemporary black professional who comes face to face with 19th century ancestors.  In addition to directing, Wyand also designed the lighting, set, and costumes.  

After graduating from Vassar, he came to D.C. for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s prestigious fellowship program.  About directing, Wyand says, “there aren’t a lot of specifically young queer Black directors out there. It gives me a sense of urgency to make sure underrepresented stories are shared. And if I don’t do that who will?” 

And regarding his nomination, his sentiment is sweet: “Awards are a way to give flowers to people who are creating things. Living artists don’t always receive appreciation for their work.”

When Emily Sucher learned she’d been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award (Outstanding Choreography in a Play) for “To Fall in Love” with Nu Sass Productions, she seriously thought she was being punked. 

“I got the news in a text from an unfamiliar number. I didn’t believe it at first,” she says. As an intimacy choreographer, Sucher is called on to stage stories with content of an intimate nature, and she just wasn’t sure it was something that Helen Hayes’ judges were looking to recognize. Clearly, they were. 

Sucher adds, “Being queer shapes who I am as an intimacy choreographer and fuels my passion to tell all kinds of stories, and to show what sex and intimacy can look like. It’s not always the same.”

Out Chilean actor Fran Tapia is nominated for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical for her work in GALA Hispanic Theatre’s world premiere Spanish-language production of “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan en Español” (the production leads the nominee pack with fifteen nods including Outstanding Ensemble for a Musical). 

As Gloria Fajardo, pop star Gloria Estefan’s embittered mother, Tapia garnered rave reviews.  

“Singing my character’s song — ‘If I Never Got to Tell You — breaks my heart, and that it was translated into Spanish by Gloria Estefan and her daughter Emily Estefan who is gay makes it ever more significant to me. I had the honor of introducing this version of the song to the world.”  

Tapia left her native Santiago, Chile, for Washington when her wife was posted at the Chilean Embassy.  It was in the thick of the pandemic, and there weren’t a lot of theater opportunities, so she thew herself into Divino Tesoro, a podcast where children and adolescents can discuss gender identity, and she also worked as director of GALA’s youth program. It was the GALA job that led to an audition to play Gloria.

She’s currently touring as Gloria Fajardo in the original English version of “On Your Feet!” During its June and July break, she’ll appear in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “In the Heights” at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, and then in August it’s back to playing Gloria at the pretty seaside Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. 

Despite her intense work schedule, Tapia isn’t missing Monday’s event: ““I’m honored to be nominated, yes. But I definitely want to win!” 

Talented local actor Michael Kevin Darnall is vying for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play for his memorable comic turn as wonderfully flamboyant Isom in Studio Theatre’s production of Katori Hall’s “The Hot Wing King,” a layered dramedy about Black men loving Black men, and yes, a hot wing competition. 

This is Darnall’s seventh Helen Hayes Award nomination prompting him to dub himself the DMV’s Susan Lucci, (after the soap star who was nominated 19 times before finally winning an Emmy). Typically cast as the brooding young man, the biracial and bisexual actor fought hard to play Isom. “There’s a lot of my mom in the character,” he says, “so in part, all of this is a tribute to her.”

The first time Darnall read for a Black role was five or six years into his professional career: “Playing Black men has been few and far between for me, so to play Isom as part of a cast of Black men whose skin tone ran the spectrum was very reaffirming, and those other actors became my brothers.” 

The cast became a tight-knit group on and offstage, collectively spending a lot of money at Le Diplomate, a trendy bistro a few blocks from Studio, where they indulged in escargot and gimlets. That close camaraderie and sense of fun was reflected in the work. They’re now nominated for Outstanding Ensemble Performance in a Play. 

Good luck to all the nominees. 

A full list of award recipients will be available on Tuesday, May 23. 

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Actors radiate chemistry in Constellation’s delightful ‘School for Lies’

Reinvigorating a revered work with lots of new laughs



Drew Kopas and Natalie Cutcher (Photo by DJ Corey Photography)

‘The School for Lies’
Through May 28
Constellation Theatre Company in residence at Source
1835 14th St., N.W.
$20 – 55

A lot can happen in a Parisian drawing room. 

With David Ives’ “The School for Lies” (now at Constellation Theatre Company), 100 minutes of nonstop amusement unfold solely in the busy salon of popular young society widow Célimène archly assayed by Natalie Cutcher.

Ives’s play is a “translaptation” (transaction + adaptation) of Molière’s 1666 “The Misanthrope,” a classic comedy of manners in verse. And while at the top of the show, the playwright credits Molière with having mixed “the batter for tonight’s soufflé,” he’s crammed his play with his own elegantly constructed, often funny, and sometimes raunchy verse, reinvigorating a revered work with lots of new laughs and contemporary references. 

Now back to Célimène’s crib. Rife with fops and frenemies, the widow’s posh playpen is ordinarily a whirlwind of gossip, fashion, and sometimes scandal, but on this day it’s a little different. 

Today, Frank (Constellation vet Drew Kopas), a dourly dressed Frenchman returning from England, finds his way to the party. And as his name suggests, Frank (all other characters retain the names that Molière originally gave them) is a stickler for candor and truth. Unlike le tout Paris, he’s averse to frivolous talk, bad poetry, and the vicissitudes of the demimonde. 

For kicks, Frank’s pal and crossdressing scenester Philinte (Dylan Arredondo) puts out a spicy rumor about Frank and Célimène involving romance and social status. Alas, even sharp-witted Frank, not immune to the prospect of true love, is taken in (as evidenced by a new dreamy demeanor and sartorial switch from bland duds to something infinitely snazzier). 

Others in the house, including the comely widow’s ragtag suitors: the aptly named Clitander (Jamil Joseph); Oronte (Jacob Yeh), a litigious poet; and Acaste, a leopard-print wearing, most contentedly self-involved aristo played by Ryan Sellers. Also darting about are Éliante (Ría Simpkins), Célimène’s cordial relation who’s both naïve and amorous, and Arsinoё (Gwen Grastorf), a hypocritical scold eager to assist in her friend’s ruin. 

And memorably, there’s Dubois (Matthew Pauli), Célimène’s poker-faced footman who’s assigned the thankless job of serving canapés to his boss’ bumptious and clumsy guests. Pauli doubles as Frank’s uncouth valet. 

Director Allison Arkell Stockman delivers a fast-paced, well-timed and delectably camp entertainment.  At times, the cast is at odds – while some actors are chewing the scenery, others allow Ives’ astonishing dialogue to do the heavy lifting. 

The best scenes are those featuring Cutcher and Kopas as Célimène and Frank. They are a well-matched pair seemingly equal in both barbs and curiosity. What’s more, the actors radiate chemistry. 

While Ives’ play might be set in the time of Louis XIV, Constellation’s delightfully designed production isn’t moored to an era.  The widow’s showy digs compliments of Sarah Reed are salmon-colored, festooned with outsized flying cranes and lit by a pink feathered fixture, simultaneously reading both Harlow than DuBarry. The minimal seating includes a purple chaise and big pink pouf. There are upstage nooks for the requisite vanity and bunches of floral tributes. Frank Labovitz’s wildly colorful, pitch perfect costumes give a nod to a period, but just a nod.

With its dizzying onslaught of clever rhyming couplets, Ives’ script is a marvel. (And it’s worth noting, the matinee I attended, the admirable cast didn’t flub a single line.) It makes you wonder about the writing process. Did the playwright wrack his brain in pursuit of the next smart rhyme or in a state of artistic fecundity, did the words readily flow? Whatever the case, it’s a good time. And it’s here to be enjoyed. 

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