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Everybody ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
October 23, 2019 

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ galvanic drama Everybody starts off innocently enough.  A roving narrator walks on and off stage instructing the audience on proper theater etiquette.  It’s a pleasant, meaningfully comedic, warm-up, yet it’s the sort of thing that throws you off your game before this existential exercise in Life and Death gets underway.

Elan Zafir as Beauty, Alina Collins Maldonado as Five Senses, Ayana Workman as Strength, Nancy Robinette as Death, Avi Roque as Mind, and Kelli Simpkins as Everybody. ~ Photo credit DJ Corey.

The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  And that says a lot.  But what’s just as interesting is the historical background from whence it is based.  Discovered as a 15th century medieval play, it was later adapted into a Dutch play that was influenced on a Buddhist fable.  As a morality play referencing sin, death and hell, it presents a universality that is palpable.

Nancy Robinette as Death, Clare Carys O’Connell as Time, and Yonatan Gebeyehu as Understanding ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

We meet God – a self-absorbed, arrogant, egotistical God who is snide and sarcastic and reveling in his omnipotence.  He’s actually very funny and so are the mortals, called ‘Somebodies’, because, well, they’re us warts and all.  When Death arrives, having been summoned by God to round up the unsuspecting Somebodies for their last ticket on earth, you’d be right on the money if you thought there’d be hell to pay.  “No one living gets away,” says Death ironically.

The cast of Everybody ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey

But oh, the angst and guilt when they are called to account.  Were they worthy of this life? Were they charitable? Can they be spared?  Everything devolves into utter chaos when God appears with a lottery wheel symbolizing the randomness of death.  “Is it all lies, delusions, nothingness?” the narrator wonders.  The sense one gets is an out-of-body experience, a wholesale questioning of life’s purpose.

Yonatan Gebeyehu as Usher and Nancy Robinette as God ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

Everyman wants to know if his death sentence is a dream or reality and we follow along as he desperately recounts his fears and insecurities, his faults and his beliefs.  Death has told him he can take someone with him, so he won’t feel so alone when his time is up.  Unsurprisingly, neither friend nor family will oblige him yet in those heartless rejections are some of the funniest bits of the dramedy.  There, and with ‘Stuff’.  The character represents the concept of all our precious stuff, how it controls our lives and how you can’t take it with you, not even a single treasured possession.  “I’m just a collector of inanimate objects,” one of the Somebodies grimly admits.

Alina Collins Maldonado as Stuff and Kellli Simpkins as Everybody ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

The part of Everyman is played by a rotating cast of actors with each performance… the randomness factor.  They are pulled from the group of five Somebodies and never know when they will be playing that particular role.  That, in and of itself, creates 120 possible cast combinations.  But Everyman is the most powerful role.  On Monday night Everyman was played by the Trans/Non-Binary actor, Avi Roque, who lent a powerfully cool street vibe to the character.

Avi Roque as Cousinship ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

I’d be utterly remiss if I didn’t offer up huge kudos to Director Will Davis who sums it up this way, “What does all of this, Life, possibly mean? What do we do if it means nothing?  And if it means nothing, how can I prepare myself for my own death – not to mention the death of others? How do I conceive of where my loved ones go – is ‘go’ even the right verb in this context?”  I’m sure that by the end of this deeply probative, wildly dramatic, visually stunning production you’ll be asking yourselves the same question.

A brilliant cast!  Highly recommended.

With Yonatan Gebeyehu as Usher/God/Understanding and Nancy Robinette as Death; the Somebodies are played by Alina Collins Maldonado, Avi Roque, Kelli Simpkins, Ayana Workman and Elan Zafir; Clare Carys O’Connell as Girl/Time; and Ahmad Kamal as Love.

Scenic Design by Arnulfo Maldonado, Costume Design by Melissa Ng, Lighting Design by Barbara Samuels, Sound Designer and Composer, Brendan Aanes, and Fight and Intimacy Choreographer, Cliff Williams III.

Through November 17th 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.

