Vanity Fair ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
March 7, 2019 

“There are no morals here.”  So, buckle up.  Kate Hamill’s uproarious comedy delivers a bloomers-up package from the get-go, cribbing from William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel of social climbers.

The Cast ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Dan Hiatt plays the ‘Manager’, emcee of the Strand Music Hall where vaudeville has found a new and popular audience with Victorian burlesque.  The characters are introduced to the audience as actors, though they become other characters willy-nilly.  Little Becky Sharp, an orphan of sharp tongue and keen wit, is preparing to leave the Pinkerton Academy and assume her position as a nanny in the home of a lecherous baron, but not before she sticks it to the headmistress in a snarky farewell that shows her rebelliousness.  Before shoving off, Becky and her well-heeled bestie, Amelia Sedley, promise they will be BFF’s forever.

Anthony Michael Lopez as Miss Pinkerton and Vincent Randazzo as Miss Jemima in Vanity Fair by Scott Suchman. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

But to what end?  As the Manager asks of the audience, “Do we really mean it when we say we will always be best friends forever?”  Here friendships are challenged, ladies are as cavalier as the men, and marrying up the ladder is the goal.  A dinner party cleverly lit in freeze frames shows how reckless in relationships they all are.  “Licentiousness is the wicked world of the theater,” we are warned.  Are we active players in the plot or are we just spectators of a play?

Rebekah Brockman as Becky Sharp and Maribel Martinez as Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair by Scott Suchman. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Lines are blurred, both in character portrayals and devious intent (men in drag, cutouts, and puppets figure into this small but mighty cast), and you can’t be assured of anyone’s motives when fortunes are won and lost, and everyone is chasing the money.  For this social set cuckolding is the norm, and one person’s misfortunes are fodder for another’s devious gain.  “Fortunes change and loyalties follow,” quoth the Manager.  Lucky us, we have all the fun watching these topsy-turvy machinations.

Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan as Lesser Pit, Vincent Randazzo as Sir Pitt and Anthony Michael Lopez as Rose Crawley in Vanity Fair. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

I’ll admit, for the first five minutes in, I had no earthly idea where this comedy was going.  And by the end, I had no idea where it had taken me.  One minute they play it straight by addressing the audience, and the next it seems like a hilarious farce.  No matter.  It’s a madcap romp that will keep you in stitches.

Rebekah Brockman as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Rebekah Brockman plays Becky with a delightfully devilish air.  Her intrinsic appeal is that she has the ability to morph into a sympathetic character as speedily as one who holds all the cards.  Cheers to Maribel Martinez as Amelia Sedley who has to make a total turnaround in character when she discovers true love has been staring her right in the eye, and to Dan Hiatt, as the Manager, plus Miss Matilda and Lord Steyne, who alters his gender like a chameleon changes color.

The cast of Vanity Fair. Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Additional cast members – Alyssa Wilmoth as Actor Four (George, etc.); Anthony Michael Lopez as Actor Three (Dobbin, etc.); Adam Magill as Actor Two (Rawdon, etc.) and Vincent Randazzo as Actor Five (Jos, etc.).

Directed by Jessica Stone, Sets by Alexander Dodge, Costumes by Jennifer Moeller, Lighting by David Weiner, Choreographed by Connor GallagherJane Shaw Sound Designer and Composer.

Through March 31st at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Richard III ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
February 15, 2019 

Richard, bloody Richard the Third.  Thirteen murders for a single crown.  The Grim Reaper visits this drama so frequently it’s hard to keep count.  Staged in what appears to be a prison somewhere in, oh well, pick somewhere obscure, let’s say Alabama circa 1920’s, where concrete walls and hidden rooms pop out to reveal spotlighted men hanging by chains.  Pile on the poisonings, force feedings, hot cauldrons and decapitation and you’ve got no more than you might see in an R-rated flick.  Let’s say The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, shall we?  Oh, right, there is a chainsaw here too.  Is that how we want to see Shakespeare’s prose come to life?  That it is well-acted, is not in question.  That it is maximumly dark and catering to extreme tastes, is manifestly certain.  Is it really necessary to reenact each one of Richard’s gruesome crimes?

