Love’s Labor’s Lost ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 6, 2019 

The King of Navarre (Joshua David Robinson) has a word for the ladies of France (l to r: Yesenia Iglesias, Chani Wereley, Kelsey Rainwater). Photo by Brittany Diliberto

One of Shakespeare’s most delightful rom-coms has arrived with a fresh, new take thanks to Director Vivienne Benesch.  Set in the 1930’s with lots of modern-day dialogue, hilarious puns and wicked asides, and contemporary twists on the characters, this witty play provides plenty of laughs at the expense of egotistical, narcissistic lords who, obeying their King’s decree, forswear women, food and sleep in pursuit of higher learning.  Unfortunately for these knaves, their willpower is weak, and the ladies’ is strong.  “Young blood doth not obey an old decree,” sayeth Berowne.  It’s a sort of #MeToo for the Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting as they lure the men, then conspire to trick them into making fools of themselves.

The King of Navarre (Joshua David Robinson, top) proclaims his court as a place of scholarly pursuit to his companions (Zachary Fine, Jack Schmitt, Matt Dallal). Photo by Brittany Diliberto

It would be just the ticket for coquettish larks, except that the women in this production can’t seem to carry it off.  I’ve never seen a cast so off-balance.  The male actors are brilliant, but the women are stilted and dull, and when they prank the men, it just seems like a gang of angry harpies, as opposed to a bit of a romp with a wink and a nod.  It’s almost as if they rehearsed in different theaters.  Perhaps it would have worked better had Shakespeare himself cast it, due to his predilection for all-male casts.

Zachary Fine as Berowne, Eric Hissom as Don Armado, Louis Butelli as Holofernes. Photo credit Brittany Diliberto

Zachary Fine as Berowne, one of the lords, is flat out, award-winning caliber, fantastic.  Totally engaging and utterly believable, he is riveting to watch in his hapless pursuit of forbidden love.  Eric Hissom as Don Armado gives us one crazy-ass Spaniard whose struggles to command the English language whilst mooning over unrequited love, will have you in stitches.  And, for added comic relief, Louis Butelli as Holofernes, the tweed-sporting pedantic who overemphasizes his diction, quite nearly steals the show, though he has some competition from Edmund Lewis as Costard, a tool belt-sporting slave who fumbles everything.

Jaquenetta (Tonya Beckman) and her admirer Costard (Edmund Lewis) in Love’s Labor’s Lost. Photo by Brittany Diliberto

There is a great deal of physical comedy for the men – in one scene they wrestle in pajamas, in another they visit the women disguised as dancing Cossacks – whereas the women just seem to stand around gossiping and griping in pretty clothes.  Not so for Susan Romeas Nathaniel whose comic flirtations with Holofernes afford us with some of the funniest, pinkies-out moments of the play.  Rome plays Nathaniel as a lady with lightning-quick aplomb.

Lee Savage’s set design is so fox clever, you have to wonder why it’s never been done before.  A reconstruction of the Folger’s own two-tiered Paster Reading Room, replete with green reading lamps, old books and stained glass window provide the perfect backdrop to the King’s demand for serious study.  The aisles provide the rest, leaving the actors to personally connect with the audience.

So, two casts – male and female – that seem to be in entirely different plays.  More’s the pity.

With Joshua David Robinson as King of Navarre; Amelia Pedlowas Princess of France; Megan Graves as Mote; Yesenia Iglesias as Maria; Kelsey Rainwater as Rosaline; Matt Dallal as Longaville; Jack Schmitt as Dumaine; Chani Wereley as Katherine; Josh Adams as Dull and Marcade; and Tonya Beckman as Boyet and Jaquenetta.

Lighting by Colin K. Bills; Costume Design by Tracy Christensen; Original Music and Sound Design by Lindsay Jones.

Through June 9that 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 website.  To follow discussions of Shakespeare’s world with some of today’s leading artists, authors and scholars you’ll find Shakespeare Unlimited podcasts entitled “Will & Our World” at www.Folger.edu/unlimited.  These are free wherever you get your podcasts.

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