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.

Noura ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
February 15, 2018 

Nabil Elouahabi as Tareq and Heather Raffo as Noura ~ Photo credit by Scott Suchman

Can any of us really know what it’s like to be a refugee in America from a war-torn country? Can we understand the heartbreak of leaving family and loved ones to starve or perish?  Playwright and actor Heather Raffo delves into the terrifying world of refugees with her tragedy Noura, a story of an Iraqi father, wife, and son Yazen (Gabriel Brumberg) struggling to assimilate into American life after fleeing the only country they have ever known.

Matthew David as Rafa’a, Gabriel Brumberg as Yazen and Nabil Elouahabi as Tareq ~ Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Noura (Heather Raffo in an unforgettable performance) has forsaken her work as an architect in Mosul to keep a traditional household in New York City where husband Tareq (Nabil Elouahabi) works as a doctor alongside his longtime friend and fellow doctor Rafa’a (Matthew David).  Scenic Designer Andrew Lieberman lets us know they are fairly well off with his stylish mid-century modern set dominated by a large Christmas tree.  And although it’s clear they are Christians, they suffer many of the same prejudices in America as their Muslim friends.

Noura is excited because Maryam (Dahlia Azama), an orphan she has supported and sponsored to become an American citizen, is coming to visit them for the holidays for a Christmas Eve feast.  But when she arrives from her studies at Stanford, six months pregnant and without a husband, or use for one, Noura slut-shames her, only to regret it when Maryam runs off in disgust.

Dahlia Azama as Maryam and Heather Raffo as Noura ~ Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

We see a couple in constant turmoil, striving to stay together while battling their own inner demons.  This emotional roller coaster of dueling cultural identities becomes more intense as the walls seem to close in on their personal problems.  Should they sacrifice their deeply held traditional roots or let love prevail?  Tareq, too, is confused about his role as a man in modern American society.  Is Noura too independent?  Was she too bold and outspoken during their courtship so many years ago in Iraq?  Were they complicit in ignoring the pleas for help from their Muslim friends’ during the war?  “I am not a victim,” Noura cries out.  I am a coward.”  And, though they feel “safe” from ISIS in America, will guilt and fear destroy their ability feel compassion as surely as any war could?

Heather Raffo as Noura and Matthew David by Rafa’a ~ Photo credit by Scott Suchman.

Directed by Joanna Settle, Raffo’s intelligent and brilliantly crafted drama brings us into this fraught scenario cautiously, tenderly, and without judgment, making absolutely certain we recognize the universality of our foibles and frailties.  It is a deep dive into the human conscience and an examination of the degree to which empathy and forgiveness can bring us to a greater understanding of all of humankind.

Destined to be a classic, this play is highly recommended.

At the Lansburgh Theatre through March 14th 2018, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20003.  For tickets and information contact the Box Office at 202.547.1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org for additional info on post-show playwright discussions.

This production is part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.  For more information on the festival visit online.

Hamlet ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall

Jordan Wright
January 24, 2018 

Avery Glymph as Marcellus, Michael Urie as Hamlet and Federico Rodriguez as Horatio in Hamlet ~ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Michael Kahn’s swan song in his final season as Artistic Director at the Shakespeare Theatre Company will prove to be a lasting memory of his herculean efforts to bring Shakespeare to modern audiences.  In a breath-of-fresh-air he has cast Michael Urie, a former student of his, to portray Hamlet.  Urie gives a pin-drop performance that enraptured the opening night audience.  His is a matter-of-fact Hamlet who is hip to the machinations of his enemies and tormented by his limited options – suicide or murder.  Perhaps both.  His delivery of the classic lines, is conversational, visceral and physical.  Even in this longest of Shakespeare’s plays, the three-hour production zipped by thanks to Urie’s electrifying performance and sense of comic timing.

Kahn switches up the sequence of Hamlet’s melancholy soliloquy from Act One Scene Two, “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt.” to serve as Hamlet’s prologue and introduce us to his wretched state of mind.  This unique artistic decision explains Hamlet’s suicidal state of mind and sets the scene for his descent into madness.  Remember, Shakespeare wrote three versions of this play and thus none are etched in stone.