Matthew Rauch as Richard, Duke of Gloucester in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of ‘Richard the Third.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

“I am determined to prove a villain,” Richard claims in his opening line, and wow! is he spot on.  His threats, killings and demands of loyalty are that of a Mafia kingpin.  Director David Muse gives us a chorus of leather strap-snapping executioners and jailers who slick-sharpen their knives while taunting their next victim.  And, though they lurk in shadow, his henchmen are always ready to provide their murderous services.  Plus, they do an especially good job of mopping up the stage after each bloodbath.

In the Director’s Notes, Muse refers to the play as “…a pantry of tasty ingredients rather than a perfectly put-together recipe.”  I can’t say food came to mind when I slogged through these ritualistic killings interspersed with Richard’s nefarious manipulations of his subjects.  Maybe I have too delicate a constitution.  Couldn’t we leave something to the imagination?  In this production, Muse has admittedly condensed acts, changed words and altered characters to adapt to a two-hour time frame for what he refers to as the “modern audience”, but what is left is jam-packed with fratricidal murder and mayhem from beginning to end.  As this homicidal maniac admits, “I am in so far in blood that sin will pluck on sin.”  These days we might refer to him as a serial killer.

The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘Richard the Third.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Notwithstanding all the blood and gore, I was particularly taken by certain performances.  Most especially the extraordinary Lizan Mitchell as Queen Margaret of Anjou, the prophetess; Sofia Cheyenne as the Mayor of London; and I have to hand it to Matthew Rauch as Richard III.  He has to do this for the entire run of the play.

With David Bishins as King Edward IV and Sir Richard Ratcliffe; Cody Nickell as George, Duke of Clarence and James Tyrrel; Sandra Shipley as Duchess of York; Charlie Niccolini as Prince Edward; Logan Matthew Baker as Young Duke of York; Lizan Mitchell as Margaret of Anjou; Cara Ricketts as Lady Anne of Neville; Robynn Rodriguez as Queen Elizabeth; Todd Scofield as Earl of Rivers; Jonathan Feuer as Lord Gray; Christopher Michael McFarland as Duke of Buckingham; Derrick Lee Weeden as Lord Hastings; Michael Rudko as Lord Stanley; Evelyn Spahr as Earl of Richmond; John Keabler as Sir William Catesby; Sam Midwood as Lord Lovel; Harry A. Winter as Archbishop of Canterbury; Ahmad Kamal as Brakenbury; David Ryan Smith as Murderer 1; and Matthew Aldwin McGee as Murderer 2.

Dramaturg, Drew Lichtenberg; Scenic Designer, Debra Booth; Costume Designer, Murell Horton; and Lighting Designer Lap Chi Chu.

Warning: This production includes graphic depictions of violence, including violence against women and children, which may not be suitable for all audiences.

Through March 10th at Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The Panties, The Profit and The Partner ~ Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
December 14, 2018 

The curiously clever and titillating thread that runs through David Ives’ hilarious trio of comedies is a pair of red silk panties that keeps turning up in the oddest places.  If that doesn’t make you sit up and beg to know more, I don’t know what will.

Ives has taken inspiration from Carl Sternheim whose writings were between the repressive era of Wilhelmine Germany and the chaos of the Weimar Republic.  These, however, are set it in modern times.  As Ives notes, it is very, very loosely based on Sternheim’s satirical work about a socially ambitious, middle class family.  The production is directed by the brilliant Michael Kahn.

If you enjoyed Ives’ “translaptations” of French comedies – The Metromaniacs, The Liar and The School for Lies – you will fall hard for this riotous gem.  “The Panties” is set in 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts on the July 4th holiday.  A young couple goes into town to watch a parade when the wife’s white panties burst their elastic moorings and go southward as witnessed by their neighbors.  Oh, the humiliation, as Joseph berates his wife, Louise, whose friend, Trudy, gifts her a pair of red silk panties – all the better to seduce the couples’ newest tenant Jock Revere and cuckold her husband.  “A white cloud about her feet,” rhapsodizes Jock, a self-proclaimed poet who swooned over her panties’ descent.

Unfortunately for Jock, Louise falls for another new tenant, this one the hapless, Jewish hairdresser, Benjamin, who’s a bit of a perv.  At the same time, Joseph locks eyes with new neighbor, Jones, a lady gym coach, and the game’s afoot. 

