The Select (The Sun Also Rises) ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
March 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Shakespeare Theatre Company is currently playing host to the Elevator Repair Service’s off-beat The Select (The Sun Also Rises).  Directed by John Collins the famed New York-based troupe caps off their trilogy of singular adaptations based on classic American novels with this final production based on one of Hemingway’s most venerated novels.  Set in Paris and Spain, it is filled with dialogue and prose from the original and re-interpreted to form the core of the play.

Kaneza Schaal as Georgette in Elevator Repair Service’s production of The Select (The Sun Also Rises) at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Kaneza Schaal as Georgette. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The story centers around the expatriate community of the 1920’s, a group Hemingway fraternized with when he was a war correspondent.  Many of this “Lost Generation” were artists, writers, scions of well-to-do American families and an occasional noble of lesser pedigree.  Most were there to soak up the Parisian joie de vivre while seeking creative inspiration.  The story is colored with Hemingway’s penchant for drinking, fishing, drinking, bull-fighting, drinking, eating and drinking.  In other words, steady volumes of whiskey, martinis, champagne and wine consumed, followed by periods of fighting, boredom, sticky love affairs and enfeebling hangovers.

Vin Knight as Count Mippipopolous, Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes and Stephanie Hayes as Brett Ashley. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Vin Knight as Count Mippipopolous, Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes and Stephanie Hayes as Brett Ashley. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The main characters are writer and Princeton grad Robert Cohn (John Collins); newspaperman Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson) who serves as the story’s narrator; Frances (Kate Scelsa) Robert’s erstwhile paramour; Mike (Pete Simpson) Brett’s fiancé: and Lady Brett Ashley (Stephanie Hayes) who is inclined to hook up with every handsome fellow she meets including the dashing young bullfighter Romero (Susie Sokol) who proves this cougar’s ultimate undoing.

Susie Sokol as Pedro Romero. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Susie Sokol as Pedro Romero. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The 13-member cast plays multiple roles in this dizzying staging that spotlights the post-war bohemian life in Paris with all its witty remarks and cutting retorts punctuated by manly pursuits.  And Scenic & Costume Designer David Zinn does a fine job with the clever set of five exits providing the cast with multiple ways to quickly exit and re-enter as a new character.

Vin Knight as Diner, Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes and Stephanie Hayes as Brett Ashley. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Vin Knight as Diner, Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes and Stephanie Hayes as Brett Ashley. Photo by Scott Suchman.

I kept thinking this is just the ticket for millennials who are lately much enamored of the Paris of this period.  To that end, the playbill includes recipes for Hemingway’s favorite cocktails among other theatre events being held during the run.  Or check out the “Hemingway Daiquiri Cocktail Workshop” on March 9th between 6:30 and 7:30pm in Sidney Harman Hall.

Running time – 3 hours and 15 minutes

Though April 2nd at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the Box Office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org

King Charles III ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
February 20, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett plumbs the depths of Prince Charles’ psyche to give us an imaginary glimpse of the prince as future King of England.  The dramedy kicks off with the demise of Queen Elizabeth II and Buckingham Palace’s preparations for a coronation.  Bartlett draws from Charles’ past statements, off-handed comments to the press and general knowledge of his public behavior to ponder the question of what sort of ruler this prince will become.  Bartlett explores the family dynamic, using the structure and language of a Shakespearean history play while telling the story in Shakespearean blank verse.  There is a loose formality to it, yet, it is set in modern day against the backdrop of a rapidly changing society.

Ian Merrill Peakes as Prime Minister Evans and Allison Jean White as Kate in the American Conservatory Theater production of King Charles III, directed by David Muse. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Ian Merrill Peakes as Prime Minister Evans and Allison Jean White as Kate. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Among the royal family there is Charles’ stern wife, Camilla (Jeanne Paulsen), the fashionable and super modern Kate (Allison Jean White) and Charles’ two sons – the dutiful Prince William (Christopher McLinden), husband to Kate, and Prince Harry (Harry Smith), the charitable-minded, resident naughty boy.  The family’s relationship to Charles, and the bubble they all live in, is scrutinized as is the controversy derived from Charles adverse relationship to his government.

As Charles (superbly portrayed by Robert Joy) prepares to take the throne, rumors abound of an uprising among his subjects.  The press (Oh, how Britain loves its tabloids!) fans the flames of unrest and riots threaten Charles’ tranquil transition to king.  Speculating on how Charles would handle the both the public and the press, is a neat parlor game and Bartlett keeps us guessing throughout the tension.  “They all expect me to have an opinion,” bemoans the reluctant Charles, as Harry takes off for a night of clubbing hopeful that the stuffy trappings of royalty will magically disappear from his reluctant shoulders.  Pouf!  You’re a commoner!