Ryan Spahn as Rosencrantz and Kelsey Rainwater as Guildenstern in Hamlet ~ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Kahn imagines the Kingdom of Denmark as the headquarters of a major corporation and the domain of King Claudius (Alan Cox from Translations on Broadway) who is CEO of all Machiavellian PSYOPs.  Right from the start Scenic Designer John Coyne puts us at the metal desks of modern day uniformed security guards.  On a large bank of CCTV screens broadcasting ordinary images of the building’s access, Horatio (Federico Rodriguez), Bernardo (Chris Genebach) and Francisco (Brayden Simpson) are stunned to see an apparition.

Keith Baxter as Player King in Hamlet ~ Photo by Scott Suchman.

It is the ghost of Hamlet’s father (Keith Baxter) revealed to them as a fuzzy image.  In Kahn’s version, suits, security guards and cell phones place us firmly in the world of high tech.  Even Hamlet and Ophelia (Oyin Oladejo from Star Trek: Discovery) profess their love and seal their break up through texts.  And Coyne reflects this cold, grey, desolate sense of place with steel beams, contemporary furnishings and spiral stairways leading to a vast catwalk.

Alan Cox as Claudius, Oyin Oladejo as Ophelia and Madeleine Potter as Gertrude in Hamlet ~ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Corporate spies abound – Rosenkrantz (Ryan Spahn) and Guildenstern (Kelsey Rainwater) report to Queen Gertrude (Madeleine Potter from An Ideal Husband on Broadway) on Hamlet’s mental state, as does Polonius (the enjoyably duplicitous Robert Joy) who, as you know, has his own agenda, and his son Laertes (Paul Cooper) too – and Hamlet doesn’t get banished to England until the end of Act One.  Yet all the pieces fall into place seamlessly.

I can’t say enough about the relevance and riveting modern dynamic of this production – the power and destruction of authoritarianism, its secrets, lies and power struggles – and why, given the current state of our government, we would be wise to listen and take heed.

Highly recommended.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through March 4th at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit online.

The cast of Hamlet ~ Photo by Scott Suchman


The Lover & The Collection ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
October 7, 2017 

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The Lover opens a door onto a middle class couple conversing in their mid-century modern living room.  Richard (Patrick Kennedy) and Sarah (Lisa Dwan) have been married ten years.  Over martinis they discuss how they spent their afternoon with their respective lovers.  They appear emotionally, and inexplicably, detached – aloof about their spouse’s peccadilloes, and eager to overshare.  They quaintly thrust and parry, delivering jealousy-inducing blows with accuracy.  But neither flinches.  With the unflappable reserve of the English stiff upper lip, they regard each other with all the enthusiasm of a scientific experiment while challenging one another with wild tales of their extramarital exploits.  Perhaps, that was Pinter’s intent – to examine the differences between the sexes with a calculatingly eye towards achieving parity.  “Frankness at all costs,” demands Richard.  Or perhaps, it’s just an exercise in existentialism with the audience as voyeuristic dupes?

Ultimately, it is merely vexing.  Why, you wonder, are they so blasé about infidelity? Why should we care about them and their outcome when they are so cruel to each other?  When Pinter wrote these set pieces we were coming out of the Beatnik era and into the sexual revolution.  It was a time when “being cool” was crucial, and being closed-minded was decidedly “uncool”.  But who was being served?

In this one-acter, Richard and Sarah vie for power in a sexually-charged marriage.  As their erotic role-playing becomes fiercer, they switch off roles of dominance and submission.  It’s a no-win game that plays out in dispassionate insults and fantasy vignettes, with a milkman as red herring thrown in to divert.

Photo of Patrick Ball as Bill and Jack Koenig as Harry

Photo of Patrick Ball as Bill and Jack Koenig as Harry ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The Collection is a more diverting tale with a somewhat meatier storyline.  Two gay men, one a well-to-do elderly man, Harry (Jack Koenig), the other his fancy boy, Bill, the fashion designer (Patrick Ball), live together in a bespoke home in London amid a collection of antiques and Oriental vases.  Bill appears to be caught in a tangle.  Did he sleep with a woman on a business trip, or did she fabricate the story to make her husband jealous?  “Did you have a good time in Leeds last week,” James asks accusingly.

