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.

The Way of the World ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
January 19, 2018 

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) is charmed by Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley) at an art exhibit in the Hamptons.  (Also pictured: Erica Dorfler and Brandon Espinoza.) . Photo by Teresa Wood

Playwright and Director Theresa Rebeck’s campy, modern adaptation of The Way of the World is one of the early offerings in the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival – on now in theaters around the Washington metropolitan area.  Rebeck is best known as creator/writer of TV’s “Smash” and “NYPD Blue” and movie “Harriet the Spy”.  In this funny, frothy, scandalous satire, whose original author was 18th C playwright William Congreve, Rebeck switches the setting to the Hamptons – the Gatsbyesque playground of the rich and infamous.  That small change of venue proves a deliciously, decadent environs for the classic tangle between the upper crust and the hoi polloi.

Henry (Luigi Sottile) and friend Charles (Brandon Espinoza, right) enjoy a cocktail and the Hamptons’ sun. Photo by Teresa Wood

Henry (Luigi Sottile) and friend Charles (Brandon Espinoza, right) enjoy a cocktail and the Hamptons’ sun. Photo by Teresa Wood

Sipping twee blue martinis between gossipy luncheons and romps between the sheets, the self-anointed ones tend to their wardrobes and painted lawns.  Apparently, vivid green grass is a must at the posher seaside estates.

Blonde beauty Mae (Eliza Huberth) is heiress to a $600 million fortune.  Do the summer studs want her for her money or her leggy good looks?  What do you think?  Her cougar, dowager aunt René is too busy playing musical beds to care.  When we meet Henry (Luigi Sottile), a notable gadabout and serial cad, he has just broken Mae’s heart.  “To hell with men!” the ladies concur, seconded by the Waitress (Ashley Austin Morris), an out-of-town summer hire who voices the outsider’s view of all this mayhem and reckless acquisitiveness.

Mae doesn’t really give a fig about all that cash.  The Birkenstock-sporting, Prius-driving heiress plans to chuck it all and move to Haiti to tend to the poor.  Not so her bibulous Aunt René (Tony Award nominee Kristine Nielsen – think Joanna Lumley as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous).  As guardian of Mae’s funds, René prefers the lavish life suggesting she does her bit for the less fortunate.  “We employ the 99%!  We are the curators of the American legacy!”

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) gets to know the enigmatic Lyle Swofford (Daniel Morgan Shelley) of Nantucket. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) gets to know the enigmatic Lyle Swofford (Daniel Morgan Shelley) of Nantucket. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As with summer season in the Hamptons, it is all about hookups at night and shopping tony boutiques during the day.  That’s where the pretty Katrina (Erica Dorfler) comes in.  As salesgirl and part-time model of Charles’ designer fashions, she has her nose in everyone’s business, especially her gays, both Charles (Brandon Espinoza) and Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley), a scion from Nantucket in town for the season and eager to please his cousin Reg (Elan Zafir), a Peter Pan preppy looking for love.

Hamptonites Katrina (Erica Dorfler), Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley, center), and Charles (Brandon Espinoza) enjoy a cocktail and watch the estate lawn get painted a pristine green. Photo by Teresa Wood

Hamptonites Katrina (Erica Dorfler), Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley, center), and Charles (Brandon Espinoza) enjoy a cocktail and watch the estate lawn get painted a pristine green. Photo by Teresa Wood

As you might expect, the amours and dalliances crisscross between the characters and hilarity ensues – a great deal of it in this delightfully silly and cleverly crafted comedy – where Set Designer Alexander Dodge renders us speechless with a floor-to-ceiling series of spotlit boxes filled with luxe shoes and assorted bibelots and beds that revolve to reveal illicit rendezvous.  As for the decidedly stylish fashions, we have Costume Designer Linda Cho to thank for that.

Very clever and riotously funny.  Highly recommended.

Through February 11th 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.

For more on the Women’s Voices Theater Festival that runs throughout January and February.  And to find the theaters featuring the women playwrights’ productions.

Antony and Cleopatra ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 19, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

A moment of flirtatious play between Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) and his Cleopatra (Shirine Babb). Photo by Teresa Wood.

A moment of flirtatious play between Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) and his Cleopatra (Shirine Babb). Photo by Teresa Wood.

“Kingdoms are clay,” warns Antony to his beloved Cleopatra in the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra.  Even the Soothsayer foretells their downfall and the untimely demise of the lovers.  But dire prophesies do not dissuade the ego-centric Antony from fulfilling his desires, nor us from enjoying this lightly condensed version of one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays.  And though both Romans and Egyptians tended to heed the warnings from mythological Gods and Goddesses, what the heck?  They were human, after all, notwithstanding their respective royal bubbles.

A meeting of Rome’s leaders, the triumvirate. Pictured left to right: Robbie Gay (Lepidus), Dylan Paul (Octavius Caesar), Cody Nickell (Mark Antony), with Chris Genebach (Agrippa) looking on the proceeding. Photo by Teresa Wood.