In “The Profit”, we are fast forwarded to the coke-fueled, mid-80’s where Wall Street go-getter Christian is desperate to make partner in the Wasp-dominated Hamilton, Shaker & Shaw.  His sponsor is his paramour, Sybil, a blue-chip heiress whose recommendation demands hot sex, peppered by blackmail.  When his blue-collar parents arrive to spoil his scion façade, will he play it her way or not?  Let’s just say there’s a body in the closet and much mayhem to consider when the airhead daughter of the firm’s CEO, William Hamilton, arrives.

 

Lastly, in “The Profit”, we are transported to modern day Malibu and the fabulous seaside home of Louise who is having an emotional breakdown.  Her sister, Ursula, clad in sackcloth and rocking a New Age mindset, has dissolved the family fortune and Louise will lose her billionaire LA lifestyle along with her umbilically attached cellphone and in-house robot.  A rabbi, a homeless surfer dude and a giant sea snake augur the end of the world in this madcap folly.  Did I mention they are related?  You will see.  And you will love it.  The cast is formidable and fierce.

Highly recommended.

With Carson Elrod as Joseph Mask and Joe Jones; Kimberly Gilbert as Louise Mask; Julia Coffey as Trudy Rezner, Sybil Rittenhouse and Omega; Tony Roach as Jock Revere, William Hamilton and Jack Revere; Kevin Isola as Benjamin Mandelshtam, Christian Mask and Rabbi Mandelshtam; and Turna Mete as Young Woman, Milly Hamilton and Ursula Mask.

Costumes by Frank Labovitz, Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler, and original music and sound design by Elisheba Ittoop.

Through January 6th at the Lansburgh Theatre  – 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547.1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

 

The Cast

An Inspector Calls ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall

Jordan Wright
November 28, 2018 

“We don’t live alone.  We are members of one society.  We are responsible for each other.  And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”  These are the words of the Inspector.  They are as applicable today as they were when J. B. Priestley penned this thriller during the time of the London Blitz.

(l-r) Jeff Harmas as Mr. Birling, Hamish Riddle as Eric Birling and Andrew Macklin as Gerald Croft in An Inspector Call. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Inspired by the English poet John Donne who wrote the indelible phrase, “No man is an island”, Priestley was moved by his desire to see social change.  His play debuted in London in 1946.  This recent iteration, re-worked by Director Stephen Daldry of Billy Elliot and The Crown fame, is performed by the British cast and kicks off a major U. S. tour.  Winner of 19 major accolades, including multiple Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk Awards, it is the longest running revival of a play in history.  Shakespeare Theatre Company, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Great Britain, presents this classic play on the anniversary of philanthropist Sidney Harman’s 100th birthday.

Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole and the cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

The drama opens to haunting atmospherics.  Fog as thick as pea soup wailing sirens and the sound of bombs place us at the height of wartime London towards the end of the Edwardian Era.  The Birlings, well-ensconced in their elegant home, are celebrating their daughter Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft – who by all measure is cut from the same cloth.  The parents and son Eric are eager to welcome Gerald into their well-heeled family circle, though Mr. Birling, anticipating a knighthood that will propel him into the ranks of the royals, warns Gerald to be on his best behavior until then.  A small boy, acting as silent witness, appears to be a metaphor for the impending downfall of a family and the struggles of the most vulnerable, as he raises the curtain, lifting it up to afford himself a view of how the upper crust lives.  That the grownups will become entangled in the suicide of a beautiful, young woman is the train that drives the mystery.

Christine Kavanagh as Mrs. Birling, Jeff Harmer as Mr. Birling and Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Hitchcockian overtones combined with a brilliant set design by Ian MacNeil, seemingly straight out of a Tim Burton movie, lend an eerie atmosphere to a plot that unfolds through Inspector Goole’s careful line of questioning.  And just when you think the story will have a predictable outcome, it goes all topsy-turvy, several times over.  In a bizarre chain of events that appears to tie the girl to each character, we watch a privileged family become unhinged and witness a whodunnit that will have you at the edge of your seat.

Diana Payne-Myers as Edna and Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

A rare treat for theatregoers.

With a brilliant cast consisting of Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole; Christine Kavanaugh as Mrs. Birling; Jeff Harmer as Mr. Birling; Andrew Macklin as Gerald Croft; Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling; Hamish Riddle as Eric Birling; Diana Payne-Myers as Edna; and David Curry III as the boy.

