A Misanthrope ~ WSC Avant Bard ~ Theatre on the Edge ~ Gunston Arts Center

Jordan Wright
June 6, 2019 

Warning: Extremely high doses of wacky irreverence could result in uncontrollable hilarity.

Playwright Matt Minnicino’s adaptation, he calls it a new “distillation”, of Molière’s classic The Misanthrope tore the house down at its world premiere last night.  A re-interpretation of the 17th century farce skewering French aristocracy, Minnicino delivers in spades with a band of frivolous, self-centered snobs, oblivious to the hoi polloi (Tag yourselves, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, James Franco, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, et alia).  This booze-swilling brat pack speaks in rhyming couplets, mixing formal dialogue and philosophical musings with modern American slang.  Set in the posh environs of the South of France, it is fall-down-dead hilarious and monumentally clever.

(l-r) Hannah Sweet (Basque), Elliott Kashner (Alceste), Thais Menendez (Celimene). CREDIT: DJ Corey Photography

Alceste is a cynical, smitten preppie whose target is the alluring, and self-adoring Celimene.  He hates deceit yet craves the company of the most deceitful of them all.  Swanning luxuriantly around the pool deck in luxuriantly revealing garb, she teases and taunts the men while insulting her female competition, especially the prudish Arsinoe, a woman of a certain age who’s got the hots for Alceste.  “I’ve been programmed to pussyfoot around,” she admits.

(l-r)Patrick Joy (Clitandre), Thais Menendez (Celimene), Jenna Berk (Philinte), Chloe Mikala (Eliante) ~ Photo credit JD Corey

Unfortunately, Miss C. prefers her trendy pals and glam lifestyle far more than an angst-ridden, lovesick dweeb and pits him against Oronte, a sophomoronic wannabe poet who’s got plenty of dough to satisfy Miss C. and is suing Alceste for slander.  For those wondering if Alceste will get his comeuppance (although we secretly cheer his irreverence) there is Philinte, Alceste’s gal pal and reality check, who challenges his insincerity at every turn.  “We are living in a society of vacuity, fatuousness and folly,” she admonishes.

Sara Barker (Arsinoe), Elliott Kashner (Alceste). Photo credit DJ Corey

Minnicino’s earlier forays into classical adaptations have included Chekhov, Strindberg, Shakespeare, Homer, and Sophocles (no mean feat).  But you needn’t have read any one of these literary titans to enjoy this snarky funfest.

(l-r) Matthew Sparacino (Oronte), Thais Menendez (Celimene), Patrick Joy (Clitandre), Tendo Nsubuga (Acaste), Elliott Kashner (Alceste). Photo credit DJ Corey

Director Megan Behm expertly wrangles this fierce cast led by Elliott Kashner as Alceste, Thais Menendez as Celimene, Jenna Berk as Philinte, Matthew Sparacino as Oronte, Sara Barker as Arsinoe and Patrick Joy as Clitandre. with Tendo Nsubuga as Acaste, Chloe Mikala as Eliante and Hannah Sweet as Basque/DuBois.

Costumes by Alison Samantha Johnson, Set Design by Megan Holden, Lighting Design by Elizabeth Roth, Properties Design by Liz Long.

A veritable verbal slugfest with a mountain of the funniest zingers since the Marx Brothers took on high society in “A Night at the Opera”.

Highly recommended.

Through June 30th at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206.

Avant Bard tickets are $40.00, and available online at avantbard.org/ticketsor by calling 703-418-4808. For every Avant Bard performance, a limited number of tickets are Pay What You Will, which means you can name your price. You can reserve PWYW tickets online the Monday before each performance for a small service minimum, or at the door with no minimum. All Avant Bard tickets including PWYW are General Admission; seating is first-come first-served.

Saturday matinees are followed by Unscripted Afterchats with members of the creative team.

Top Dog/Underdog ~ WSC Avant Bard ~ Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two

Jordan Wright
March 23, 2019 

Playwright Suzan-Lori ParksTop Dog/Underdog is a tale as old as Cain and Abel.  Two brothers, abandoned as children by their parents, find cold comfort in fraternal discord.  The mean streets of New York City provide the setting.  Their names provide a clue to the irony that defines their lives.  Booth and Lincoln.  Lincoln, the elder, works in a rinky-dink arcade where, in top hat and frock coat as the former president, his days are filled with a crush of tourists who fake-assassinate him for a small fee.  He is black, so there’s that ironic twist, though he’s grateful for the steady employment after living the fraught life of a hustler grifting tourists with the shady confidence game of Three-card Monte.

