Confection ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 11, 2019 

Running concurrently with the exhibition First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas, is Confection.  Commissioned by the Folger Theatre, it is a delightful 17th century romp from the critically-acclaimed Third Rail Projects.  This world premiere production is specifically designed to dovetail neatly with playwright Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn, which story is also set in the 17th century.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

Third Rail Projects performs around the world in site-specific settings and, from what I was told by a woman who came down from New York just for opening night, the ticket prices in NYC are nearly triple and as scarce as hen’s teeth.  Described by the creators as a multi-sensory dance and theater performance and defined as immersive/experiential theater, it is held in the private Paster and Sedgewick-Bond Reading Rooms, areas of the Library that are usually off-limits.

The backdrop is an 17th century banquet in all its opulent and decadent splendor – no you don’t get to dine on swans, peacocks, croquembouche and other referenced delicacies – but you will experience the lusty performances of a troupe garbed in period finery expressing their amours for food (and their dining partners!) through dance and mime.  Overeating is expressed with humor as are the jealousies and erotic fantasies of the royal courtiers.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

You will learn that there really were such preparations as four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie and such things as the weight, or more specifically the measure, of a man in pounds of sugar.  These luxuries came at a great price to those who had to produce these extravagant fêtes, exposing the great disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.  You will experience what it must have been like to watch from afar as the lower classes were had to observe these events from the upper galleries.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

Banquets during this period were so lavish and lengthy that they went on for days with guests passing out or vomiting only to start all over again.  The troupe of five also reveal some of the theories and philosophies that were popular in those times – especially the sharing of food and the definition of manliness.

Guests, or should I say participants because you will be led in small groups by costumed guides, will wend their way through velvet curtains to candlelit rooms.  There you will see indescribable displays of pastries, watch Baroque period dancing, or hear challenging debates.  You may even be encouraged to make decisions as a group.  Some of the dances are passionate and fantasy-filled, others are celebratory and playful.  In all, it is the ultimate grande bouffe with you as witness.

Third Rail Projects were taken by Brittany Diliberto

Be sure to leave plenty of time beforehand to tour the First Chefs exhibit and put you in the mood for this splendid evening.  And remember to eat before you go.  The feast is imaginary.

Immensely entertaining.

Performed by Elizabeth Carena, Alberto Denis, Joshua Dutton-Reaver, Justin Lynch and Marissa Nielsen-Pincus.  Written, conceived, directed and choreographed by Zach Morris; Co-directed by Tom Pearson; Artistic Director, Jennine Willett; Sound Design by Sean Hagerty; Costume Design by Karen Young; and Scenic Design by Dan Daly.

Through March 24th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544.7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre. www.ThirdRailProjects.com

Nell Gwynn ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 13, 2019 

For Playwright Jessica Swale, who cleverly mixes factual events with a lively imagination, Nell Gwynn (Alison Luff), the orange seller who rose from her mother’s Coal Pan Alley brothel to become King Charles II’s most adored paramour, is the perfect vehicle to celebrate the rise of women’s roles in the theater.  Swale, who was named “10 Brits to Watch for 2019” by Variety, earned an Olivier Award for “Best New Comedy” for the play when it debuted in London’s West End in 2016.  “The rags-to-riches story of Nell Gwynn is an important and timely one,” says Director Robert Richmond.  “Her tenacity, wit and honesty changed the theatrical landscape forever and won her a place in history.”

Nell Gwynn (Alison Luff) with musicians left to right: Zoe Speas and Kevin Collins. Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Set during the Restoration period when men played women’s roles – early drag, you might say – it was a time when theaters were filled with a mix of royals, rowdy-dows and drunkards.  Shakespeare cast men in women’s roles and that was the way of theater in the 17th century.  That is until King Charles II declared women could be on the stage.

King Charles II (R.J. Foster, left) consults with Lord Arlington (Jeff Keogh) on matters of the court. Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Fact: Discovered on Drury Lane by leading British actor, Charles Hart (Quinn Franzen), Gwynn proved to be a natural on the stage where her feisty, street-wise manner won over audiences.

Hart becomes Gwynn’s Pygmalion and lover, teaching her what he calls “the attitudes” – fear, terror, despair and desire.  She does so well that she usurps one of the principal actors in the King’s troupe, Edward Kynaston (Christopher Dinolfo), who must now sacrifice all the female parts to her. “A woman on the stage!  It will be the death of theater!” he cries out.  There is a delightfully bawdy bit when she shows off her acting chops by demonstrating the use of a fan to lure a lover.

