Peter Pan and Wendy ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harmon Hall

Jordan Wright
December 18, 2019 

Though Peter gets top billing in Lauren Gunderson’s world premiere, make no mistake about it, her interpretation of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale elevates the female roles to star status.  As the most produced playwright in America, Gunderson’s imprimatur is writing plays about accomplished women in science and the arts who have become mere footnotes in history.  First performed in 1904, Barrie’s play was a product of its time, insensitive to sexism, racism and Colonialism and decidedly not politically correct.  In Gunderson’s adept hands we find the same level of excitement in Peter Pan’s fantasy world, but with a greater sensitivity to the female roles, an ethnically diverse cast, and a greater awareness in portraying indigenously correct characters.

Sinclair Daniel as Wendy, Chauncey Chestnut as Michael, Derek Smith as Mr. Darling. Bailey as Nana, Christopher Flaim as John, and Jenni Barber as Mrs. Darling Photo credit Teresa Castracane.

Here Wendy, Tinkerbell and Tiger Lily have been reframed to reflect stronger female identities.  Wendy, inspired by Marie Curie’s recent notoriety, pooh-poohs her father’s suggestion that she attend a posh finishing school, instead pleading for a science academy where she can pursue her love of the stars and mathematics.  Oh, yes!  Our Wendy is still a compassionate girl and protector of brothers Michael and John, but she’s now portrayed as a serious-minded student of cosmology.  Tinkerbell becomes a Valley Girl-voiced fireball, glammed to the max, and more in sync with the women of Wakanda.  “I’d probably go less Colonial genocide,” she warns Hook.  And Tiger Lily, performed by a member of the Dakota Nation, who becomes a heroine defending the peace and sanctity of her native lands.  “I’m here to avenge my people,” she tells Peter who, before he gets woke, comes off as a self-centered, anti-hero eager to fight his nemesis on a daily basis.

Sinclair Daniel as Wendy and Justin Mark as Peter Pan. Photo credit Teresa Castracane.

Gunderson’s Peter Pan and Wendy is a fantasy-filled production directed by the legendary Alan Paul with costumes by Loren Shaw, and Scenic Design by Jason Sherwood.  A perfect antidote to our times, it’s a technical marvel with a backstage crew of 66 designers, from animal trainers and animators to musicians and backstage crew.  Together they keep on Tinkerbell’s lights in flight and five of the actors (out of a cast of 19 plus one adorable live dog) soaring high above the stage.  I couldn’t keep track of how many pulse-quickening, pirate fights there were, nor the audience’s uncontrolled laughter watching the scenes between the vainglorious Captain Hook, his first mate the sycophantic Smee, and their batty crew of bungling pirates.  My only critique is that I wanted to see more of the dazzling mermaid floating on clouds of bubbles.

Tendo Nsubuga and Darren Alford as Twins, Joriah Kwame as Slightly, Francisco Gonzalez as Tootles, and Ronen Lewis as Curly. Photo credit Scott Suchman.

So, look to the starry skies to find Neverland, the Lost Boys, and Peter assisted by a very large tick-tocking crocodile and buttressed by girl power – Wendy, as strategic governor, Tinkerbelle, as a fierce defender, and Tiger Lily, as mediator.  And always remember who the land belongs to. “My people will always be here,” Tiger Lily reminds us.

Jenni Barber as Tinkerbell. Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Highly recommended.

Starring Derek Smith as John Darling/Captain Hook; Justin Mark as Peter Pan; Sinclair Daniel as Wendy; Jenni Barber or Megan Huynh as Mrs. Darling/Tinkerbell; Isabella Star LaBlanc as Tiger Lily; Tom Story as Smee; Christopher Flaim as John Darling; Chauncey Chestnut as Michael Darling; Bailey as Nana the dog.  With Francisco González as Tootles; Ronen Lewis as Curly; Joriah Kwame as Slightly; Darren Alford as Twin; Tendo Nsubuga as Twin; Michael Glenn as Jukes, Calvin McCullough as Noodler; and Gregory Wooddell as Starkey.

Composer Jenny Giering; Lighting Design by Isabella Byrd; Sound Design by John Gromada; Projection Design by Jared Mezzocchi; Puppet Design by James Ortiz; Flying Scenes choreographed by Paul Rubin; Choreographer Katie Spellman; Speical Effects by Jeremy Chernick.

Through January 12, 2020 from the Shakespeare Theatre Company at the Sidney Harmon Hall in the Michael R. Klein Theatre at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org or call the box office at 202.547.1122.

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.

A Comedy of Errors ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
October 3, 2018 

Let me start by saying, if Alan Paul is directing anything… anything!  Go!  His imaginative interpretations of the classics are both fabulous and stylishly modernistic.  In this send-up version of A Comedy of Errors, Paul sets the action in 1950’s mid-century modern Greece though it seems more like La Dolce Vita meets Saturday Night Fever meets SNL meets… oh, never mind.  It’s an indescribable mash-up of frothy, farcical slapstick as two sets of identical twins muddle through moments of mistaken identity at breakneck speed.  Opa!