Louis E. Davis (Booth) ~ Photo credit DJ Corey Photography

The problem is Lincoln was good at it.  Very good.  And his dissolute brother wants him as a partner in the easy money game while also teaching him the tricks of the trade.  “Schemin’ and dreamin’,” Booth calls it.  For a time, they reminisce about the old days when they were flush from hustling or stealing and the streets were filled with “marks” out on the town with a pocketful of cash.  But Lincoln’s refusal to return to a life of crime causes constant friction between the two men, and Booth threatens to throw him out if he won’t buddy up.  The men are constantly scamming each other like the hustlers, lookouts, shills and ‘sticks’ from Lincoln’s old gang.

Jeremy Keith Hunter (Lincoln) and Louis E. Davis (Booth) ~ Photo credit DJ Corey Photography

Their lives are base, their language baser, yet their bickering and challenging one another make for some of the most viscerally powerful theater.  Set Designer Nephelle Andonyadis gives us the perfect witness box to view the intensity.  Rows of seats are situated on two sides of a long stage mimicking the railroad flats so popular in early city buildings.  Walls are papered with cardboard and egg cartons creating an environment that the audience experiences immediately upon entering.

Jeremy Keith Hunter (Lincoln) and Louis E. Davis (Booth) ~ Photo credit DJ Corey Photography

The acting is astonishing.  Both Louis E. Davis (Booth) and Jeremy Keith Hunter (Lincoln), who reminds this reviewer of a young Sidney Poitier, turn out some of the most tremendous performances I have ever seen in a two-hander.  As a side note, Hunter got the role one week before opening night, when the cast member dropped out. We just saw him in MetroStage’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek.  

In the more than capable hands of Director DeMone Seraphin this provocative drama stuns at every turn.

Gripping, exhilarating and brilliantly acted, it will leave you breathless.  Highly recommended.

Krysta Hibbard, Associate Director; Costumes by Danielle Harrow; Lighting and Projections by John D. Alexander; Composer and Sound Design by e’Marcus Harper-Short; and Fight Director Casey Kaleba. 

Performance schedule – Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm matinee – through April 14th at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information visit www.AvantBard.org/tickets or call 703 418.4808.

Émilie – La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight ~ WSC Avant Bard

Jordan Wright
October 20, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(From left:) Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

(l-r) Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

The story of Émilie, La Marquise du Châtelet, a woman of science lightyears ahead of her time, is yet another thrilling play by Lauren Gunderson, the most-produced living playwright in America this season.  It’s an intellectually-minded comic drama that delivers both wit and passion in spades.  Based on the true story of the noted physicist and her decades-long collaboration with Voltaire, the 18th C poet, historian, and political rabble rouser, it appeals to an audience longing for representations of women of substance – especially those pioneers of science who fought hard for recognition in a male-dominated society.  The latest to have been brought to our attention is Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician whose story was depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie, Hidden Figures.

(From left:) Lisa Hodsoll (Madam), Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Steve Lebens (Gentleman) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

(l-r) Lisa Hodsoll (Madam), Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Steve Lebens (Gentleman) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

In the role of a lifetime Sara Barker as Émilie provides us with a breathtaking, woman-in-full performance.  Barker’s uncanny ability to get into the skin of the famed scientist and author is nothing less than spectacular.  In defending the Marquise’s theory, a departure from Newton’s original, ‘Force, Motion, Mass Squared’ (“The squaring adds Life,” she concludes), Barker more than adopts Émilie’s brain, she appears to viscerally inhabit it.

In this plot, Émilie is eloquently matched by Voltaire, a mercurial romantic with an egotistical intellect, played admirably by Brit Herring.  Together they form an alliance of ideas, “You’re a stunning woman, and an impressive man,” he tells her backhandedly.  Until, ultimately, when she proves she is the true scientist of the two, he defames her, portraying her to the men of the Academy of Sciences as an insignificant female dilettante.

(From left:) Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

(l-r) Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

Director Rick Hammerly has Émilie keeping score of both her scholarly and romantic successes on framed panels of glass.  She is fiercely competitive!  When she wins an argument, or one-ups Voltaire, she makes white chalk marks to indicate her triumphs.  Other furnishings combine 18th century elegance, like a curved leg writing desk and sparkling crystal chandelier, with modern day chrome and Lucite used in a madcap scene of musical chairs.  Female actors wear corsets and paniers with denim jeans to parallel modern day misogyny.  Especially noteworthy is Joseph R. Walls dramatic lighting and Frank DiSalvo Jr.’s sound design incorporating period music and striking sound effects.

Gunderson uses hilarity to depict their quixotic love scenes as when Voltaire aims to distract her with words of love.  “Be my muse,” he implores.  “Stop wooing, I can’t think,” she replies.