Rose Gwynn (Caitlin Cisco, left) shares a somber moment with her sister Nell (Alison Luff). Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Gwynn soon comes to the attention of King Charles (R. J. Foster), who had a revolving door of glamorous mistresses who make their appearances along with the cuckolded Queen Catherine (Zoe Speas). Some of these women were well-known at court – Lady Castlemaine and Louise de Keroualle both played ladies by Regina Aquino.  Foster is mesmerizing as the vainglorious king who prefers women to edicts or wars.  He is the perfect foil for Ruff.

The sly Lord Arlington (Jeff Keogh), who has the most influence on the King and his courtesans, is determined to keep them at bay in order to maintain his power in the court.  Remember the famed poet and dramatist, John Dryden (Michael Glenn), from your English Lit classes?  Here he is portrayed as a bumbling, foppish playwright who takes direction from the actors.

The King’s Company in performance (left to right: Caitlin Cisco, Quinn Franzen, Christopher Dinolfo). Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

There are so many funny bits.  Dinolfo as Camille re-enacting his memory of an oak door in order to create a back story to a scene; Catherine Flye as Nancy, the terrified wardrobe mistress flung onto the stage when Nell quits in a huff; and, of course, Luff, who will rob you of any sense of decorum with her charm and comic timing.  Wait for the over-the-top hat scene mocking Louise de Kéroualle in Act Two.

A delicious royal romp!

With Nigel Gore as Thomas Killigrew; Caitlin Cisco as Rose Gwynn; Kevin Collins as Musician; and Alex Mitchell as Ned Spigett.

Original Music by Kim Sherman, Scenic Design by Tony Cisek, Costume Design by Mariah Anzaldo Hale, and Lighting Design by Andrew F. Griffin.

Through March 10th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

King John ~ Folger Theatre At the Folger Shakespeare Library

Jordan Wright
November 1, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

The cast of Shakespeare’s political power play King John at Folger Theatre. Photo by Teresa Wood.

That this play is rarely produced, is an enigma.  Okay, it doesn’t have maidens frothily cavorting with lords a-leaping, but I couldn’t help thinking that if only I’d seen this as a teenager, much of my angst about studying Shakespeare might have been completely avoided.  In King John Shakespeare affords us some of the most expressive language he has ever written.  Wish I’d had some of his snappy putdowns in my mental back pocket.  “Oh, dunghill,” one of the characters calls another making for a far more effective retort than, “You meanie!”.  Amirite?

King John (Brian Dykstra) rules over England, with his mother Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Kate Goehring) by his side. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Apart from Richard II, King John is the only other Shakespeare play written entirely in verse.  And though the play’s prose is already lyrically outstanding, six-time Helen Hayes Award-winning Director, Aaron Posner tosses in some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines from a range of his plays, “Let slip the dogs of war”, “Once more into the breach” and “My kingdom for a horse”, for good measure.  And we’re off!

Philip, King of France (Howard W. Overshown) and John, King of England (Brian Dykstra) join hands in Shakespeare’s King John. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Set during King John’s turbulent reign from 1199 to 1216, war is ever present as the fight for ascension to the throne after Richard the Lionheart’s death, threatens John’s tenuous reign.  The French want control of the territories, and everyone has a different notion as to who should wear the crown including the Vatican, France, John’s mother Eleanor, Pandolf, Philip Faulconbridge, the Dauphin and Constance, mother to Arthur, John’s young nephew, and ferocious defender of her son’s right.  And then there’s the citizens of a French village, Angers (so apropos), who threaten to bar the gates if John becomes king.   So pretty much everyone except Philip who is hired on to protect him and Eleanor who stands to lose the family jewels should John be deposed.  As Shakespeare puts it, “I have never been so bethumped!”

Noble English Lords take up arms (left to right: Kate Goehring, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Holly Twyford) in Shakespeare’s King John.. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As King of England, John must fight off all pretenders and wannabes.  Watching him wrangle the forces around him and destroy others in his path, is downright exhilarating as the action swings from one war to the next.  One particularly effective scene is staged in total darkness.  Actors light up their own faces one by one as they recite their lines from opposite regions of the stage.