A meeting of Rome’s leaders, the triumvirate. Pictured left to right: Robbie Gay (Lepidus), Dylan Paul (Octavius Caesar), Cody Nickell (Mark Antony), with Chris Genebach (Agrippa) looking on the proceeding. Photo by Teresa Wood.

From the get go Antony knows his love for his lusty queen is doomed, yet he is so besotted, so incapable of making intelligent decisions, that he ignores the sage advice of Octavius Caesar and his military leader Lepidus to abandon his pursuit of Cleopatra.  With one foot in Egypt and the other in Rome, he is utterly conflicted.  Love, or country?  It’s complicated – especially to those lost in lust.

Performed in the round with a revolving circular platform on center stage, the production is intimate, energetic and action-packed.  Director Robert Richmond calls Tony Cisek’s set design “gladiatorial”, which makes for a perfectly suited space to view hyper-electrifying of combat and romance as emotions swing to and fro like an amped up pendulum.

Mardian (John Floyd) and Charmian (Simoné Elizabeth Bart) tend to their Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Mardian (John Floyd) and Charmian (Simoné Elizabeth Bart) tend to their Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Shirine Babb’s Cleopatra is ruthless and fierce yet with a sensual nature that challenges Antony to meet her impossible demands.  It’s a formidable counterbalance to Cody Nickell’s fiery, bombastic, delusional Antony and evident in their playful love scenes that skew modern (we don’t feel as though we’re hanging around in 40 BC), as well as adding punch to their wittily flip, and ferociously bruising, quarrels.  As two of the most powerful figures of their time, their impetuous decisions and recurrent contretemps (Are they getting along today, or not?) affected whole nations and the future of the known world.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) gives comfort to her dying Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) . Photo by Teresa Wood.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) gives comfort to her dying Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) . Photo by Teresa Wood.

In this vivid portrait of two lovers, both rulers and conquerors, we see two megalomaniacs locked in battle for dominance while vulnerable to their unbridled passions.  Whether it’s a battle scene executed in dance form by the soldiers or a love scene framed by a silk-draped bed, Costume Designer Mariah Hale gives us diaphanous, gem-colored gowns for the ladies with a glittering, golden cloche for Queen Cleopatra, and leather-girded and metal-studded togas with silken scarlet capes for the men.  Dramatic scene-enhancing moods set by Adam Stamper on sound design and Andrew F. Griffin on lighting.

Highly recommended.

With Simone Elizabeth Bart as Charmian; John Floyd as Mardian; Robbie Gay as Lepidus and Dolabella; Chris Genebach as Agrippa; Nigel Gore as Enobarbus; Nicole King as Iras and Octavia; Anthony Michael Martinez as Soothsayer and Eros; and Dylan Paul as Octavius Caesar.

Through November 19th 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.

Timon of Athens ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 10, 2017 

Dinner at the home of Timon. Pictured left to right: Michael Dix Thomas, Sean Fri, Kathryn Tkel, Ian Merrill Peakes (center, as Timon), Andhy Mendez, Louis Butelli, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (with Eric Hissom top left). - Photo by Teresa Wood

Dinner at the home of Timon. Pictured left to right: Michael Dix Thomas, Sean Fri, Kathryn Tkel, Ian Merrill Peakes (center, as Timon), Andhy Mendez, Louis Butelli, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (with Eric Hissom top left). – Photo by Teresa Wood

In the high-tech world of fingerprint readers and cell phones, venture capitalists and politicians, Timon collects friends of all stripes.  From artists and philosophers to shop owners and Senators, he entertains them lavishly with Lucullan banquets and gifts of gold and jewels.  “More welcome are you to my fortunes, than they to me,” he says, oozing beneficence from every pore.  Is he seeking favor, or merely attempting to keep his friends close and his enemies closer?

Timon of Athens is a tragedy so seldom performed that audiences may be unfamiliar with it.  It is often snubbed by scholars, which is a pity, for I found some of Shakespeare’s richest prose in this play.  Director Robert Richmond imagines Timon (Ian Merrill Peakes) as a sharkskin suit-sporting businessman enjoying unfettered loyalty from his peers and associates and reveling in their idolatry.  But when friendship comes through financial generosity, is it true?

Cupid (John Floyd) and dancers Phrynia (Aliyah Caldwell, left) and Timandra (Amanda Forstrom) entertain Timon and his party guests - Photo by Teresa Wood

Cupid (John Floyd) and dancers Phrynia (Aliyah Caldwell, left) and Timandra (Amanda Forstrom) entertain Timon and his party guests – Photo by Teresa Wood

We soon discern that only two members of Timon’s coterie are his true friends – Apemantus (Eric Hissom), who delights in bursting Timon’s utopian bubble regarding his fair weather friends, and Flavius (Antoinette Robinson) his faithful servant, whose warnings of his imminent financial ruin fall on deaf ears.

