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D.C.’s spring theater scene feels like the before times

A renewed sense of excitement and embarrassment of stage riches



Playwright Benjamin Benne; ‘In His Hands’ opens at Mosaic Theater Company in June. (Photo courtesy Mosaic)

With such a broad selection of live theater on offer this spring, it almost feels like the before times. Well, almost. Masks and proof of vaccination are still required at DMV venues, but there’s also a renewed feeling that productions will complete their runs. Here’s a smattering of some plays and musicals blossoming around town. 

Through March 27, Washington Stage Guild presents George Bernard Shaw’s classic “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” the story of a mother and daughter who sharply disagree on aspects of morality and business. When Shaw’s play premiered in 1905, it was considered scandalous for its candid discussion of the hypocrisy surrounding prostitution. Michael Rothhaar directs. 

Arena Stage brings a little con-artistry to its campus this spring with “Catch Me If You Can” (through April 17). First a book, then a Leonardo DiCaprio film, and lastly a Broadway musical with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and libretto by Terrence McNally, the late great out playwright who died from COVID-19 early in the pandemic, the show is about Abagnale Jr. who “posed as an airline pilot, a lawyer and a doctor — and then escaped police custody, all before he turned 22.” Arena’s out artistic director Molly Smith directs.

In Arlington, Signature Theatre presents “She Loves Me” (through April 24), a romantic musical comedy by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the creators of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Set in a 1930s perfumery, it’s the story of quarrelsome co-workers who don’t realize each is the other’s besotted secret pen pal. 

Helmed by Signature’s out artistic director Matthew Gardiner, the promising production brings together musical director Jon Kalbfleisch, choreographer Kelly Crandall d’Amboise, set designer Lee Savage, and a terrific cast that includes, among many others, Helen Hayes Award-winning actors Bobby Smith and Maria Rizzo.

Ford’s Theatre dives into spring with “Grace” (March 19-May 14). A world premiere musical by D.C. composer Nolan Williams, Jr., “Grace” celebrates African-American tradition as experienced through a day in the life of a Philadelphia family who come together to mourn the loss of their matriarch and deal with the future of their family restaurant in a changing neighborhood. Staged by out director and choreography Robert Barry Fleming. 

Celebrated non-binary actor and queer activist Temídayo Amay plays opposite New York actor Eric Berryman in Mona Pirnot’s play “Private” (March 23 – April 17) at Mosaic Theater Company. What once might be deemed a far-fetched plot now sounds more than feasible: “Set in the not-too-distant future, Corbin has just been offered his dream job at an industry leading technology company. But there’s a catch. The terms of his employment stipulate that Corbin and his wife Georgia must both agree to round-the-clock monitoring and audio surveillance by Corbin’s potential employer.” Knud Adams directs.  

Also upcoming at Mosaic, it’s young playwright Benjamin Benne’s queer romantic comedy “In His Hands” (June 22 – July 17). Directed by out director José Carrasquillo, it’s the story of video game wizard and aspiring Lutheran pastor Daniel (Michael J. Mainwariing), who develops feelings for Christian (Josh Adams), but as the pair explore relationship possibilities, voices from Christian’s past threaten to put the kibosh on shared feelings.

Keegan Theatre presents the regional premiere of Dipika Guha’s “Yoga Play” (March 26-April 23), a sharp comedy in which fat shaming, enlightenment, and commerce collide. Keegan’s dynamic artistic director Susan Marie Rhea directs.

At Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arin Arbus is directing a modern-dress take on “The Merchant of Venice” (March 22-April 17). The Bard’s exploration of prejudice and mercy features renowned African-American actor John Douglas Thompson making his STC debut as Shylock, the eponymous moneylender. 

Following “Merchant,” it’s gay playwright Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece “Our Town” (May 12 – June 11), a poignant portrayal of shared human experience set in turn-of-the-century smalltown Grover’s Corners, N.H. Staged by out director Alan Paul, the production –rescheduled from February to May due to COVID – features a truly stunning array of local talent including out actors Sarah Marshall, Tom Story, and Holly Twyford.

In April, Round House Theatre launches the National Capital New Play Festival, an annual event celebrating new work by some of the country’s leading playwrights and newer voices. Included among the premieres is playwright Charly Evon Simpson’s “it’s not a trip it’s a journey” (April 5-May 8). Four exceedingly disparate girlfriends leave behind New York City and their cell phones for an eye-opening road trip to the Grand Canyon. Nicole A. Watson directs.

Another festival offering is Tim J. Lord’s “We declare you a terrorist…” (April 7-May 8), a taut thriller inspired by Moscow’s real life 2002 Dubrovka Theater crisis in which Chechen rebels took hundreds hostage with deadly results. Ryan Rilett and Jared Mezzocchi co-direct. 