As expected there is superb acting all around but most impressively from Kate Eastwood Norris in the male role as Philip of Faulconbridge, the bastard son of Lady Faulconbridge by Richard the Lionhearted, and Holly Twyford as Constance, the overly protective mother of Arthur.  We are utterly besotted.  As Folger’s Artistic Director, Janet Alexander Griffin puts it, “We are thrilled to have the talents of Aaron Posner and this extraordinary cast bring a timely history play of political posturing and covetous transgressions to life… just blocks away from the Capitol building.”

Louis the Dauphin, son of the King of France (Akeem Davis) and John’s niece Blanche of Spain (Alina Collins Maldonado) arranged to be wed, a sign of peace between France and England. Photo by Teresa Wood.

With Akeem Davis as Louis the Dauphin; Brian Dykstra as John, King of England; Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Austria and Salisbury; Kate Goehring as Queen Eleanor, Lady Faulconbridge and Bigot; Megan Graves as Arthur and Prince Henry; Alina Collins Maldonado as Blanche of Spain; Sasha Olinick as Chatillon and Cardinal Pandulph; Howard W. Overshown as Philip King of France, Melun and Peter of Pomfret; Brian Reisman as Robert Faulconbridge and Elan Zafir as Hubert.

Scenic Design by Andrew Cohen, Costume Design by Sarah Cubbage, Lighting Design by Max Doolittle.

Through December 2nd at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

Macbeth ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 13, 2018

Scotland has a new king in Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes)
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet

Don’t you just love it when the wicked get their comeuppance? I find it deeply satisfying to witness how greed and unbridled ambition must pay the devil their due.  We need more of this.  Huzzah, MacDuff! Huzzah, Malcolm!  Hey there, Feason!  You nailed the bastard and his scheming bride with the not inconsequential assistance of a 10,000-man English army.  That’s not meant to be a spoiler.  You already knew the ending.  As Shakespeare once famously wrote, “The play’s the thing,” and this thing is delicious! And ghoulish… with a zombie ex-king, Duncan, who stalks his murderers with regal aplomb.

Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes, center) explains to the honorable Macduff (Chris Genebach) why he slew Duncan’s chambermen. Witches (Rachael Montgomery and Emily Noël) look on.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Director Robert Richmond has re-imagined this classic from Sir William Davenant’s adaption from the mid-17th century.  It is also reminiscent of the tradition of le ‘Grand Guignol’, the 19th century Parisian theatre of horror plays.  “Oh, horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart cannot conceive or name thee,” warns Macduff.  Set in London’s notorious chamber of horrors, Bedlam Hospital, and performed against a background of delightful Restoration-era music by the Folger Consort, this Macbeth includes lilting operatic ditties, Enya-esque ballads and the haunting sounds of distant Scottish bagpipes. 

King Duncan (Louis Butelli, second from left) in performance with the wayward sisters (l to r: Emily Noël, Rachael Montgomery, Ethan Watermeier) in Folger Theatre’s Restoration-era production of Macbeth.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

It opens with the inmates rehearsing for a performance for the King in the insane asylum.  This play-within-a-play is a clever device for setting up the equivalent madness that follows.  Most beguiling, are the Three Sisters (one who is in drag for a soupçon of levity) who conspire to terrorize Macbeth and his wife at every gory turn to the bizarrely antithetical tune of classical Elizabethan music.  Their danse macabre in the double, double toil and trouble scene will be etched in my brain forever.  Never have prophesies and spells been such glorious, gory fun!  Sound Designer Matt Otto heightens the atmosphere with shrieking crows, hooting owls and subtle reverb to mimic the echoing that would be heard within the walls of a cavernous castle lit by lanterns and candles and the cauldron’s flame.  Was that the aroma of frankincense I detected?

The witches (Ethan Watermeier and Rachael Montgomery) and Hecate, possessing the body of young Fleance (Owen Peakes) in Folger Theatre’s Macbeth.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

With Helen Hayes Award winners, the glorious Kate Eastwood Norris as Lady Macbeth and Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth, Louis Butelli as Duncan, Chris Genebach as Macduff, Rafael Sebastian as Malcolm, Karen Peakes as Lady Macduff, Rachael Montgomery, Ethan Watermeier and Emily Noël as the Witches, Jeff Keogh as Seyton, Andhy Mendez as Banquo, Owen Peakes as Fleance, John Floyd as Donalbain and Jaysen Wright as Lennox.  

