King John ~ Folger Theatre At the Folger Shakespeare Library

Jordan Wright
November 1, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

The cast of Shakespeare’s political power play King John at Folger Theatre. Photo by Teresa Wood.

That this play is rarely produced, is an enigma.  Okay, it doesn’t have maidens frothily cavorting with lords a-leaping, but I couldn’t help thinking that if only I’d seen this as a teenager, much of my angst about studying Shakespeare might have been completely avoided.  In King John Shakespeare affords us some of the most expressive language he has ever written.  Wish I’d had some of his snappy putdowns in my mental back pocket.  “Oh, dunghill,” one of the characters calls another making for a far more effective retort than, “You meanie!”.  Amirite?

King John (Brian Dykstra) rules over England, with his mother Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Kate Goehring) by his side. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Apart from Richard II, King John is the only other Shakespeare play written entirely in verse.  And though the play’s prose is already lyrically outstanding, six-time Helen Hayes Award-winning Director, Aaron Posner tosses in some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines from a range of his plays, “Let slip the dogs of war”, “Once more into the breach” and “My kingdom for a horse”, for good measure.  And we’re off!

Philip, King of France (Howard W. Overshown) and John, King of England (Brian Dykstra) join hands in Shakespeare’s King John. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Set during King John’s turbulent reign from 1199 to 1216, war is ever present as the fight for ascension to the throne after Richard the Lionheart’s death, threatens John’s tenuous reign.  The French want control of the territories, and everyone has a different notion as to who should wear the crown including the Vatican, France, John’s mother Eleanor, Pandolf, Philip Faulconbridge, the Dauphin and Constance, mother to Arthur, John’s young nephew, and ferocious defender of her son’s right.  And then there’s the citizens of a French village, Angers (so apropos), who threaten to bar the gates if John becomes king.   So pretty much everyone except Philip who is hired on to protect him and Eleanor who stands to lose the family jewels should John be deposed.  As Shakespeare puts it, “I have never been so bethumped!”

Noble English Lords take up arms (left to right: Kate Goehring, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Holly Twyford) in Shakespeare’s King John.. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As King of England, John must fight off all pretenders and wannabes.  Watching him wrangle the forces around him and destroy others in his path, is downright exhilarating as the action swings from one war to the next.  One particularly effective scene is staged in total darkness.  Actors light up their own faces one by one as they recite their lines from opposite regions of the stage.

As expected there is superb acting all around but most impressively from Kate Eastwood Norris in the male role as Philip of Faulconbridge, the bastard son of Lady Faulconbridge by Richard the Lionhearted, and Holly Twyford as Constance, the overly protective mother of Arthur.  We are utterly besotted.  As Folger’s Artistic Director, Janet Alexander Griffin puts it, “We are thrilled to have the talents of Aaron Posner and this extraordinary cast bring a timely history play of political posturing and covetous transgressions to life… just blocks away from the Capitol building.”

Louis the Dauphin, son of the King of France (Akeem Davis) and John’s niece Blanche of Spain (Alina Collins Maldonado) arranged to be wed, a sign of peace between France and England. Photo by Teresa Wood.

With Akeem Davis as Louis the Dauphin; Brian Dykstra as John, King of England; Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Austria and Salisbury; Kate Goehring as Queen Eleanor, Lady Faulconbridge and Bigot; Megan Graves as Arthur and Prince Henry; Alina Collins Maldonado as Blanche of Spain; Sasha Olinick as Chatillon and Cardinal Pandulph; Howard W. Overshown as Philip King of France, Melun and Peter of Pomfret; Brian Reisman as Robert Faulconbridge and Elan Zafir as Hubert.

Scenic Design by Andrew Cohen, Costume Design by Sarah Cubbage, Lighting Design by Max Doolittle.

Through December 2nd at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

Macbeth ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 13, 2018

Scotland has a new king in Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes)
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet

Don’t you just love it when the wicked get their comeuppance? I find it deeply satisfying to witness how greed and unbridled ambition must pay the devil their due.  We need more of this.  Huzzah, MacDuff! Huzzah, Malcolm!  Hey there, Feason!  You nailed the bastard and his scheming bride with the not inconsequential assistance of a 10,000-man English army.  That’s not meant to be a spoiler.  You already knew the ending.  As Shakespeare once famously wrote, “The play’s the thing,” and this thing is delicious! And ghoulish… with a zombie ex-king, Duncan, who stalks his murderers with regal aplomb.

Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes, center) explains to the honorable Macduff (Chris Genebach) why he slew Duncan’s chambermen. Witches (Rachael Montgomery and Emily Noël) look on.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Director Robert Richmond has re-imagined this classic from Sir William Davenant’s adaption from the mid-17th century.  It is also reminiscent of the tradition of le ‘Grand Guignol’, the 19th century Parisian theatre of horror plays.  “Oh, horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart cannot conceive or name thee,” warns Macduff.  Set in London’s notorious chamber of horrors, Bedlam Hospital, and performed against a background of delightful Restoration-era music by the Folger Consort, this Macbeth includes lilting operatic ditties, Enya-esque ballads and the haunting sounds of distant Scottish bagpipes. 

King Duncan (Louis Butelli, second from left) in performance with the wayward sisters (l to r: Emily Noël, Rachael Montgomery, Ethan Watermeier) in Folger Theatre’s Restoration-era production of Macbeth.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

It opens with the inmates rehearsing for a performance for the King in the insane asylum.  This play-within-a-play is a clever device for setting up the equivalent madness that follows.  Most beguiling, are the Three Sisters (one who is in drag for a soupçon of levity) who conspire to terrorize Macbeth and his wife at every gory turn to the bizarrely antithetical tune of classical Elizabethan music.  Their danse macabre in the double, double toil and trouble scene will be etched in my brain forever.  Never have prophesies and spells been such glorious, gory fun!  Sound Designer Matt Otto heightens the atmosphere with shrieking crows, hooting owls and subtle reverb to mimic the echoing that would be heard within the walls of a cavernous castle lit by lanterns and candles and the cauldron’s flame.  Was that the aroma of frankincense I detected?

The witches (Ethan Watermeier and Rachael Montgomery) and Hecate, possessing the body of young Fleance (Owen Peakes) in Folger Theatre's Macbeth.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

With Helen Hayes Award winners, the glorious Kate Eastwood Norris as Lady Macbeth and Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth, Louis Butelli as Duncan, Chris Genebach as Macduff, Rafael Sebastian as Malcolm, Karen Peakes as Lady Macduff, Rachael Montgomery, Ethan Watermeier and Emily Noël as the Witches, Jeff Keogh as Seyton, Andhy Mendez as Banquo, Owen Peakes as Fleance, John Floyd as Donalbain and Jaysen Wright as Lennox.  

Music Direction by Robert Eisenstein, Scenic Design by Tony Cisek, period Costume Design by Mariah Anzaldo Hale, Lighting Design by Andrew F. Griffin and Fight Choreography by Cliff Williams III.

Macduff (Chris Genebach) places the crown of Scotland on Malcolm (Rafael Sebastian), with Donalbain (John Floyd, far right) and company looking on.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Highly recommended.  If you’re not ready for Guy Fawkes Night or All Hallow’s Eve after seeing this, you never will be. 

Through September 23rd at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.  For tickets and
information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

 You can listen to a specially playlist curated on Spotify.

Playlist of English Restoration music

Saint Joan ~ Folger Theatre

Bedlam Theater Company
May 16, 2018 

A dizzying modernized version of George Bernard Shaw’s notable play, Saint Joan, is now at the Folger Theatre presented by the New York-based Bedlam theater company.  Historically, and even contemporarily, it’s relevant to the discussion of church v. state v. the ruling classes.  That’s what Joan, or Jeanne as the French have it, is all about. Whether tis nobler to have the church or nobility or the patriarchy back your lofty ideals, is the question.  Alas, in the end, poor Joan managed to piss them all off.

Robert de Baudricourt (Eric Tucker) tries in vain to put the peasant girl, Joan (Dria Brown) in her rightful place. Photo by Teresa Wood.

In the relentlessly verbose classic, four characters take on twenty-five roles, some switching roles mid-paragraph.  Joan is the only character that stays herself.  It’s clever.  There are tons of funny bits, but after nearly three hours it feels overly long. Besides, knowing her fiery ending as well as her legacy, it seems more than a little overblown to listen to repeated reassessments of both her value (initially they bought into her hearing voices) and her condemnation as a heretic which came after she led the French to victory.

Is it instructive?  Yes.  Is it well-acted?  To a person.  Does it speak to our modern sensibilities?  Somewhat.  In an age of serfdom, where knights were ransommed and the church and aristocracy reigned supreme, landowners had great sway.  One’s family dictated one’s ultimate station in life and thus one’s future opportunities.  Joan broke too many rules, most importantly the one that didn’t allow women to leave their household duties, don armor and go to war.  So as a feminist piece, it is culturally interesting that Shaw thought it important to write of the inequality of the sexes.  As a religious diatribe, the Church feels threatened by Mohammad, calling him the anti-Christ.  They accuse Joan of being a nationalist and call out the Jews as treacherous.  And their justifications for burning her at the stake, are entirely self-serving.  As social commentary, the interest lies in the playwright’s condemnation of the church and the folly of the aristocracy.

The Earl of Warwick (Eric Tucker, left) discusses the fate of Joan of Arc with the Bishop of Beauvais (Sam Massaro), as chaplain John de Stogumber (Edmund Lewis) listens intently in Saint Joan. Photo by Teresa Wood.

But in our modern world, with a pope who has a social conscience, nobility who has little influence, and governments who rule predominantly by individual vote, would we have a Joan of Arc?  Today we call them cult leaders, known in the 15th century as sorcerers, and they are equally reviled.  Mostly for good reason.

But we come to like this true-hearted teenager who is dogged in her determination to save France from the expansionist policies of England. “There is something about the girl,” as the bishops and the Dauphin acknowledge.

Brother John Lemaitre, the Inquisitor (Eric Tucker) and John de Stomgumber (Edmund Lewis) await the trial of Joan in Saint Joan at Folger Theatre. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Bedlam’s Artistic Director Eric Tucker (who also created the costumes and sound design) uses every trick in the book to keep it fresh – sight gags, pratfalls and slow-motion fights.  A dozen or more audience members are invited to sit onstage adding to the immediacy of the response.  I must say, I don’t know how the actors find their way around all the chairs and spout their lines without taking notice of their proximity.  No mean feat!

The Inquisitor (Eric Tucker) leads the accused Joan (Dria Brown) to her seat to stand trial in Bedlam’s Saint Joan. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Be your own critic, especially if you love Shaw.  After all, Bedlam’s staging of Saint Joan was honored by Time magazine as a Top Ten Play and listed in the New York Times’ Best of Theater list.

Lighting by Les Dickert.  Roles played by Dria Brown as Joan; Edmund Lewis as the Dauphin, John de Stogumber and others; Sam Massaro as Cauchon, Poulengey and others; and Eric Tucker as Dunois, Warwick and others.

Through June 10th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit online.

The Way of the World ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
January 19, 2018 

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) is charmed by Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley) at an art exhibit in the Hamptons.  (Also pictured: Erica Dorfler and Brandon Espinoza.) . Photo by Teresa Wood

Playwright and Director Theresa Rebeck’s campy, modern adaptation of The Way of the World is one of the early offerings in the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival – on now in theaters around the Washington metropolitan area.  Rebeck is best known as creator/writer of TV’s “Smash” and “NYPD Blue” and movie “Harriet the Spy”.  In this funny, frothy, scandalous satire, whose original author was 18th C playwright William Congreve, Rebeck switches the setting to the Hamptons – the Gatsbyesque playground of the rich and infamous.  That small change of venue proves a deliciously, decadent environs for the classic tangle between the upper crust and the hoi polloi.

Henry (Luigi Sottile) and friend Charles (Brandon Espinoza, right) enjoy a cocktail and the Hamptons’ sun. Photo by Teresa Wood

Henry (Luigi Sottile) and friend Charles (Brandon Espinoza, right) enjoy a cocktail and the Hamptons’ sun. Photo by Teresa Wood

Sipping twee blue martinis between gossipy luncheons and romps between the sheets, the self-anointed ones tend to their wardrobes and painted lawns.  Apparently, vivid green grass is a must at the posher seaside estates.

Blonde beauty Mae (Eliza Huberth) is heiress to a $600 million fortune.  Do the summer studs want her for her money or her leggy good looks?  What do you think?  Her cougar, dowager aunt René is too busy playing musical beds to care.  When we meet Henry (Luigi Sottile), a notable gadabout and serial cad, he has just broken Mae’s heart.  “To hell with men!” the ladies concur, seconded by the Waitress (Ashley Austin Morris), an out-of-town summer hire who voices the outsider’s view of all this mayhem and reckless acquisitiveness.

Mae doesn’t really give a fig about all that cash.  The Birkenstock-sporting, Prius-driving heiress plans to chuck it all and move to Haiti to tend to the poor.  Not so her bibulous Aunt René (Tony Award nominee Kristine Nielsen – think Joanna Lumley as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous).  As guardian of Mae’s funds, René prefers the lavish life suggesting she does her bit for the less fortunate.  “We employ the 99%!  We are the curators of the American legacy!”

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) gets to know the enigmatic Lyle Swofford (Daniel Morgan Shelley) of Nantucket. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Rene (Kristine Nielsen) gets to know the enigmatic Lyle Swofford (Daniel Morgan Shelley) of Nantucket. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As with summer season in the Hamptons, it is all about hookups at night and shopping tony boutiques during the day.  That’s where the pretty Katrina (Erica Dorfler) comes in.  As salesgirl and part-time model of Charles’ designer fashions, she has her nose in everyone’s business, especially her gays, both Charles (Brandon Espinoza) and Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley), a scion from Nantucket in town for the season and eager to please his cousin Reg (Elan Zafir), a Peter Pan preppy looking for love.

Hamptonites Katrina (Erica Dorfler), Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley, center), and Charles (Brandon Espinoza) enjoy a cocktail and watch the estate lawn get painted a pristine green. Photo by Teresa Wood

Hamptonites Katrina (Erica Dorfler), Lyle (Daniel Morgan Shelley, center), and Charles (Brandon Espinoza) enjoy a cocktail and watch the estate lawn get painted a pristine green. Photo by Teresa Wood

As you might expect, the amours and dalliances crisscross between the characters and hilarity ensues – a great deal of it in this delightfully silly and cleverly crafted comedy – where Set Designer Alexander Dodge renders us speechless with a floor-to-ceiling series of spotlit boxes filled with luxe shoes and assorted bibelots and beds that revolve to reveal illicit rendezvous.  As for the decidedly stylish fashions, we have Costume Designer Linda Cho to thank for that.

Very clever and riotously funny.  Highly recommended.

Through February 11th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077.

For more on the Women’s Voices Theater Festival that runs throughout January and February.  And to find the theaters featuring the women playwrights’ productions.

Antony and Cleopatra ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 19, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

A moment of flirtatious play between Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) and his Cleopatra (Shirine Babb). Photo by Teresa Wood.

A moment of flirtatious play between Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) and his Cleopatra (Shirine Babb). Photo by Teresa Wood.

“Kingdoms are clay,” warns Antony to his beloved Cleopatra in the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra.  Even the Soothsayer foretells their downfall and the untimely demise of the lovers.  But dire prophesies do not dissuade the ego-centric Antony from fulfilling his desires, nor us from enjoying this lightly condensed version of one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays.  And though both Romans and Egyptians tended to heed the warnings from mythological Gods and Goddesses, what the heck?  They were human, after all, notwithstanding their respective royal bubbles.

A meeting of Rome’s leaders, the triumvirate. Pictured left to right: Robbie Gay (Lepidus), Dylan Paul (Octavius Caesar), Cody Nickell (Mark Antony), with Chris Genebach (Agrippa) looking on the proceeding. Photo by Teresa Wood.

A meeting of Rome’s leaders, the triumvirate. Pictured left to right: Robbie Gay (Lepidus), Dylan Paul (Octavius Caesar), Cody Nickell (Mark Antony), with Chris Genebach (Agrippa) looking on the proceeding. Photo by Teresa Wood.

From the get go Antony knows his love for his lusty queen is doomed, yet he is so besotted, so incapable of making intelligent decisions, that he ignores the sage advice of Octavius Caesar and his military leader Lepidus to abandon his pursuit of Cleopatra.  With one foot in Egypt and the other in Rome, he is utterly conflicted.  Love, or country?  It’s complicated – especially to those lost in lust.

Performed in the round with a revolving circular platform on center stage, the production is intimate, energetic and action-packed.  Director Robert Richmond calls Tony Cisek’s set design “gladiatorial”, which makes for a perfectly suited space to view hyper-electrifying of combat and romance as emotions swing to and fro like an amped up pendulum.

Mardian (John Floyd) and Charmian (Simoné Elizabeth Bart) tend to their Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Mardian (John Floyd) and Charmian (Simoné Elizabeth Bart) tend to their Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Shirine Babb’s Cleopatra is ruthless and fierce yet with a sensual nature that challenges Antony to meet her impossible demands.  It’s a formidable counterbalance to Cody Nickell’s fiery, bombastic, delusional Antony and evident in their playful love scenes that skew modern (we don’t feel as though we’re hanging around in 40 BC), as well as adding punch to their wittily flip, and ferociously bruising, quarrels.  As two of the most powerful figures of their time, their impetuous decisions and recurrent contretemps (Are they getting along today, or not?) affected whole nations and the future of the known world.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) gives comfort to her dying Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) . Photo by Teresa Wood.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) gives comfort to her dying Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) . Photo by Teresa Wood.

In this vivid portrait of two lovers, both rulers and conquerors, we see two megalomaniacs locked in battle for dominance while vulnerable to their unbridled passions.  Whether it’s a battle scene executed in dance form by the soldiers or a love scene framed by a silk-draped bed, Costume Designer Mariah Hale gives us diaphanous, gem-colored gowns for the ladies with a glittering, golden cloche for Queen Cleopatra, and leather-girded and metal-studded togas with silken scarlet capes for the men.  Dramatic scene-enhancing moods set by Adam Stamper on sound design and Andrew F. Griffin on lighting.

Highly recommended.

With Simone Elizabeth Bart as Charmian; John Floyd as Mardian; Robbie Gay as Lepidus and Dolabella; Chris Genebach as Agrippa; Nigel Gore as Enobarbus; Nicole King as Iras and Octavia; Anthony Michael Martinez as Soothsayer and Eros; and Dylan Paul as Octavius Caesar.

Through November 19th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.