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STC’s Modern Production of Macbeth Stars the Great British Actor Ralph Fiennes in a Triumphant Performance

STC’s Modern Production of Macbeth Stars the Great British Actor Ralph Fiennes in a Triumphant Performance

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
April 16, 2024
Special to The Zebra

Indira Varma and Ralph Fiennes (Photo/ Marc Brenner)

From the opening roar of a fighter jet overhead to the ultimate rhythmic uttering of one of the Three Witches, “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”, this production will be the one Macbeth you will remember above all others. I honestly felt as though I had neither heard, studied, nor seen it before – certainly never performed so brilliantly nor staged so creatively. We not only see Lady Macbeth (Indira Varma) as a woman who longs to equal a man’s powers, “…unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direct cruelty. Make thick my blood,” she entreats the spirits, but we see Macbeth (Ralph Fiennes) drenched in blood, going mad with the fear of divine retribution for his evil deeds as predicted by the Three Witches (Lucy ManganDanielle Flamanya and Lola Shalam).

Enough cannot be said about the two leads and the raw passion in these tour de force performances by Fiennes and Varma. Fiennes delivery, slowing down the pace when the lines and the mood need emphasis and heft, and drawing the audience deep into his sphere, are fiercely captivating. This slowing down of the pace allows the audience time to process and that is what separates this staging from many others. The actors’ well-honed delivery and Director Simon Godwin’s keen respect for the prose reflected here.

Lola Shalam, Lucy Mangan, and Danielle Fiamanya (Photo/ Marc Brenner)

Singers are told, “Don’t throw away a line. Give it meaning.” No line should be incidental and no action superfluous. Here everything is carefully drawn and purposeful. This is not the revved-up Shakespeare we have come to expect with lines delivered staccato. In this interpretation deeper meaning is imparted to each interaction and to every word. It is a glorious thing to behold. This is the same experience we have when watching a great movie where the viewer is afforded pauses in the action to better process the scene allowing for a more intimate and visceral experience.

Fiennes’ extraordinary ability to inhabit Macbeth is as complex and gripping as it is nuanced. The same can be said for Varma as the diabolical Lady Macbeth. The two are in total sync and it is absolutely delicious. Though we well know the plot, it’s still edge-of-your-seat action – from the sword fights to the grisly murders to the diabolical treachery, the grief and the ultimate revenge.

Ben Allen, Indira Varma, Rose Riley, Richard Pepper, Steffan Rhodri, and Levi Brown (Photo/ Marc Brenner)

Surprisingly, the production is not held in either of STC’s downtown theatres. It’s in a former BET-TV production facility in Northeast DC that lends itself to the magnitude and enormity of this unique event. Upon entry into the massive facility, you will pass through what appears to be a bombed-out street scene. A burned-out sedan rests on a pile of rubble, reflecting the emotional disasters to come. Fiennes insisted this Macbeth be in an industrial space on the outskirts of the city. The same requirement applied to its previous iterations in Liverpool, Edinburgh and London where it was mounted before coming to DC.

A triumph for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Simon Godwin and this outstanding and predominantly British cast!

With Ben Allen as Ross; Ewan Black as Malcolm; Levi Brown as Angus; Jonathan Case as Seyton; Keith Fleming as King Duncan/Siward; Michael Hodgson as Second Murderer/Captain; Kiyoko Merolli as Macduff’s Daughter; Jake Neads as First Murderer/Donalbain; Richard Pepper as Lennox; Steffan Rhodri as Banquo; Rose Riley as Menteith; Rebecca Scruggs as Lady Macduff/Doctor; Maxwell Kwadjo Talbert as Macduff’s Son; Ethan Thomas as Fleance; Ben Turner as Macduff; Adrianna Weir as Macduff’s Daughter; and Mila Weir as Macduff’s Daughter.

Adapted by Emily Burns; Set and Costume Design by Frankie Bradshaw; Sound Design by Christopher Shutt; Lighting by Jai Morjaria; Composer Asaf Zohar; Fight Director Kate Waters.