Photo of Lisa Dwan as Stella

Photo of Lisa Dwan as Stella ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

As a mystery, it’s no Agatha Christie – far too many holes in it.  As in, why would Harry welcome the low-class, middle-aged stranger, James (Patrick Kennedy), into his home for a chat?  Who does that?  And why would he and Bill ultimately befriend James with promises of a posh life when he accuses James of blackmail?  James’ own wife Stella (Lisa Dwan) would have had her reputation destroyed in a divorce case if that had been his intent, which it appears it isn’t.  But let’s not allow details to get in the way.

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The action picks up when young Bill is alone with the canny and violent James.  Together they play a macabre dance with Bill trying to determine James’ intent and James playing cat-and-mouse with the vulnerable Bill.  Their conversation, as in the couple in The Lover is as dry as the proverbial bone, until Harry appears, toys with James’ affections, and Bill is treated like a disposable house guest.

Under the direction of Michael Kahn, these four actors do an exceptional job of tackling this anachronistic fluff, but to what end?  In both of these productions cruelty and degradation win out in the end – a Pyrrhic victory all around.

Though October 29th 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.

The School for Lies ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
June 8, 2017 

Cody Nickell as Philinte in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

Cody Nickell as Philinte in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of David Ives’ genius adaption of The School for Lies opens with an announcement by Philinte (Cody Nickell), a secret transvestite with a fondness for blue satin gowns. It advises us to prepare for a comedy that parallels events currently swirling around our nation’s capital. The invitation to revel in schadenfreude reminds us that the world of gossip, slander and innuendo is as vigorous, and as double-dealing, as it was in the 17th century when Moliére first penned quite different lines to his classic The Misanthrope. Knowing titters and outright guffaws were appreciably audible from an audience chockful of Beltway insiders.

Victoria Frings as Celimene and Gregory Wooddell as Frank in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

Victoria Frings as Celimene and Gregory Wooddell as Frank in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

Ives, who won a Drama Desk Award this week, creates his misanthrope in Frank (Gregory Woodell), a sharp-witted realist who mocks social proprieties with great aplomb. “Society is nothing but a school for lies,” he rails – until he falls head over heels for the feisty and scurrilous widow, Celimene (Victoria Frings) who herself is up for charges of slander.

Gregory Wooddell as Frank, Dorea Schmidt as Eliante and Veanne Cox as Arsinoé in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

Gregory Wooddell as Frank, Dorea Schmidt as Eliante and Veanne Cox as Arsinoé in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

But the lovely-in-lavender Celimene has a bevy of suitors, Acaste (Liam Craig), a vain, moneyed marquis with the brains of a hamster, Clitander (Cameron Folmar) an influential courtier and Oronte (Tom Story) a boulevardier and master rhymster of prosodic gaffes (i.e. “fetus” with “coitus”). Look for scene-stealer Michael Glenn in dual roles, both Dubois and Basque, to add a dash of slapstick to the snidely sophisticated repartee. Canapés will fly!

Gregory Wooddell as Frank, Cameron Folmar as Clitander, Liam Craig as Acaste and Tom Story as Oronte in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman.

Gregory Wooddell as Frank, Cameron Folmar as Clitander, Liam Craig as Acaste and Tom Story as Oronte in The School for Lies by Scott Suchman.

Frings lean-forward, hilarious performance, delivering rhymes with accents ranging from Valley Girl to black gym-rat hipster, is delicious.

Written entirely in rhyme and laced throughout with bawdy colloquialisms and ruthless insults, Ives gives us a contemporary comedy – reworked from his 2011 original to reflect present day events. Be prepared for a hornet’s nest of confusion around who said what and who’s lusting for whom, notable by the misdirected amours of the pretty-in-pink Eliante (Dorea Schmidt), who is what we’d refer to in modern jargon as a dizzy broad, and the misunderstood emotions of Frank and Celemine.

cast of The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

cast of The School for Lies by Scott Suchman

Leave it to the jealous-in-green silks, delightfully snarky Arsinoé (Veanna Cox), the pillar of morality (we might call her an uptight prude) to hatch a destructive plot of her own to snag Frank away from Celimene.

Coupled with Murell Horton’s lavishly elegant period costumes, Alexander Dodge’s quirky chic set, Director Michael Kahn (who collaborated with Ives on the brilliantly devised The Metromaniacs) has yet another megahit on his hands to round out his thirty years with Shakespeare Theatre Company.

This is great theatre!  Highly recommended.

Though July 9th 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.