Stephen Daldry, Director; Julian Webber, Associate Director; Ian MacNeil, Scenic and Costume Designer; Rick Fisher, Lighting Designer; Stephen Warbeck, Music; Sebastian Frost, Sound Designer; Charlotte Peters, Associate Director (Tour).

Through December 23rd at Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Twelfth Night ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company At Sidney Harman Hall

Jordan Wright
November 22, 2017

Antoinette Robinson as Viola - Photo credit Scott Suchman

Antoinette Robinson as Viola – Photo credit Scott Suchman

The last words you’d expect to hear while settling into your seat for Twelfth Night, are an airline boarding announcement.  “Thank you for choosing Shakespeare,” the disembodied voice offers up to the audience.  But this is the unorthodox journey you are about to embark on in Director Ethan McSweeney’s fantastic in-flight interpretation of Shakespeare’s text (okay, it’s a tad over-emphasized) and his modern-day application.  In Feste’s own words, “Nothing that is so, is so.”  Count on it.

McSweeny, along with Set Designer Lee Savage, gives us one of the company’s most exciting openings to date.  STC’s soon-to-retire Artistic Director Michael Kahn long ago mentored McSweeny who was told by Kahn to come back in 20 years.  He has.  And it’s paid off handsomely.

Hannah Yelland as Olivia and Antoinette Robinson as Viola in Twelfth Night by Scott Suchman. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Hannah Yelland as Olivia and Antoinette Robinson as Viola. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Set in an international departure lounge our characters line up for airport security checkpoints only to soon be tossed about like ragdolls when a freak snowstorm throws their plane off-course.  Viola (Antoinette Robinson) surrounded by the plane’s lost baggage, regains consciousness amid the blowing snow.  If at this point you aren’t sitting straight up in your seat with your jaw hanging open, go home.  If you are, then you’re in for a wild ride worthy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” meets Fellini.

McSweeney has chosen a modernist stage setting never before utilized in Sidney Harman Hall.  Side walls are stripped away to reveal the theater’s original configuration when it was once expected to double as a concert venue.  It is surprisingly beautiful with dark wood paneling, high walls, viewable side walkways, and elevated catwalk.

Andrew Weems as Sir Toby Belch, Derek Smith as Malvolio and Hearth Saunders as Feste in Twelfth Night by Scott Suchman ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Andrew Weems as Sir Toby Belch, Derek Smith as Malvolio and Hearth Saunders as Feste. ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Though you are undoubtedly familiar with the play’s plot of unattainable love – the Countess Olivia of Illyria (Hannah Yelland) loves Malvolio (Derek Smith) who becomes imprisoned in a dog carrier while sporting full Scottish regalia (he misinterpreted the memo), and Viola loves Sebastian (Paul Deo, Jr.) who thinks she’s his male page, Cesario, etcetera, etcetera.  Here, Fabian (Koral Kent alternates with Tyler Bowman) is imagined as a wanton child, expected to do Sir Toby’s bidding.  There is enough mistaken identity to keep us intently intrigued and plenty of cleverly conceived costuming by Jennifer Moeller to bedazzle and amuse.

Jim Lichtschedl as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Jim Lichtschedl as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Cowardly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jim Lichtscheidl) is portrayed as a wannabe rock star and sports-minded dilettante – think polo, tennis, fencing – who along with Sir Toby Belch (Andrew Weems), a slovenly, bathrobe-clad, karaoke-singing drunkard in love with Maria (Emily Townley), manage to provide enough comic relief for two plays.  Together they lean heavily on cocktails from the on-board beverage cart and lines of cocaine to fuel their madcap revels while Orsino (Bhavesh Patel) and Curio (Matthew Deitchman) whirl about on scooters, entering and exiting the scene in flashy, slim-cut, brocade suits.  To remind us this was written in 1602 with a holiday theme, a Christmas tree figures into a hide-and-seek skit of insanely hilarious proportions.

But it is Feste played brilliantly by Heath Saunders who grounds the goings-on with original music by composer Lindsay Jones.  Saunders, who in real life plays twelve different musical instruments, plays bass and guitar here.  His dulcet voice both anchors and ameliorates the lunacy.

Highly recommended.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through December 20th at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.