The Haunting of Hill House ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 21, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

A highly regarded American mystery writer firmly ensconced in lofty literary circles, author Shirley Jackson had a way with things that go bump in the night.  Through her horror novels, The Haunting of Hill House and later, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both of which predated both Stephen King and Anne Rice, she became an icon in the field of horror writing.  Joyce Carol Oates who edited an anthology of Jackson’s work wrote, “Characterized by the caprice and fatalism of fairy tales, the fiction of Shirley Jackson exerts a mordant, hypnotic spell.”

Danielle Taylor (Mrs. Dudley) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

As a result of her influence on the genre the Shirley Jackson Award, created posthumously, is given for Outstanding Achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic.  Somewhat recently there has been a real revival of Jackson’s novels.  Netflix’s first season series of The Haunting of Hill House debuted in 2018 and will follow up with a second season in 2020.

James Murphy (Luke) Bruce Alan Rauscher (Dr. Montague)  ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

To get us into the Halloween frame of mind and encourage a visit from the spirits of the dead, Director Maggie Mumford takes us into the confines of Hill House – a dreary castle where a young poltergeist; a professor, his wife and her lover; a society gamin; the handsome heir to the mansion; and a ghoulish housekeeper have gathered to research paranormal activity.  Well, not the housekeeper, she’s just a cringe-worthy overseer.

Bruce Alan Rauscher (Dr. Montague) James Murphy (Luke) Kirk Lambert (Arthur) Patricia Nicklin (Mrs. Montague) Shannon Labadie seated (Eleanor) Kathy Ohlhaber (Theodora) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Set in a Victorian era parlor beneath a portrait of the late owner, the characters slowly reveal themselves, and their motives.  Luke Sanderson’s aunt is the current owner of Hill House. He’s a dashing young man and frequent tippler whose intentions are to support Dr. Montague, the lead investigator.  Eleanor is the pretty, and peculiar, young woman whose mother recently passed away, and Theodora, an outspoken young woman full of frolic, who befriends the brooding girl forming a sisterly bond to protect her against the spirits who haunt the house after sundown.  Under a pall of family scandal, madness, suicide, murder and lawsuits, the motley crew attempts to document supernatural phenomena within its evil walls.  As Dr. Montague tells the assembled invitees, “Some houses are just born bad.”

Kirk Lambert (Arthur) Patricia Nicklin (Mrs. Montague) Shannon Labadie (Eleanor) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

But it isn’t until Mrs. Montague arrives with her crusty lover, and a planchette as spirit guide, that the house revs up its hauntings with ominous creaks, ferocious knocking, howling winds and troubled spirits crying out from the grave.  Credit Sound Designer, Janice Rivera, Lighting Design by JK Lighting Design, and period costumes by Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley for a spooky experience that goes far beyond the horribly stilted, and entirely re-imagined drama, that has recklessly been co-opted from Jackson’s original novel.  I don’t have the heart to fault the actors, they are trying to breathe life, or death as it is, into the whole exasperating script.

James Murphy (Luke) Kathy Ohlhaber (Theodora) Shannon Labadie (Eleanor) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

With Shannon Labadie as Eleanor, Kathy Ohlhaber as Theodora, Bruce Alan Rauscher as Dr. Montague, James Murphy as Luke Sanderson, Patricia Nicklin as Mrs. Montague, Kirk Lambert as Arthur Parker, and Danielle Taylor as Mrs. Dudley.

Through November 9th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Broadway Center Stage presents – Footloose ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
October 12, 2019 

Yet another show with a huge fan base culled from those who have seen, or performed in, countless high school productions around the country.  Having been both a movie and a Broadway show it tells the story of a student who organizes his classmates to fight an ordinance that outlaws dancing.  See, students? You can change the status quo.