If I gave out stars (which as you know I don’t), this one would have five!  Go!

With Lisa Hodsoll as Madam, Billie Krishawn as Soubrette, and Steve Lebens as Gentleman.

Through November 12th at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two – 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 418.4808 or go online at www.AvantBard.org/tickets

Holiday Performances Around Town

Jordan Wright
December 3, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

Reviewer’s Pick – Avant Bard’s Theatre on the Edge brings us Holiday Memories, the tender and evocative semi-autobiographical tale drawn from two beloved short stories by Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory” and “A Thanksgiving Visitor”. Having seen this at press night Monday past, I can attest to its indelibly affecting charm.

(From left:) Séamus Miller (Buddy), Christopher Henley (Truman) - DJ Corey Photography

(From left:) Séamus Miller (Buddy), Christopher Henley (Truman) – DJ Corey Photography

Directed by Tom Prewitt and staged by Russell Vandenbroucke the show stars Christopher Henley as Truman, Séamus Miller as Buddy (Truman as a lad), Charlotte Akin as Miss Sook, with Liz Dutton and Devon Ross fulfilling several ancillary roles.

(The cast of Holiday Memories, from left:) Charlotte Akin (Miss Sook), Devon Ross (Man), Christopher Henley (Truman), Liz Dutton (Woman), Séamus Miller (Buddy) - DJ Corey Photography

(The cast of Holiday Memories, from left:) Charlotte Akin (Miss Sook), Devon Ross (Man), Christopher Henley (Truman), Liz Dutton (Woman), Séamus Miller (Buddy) – DJ Corey Photography

The play is set in Depression-Era Alabama where young Truman, who is coming to terms with his homosexuality, lives with his adored aunt, Miss Sook, a forthright spinster who administers life’s lessons with a gentle hand. Henley provides the richly textured narration delivering a riveting performance that is nothing short of brilliant reminding this reviewer of Sam Waterston both in spirit and in appearance. Akin too, seizes her character with a ferocity and nuance that is beautifully developed, while Miller lends an endearing pathos to the fragile boy who struggles to find his identity. Through December 20th at Theatre on the Run at 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets call 703 418- 4108 or visit Avant Barde Theatre

Heather Norcross as Ghost of Christmas Present with Lawrence O. Grey Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge - Photos by Doug Olmsted

Heather Norcross as Ghost of Christmas Present with Lawrence O. Grey Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge – Photos by Doug Olmsted

The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a lavish, family friendly, Victorian paean to the age-old tale of Scrooge’s redemption. Kudos to the adorable Tiny Tim and a cheery nod to the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Through December 20th at 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314. For tickets call 703 683-0496 or visit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Michael Sharp, Peter Boyer and Tracey Stephens at MetroStage - Photo credit Chris Banks

(L-R) Michael Sharp, Peter Boyer and Tracey Stephens at MetroStage – Photo credit Chris Banks

MetroStage ratchets up Dickens’ tale with a distinctly hilarious, seat-of-your-pants spoof full of dancing and singing to your favorite Broadway tunes. The inimitable Howard Breitbart serves as musical director in Broadway Christmas Carol. Through December 27th at 1201 Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets call 703 548-9044 or visit MetroStage

Nova Y. Payton at Signature Theatre - photo courtesy of Signature Theatre

Nova Y. Payton at Signature Theatre – photo courtesy of Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre brings Christmas cheer with Dreamgirls star Nova Y. Payton backed by a rockin’ chorus and raising the rafters with holiday tunes like This Christmas, Holiday Rock, Santa Baby, and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Through December 24th at 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets call 703 820-9771 or visit Signature

Washington National Opera: Holiday Family Opera: Hansel and Gretel - Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center

Washington National Opera: Holiday Family Opera: Hansel and Gretel – Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center has a host of holiday happenings including the NSO Pops conducted by Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke and featuring the von Trapps, of the famed Sound of Music family, with Broadway’s Stephanie J. Bloch performing Christmas classics and new holiday tunes. The Washington National Opera offers a family-friendly Hansel and Gretel complete with cackling witch, enchanted fairies, dancing animals and a massive gingerbread oven. For the high brow, Handel’s Messiah sing-along is on December 23rd. Check listings for these limited performances at Kennedy Center or call 202 467- 4200.

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The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic presents Two Concertos and a Celebration. Handel’s popular Messiah performed by the NOVA Community Chorus and backed by the splendid symphony who add 20th and 21st century music to the afternoon program. Check the schedule for performance times and locations. For tickets call 703 799- 8229 or visit The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic