Kathleen Turner as Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking at Arena Stage at the Mead Cente . Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir The Year of Magical Thinking forms the basis of this one-woman monologue starring Oscar-winning film and stage star Kathleen Turner. The dramatic version of which first appeared on Broadway in 2007. Much has been written about Didion’s style of writing, both before her death and after. But whether favorable or not, she was considered one of the most important writer/journalist/essayists of her time. In a way she ushered in the “Me” generation with her self-absorbed, edgy style of writing. You either like her, or you don’t. Either way you slice it, she was an influential voice for decades.
The plot chronicle’s Didion’s personal journey while mourning the tragic loss of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne and tending to her ailing daughter, Quintana, who lies in a comatose state. From her early life in New York City as part of an elite group of writers (a 70’s version of the famed Algonquin Round Table), to her later life in fashionable Brentwood and Malibu enclaves, “I drove my Corvette down the PHC [Pacific Coast Highway for you non-Californians],” she quips, the conservative Republican author was eager to be regarded as a style-setter with the street cred of a bi-coastal, jet-setting journalist and wife of a successful Hollywood screenwriter.
Kathleen Turner as Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking at Arena Stage at the Mead Center. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
In this drama the grieving Didion explores her mental breakdown during the most disastrous year of her life warning us repeatedly that, “This will happen to you,” as a way of explaining what can and will befall an ordinary life. With the discipline of a scholar, and naming the posh hospital she held vigil in, “Doctors Hospital, which became Beth Israel Medical Center, was right across from Gracie Mansion,” she proudly quips, she takes comfort in memorizing diagnoses and researching medical treatments and medications. Struggling to maintain her sanity, she micro-manages the doctors and nurses and chronologizes her daughter’s failing health. Some of it is humorous – though you can imagine feeling pity for the nurses she abuses – and some of it is superficial, as she namedrops her celebrity pals and notes her fondest memory of her daughter is her blond hair bleached by the California sun.
In her attempt to grapple with the day-to-day realities of planning her husband’s funeral and caring for her daughter, she seizes on primitive man’s anthropological concept of “magical thinking”. But notwithstanding her attempts at the spiritual, she soon learns that all of her maneuvering can’t protect her from the anguish and the debilitating vortex of despair.
Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch does a fine job of keeping the pace lively and Turner proves a more than capable candidate to channel Didion’s internal conflicts.
Through November 20th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.
Adam Langdon and The Curious Incident North American Tour Cast 2016 Photo Credit Joan Marcus
A most unusual and fascinating wonder of a show burst onto the stage of the Opera House theatre last week. Packed with drama, pathos and indelible charm, this stupendous Tony Award-winning show explodes with energy. It’s an unusual premise and a real thinking person’s show with power and magnetism. You’d be well-advised to afford it the space in your head to spirit you away on its “curious” journey.
(L to R) Adam Langdon, (Background) Felicity Jones Latta and Gene Gillette of The Curious Incident North. Photo Credit Joan Marcus
Simon Stephens’ play, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a story of a high-functioning autistic boy, Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon), whose parents are about to get divorced. Christopher is a brilliant, precise and very detailed 15-year old who loves math, astronomy and all things formulaic. When his neighbor’s beloved dog, Wellington, is mysteriously killed, he sets about, to the consternation of his father, to solve the crime.
The crime itself is the thread employed to delve into Christopher’s complicated and challenging world, as well as the vehicle for our understanding of his fears and challenges. But it by no means defines the magnetic experience of climbing inside the mind of an autistic, quasi-savant teen.
(L to R) Adam Langdon, (Background) Maria Elena Ramirez and Gene Gillette. Photo Credit Joan Marcus
For example, Christopher takes metaphors at face value, which is hilarious, especially when you think of the things we say every day that are not near as dire or nor as realistic as the descriptive words we use. Langdon portrays Christopher’s tenderness and his clashing emotions with a captivating performance. He is well-matched by Gene Gillette in his ability to portray both anger and compassion in the role of his father, Maria Elena Ramirez, as his patient and loving schoolteacher Siobhan, and Felicity Jones Latta as his irresponsible mother Judy. The rest of the crack cast appear in a myriad of revolving roles.
