The Woman in Black ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
December 9, 2019 

Attention all Brits and Anglophiles!  The festive tradition of vying for the evilest stories during the Christmas season is very much intact.  Based on Susan Hull’s 1983 neo-Gothic novel came the play, the second-longest running production in London’s West End.  It puts us in mind of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” featuring the spooky ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.  This tale of “truth being quite other”, as it’s described, attempts to be a story of haunting and fear.  And the premise that, “It must be told,” becomes the basis for delivering this tale.

Daniel Easton, left, and Robert Goodale star in “The Woman in Black” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photo credit Tristram Kenton

In this atmospherically set two-hander, promoted as “spine-tingling”, the actors trade parts using different accents, subtle costume changes, and a few props, counting on the audience’s imagination to envision the characters’ motives and identities, rather than seeing it all played out.  Eerie sound effects – howling winds, thudding steps, screams, and things that go bump in the night – are the raison d’être for attempting to terrorize the audience.

In it, scenes toggle back and forth between an old man’s spooky story and a young solicitor (who also acts as acting coach to the old man) with the two men trading roles and adopting new ones at the drop of a bowler hat.  I must confess I found it rather sillier, and utterly predictable, than scary, though several audience members did squeal a few times.

Robert Goodale, left, and Daniel Easton in “The Woman in Black.” Photo credit Tristram Kenton

It’s easy to intuit the plot as well as the outcome when the described setting is the dark salt marshes surrounding an isolated house in England’s barren countryside.  Factor in the Nine Lives Bridge that sinks with the tides, further enisling the property and add in a fog-filled graveyard that features prominently as a location for a visiting ghost.  I’m not entirely certain there weren’t baying hounds, but there could have been, so seamlessly would they have figured into this well-acted but clichéd story.

Ah well, you can’t win them all – ghosts notwithstanding.

Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford.  Set and Costume Design by Michael Holt, Lighting Design by Kevin Sleep.  Starring Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps and Daniel Easton as The Actor.

Through December 22nd at the Michael R. Klein Theatre (formerly known as the Lansburgh Theatre) at 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007.  For tickets and information visit  www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/events or call the box office at 202.547.1122.

The Oresteia ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
May 8, 2019 

It’s been many moons since I was immersed in Greek mythology and the travails of  Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who lived together in marital discord in what the prophetess Cassandra called, “the house of spite”.  The tragedy of their lives is a frightfully gruesome allegory from Aeschylus’s original trilogy written in 458 BCE.  It is the only surviving trilogy from ancient Greek theater.

Kelley Curran as Clytemnestra and Simone Warren as Iphigenia in The Oresteia by Scott Suchman.

Later tackled by Eugene O’Neill in Mourning Becomes Electra, the tragedy encompasses Agamemnon’s conquering of Troy, his marriage to Clytemnestra, and the destruction of his family – especially his daughter Electra and son Orestes.  If it had American ratings it would be TV-MA for Mature Audiences Only and V for Graphic Violence.  There are no sex scenes or romance, but there is enough violence to quench the horror-centric thirsts of filmmakers Brian de Palma or Quentin Tarantino.

Simone Warren as Iphigenia, Kelley Curran as Clytemnestra and Kelcey Watson as Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Scott Suchman.

Simone Warren as Iphigenia, Kelley Curran as Clytemnestra and Kelcey Watson as Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Scott Suchman. Photo credit The Oresteia Company

It’s right up Director Michael Kahn’s artistic alley and where he left us after his recent production of Richard III, which gave us a blood-soaked stage that had to be mopped up throughout the play after thirteen murders by Richard’s thugs.  If you had any doubt of his predilection for murderous plots rife with bloodlust, Kahn’s now given us The Oresteia as his swan song.  Yes, after 33 extraordinary years as Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, he is retiring.

Alvin Keith as Chorus, Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Chorus and Jonathan Louis Dent as Chorus in The Oresteia by Scott Suchman.

I’ll say straight off, that this one is not my cup of tea, though you’ll want to know if it’s well-acted with a creative set, evocative lighting and period-perfect costumes.  I’ll give it all that.  There is modern dialogue too, as with the feisty Clytemnestra who doesn’t believe in “mumbo-jumbo”, though that’s quickly disproved when she rails against the gods for their disfavor. “What god presided over such a situation,” she demands. Characters use grisly nightmares, imagined curses from the gods, and elusive spirits to explain both their wrath and subsequent retribution.

Kelley Curran as Clytemnestra in The Oresteia by Scott Suchman.

In any case, should you take this on, you will find Kelley Curran(Clytemnestra) sensational and Zoë Sophia Garcia(Cassandra) absolutely magnetic in her portrayal of the seer with the power of retribution.

Zoë Sophia Garcia as Cassandra in The Oresteia by Scott Suchman.

There is an important message here about how violence begets violence and we can reflect on the ways we’ve seen that play out around the world – the never-ending cycle of revenge, what is justice, what sort of punishment for acts of retribution, and how does a society that seeks fairness in all matters achieve democracy.  The Greek chorus raises all those issues, “Blood on blood.  Crime on crime,” they intone.  And, considering the lessons of the past, they come away with a peaceful solution.

Josiah Bania as Orestes in The Oresteia by Scott Suchman

Distinguished playwright Ellen McLaughlinhas condensed the three plays into one – a practical matter for single-night theatre-goers.  She imagines the Furies as Clytemnestra’s house servants who stand in watch debating the proper punishment for Orestes’s murder of his mother, who murdered their father, whose brother murdered and ate their daughter.  The eight-person ‘chorus’ of servants address the atrocities and resolve how to move forward.  In the abstract, it’s an interesting topic.  On stage it does not allow us that physical or psychological remove.

With Kelley Curran as Clytemnestra, Simone Warren as Iphigenia, Kelcey Watson as Agamemnon, Zoë Sophia Garcia as Cassandra, Rad Pereira as Electra, and Josiah Bania as Orestes.  Chorus – Corey Allen, Kati Brazda, Helen Carey, Jonathan Louis Dent, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Alvin Keith, Patrena Murray, and Sophia Stiles.

The cast of The Oresteia by Scott Suchman.

Directed by Michael Kahn.  Scenic and Costume Designer Susan Hilferty, Sound Designer Cricket S. Myers, Composer Kamala Sankaram, Movement Director Jennifer Archibald.

Through June 2ndat the Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

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