Following the plots of Shakespeare’s plays that start off with voyagers lost in a storm at sea, here twins come together as grown men, unaware of each other’s fate… or identity.  One is married to Adriana (the slinky, foxy, Veanne Cox).  The other is in love with her sister Luciana (Folami Williams).  Separately they frequent the local hangout, Zorba’s Seafood café, where the fishmongers look like Super Mario and where you are just as likely to dine on a seafood tower as get in a food fight with octopi.  Opa!

Twin brothers, Antipholus of Syracuse (Gregory Wooddell) and Antipholus of Ephesus (Christian Conn), who coincidentally inherited a silver spoon life, tool around on a Vespa in GQ threads while insulting their twin servants and lusting for women at the Porcupine Club – a flashy nightclub where leather boys fan their feathers for a lusty mama played deliciously by Eleasha Gamble as the Courtesan.  “I’m glad I’ve got these quills.  They bring in dollar bills,” she croons.

With a plethora of entrances and exits that prevent chance meetings, the action is non-stop certifiably crazy, including ongoing chase scenes between Luce (J. Bernard Calloway in Madea drag) and Dromio.  Great job on the casting Carter C. Woodell.  Confusion reigns.  I don’t know which Dromio is which.  Opa!

There is tap-dancing by the local constabulary and singing with music composed by Michael Dansicker, a Twyla Tharp alum.  Bet you didn’t expect that!  Gabriel Berry’s costumes run the period gamut from Dior’s ‘New Look’ for Adriana to court jester garb for the twin servants, Dromio of Ephesus (Carter Gill) and Dromio of Syracuse (Carson Elrod).  The queenly Angelo (All hail, Tom Story!) reminds us of the disco looks of the 70’s with gold chains and open-to-the-waist, multi-colored polyester shirt.  Dr. Pinch (Sarah Marshall with an over-the-top, scene-stealing performance), a bible-toting revivalist preacher, arrives on scene in a white suit ready to horseback ride Dromio to his death before being interrupted by the Abbess Emilia (Nancy Robinette) and her nuns.

Highly recommended.  A crack cast plus talking parrot keeps audiences in hysterics.  Opa!

With Ted van Griethuysen as Egeon, Merchant of Syracuse; Matt Zambrano as Tailor/Second Merchant; Matt Bauman as Officer; and Matt Bauman, John Cardenas and Justin G. Nelson as Proteans.

Scenic Design by James Noone, Lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins; Sound Design by Christopher Baine; Choreography by Karma Camp; Fight Choreography by David Leong; and Musical Direction by Victor Simonson.

Through November 4th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 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.

Camelot ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
May 30, 2018 

The days of light-hearted versions of Camelot may have gone the way of 50¢ bus rides.  The whole frothy, castle keep shtick flies out the window in director Alan Paul’s modern interpretation of Lerner & Loewe’s Broadway hit musical of the early 60’s.  And I must admit, I wasn’t ready for such a sea change.  For those of you who remember the 60’s (you’re excused if you don’t), the original cast starred the magnificent-voiced Robert Goulet, Julie Andrews (‘nuff said) and sex symbol at the time, Richard Burton, before he was actually knighted.  Paul delves deeper into the sociological and psychological implications of the 12th century Knights of the Round Table and comes up with a view edgier, darker, and a lot more Shakespearean.  We should have expected it.

Ken Clark as King Arthur ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Paul has assembled a fine cast to see his vision through.  DC-based actor Ted van Griethuysen plays Merlyn the Magician.  Van Griethuysen, an eight-time Helen Hayes Award winner was awarded the Robert Prosky Award for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play” at the Helen Hayes Awards this May.  Merlyn is the defining influence on the young King’s life, at least until wise King Pellinore (skillfully played by Floyd King) steps up to the plate as his confidante after Merlyn loses his powers.  Pelli has been around the block.  The sympatico King Arthur (Ken Clark) wants peace and justice to flourish in Camelot in a new social order rejecting violence and bloodshed and stripping the powers of the landed gentry.  Proposition: The feisty knights would be dumped into the dustbin.

Queen Guenevere (Alexandra Silber) and Ken Clark as King Arthur ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Meanwhile, the beautiful and spirited Queen Guenevere (Alexandra Silber), and his closest comrade, Lancelot du Lac, the handsomest and most vaunted knight in the land (played by the dashing Nick Fitzer), become lovers and their treasonous romance becomes the talk of the court.  Enter Mordred (Patrick Vaill), the King’s illegitimate son.  Plotting to seize the throne through blood and terror, he threatens to reveal the Queen’s secret love affair.  Nevertheless, the lovers cannot bear to part.  “If Ever I Would Leave You”, sung by Lancelot, is one of the songs everyone remembers.  I could have sworn I heard humming from the audience.