Music Direction by Robert Eisenstein, Scenic Design by Tony Cisek, period Costume Design by Mariah Anzaldo Hale, Lighting Design by Andrew F. Griffin and Fight Choreography by Cliff Williams III.

Macduff (Chris Genebach) places the crown of Scotland on Malcolm (Rafael Sebastian), with Donalbain (John Floyd, far right) and company looking on.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Highly recommended.  If you’re not ready for Guy Fawkes Night or All Hallow’s Eve after seeing this, you never will be. 

Through September 23rd at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.  For tickets and
information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

 You can listen to a specially playlist curated on Spotify.

Playlist of English Restoration music

Saint Joan ~ Folger Theatre

Bedlam Theater Company
May 16, 2018 

A dizzying modernized version of George Bernard Shaw’s notable play, Saint Joan, is now at the Folger Theatre presented by the New York-based Bedlam theater company.  Historically, and even contemporarily, it’s relevant to the discussion of church v. state v. the ruling classes.  That’s what Joan, or Jeanne as the French have it, is all about. Whether tis nobler to have the church or nobility or the patriarchy back your lofty ideals, is the question.  Alas, in the end, poor Joan managed to piss them all off.

Robert de Baudricourt (Eric Tucker) tries in vain to put the peasant girl, Joan (Dria Brown) in her rightful place. Photo by Teresa Wood.

In the relentlessly verbose classic, four characters take on twenty-five roles, some switching roles mid-paragraph.  Joan is the only character that stays herself.  It’s clever.  There are tons of funny bits, but after nearly three hours it feels overly long. Besides, knowing her fiery ending as well as her legacy, it seems more than a little overblown to listen to repeated reassessments of both her value (initially they bought into her hearing voices) and her condemnation as a heretic which came after she led the French to victory.

Is it instructive?  Yes.  Is it well-acted?  To a person.  Does it speak to our modern sensibilities?  Somewhat.  In an age of serfdom, where knights were ransommed and the church and aristocracy reigned supreme, landowners had great sway.  One’s family dictated one’s ultimate station in life and thus one’s future opportunities.  Joan broke too many rules, most importantly the one that didn’t allow women to leave their household duties, don armor and go to war.  So as a feminist piece, it is culturally interesting that Shaw thought it important to write of the inequality of the sexes.  As a religious diatribe, the Church feels threatened by Mohammad, calling him the anti-Christ.  They accuse Joan of being a nationalist and call out the Jews as treacherous.  And their justifications for burning her at the stake, are entirely self-serving.  As social commentary, the interest lies in the playwright’s condemnation of the church and the folly of the aristocracy.

The Earl of Warwick (Eric Tucker, left) discusses the fate of Joan of Arc with the Bishop of Beauvais (Sam Massaro), as chaplain John de Stogumber (Edmund Lewis) listens intently in Saint Joan. Photo by Teresa Wood.

But in our modern world, with a pope who has a social conscience, nobility who has little influence, and governments who rule predominantly by individual vote, would we have a Joan of Arc?  Today we call them cult leaders, known in the 15th century as sorcerers, and they are equally reviled.  Mostly for good reason.

But we come to like this true-hearted teenager who is dogged in her determination to save France from the expansionist policies of England. “There is something about the girl,” as the bishops and the Dauphin acknowledge.

Brother John Lemaitre, the Inquisitor (Eric Tucker) and John de Stomgumber (Edmund Lewis) await the trial of Joan in Saint Joan at Folger Theatre. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Bedlam’s Artistic Director Eric Tucker (who also created the costumes and sound design) uses every trick in the book to keep it fresh – sight gags, pratfalls and slow-motion fights.  A dozen or more audience members are invited to sit onstage adding to the immediacy of the response.  I must say, I don’t know how the actors find their way around all the chairs and spout their lines without taking notice of their proximity.  No mean feat!

The Inquisitor (Eric Tucker) leads the accused Joan (Dria Brown) to her seat to stand trial in Bedlam’s Saint Joan. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Be your own critic, especially if you love Shaw.  After all, Bedlam’s staging of Saint Joan was honored by Time magazine as a Top Ten Play and listed in the New York Times’ Best of Theater list.

Lighting by Les Dickert.  Roles played by Dria Brown as Joan; Edmund Lewis as the Dauphin, John de Stogumber and others; Sam Massaro as Cauchon, Poulengey and others; and Eric Tucker as Dunois, Warwick and others.

Through June 10th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit online.