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Rafael Jordan as Spencer, Jefferson Farber as Cootsy and Michelle Beck as Jessica in the American Conservatory Theater production of King Charles III, directed by David Muse. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Rafael Jordan as Spencer, Jefferson Farber as Cootsy and Michelle Beck as Jessica. Photo by Kevin Berne.

When Charles faces his most stubborn critic, Prime Minister Evans (Ian Merrill Peakes), he shows his naiveté in dealing with both Parliament and the press.  Uncharacteristically for a ruling monarch, he is determined not to rubber stamp a bill restricting freedom of the press.

Though his signature is not required (actually the King has zero power to make policy), it is assumed he will sign whatever is put in front of him.  This sets up the adversarial relationship between Charles and his government.  His relationship with the Leader of the Opposition Party, Stevens (Bradford Farwell), is also at risk. “We cannot have the King expressing his opinion,” Stevens insists. “It is uncharted territory.”  As we all know, Queen Elizabeth NEVER expresses her opinion.  It’s just not done.

Chiara Motley as Ghost and Robert Joy as King Charles in the American Conservatory Theater production of King Charles III, directed by David Muse. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Chiara Motley as Ghost and Robert Joy as King Charles. Photo by Kevin Berne.

While Harry credits his new love Jessica (Michelle Beck), an anarchist from the wrong side of town, with “unblinkering” him to the public’s current adverse opinion of the need for the royals, he opens his father’s eyes to the possibility of his unorthodox choice of a mate.

Bartlett has a sharp ear for wit and humor and much of the story incorporates Charles’ known idiosyncrasies and his inability to grasp the dramatically shifting mood outside palace walls.  Will the high-minded Charles dissolve Parliament on principal, or will he have to capitulate?  Will his family support his position notwithstanding the consequences of a monarchy in danger of dissolution?  Surprisingly the younger women become the most outspoken change agents.

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Robert Joy as King Charles and Michelle Beck as Jessica. . Photo by Kevin Berne.

Harry Smith as Prince Harry, Robert Joy as King Charles and Michelle Beck as Jessica. . Photo by Kevin Berne.

Co-produced with Seattle Repertory Theatre and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, this five-time Tony Award nominated play is keenly directed by David Muse, Artistic Director of Studio Theatre and former Associate Director at STC.  Stunning recreation of the statuary and stained glass windows of Buckingham Palace by Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling with gorgeous heraldic costumes by Designer Jennifer Moeller.

Highly recommended for its superior cast and deliciously wicked pokes at the royal family.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through March 18th at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The Secret Garden ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
November 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

The Cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Secret Garden, directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The Cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden, directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Artistic Director Michael Kahn, collaborating with the Seattle-based 5th Avenue Theatre for a new production of The Secret Garden at the Sidney Harman Hall, introduces area audiences to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enchanting tale of a garden that comes to life out of the ashes of tragedy and despair.  It is one of the most beloved children’s tales ever written by the British-born Burnett, who wrote fifty-three novels, including Little Lord Fauntleroy, and thirteen plays, becoming a successful writer as a teenager while living in, of all places, Knoxville, Tennessee.

But despite a difficult childhood in England, Burnett never forgot the rose-filled English gardens, that had brought her peace and pleasure.  The classic story is also her personal story of overcoming personal pain and adversity through the healing power of nature and the perseverance of love.

Since its first publication in 1910, this Gothic tale has been produced in over a dozen film and television productions, at last brought to the stage in 1991 by composers/lyricists, Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, who won three Tony Awards for this sweeping musical.

Lizzie Klemperer as Lily Craven. Photo by Teresa Wood

Lizzie Klemperer as Lily Craven. Photo by Teresa Wood

Directed by David Armstrong, it tells the story of Mary Lennox, raised in India during the days of the Raj and orphaned by the ravages of cholera.  The child is sent to live in a creepy manor home in Yorkshire with her two uncles – the melancholy uncle Archibald Craven (Michael Xavier), still grieving the death of his adored wife Lily (Lizzie Klemperer), and his ill-intentioned brother, Neville (Josh Young).  It’s Tim Burton on a chill pill meets Martha Stewart and a panoply of faeries and ghosts.