Timon’s downfall doesn’t come without a challenge to the friends who deserted him. He invites them to a banquet where they arrive believing that he has regained his fortunes.  They believe they will again be the recipients of his fortune and are off the hook for abandoning him.  But Timon, who has seen the light and wants payback, serves up a tureen of excrement to his unsuspecting guests.  “I’m sick of this false world,” he confesses.

Banished Alcibiades (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, left) confronts his old companion Timon (Ian Merrill Peakes) - Photo by Teresa Wood

Banished Alcibiades (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, left) confronts his old companion Timon (Ian Merrill Peakes) – Photo by Teresa Wood

Throughout his emotional turmoil, Athens’ war is raging and Matt Otto’s soundtrack of the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gunfire reminds us of Timon’s precarious state and Greece’s uncertain future.

Francesca Talenti’s clever use of a slim band of video projections to introduce the characters is a novel and much appreciated approach to remembering who’s who.  Seeing their names along with their professions projected above their heads as they enter the scene is useful when seeing an unfamiliar play.  It’s later used by Timon as a video selfie when he is reflecting on his life during his darkest hour.

“Undone by goodness.” Ian Merrill Peakes as Timon of Athens - Photo by Teresa Wood

“Undone by goodness.” Ian Merrill Peakes as Timon of Athens – Photo by Teresa Wood

Scenic Designer Tony Cisek turns the theater’s English Tudor style into a sleek modernistic set with multiple entries and a two-level balconied catwalk, perfect for spouting edicts or watching your own destruction.

I can’t say enough about Peakes’ boundless energy, his superb ability veer from joy to pathos, as Timon goes from wealth and generosity to the madness of poverty, loneliness and utter despair.  The entire cast is wonderful.  I could see this play again and again.

I don’t give out stars, so I’ll just lend them.  All five to this stellar production.  See it!

Through June 11th 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.

As You Like It ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
January 28, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Rosalind (Lindsay Alexandra Carter) is suddenly taken aback at the Duke’s masked ball in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. (also pictured, l to r: Kimberly Chatterjee, Cody Wilson, Aaron Krohn, Brian Reisman.) On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Rosalind (Lindsay Alexandra Carter) is suddenly taken aback at the Duke’s masked ball in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. (also pictured, l to r: Kimberly Chatterjee, Cody Wilson, Aaron Krohn, Brian Reisman.) On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

This most irreverent version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It comes at a time when we could all use a little levity.  But it’s not just the humor that’s on point here.  It’s the performances by this outstanding cast that gives us the hopefulness that’s required in these uncertain times.

Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch has homed in on the irresistible Lindsay Alexandra Carter who plays our heroine Rosalind in this lively production.  Carter is a hundred times adorable, delightfully feisty and endearing as the woman who gets her man by pretending to be a sort of male Ann Landers to her love target, Orlando (Lorenzo Roberts).  As she schools him in how to capture the heart of, well, yes! herself, she delivers one of the best interpretations of the role of Rosalind.  And for that, we can be deliriously grateful.

Tom Story as the philosophic misanthrope Jaques in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. On stage January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Tom Story as the philosophic misanthrope Jaques in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. On stage January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

All this plays out in the Forest of Arden where Rosalind repairs with Celia after being been banished from the kingdom by her uncle, the villainous Duke Frederick, father to Celia (Antoinette Robinson).  Frederick has stolen the royal lands from her father, Duke Senior, and banished him into exile in the Forest of Arden.  Oliver (Michael Glenn), Orlando’s elder brother, is the scoundrel who has stolen his fortune.  That they all wind up in the scary forests of Arden, is the coolest contrivance ever.

The witty Touchstone (Aaron Krohn) shows off his wooing prowess to Audrey (Kimberly Chatterjee) in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It. On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The witty Touchstone (Aaron Krohn) shows off his wooing prowess to Audrey (Kimberly Chatterjee) in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It. On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Others of note are Allen McCollough as both Dukes.  A bit restrained as Frederick, but far more convincing as Duke Senior.  The wonderful Tom Story as Jaques who philosophizes on man’s “seven ages” and has the “All the world’s a stage” lines we had to memorize in school.  His delivery of this iconic speech, carries the weight of justice served.  And Touchstone the courtier, played to perfection by Aaron Krohn, who presents us with a mashup of Steve Martin and Jim Carrey clad in the sort of outlandish suits you’d expect from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Costume Designer, Charlotte Palmer-Lane puts the characters in contemporary styles (Will Hayes as Charles in spandex), while Composer Heather Christian ties it together with a mashup of music that ranges from Blues to Beat Box and madrigals to Israeli folk tunes.  We are going to need a lot more of this lighthearted silliness to counteract the daily news feed.

Highly recommended to soothe the spirit and tickle the funny bone.

Through March 5th 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.

The cast of Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in exuberant song. On stage, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The cast of Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in exuberant song. On stage, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.