Director Marianne Elliott crafts an intricate adventure with precision and comedic intrigue, which is mesmerizingly pulled off by the complex choreography of Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly. Thanks to a spectacular light show using pixel-mapping technology on a grid with roving arc lights and pulsing strobes mastered by Paule Constable; and a sound system engineered by designer Ian Dickson for Autograph, the energy level is mind-blowing. For all you techies out there, Constable uses an ETC EOS Titanium system guaranteed to knock your socks off. Kudos to Finn Ross for crafting the eye-popping video design. It’s like attending a rock concert sans music, but with a heartwarming and emotionally charged story.
(L to R) Megan Graves as Alexandra Giddens and Kim James Bey as Addie in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes . Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Artistic Director Molly Smith kicked off the theatre’s Lillian Hellman Festival, with one of the playwright’s better-known plays, The Little Foxes. Hellman, one of America’s greatest women writers, was an iconoclast whose career spanned six decades. Branded a Communist during the McCarthy era and blacklisted in Hollywood, she nevertheless continued her groundbreaking work for the stage. With this play she exposed the dark underbelly of the South during the turn of the 20th century, weaving together themes of racism and internecine family rivalry. The drama is said to be based on her great uncles and aunt.
(L to R) Gregory Linington as Oscar Hubbard, Edward Gero as Benjamin Hubbard and Stanton Nash as Leo Hubbard in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes at Arena Stage. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
It portrays the Hubbards, a family whose successes and failures are umbilically linked by greed and jealousy. The brothers, Benjamin (Edward Gero) and Oscar (Gregory Linington), run the family business with young Leo (Stanton Nash). In an effort to shore up their failing cotton plantation, they strike a deal with a Northern businessman, William Marshall (James Whalan) to modernize their operation. But their sister, Regina Hubbard Giddens, a woman of considerable connivance (played by the incomparable Marg Helgenberger), is determined to get a cut of the deal.
Regina is married to the much older and wheelchair-bound Horace (Jack Willis), a man of considerable fortune. However, as primogeniture was the custom of the period, and women did not inherit estates, Regina envisions a far more glamorous future for herself when Horace passes.
(L to R) Edward Gero as Benjamin Hubbard, Gregory Linington as Oscar Hubbard, Isabel Keating as Birdie Hubbard and Marg Helgenberger as Regina Giddens in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes at Arena Stage. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Isabel Keating plays Oscar’s wife Birdie, whose vast plantation, Lyonette, the Hubbards now have in their control. In other words, the conniving Oscar has married her for her lands and she’s been taken to the cleaners. Her son Leo is equally as unscrupulous – finding a way to steal the funds necessary to close the deal without Horace’s approval.
Fortified by a decanter of elderberry wine, Keating’s Birdie affords us the most amusing, and bittersweet, highlight of the drama. Add to that fine performances from Kim James Bey as Addie and David Emerson Toney as Cal.
Director Kyle Donnelly’s staging lends an ominous air to the deceit and collusion between Oscar, Leo and Ben, and later Regina. It’s enough to make your hair stand on end.
Set Designer Mikiko Suzuki Macadams presents us with an opulent Victorian living room with raised dining room and a stark treeless backdrop and Jess Goldstein gives us period costumes to match.
Warning: Do not jump out of your seat, as I did, when you hear the “N” word which occurs several times during the course of the play.
Through October 30th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024. For information and tickets for the Lillian Hellman Festival visit www.arenastage.org/hellman-festival or call 202 488-3300.
Signature Theatre’s The Ark offers the perfect frame for DC playwright Audrey Cefaly’s world premiere of The Gulf, directed by the theatre’s Director of New Works, Joe Calarco.
A revealing existentialist exercise in the power and destruction of love, this intimate play is set in the Alabama Delta and features two lovers, Betty and Kendra, who become stranded in their small motorboat in the shallows of Alabama’s Dog River.