Ben Turner (Photo/ Marc Brenner)

Through May 5th presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in association with Wessex Grove, Underbelly. At 1301 W Street, NE, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit

If you are unable to secure tickets to this once-in-a-lifetime production, it will be in local movie theatres beginning May 2nd

What’s Onstage in the DMV — May/Early June

What’s Onstage in the DMV

For May/Early June
Jordan Wright
April 16, 2024
Special to The Zebra

Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo/EVAN ZIMMERMAN FOR MURPHYMADE)

Homeless Garden
Where: Avant Bard
When: May 2 – May 25
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Jesus Christ Superstar
Where: National Theatre
When: May 17 – May 25
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Where: Signature Theatre
When: Now through Jul 7
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Where: Keegan Theatre
When: May 16 – May 25
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The Drowsy Chaperone
Where: Workhouse Arts Center
When: May 18 – June 23
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Long Way Down
Where: Olney Theatre Center
When: May 22 – June 23
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Reefer Madness
Where: Next Stop Theatre
When: May 3 – June 2
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Image via GALA Hispanic Theatre

The Return of Eva Péron: Momia en el Closet
Where: GALA Hispanic Theatre
When: May 9 – June 9
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Where: Mosaic Theater
When: May 16 – June 15
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Mark Twain’s Is He Dead
Where: The Little Theatre of Alexandria
When: May 18 – June 8
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Where: Cirque du Soleil
When: May 17 – May 25
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Image via Studio Theatre

Problems Between Sisters
Where: Studio Theatre
When: May 8 – June 16
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Where: Keegan Theatre
When: May 16 – May 25
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Frontiéres Sans Frontiéres
Where: Spooky Action Theater
When: Now through May 19
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The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin
Where: Creative Cauldron
When: May 16 – June 9
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Margorie Prime
Where: Prologue Theatre
When: Now through May 19
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Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales
Where: Adventure Theatre
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Little Shop of Horrors
Where: Ford’s Theatre
When: Now through May 18
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Image via The Washington National Opera

Where: Kennedy Center
When: May 11 – May 25
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The Matchbox Magic Flute
Where: Shakespeare Theatre Company
When: May 21 – Jun 16
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Love’s Labour’s Lost (The Musical)
Where: St. Mark’s Players
When: now through May 18
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Where: Imagination Stage
When: May 10 – May 12 – Same – May 9 – May 12
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Where: Folger Theatre
When: May 7 – June 16
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Dixie’s Tupperware Party
Where: Kennedy Center
When: May 7 – June 2
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Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a Standout at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a Standout at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
March 26, 2024
Special to The Zebra

(L – R) Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot), Brianna Goode (Countess Andrenyi) and Brian Lyons-Burke (Monsieur Bouc). (Photo/Matt Liptak)

“Touch nothing!” is the no-nonsense command given by writer Agatha Christie’s über-detective, Hercule Poirot (Michael Kharfen who inhabits Poirot with an absolutely brilliant performance). A man is found murdered in his stateroom and everyone’s a suspect. For those who love crime drama and murder mysteries with a soupçon of humor, it’s the first order of business when investigating a fresh crime. Without DNA or CCTV an old-fashioned detective needed to have mad deductive skills. That said, it’s not only fun to play along with the Belgian gumshoe’s innate ability to seek out liars like a truffle-hunting pig, but to try and puzzle it out for ourselves. Even if you’ve seen this dramedy before, you’ll still thrill to its witticisms and this marvelous cast.

Set in the 1930’s, ten passengers traveling on the posh Orient Express are under deep suspicion. Who had the motive? Who had the means? Who had a provable alibi? Who was closest to the scene? And, who had the most to gain? As clues and red herrings spring up like weeds, Poirot must unravel truth from fiction.

(L – R) Brian Lyons-Burke (Monsieur Bouc), Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot), Brianna Goode (Countess Andrenyi) and Paul Donahoe (Head Waiter/Michel) (Photo/Matt Liptak)

With so many suspects on board, who could be the perpetrator? Alibis abound. Was it the Russian Princess Dragomiroff (Patricia Nicklin)– a feisty noble traveling with Swedish missionary, Greta Ohlsson (Julia Rudgers); Helen Hubbard (Eleanore Tapscott), an American heiress on the hunt for her fourth husband; Michel the conductor (Paul Donahoe), whose uniform button was found beside a body; Scottish Colonel James Arbothnot (John Paul Odle) or his illicit paramour, the English governess Mary Debenham (Danielle Comer); Monsieur Bouc (Brian Lyons-Burke), Poirot’s dear friend, fellow Belgian and director of the Orient Express company Wagon-Lits; the pretty Hungarian doctor, Countess Andrenyi (Briana Goode); or Samuel Ratchett (Paul Caffrey), the rough and tumble American businessman traveling with his secretary, Hector McQueen (Avery Lance). When Ratchett turns up dead in his bed, everyone is questioned as to their whereabouts the night before.

(Seated L-R) Brianna Goode (Countess Andrenyi), Eleanore Tapscott (Helen Hubbard), Patricia Nicklin (Princess Dragomiroff), Julia Rudgers (Greta Ohlsson)
(Standing L-R) Brian Lyons-Burke (Monsieur Bouc), Paul Caffrey (Samuel Ratchett), John Paul Odle (Colonel Arbuthnot), Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot), Danielle Comer (Mary Debenham), Avery Lance (Hector MacQueen) and Paul Donahoe (Head Waiter/Michel) (Photo/Matt Liptak)

The stunning opening conjured up by Director Stefan Sittig, Lighting Designers, Ken and Patti Crowley, Sound Designer Janice Rivera and Set Designer Matt Liptak sets the perfect tone in the pitch dark of the theatre featuring a realistic-appearing, whistleblowing, Mars light ablaze locomotive roaring onto the stage. Creating an alluring ambiance for intrigue, the full-stage revolving set design features an elegantly furnished dining car for the passengers – insert audible audience’s gasp here – the second reveals a cutaway view of the passengers’ bedrooms. It’s quite dramatic and remarkably effective.

To all the amateur sleuths out there, I pose this question. Can you name the killer before the dénouementAlorsmes amis, imagine yourself on a train bound for London in the middle of a blizzard and trapped by a massive snowdrift in the mountains of Yugoslavia with no way out. As Poirot might say, “Bonne chance!”

A clear winner for The Little Theatre!

(L – R) Patricia Nicklin (Princess Dragomiroff) and Julia Rudgers (Greta Ohlsson). (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Adapted by Ken Ludwig; Dialect Coach, Alden Michels; 1930’s period Costume Design by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley; Fight Choreography by Stefan Sittig; Makeup and Hair Design by Larissa Norris.

Through April 13th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-5778 or visit

Penelope – A Modern-day Myth Breathes Fresh Air at Signature Theatre

Penelope – A Modern-day Myth Breathes Fresh Air at Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
March 20, 2024
Special to The Zebra

Jessica Phillips in Penelope (Photo/Daniel Rader)

A solitary woman stands on Ithaca’s shoreline awaiting the dawn. Casting her eyes out over the Ionian Sea, she looks for his ship – a sign her husband, legendary commander and war hero, is returning from a battle long over. Another day, another year, a decade hoping for Odysseus’ return. Penelope (Jessica Phillips) speaks of the soldiers – noisy, uncouth men who have set up tents in her courtyard. She’s given up trying to oust them.

Penelope is lyricist and composer Alex Bechtel’s own odyssey to bring this much celebrated character to life. Directed by Eva Steinmetz who also contributed to the book with Bechtel and Grace McLean, its evolution into a modernized love story of a faithful and patient wife are easily identifiable. Here we find Penelope as a real-life wife displaying emotions ranging from frustration to anger and longing to sentimentality. Prominent is her famed fidelity to a man we never meet.

Jessica Phillips in Penelope (Photo/Daniel Rader)

Paige Hathaway’s simple set design focusses on our heroine in front of a background of curvilinear dunes changing colors from dawn to sunset. Onstage are a quintet of musicians – on piano Ben Moss, on percussion Erika Johnson, on violin Jennifer Rickard, on viola Imelda Tecson Juarez and on cello Susanna Mendlow. It’s an impressive group and the glue that holds the piece together. The songs and the instrumentals reflect Penelope’s ever-changing mood swings that range from frantic to riotously funny (Bourbon is her medicine of choice.) to contemplative and, in her most desperate moments, a cry for guidance from Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom and war.

Told in modern vernacular, the patient Penelope becomes a relatable “every” woman.  As in the myth, her time at the loom and the undoing of her work each night so as not to complete a piece, become a metaphor for unrequited love. The beautiful ballad “Weaving” is about longing and a love unfinished.