In Tysons, 1st Stage presents Lisa B. Thompson’s “The Mamalogues” (April 21-May 8), a satirical comedy about three friends who share the joys, challenges, and anxieties of being middle class single Black mothers in predominantly white suburbs. Angelisa Gillyard directs.

Olney Theatre presents “Black Parade: A Drag Show Tribute to the Black Icons in Music” (April 29). For one night only, queens of color take the stage for some “fabulous strutting, lip-synching and dancing.” 

In May, Olney presents “The Joy That Carries You” (May 11-June 12), a drama about an interracial couple in crisis by local playwriting team Awa Sal Secka and Dani Stoller Olney’s out artistic director Jason Loewith and Kevin McAllister co-direct.

And in June, Olney’s mainstage goes to River City with Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” (June 17-July 24), the Broadway hit about a con-artist whose best scam involves posing as a boys’ band organizer in smalltown America. Olney’s revolutionary production is performed in American Sign Language and English is staged by Michael Baron and Sandra Mae Frank and features terrific actor James Caverly who is deaf as confidence man, Professor Harold Hill. 

Studio Theatre turns the witchy history of Salem Village on its ear with the world premiere of Kimberly Belflower’s “John Proctor Is the Villain” (April 17-June 6). In present day rural Georgia, high schoolers are reading “The Crucible.” But the assignment becomes all too relevant when scandal rocks their town. Marti Lyons directs. 

At Theater J, spring brings “Nathan the Wise” (March 16-April 10). Here’s the gist of the play: In 12th century Jerusalem, Jews, Christians, and Muslims live side by side in peace. But when tensions inevitably rise, the ruling sultan asks which religion is most beloved by God. Jewish merchant Nathan attempts to answer the question. Adapted by Michael Bloom, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 18th century fable is filled with mistaken identities, foiled romances, and relationships across cultural and religious divides. Theater J’s out artistic director Adam Immerwahr directs. 

And next up, it’s “Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities” (June 9–July 3). Conceived, written, and originally performed remarkably by Anna Deavere Smith, the documentary play time travels back to August 1991 when Brooklyn’s racially divided Crown Heights neighborhood erupted into riots after a Black child was killed by a car in a prominent Orthodox rabbi’s motorcade and a white Jewish scholar was killed in retaliation. The work uses verbatim testimony from individuals throughout the diverse community. January LaVoy is the sole actor (she plays 25+ characters) and she is co-directing with Adam Immerwahr.



Actor finds fulfillment raising money for queer non-profits

Aidan Wharton’s latest beneficiary is D.C.’s Rainbow History Project



Aidan Wharton (Photo courtesy of Wharton)

‘Girl From the North Country’
Dec. 12-31
The Kennedy Center

Last summer while travelling with his fiancé to San Francisco and parts of Europe, out actor Aidan Wharton faithfully reported on the queer history of each destination in his newsletter Gay Buffet ( 

When autumn rolled around and Wharton went back to work touring with the Broadway hit musical “Girl From the North Country,” he decided not only to continue writing about queer history but also to raise money for a LGBTQ non-profit in each tour stop. 

He’s rather brilliantly devised a way to combine showbiz with his new interests.

Throughout November in Cleveland, Wharton focused on Margie’s Hope, an organization dedicated to providing resources and services for transgender, non-binary, and gender expansive people in Northeast Ohio. And when the show soon lands at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre (Dec. 12-31), he plans to fundraise for the Rainbow History Project whose mission is to collect, preserve, and promote the history and culture of D.C.’s queer communities. 

Using social media, Wharton, with the help of like-minded influencers, creates awareness while asking supportive folks to give just $5 to the designated organization.  

During a recent chat via phone from chilly Des Moines, he explains that his bourgeoning project stems from a desire to help those doing selfless and often thankless nonprofit work related to enriching the lives of LGBTQ people during this wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment. And, he adds, “the pandemic hasn’t made it any easier…a lot of the funding has dried up.”  

Written and directed by Irish theater maker/screenwriter Conor McPherson, Tony Award-winning “Girl From the North” is built around 20 songs by iconic troubadour and Civil Rights activist Bob Dylan. Set in a rundown guesthouse in 1934 Duluth, Minn., (Dylan’s hometown), the action unfolds over a week around Thanksgiving, chronicling the triumphs and tragedies that take place in residents’ little microcosm.

Wharton plays Elias, who along with his parents, is staying in the guesthouse. His song is “Duquesne Whistle,” a train inspired “chug song” somewhat reinterpreted. “It’s a sort of surreal moment and my favorite part of the show. To say anything else would be a spoiler,” he says. 

The energetic actor has been on tour since it kicked off in October in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre, an historic venue once owned by Dylan. On Broadway he was a swing, covering Elias as well as five other parts. He knows the show well.