J Quinton Johnson, Peter McPoland, and Company ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

High school senior Ren and his single mom Ethel leave the bright lights of Chicago for Beaumont, Texas where Ethel’s sister and brother-in-law live.  As they try to adjust to small town minds and small town politics, Ren soon discovers he’s seen as an outsider and the girl he likes, Ariel, has a vengeful boyfriend.  “Everything you do is suspicious,” he’s told.  To make matters worse, Ariel doesn’t make it easy for Ren to court her since her father, the town preacher, wants to keep a tight rein on his rebellious daughter.  Naturally, Ren comes out the hero when he stands up to the town elders and convinces Ariel’s conservative dad that it’s time to let the kids put on a dance.  It’s a thin, predictable plot on which loosely hangs the dancing and singing.

J Quinton Johnson and Isabelle McCalla ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Although Spencer Liff’s choreography is an absolute wonder and the dancers are wildly talented, if it weren’t for the tight cast led by the mesmerizing J. Quinton Johnson as Ren, the huge vocal talents of Isabella McCalla as Ariel, and the adorable scene-stealing Peter McPoland as Willard, this show would be in the dust bin.

Lena Owens, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, Isabelle McCalla, and Grace Slear ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Nevertheless, the audience went wild for the major chart toppers – “Footloose”, of course, and “Holding Out for a Hero”, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, and “Almost Paradise” by rock composers Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford, Tom Snow, Jim Steinman, Eric Carmen, and Sammy Hagar – plus another fourteen numbers added to the mix.

Maximilian Sangerman and Company ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Directed by Walter Bobbie with Judy Kuhn as Ethel McCormack, Michael Park as Reverend Shaw Moore, Rebecca Luker as Vi Moore, Michael X. Martin as Wes Warnicker, Michael Mulheren as Coach Roger Dunbar, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz as Rusty, Grace Slear as Urleen, Lena Owens as Wendy Jo, Joshua Logan Alexander as Chuck Cranston, Jess LeProtto as Lyle, J. Savage as Travis, Rema Webb as Lulu Warnaker, Eleanor Dunbar and Betty Blast, Jamar Williams as Jeter, Nick Martinez as Bickle, Gregory Liles as Garvin and Maximilian Sangerman as Cowboy Bob.

Through October 14th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape – to – Margaritaville ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2019 

Parrot Heads know where paradise is – on a beach with a tequila-laced cocktail in hand – and that’s exactly where this bio-musical will transport them.  Last night an audience filled with Jimmy Buffett fans were jazzed to hear a mix of his best-loved hits coupled with Broadway-style tunes designed to enhance the singer’s life story.

Company of the National Tour, Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The sweet love stories play out at a run-down hotel on a Caribbean island where two besties go for different reasons.  Rachel, a Harvard-educated environmentalist, is there to collect soil samples for a project she hopes to get funded and Tammy wants a beach blowout before her upcoming nuptials to Chad.  When they arrive, the beach party is in full swing with revelers dancing in minis and cutoffs and tropical drinks flowing.  The overarching theme is party hardy and Brick shakes up shooters like “Sex on the Beach”, “Screaming Orgasm” and “Long Slow Comfortable Screw” that are no doubt familiar within the drinking culture.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachelin Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Tully Mars and his friend, Brick, live on the island where they’ve carved out a laidback lifestyle – Tully as the beach party’s guitar-strumming singer and Brick as the bartender.  The guys time their affairs to the vacationers’ week-long stay.  As Tully puts it, “Relationships are designed to only last a week.”  Tammy puts it more succinctly, “Zip flop, namaste!” But the men soon find themselves falling in love – Brick when he discovers Tammy likes puns and the hokey pokey and Tully when he realizes Rachel is not his typical hookup. “Changes in Attitudes” is the forerunner to her opening up to Tully and his island life.

Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachel and Chris Clark as Tully in Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The crowd eats this up, especially the Margaritaville song, yelling out “Salt, salt, salt!” between verses.  These are diehard fans, and if this isn’t your jam – tiki huts, Hawaiian shirts and tequila – you’re in the wrong place.  Despite the party atmosphere, there are lessons to be learned and everyone seems to arrive at nirvana at their own pace.  J. D., the island’s patch-sporting Yoda, finds love with Marley, Margaritaville Hotel’s charming owner, and it’s a kick to see where Buffett’s greatest hits turn up.  “Cheeseburger in Paradise” being one of the silliest when Tammy returns home to Cincinnati and breaks her diet in a dance with a trolley stacked high with her favorite junk food.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachelin Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Twenty-five songs sung by some top-notch vocalists backed by an eight-piece band are the glue that holds this fun-night-out musical together.  As Tully’s African American talent agent puts it when Tully thinks his songs won’t sell, “White people love this shit!”  And we all know how that turned out for Buffett.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Music by Jimmy Buffett, Book by Greg Garcia & Mike O’Malley, Directed by Amy Anders Corcoran, Choreography by Kelly Devine, Costumes by Paul Tazewell, Scenic Design by Walt Spangler, Lighting Design by Howell Binkley & Amanda Zieve with Orchestrations by Michael Utley.  Based on the Original Direction by Christopher Ashley.

With Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachel, Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Rachel Lynn Fobbs as Marley, Patrick Cogan as J. D., Matthew James Sherrod as Jamal, Noah Bridgestock as Chadd, Diego Alejandro González as Jesús and DeVon Buchanan as Ted – plus a 12-person ensemble.

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape – to – Margaritaville is part of The National’s 2019-2020 16-production series bringing the best of Broadway shows to DC.

Through October 13th at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNational.com or call 1-800-514-3849.

Escaped Alone ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 5, 2019 

Where will you be when the world comes to an end?  Will you be sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits in a hydrangea-filled English garden?  Will you notice the world’s decline outside your garden walls? Or will you be oblivious until it directly affects you?  In a purposely discordant collection of conversations, four women gossip about their lives, most especially the foibles and failures of their absent acquaintances.  They avoid discussions like the overarching collapse of the planet’s social and environmental systems and skirt around Vi’s six-year stretch in the penitentiary for the murder of her husband – it eventually comes up but only as a symptom of her social paralysis.  Platitudes are offered up as effortlessly as teacup refills.

Valerie Leonard as Mrs. Jarrett, Helen Hedman as Sally, Catherine Flyeas Vi and Brigid Cleary as Lena in Escaped Aloneat Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Sally’s daughter, Mrs. Jarrett, serves as narrator of Earth’s current state of anarchism and apocalypse.  Her news updates announce all the latest disasters – widespread disease, floods, mudslides, pollution, tidal waves, domestic violence, starvation, refugee camps, and more – nothing that’s not reported in our everyday news feeds.  Scenes toggle between the ladies nattering in non sequiturs and Mrs. Jarrett’s doomsday doses of reality.  The women don’t hear her and don’t care.  They have their own problems, picayune though they are.  Sally is cat-phobic and Lena is agoraphobic and without purpose.  Vi is wound up in her own malaise, and Mrs. Jarrett appears to have zero impact on the other ladies.  They’d rather revisit the past and dance to Petula Clark or blame the whole thing on God’s revenge for sexual dysphoria.  Notwithstanding the light-hearted conversations, we sense an undercurrent of depression and manic behavior.

Helen Hedman as SallyandCatherine Flye as Vi in Escaped Aloneat Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman

A brief but notable reference to the Book of Job, “I only am escaped alone to tell thee”, serves to explain the play’s title.  But who of these four will escape?  Their survival is neither promised nor suggested.  Legendary playwright Caryl Churchill (Cloud Nine, Top Girls) wrote Escaped Alone as a short but compelling drama about ordinary people living in extraordinary times – much like ours.  It draws from the concept of British tea houses run by women for women who were free to discuss private matters apart from men.  It later became a sanctuary in which the women’s suffragist movement blossomed.  Expertly directed by Holly Twyford, it features a cast of highly respected, veteran actors.

Valerie Leonard as Mrs. Jarrett in Escaped Aloneat Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman

Brigid Cleary as Lena, Catherine Flye as Vi, Helen Hedman as Sally, and Valerie Leonard as Mrs. Jarrett.

Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway, Costume Design by Alison Samantha Johnson, Lighting Design by Maria Shaplin, Sound Design by Victoria Deiorio.

Through November 3rd at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.