Henry Baratz as Colin Craven and Anya Rothman as Mary Lennox. Photo by Scott Suchman

Henry Baratz as Colin Craven and Anya Rothman as Mary Lennox. Photo by Scott Suchman

Little Mary (Anya Rothman), who is a proper hellion, is told to stay in her room, but instead she wanders the dark halls of Misselthwaite Manor discovering her bed-ridden hypochondriac cousin Colin and a neglected secret garden.  Her friendship with the equally recalcitrant Colin (Henry Baratz), Dickon (Charlie Franklin) Martha’s brother and gardener’s helper, her governess Martha (Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony for her role as Mary in the original production 25 years ago) and the wise older gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Sean G. Griffin) assuage her despair and send her into a fantasy world of sprites and fauns and the spirits of Indian fakirs and dead relatives, some of whom reappear as a Greek chorus.

The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company. Directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Teresa Wood

The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company. Directed by David Armstrong. Photo by Teresa Wood

Rothman, a near weightless sprite herself, tackles the difficult role like a pro – singing, dancing and acting as if born to perform.  She is backed up by seasoned performers with gorgeous voices, most especially Klemperer in “India” and Xavier and Young whose exquisite tenor voices duet in the “Lily’s Eyes”.

Look for the adorable, spot on comic timing and clear-as-a-bell soprano voice of Henry Baratz who appears towards the end of Act One.  He is especially appealing in his second act duet with his late mother, Lily, in “Come to My Garden – Lift Me Up”.

Lighting Designer Mike Baldassari effectively uses poison green and purple lighting to illuminate Scenic Designer Anna Louizos’s two-story Gothic house and a thirteen-piece orchestra led by Rick Fox play twenty-four numbers.

Recommended for the whole family.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through January 8th 2017 at 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

1984 ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
March 21, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Photo by Ben Gibb, courtesy Headlong

Photo by Ben Gibb, courtesy Headlong

George Orwell’s classic dystopian tale is as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1948.  We don’t call them the “Thought Police” today, but the concept of controlling the thoughts and behavior of the masses by government through the media, the message (cue Marshall McLuhan) and mind control still has an eerie, somewhat familiar, ring to it.  We saw it recognized in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film about erasing memories; The Truman Show where hidden cameras were used to track thoughts; and in the film adaptations of The Hunger Games books.

In this version of 1984 Directors/Adaptors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan construct an imaginative theatrical retelling of the book – further intensified by Video Designer Tim Reid’s haunting projections and film sequences shown in wide screen above the actors.  The combination of the filmed offstage events and in-the-moment onstage acting, serves to confuse the viewer as to what is real and what is imagined – the very same question protagonist Winston Smith ponders about his life.  For the audience it’s equally as chancy to draw any conclusions.  To add to the complexity, the plot swings back and forth like a pendulum, from World War II to 2050.  It is both evocative and immediate, making for a most exciting piece of stagecraft.

Photo by Ben Gibb, courtesy Headlong

Photo by Ben Gibb, courtesy Headlong

Winston (played by the extraordinarily talented Matthew Spencer) works in the Ministry of Truth.  Under the radar, he keeps a diary for the “future unborn”.  In it he hopes to record his memories and thoughts before they are discovered, deleted and denied by Big Brother – the all-seeing, all-knowing, government agency charged with the destruction of language and memory and the obliteration of newspaper accounts and photographic evidence.  In this way personal memory is supplanted by government approved memory.  Citizens are kept in constant fear that they will be turned in by their neighbors, family members or even the “thought police” who surveil all activity and broadcast to citizens by way of telescreens.  As a government agent of mind control O’Brien (played by the convincingly terrifying Tim Dutton) puts it, “The price of sanity is submission.  We do not tolerate a rebellion.”  Cue Edward Snowden.

In this brave, new world of Oceania, policies are enforced through fear tactics.  There is even a “Newspeak” dictionary, containing freshly minted words to diminish thought.  More draconian is that, in this ruthless ideology, love and sex are forbidden and could land someone in Room 101 in the Ministry of Love – a place of terror and torture.  Yet Winston finds a kindred spirit and lover in Julia played magnificently by Hara Yannas.  Together they bond in their shared hatred of the system while fulfilling their desires in a love nest away from the prying eyes of the government – or so they think.