Before playing Elias, Wharton, 28, knew Dylan’s music mostly from repurposed takes on film and TV, and he always liked what he heard. Since joining the show, he’s listened to the original recordings in large part to know just how they’ve been re-imagined for the show.

“It’s a folky musical that still lives in the world of Dylan,” he says. “While a lot of the songs are taken out of his style, audiences seem pleasantly surprised. Not long ago a couple stopped me on the street. They’d been Dylan fans since the ‘60s. They said hearing this show made feel like they were hearing his words for the first time.”

“Some juke box musicals try to shoehorn the plot around songs, but ‘Girl From the North Country’ doesn’t. It feels like a play with a soundtrack. The songs don’t necessarily progress the plot but they accentuate what’s happening on stage; both the script and the music seem to benefit from each other.” 

At 17, Wharton left Hawaii where he was raised in a yurt in the middle of the jungle to attend Pace University in New York for a year followed by Penn State where he finished up a degree in theater and then back to New York City. He’s currently based in Astoria Queens where he lives with his intended. 

In addition to a lot of musical theater, he’s done some film including back-to-back parts in queer flicks “Fire Island” and “Bros.”

“When the tour ends next October,” says Wharton, “whatever this nonprofit venture becomes will become a bigger part of my life, possibly my career. I’ll always love acting and that’s ending for me, but there’s something about this new project in particular that’s made me feel fulfilled in a different way.”

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Local holiday theater season sparkles with expectation

Classic tales, modern retellings, Cirque Du Soleil, and more



The Kings’ Singers (Photo by Frances Marshall)

Like Christmas itself, the local holiday theater season is filled with tradition, excitement, and sparkling expectation. And whatever way you might celebrate the holidays, the DMV theater scene has scores of options to treat you and yours to something special. Here’s a taste.

Beloved British ensemble The Kings’ Singers are booked at the Washington National Cathedral for one night only (Dec. 15). The proposed song list promises a mix of “Christmas favorites, popular familiar tunes, and some surprises.” 

Earlier this year, the popular a capella group made headlines when a bigoted Florida Christian college shamefully cancelled a performance by the musical sextet over ‘concerns’ about the sexual orientation of its members. But that’s in the past, and now the six good-looking blokes are celebrating the season in one of the nation’s foremost places of worship.

Baltimore’s gorgeous Hippodrome Performing Arts Center hosts the eye-popping Cirque Du Soleil production “Twas the Night Before,” Nov. 24-Dec. 3

Synetic Theater in Crystal City is bringing back “Snow Maiden” (Dec. 9 – Jan. 6), a dazzling movement piece based on a 19th century folk tale about a lonely boy who builds a girl from snow. Performed by Maryam Najafzada and Vato Tsikurishvili and created by Helen Hayes Award-winning choreographer and Synetic co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili. 

In Falls Church, Creative Cauldron presents “Madeline’s Christmas” (Dec. 1-17), a charming musical based on the classic book by author and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans. “Madeline’s schoolmates and tutor are all sick in bed on Christmas Eve, unable to go home for Christmas to be with their families. So, it’s Madeline to the rescue! And with the help of a magical rug merchant, she takes her friends on a Christmas journey they will never forget.” Matt Conner directs.

Rehoboth Beach’s Clear Space Theatre Company presents “Estella Scrooge,” Nov. 24-Dec. 10. It features Ebenezer Scrooge’s great great granddaughter in a modern retelling of the classic Christmas tale.

Olney Theatre Center spices up the season with “Drag the Halls” (Dec. 8 and 9), a holiday spectacular with fabulous queens Echinacea Monroe (Solomon Parker III), Evon Michelle (Baltimore’s Drag Performer of the Year) and Tiara Missou.

Whether handed off discreetly in a sedate ivory envelope or placed under the tree in a silvery wrapped box, theater tickets make a great holiday gift. 

For a terrific kids’ prezzie, you might give the hour-long musical experience of “A Year in the Life of Frog and Toad” (through Jan. 7) at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. The endearing title characters are played by Deimoni Brewington and Casey Evans, respectively.

At Theater J there’s another show for kids, “Tiny Lights: Tales for Chanukah” (Dec. 3, 9, 10), created by Aaron Posner and Erin Weaver. “Taking inspiration from the great Chanukah tales of master storyteller Issac Bashevis Singer, our theatrical storytellers will weave tales out of words, a few simple props, and theatrical devices — and then teach you and your young kids how to do the same.” Sounds fun.

 The Washington Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at the gilded Warner Theatre (through Dec. 30). With Tchaikovsky’s timeless music and splendid choreography by Septime Weber, this 1882 Georgetown-set production features historical figures including George Washington and King George III, along with the usual suspects like children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather.

Bethesda’s Music Center at Strathmore is bringing back “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 19-22), Tchaikovsky’s classic re-imagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”).  

Undeniably the lynchpin of D.C. holiday theater is the historic Ford’s Theatre version of “A Christmas Carol” (through Dec. 31), a popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years. Conceived by Michael Baron, this beautifully staged take on the Dickens’ classic features Craig Wallace as Scrooge who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy. 

Joining the cast this holiday season is versatile D.C. actor Kimberly Gilbert as the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Helen Hayes Award-winning Gilbert says, “I have been wanting to join this show for years and am so over the moon that I get to be a part of the ‘beautiful machine.’ This kind of process is the most unique I have embarked on in my twenty years on DC stages. Its intricate structure is so well-tuned, which surprisingly means it was flexible enough to allow a maniac like me into the mix.

For Gilbert, taking on Christmas Present has proved a joy. She says, “I don’t show Scrooge my powers by anything other than small gestures: a larger goose, an oil can, a few more coins in someone’s pocket. And I think that is quite purposeful as I am teaching him that it doesn’t take much to create a ripple effect of good on this Earth. That’s a huge lesson for all of us right now.”

On a personal note, Gilbert adds, “my performance is in honor of my amazing mother, Catherine Gilbert, who we lost in January of this year. My family’s holidays were so magical because of my mother, and I will bring her spirit on stage with me every night.”

And not to be missed, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington is back with “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 2, 9, and 10) at the historic Lincoln Theatre where they promise to break out the sparkle, reindeer antlers along with glorious music, new jokes, and loads fun.

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Memories of time spent in India revealed in ‘Public Obscenities’

An inspiring production from writer-director Shayok Misha Chowdhury



Shayok Misha Chowdhury

‘Public Obscenities’
Through Dec. 23
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., N.W.

For writer-director Shayok Misha Chowdhury, the memories and imaginings of time spent in India are revealed in “Public Obscenities,” an inspiring new production currently playing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. 

Born in India, raised in Boston and now living in New York, Chowdhury, 38, has visited his native country often over the years. Those visits serve as a connection to family and himself. “I was trying to a write a thing that reflected the intense specificities of my life as a uniquely situated gay man,” he explains. “It’s filled with intersecting longings among diasporic gay folks and those on the subcontinent.”

A Woolly co-production with Theatre For A New Audience (in which four of the seven characters are queer), “Public Obscenities” follows Indian born Choton (Abrar Haque) as he returns to Kolkata on a research trip with his Black American boyfriend Raheem (Jakeem Dante Powell). While visiting his family home, Choton acts as translator (Bangla and English) and interviews queer locals all while showing Raheem his world. 

In the past, Chowdhury, 38, has written musical experimental pieces but had never written a solo author naturalist play. “This is my debut as a playwright. What’s more, I’m directing something that I’ve written for the first time.” But being a director is squarely in his wheelhouse.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How much of “Public Obscenities” is about you, Misha?

SHAYOK MISHA CHOWDHURY: The plot isn’t autobiographical, but the circumstances are. My partner is an African-American video artist and I’m more words driven. We’ve travelled many times. Unlike Choton, I don’t have a Ph.D. 

Definitely Choton’s a character close to my skin. He lives in states robust fluency in mother tongue and feels a longing for what might had been had he remained. 

He feels very much at home being gay in Kolkata. He can desire and be desired by people who look like him and speak to them in his mother tongue. There’s a cross connection: He likes what they have and they like that he lives in America with accepting parents and can easily have a relationship with a Black man. 

BLADE: It is also a bilingual piece?

CHOWDHURY: Entirely bilingual in a very natural way. Characters speak either Bangla or English given circumstances. Choton’s partner doesn’t speak Bangla so the main character is translating in real time. When Bangla-speaking characters are in a scene, the audience is reading supertitles.

BLADE: Is it tough casting a bilingual piece?

CHOWDHURY: Yes, more than anything it was a casting challenge. Finding these actors is what made the piece possible. I’m very glad we had the muscle to find these folks and keep them in the production by flying them in and housing them.  

BLADE: And place is very important? 

CHOWDHURY: The house is a character in the play. Very much a scenic replica from real life; I’ve spent time in that house. For the Woolly production, the scenic designer has added a meta conceit: You enter through a movie theater and behind the screen of the cinema hall that house is revealed. But once there, it will feel the same.

“Public Obscenities” has been described as theater verité. The aesthetic leans into documentary precision and mimics the rhythms of real life. There’s been a rewrite for this latest iteration. We have the same cast that appeared at Soho Rep in New York. They were assembled from a wide-ranging casting search. Specificity is required in terms of performance, language, and gender. 

BLADE: But it’s not the usual queer story

CHOWDHURY: It’s not a coming out story; not a family conflict, it’s more about the main character working so hard to prove that he’s native to this place yet still himself.  

BLADE: Is it hard to be objective when directing your own work?

CHOWDHURY: That’s always a question you have to ask yourself. Here my proximity was a gift. The nature of this project involved precise vision.

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