Nick Fitzer as Lancelot Du Lac and Alexandra Silber as Quenn Guenevere ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

Vaill, a Bard College alum, uses his Mick Jagger looks and indelible charm to give us a gutsy-cool, bad boy Mordred – a character who declares “Fie on goodness!” and whose wicked, leather-clad street-thugs prove to be King Arthur’s undoing.  “The table is not round,” Mordred insinuates.  “It is a triangle.”  And as we all know, three’s a crowd. 

Nick Fitzer as Lancelot Du Lac and Alexandra Silber as Quenn Guenevere ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

The cast is wonderful most especially Clark, Vaill and Fitzer whose musical numbers and fiery soliloquies bring the house down.  Led by designer Ana Kuzmanic, STC’s masterful costume department has outdone themselves with yards of heavily embroidered silk, chiffon and velvet for the women, and leather outfits, voluminous capes and gleaming suits of armor for the knights.

Patrick Vail as Mordred, Alexandra Silber as Guenevere and Michael Bingham as Ensemble ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

Alas and alack, I found the unimaginative, wood-paneled backdrops by Walt Spengler to be lackluster, but his use of disappearing platforms for set changes and descending-from-the-rafters bevy of shiny knights to be eye-popping.  Fight choreographer David Leong handles the flashy sword fights and choreographer Michele Lynch delights with the lovers’ waltz among rose petals and the lusty courtiers a-Maying.

Cast of Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

With Music Direction by James Cunningham, Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel, and Sound Design by Ken Travis.

With Melissa Wimbish as Nimbue, Mark Banik as Sir Dinadan, Brandon Bieber as Sir Sagamore, Paul Victor as Sir Lionel, Ben Gunderson as Squire Dap and the adorable Trinity Sky Deabreu as Child.  Knights and Ladies of the Court include Michael Bingham, Veronica Burt, Julio Catano-Yee, Chadaé, Jennifer Cordiner, Bridget Riley, Frankie Shin, and Casey Wenger-Schulman.

Through July 8st at Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Waiting for Godot ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
April 25, 2018 

When Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s existentialist masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, was first produced in Paris in 1953, it was a time of high intellectualism and experimentation in the Arts.  Modern art was blossoming and writers like James Joyce, Jean Genet and Eugene Ionesco were exploring new ways to communicate with audiences.  They and many others began to reinvent the dynamic and break the mold of what the theatre arts had known.  The ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ they created challenged the status quo to examine the human condition as a comic tragedy on the futility of life and the frailties of mankind.  Beckett saw it as a fool’s game and chose two penniless drifters to advance his notions.

Marty Rea as Vladimir and Aaron Monaghan as Estragon. Photo Matthew Thompson.

As a highly stylized foray into the surreal – delivered in compact, visceral dialogue – Beckett’s fools, the supercilious Vladimir (the incomparable Marty Rea) and the dismissive Estragon (Aaron Monaghan in a master class performance), slowly go mad waiting for Godot to arrive.  They wait in the misguided hope that Godot will save them from their misfortunes.  As the two men struggle to define their reasons for living, the dialogue toggles back and forth between anger at their circumstances and hilarious attempts to make light of their gloom.  Frequent references to nature – the tree, the stone and the bog – serve to anchor them to earthbound realism as they themselves continue to go madly off the rails.  “There’s nothing to be done,” asserts Estragon while considering hanging himself.  “I resumed the struggle,” responds Vladimir in a clear but Tigger-like non sequitur.  (You may succumb, as I did, to seeking out the symbolism in every line.)

Garrett Lombard as Lucky, Marty Rea as Vladimir and Aaron Monaghan as Estragon. Photo Matthew Thompson.

To comprehend, and this is the intellectual exercise of Beckett, much of their vacillating emotional state is topsy-turvy – a clear definition of the avant garde movement.  One minute they embrace the secular – a moment later the spiritual.  Other times the two jolly each other up with a sort of Abbot and Costello routine of “Who’s on first?” – a running banter that defines the absurdity and futility of their predicament. There are times when you can imagine you are overhearing a couple of old sots at four o’clock in the morning in an Irish pub.

As counterbalance to their predicament, Pozzo (Rory Nolan in a larger than life portrayal of the inbred landed gentry), appears with his forlorn servant, Lucky, a sort of idiot savant played masterfully by Garrett Lombard.   Altogether the men cling to the hope that they can save one another from the vicissitudes of life.

C. Conneely as Boy, Marty Rea as Vladimir and Aaron Monaghan as Estragon. Photo Matthew Thompson.

This outstanding production is directed by Tony Award-winning Garry Hynes and presented by Druid, the illustrious Irish theater company.

Francis O’Connor gives us a modernistic set design that brings to mind the surrealism of Rene Magritte and Salvatore Dali.

With lighting by James F. Ingalls, scenic and costume design by Francis O’Connor and sound design by Greg Clarke.

Highly recommended.  Bring your thinking cap and your sense of humor.

Through May 20th at The Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 2004. For tickets and information visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org or call the box office at 202 547-1122.