Jessica Phillips in Penelope (Photo/Daniel Rader)

This 75-minute production has 21 numbers – one calypso number, ballads and a bit of rock – fourteen of those sung by Phillips. But it’s the ballads that stick with you, that and Phillips’ ability to bring life and believability to the character. With a rich background in musical theater, both on and off Broadway and on national tour in Dear Evan Hansen, Phillips knows her craft well offering up a riveting range of emotions. Based on the writings of Homer’s The Odyssey, this production has recently been extended reflecting both its success and appeal.

With Costume Design by Danielle Preston and Lighting Design by Jesse Belsky.

Penelope Show Art

Through April 28th in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village, Arlington, VA 22208. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 820-9771 or visit

Company Brings Broadway Alums to the Kennedy Center with Sondheim’s Thrilling Musical

Company Brings Broadway Alums to the Kennedy Center with Sondheim’s Thrilling Musical

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
March 17, 2024
Special to The Zebra

The North American Tour of COMPANY (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

For those familiar with Stephen Sondheim’s original 1970 version of Company, you’ll be mighty surprised to see all the changes in this production. The original won six Tony Awards. This revised version opened on Broadway in 2022, rewritten by Sondheim and Director Marianne Elliott, and won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. So, there’s that. Both versions stand on their own, but I’ll mention some of the changes, so you won’t feel lost at sea. Robert is now Bobbie and is female (the stunning Britney Coleman in full bloom and gorgeous voice). Adding to that switcheroo there’s is a gay male couple, social media is prevalent (everyone texts and checks their Facebook constantly) and pot is legal – well yes, it is – and there’s a very funny scene where Bobbie and friends get high on their front stoop.

It confused the heck out of me, but those I’ve spoken to who hadn’t seen the original and enjoyed the show for what it is now. So, let’s look at it that way, because it certainly stands on its own merits as a story of married couples, couples with children, the gay couple about to wed, and Bobbie turning 35 with an active dating life but no real prospects for marriage. And therein lies the crux of the matter. The pressure is on for her to marry.

David Socolar as Theo and Britney Coleman as Bobbie (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

It’s the universal, get-married-before-it’s-too-late clock ticking madly away. Find a guy, have kids and get on with life, say all her friends. What the plot reveals is no matter how urgently friends try to convince Bobbie the years are passing her by, she sees their relationships, flaws and all, and that’s exactly what’s so hilarious about it.

Set in New York City with all its distractions, hookups, and dating apps Bobbie must navigate, it paints a picture of the struggles of a career woman to find love in a fast-paced world. I loved the rewrite – the gender swaps along with the new character development. It’s perfectly relevant. Surely Sondheim realized the old version couldn’t be revived without these changes to attract new audiences.

Matt Rodin as Jamie and Ali Louis Bourzgui as Paul (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

It’s witty, quite sophisticated – Joanne (played by the sleekly sexy Judy McLane), as the Lauren Bacall type blonde, hasn’t changed a bit – and uproarious. With a crack cast of Broadway alums who sing their bums off, this is the musical everyone has been raving about.

The songs that never went away like “Someone is Waiting”, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, Side by Side by Side”, “The Ladies Who Lunch” (which reminded me of the terrific new mini-series about Truman Capote and his “Swans”) and, of course, the anthem “Being Alive”, are all here in their original glory. You’ll have your favorites, but these are mine and they’re unforgettable.

Highly recommended!

Britney Coleman as Bobbie (center) and the North American Tour of COMPANY (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

With Judy McLane as Joanne; Kathryn Allison as Sarah; Jed Resnick as David; Jhardon DiShon Milton as Paul; Derrick Davis as Larry; Javier Ignacio as Peter; James Earl Jones II as Harry; Marina Kondo as Susan/Priest; Matt Rodin as Jamie; Emma Stratton as Jenny; Jacob Dickey as Andy; Tyler Hardwick as PJ; David Socolar as Theo.

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by George Furth; Scenic and Costume Design by Bunny Christie; Lighting Design by Neil Austin; Original Sound Design; Ian Dickinson for Autograph; Orchestration by David Cullen; Choreography by Liam Steel; with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and Company Orchestra.