Kendra (Maria Rizzo) has separation issues. Her father was her mentor and since his death she suffers from fear of desertion. She cannot admit she is hopelessly in love for fear of loss. Her lover Betty (Rachel Zampelli) wants commitment defined as a career, marriage to Kendra, a home, and eventually children. She tries to get Kendra interested in fulfilling her potential by reading her “What Color is Your Parachute”, a self-help book on careers. But Kendra, a fatalist, has no such ambitions. She is content to fish on her off hours and work at the local sewage plant, ignoring Betty’s lofty aspirations and punishing her by withholding sex. “I want you to stop thinking,” she tells Betty. “Cuz when you’re thinking, I’m miserable!”
The couple alternately argue and reconcile in a macabre merry-go-round, accepting that they will never agree on just about anything, but are too emotionally tied to each other to part ways. Passions and jealousies ignite accusations and retribution with dialogue as vitriolic and vicious as George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”. “Nothing’s good enough for you,” says Kendra. “You just want to rearrange my life.”
The humor is part deadpan, part caustic with massive doses of wry, Southern zingers. Rizzo and Zampelli offer up flawless and funny performances coupled with skillful pacing and brisk patter.
Sound Designer Kenny Neal chooses Delta Blues to set the tone and Aretha Franklin as background to the lovers’ Mardi Gras reminiscences of meeting at a honky-tonk bar, while Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway provides a slow-turning, skeletal motor boat as metaphor for the couple’s maneuvering along the rocky coast of love.
Funny, cerebral and edgy.
Through November 6th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.
The Lansburgh’s stage was drenched in red for Director Alan Paul’s Romeo and Juliet – the carpet, the soaring pillars, the balcony, the walls, even the balloons floating from the ceiling when Romeo first spies the captivating Juliet at a party. Was it red for the color of blood, as in the knife fights the Montagues wage against the Capulets? Or lipstick red for romance? Either way, Paul’s production was on fire, as in fire engine red, reflected by Dane Laffrey’s set design.
Ayana Workman as Juliet and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.
This freshly minted staging put me in mind of the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein’s famous borrowing of R&J as his inspiration. As here too the characters live in contemporary society and Romeo’s gun-toting, knife-wielding friends are portrayed as dissolute Italian gang members, while Juliet gads about in blue jeans as the typical lovelorn teen. There are no innuendos, no subtleties in Paul’s staging – just raw sex, raw anger and pure sensual passion. Oh, yes, it’s hot, like the business end of a gun when Tybalt (Alex Mickiewicz) and the young Montagues put out a hit on Romeo.
Alex Mickiewicz as Tybalt, Jeffrey Carlson as Mercutio and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.
We have choreographers Eric Sean Fogel to thank for the constantly swirling action, and David Leong to thank for the fight scenes, though it couldn’t have come together quite as believably if there weren’t an outstanding cast to thank for this refreshing reinterpretation of the characters – Andrew Veenstra as the pugnacious, hipster Romeo; Jeffrey Carlson as his stylish club kid buddy Mercutio (scene stealer alert!); Ayana Workman in a version of Juliet that oozes girlish innocence; and Inga Ballard as Juliet’s wise-cracking, no nonsense Black nurse.
Inga Ballard as Nurse and Ayana Workman as Juliet. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Include Keith Hamilton Cobb as Juliet’s father, who presents us with a Capulet patriarch of fearsome presence and bullish swagger – his portrayal so credible it will scare you out of your seat.
Costume Designer Kaye Voyce delivers the atmosphere, most especially when Mercutio shows up in spiked hair and a tight silver lame suit to the masked ball, which would be better described as an electro club mix house party, and Juliet’s mother, played by Judith Lightfoot who swans around her party guests in a gold lamé gown. Totally anarchical, but at this point we are up for it.
So thank you, Alan Paul. You have gifted your audiences with a surprising and delightful, break-all-the-rules, fresh spin on the old classic. This is what theatre is all about!