Photo by Ben Gibb, courtesy Headlong

Photo by Ben Gibb, courtesy Headlong

This is intense theatre, thought-provoking, brave and electrifying with a bold supporting cast.  Expect vividly portrayed violence enhanced by explosive special effects lighting by Natasha Chivers, and hair-raising sound design by Tom Gibbons.

Highly recommended, yet not for the faint of heart.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through April 10th at 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004.  Presented in collaboration with British theatre companies –Headlong www.headlong.co.uk, Nottingham Playhouse www.NottinghamPlayhouse.co.uk and Almeida Theatre www.almeida.co.uk.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Othello ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
March 1, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Faran Tahir as Othello and Jonno Roberts as Iago in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Faran Tahir as Othello and Jonno Roberts as Iago in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Director Ron Daniels presents Othello on the cavernous stage of the Sidney Harman Hall against an industrial-looking backdrop giving heft to the drama that is about to unfold. Daniels has chosen a curious, and fascinating, interpretation in casting an actor as Othello, a Moor, who is not black. Played by Faran Tahir, an actor of Pakistani descent, Daniels gives his Othello a fresh look, broadly hinting that the “Moor of Venice” was a Muslim converted to Christianity. It dovetails neatly with the line, “Your son-in-law is far more fair than black,” delivered by the Duke of Venice (Ted van Griethuysen).

It’s a bit stunning at first – certainly an intriguing political perspective for our times. Yet after adjusting to that unusual twist, we have Shakespeare’s brilliantly dark tale – of love and war, blatant racism and the destructive power of jealousy, coupled with the duplicity of man.

Othello Press Photo captions OTHELLO_007Faran Tahir as Othello, Patrick Vaill as Cassio, Jonno Roberts as Iago, and Jackson Knight Pierce as Soldier in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Othello Press Photo captions OTHELLO_007Faran Tahir as Othello, Patrick Vaill as Cassio, Jonno Roberts as Iago, and Jackson Knight Pierce as Soldier in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Set Designer Riccardo Hernandez gives us an austere set – five massive factory fans spread out across the second level, churning and whirring in rhythm, and a collection of rusted oil drums pressed into service as chairs, tables and occasionally weapons. It’s that simple. Ditto for Costume Designer Emily Rebholz who dresses the men as modern day soldiers in World War II Army uniforms and the Venetian senators in Edwardian cutaways. The women, Desdemona wife of Othello (Ryman Sneed) and Emilia (Merritt Janson) her handmaiden, get simple dresses reminiscent of Isadora Duncan and her Grecian muses. All the better to cut to the action and drama.

Ryman Sneed as Desdemona and Faran Tahir as Othello in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Ryman Sneed as Desdemona and Faran Tahir as Othello in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Though there is a great deal of fuss and feathers in Act One in setting up the conflicts, trickery and ultimate betrayals, the drama really gets underway in Act Two, when Iago’s (Jonno Roberts) cruel machinations begin to come to fruition. As Othello’s aide-de-camp, Iago has already primed the pump by convincing the lovelorn scion Rodrigo to give up his fortune in jewels to buy Desdemona’s affections – a ruse to bankrupt the besotted fool and hoard the jewels for himself. Next he has duped Cassio that she will fall helplessly into his arms as soon as Othello turns his back on his adoring wife in a fit of jealous rage. And thirdly, and most horridly, he has ingratiated himself with Othello by convincing the General his innocent wife is a lowly cheat. All so he can have the chaste lady for himself. It’s an absolute wonder he can keep all his stories straight.

As the plot’s pendulum swings back and forth from Venice to Cyprus, Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind suitably alters the mood, veering from soft spots for the ladies and fiery red hues for Othello’s increasing jealousy. Be prepared for the loud fusillade of retorts from the soldiers’ rifles as they celebrate Othello’s win against the Turks. Here Composer and Sound Designer Fitz Patton adds bawdy bar songs to the drunken celebrations. It’s the same point at which the tide begins to turn against Cassio who, snockered, delivers the line, “Reputation, reputation, reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.” Yet another weakness for Iago to capitalize on.

Patrick Vaill as Cassio and Natascia Diaz as Bianca in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Patrick Vaill as Cassio and Natascia Diaz as Bianca in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

By the time Cassio’s jealous lover Bianca (Natascia Diaz) appears to obfuscate matters, Othello has gone quite mad and we see him on his knees in Muslim prayer and vengeful rage, “She must die!”.

STC has assembled a mighty cast, diverse in performance levels, yet able to capture the pithy parts and animate them cohesively.

Highly recommended.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through March 27th 2016 at 610 F St., NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.