Through March 31st at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit

Offenbach Operetta Songbird Gets a New and Snappy 1920’s New Orleans Jazz Treatment with Superstar Isabel Leonard

Offenbach Operetta Songbird Gets a New and Snappy 1920’s New Orleans Jazz Treatment with Superstar Isabel Leonard

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
March 15, 2024
Special to The Zebra

A scene from Songbird (Photo/Scott Suchman)

If you tell me Isabel Leonard is starring in a modern-day rendition of the well-loved, classical Offenbach operetta, “La Périchole” (1868), I would sell my soul to see it – especially since it’s set in the 1920’s Prohibition Era in New Orleans when “Hot Jazz” was king. Think Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and the Dixieland Jazz bands of that force de la nature of American music. NOLA, as we now call it, became a musical polyglot of Afro-Caribbean, Marching Band beats, Spanish Tango influences, Ragtime syncopation, dusky Blues, Vaudevillian razzmatazz, improvisational Scat, and throbbing Latin rhythms bursting forth from a port city credited with the birth of American Jazz.

Conductor, Arranger and Orchestrator, James Lowe, was tasked with melding these divergent yet harmonious rhythms and dovetailing them into Songbird, an opera that uses Franglais in a nod to Offenbach’s French ancestry. Don’t worry there are projected surtitles when the actors switch to French. Instruments of the period, including a vintage drum set from the 1920’s, create the perfect sound Lowe uses to evoke the period when the Stomp, the Charleston and the Black Bottom were just coming of age.

Isabel Leonard (Songbird) and Ramin Karimloo (Piquillo) (Photo/Scott Suchman)

The sassy, spunky, risque comedic action takes place in a speakeasy called Café des Muses and stars a fabulous Vaudeville duo – the starving artists, Songbird (Isabel Leonard) and her amour Piquillo (Ramin Karimloo). The villain is the mayor of the New Orleans, the vainglorious Don Andrès (Edward Nelson) who falls madly in love with Songbird but wants her to be his mistress not his wife. Along with his cohorts, Don Pedro (Jonathan Patton) and Panatellas (tenor and funny as hell natural comedian Sahel Salam), he conspires to marry her off to Piquillo so that he can enjoy her in a carnal way with no strings attached.  With “tunes and booze and no taboos” this splashy production has it all including staggering drunk revelers.

One of the opening lines is delivered by Don Andrés who crows, “I could stand in the middle of Bourbon Street and the President would put me in his Cabinet!” And with that, the slapstick, pratfalls, tap dances and upside-downness begins to click. Add a soupçon of Gilbert and Sullivan panto and shades of the artsy bohemian life and we’re in Gay Paree. There is even a high-kicking Can Can at the bar!

Edward Nelson as Don Andrés (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Premiering at New York’s Glimmerglass festival in 2021, shelved during the pandemic and pared down to one act, the adaption is by Eric Sean FogelJames Lowe and Kelley Rourke who wrote the English lyrics and book.

Believe me when I tell you, the triple Grammy Award-winning mezzo soprano, Isabel Leonard will steal your heart. Her captivating mezzo-soprano range is perfectly suited to this snappy score and her acting chops prove that she can tailor her style to whatever is thrown her way. Furthermore, she plays the gamine as delightfully as Audrey Hepburn. And Karimloo, who is an award-winning Broadway musical star, will wow you with his song styling as well as his acting and comedic chops. Insider scoop: He has never studied voice, can’t read music (He asks for all his scores to be sent via the DAW GarageBand software.), and never in his life saw an opera before he was cast in this one. I love this so much!

Ramin Karimloo (Piquillo), Jonathan Patton (Don Pedro), and Sahel Salam (Panatellas) (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Deliciously naughty and wildly colorful with Mardi Gras costumes, zoot suits and spats, beaded flapper dresses and silky lingerie, this oh-so-clever interpretation will charm and delight. I know because the audience lost their collective minds – cheering at every song and roaring at every bit of farce. They were just as wild as the performers in their enthusiasm.

Highly recommended!!!!!

With Teresa Perrotta as Guadalena, Kresley Figueroa as Berginella, Cecelia McKinley as Mastrilla, Taylor-Alexis DuPont as Celeste, Jonathan Pierce Rhodes as A Priest, Justin Burgess as A Mobster/The Guide and Jo Ann Daugherty as Pianist.

Original Co-Director Francesca Zambello; Original Costume Designer Christelle Matou; Costume Designers Marsha LeBoeuf and Timm Burrow; Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel; Sound Designer Mark Rivet.

Remaining performances on March 17th, 20th and 23rd at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit