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.

Macbeth ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company Sidney Harmon Hall

Jordan Wright
May 9, 2017 

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Refugees fleeing from Aleppo, Syria is not the first thing that comes to mind when pondering Macbeth, but under the direction of Liesl Tommy it serves as the backdrop for this exciting, new interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy about a paranoid, guilt-ridden, superstitious monarch who seeks power for its own sake.  Ramping up the realism, Tommy gives the roles of the three Witches to two men and a woman who use modern day cell phones and computer technology to communicate their battle plans.  Add to that Broken Chord’s use of original electronica music and you have a relevance to current events that goes far beyond coincidental comparison.

The contemporary dynamic is further emphasized with John Coyne’s neo-industrial set of massive grey concrete blocks, neon tubes and a ceiling of undulating golden silk panels like the shifting sands of a desert.  Photo of oil rigs play against echoes of Al Pacino’s cocaine-fueled meltdown in Scarface, Duncan is a pothead and when Macbeth offers up his “armor”, it’s his bullet-proof vest.

(l-r) Jesse J. Perez as Macbeth, Nikkole Salter as Lady Macbeth and McKinley Belcher III as Banquo. Photo credit Scott Suchman

(l-r) Jesse J. Perez as Macbeth, Nikkole Salter as Lady Macbeth and McKinley Belcher III as Banquo. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Jesse J. Perez as Macbeth seethes with power-mad evil as does Nikkole Salter in the role of Lady Macbeth.  But their amorous connections are palpable and though he complains of her profligate habits, “My wife’s been ordering things from Amazon.”, he is unhesitating in performing her bloody bidding.

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

The cast of Macbeth. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Fighting is carried out by soldiers in modern camouflage uniforms with Uzis and daggers.  Artistic Director Michael Kahn describes his choice of Tommy to direct this searing drama, as such, “Macbeth has always lent itself to political interpretations. It was originally written amidst the anxiety of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a thwarted terrorist attack on Parliament, amid a climate not unlike America after 9/11. As a result, the play not only meditates on the equivocating nature of ambition and power, it also shows how the crimes of ambition and power unravel those that commit them and ripple outward in society, creating a dark atmosphere of paranoia, conspiracy and uncertainty. For centuries, theatre artists have used its grim poetry to probe specific political moments or leaders, from Imperial China to Soviet Russia.”

(l-r) Horace V. Rogers as Lennox, Myra Lucretia Taylor as the Porter and Marcus Naylor as Macduff. Photo credit Scott Suchman

(l-r) Horace V. Rogers as Lennox, Myra Lucretia Taylor as the Porter and Marcus Naylor as Macduff. Photo credit Scott Suchman

And Tommy explains her approach as, “It’s politics – and, it’s also structural politics.  I don’t know if I would have had the same idea if I wasn’t in DC.  This is a production for a DC audience.”

A meaty cast takes the traditional to new heights – Petronia Paley (Duncan), Corey Allen (Malcolm), Nicole King (Donalbain), McKinley Belcher III (Banquo), Marcus Naylor (Macduff), Nilanjana Bose (Lady Macduff), Trinity Sky Deabreu (Young Girl), David Bishins (Porter/Doctor), and Tim Getman and Naomi Jacobson as the three Witches.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through May 28th at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

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.